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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4

Climate Change

Industrial countries in 2009 pledged to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help the world's poorest countries cope with climate change, but few have followed through. Delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled to meet in Poland in December 2018 to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord lamented the failure of rich countries to provide promised funds, noting that it is their emissions that are forcing adaptations in poorer countries.

The Paris accord commits countries to take action to prevent warming of more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels. The major questions involve how much to spend now to reduce problems in the future and exactly which actions now should have the highest priority.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in August 2018 released a report that assumed the earth will warm by seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 to justify a six-year freeze on federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. The NHTSA report says that temperatures will rise compared to the average between 1986 and 2005 even if emissions were reduced in 2020 as the Obama Administration proposed, justifying the decision to not require reductions.

While the federal government is allowing more emissions, some states are trying to reduce them. California in September 2018 enacted SB 100, which requires all of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower by 2045; Hawaii also has a state law mandating all renewable electricity by 2045. AB 32 requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and the state operates a cap-and-trade program that charges firms that emit greenhouse gases.

Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown hosted a Global Climate Action Summit with 4,000 participants in San Francisco in September 2018 to highlight what state and local governments as well as private businesses can do to combat climate change. Brown signed an executive order mandating that California achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, that is, the state will remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it emits by that date.

Europe and the eastern US experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2018. During typical European summers, about five percent of people experience an extreme climate event such as a heat wave, flood or drought. In 2018, most Europeans experienced extreme climate events, including very high temperatures that sometimes closed airports due to runways buckling.

Sweden's harvest of bilberries (similar to blueberries), cloudberries (similar to raspberries and blackberries, but often yellow or orange), and red lingonberries fell sharply; the Thai guest workers who pick the berries could not reach previous years' earnings. Swiss cows that are moved to high pastures for the summer found limited water supplies due to drought.

The New York Times August 1, 2018 reviewed failed global efforts to combat climate change. By 1990, the science of more human activities leading to more carbon dioxide emissions and a warmer planet was well known and generally accepted by most scientists and the public. In 1990, there was a call to freeze carbon emissions and reduce them by 20 percent by 2005 to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The exact effects of rising temperatures on coastlines, agriculture, migration and the world economy were not known in the 1970s, but the New York Times credits Friends of the Earth, created by David Brower after resigning from the Sierra Club, with publicizing the greenhouse effects of burning fossil fuels. Geophysicist Gordon MacDonald in 1968 predicted that environmental catastrophe due to global warming was a greater threat than nuclear war due the melting ice and rising oceans, and Friends of the Earth arranged for MacDonald to brief congressional staff on climate change.

However, slowing global warming meant reduced consumption of fossil fuels, especially coal. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan knew that Venus was hot because its atmosphere was mainly carbon dioxide.

Botswana has a third of Africa's elephants and a policy of shooting to kill poachers. NGO Elephants Without Borders in August 2018 reported 87 dead elephants in Botswana, calling it a "poaching frenzy" and seeking donations to protect elephants. However, a government survey in Chobe National Park found 19 dead elephants, including six killed by poachers.

Botswana's outgoing government banned trophy elephant hunting in 2013, winning praise from NGOs. A new government took office in 2018 and is considering a resumption of trophy hunting, prompting some NGOs to argue that poachers are already killing too many elephants.