Opinion | On a Divided Mount Everest, Climate Cooperation Is Being Tested – The New York Times

“. . . Warming in this Third Pole is happening at roughly double the global rate and has been especially pronounced over the past 60 years. This century is becoming the warmest period in these high mountains in 2,000 years, making the region an important ground for research in the effort to avert climate disaster.

This year, a comprehensive climate assessment for the Third Pole warned that two-thirds of the present mass of the glaciers in the region around Everest could disappear by the year 2100. Yet as the assessment noted, there are significant “knowledge gaps” in climatic data coming from the region. This is particularly true in high-altitude environments where the annual snows collect atop the region’s myriad glaciers.”

“. . . .  New discoveries from our undertaking and from others are yielding an astonishing picture of a landscape in flux.

For instance: An ice core extracted at an altitude above 26,000 feet from the South Col, Everest’s highest glacier, showed that the ice at the surface was approximately 2,000 years old, meaning that ice that had accumulated afterward, which might have risen to a height of 180 feet, had vanished. Mountaineers on Everest also appear to have taken a heavy toll. Snow samples revealed the presence of microplastics nearly all the way up the mountain, and snow and water samples from Everest were laden with PFAS, long-lasting chemicals widely used by a range of industries and in consumer products.”

David Wallace-Wells | Climate Change Has Made Deadly Heat Waves Normal – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

It doesn’t take the end of the world to upend the way billions live in it. The punishing weather we are uneasily learning to call “normal” is doing that already.

Late last month, a heat wave swallowed South Asia, bringing temperatures to more than a billion people — one-fifth of the entire human population — 10 degrees warmer than the one imagined in the opening pages of Kim Stanley Robinson’s celebrated climate novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” where a similar event on the subcontinent quickly kills 20 million. It is now weeks later, and the heat wave is still continuing. Real relief probably won’t come before the monsoons in June.

Mercifully, according to the young science of “heat death,” air moisture is as important as temperature for triggering human mortality, and when thermometers hit 115 degrees Fahrenheit in India and 120 in Pakistan in April, the humidity was quite low. But even so, in parts of India, humidity was still high enough that if the day’s peak moisture had coincided with its peak heat, the combination would have produced “wet-bulb temperatures” — which integrate measures of both into a single figure — already at or past the limit for human survivability. Birds fell dead from the sky.

In Pakistan, the heat melted enough of the Shipsher glacier to produce what’s called a “glacial lake outburst flood,” destroying two power stations and the historic Hassanabad Bridge, on the road to China.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This is an excellent column, thank you David Wallace-Wells. I do not care at all about the need for news organizations of all stripes to push their email newsletters. It smells of marketing intrusion, even if it isn’t. And furthermore, I read this paper for almost half the day, almost every day, so I have no time to study more of it when I go to crash through my emails. I fault the writer, and the paper, for not communicating clearly, if these newsletters, will also be printed in the paper, or always get printed at least in the on-line version of the paper. Who said, the truth is now more important than ever. Is this “newsletter” part of the paper? Or is it an attempt at developing a new revenue stream? Meanwhile, the earth is heating itself to our probable demise. I will remind the NYT of my request last year, that all your news and opinion pieces on climate change and the sixth extinction be removed from your paywall, like you did for Covid, since we are already in a climate crisis, and the public will probably reward you for your excellent work.
Respectfully,
David Lindsay Jr
InconvenientNews.net

Did Warming Play a Role in Deadly South African Floods? Yes, a Study Says. – The New York Times

“The heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in South Africa in mid-April were made twice as likely to occur by climate change, scientists said Friday.

An analysis of the flooding, which killed more than 400 people in Durban and surrounding areas in the eastern part of the country, found that the intense two-day storm that caused it had a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in any given year. If the world had not warmed as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the study found, the chances would have been half that, 1 in 40.

The study, by a loose-knit group of climate scientists, meteorologists and disaster experts called World Weather Attribution, is the latest in a string of analyses showing that the damaging effects of global warming, once considered a future problem, have already arrived. And extreme events like this one are expected to increase as warming continues.

“We need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a new reality where floods and heat waves are more intense and damaging,” one of the study’s authors, Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, said in a statement issued by World Weather Attribution.

