For richer, for poorer: Global warming has made the world’s rich richer and the poor poorer, study says
Global warming may be good for “us,” but not for “them:”
Due in part to rising temperatures from human-caused climate change, the gap between the world’s poorest and richest people has increased in the past half-century, a new study released Monday said.
“Our results show that most of the poorest countries on Earth are considerably poorer than they would have been without global warming,” said Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, the lead author of the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“At the same time, the majority of rich countries are richer than they would have been,” he said.
Specifically, soaring temperatures have enriched cooler, wealthier countries such as Sweden, Canada and Norway while dragging down economic growth in warmer, economically shaky nations such as India and Nigeria, the study said.
Why is this? „Crops are more productive, people are healthier and we are more productive at work when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold,” study co-author Marshall Burke, also of Stanford, explained. “This means that in cold countries, a little bit of warming can help. The opposite is true in places that are already hot.”
According to the study, from 1961 to 2010, the average person in the world’s poorest countries saw their wealth drop by as much as 30%.
Global warming, aka climate change, occurs when fossil fuels such as oil and coal are burned. The burning process releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be due to natural causes.
Since the late 1800s, when fossil fuels began to be burned, the world’s temperature has risen almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Diffenbaugh said there’s a 90% chance that this global warming has been a cause for the economic disparity between the top and bottom of Earth’s population.
Any benefit to the world’s richest countries from climate change is likely a temporary boost: “A few of the largest economies are near the perfect temperature for economic output,” Burke said. “But a large amount of warming in the future will push them further and further from the temperature optimum.”
Speaking of how the world’s poor are most vulnerable to global warming, he said that „to me, this is an indication of the way in which those who are on the front lines of the problem are being affected in ways that we should anticipate will spread.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. is asking state regulators for another increase in rates and profits, saying it’s needed for wildfire safety and to attract investment as the utility goes through bankruptcy.
The Sacramento Bee reports Monday that the request and a previous one could result in average PG&E customer bills rising more than $22 a month for electricity and natural gas.
Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s other major utilities, also asked the Public Utilities Commission for greater profit margins, saying they need to offer investors a higher return for taking on financial insecurity related to wildfires.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials are trying to figure out how to deal with PG&E’s bankruptcy — and utilities in general — in the state marked by deadly wildfires.
A November fire that essentially wiped out the Northern California town of Paradise was the deadliest and most destructive in state history.
PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said Monday’s filing reflects the utility’s financial predicament as it invests in safety upgrades.
„This is neither the best nor the preferred solution,” she said, adding that PG&E wants to „reduce the ask” and is open to discussing alternatives with state officials that would reduce the size of the increase.
The request is likely to anger some lawmakers who are already upset with the utility’s role in deadly wildfires of 2017 and 2018, as well as consumer advocates.
„It’s like PG&E is looking for bailouts under any rock they can find,” said Mark Toney of The Utility Reform Network. „That is just a stunning amount.”
Also Monday, PG&E Corp. announced it has added Fred Buckman, former CEO of Consumers Energy and PacifiCorp, to its boards of directors. The utility also announced it will hire Christopher Hart, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, as an independent safety adviser.
When Americans celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the planet’s atmosphere was markedly different than it is today. Nearly 50 years ago, scientists measured Earth’s levels of carbon dioxide — the planet’s most important greenhouse gas — at around 325 parts per million, or ppm.
Now, almost five decades later, that number has shot up to around 412 ppm, nearly 90 ppm higher. It’s a change atmospheric researchers, geologists, and climate scientists call unparalleled in at least 800,000 years, though it’s likely carbon dioxide levels haven’t been this high in millions years.
„The rate of CO2 increase since the first Earth Day is unprecedented in the geologic record,” said Dan Breecker, a paleoclimatologist at The University of Texas at Austin.
„No matter how you look at this it’s totally unprecedented,” agreed Kris Karnauskas, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
„The last time CO2 levels were this high, the sea level was many feet higher than it is today,” added Matthew Lachniet, a climate scientist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. This was a warmer geologic period on Earth called the Pliocene, spanning some 2.5 to 5 million years ago. Earth’s oceans were some 30 feet higher then, noted Lachniet, after the planet’s ice sheets melted into the sea.
