Tragically, STAY COOL recently lost one of our bright stars. On Monday, January 6, 2020, Advisory Council member John Atcheson passed away in a car accident. John joined the council in 2018, and served alongside his wife, Linda Pratt, who is the current Chair of the Advisory Council. John was a dedicated father and grandfather and leaves behind two children, two stepchildren, and three grandchildren. Our hearts go out to Linda and John’s families as they cope with this unexpected loss.
John was passionate about environmental protection and worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency for many years. The team at STAY COOL is grateful to have had his expertise and guidance. He kept us informed on the latest advances in climate change research and helped create more awareness about the application of science toward protecting the environment. He played a strong role in our organization’s various climate policy initiatives and was most knowledgeable about national and international action.
John was a talented writer, having published two books, and he was a regular contributor to the Common Dreams NewsCenter https://www.commondreams.org/. Joe Romm, founder of ClimateProgress, called John’s novel, A Being Darkly Wise, a must-read for those interested in climate change and “one part diary of a Washington insider, one part introductory science textbook, one part love story, one part wilderness guide, and one part scary-as-hell thriller.” Notably, Common Dreams posted this excellent tribute to John.
John recently took on the role of newsletter editor for STAY COOL, and many of our detailed blog entries were authored by him, including these good reads:
John was humble, humorous and loved life. As he wrote on the “About John” page of his website (http://jbatcheson.com/aboutjohn.html): “Life is Good” and we know he had a good one. We will miss you, John.
John’s wife Linda shared the following message:
In lieu of flowers, you are welcome to make a contribution to a nonprofit that is aligned with John’s strong commitment to environmental protection. One example is an organization in which he was actively engaged: STAY COOL for Grandkids. Another example is a contribution to our church, UUFSD, where John’s name will be placed on our Memorial Wall.
STAY COOL for Grandkids is committed to presenting the latest research on climate change and its impacts on the San Diego region. In October 2019 we presented a forum in Solana Beach that highlighted recent research on the effects of climate change on our region’s ecosystems and our built environment, with a focus on wildfires and flooding. Our speakers also discussed ways in which we can develop plans and policies and implementing actions to make our communities more resilient to these impacts.
On February 4, 2020 we will be co-sponsoring another forum on this topic with St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church Peace and Justice Ministry in Poway.
Dr. James Randerson, Professor of Earth Systems Science at UC Irvine, will provide an overview of his research into the effects of climate change on wildfire risks in California.
Robert Leiter, FAICP, who has been involved in local and regional urban planning in the San Diego region for more than 30 years, will present highlights of a recent report published by the American Planning Association (Regional Water Planning for Climate Resilience) which he co-authored. This report highlights the potential impacts of climate change on the San Diego region, including increased risks from wildfires and flooding.
The speakers will also discuss ways in which regional and local governments in the San Diego region can proactively deal with these impacts. Pursuant to California Senate Bill 379, local governments are now required to update the “Safety Elements” of their General Plans, to address the projected impacts from climate change on natural hazards such as wildfires and flooding. The law provides an overall methodology for preparing these plans, and defines the roles of local, regional, and state agencies in this process.
Date and Time- Tuesday, February 4, 2020 from 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Location- St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 16725 Pomerado Road, Poway 92064.
Each year since 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases an Arctic Report Card which NOAA describes as “… a timely and peer-reviewed source for clear, reliable and concise environmental information on the current state of different components of the Arctic environmental system relative to historical records.”
In 2019, we got a failing grade. Here are the highlights – or the lowlights:
The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing nearly 267 billion metric tons of ice per year and currently contributing to global average sea-level rise at a rate of about 0.7 mm yr–.
North American Arctic snow cover in May 2019 was the fifth lowest in 53 years of recordkeeping. June snow cover was the third lowest.
Thawing permafrost throughout the Arctic could be releasing an estimated 300-600 million tons of net carbon per year to the atmosphere.
Arctic sea ice extent at the end of summer 2019 was tied with 2007 and 2016 as the second lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. The thickness of the sea ice has also decreased, resulting in an ice cover that is more vulnerable to warming air and ocean temperatures.
Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. For example, the thawing permafrost and the loss of sea ice could dramatically increase the rate and severity of climate change.
Sea ice reflects a substantial amount of the incident solar energy, and as the surface area of the ice sheet diminishes, more heat gets trapped. In 2019, the surface area for sea ice tied for the second lowest in history. Worse, after several years of recovering, ice volume plummeted in 2019. The thickness of the sea ice is also critical – the thinner the ice sheet, the more abrupt the loss of surface area can be.
The Arctic ice mass is a major factor in both long-term climate conditions and short-term weather events. Less ice cover means warming accelerates, and it means extreme weather events, including intense storms, flooding, droughts, and Arctic blasts, become more common.
Release of methane from melting permafrost has the potential to set off a major positive feedback that could add as much as 2 degrees C to current forecasts for 2100, according to some scientists.
The bottom line is that the latest Arctic Report Card is giving us a failing grade, and the semester is almost over.
In this season, Dickens’ Christmas Carol comes to mind. After the Ghost of Christmases yet to come shows Scrooge his own grave, Scrooge asks, “Are these the shadows of things that will be, or are these the shadows of the things that may be only?”
For another few years, these dire climate predictions are the shadows of things that may be, only. But the future world we’re fashioning right now is unsustainable and absent aggressive action, it will be irrevocable.
STAY COOL for Grandkids is committed to bringing cutting edge information about climate change and its impacts. On October 11th, we presented a forum that highlighted current research about changes to our land-based ecosystems – particularly with regard to wildfires – that are resulting from climate change, and appropriate planning policies that could properly address these impacts. We had two featured speakers: Dr. James Randerson, Professor of Earth Systems Science at UC Irvine and Robert Leiter, who is a member of the STAY COOL Advisory Council. Robert Leiter has been a leader in local land use planning for more than 30 years, serving as the Planning Director for the cities of Escondido and Chula Vista, and for SANDAG, the regional planning agency for San Diego County.
Dr. Randerson led the presentation with an overview of the effects of climate change on California wildfires. He highlighted one recent research project which concluded that “… a 1°C increase in daily temperature in the Sierra Nevada increased the probability of ignition and burned area by about 20% during 2001-2018.”
Overall, Dr. Randerson summarized what we know about climate change and California wildfires as follows:
Summer temperatures are rising and will continue to rise, causing fuels to dry out faster.
The warmer temperatures will increase the probability of ignitions.
Fires that are ignited will grow more quickly and burn more area.
We can expect more intense summer fire seasons over the next few decades.
Precipitation may change by a smaller amount, there is some evidence that the north coast will get wetter, but southern Sierra and Southern California will get drier.
Climate is likely to become more variable from year to year, with both dry extremes and wet extremes becoming more common.
Santa Ana winds are likely to get drier, but they may not become stronger or more frequent.
The precipitation season may become compressed so that we get more rain in December and January, and less during fall and spring.
Robert Leitner’s talk provided an overview of a recent report published by the American Planning Association Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division. While the report looked at a variety of impacts on ecosystems in the San Diego region that are expected as a result of climate change, the focus of this presentation was on the increased frequency and severity of wildfires.
He then discussed the ways in which regional and local governments can address these impacts in the context of updating city and county General Plans. Pursuant to SB 379, local governments are now required to update the “Safety Elements” of their General Plans, taking into account the projected impacts from climate change on natural hazards such as sea level rise and wildfires. The law provides an overall methodology for preparing these plans, and defines the roles of state, regional and local government agencies in this process.
Following the presentations, Randerson and Leiter fielded several questions from the audience, and discussed ways in which an informed public can help to make sure that these issues receive the attention that they deserve. STAY COOL will be hosting another forum on this topic in Inland North County in February 2020; stay tuned for details!
Isotopes tell us a great deal about where carbon and methane are coming from. They act as fingerprints that identify with a great deal of accuracy whether the source of increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are caused by humans, or are by-products of natural processes.
