Scientists studying climate change have long debated exactly how much hotter Earth will become given certain amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Models predicting this “climate sensitivity” number may be closer to the observed reality than some previously thought, according to a new study.

Observations in the past decade seemed to suggest a value lower than predicted by models. But the new study shows that two leading methods for calculating how hot the planet will get are not as far apart as they have appeared.

In climate science, the climate sensitivity is how much the surface air temperature will increase if you double carbon dioxide from pre-Industrial levels and then wait a very long time for the Earth’s temperature to fully adjust. Recent observations predicted that the climate sensitivity might be less than that suggested by models.

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By: Tom Solomon, Bucknell University

Darwin“The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring.” “Climate change is real, is serious and has been influenced by anthropogenic activity.” “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and is a growing threat to society.” The Conversation

As these scientific societies’ position statements reflect, there is a clear scientific consensus on the reality of climate change. But although public acceptance of climate theory is improving, many of our elected leaders still express skepticism about the science. The theory of evolution also shows a mismatch: Whereas there is virtually universal agreement among scientists about the validity of the theory, only 33 percent of the public accepts it in full. For both climate change and evolution, skeptics sometimes sow doubt by saying that it is just a “theory.”

How does a scientific theory gain widespread acceptance in the scientific community? Why should the public and elected officials be expected to accept something that is “only a theory”? And how can we know if the science behind a particular theory is “settled,” anyway?

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GridA new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that as climate change continues to accelerate average temperatures, electrical grids may be unable to meet peak energy needs by the end of the century.

The electrical grid is the central component of energy distribution and consumption. In order to upgrade this massive infrastructure to meet increasing demands, the researchers behind the study estimate nearly $180 billion would have to be invested in the U.S. grid.

This from the study:

As the electricity grid is built to endure maximum load, our findings have significant implications for the construction of costly peak generating capacity.

Read the full paper.

On top of acknowledging the correlation between increasingly hot days and higher demand for electricity (i.e. increased use of air conditioners and other cooling units), the study also acknowledges how the grid could react to this extra demand for electricity during peak hours of the day.

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EnergyBill Gates is taking climate change head on with his newly formed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund. Gates is leading the fund along with a network of investors worth $170 billion, including Virgin’s Richard Branson and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

BEV will donate more than $1 billion into clean energy innovation projects over the next 20 years, focusing on its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates says.

This move by Gates comes after his commitment last year to personally invest an additional $1 billion into clean energy.

However, this move will shift Gates away from his home turf of information technology.

“People think you can just put $50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got,” Gates says. “In this energy space, that’s not true at all.”

A driving force behind the fund is to take innovative new technologies from the lab to the marketplace. Currently, the federal government funds a huge percentage of fundamental research efforts in fields such as energy storage, which are the subsequently commercialized by private investors.

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By: Blair Trewin, World Meteorological Organization

Global temperature anomalies (difference from 1961-90 average) for 1950 to 2016, showing strong El Niño and La Niña years, and years when climate was affected by volcanoes. Image: World Meteorological Organization

Global temperature anomalies (difference from 1961-90 average) for 1950 to 2016, showing strong El Niño and La Niña years, and years when climate was affected by volcanoes. (Click to enlarge.)
Image: World Meteorological Organization

2016 is set to be the world’s hottest year on record. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s preliminary statement on the global climate for 2016, global temperatures for January to September were 0.88°C above the long-term (1961-90) average, 0.11°C above the record set last year, and about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels.

While the year is not yet over, the final weeks of 2016 would need to be the coldest of the 21st century for 2016’s final number to drop below last year’s.

Record-setting temperatures in 2016 came as no real surprise. Global temperatures continue to rise at a rate of 0.10-0.15°C per decade, and over the five years from 2011 to 2015 they averaged 0.59°C above the 1961-1990 average.

Giving temperatures a further boost this year was the very strong El Niño event of 2015−16. As we saw in 1998, global temperatures in years where the year starts with a strong El Niño are typically 0.1-0.2°C warmer than the years either side of them, and 2016 is following the same script.

Almost everywhere was warm

Warmth covered almost the entire world in 2016, but was most significant in high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Some parts of the Russian Arctic have been a remarkable 6-7°C above average for the year, while Alaska is having its warmest year on record by more than a degree.

Almost the whole Northern Hemisphere north of the tropics has been at least 1°C above average. North America and Asia are both having their warmest year on record, with Africa, Europe and Oceania close to record levels. The only significant land areas which are having a cooler-than-normal year are northern and central Argentina, and parts of southern Western Australia.

