“…climate pessimism has indeed had a strong run lately” — Chris Mooney #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it’s melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From The Washington Post (Chris Mooney):

In recent years, it has become increasingly common to frame the climate change problem as a kind of countdown — each year we emit more carbon dioxide, narrowing the window for fixing the problem, but not quite closing it yet. After all, something could still change. Emissions could still start to plunge precipitously. Maybe next year.

This outlook has allowed, at least for some, for the preservation of a form of climate optimism, in which big changes, someday soon, will still make the difference. Christiana Figureres, the former head of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently joined with a group of climate scientists and policy wonks to state there are 3 years left to get emissions moving sharply downward. If, that is, we’re holding out hope of limiting the warming of the globe to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures, often cited as the threshold where “dangerous” warming begins (although in truth, that’s a matter of interpretation).

Yet a battery of recent studies call into question even that limited optimism. Last week, a group of climate researchers published research suggesting the climate has been warming for longer than we thought due to human influences — in essence, pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backwards in time. The logic is clear: If the Earth has already warmed more than we thought due to human activities, then there’s even less remaining carbon dioxide that we can emit and still avoid 2 degrees of warming.

Two new studies published Monday, meanwhile, go further towards advancing this pessimistic view which asserts that there’s little chance of the world will stay within prescribed climate limits.

The first new study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 based on three trends that matter most for how much carbon we put in the air. Those are the global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity, or the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity.

The research finds that the median warming is likely to be 3.2 degrees Celsius, and further concludes that there’s only a 5 percent chance that the world can hold limiting below 2 degrees Celsius and a mere 1 percent chance that it can be limited below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). That will come as bad news for vulnerable small island nations in particular, which have held out for a 1.5 degree target, along with other particularly vulnerable nations…

The research is significant because 2 degrees Celsius has often been regarded as the threshold for so-called “dangerous” climate change. Figueres herself put it this way in an interview with CBS News: “Science has established for quite a while that we need to respect a threshold of 2 degrees, that being the limit of the temperature increase that we can afford from a human, economic and infrastructure point of view.”

The second new study, meanwhile, takes a different approach, analyzing how much global warming the world has already committed to, since the warming due to some emissions has not yet arrived. Nonetheless, with the planet at a so-called energy imbalance, that warming is inevitably coming, and the study — conducted by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado, Boulder — finds that it probably pushes us several slivers of a degree beyond where we are now…

On Monday I spoke with Glen Peters, a climate policy expert at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, about the two latest papers. Peters is a researcher who is on the record stating that he thinks there’s little chance of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius unless we come up with so-called “negative emissions” technologies that allow us to actively withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere later in the century.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, Peters actually felt that the first new study, finding only a 5 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees, might be a tad too negative. It takes into account past climate policies, he notes, but not the possibility of a major upsurge in global climate action in coming years, unlike what we’ve seen previously. Indeed, the study notes that “Our forecasting model does not explicitly incorporate future legislation that could change future emissions.”

“Less than 2 degrees of warming is unlikely if we don’t try,” said Peters. “I’m one that says that 2 degrees is not likely anyway — but if we try, at least it’s an option that we can get to 2 degrees.”

(Raftery, speaking about this aspect of his study, noted to me that “I think it’s possible that the future might be completely different, and there’ll be a sudden big jump forward, but past data would suggest that’s being a bit optimistic.”)

However, at the same time Peters also admitted that the study about committed warming reinforced a troubling conclusion, since “it’s in a sense impossible that we’re not going to emit any more.” The upshot is that “We’re starting from 1.5 and going up from there in the future emissions that we have,” he said.

This again means that negative emissions, based on technologies that don’t exist yet at the relevant scale, would probably be required at some point in the future. The new research “emphasizes the importance of removing carbon from the atmosphere,” said Peters…

In sum, climate pessimism has indeed had a strong run lately — but you have to keep in context. It’s pessimism that we’ll hit our current goals. It’s not fatalism, or the idea that we’ll accomplish nothing, or that present momentum doesn’t matter.


Even if people could instantly turn off all our emissions of greenhouse gases, the Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century, according to a sophisticated new analysis published in Nature Climate Change. And if current emissions continue for 15 years, odds are good that we’ll see nearly three degrees (1.5 C) of warming by then.

“This ‘committed warming’ is critical to understand because it can tell us and policy makers how long we have, at current emission rates, before the planet will warm to certain thresholds,” said co-author Robert Pincus, a scientist with CIRES at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA’s Physical Sciences Division. “The window of opportunity on a 1.5-degree [C] target is closing.”

During United Nations meetings in Paris last year, 195 countries including the United States signed an agreement to keep global temperature rise less than 3.5 degrees F (2 C) above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts that would limit it further, to less than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 C) by 2100.

The new assessment by Pincus and lead author Thorsten Mauritsen, from the German Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, is unique in that it does not rely on computer model simulations, but on observations of the climate system to calculate Earth’s climate commitment. Their work accounts for the capacity of oceans to absorb carbon, detailed data on the planet’s energy imbalance, the climate-relevant behavior of fine particles in the atmosphere, and other factors.

