In this week’s show I have two top level scientists. Pep Canadell the Director of the Global Carbon Project reports a big increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, mostly coming from China. We talk about whether even 2 degrees C of global warming is just a dream now. Dr. Jim Kossin of NOAA leads climate reports for the U.S. Government and the IPCC. His specialty is big storms. Kossin’s latest paper says tropical cyclones (hurricanes) are slowing down and leaving a greater trail of destruction. This is your news before it’s news, on Radio Ecoshock.
My thanks to all the listeners who support this program, and the non-profit stations that bring out the voice of science on Radio Ecoshock.
Or you can listen to or download each individual interview.
The first interview is with Pep Canadell from the Global Carbon Project. As examples, Pep told me three stories about Australia that made my hair stand up (well… the hair I have left). Two I heard of and covered, and yet his explanation carried fundamental facts about each that I did not know.
Also, he says, in the first 3 months of 2018, global carbon emissions took a serious step up, after pausing for a couple of years. (For a couple of years the increase paused, not the pollution). The reason for the new carbon spurt: growth in the Chinese economy. China emitted 27% of the globe’s greenhouse gases in the past year. The U.S. was responsible for 14%, and the EU 7%.
““Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that year 2100 emissions concentrations will exceed those given by RCP8.5,” says Peter Christensen of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.”
Christensen continues: “While some claim the link between economic growth and greenhouse emissions has been broken – or ‘decoupled’ – it’s only been weakened. Carbon emissions have risen in the European Union over the past four years as economic growth has picked up, Peters points out. In 2017, EU emissions rose 1.8 per cent.”
Climate change is coming sooner and harder than expected. With alarming new research, I’ve been saying the dreaded 2 degrees C of warming is unlikely – even with geoengineering. So why are some officials still talking as though 1.5 degrees is the goal? Finally more realism is emerging – partly due to stunning new emission figures for China. Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper “Most climate scientists think 2 degrees to be aspirational.”
While all industrial nations have failed to slash emissions, the story from China is worse. The latest emissions figures come from satellite data, with reporting from Greenpeace and the Global Carbon Project.
The Greenpeace report says:
“Now government data indicates China’s CO2 emissions went up 4.0% on the first quarter, after a 2% increase in 2017. Calculating demand from government data on production, trade, and industry data on inventories, coal demand increased 3.5%, oil demand 4.3%, gas demand 10% while cement output fell 4.5%. This has led researchers to warn that we could see a 5% increase in emissions from China this year, the largest since 2011.”
In Canberra Australia, I reached Dr. Josep Canadell, known as “Pep”. He is the long-time Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, and a research scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia. Pep is an author in more than 150 peer-reviewed science papers and a member of the Nobel Prize-winning 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Dr. Josep “Pep” Canadell, Global Carbon Project and CISRO
There was a lot of good news coming out of China over the past few years. Mass transit there is booming along with the world’s largest solar build-up. We heard the Chinese coal plant binge was ending. I thought big hydro electric plants, like Three Gorges, would help cut coal dependence. But actual emissions measurements tell us greenhouse gas emissions from China are much worse during the first 3 months of 2018.
Dr. Canadell was also a co-author of a 2016 paper on “Estimating cropland carbon mitigation potentials in China“. There are several ways China can modify its huge agricultural system to help the climate system, but they need time and a lot of investment in training millions of farmers. For example, rice-growers can reduce the time their fields are flooded, to reduce the dangerous greenhouse gas methane.
We also discuss whether the world can stop at 2 degrees of warming, or whether we are headed to a planet 3, 4 or more degrees C hotter. In July 2011, there was a conference at the University of Melbourne, titled “Four Degrees Or More? Australia in a Hot World”. The German climate scientist Dr. John Schellnhuber gave the keynote address, which we broadcast on Radio Ecoshock. The mood then was “what if”. Now four degrees seems much more possible.
