“We don’t have the luxury of feeling discouraged”-Former Vice-President Al Gore Warns of the Dangers of Climate Change at COP24

“The cheapest and most effective carbon sequestration technology is called a ‘Tree.’ When this technology is taken to scale, it is called a ‘Forest.’” The Former Vice President of the United States and Presidential hopeful paused to let the laughter subside. Holding up a hand, he became deadly serious once more. He had come to COP24 to continue fighting for the cause he had become synonymous with: Climate Change.

As the United States joined countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia in denying the dire IPCC 1.5 report and negotiations on the Paris Agreement Work Program slogged on, Al Gore reminded the world that this is a group effort. While the effects of climate change do not affect us all equally, they still affect us all.

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetary, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetery, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

High temperatures continue to set records around the world. They melt roads and damage infrastructure; high nighttime temperatures impact agricultural viability; and in Pakistan, the government has dug preemptive mass graves, anticipating the costs to human life. Most concerning, however, are the effects of rising temperatures on global air currents.

When the jet stream is strong, it forms a boundary between lower latitudes and arctic winds known as the Polar Vortex. When high temperatures near the equator push an excess of warm air northward, the jet stream weakens and this boundary dissolves. This occurred at the end of 2017.

The weakened jet stream allowed the Polar Vortex to split in two, sending excessively cold systems into North America, Northern Asia, and Europe. Temperatures plummeted to below -10C, infrastructure collapsed under the weight of snow, and, in Brussels, homeless people who refused shelter were detained for their own safety. All major climate zones, except Antarctica were warmer than their 30 year averages; including the Arctic.

The area between the, now two, polar vortexes, was occupied by vagrant jet stream currents. The warm air washed over the North Pole during what is typically its coldest season; the season when annual sea ice forms and multiyear sea ice is strengthened. Instead the Arctic lost 95% of its multiyear sea ice.
His voice lowered and his tone conspiratorial, Gore looked over the crowd: “This is part of a larger annual weather pattern. However, we do not have the luxury of being discouraged.” We, as world leaders on climate change, have a moral responsibility to reverse these trends, and save our planet and its people.

His words were a call to action, aimed at breaking the political deadlocks that plagued various aspects of the negotiated text. As we move into the last two days of negotiations, we’ll see if his words have galvanized the Parties, or if the same issues plague consensus.


Animal Adaptation to Climate Change: Looking Through the Lens of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

Climate change affects animals. This is not a new revelation. The first IPCC Assessment Report, released in 1990, discusses how climate change negatively impacts polar bears. But the conversation on animals and climate change often neglects the stories of how animals survive by adapting to climate changed conditions.

Many species adapt by broadening their diets and changing other behaviors, such as migrating patterns, mating habits, and hibernation lengths. For example, the National Wildlife Federation reports that the Quino checkerspot butterfly was disappearing in the late 1990’s. The butterfly was dying because hot weather in California was causing its host plant to dry out before any caterpillars could enter adulthood.

This endangered subspecies was considered a “goner,” but then the Quino did something surprising. Surrounded by desert, the butterfly could not migrate butterflynorth to wetter terrain. Instead, it moved to higher ground. The Quino population resettled at a higher elevation and most importantly, adapted to using a new host plant. This adaptation is exciting because it indicates what one scientist calls “a genetic revolution.”

Moving to a new host plant isn’t as easy as it sounds. The butterfly genes governing its search image and its natural instinct to lay eggs on a particular plant have to change. This one genetic change can create a domino effect on the genetic make-up of the Quino. For instance, the butterfly might have to alter the number of eggs it lays because of the new host plant’s capacity to nourish young caterpillars. In turn, the young caterpillars might need to develop new enzymes in order to eat the new host plant.

If the decision to move to a higher elevation is able to change what type of enzymes the next generation of Quino produces, the capacity for animal adaptation to climate change is immense. This past summer, researchers discovered polar bears have started eating dolphins. As northern seas become ice free, dolphins are migrating farther north, which in turn provides starving polar bears a new source of food.

Animal adaptation to climate change will not stop global warming, but it does illustrate why the UNFCCC is making an effort to enable the human animal to adjust to a climate-changed world. In order to mitigate climate change, humans must be able to adapt to the changes already occurring. The new agreement draft text shows that Parties are trying to balance mitigation and adaptation efforts in their commitments to address climate change concerns.

 


IPCC Soundly Rebukes Climate Deniers

Today, key members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the organization providing the scientific foundation for these climate talks) offered a panel presentation today in which they gave an overflowing room an update on their scientific research and a preview of what to expect in the hotly anticipated 5th Assessment Report (forthcoming 2013) as well as a few interim special reports (forthcoming 2010 and 2011).  Before diving into the new studies and preliminary results, however, the panelists responded to media inquiries by soundly rejecting the notion that a few hacked emails had any relevance concerning the overwhelming evidence of climate change trends and impacts.  They offered the following as just a few examples of how robust the IPCC process is and why they are so confident in the data and conclusions presented in their 4th Assessment Report (2007).  Continue reading