Donald Trump’s presidency has gotten so much attention that the latest threats to climate stability have received only passing notice. To be sure, Trump’s belief that climate change is a Chinese ‘hoax,’ and his appointment of climate change deniers to head major agencies, have been widely publicized. Even so, the news of actual events – hurricanes, floods, drought, sharp temperature changes, and other distortions in weather patterns in the US and around the world – typically are being crowded out by Trump’s tantrums, fake news, and conflicts of interest.
For the strong of heart, here are some important developments affecting climate change over the past several months that you may have missed:
Mexico City’s water table is sinking at an alarming rate, while climate change is causing flooding and drought that may cause mass emigration. Just the latest case of environmental refugees – and potential sources of new conflicts.
The last estimate of sea-level rise before Obama left office, by the NOAA, sees a worst case of an 8-foot rise by the end of the century. The low estimate is still a1-foot rise. Parts of the US will be hit particularly hard.
Worldwide, the nuclear industry is losing ground thanks to lower costs for wind and solar energy as well as natural gas, and the Fukushima tragedy in 2011. “Globally, wind power grew by 17%, solar by 33%, nuclear by 1.3%.” The World Nuclear Industry: Status Report 2016; It is no longer economical to invest in a nuclear power plant! As a result, the overall picture is one of cost overruns, abandoned projects, a very little new construction. About the only countries where the nuclear industry continues to thrive are France and South Korea. China’s nuclear industry, which has a high priority in the country’s energy future, has been hit by significant safety failures. Eight of China’s 36 currently operating reactors experienced these shutdowns, all caused by human error. The basic problem, openly discussed by Chinese specialists, is that there aren’t enough well-trained, well-rewarded safety inspectors. China thus is spending many times more money on renewable energy than on new nuclear power plants.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is in serious danger. In 2016 it experienced its largest-ever die-off of coral.
Deforestation in the Amazon basin, the world’s largest carbon sink, is once again on the rise. Farmers in Bolivia and Brazil are again clearing land in huge swaths for planting soy under contract to Cargill and Bunge. Those giant agribusinesses were among signers of the New York Declaration of Forests, which promises an end to deforestation in order to grow crops such as soy and palm oil. The common estimate is that one-tenth of global carbon emissions stem from clearing of land and accompanying fires in the Amazon region.
Disintegration of the West Antarctica ice sheet is taking place right now. The elongating crack is unstoppable, and while it reportedly will not mean rising seas for decades, it is just another sign of warming oceans and future peril. By the end of the century, melting of this ice sheet, combined with ice melting elsewhere, will cause an estimated sea rise of five to six feet. That’s an extraordinary increase compared with predictions just a few years ago.
Every climate-change model suggests that we are way behind the curve for combating global warming and its potentially life-altering changes for human populations and habitat. Plans for a nation-wide solution, such as a carbon tax, seem like whistling in the dark given the sorry state of Washington politics. For instance, some Republican elder statesmen, including former secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker, III, have come forward with a plan to counter climate change. Hence, they recommend a carbon tax starting at $40 a ton at the well head or mine, the proceeds to be returned to consumers in dividend checks. Of course the producers are expected to pass on their tax to consumers.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens’.