Meteorologists Believe in Climate Change

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.”
~Kin Hubbard

The warmest consecutive two-year period on Earth we’ve ever recorded just happened in 2015 and 2014. Facts like this make it tougher and tougher for groups of deniers to continue to argue against a warming planet. (They have to move onto the next level of denial: that it’s happening but it’s part of a natural cycle and not our fault.)

Meteorologists are a group who have often been cautious about accepting the concept of human activities playing a part in a warming planet and climate change. However, new survey results show nearly unanimous agreement among them that climate change is real with the vast majority supporting the concept that human activities are the main culprit.

The survey was obtained in January at George Mason University and was just released this week. Here are some of the highlights:

  • more than 95 percent of meteorologists think climate change is real
  • more than 80 percent say that human activities are at least half of the cause
  • two-thirds describe human activities to be “mostly” responsible
  • 17 percent said they’d changed their minds about climate change in the last five years; of those 87 percent said they are more convinced than ever that human-caused changes are happening.

When asked why they any of them had changed their minds, they were convinced by ongoing peer-reviewed studies, an ever-growing scientific consensus, and the evidence they’ve witnessed themselves of climate change happening where they live.

According to Ed Maibach, lead author of the survey findings and director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:

[I]t does appear that more meteorologists are now more convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. That is exactly what one would expect, of course, given the trajectory of our changing climate and the ever increasing [certainty] of the science.

It’s gradually becoming more difficult to be a denier, but some will hold out forever, regardless of the evidence presented before them. Heck, even rapper B.o.B. argues the world is flat today we’ll never convince everyone of the truth. But the mark of a mature and open mind is to change an opinion when presented with evidence to the contrary. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.

Scotland Gets Even Greener

“Coal has long been the dominant force in Scotland’s electricity generation fleet, but the closure of Longannet signals the end of an era.”
—Hugh Finlay, generation director at Scottish Power

Good news: Scotland just burned its last bit of coal for the purposes of generating electricity. The Longannet power station was the last–and biggest–coal-fired power plant in all of Scotland. They shut down operations last Thursday. Despite the fact that it generated electricity for 25 percent of Scottish homes, it’s a done deal.

Scotland has a population of about five million people but is planning to be completely dependent on renewable energy by the year 2020. Renewable electricity output in Scotland has more than doubled since 2007. Renewables already provide half of Scotland’s electricity. Despite the fact that Donald Trump think it ruins the view of his Scottish golf course, much of the increase in renewable energy comes from a substantial investment in both onshore and offshore wind energy. Scotland’s largest wind farm happens to be the largest in the entire United Kingdom: Whitelee Windfarm near Glasgow has a 539-megawatt capacity, generating enough electricity to power almost 300,000 homes.

So with Longannet shutting down, where will Scotland make up its energy difference? Most will come from nuclear and gas-powered plants, but some will come from renewables, particularly wind farms. Hugh Finlay, generation director at Scottish Power, told the Guardian:

Coal has long been the dominant force in Scotland’s electricity generation fleet, but the closure of Longannet signals the end of an era.

Not surprisingly, environmentalists celebrate the end of Longannet, pointing out the coal-fired power station consumed about 4.5 tonnes of coal annually, generating about 20 percent of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Let’s be real: coal and other fossil fuels aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, but we can expect to see some declines in their use in the coming years. And renewable energy isn’t going to disappear anytime soon for sure, and we can expect it will only continue to increase, especially as it becomes more competitively-priced with fossil fuels. Case in point: a United Nations-backed report found that both coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half the investment that was made in renewable energy last year.

“The times, they are ‘a changing.” Nice to see Scotland is ahead of the curve.

Hawaii: Going Green

“Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.”
—Paul Theroux

My family and I are back on the island of Oahu in Hawaii for March Break. The weather is perfect and the landscape is truly paradise. I could easily see retiring to the Aloha State rather than Florida or Arizona, as so many Canadians do. (Or perhaps I could look into whether they need any more cardiologists right now!)

But when you care about a topic like the environment as much as I do, it never leaves you. So even though this is a vacation, I am always making observations regarding environmental initiatives and how the island is making efforts to go green. There are little things, like at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northeast part of Oahu. As everyone can relate to, the closer you get to any large building such as a theme park or even shopping malls, you notice the closest parking spots to the entrance are reserved for a variety of groups. These usually include people with mobility issues, pregnancy, or even parents with young children. But at the Polynesian Cultural Center these prime parking spots are reserved for patrons with electric vehicles, complete with the ability to charge their cars while they are enjoying all of Polynesia in a day!

