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Earth is Warming Faster Than Previously Thought, and the Window is Closing To Avoid Catastrophic Outcomes

As the world battles historic droughts, landscape-altering wildfires and deadly floods, a landmark report from global scientists says the window is rapidly closing to cut our reliance on fossil fuels and avoid catastrophic changes that would transform life as we know it. The state-of-the-science report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world has rapidly warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels, and is now careening toward 1.5 degrees — a critical threshold that world leaders agreed warming should remain below to avoid worsening impacts.

Only by making deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, while also removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, can we halt the precipitous trend. “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here,” Michael E. Mann, a lead author of the IPCC’s 2001 report, told CNN. Unlike previous assessments, Monday’s report concludes it is “unequivocal” that humans have caused the climate crisis and confirms that “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred, some of them irreversibly.

That is due in part to the breakneck pace at which the planet has been recently warming, faster than scientists have previously observed. Since 2018, when the panel published a special report on the significance of 1.5-degrees, greenhouse gas emissions have continued mostly unabated and have pushed global temperatures higher. Even under the IPCC’s most optimistic scenario, in which the world’s emissions begin to drop sharply today and are reduced to net zero by 2050, global temperature will still peak above the 1.5-degree threshold before falling. In a statement, UN Secretary-General Antanio Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” and noted the 1.5-degree threshold is “perilously close.” “The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path,” Guterres said.

Data Centres Exacerbate Droughts

A data center can easily use up to 1.25 million gallons of water each day — and “More data centers are being built every day by some of America’s largest technology companies,” reports NBC News, “including Amazon, Microsoft and Google and used by millions of customers.”

Almost 40 percent of them are in the United States, and Amazon, Google and Microsoft account for more than half of the total. The U.S. also has at least 1,800 “colocation” data centers, warehouses filled with a variety of smaller companies’ server hardware that share the same cooling system, electricity and security, according to Data Center Map. They are typically smaller than hyperscale data centers but, research has shown, more resource intensive as they maintain a variety of computer systems operating at different levels of efficiency.

Many data center operators are drawn to water-starved regions in the West, in part due to the availability of solar and wind energy. Researchers at Virginia Tech estimate that one-fifth of data centers draw water from moderately to highly stressed watersheds, mostly in the Western United States, according to a paper published in April…

The growth in the industry shows no signs of slowing. The research company Gartner predicts that spending on global data center infrastructure will reach $200 billion this year, an increase of 6 percent from 2020, followed by 3-4 percent annually over the next three years. This growth comes at a time of record temperatures and drought in the United States, particularly in the West. “The typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day — the same amount of water as a city of 30,000-50,000 people,” said Venkatesh Uddameri, professor and director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech University. Although these data centers have become much more energy and water efficient over the last decade, and don’t use as much water as other industries such as agriculture, this level of water use can still create potential competition with local communities over the water supply in areas where water is scarce, he added…

Sergio Loureiro, vice president of core operations for Microsoft, said that the company has pledged to be “water positive” by 2030, which means it plans to replenish more water than it consumes globally. This includes reducing the company’s water use and investing in community replenishment and conservation projects near where it builds facilities.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020

Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years. Levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response, NOAA announced today. The global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2), calculated from measurements collected at NOAA’s remote sampling locations, was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, rising by 2.6 ppm during the year. The global rate of increase was the fifth-highest in NOAA’s 63-year record, following 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016. The annual mean at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was 414.4 ppm during 2020.

The economic recession was estimated to have reduced carbon emissions by about 7 percent during 2020. Without the economic slowdown, the 2020 increase would have been the highest on record, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. Since 2000, the global CO2 average has grown by 43.5 ppm, an increase of 12 percent.

The atmospheric burden of CO2 is now comparable to where it was during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago, when concentrations of carbon dioxide ranged from about 380 to 450 parts per million. During that time sea level was about 78 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.

Also: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-carbon-dioxide-highest-level-million-years/

Climate crisis has shifted the Earth’s axis, study shows

The massive melting of glaciers as a result of global heating has caused marked shifts in the Earth’s axis of rotation since the 1990s, research has shown. It demonstrates the profound impact humans are having on the planet, scientists said.

The planet’s geographic north and south poles are the point where its axis of rotation intersects the surface, but they are not fixed. Changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet cause the axis, and therefore the poles, to move.

In the past, only natural factors such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth contributed to the drifting position of the poles. But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice a year into the oceans resulting from the climate crisis has caused the poles to move in new directions.

The scientists found the direction of polar drift shifted from southward to eastward in 1995 and that the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.