The first thing we need to do is define what an Isotope is. Elements are classified by how many protons they have in their nucleus. Thus, every carbon atom has six protons. But carbon atoms can have six, seven, or eight neutrons, and neutrons weigh essentially the same as a proton. This means that carbon has three naturally occurring isotopes: C12, C13, and C14. The numeric designations are the atomic weight of an element and they are the sum of both the protons and the neutrons. Since neutrons don’t have a charge, the elements share the same chemical properties. In the case of carbon, C12 and C13 are stable, while C14 decays over time.
The source of the carbon or methane gives it a distinct ratio of Isotopes, and in the case of methane, we can get additional data from hydrogen and oxygen isotopes (the latter because methane reacts in the atmosphere).
Emissions have a distinct ratio of C12 to C13, depending upon their source. Carbon from fossil fuel combustion has a lower C-12 to C-13 ratio than the air does. Thus, if the observed increased carbon in the atmosphere comes from fossil fuels or combustion of plants, the ratio of C12 to C13 in the atmosphere should be going down in proportion to the increase in atmospheric carbon. And it is.
Since methane contains carbon — its formula is CH4, or 1 carbon atom combined with 4 hydrogen atoms – the ratio of C12 to C13 in the emissions and the ratio in the atmosphere can also help us identify the source of those emissions. In addition, Hydrogen has several isotopes that are indicative of the source of the methane, and since methane is highly reactive in the atmosphere oxygen isotopes also tell us something about the source. Now, methane has more potential sources than carbon, and as it is highly reactive in the atmosphere, the fingerprinting gets complex, it can be done.
What we know about methane is that there are three main sources contributing to the increase: 1) the output of microbes living in anoxic environments such as wetlands, landfills, and the stomachs and butts of ruminants; 2) fossil methane in gas, coal, and other underground fuel reserves that are released as those reserves are exploited; and 3) the burning of vegetation like forests, bush, and crop residues.
The shocking thing about methane is that all three sources are increasing, and that humans are contributing to that increase.
Isotopes tell us that microbial sources are the largest cause for an increase in atmospheric concentrations of methane, and human cultivation of rice crops, livestock, and disposal in landfills are contributing to that increase. Fracking and increased use and transmission of fossil fuels are the second big contributor, and of course, humans are the source of it. Finally, the explosion in wildfires that now occur everywhere on Earth from the Arctic to the Amazon, are a result of anthropogenic warming and poor land-use management.
The next time someone tries to tell you we can’t be sure where the increased emissions are coming from – or whether there’s been an increase – tell them they’re wrong. The evidence is in the fingerprints.
Have you wondered what it is like to be a climate science researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography? Thirteen of our STAY COOL members had the opportunity to join Dr. Jeff Severinghaus for an in-depth tour of his laboratory and learn more about his work.
Dr. Severinghaus is a professor of geosciences in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His current research interests center on using trapped bubbles of gases contained in ice cores to track changes in ancient climate. Severinghaus’ team study historic temperatures at an ice core sites on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Greenland. He is the recipient of several awards, most recently, the 2011 Claire C. Patterson Medalist of the Geochemical Society, an award given annually for a breakthrough in environmental geochemistry.
The tour took place on Tuesday, September 10th. Participants learned the science behind how ice cores are used to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations hundreds of thousands of years ago. The ice bubbles are like a snapshot telling us what the atmospheric concentration of carbon was at the time the ice formed. Some of the ice cores contain air that was trapped more than 800,000 years ago. The isotope Carbon 13 helps us tell what the source of the carbon was (See Isotopes: Fingerprints in climate change).
We stepped inside a freezer which was very cold, small, and if you are prone to claustrophobia, very stressful! This area housed all the ice cores that are awaiting further analysis.
Dr. Severinghous remains hopeful about our ability to combat global climate change. He used the analogy to sewage treatment. In 1750, the British thought that installing sewage treatment would break the economy. As we know, it did not do that AND we could not imagine life without a treatment process for this waste. Carbon dioxide is also a waste, and economists know that mitigation and adaptation will not break the economy.