The flooding and related mudslides caused more than $1.5 billion in damage and were “the biggest tragedy that we have ever seen,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the time. Bridges and roads were destroyed and thousands of homes, many of them in makeshift settlements, were swept away or damaged.

The disaster led to sharp criticism of the government for not fulfilling pledges to improve infrastructure to handle heavy downpours and to tackle a longstanding housing crisis.

Image

Shipping containers that were swept up by floodwaters in Durban, a major port on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

World Weather Attribution conducts its analyses within days or weeks of an event, while it is still fresh in the public’s mind. This one looked at the two-day storm that hit eastern South Africa beginning on April 11 and produced rainfall totals of nearly 14 inches in some areas, half or more of the area’s annual total. The work has yet to be peer-reviewed or published, but it uses methods that have been reviewed previously.

This includes using observational data and two sets of computer simulations, one that models the world as it is, about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than it was before widespread emissions began in the late 19th century, and a hypothetical world in which global warming never happened.

The finding that the likelihood of such an extreme rain event has increased with global warming is consistent with many other studies of individual events and broader trends. A major reason for the increase is that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture.”

Everything You Thought You Knew, and Why You’re Wrong (says Vaclac Smil) – The New York Times

HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS

The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

By Vaclav Smil

“The title’s pleonastic fourth word is the giveaway. It announces the tone of Vaclav Smil’s 49th book: vinegary scorn for the irresponsible declarations of self-proclaimed experts, particularly those guilty of innumeracy, ahistoricism and other forms of wishful thinking that Vaclav Smil would never, ever fall for. You’ve heard a lot of prognostications about the state of the world. They’re bunk. Here, at last, is how the world really works.

Smil, who has taught at the University of Manitoba for half a century, rests his expertise on the strength of a polymathic pedigree nearly unmatched in North American academic life. Unlike Noam Chomsky — whose own breadth of expertise Smil ridicules in passing — Smil does not suffer polemics. Nor is he a forecaster, as he stresses repeatedly (with mounting exasperation). If anything he is an anti-forecaster, contemptuous of any prediction made about complex systems. Smil is a compiler of data, an indefatigable quantifier (to the 10th decimal), a summarizer, a pragmatist and a utilitarian. Or, as he puts it, “I am a scientist trying to explain how the world really works.”

“. . . . To do so, however, one must sort and prioritize — one must filter the world’s information through subjective criteria. Even utilitarianism lies in the eye of the beholder. Should policies designed to favor the greatest number of people, for instance, account for people not yet born? If so, how many generations of them? When it comes to such questions, critical as they are to climate policy, mathematical calculations yield inexorably to ethical ones.

In short order Smil summarizes the history of global energy, food, material production and trade. (Smil has dedicated books to each subject.) Salient details emerge. Canada, blessed with greater forest acreage than any affluent nation, saves money by importing toothpicks from China. No country possesses sufficient rare earth metals to support its economy. The world throws out a third of its food. Human beings today enjoy, on average, the annual benefit of 34 gigajoules of energy. Expressed in units of human labor, that is “as if 60 adults would be working nonstop, day and night,” for each person. Residents of affluent countries have it better: An American family of four has more hired help than the Sun King at Versailles.

During these expositional chapters, a bell keeps ringing, and its din soon drowns out the litanies of diesel fuel per kilogram units and ratios of edible mass to mass of embedded energy. It brings the grim announcement that every fundamental aspect of modern civilization rests overwhelmingly on fossil fuel combustion. Take our food system. Readers of Michael Pollan or Amanda Little understand that it’s morally indefensible to purchase Chilean blueberries or, God forbid, New Zealand lamb. But even a humble loaf of sourdough requires the equivalent of about 5.5 tablespoons of diesel fuel, and a supermarket tomato, which Smil describes as no more than “an appealingly shaped container of water” (apologies to Marcella Hazan), is the product of about six tablespoons of diesel. “How many vegans enjoying the salad,” he writes, “are aware of its substantial fossil fuel pedigree?”

This Eminent Scientist Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real

“There are these billions of people who want to burn more fossil fuel,” says Vaclav Smil. “There is very little you can do about that.”