Here are some quick facts about Hawaii according the the US Energy Information Administration:

  • With its mild tropical climate, Hawaii had the third-lowest per capita energy use in the nation in 2013. The transportation sector accounted for about half of Hawaii’s energy demand in 2013, led by commercial and military aviation fuel use.
  • In 2013, Hawaii imported 91% of the energy it consumed and, in 2014, the state had the highest electricity prices in the nation.
  • Hawaii is one of seven states with installed geothermal capacity. In 2014, 19% of Hawaii’s renewable net electricity generation came from geothermal energy.
  • Hawaii’s utility-scale electricity generation from solar energy more than doubled in 2014. Hawaii generated 29% of its renewable electricity from both utility-scale resources and small-scale solar photovoltaic panels installed on rooftops across the islands.
  • Hawaii is the first state to set a goal of producing 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. The state plans to reach that goal by 2045.

In 2008, the state of Hawaii in cooperation with the US Department of Energy created the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. This project is striving to achieve energy independence by working toward the goal of having 70% of its energy come from energy efficiency (30%) and renewable sources (40%) by the year 2030.

This may seem ambitious but for Hawaii it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. My family and I can attest to the amount of sunshine the state experiences so it’s not surprising that the initiative includes measures to have all new homes that are built to be equipped with solar panels. The big island already generates electricity from geothermal sources, and if you’re old enough to remember Greg Brady surfing (and wiping out because he was wearing that bad-luck tiki), you can appreciate why wave energy is being explored. Wind energy is also abundant, especially on Maui, so wind turbines are another source of renewable energy the state can look to.

I am very impressed with the attitudes of the people of Hawaii toward green energy. Granted, part of this results from economic need: it’s costly to generate electricity from fossil fuels on remote islands. But recognizing the abundance of renewable sources of energy Hawaii has to offer has led to a dramatic shift for these little islands in the Pacific. They’re working toward the goal of becoming the greenest state in the union, with a healthy rivalry now existing between Hawaii and California. With the progressive attitudes I have witnessed, I have no doubt that they’ll accomplish their goals. I only hope the rest of us can learn from their example.

Sea Level Rise: Reality For Some

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
—Isaac Asimov

It makes me sad to think that a number of my favourite cities around the globe are threatened with sea level rise. Places like Venice, Amsterdam, Miami, New York City and New Orleans are all in trouble in the coming centuries if the predictions of climate scientists are correct. I hate to think that future generations will have to read about how great these cities once were in books without getting to experience them first-hand, each one a modern-day Atlantis.

But as awful as the threats to these cities are, there are some entire nations that are at risk of being wiped off the map completely. Many sovereign nations situated in our planet’s oceans aren’t just going to lose some of their coastal cities; they’re going to lose their entire existence.

The Maldives are one such example. This nation has the distinction of likely being the first that will disappear completely due to global warming and sea level rise because it exists as an archipelago. The Maldives consist of a string of more than 1200 islands located in the Indian Ocean. Eighty percent of its land mass is less than one metre above sea level. In fact the highest point in the entire country is only 2.4 metres above sea level, and already fourteen of the islands have been abandoned due to massive erosion from the sea.

It’s a bad enough threat that former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed gave serious consideration to moving the entire nation to Australia, Sri Lanka or India, effectively abandoning the homeland. (Civilizations have done this in the past as the Greco-Roman ruins in Turkey will attest to, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an example in modern times.)

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Nasheed was quoted as saying:

It is increasingly becoming difficult to sustain the islands, in the natural manner that these islands have been. If nations won’t do good for themselves, they really must do good for everyone around, simply in your self-interest as well … I think it’s really quite necessary for Australians and for every rich country to understand that this is unlike any other thing that’s happened before.

But the Maldives aren’t the only sovereign nation threatened by sea level rise (although they’ll most likely be the first to go). Here are a few other nations at risk along with how much sea level rise it will take to wipe them out and their populations. They’re all located in the Pacific Ocean:

  • Kiribati—three feet—103,500
  • Marshall Islands—ten feet—68,000
  • Tuvalu—twenty one feet—10,500
None of this will happen overnight. Most estimates are that the next century will have perhaps two to three feet of sea level rise in total, but that will be enough to devastate a few of these nations, with future centuries wiping out the rest unless something drastic is done to tackle the problem.It’s sad to think that our use of fossil fuels will help to eliminate entire nations. Perhaps they can pack their bags and run, but that will undoubtedly change their culture once they relocate. An ineffable quality of humanity will be lost forever.

But do the CEOs of Exxon-Mobil and British Petroleum care? Probably not—unless their vacation hideaway is located on one of these threatened nations.