Among Pincus’ and Maruitsen’s findings:

  • Even if all fossil fuel emissions stopped in 2017, warming by 2100 is very likely to reach about 2.3 F (range: 1.6-4.1) or 1.3 degrees C (range: 0.9-2.3).
  • Oceans could reduce that a bit: Carbon naturally captured and stored in the deep ocean could cut committed warming by 0.4 degrees F (0.2 C).
  • There is some risk that warming this century cannot be kept to 1.5 degrees C beyond pre-industrial temperatures. In fact, there is a 13 percent chance we are already committed to 1.5-C warming by 2100.
  • “Our estimates are based on things that have already happened, things we can observe, and they point to the part of future warming that is already committed to by past emissions,” said lead author Thorsten Mauritsen, “Future carbon dioxide emissions will then add extra warming on top of that commitment.”

    The research was funded by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.

    San Luis Valley: “As producers, we’ve got yield figured out” — Brendon Rockey

    Photo credit San Luis Valley Heritage.

    From The Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

    In the heart of prime potato growing country, one San Luis Valley farm has such a worldwide reputation for soil health innovation that a recent field day attracted guests from Canada, France and Sweden in addition to the surrounding area.

    Rockey Farms, located a mile north of Center, is a multigenerational operation run by Brendon Rockey, a soil health pioneer who presents talks all over the world, and his brother Sheldon, who oversees distribution and marketing. When they opened the farm to several dozen visitors in mid-July, the resulting gathering was as diverse as the colorful mix of plants that blossomed in the surrounding fields.

    The farm’s main business is growing certified seed potatoes, with an emphasis on unique varieties prized by farmers market growers. They also produce 150 acres of fingerling potatoes that are sold into the fresh market, mostly to restaurants but also at retail stores under the Farm Fresh Direct Growers Reserve label.

    Five years ago, the Rockeys teamed up with Paul New, owner of White Mountain Farm, to convert an old high school building in Mosca into a processing facility for potatoes, Colorado-grown quinoa and other specialty items. They call the joint venture White Rock Specialties.

    But it’s their soil regeneration strategies that have really put them on the map.

    Standing in an expanse of bright green cover crops, planted at staggered intervals to accommodate rotational grazing by a local rancher, Brendon Rockey talked about how a period of sustained drought that began in the early 2000s led him to dramatically change his farming practices forever.

    Like many farmers across rural Colorado, he was suddenly confronted with a shortage of irrigation water. In response, he dropped malting barley from his rotation, a crop that requires 20 inches of water annually, and replaced it with a green manure crop, which saved about 14 inches.

    The way his potatoes performed the following year was a revelation. They were more pest resistant and used less water. (He said it now takes him around 12 inches a year to grow potatoes compared to the norm, which is closer to 20.)

    Since then, cost savings from reduced inputs, including the elimination of fungicides, has more than paid for the roughly $45 an acre it takes to plant the cover crop mixes, he said…

    In the adjacent potato field, he pointed to flowering strips planted to attract beneficial insects. The field was also interspersed with companion crops like peas, vetch, buckwheat and fava beans, which are intended to further enhance insect habitat, soil microbial activity and overall diversification. The additional seed costs him $9 an acre, he said.

    “It is so alive out here, it is just buzzing,” he enthused.

    Enhanced biological diversity translates to tastier, more vibrant potatoes, due in large part to better nutrient availability and nitrogen uptake, he said.

    “The color of my potatoes has improved dramatically,” he noted. “That all comes back to calcium. It’s more available to my potatoes now.”

    His production goals have shifted from quantity to nutrition and quality. “As producers, we’ve got yield figured out,” he said. “What I want to do is improve the quality of my potatoes and do it while spending less money to grow them.”

    100+ Ways to conserve water

    Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

    Click here to go to the website:

    When it comes to conserving water, small adjustments can have a big impact. Conserve water with ideas from our 100+ water-saving tips that you can download, print or share on social media.

    USAF does not plan to reimburse water suppliers for mitigation of Widefield aquifer pollution

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From the Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report:

    The Air Force doesn’t plan to reimburse three Colorado communities for the money spent responding to water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam previously used at a military base, potentially leaving the towns with an $11 million tab…

    The Air Force has pledged $4.3 million in aid, and only $1.7 million of that amount will go to the water districts. Much of the rest is being spent on bottled water and filters. “We don’t back pay — we cannot reimburse,” said Cornell Long, a chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

    An email sent to the newspaper from the engineer center in response to a request for clarification said, “The Air Force does not have the authority to reimburse communities for costs incurred in dealing with environmental contamination issues.”

    The military plans to continue studying the toxic chemicals in the foam and their effect on residents’ health until 2019. Air Force officials said last week they do not expect to carry out a remediation plan for the contaminated wells until next decade…

    An Air Force report released Tuesday said that other sources likely contributed to the aquifer’s contamination, though none has been identified.

    The delay has angered residents, and the cost is overwhelming the towns’ resources, which will lead to rate hikes in at least two of the three communities.

    “We really need financial help,” said Roy Heald, manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts. “We need to get going on those things before the 2020s.”