A day before this interview, I drove through a flooded out neighborhood in southern British Columbia. Everything was dragged to the street in piles. Many houses had a red tag, condemned to be torn down. Hardly anyone could get insurance. Their lives are wrecked along with their homes. Local business may never return. We see emissions accelerating. So are the repeated hits to people and communities all over the world. Do you think climate change alone could bring down the economy into a new low state?
We began by talking about a worrying burst of carbon coming from China. I worry that pretty soon the worst of nationalist voices will blame China for the extreme weather. But of course, the extreme heat and weather we are experiencing now comes from emissions from North America and Europe. The real impact of Chinese emissions in 2018 will be experienced at least 20 years from now.
Tune in the big picture on carbon in the atmosphere at globalcarbonproject.org.
JIM KOSSIN – MORE DAMAGING STORMS
My second discussion is with Jim Kossin who just published a paper in Nature about slower moving cyclones since 1950. They are slowing (think Hurricane Harvey) and the peak is moving toward the Poles. Closer to the tropics a slight there may be a slight reprieve in the odds of extreme rainfall events; further north – welcome to a new and terrible experience!
From Texas to Taiwan slow-moving hurricanes have caused record damage. Has something changed in the way these big storms work? Four well-known climate scientists are asking “Does global warming make tropical cyclones stronger?”
Dr. Jim Kossin is an Atmospheric Research Scientist. He’s with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. Jim is currently a Lead Author on the U.S. Global Change Research Program, for their Fourth National Climate Assessment [NCA4]. He’s also working on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] Sixth Assessment Report [AR6]. Jim has won awards and the key science he publishes is used by world climate researchers and meteorologists. He’s just published an important paper in the journal Nature.
Dr. Jim Kossin, NOAA
Kossin also helped co-ordinate the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters. He is a recognized world experts on big storms. Jim’s latest paper was published June 6th, 2018 in Nature. It is titled “A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed“.
Before we can talk about the most damaging storms in the world, we need to quickly clear up two terms. First, hurricanes and tropical cyclones are the same thing.
Second, storm scientists talk about “translation speed”. While newscasters report on the spinning speed within the hurricane (winds of 160 miles per hour, for example) – the translation speed is the progress of the storm over land or sea. If it is moving “forward” at 30 miles or kilometers per hour, that is the translation speed. This new paper is largely about a slowdown not in the winds of hurricanes (in general those are tending to increase) but in the movement of the big storms across the landscape.
That matters a lot. Hurricane Harvey stayed over Houston for a couple of days, dumping massive amounts of rain, and then doubled back for a second hit. It’s translation speed was quite low. In 2011, I covered Hurricane Irene which wasn’t all that strong by the time it hit New England. But it dumped incredible amounts of rain for several days, causing wide-spread flooding and damage. When we consider a warmer atmosphere puts more water into the sky, a slower translation speed means even more flooding.
THE WORST WETTEST STORMS SO FAR…
I looked up a list of wettest tropical cyclones in the science-reference-for-the-rest-of-us, Wikipedia. Taiwan got 8 of the top 25 wettest storms. For example, in 2009, Typhoon Morakot dumped over 3000 millimeters of rain. That is 120 inches – ten feet of rain from one storm!
Then we had Cyclone Yasi hitting the Queensland Coast of Australia in February 2011. It continued pretty far inland, causing over 800 billion dollars of damage.
According to Wikipedia, the two wettest tropical cyclones on record were in the Indian Ocean, at Reunion, a French Island off the coast of Madagascar, Africa. Number One was Hurricane Hyacinthe in 1980 [with 6,433 mm. or 253.3 inches] and Number Two, Hurricane Gamede in 2007 [with over 5,000 mm. or 217 inches]. The fifth wettest was at the same island, Hurricane Diwa. Sure enough, this study found a storm slowdown zone in the Madagascar region.
