Boards ‘still not walking the talk on climate change’

Even with the pandemic and the latest variant filling the news headlines, there is still a lot of talk about climate change.

Manchin Rejects Democratic Plan to Ban New Offshore Drilling, Sources Say

The Democrat from West Virginia, a coal and gas stronghold, has single-handedly stripped key elements from his party’s plan to tackle climate change.
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Joe Manchin Rejects Democratic Plan to Ban New Drilling in Atlantic and Pacific

The senator from West Virginia, a coal and gas stronghold, has single-handedly stripped key elements from his party’s plan to tackle climate change.
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PBS Report on Thwaites Glacier: “Absolutely Massive”

PBS above. Below, WION, a news service based in New Delhi.

Toxic Forever Chemicals Can ‘Boomerang’ Back to Land From Ocean in Sea Spray, Study Finds

The sea breeze isn’t as clean and healthy as you might think.

Past research has found that sea spray can actually release microplastics into the air. Now, a new study published in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology Wednesday found that the same thing is true for the toxic forever chemicals known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

“The common belief was that PFAS would eventually wash off into the oceans where they would stay to be diluted over the timescale of decades,” study co-author and Stockholm University Department of Environmental Science researcher Matthew Salter said in a statement reported by The Hill. “But it turns out that there’s a boomerang effect, and some of the toxic PFAS are re-emitted to air, transported long distances and then deposited back onto land.”

PFAS are referred to as forever chemicals because they take a long time to break down in the environment, as ACS explained in a press release. This is a problem because they are both widespread in the environment, including drinking water, and potentially harmful to human health. They have been linked to reproductive and development problems, types of cancer, immune suppression, hormone disruption and obesity risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Scientists are continually uncovering more ways in which we may be exposed to these chemicals, which were introduced in the 1940s and have been used for a variety of commercial and industrial purposes including firefighting foam, food packaging and stain and water repellant. In 2021 alone, researchers have detected their presence in breast milk, cosmetics and indoor air.

The new research finds that they could be polluting outdoor air too, at least along the coast. Previously, ACS explained, the research team behind the most recent study had conducted laboratory experiments showing that PFAS could be released into the atmosphere when bubbles of saltwater burst, emitting PFAS in tiny airborne particles known as aerosols.

To find out if this could happen in the real world, the team collected more than 100 air samples from two beachfront locations in Norway between 2018 and 2020. They then analyzed the samples for 11 PFAS and found that all of them were contaminated. They also analyzed the samples for sodium ions, which are an indicator of sea spray aerosols, and found that high levels of the ions tended to correlate with high levels of PFAS. This means that the PFAS could even travel inland on the aerosols and that sea spray could be an important source of PFAS pollution in coastal communities.

Ultimately, the researchers calculated that the oceans could release 284 to 756 U.S. tons of eight types of PFAS every year.

This new source of PFAS contamination could pollute more than the air, the study authors speculated.

“It is possible that atmospherically deposited PFAS could contaminate coastal drinking water sources for the foreseeable future,” co-author Ian Cousins, also from Stockholm University, said in a statement reported by The Hill. “Our study gives a new dimension to the meaning of the term ‘forever chemicals.’ Even the PFAS we thought would be lost to the sea boomerang[ed] back for us to be exposed all over again.”

Climate Change Is Destabilizing Earth’s Polar Regions

Temperatures have been rising in the Arctic and Antarctic twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and it is changing the dynamics of the region. Beavers, whose damming activity increases the melting of permafrost, have been seen making the Arctic their new home, the ice shelf holding the enormous Thwaites Glacier in place is eroding and beginning to crack, and the region is becoming more accessible, leading to human disruptions of wildlife and the waste that follows.

“The very character of these places is changing,” said glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and co-editor of the Arctic Report Card Twila Moon, The Washington Post reported. “We are seeing conditions unlike those ever seen before.”

The effects of speedy warming in the coldest places on Earth will not only greatly impact the Arctic itself, but will reverberate across the globe. As the Arctic and Antarctic warm, weather patterns will change as the sea levels rise and entire ecosystems will be thrown off-balance.

“The Arctic is a way to look into the future,” said Matthew Druckenmiller, a co-editor of the Arctic Report Card and a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, as reported by The Washington Post. “Small changes in temperature can have huge effects in a region that is dominated by ice.”

Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions has already caused Earth’s temperatures to rise more than two degrees Fahrenheit, and a new Arctic temperature record of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit was confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization.

“According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by a little more than 1° Celsius (2° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975” reported NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Sea ice has been melting at a rapid rate, which puts the Arctic ecosystem at risk. “These warm conditions are catastrophic for the sea ice that usually spans across the North Pole. This past summer saw the second-lowest extent of thick, old sea ice since tracking began in 1985,” reported Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post. “Large mammals like polar bears go hungry without this crucial platform from which to hunt. Marine life ranging from tiny plankton to giant whales are at risk.”