Funding is often a challenge for scientific research, and measuring carbon in ice cores is no exception. Dr. Severinhaus’s work is currently funded by the National Association of Scientists.
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes a projection about how much time we have before hitting a target temperature increase, one of the most important assumptions they use is a “carbon budget”. Carbon Tracker defines “carbon budget” as: The cumulative amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold.
Glossary of Terms and Definitions that appear in this article: (Given in the order they appear)
Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC): The IPCC is an international organization of the United Nations whose objective is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. IPCC reports are also a key input into international climate change negotiations. The IPCC data used to model and forecast climate is used at the local, state, national and international level.
Anthropogenic: Originating in human activity.
Carbon sinks and sources: For purposes of climate change, a carbon sink is something that removes carbon from the atmosphere, a carbon source is something that adds it. Sources and sinks may be natural or anthropogenic.
Carbon sequestration: The act of a carbon sink removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Albedo effect: A measure of the amount of solar radiation reflected from a receiving body. It is important in climate studies because the polar ice caps work to lower the net amount of heat energy that is retained in the atmosphere, and as they darken or diminish, the Earth retains more heat.
Understanding carbon budgets is critical if you want to understand the IPCC forecasts in their full context. So, OK, buckle up, this is going to get pretty wonky, but once you’re familiar with carbon budgets, you’ll be equipped to understand the sometimes troubling assumptions that are hidden in the IPCC reports as well as other forecasts.
There are three factors that determine a carbon budget:
The cumulative amount of carbon released to date;
The sensitivity of the climate to carbon; and
The likelihood of the outcome.
Let’s look at each in turn.
The amount of carbon emitted to date can be computed, although there is some controversy over what year to use as a baseline, or even whether to use models to compute the pre-anthropogenic carbon level, instead of historical data. The IPCC typically uses 1850 to 1900 as the baseline, despite the fact that anthropogenic emissions of carbon have been increasing since the mid 1700’s.
Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much warming a given amount of carbon will cause. Estimates have varied over time as more data becomes available and as techniques for measuring it are improved and this can make a big difference in forecasts. In fact, in the latest IPCC report on 1.5 C of warming, changes in the assumptions about climate sensitivity extended our drop-dead date for action from three years of current emissions to about ten. The justification for the change is that the IPCC found that cumulatively, more carbon had been emitted than previously estimated which means – because it took more carbon to cause the 1 C we’ve warmed already – the climate is not as sensitive to a given amount of carbon as we previously thought. As we’ll discuss, this works only if the past is prologue.
The other factor – the likelihood of the outcome can also profoundly change the allowable carbon emissions and the time left to act under a given scenario. For example, the IPCC’s forecasts are usually based on what they call a “likely” outcome, which is the amount of carbon emissions that 66 percent of their models say will allow us to stay at or under a given temperature threshold. So right off the bat, it’s important to know that the safety margin built into the IPCC forecasts is effectively a two out of three chance of meeting the specified target. As safety factors go, this margin shouldn’t inspire confidence. Would you, for example, get on a plane or cross a bridge that had a one in three chance of failing? Makes you wonder why we’d consider it adequate for protecting our life support systems, doesn’t it?
Confused? Let’s plug in some real numbers to show how it works.
We’ll start with carbon sensitivity.
Before the IPCC adjusted their estimate of carbon sensitivity in the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C, our carbon budget worked out to about 3 years’ worth of emissions left before we busted the 1.5 C limit. Here’s the numbers, using the old assumption of carbon sensitivity. If we wanted to have a 66 percent probability of staying below 1.5°C, our total carbon budget would be 2,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide. By the end of 2018, we burned through all but 130 billion tonnes of that budget. Since we are emitting about 37 tonnes per year we would have blown through the budget by the end of 2021.