UPDATE: April 22, 2019, 9:05 a.m. EDT: As of 4/20/2019, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reports that CO2 ppm is now over 414 ppm. Earlier in the month updates were postponed due to an equipment failure.
Just how unprecedented are today’s CO2 levels?
Over the last million years, Earth’s CO2 levels have certainly fluctuated, but they’ve naturally wavered between 180 and 280 ppm, explained Jason Briner, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Buffalo.
Image: Scripps Institution of oceanography
But on Earth Day in 2019 we’ve „now exceeded” even the highest ceiling of natural CO2 swings by some 130 ppm. In short, it’s not normal. Especially over the last 49 years, since the first Earth Day.
„Dang,” said Briner. „87 ppm in 49 years.”
The CO2 rate isn’t just really high — it’s picking up steam
In the 1970s, after the first Earth Day, CO2 levels were going up by about 1 ppm per year. But in recent years the rate has increased to, on average, over 2 ppm, said Karnauskas. That rate is unheard of over the last 800,000 years (Scientists have direct proof of Earth’s CO2 levels from as far as 800,000 years ago from air bubbles trapped in ancient ice.)
Previous rises in carbon dioxide levels have simply been more gradual events. „Past climate changes pale in comparison,” said Karnauskas.
Earth can’t keep up with these changes
We’re pumping colossal amounts of CO2 into the planet’s skies.
Normally, Earth can deal with this excess carbon. Over longer periods of time the planet absorbs the carbon into the oceans and the rocky ground. But today these changes are simply happening too rapidly. The planet just can’t consume the CO2 deluge.
When the rate of CO2 release is fast, like it is now, this carbon is gulped up by the oceans, explained Breecker. Today, about 31 percent of human-generated CO2 is absorbed into the seas. But at such a fast rate (especially since the first Earth Day), the ocean surface can only soak up so much carbon dioxide at once, while the rest stays in the air and heats the planet.
When Earth has more time to deal with CO2 increases — say on the order of hundreds of thousands of years — this carbon is also stored away in rocks, in a well-understood process called „silicate weathering.”
Image: nasa / noaa
But today, there’s no time for these slow-moving natural processes to deal with historically high greenhouse gas emissions. C02 emissions are just increasing too quickly.
„The rate of CO2 emissions is very important,” said Breecker. „It affects how much of the CO2 that is emitted stays in the atmosphere and thus contributes to warming.”
Where are we headed?
Without significant and ambitious efforts to slash carbon emissions this century, we are going to blow through 500 ppm, no question.
In a „business-as-usual” scenario, which means emissions continue unchecked, humanity will see some outrageous carbon numbers, which portends significant future warming. „If we maintain a business-as-usual we can conceivably hit 700 ppm in the future relatively easily,” said Lachniet.
Under this high carbon emissions scenario, global average temperatures are expected to rise this century to between 4.7 and 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit — depending on how sensitive Earth is to these unprecedented levels of CO2.
Image: BOB KOPP / ECONOMIC RISKS OF CLIMATE CHANGE: AN AMERICAN PROSPECTUS
Even if society makes some emissions cuts — though not on the order of the ambitious emissons cuts called for by the historic Paris Agreement — we’re on track for some 625 ppm by the century’s end, noted Karnauskas. That’s a 190 percent increase from CO2 levels on the very first Earth Day.
Although political leadership in the U.S. is still actively fostering misinformation about climate science, the United Nations (UN) has made clear that society must radically decarbonize to spare the future from the worst consequences of climate change. „The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” Debra Roberts, an environmental scientist and a lead author of the UN’s latest climate report, said in a statement.
The most important thing to know about climate sensitivity is that it’s not zero
Early results from latest CMIP6 generation of climate models suggest many have higher climate sensitivities than the previous generation. Analysis is underway to understand why. Guest post by scientists at three climate research centres on @CarbonBrief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-results-from-the-next-generation-of-climate-models-matter …
Yet with 412 ppm and counting, we’re already locked in for significant future warming. „The Earth will continue to warm for centuries in the future,” said Lachniet. „It takes the planet a while to catch up.”
„The decisions we make or don’t make today will have an influence on climate 1,000 years from now,” said Lachniet.
As things now look on Earth Day 2019, the trends and magnitude of the CO2 increase since 1970 doesn’t bode well.