It is best to eat local, but we do not have enough arable land to support our population, even in our vast continent, at least not without the application of obscene quantities of natural-gas-derived fertilizer. One must further account for the more than three billion people in the developing world who will need to double or triple their food production to approach a dignified standard of living. Then add the additional two billion who will soon join us. “For the foreseeable future,” writes Smil, “we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.” He performs similar calculations for the world’s production of energy, cement, ammonia, steel and plastic, always reaching the same result: “A mass-scale, rapid retreat from the current state is impossible.” “

David Lindsay: There is much here to admire, but one must handle with fire mits. Here is the best so far, of many excellent comments:

Brian D
Maryland May 11

I haven’t read the book, but from the review this sounds like just another manifestation of the doomer ethos “Nothing is worth doing because nothing can save us.” Smil says that food requires energy and refuses to believe that energy can be obtained from renewables, or that ammonia can be made from anything but natural gas. This sort of blindness is the same as that which led Malthus to predict mass starvation, he failed to foresee changes in farming practice including the advent of artificial fertilizer. The solution to problems like decarbonizing food or transportation may be multipartite, difficult, expensive, and require systematic change, but that is not a reason to throw up our hands, it is a reason to start sooner and work harder. I read a lot of climate books and talk to climate activists and no one is on either of the extremes Smil so despises, he is defeating strawmen. Everyone involved on any but the most superficial level understands that large painful changes will have to be undergone if we are to avoid even more catastrophic results, but the idea that nothing can be done is and has always been the biggest force pushing us towards what could well be a civilization ending chain reaction. How does the world REALLY work? It works by people deciding to make changes and uniting to do the hard work. Anything else is simply abandoning our grandchildren.

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Here is what I have to add to the comment above:
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Nathaniel Rich for this fascinating report. I greatly admire Vaclav Smil for his tough talk and numbers driven analysis. I wonder why he doesn’t join hawks like my partner and me, in saying clearly, the people of the world need to reduce their numbers, since their pollution is killing the planet. Humans are going to have to radically change their behavior, as in, reduce their consumption levels, to reduce green house gas emissions. I agree with one commentor, that Smil appears to have given up. If this is true, it would explain why he sounds almost like a shill for the oil and gas companies,
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net

This Eminent Scientist Vaclav Smil Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real – The New York Times

“The “really” in the title of Vaclav Smil’s newest book, “How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going,” is doing some heavy lifting. Implicit in the renowned energy scientist’s usage is the idea that most of us are uninformed or just plain wrong about the fundamentals of the global economy. He aims to correct that — to recenter materials rather than electronic flows of data as the bedrock of modern life — largely through examining what he calls the four pillars of modern civilization: cement, steel, plastics and ammonia. (The production and use of all four currently requires burning huge amounts of fossil carbon.) Which brings us back to that “really.” In the context of Smil’s book, which will be published May 10, the word is also a rebuke to those calling for rapid decarbonization in order to combat global warming. “I am not talking about what could be done,” says Smil, who is 78 and who counts Bill Gates among his many devotees. “I’m looking at the world as it is.” ”

David Lindsay: A sobering and depressing converstation about the climate crisis. We are really in trouble, and not doing very much about it.  Just a smattering of suggested solution, like a stipend on small efficient cars, and a tax on SUV’s. But, there was one comment that stood out, for clarity, and direction.

Woof

Interesting article, but an international comparison shows that the US can cut its emission to *half* without significantly impacting its standard of living.

Country,  CO2 emissions per  annual capita in tons,    Carbon Tax

US 16.06  No (as in No Carbon Tax


United Kingdom 5.48 Yes  (as Yes, they have a carbon tax)

France 4.97 Yes

Spain 5.41 Yes

Sweden 4.26 Yes

Americans emit four times as much green house gases per person than Sweden. But the Swedes live just as well as Americans, and by some measures such as cost of education, social safety nets etc better And a chief reason for it, is that Sweden has the highest carbon tax in the world. And yet, there is NO carbon tax in the Biden plan. Nor does the word appear in the interview. To an economist, this is strange Biden’s plan is to reduce US emissions by 2030 to half of what they were in 2005 (19.59); that would 9.795 tons per capita in 2030 TWICE what Swedes emit now. Clearly, that is can be done – if US voters agree. It is the attitude of US voters that is the obstacle. And the solution is an education campaign on the scale of that essentially eliminated cigarette smoking in the US Start there

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Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds – The New York Times

“Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.

Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.

“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.”

Why Did the Larsen A and B Ice Shelves Fail? Scientists Say They Now Know. – The New York Times

“The rapid collapses of two ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula over the last quarter-century were most likely triggered by the arrival of huge plumes of warm, moisture-laden air that created extreme conditions and destabilized the ice, researchers said Thursday.

The disintegration of the Larsen A shelf in 1995 and of the Larsen B shelf in 2002 were preceded by landfall of these plumes, called atmospheric rivers, from the Pacific Ocean. They generated extremely warm temperatures over several days that caused surface melting of the ice that led to fracturing, and reduced sea ice cover, allowing ocean swells to flex the ice shelves and further weaken them.

“We identify atmospheric rivers as a mechanism that can create extreme conditions over the ice shelves of the Antarctic Peninsula and potentially lead to their destabilization,” said Jonathan Wille, a climatologist and meteorologist at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France and the lead author of a study describing the research in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.”

Thomas Friedman | Neil Young and Liz Cheney, Thanks for Sticking Your Necks Out – The New York Times

“. . . Let me try to explain the urgency of this moment by drawing a parallel between how our environment and our political system are both losing critical buffers that had long kept them stable.

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of the interlocking systems that support life on earth as if they were parts of a car that chugs along, occasionally hitting potholes that we humans create through our excesses — CO₂ emissions, deforestation and pollution.

This car always had lots of bumpers, spare tires, shock absorbers, airbags and backup batteries to keep it running smoothly, no matter how recklessly we drove, according to Johan Rockström, one of the world’s leading earth system scientists, who heads the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. These buffers were our oceans, ice caps, tropical forests, glaciers, freshwater rivers, coastal mangroves and rich topsoils, and they were able to absorb so much of our abuse and keep us in this Garden of Eden climate we’ve enjoyed since the last ice age.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Tom Friedman for another magnificent piece. I have a quibble. You do a disservice to Liz Cheney by giving Neil Young equal weight in the beginning statement. Liz Cheney and I disagree about a lot, but she has put her job, her career, and her livelihood on the line, to try and save the Republican party from a conman and his followers, and the far right, which includes authoritarian and white racist Christian fascists. That is a much braver position, than quitting Spotify, which other have quit before, because it also doesn’t pay well, and hurts thousands of other musicians.
I am pleased to have always boycotted Spotify. But I tip my hat to Liz Cheney. We desperately need, as Friedman as so clearly written himself, a healthy, vibrant conservative but democratic Republican party, for our democracy to thrive.

Margaret Renkl | This Winter, Snow Can Help Us Learn to Stop – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — It was 78 degrees here on New Year’s Day, a record high for Nashville, and I broke into a sweat just packing for a weekend on the Cumberland Plateau. “Did you remember to bring your coat?” my husband asked when I got into the car.

It was not an unreasonable question, despite the heat. I hadn’t packed my coat when we left for the Cumberland Plateau last month. It was warm that day, too. In fact, it had been so warm for so long that the cherry laurels were already in bud. Who thinks to pack a coat when cherry laurels are in bud?

But the next day the temperature dropped to 45, and there I was, stranded in the woods with no coat nor even so much as a sweater. Apparently, this is how winter works now. Daffodils out of the ground, Lenten roses in full bloom two months out of time, and then wham.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT  Jan. 10,  NYT Comment:

Hi Margaret,

Thank you for another lovely post about snow and the changes in the weather. I am sharing with friends and neighbors a new 2021 video from climate scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI).

This is important information, not usually so well described. Here is the link to: “Earth Emergency: Feedback Loops” available at PBS for the next 3 weeks or so. https://www.pbs.org/show/earth-emergency/ Go to the PBS site, and the right video says it is for 52 minutes and 24s or seconds.

Here is a link to access separately the 5 original shorts from a year ago, that make up the full length video, through my blog post at InconvenientNews.Net. https://inconvenientnews.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/climate-emergency-feedback-loops/ The responsible group at WHOI is the Woodwell Climate Research Center, can be found at: https://www.woodwellclimate.org/?event=national-premiere-of-earth-emergency-on-pbs I hope to write a column on this, but while my head is high, my platform is small.

David Lindsay

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