But by adjusting the carbon sensitivity used in the IPCC’s 1.5 C Report, we increased the time it takes for a given amount of carbon to increase the temperature, which gave us ten more years of emissions, not three. As we noted earlier, this revision is valid only if the past were prologue. But the data suggests it won’t be. This is true for two reasons. First, carbon sinks are becoming compromised. Data suggests that soils, the ocean, marine biota, boreal forests, and rainforests – the major carbon sinks – are not taking up as much carbon as they once did, and this trend is likely to intensify. Indeed, in many areas, as fires and insects attack trees, boreal forests are becoming sources of carbon, not sinks, and this could become true of the entire boreal forest – the single largest terrestrial sink, encircling the entire globe.
Evidence for this slowdown in natural carbon sequestration is starting to pile up. For example, from 2014 through 2017 human carbon emissions plateaued, but despite the slowdown in emissions, the atmospheric carbon concentration not only continued to increase, but it accelerated at a record-breaking pace. (See Figure 1)
The other reason the past may not be prologue is that there’s evidence we’ve triggered some positive feedback loops that either 1) increase the amount of warming a given amount of carbon causes – for example, the reduced albedo of melting ice caps in the polar regions causes more heat to remain in the atmosphere– or 2) cause the release of carbon that has been sequestered in features like permafrost, methane clathrates, or peat bogs, often for centuries or longer.
Some techniques for establishing carbon sensitivity attempt to capture the equilibrium change – that is, the change in temperature once feedbacks have played out – but our estimates of feedback effects are extremely uncertain, and historically, we’ve either ignored feedbacks, or grossly underestimated their magnitude.
Now let’s look at how varying the probability of meeting a given thresholdcan affect the forecasts for time we have left.
Looking at an increase of 1.5 C, if we were to choose a more conservative level of risk management, such as a 90 percent or 100 percent likelihood of staying below 1.5 C, we would have had to start acting more than a decade ago, since we exceeded the allowable emissions for those confidence levels in 2013.
Contrast this with a carbon budget based on a 66 percent probability of staying below 2°C, or about 2,900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2e). By the end of 2018, we would appear to have nearly 736 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left, or about twenty years’ worth.
As we can see, the assumptions about atmospheric sensitivity, what constitutes an acceptable safety factor, and what temperature represents the target we should stay under can make the time we have left before exceeding our carbon budget vary from three years to about twenty. And many of the assumptions the IPCC is using for their base case, expose us to relatively higher risks than more realistic or prudent assumptions would.
It is tempting to choose values that give us hope, and it seems like that tendency has influenced many of our assumptions about carbon budgets. But as Kevin Andersen of the Tyndall Center put it: “Scientists must make their assumptions transparent and defensible, however politically uncomfortable the conclusions.”
History tells us people are capable of extraordinary efforts when they are faced with extraordinary challenges. But there are no examples of humans rising to meet a challenge they were unaware of, or which was understated.
The thing is, we have the tools to meet the climate challenge. Renewable energy and clean energy storage are now cheaper than fossil fuels in energy generation, and they soon will be for transportation. Agricultural practices can turn that sector from a source of carbon emissions to a sink, absorbing atmospheric carbon. But if we are to harness these solutions, we must understand the urgency of the challenge we face, and communicate that urgency to our elected officials at all levels.
Carbon budgets – get to know them. The viability of the planet’s life support systems – and the kind of future we leave our children and our children’s children depends upon us understanding how the budgets are established and insisting that scientists make prudent – not politically convenient – assumptions when we use them.
When considering the way people talk about and experience the current state of our climate, we thought it was very interesting to see this poll that highlights the generational differences. You might want to consider this as you have a conversation with someone younger or older than yourself. Dialogue leads to understanding, and understanding can lead to action. We need all the help we can get! https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/…/do-younger-generat…/
In June STAY COOL joined the “ReWild Coalition,” a fledgling alliance of San Diego organizations supporting wetlands expansion on the north shore of Mission Bay. The City of San Diego’s current planning for revitalization of the area presents a timely opportunity for redeveloping a shoreline with resilience to climate change in mind. Click here to read the letter we submitted in June, 2019.
Will our grandkids take their kids boating on Mission Bay? Will they dare let them swim in it? Let’s advocate for a future where Rose Creek meets the Bay in an adaptable expanse of salt marsh, tidal channels, sand flats, mudflats, and eelgrass, nurturing sea life and birds, mitigating floods, and cleaning the water that enters the Bay. Now is the time to do so.
