New from Dolly Parton “World on Fire” -an anthem for our times. What is happening with the world’s biggest greenhouse gas? Texas atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, Plus, why are half the world’s lakes drying up? Dr. Ben Livneh explains a developing disaster affecting one quarter of the world’s people.
ANDREW DESSLER: THE HIDDEN IMPACTS OF A WETTER ATMOSPHERE
Is it too late to stop horrible climate heating? An American student asks Dr. Dessler after his 2016 presentation in Arkansas. He gives the analogy of driving down a freeway – only to see a car stopped ahead of you. You will hit the other car. But you hit the breaks as hard as you can, because the speed of impact will likely determine your injuries. The same is true of climate change. The climate has changed, but if we can slow it down by hitting the brakes on fossil fuel burning, the impact will be less.
The oceans are hotter than ever. Record heat waves wash across whole continents. We know more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to warming. But the amount of CO2 up there is tiny compared to another major greenhouse gas nobody talks about. That is water vapor and it feeds back even more warming. Why, how, and how much?
When NASA explains how “How Atmospheric Water Vapor Amplifies Earth’s Greenhouse Effect” they quote Dr. Andrew Dessler. He is the well-known Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Chair in Geoscience at Texas A&M University.
I ask: how could water in the atmosphere, quote “double the climate warming caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide”? It amplifies every ton of CO2 we put out there. A warming atmosphere holds more water vapor, which leads to more warming – a positive feedback loop. Dessler’s 2008 paper on this is “Water-vapor climate feedback inferred from climate fluctuations, 2003–2008.” That paper warns:
“The existence of a strong and positive water-vapor feedback means that projected business-as-usual greenhouse-gas emissions over the next century are virtually guaranteed to produce warming of several degrees Celsius.”
We hear about a threat from methane, everybody talks about it. Water vapor in the atmosphere can double the impacts of our greenhouse gas emissions – why doesn’t anyone talk about this?
TACKLING CLIMATE DENIAL
In a presentation on climate reality, Andrew Dessler explained how big oil and gas downplay the risks – using strategies from the rearguard action by tobacco companies. He plays a short clip from Good Morning America in 1982, which you hear in this show. After the Surgeon General of the United States reported tobacco definitely causes cancer and other diseases, we hear the ploy by Bill Dwyre Vice-President of Tobacco Institute on TV. See if you can translate it into global warming talk by fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists.
To me it sounds like saying: “Not everyone will die from climate change, and some of those folks would have died anyway.” Tobacco spokesman Bill Dwyre on Good Morning America in 1982, laid out all the lines now used by the oil, gas, and coal companies, to pacify you as the world heats beyond recognition, burning their profitable products.
Andrew’s key papers on water vapor and warming are before 2010. Since then, he has branched out to many areas of research, including the intersection of public policy and climate change. For example, in a paper published this February 2023, Dessler and Graduate Research Assistant Jangho Lee published “Future Temperature Related Deaths in the U.S.: The Impact of Climate Change, Demographics, and Adaptation”.
HUGE RISKS IF A POWER BLACKOUT DURING EXTREME HEAT
By the way, a study just out estimates if a power black-out hits cities during a heat wave, up to half the population (in Phoenix for example) would need E.R. care for heat… So Americans could get a nasty shock if the power goes out, which is happening more often in recent years.
See this: “Could A Heat Wave, Blackout Hospitalize Half Of Phoenix?” May 26, 2023 (the weather channel).
WHY ARE MANY OF THE WORLD’S LAKES DECLINING?
Experts say about “one-quarter of the world’s population resides in a basin of a drying lake.” In fact, half the world’s lakes are shrinking. Why? and What does it mean? We reach Dr. Ben Livneh, co-author of the new study just published in Science May 18. Ben is a Civil Engineer and Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. We tracked Ben down in Israel.
With Lead Author Fangfang Yao, Ben co-wrote the paper “Satellites reveal widespread decline in global lake water storage”. It turns out that about 2 billion people (one quarter of world population) live in “basins with large water bodies experiencing significant water storage losses.” And many of those lakes are also important source of hydro power, which is also threatened by water loss. The study find that climate change directly leads to about 21% of losses in these drying lakes.
From the Abstract of that paper:
“Climate change and human activities increasingly threaten lakes that store 87% of Earth’s liquid surface fresh water. Yet, recent trends and drivers of lake volume change remain largely unknown globally.
Here, we analyze the 1972 largest global lakes using three decades of satellite observations, climate data, and hydrologic models, finding statistically significant storage declines for 53% of these water bodies over the period 1992–2020.
The net volume loss in natural lakes is largely attributable to climate warming, increasing evaporative demand, and human water consumption, whereas sedimentation dominates storage losses in reservoirs. “
You can read more about this study in this excellent article by Seth Borenstein for Associated Press: “The world’s largest lakes are losing 5.7 trillion gallons of water a year to climate change, study finds.”
We just have time for a bit of Dolly Parton’s new song “World on Fire”, released in May 2023. You can find it on YouTube or dollyparton.com. Thanks Dolly! I’m Alex Smith. Over and out for this week’s Radio Ecoshock.
DOLLY PARTON VIDEO
Dolly Parton – World On Fire (Official Audio)
Posted May 10, 2023
COMING UP NEXT WEEK:
Why are we heading hell-bent into a world that nobody wants? Social philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger has the best explanation. We warns adding Artificial Intelligence to the unsustainable system we have will speed the decline toward disaster for humanity. Daniel talks with UK a science communicator, television presenter and former professional poker player Olivia “Liv” Boeree.
Then we talk wildfires and climate change with Canadian fire expert Michael Flannigan. This is a new interview. Mike Flannigan explains why burning the great north Boreal forests could change world climate for all of us. Tune in to Radio Ecoshock next week.
My special thanks to everyone who has sent donations to keep the show going. With your help, I just purchased a new telephone hybrid which should improve audio quality. The problems started when everyone is using cell phones. They have a stronger signal which my current hybrid could not control. So a new piece of equipment comes into the studio (for a mere $700 U.S….) None of this could happen without your generous support. Thank you!
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.