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By: Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo, and Rob Jackson, Stanford University

Carbon dioxideFor the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry have barely grown, while the global economy has continued to grow strongly. This level of decoupling of carbon emissions from global economic growth is unprecedented.

Global CO₂ emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and industry (including cement production) were 36.3 billion tonnes in 2015, the same as in 2014, and are projected to rise by only 0.2% in 2016 to reach 36.4 billion tonnes. This is a remarkable departure from emissions growth rates of 2.3% for the previous decade, and more than 3% during the 2000s.

Given this good news, we have an extraordinary opportunity to extend the changes that have driven the slowdown and spark the great decline in emissions needed to stabilise the world’s climate.

This result is part of the annual carbon assessment released today by the Global Carbon Project, a global consortium of scientists and think tanks under the umbrella of Future Earth and sponsored by institutions from around the world.

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By: Mark Barteau, University of Michigan

OilPresident…Donald…Trump. For those on both sides of the aisle who vowed “Never Trump!,” that’s going to take some getting used to. On this morning after a stunning election, the first impulse may be to describe the future in apocalyptic phrases. Game over for the climate! Game over for NATO! Game over for the Clean Power Plan! Game over for Planned Parenthood!

While there are certainly extreme outcomes possible for these and many other issues that divide our nation, we may see some moderation, especially on matters where the divisions do not rigidly follow ideological fault lines.

Of course, the president-elect himself is famous neither for hewing to right wing orthodoxy nor for consistency between his various pronouncements. As he has said: “I like to be unpredictable.”

But make no mistake, in the energy and climate space Trump’s number one priority is to dismantle the Obama legacy as he sees it. And he sees it largely through the lens of organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, pro-fossil fuel organizations severely allergic to regulations.

A prime target is the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulation of greenhouse gases via the Clean Power Plan and methane emissions measures, which are described as “job killers.”

Fossil fuel revolution

The Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon emissions from power plants, has been stayed by the courts for the moment, but one should not forget that EPA’s responsibility to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act was affirmed by the Supreme Court. This sets up a potential conflict among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress may hollow out and handcuff the EPA, but EPA’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases will remain unless existing law is modified by Congress or by a Court returned to full strength with Trump appointees.

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The National Park Service, which oversees more than 400 sites across the country, celebrated its 100th birthday on Aug. 25, 2016. During the centennial anniversary, Popular Science caught up with Bill Nye to discuss how climate change is affecting these public lands and their inhabitants.


Bill Nye On Climate Change In Our National Parks by PopSci
Learn more about what our scientists are doing to provide answers to growing global energy needs with clean, alternative solutions.

When it comes to understanding the factors behind climate change, many scientists point to greenhouse gases – the main contributor being carbon dioxide. From upcycling the greenhouse gas to transforming CO2 into clean burning fuels, electrochemists and solid state scientists are tackling some of the most pressing issues in global warming.

But some researchers are now shifting that spotlight to black carbon (or soot) – the runner-up in factors causing the plant to warm, and one that is often overlooked.

Black carbon is typically created from the running of diesel engines, coal-burning plants, and open biomass incineration. It has been known from its negative impact on health, but it also absorbs light and mixes with water taken from clouds, creating devastating effects.

This from Popular Science:

Eliminating black carbon could stop about 40 percent of global warming. It’s not hard to “scrub” emissions at their source. And because soot only stays in the air for weeks, there would be a near-immediate decrease in the planet’s heating, buying us more time to replace fossil fuels with clean energy. But doing so would trigger a second type of climate change. When black carbon reaches the atmosphere, it’s already mixed with sulfur dioxide and other organic matter. Those particles actually reflect sunlight, causing a “global cooling” effect by preventing that solar radiation from penetrating the lower levels of the atmosphere.

Read the full article.

Researchers are looking to combat this catch 22 by isolating and filtering black carbon.

Does this summer feel a little warmer than usual? Well, that’s because it is.

According to NASA, the first six months of 2016 have been the warmest half-year ever recorded. Pair that with the smallest monthly Artic Sea ice extent in that same period of time, and these two indicators give a grim image of the accelerating pace of climate change.

In a report, NASA states that the global temperature has increased by 2.4°F since record keeping began in the 1800s. Additionally, Artic Sea ice has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade.

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” says Walt Mkeier, a sea ice researcher with NASA. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year.”

If climate continues down this same path, the effects could be devastating for the world. However, electrochemical and solid state science may have some of the answers to mitigate climate change.

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