Arctic sea ice can be seen as a giant “air conditioner” for the rest of the world, according to Kaplan. “[I]t reflects as much as two thirds of the light that hits it, sending huge amounts of solar radiation back into space,” she reported.

“By contrast, dark expanses of water absorb heat, and it is difficult for these areas to refreeze. Less sea ice means more open ocean, more heat absorption and more climate change,” Kaplan reported.

Melting glaciers means more water filling rivers and increasing floodwaters. When ice melts it can cause cliff collapse, resulting in tsunamis. Thawing permafrost can lead to crumbling roads, pipes bursting and collapsing buildings. According to Kaplan, “Some 5 million people living in the Arctic’s permafrost regions are at risk from the changes happening at their shores and under their feet.”

“It’s not just about polar bears, it’s about actual humans,” said climate change specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rick Thoman, a co-editor of the Arctic Report Card, as reported by The Washington Post. “These changes are impacting people and their lives and livelihoods from ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ up to the international scale.”

Of course the changing conditions in the Arctic can lead to an increase in wildfires. “Drier and hotter regional conditions under a changing climate have increased the risk of flammability and fire risk of vegetation, scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Mark Parrington said to the Guardian, as reported by Grist.

Measures can still be taken to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change and, as Kaplan reported, “achieving the best case climate scenarios could cut the volume of ice lost from Greenland by 75 percent, research suggests.”

“We have a narrow window of time to avoid very costly, deadly and irreversible climate impacts,” said Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Rick Spinrad, as The Washington Post reported.

“It all depends on human actions,” said Moon.

Google Pledged to Remove Ads From Climate Denial Sites, but Many Still Run

Researchers found ads placed by Google on sites that falsely call global warming a hoax. The revenue those sites earn from the ads can fund further misinformation.

New York City Votes to Electrify New Buildings, Ban Natural Gas

New York City is poised to electrify nearly all new buildings in the coming years after city legislators voted Wednesday for the measure designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution.

The Big Apple is the latest in a growing drumbeat of dozens of municipalities across the country moving to cut their climate pollution by electrifying new buildings. The legislation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign, requires electricity-powered heat and hot water in — with a few exceptions — all new buildings under seven stories by 2024 and all other buildings in 2027.

As the country’s largest city electrifies its buildings, which account for almost 70% of its climate pollution, increased electricity demand will boost momentum for decarbonizing the state’s electricity sector. The bill will save ratepayers money that would otherwise be spent on new gas hookups, a common utility tactic to subsidize expanding gas infrastructure, as well as reduce air pollution in general, and especially indoor air pollution caused by gas stoves.

“We’re really setting the pace here,” New York City sustainability chief Ben Furnas told E&E news. “If it can be done in New York City, it can really be done anywhere.”

As reported by Earther:

New York, the largest city in the country, is now the heavyweight of the several dozen other cities across the U.S. that have banned natural gas hookups. In 2019, Berkeley, California, became the first place in the world to do so. Lawmakers in the New York statehouse have proposed a separate bill that would mandate new buildings across the state be free from fossil fuels by 2024, with an added requirement that buildings could no longer switch from electric sources to fossil fuels. In August, California passed new building codes that took a huge step towards electrifying all its buildings.

Unsurprisingly, the utility and fossil fuel lobby — which is in a panic as electrification efforts pick up around the country—threw its weight against the city measure. Not content to let local utilities like National Grid do all the heavy lifting, the American Petroleum Institute lobbied against the bill. And in October, Exxon ran Facebook ads targeting New Yorkers, with posts reading that households “forced to go full electric” could spend “more than $25,600 to replace major appliances”—despite the fact that the proposed bill would only apply to new buildings and force no one with existing appliances to switch. (In an interesting switch of allegiances, ConEd, a huge supplier of natural gas in New York, has been quietly backing the bill.)

For a deeper dive:

E&E News, Earther, The New York Times, NY1, The City, Gothamist, AP, NPR, The Verge, Grist, Washington Examiner, FOX5, CBS2, CNBC, The Hill, Reuters; Gas hookup subsidization: Earther

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How Politics Are Determining What Stove You Use

New York is the latest Democratic city aiming to fight climate change by ushering out stoves and furnaces that run on gas in favor of electric alternatives. But Republican states and the gas industry are fighting back.
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December Storm Smashes Records

Bob Henson in Yale Climate Connections: One of the most spectacular and unseasonable U.S. storm systems in memory barreled through the center of the country on Wednesday at dizzying speed. The springlike cyclone left a trail of damage that was startlingly widespread, though fortunately not nearly as catastrophic as the Mississippi Valley tornadoes of Friday, December 10 […]

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