Since 1980, the position of the poles has moved about 4 metres in distance.

“The accelerated decline [in water stored on land] resulting from glacial ice melting is the main driver of the rapid polar drift after the 1990s,” concluded the team, led by Shanshan Deng, from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Gravity data from the Grace satellite, launched in 2002, had been used to link glacial melting to movements of the pole in 2005 and 2012, both following increases in ice losses. But Deng’s research breaks new ground by extending the link to before the satellite’s launch, showing human activities have been shifting the poles since the 1990s, almost three decades ago.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed glacial losses accounted for most of the shift, but it is likely that the pumping up of groundwater also contributed to the movements.

Groundwater is stored under land but, once pumped up for drinking or agriculture, most eventually flows to sea, redistributing its weight around the world. In the past 50 years, humanity has removed 18tn tonnes of water from deep underground reservoirs without it being replaced.

Vincent Humphrey, at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and not involved in the new research said it showed how human activities have redistributed huge amounts of water around the planet: “It tells you how strong this mass change is – it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.” However, the movement of the Earth’s axis is not large enough to affect daily life, he said: it could change the length of a day, but only by milliseconds.

Prof Jonathan Overpeck, at the University of Arizona, US, told the Guardian previously that changes to the Earth’s axis highlighted “how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet”.

Some scientists argue that the scale of this impact means a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared. Since the mid-20th century, there has been a marked acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the destruction of wildlife and the transformation of land by farming, deforestation and development.

Satellites show world’s glaciers melting faster than ever

Glaciers are melting faster, losing 31 percent more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years earlier, according to three-dimensional satellite measurements of all the world’s mountain glaciers.

Scientists blame human-caused climate change.

Using 20 years of recently declassified satellite data, scientists calculated that the world’s 220,000 mountain glaciers are losing more than 328 billion tons (298 billion metric tons) of ice and snow per year since 2015, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature. That’s enough melt flowing into the world’s rising oceans to put Switzerland under almost 24 feet (7.2 meters) of water each year.

Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada.

Almost all the world’s glaciers are melting, even ones in Tibet that used to be stable, the study found. Except for a few in Iceland and Scandinavia that are fed by increased precipitation, the melt rates are accelerating around the world.

Twitter Bots Are a Major Source of Climate Disinformation

Twitter accounts run by machines are a major source of climate change disinformation that might drain support from policies to address rising temperatures. In the weeks surrounding former President Trump’s announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, accounts suspected of being bots accounted for roughly a quarter of all tweets about climate change, according to new research. “If we are to effectively address the existential crisis of climate change, bot presence in the online discourse is a reality that scientists, social movements and those concerned about democracy have to better grapple with,” wrote Thomas Marlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the New York University, Abu Dhabi, campus, and his co-authors. Their paper published last week in the journal Climate Policy is part of an expanding body of research about the role of bots in online climate discourse.

The new focus on automated accounts is driven partly by the way they can distort the climate conversation online. Marlow’s team measured the influence of bots on Twitter’s climate conversation by analyzing 6.8 million tweets sent by 1.6 million users between May and June 2017. Trump made his decision to ditch the climate accord on June 1 of that year. President Biden reversed the decision this week. From that dataset, the team ran a random sample of 184,767 users through the Botometer, a tool created by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which analyzes accounts and determines the likelihood that they are run by machines.

Researchers also categorized the 885,164 tweets those users had sent about climate change during the two-month study period. The most popular categories were tweets about climate research and news. Marlow and the other researchers determined that nearly 9.5% of the users in their sample were likely bots. But those bots accounted for 25% of the total tweets about climate change on most days. […] The researchers weren’t able to determine who deployed the bots. But they suspect the seemingly fake accounts could have been created by “fossil-fuel companies, petro-states or their surrogates,” all of which have a vested interest in preventing or delaying action on climate change.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Status Lowered To ‘Critical’ and Deteriorating

The health status of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has officially declined from “significant concern” to “critical” for the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced this week. CBS News reports:
It said climate change is now the biggest threat to natural World Heritage sites, including the world’s largest and most spectacular coral reef. According to the new report, one-third of the 252 natural World Heritage sites are now threatened by climate change. Previously, invasive species were listed as the top threat.

