Breaking: Jay Inslee Has Dropped Out

From AP:

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made fighting climate change the central theme of his presidential campaign, announced Wednesday night that he is ending his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Inslee said that he was confident that Democrats would select a nominee who would champion climate change issues but that it had become clear that he wouldn’t be the person selected. Inslee said he was not endorsing anyone but would support whoever is the nominee.

“I believe we’re going to have a candidate to fight this battle,” he said on MSNBC. “I’m inspired by the people I’ve met across the country. I’m not going to carry the ball but we’re going to make sure somebody is.”

He has kept the option of running for a third gubernatorial term open throughout his presidential campaign and said he would discuss his political plans Thursday…

In addition to pushing for a dedicated debate on climate change, Inslee’s campaign has been rolling out climate proposals, including calling for the nation’s entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030. He’s also proposed a clean break between the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, ending tax breaks for oil companies and banning all drilling and extraction on federal lands and beneath federal waters.

Inslee released his sixth and final climate proposal, a plan focused on agriculture and farmers, hours before he announced he was dropping out of the race…

CNN will be televising a climate-change debate (which, IIRC, Inslee didn’t qualify for); it’s not unreasonable for him to announce that he’s accomplished his goal. Good for him, and I hope (assume) we’ll see more of him in a future Democratic administration…








West Virginia: Warmer, Wetter, AND Drier

This article caught my eye last weekend. It’s a quick read, but the implications – for WV as a whole and rural residents who are agriculturally dependent, but also for traffic that must transit the state – are dire.

Having just driven back and forth through 4 hours of WV, I can attest to the number of bridges, and I was surprised how many of my favorite passes in Colorado were still closed because of avalanche/road damage from all the precipitation the past 18 months.  If even a few bridges are knocked out because of the combined effects of more moisture and drier, less-absorbent soils, so much commerce will grind to a halt! I know in our talks of Climate Change, rarely is attention given to infrastructure and what happens once it fails. Some places, like WV, are so dependent on bridges that a string of collapses would put a damper on a huge area’s economic activity, not to mention the permanent population shifts as the land no longer supports the people that cling to it.

An excerpt:

If nothing is done to mitigate temperature rise, the study says, Appalachia is likely to become not only hotter, but wetter and drier. How can it be both? Zegre, an associate professor of forest hydrology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and his team, just completed a study of the entire 7 state region.  Here’s how they say it would happen: “As the atmosphere warms, evaporation increases so water that is in the trees, in the soil, in our crops, in wetlands lakes and rivers, evaporates more quickly.”  And with all that water held in the atmosphere, when it rains it pours. “In the steep topography of the Appalachian region, what this translates to, is landslides and floods.”

Article (and audio, for those interested): Appalachia to become hotter, wetter, drier

 

Open thread!








Tuesday Afternoon Open Thread

You watching the debate tonight? I will, if I have power. It’s off and on today due to thunderstorms. (I missed the second half of the last debate because of a thunderstorm!)

Dave Weigel’s debate preview in The Post is here. My guess is Sanders will be extra shouty. But that’s like predicting thunderstorms in Florida in July.

Open thread!








Monday Morning Open Thread: Hot Hot Hot

I understand that the heat wave has broken for some of you lucky Jackals in the upper midwest, but here north of Boston, we’re still trying to breath warm steam. Not to knock other peoples’ lifestyle choices, but triple-digit heat indexes are among the reasons I chose to move to Massachusetts instead of Florida!

Hot takes, on the other hand:

More hot takes:

The crowd of 800 roared when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the stage Friday at the Young Democrats of America’s national convention in Indianapolis.

Pelosi spoke for about 20 minutes, drawing standing ovations multiple times, including for the House’s likely futile passage of a $15 minimum wage bill, defending abortion rights, for saying Democrats would hold President Donald Trump accountable and for saying Democrats would sweep the House, Senate and White House in the 2020 elections…

Whatever its flaws, she said, she believes there is no institution in this nation that has come up with better ideas, more creative thinking and been more willing to meet challenges than the Democratic Party.

She noted that 60 percent of House Democrats are women, people of color or part of the LGBTQ community.

“That’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “The beauty is in the mix. Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power.”…

“We do understand the urgency of the challenge to this country that we love … and to the Constitution,” she said, suggesting Democrats must defend against “those who would degrade our beautiful land from sea to shining sea, those who would disrespect newcomers to our country and those who would undermine our values.” …

Maybe, just maybe, the future *is* female…








Acid Tripwire

Worse than the brown acid.

Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold — whether as the result of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx — the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger.

That’s from the MIT press release on Rothman’s new paper, published in PNAS.

The MIT release continues:

Scientists know that when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in seawater, it not only makes the oceans more acidic, but it also decreases the concentration of carbonate ions. When the carbonate ion concentration falls below a threshold, shells made of calcium carbonate dissolve. Organisms that make them fare poorly in such harsh conditions.

Shells, in addition to protecting marine life, provide a “ballast effect,” weighing organisms down and enabling them to sink to the ocean floor along with detrital organic carbon, effectively removing carbon dioxide from the upper ocean. But in a world of increasing carbon dioxide, fewer calcifying organisms should mean less carbon dioxide is removed.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Rothman says. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

To answer that question, Rothman surveyed the carbon record for the last half-billion years of Earth history, and then built a mathematical model of the carbon cycle in the upper ocean to help him analyze the current, human-driven injection of carbon dioxide into the climate system.

When he introduced carbon dioxide at greater rates, he found that once the levels crossed a critical threshold, the carbon cycle reacted with a cascade of positive feedbacks that magnified the original trigger, causing the entire system to spike, in the form of severe ocean acidification. The system did, eventually, return to equilibrium, after tens of thousands of years in today’s oceans — an indication that, despite a violent reaction, the carbon cycle will resume its steady state.

This pattern matches the geological record, Rothman found. The characteristic rate exhibited by half his database results from excitations above, but near, the threshold. Environmental disruptions associated with mass extinction are outliers — they represent excitations well beyond the threshold. At least three of those cases may be related to sustained massive volcanism.

“When you go past a threshold, you get a free kick from the system responding by itself,” Rothman explains.

I should emphasize that all this is a theoretical approach to the question. Rothman is a mathematical geologist, not a field guy, and his business is building formal representations of complicated systems to probe action in the real world that can’t be measured or experimented upon directly.

His prediction, then, is just that, a statement about the likelihood, not the certainty of a given outcome.  But that caveat doesn’t mean this is “just a theory.” Quite the reverse: because the model builds in solid and known physics, and is driven by dozens of observations in the historical record, this theory is one supported both by the math and the gold-standard of empirical measurement.

It’s scary, in other words, because it represents a rigorous attempt, using stable, well established knowledge, to depict a scary, inhospitable future:

In other words, if today’s human-induced emissions cross the threshold and continue beyond it, as Rothman predicts they soon will, the consequences may be just as severe as what the Earth experienced during its previous mass extinctions.

I should add that I know Rothman a little — my students made a short film about a lovely little piece of work he and his students did on the branching networks of ground water drainage systems.  Just i that one encounter, on a question he tackled mostly for fun, it was easy to see that he’s an impressive thinker, combining mathematical intuition with a nose for earth-science problems that can be expressed in tractable systems of equations.

That doesn’t make this work right; it does make the suggestion that there is a chance we’re close to a trigger of a runaway feedback in the oceans a prediction to take very seriously indeed.

The TL:DR of all this?  One — there’s a risk that major and on human-lifetime scale irreversible changes for the worse are either very near or already baked into the way we’ve hacked the climate system.  The need to squelch that hack, to stop pouring carbon into the atmosphere, is thus even more urgent than we thought.

A second implication amplifies that urgency:  Rothman’s math is simple (at least for him). It exposes one vulnerability, one potential feedback that could go against preserving the basic ecological support system human society depends on. But the climate system is big, incredibly complicated, and potentially hides a bunch of such triggers.

You can read this study, that is, as a case study, an example of how something seemingly well removed from direct warming issues (the physics and chemistry of the shells of microscopic ocean animals) can produce profound global effects.  So, if acid oceans haven’t terrified you enough, remember that where there’s one such hidden mechanism of major disruption, there may well be others.

As most of you know, I have a son. He’s nineteen now, and I find so much of my dread these days is bound up in my fear that I will leave him a world that is vastly more precarious than the one I inherited from my parents.

I do not have a good answer for myself on that, but it is one more reason why current politics seem to me to be life-or-death.  If we have any time left at all to keep the damage from climate change manageable, we don’t have that many years.  The longer the GOP holds power, the worse our chances become.  Go Science! is not the rallying cry that will win next year — but it’s damned important, even so.

And on that cheery note: have at it!

Images:  Joseph Wright of Derby, The Orrery, c. 1766

Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498