When talking about these big storms, analysts look beyond the immediate deaths and damages. So called “tertiary hazards” may include higher food prices, water-borne diseases – and as we see in Puerto Rico, it can take a long time to rebuild. Slower moving storms can add to those hazards.
BUT IS IT CLIMATE CHANGE?
We had this storm talk before asking the trillion-dollar question. The scientists discovered a measurable slow-down in the movement of tropical cyclones – but is it due to climate change?
The answer in the new paper reminds me of my 2012 interview with Rutgers scientist Jennifer Francis. I asked Jennifer about her theory of a relationship between disappearing sea ice and changes to the Jet Stream. She corrected me to say her paper was not theoretical. It was a report about observations of time-concurrent events. But a direct link was not yet known.
Similarly, while scientists suspect that a slow-down in the movement of tropical cyclones/hurricanes is due to climate change, the exact mechanism has not yet been proven.
Another recent paper, published April 6th and led by Ethand Gutmann from The National Center for Atmospheric Research also suggested slower moving storms with faster winds. That study was published by the American Meteorological Society, and it backs up what our guest Jim Kossin found.
From Kossin’s paper, here are the regions most impacted by this tropical cyclone slowdown. “Of particular importance is the slowdown of 30 per cent and 20 per cent over land areas affected by western North Pacific and North Atlantic tropical cyclones, respectively, and the slowdown of 19 per cent over land areas in the Australian region.”
“THE STRONGEST FUTURE STORMS WILL EXCEED THE STRENGTH OF ANY IN THE PAST”
Jim Kossin, Kerry Emanuel, Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann published a post in the RealClimate blog titled “Does global warming make tropical cyclones stronger?“.
I remember back in 2006 when MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel produced papers saying hurricanes would be more frequent due to climate change. More recently he changed that to a prediction of more violent storms. There is still a controversy there, even between scientists. Another well-known scientist Kevin Trenberth, the New Zealand transplant now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, – Trenberth says he does NOT see evidence of a proven relationship between global warming and changes to storms. Here is a Mother Jones article about this controversy, in 2013
The RealClimate blog post says this group of four expects, quote “the strongest future storms will exceed the strength of any in the past.” Some scientists, including Michael Mann, are calling for a new higher rating for hurricanes and tropical cyclones: Category 6 storms.
The new paper in Nature raises more questions. For example, they found “evidence that tropical cyclones have migrated poleward in several regions“. That means some parts of North America, Europe and Asia that are not used to powerful storms may get them. Maybe some places in the tropics will get fewer of the most violent storms.
HERE IS AN EXPLANATORY ARTICLE FREE IN “NATURE” (an easy way to access the data in this Kossin research paper). Here is a good article on this new paper from National Geographic. And this one from Chelsea Harvey, published by E&E News June 7, 2018,
ALSO SEE THIS 2016 ARTICLE Asian typhoons becoming more intense, study finds “Giant storms that wreak havoc across China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines have grown 50% stronger in the past 40 years due to warming seas.” The Guardian continues…
“Typhoons can have devastating impacts in east Asia. In 2013, typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,300 people and affecting 11 million. Typhoon Nina struck China in 1975, dumping 100cm of rain in a day and leading to 229,000 deaths and 6m destroyed buildings. Last week in northern Japan and caused power blackouts and property damage, while in July , killing at least nine people and leaving a trail of destruction.”
That Guardian article is based on this study, published: 05 September 2016, “Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s“.
If you can afford to help me pay the bills for Radio Ecoshock, and keep all programs coming free to anyone who will listen, anywhere in the world, please see my support page.
ONE LAST THING: IS THE GERMAN ECONOMY IN DANGER DUE TO EMISSIONS CHEATING?
Everybody check out this excellent You tube video on diesel-gate and the fate of the German economy! You may think you don’t care, but once you know – you will… My thanks to listener and supporter Dana for this tip. Dana, by the way, just bought a used Leaf (electric car) to supplement his RadWagon electric bike. Dana is going fossil free – why wait?