    Fountain plans to raise water rates by 5.3 percent this year, and Security plans to study a rate hike this fall. Widefield officials don’t expect to raise rates, though its long term solution — a new treatment plant for 10 affected water wells, could add $10 million to $12 million to their costs.

    Security is also planning to build a treatment plant. It is paying Colorado Springs Utilities for uncontaminated water in the meantime for $1 million a year.

    Fountain officials have budgeted $4.2 million in fixes through 2018.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

    The defendants have moved to dismiss a sweeping lawsuit over chemicals polluting the Widefield Aquifer.

    The suit, brought last fall, alleges that chemical giant 3M and other firms that sold firefighting foam to the Air Force should have known that it contained dangerous perfluorinated compounds, now thought to be a health risk. Thousands of water users in Widefield, Fountain and Security were told to stop drinking water from the aquifer last year after testing determined it contained dangerous levels of the compounds.

    Attorneys for 3M, in a motion to dismiss the proposed class-action suit, argued that the firm didn’t know the foam was toxic when it was sold to the Air Force. The motion also argues that the Air Force, not 3M, used the foam, and polluted the environment.

    “3M’s action is too far removed from the claimed injury for the court to reasonably infer foreseeability,” attorneys for 3M wrote, “or any duty arising therefrom.”

    While the Air Force last week admitted that foam releases at Peterson Air Force Base since the 1970s might have allowed the chemical to seep into the aquifer, the military isn’t named in the lawsuit. Suing the military is nearly impossible because of sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that blocks all but the rarest claims against the government.

    With the federal path blocked, lawyers representing plaintiffs in several lawsuits have targeted the chemical manufacturers with claims that the polluted wells stem from the sale of a dangerous product.

    The suits have been merged into a single megasuit at federal District Court in Denver. The plaintiffs are also asking that all property owners in the area be recognized as a class, allowing them to head to court as a group rather than requiring them to each sue.

    The plaintiffs claim that 3M and other manufacturers ignored warnings about perfluorinated compounds and kept selling the foam to the military, “and continued to do so long after they were aware of the health and environmental risks of their products.”

    The defendants say they didn’t know the foam was harmful at the time it was made.

    In arguments against 3M’s motion for dismissal, the plaintiffs claim that 3M stopped making the firefighting foam in 2002 due to toxicity concerns, but never recalled the product or warned users of the hazards the foam posed…

    A report released by the Air Force last week showed that the chemical was detected at 88,000 parts per trillion near the fire training area at Peterson Air Force Base, that’s 1,257 times higher than the EPA’s advisory level.

    Any resolution to the lawsuit could be a long way off.

    No timeline has been set for arguments on the motion to dismiss the case.

    Some studies that both sides could need to determine liability haven’t begun.

    The Air Force claims that studies tying the aquifer’s pollution to firefighting foam are incomplete and may not be finished until late 2018.

    The court in Denver this month waived filing deadlines in the lawsuit, slowing its progress ahead of a proposed late August hearing to set a schedule for the case.

    Restoring U.S. Forests Can Help Solve Our Water Infrastructure Crisis

    National forests and grasslands

    From The Huffington Post (Bill Richardson):

    U.S. water infrastructure got a “D Grade” from American Society of Civil Engineers, and it could cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to maintain, repair, and expand the systems we need for safe drinking water.

    The good news is that we can cost-effectively preserve and restore the forests that provide much of the water we use, which means spending less on the pipes and aqueducts of so-called grey infrastructure. In the Western United States, 65 percent of public water supply comes from forests, which also help purify water of pollutants, control floods and regulate water flow.

    But these forests are at increasing risk of catastrophic fires, which over the past decade have burned an area larger than North Dakota. Wildfires can flood drinking water systems with hazardous ash, smother aquatic habitats with soot and soil, and even destroy existing infrastructure like pipes and dams. In Colorado, recent fires have cost Denver Water upwards of $30 million in damaged infrastructure and dredging costs. In my home state of New Mexico, the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 cost an estimated $1 billion.

    One way to curtail wildfires is to thin the forest to restore a natural, low-intensity fire pattern that promotes the health of the landscape. Besides cutting the costs of wildfires, forest restoration could create green jobs and revitalize rural economies…

    Some cities have passed municipal bonds to restore forests in their watersheds. Since 2009, the city of Santa Fe has invested more than $8 million in forest restoration of its source watershed. This program was made possible through a congressional earmark and financial support from the New Mexico Water Trust Board. Similarly, five cities in Colorado are restoring forests in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

    Researchers at Blue Forest Conservation and the World Resources Institute are pioneering what they call the Forest Resilience Bond, a financing mechanism for forest restoration that leverages private capital to achieve scale and meet the needs of downstream water suppliers, distributors and users. The team is piloting this mechanism in early 2018 in the U.S. West.

    As these pilot programs attempt to redefine how U.S. forest restoration is funded, we should also ask about the federal government’s role. It is unclear if water infrastructure will be a focus of the Trump administration’s proposed infrastructure plan. But if Americans want sustainable, resilient and cost-effective infrastructure that offers multiple benefits to communities and the environment, the infrastructure discussion needs to start with forest restoration.