The Great Barrier Reef must contend with ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather to stay alive amid record heat waves. It has lost half of its coral to climate change since 1995, with its status now listed as “critical” — the most urgent designated status in the classification system of the UNESCO advisory board. Sites listed as critical are “severely treated and require urgent, additional and large-scale conservation measures,” the report said. Additionally, the report warns that plans to protect the reef long-term have been slow to implement, failing to stop or reverse the reef’s deterioration.
The report adds that four other Australian world heritage sites have also deteriorated and received lowered statuses — the Blue Mountains, the Gondwana rainforests, the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay. “Overall, more sites have deteriorated than improved since 2017,” reports CBS News.

Exxon’s Plan for Surging Carbon Emissions Revealed in Leaked Documents

Exxon Mobil Corp. had plans to increase annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece, an analysis of internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg shows, setting one of the largest corporate emitters against international efforts to slow the pace of warming.

The drive to expand both fossil-fuel production and planet-warming pollution has come at a time when some of Exxon’s rivals, such as BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, are moving to curb oil and zero-out emissions. Exxon’s own assessment of its $210 billion investment strategy shows yearly emissions rising 17% by 2025, according to internal projections.

The internal estimates reflect only a small portion of Exxon’s total contribution to climate change. Greenhouse gases from direct operations, such as those measured by Exxon, typically account for a fifth of the total at a large oil company; most emissions come from customers burning fuel in vehicles or other end uses, which the Exxon documents don’t account for.

That means the full climate impact of Exxon’s growth strategy would likely be five times the company’s estimate—or about 100 million tons of additional carbon dioxide—had the company accounted for so-called Scope 3 emissions. If its plans are realized, Exxon would add to the atmosphere the annual emissions of a small, developed nation, or 26 coal-fired power plants.

From Climate Change to the Dangers of Smoking: How Powerful Interests Made Us Doubt Everything

BBC News reports:
In 1991, the trade body that represents electrical companies in the U.S., the Edison Electric Institute, created a campaign called the Information Council for the Environment which aimed to “Reposition global warming as theory (not fact)”. Some details of the campaign were leaked to the New York Times. “They ran advertising campaigns designed to undermine public support, cherry picking the data to say, ‘Well if the world is warming up, why is Kentucky getting colder?’ They asked rhetorical questions designed to create confusion, to create doubt,” argued Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University and co-author of Merchants of Doubt. But back in the 1990 there were many campaigns like this…

Most of the organisations opposing or denying climate change science were right-wing think tanks, who tended to be passionately anti-regulation. These groups made convenient allies for the oil industry, as they would argue against action on climate change on ideological grounds. Jerry Taylor spent 23 years with the Cato Institute — one of those right wing think tanks — latterly as vice president. Before he left in 2014, he would regularly appear on TV and radio, insisting that the science of climate change was uncertain and there was no need to act.

Now, he realises his arguments were based on a misinterpretation of the science, and he regrets the impact he’s had on the debate.

Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes discovered leading climate-change skeptics had also been prominent skeptics on the dangers of cigarette smoking. “That was a Eureka moment,” Oreskes tells BBC News. “We realised this was not a scientific debate.”

Decades before the energy industry tried to undermine the case for climate change, tobacco companies had used the same techniques to challenge the emerging links between smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s… As a later document by tobacco company Brown and Williamson summarised the approach: “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” Naomi Oreskes says this understanding of the power of doubt is vital. “They realise they can’t win this battle by making a false claim that sooner or later would be exposed. But if they can create doubt, that would be sufficient — because if people are confused about the issue, there’s a good chance they’ll just keep smoking….”

Academics like David Michaels, author of The Triumph of Doubt, fear the use of uncertainty in the past to confuse the public and undermine science has contributed to a dangerous erosion of trust in facts and experts across the globe today, far beyond climate science or the dangers of tobacco. He cites public attitudes to modern issues like the safety of 5G, vaccinations — and coronavirus.

“By cynically manipulating and distorting scientific evidence, the manufacturers of doubt have seeded in much of the public a cynicism about science, making it far more difficult to convince people that science provides useful — in some cases, vitally important — information.

Trolls Are Swarming Young Climate Activists Online

On the morning of August 25, 11-year-old Lilly Platt tweeted a video clip of a Brazilian Amazon tribe speaking out against deforestation. Awareness of the Amazon wildfires was already at a fever pitch, and the tweet exploded. Then, within an hour, a swarm of troll accounts started flooding her mentions with porn. Shortly after the attack, her mom, Eleanor Platt, made an online plea for help: “Dear Friends of Lilly, this is Lillys mum she is being targeted by revolting trolls who are spamming her feed with pornography. There is only so much i can do to block this. Please if you see these posts report them.” Over the course of the day, some of Lilly’s nearly 10,000 followers did just that.