The Mission Bay Park Master Plan of 1994 anticipated expansion of the wetlands that currently cover about 40 acres on the northeast edge of the Bay, but planning for the area was delayed for decades with lawsuits over the mobile home park at De Anza Cove. With vacating of the homes beginning in 2016, the City began work on the De Anza Cove Amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Audubon Society (SDAS) embarked on a wetlands restoration feasibility study with funding from the California State Coastal Conservancy and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. “ReWild Mission Bay,” the feasibility study report issued in 2018, presents detailed historical and current data with projections of future habitat distribution under sea-level-rise scenarios, and three design alternatives for effective wetlands restoration – “Wild,” “Wilder”, and “Wildest” – for the City’s consideration in planning De Anza Revitalization.
This year, De Anza Revitalization became a project of focus for Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3). C-3 is a San Diego organization that since 1961 has advocated for high standards in urban design, community planning, and access to public open space. For this effort, their members are leading workshops to integrate SDAS’s “Wildest” wetlands alternative into designs for the full project area, which currently also provides for camping, boating, golf, tennis, ball fields, and retail. Mission Bay leaseholds are an important source of revenue for the City.
This spring, operators of the Mission Bay RV Resort (adjacent to the old mobile home park) notified the City that they would not renew that lease, and the City Council accepted a proposal from the RV resort owners to operate the site and cleanup the abandoned mobile homes in return for future rent credits. Though City officials say this agreement is short-term, it concerns ReWild advocates, who do not foresee that shoreline being suitable for camping.
For the first time in decades, the community has a chance to help determine how these public lands in Mission Bay are used. These lands belong to us and we encourage STAY COOL advocates to join in the planning for Mission Bay North, and support design elements that anticipate climate change. For more background, see
It’s not easy visiting behind-the-scenes at a major airport – security protocols, you know – but a dozen STAY COOL members got to do it this Spring, guided by Paula Morreale and Katie Altobello, Associate Environmental Specialists at San Diego International Airport, after a warm welcome from Brendon Reed, Director of Planning & Environmental Affairs for the airport authority.
We met in the Innovation room, where we got a glimpse of some fascinating ideas for the future, including sleep cubicles in the terminals.
Next up was Terminal 2, the first airport terminal in the world to receive LEED Platinum certification, the highest available, and where SAN staff continue to find ways to make the facility even more sustainable.
For example, low-flow fixtures save four million gallons of water annually; capturing rainfall from the new parking plaza and using it in the cooling system saves another two million gallons of potable water a year (and keeps the runoff out of the Bay). They even manage to get thousands of gallons of clean water each year by recovering the condensate from air conditioners on passenger boarding bridges.
The airport’s solar array generates 5.5 megawatts, of clean, renewable energy.
Other smart improvements at the terminal include drought-tolerant landscaping, lots of natural light in the interior, a reflective roof, energy-efficient lighting and equipment, and efficient and clean power units at the gates so parked aircraft aren’t running their dirtier power for air conditioning and lighting.
The airport also cuts down on food waste by recovering and donating unused edibles (54K pounds in 2017) and composting the rest (365 tons in 2017). Special collection bins at security allow passengers to empty containers and reuse them once through screening.
SAN supports greenhouse gas reduction with incentives to rideshare companies for hybrids, alternative fuels and carpools, and with “The Good Traveler,” a program that sells third-party approved carbon offsets to passengers.
Our last stop was an expanse of scrubby grasses ringed by a tall steel fence. Here among an array of support facilities and under the roar of jets lies one of the most productive nesting colonies for the endangered California Least Tern, carefully nurtured by SAN staff.
Finally, we heard how the Environmental Affairs is tasked with figuring out how the airport can continue operating in the face of a changing climate. The San Diego Airport Climate Resilience Plan features strategies to manage storm water, and protect against rising seas. Meanwhile, a redesign of Terminal 1 will incorporate major sustainable design features – perhaps a future behind-the-scenes tour for STAY COOL members.