Young girls like Lilly, who has been striking in her hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, every Friday for the last year, are overwhelmingly leading a growing global movement to draw attention to the climate crisis. They spurred an estimated 4 million people across seven continents to walk out of work and school on September 20 — and they are getting attacked for it. They have faced a barrage of daily insults, seemingly coordinated attacks (like the one that targeted Lilly), creepy DMs, doxing, hacked accounts, and death threats. This is the new normal for young climate leaders online, according to BuzzFeed News interviews with nearly a dozen of the kids and their parents.

Personal attacks have always been a part of the climate denial playbook, even as fossil fuel companies secretly funded campaigns and researchers to question the scientific consensus on climate change. The most famous incident, 2009’s Climategate, involved scientists getting their emails hacked and then facing death threats. And as the politics of climate change begins to mirror the broader dark trends of global politics, weaponized social media — in the form of intimidation, memes, and disinformation — has emerged as the dominant vehicle for climate denial. But the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids.

Earth Is Hotter Than at Any Time Since Steam Engine Was Invented

The last five years on Earth have been hotter than at any time since the industrial revolution kicked off almost two centuries ago.

That’s the conclusion of Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which published data on Wednesday showing that global average temperatures since 2015 were some 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than when steam engines began powering industry. Last year was the second warmest on record after 2016.

2019 was Europe’s warmest year, marginally higher than temperatures in 2014, 2015 and 2018. Global average temperatures in 2019 were 0.6 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increased by about 2.3 parts per million in 2019, to the second-highest level on record.

Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun To Air-Condition the Outdoors

It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed “a giant hair dryer” at Qatar. Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field. Ghani, an engineering professor at Qatar University, designed the system at Al Janoub, one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup. His breakthrough realization was that he had to cool only people, not the upper reaches of the stadium — a graceful structure designed by the famed Zaha Hadid Architects and inspired by traditional boats known as dhows. “I don’t need to cool the birds,” Ghani said.

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar’s milder winter. The change in the World Cup date is a symptom of a larger problem — climate change. Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures “well below” that, ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F).

[…] To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference. And it’s going to get hotter.

Bitcoin Mining Now Accounts For Almost One Percent of the World’s Energy Consumption

It is well-established established that Bitcoin mining — aka, donating one’s computing power to keep a cryptocurrency network up and running in exchange for a chance to win some free crypto — uses a lot of electricity. Companies involved in large-scale mining operations know that this is a problem, and they’ve tried to employ various solutions for making the process more energy efficient.

But, according to testimony provided by Princeton computer scientist Arvind Narayanan to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, no matter what you do to make cryptocurrency mining harware greener, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall network’s flabbergasting energy consumption. Instead, Narayanan told the committee, the only thing that really determines how much energy Bitcoin uses is its price. “If the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, more energy will be used in mining it; if it goes down, less energy will be used,” he told the committee. “Little else matters. In particular, the increasing energy efficiency of mining hardware has essentially no impact on energy consumption.”

In his testimony, Narayanan estimates that Bitcoin mining now uses about five gigawatts of electricity per day (in May, estimates of Bitcoin power consumption were about half of that). He adds that when you’ve got a computer racing with all its might to earn a free Bitcoin, it’s going to be running hot as hell, which means you’re probably using even more electricity to keep the computer cool so it doesn’t die and/or burn down your entire mining center, which probably makes the overall cost associated with mining even higher.

Planet at Risk of Heading Towards Apocalyptic, Irreversible ‘Hothouse Earth’ State

This summer people have been suffering and dying because of heat waves and wildfires in many parts of the world. The past three years were the warmest ever recorded, and 2018 is likely to follow suit. What we do in the next 10-20 years will determine whether our planet remains hospitable to human life or slides down an irreversible path to what scientists in a major new study call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping

Amazon has changed the way Americans shop. This year, the e-commerce giant said its annual Prime Day sale was “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” During the 36-hour event, people bought over 100 million products, crashed the website, and signed up for more Prime memberships than ever before. The behavior is indicative of the buying culture Amazon created. The company’s ease, speed, and savings — underscored by killer perks like free, expedited shipping and simple returns — has encouraged more people to shop online, more often.

But these free benefits come with a hidden environmental cost that doesn’t show up on the checkout page, experts say. Expedited shipping means your packages may not be as consolidated as they could be, leading to more cars and trucks required to deliver them, and an increase in packaging waste, which researchers have found is adding more congestion to our cities, pollutants to our air, and cardboard to our landfills.

“People are consuming more. There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options.”