How climate change causes extreme weather

Here’s a graphic to help explain one of the most immediate and direct impacts of climate change: extreme weather events.

Water Cycle

Image: US Geological Survey

Earth’s water cycle is a critical component of our climate.  It operates continuously, and has three stages:

  • Evaporation: water goes up into our atmosphere, mainly through evaporation from the surface of oceans
  • Condensation: cooler temperatures high in our atmosphere cause evaporated water to condense into droplets of moisture
  • Precipitation: this moisture falls back to the Earth in the form of rain or snow

We humans are most conscious of the third, because it’s the one that affects us directly.

Most people understand that global warming has warmed our air – but over 90% of the extra heat so far from global warming has actually gone into our oceans and warmed the water – and here’s why that combination is a big concern:

  • It’s a basic principle of physics that warm water evaporates more readily. So when oceans warm, much more water evaporates from their surfaces into the atmosphere.
  • It’s another basic principle of physics that warm air can hold and carry much more moisture (seven per cent more for every one-degree rise in temperature)

The result: warmer air carrying more moisture can drop enormous amounts of precipitation, whether as rain or snow, over an area.  In other words, extreme weather events.  (Just last week, I heard a television meteorologist attribute the stretch of wet weather we’ve been experiencing in eastern Canada to warmer water in the Gulf of Mexico.)

So – if ever you’ve wondered how climate change and extreme weather are related, now you know: intensification of our global water cycle, pictured above.  Perhaps that’s worth printing, or even sharing!  (Missed the graphics shared in the past three editions of Green Ideas?  You can find them here.)

Where we are, where we need to go

I get that your fridge may becoming a bit crowded by now – but here’s a third graphic worth printing and contemplating: where global greenhouse gas emissions currently stand, and where they need to go.

GHG Emissions

A special report issued last October by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we need to:

  • Reduce emissions globally by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (just 11 years from now); and then
  • Achieve net zero emissions by 100% by 2050, just 20 years after that

The IPCC’s conclusion is represented by the dotted red line above.  (The solid red line represents continuing with ‘business as usual’.)

A few takeaways:

  • A 45% reduction in just 11 years is a daunting goal by any measure; it won’t be achieved if we fall into the trap of thinking we can wait 10 years and then just do it all in the 11th, so we need to act quickly
  • A 45% reduction is not just a minor tweak; it will require deep, fundamental changes to where we get our energy and how we use it
  • A 45% reduction for all translates into a 45% reduction for each of us, so here’s the big question: what can you (or I) do to reduce our carbon footprint by 45%? (To help, why not revisit this graphic of the sources of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by sector, from March 27’s Green Ideas.)

True, you or I can’t do it alone.  But it’ll never get done without us.

A snapshot of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s another graphic worth printing and placing onto your fridge: a summary of Canada’s 2016 greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector.

GHG

The above numbers add up to 704 million tonnes (or 22 tonnes a second), about 4% below the 732 million tonnes we emitted in 2005.  Under the 2015 Paris Accord, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, so we have a lot of work to do over the next 11 years.  (And, if truth be told, our targets need to be more ambitious if global warming is to be addressed seriously.)

A few key takeaways: between 2005 and 2016, Canadian emissions:

  • from Electricity decreased by 34% – a good thing!
  • from Buildings, Industry, Agriculture and Waste declined slightly
  • from Transportation and Oil & Gas, the two biggest slices of the above pie, increased by 7% and 16% respectively – pretty much summarizing where the greatest problem lies and where our greatest efforts are required.

Why not print this graphic and place it on your fridge, so you see where our emissions are coming from and contemplate all the ways we can reduce them.  (It’s a complement to the carbon cycle graphic from March 13’s Green ideas, which hopefully made it onto your fridge too!)

Learn more about our Canadian emissions (including, on page 13, which four provinces’ emissions have gone in the wrong direction) here.

Rebalancing our Carbon Cycle

This graphic is worth printing and placing onto your fridge, because it shows, very clearly and simply, the global carbon cycle that regulates our climate – a cycle humanity has knocked out of balance.

Carbon Cycle

Graphic: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Carbon is a very mobile element, moving mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, or CO2.  It goes up into the air continuously when living things exhale, when anything organic decomposes or when anything is burned.  It is absorbed from the air continuously by plants (mainly trees) and ocean plankton (single-celled plants that are the basis of ocean food chains).

Through most of human existence on Earth, the carbon cycle was roughly in balance (IE the same amount going up as coming down) – but it’s not anymore.  Since the industrial revolution, we’ve been digging up carbon-laden oil, coal and natural gas that were safely stored underground for millions of years, and burning it.  The result: way more carbon going up.  On the other side of the cycle, the plants of the world, impaired by human activities such as deforestation, haven’t been able to keep up.

The result: the level of CO2 in our atmosphere has risen from 275 parts per million (PPM) at the start of the industrial revolution to 412 PPM today.  That excess CO2 is causing global warming and climate change.

So the solution to climate change comes down to one very simple goal: rebalancing the carbon cycle, so the same amount is absorbed as emitted.  Every action that reduces the amount going up (IE burning less fossil fuels) or increases the amount coming down (IE planting a tree) brings us closer to that goal.

That’s why this graphic is worth printing and placing on your fridge: so you see it every day, and contemplate all the ways you – we – can help rebalance the carbon cycle.  (Don’t like this graphic? Try this one.)

(And, for a deeper dive, check out Project Drawdown, which details 80 solutions for removing some of that excess CO2 already up there.)

The environmental costs of online shopping and next-day delivery

These days, virtually every major retailer offers online shopping and quick delivery.  It’s sure convenient – and well suited to today’s world of instant gratification.

But online shopping comes with a major transportation carbon footprint – much of which occurs in the ‘last mile’, the journey from your local depot to your doorstep that usually involves a van, a driver and a lot of driving.  And next-day delivery further increases that footprint, because it leads to all kinds of shipping inefficiencies in the name of speed.

On the other hand, making a special trip to a local store also involves a carbon footprint (unless you walk, bike or take transit).

So what’s the most eco-friendly way to shop?

  • When shopping online, forego fast shipping options (even if they’re free) and choose regular post. That way, your package is less likely to travel by air (the mode with the largest carbon footprint), and more likely to travel on a full truck or van.  A bit slower, but as my grade eight teacher used to say when we’d hound her about something, “Patience is a virtue.”
  • When shopping online, shop with an eye to minimizing returns, even if a seller offers free returns, because return shipping also has a carbon footprint. If you’re not sure about sizing, why not shop locally? That way you don’t need to order several sizes and return all but one.
  • When shopping online, combine and consolidate orders when possible so everything comes in one package (it’s not foolproof; items in the same order may originate from different warehouses)
  • When shopping locally, avoid making special trips, and always combine as many errands as you can into one trip
  • Avoid creating a double-footprint: first visiting a store to check something out, then going home and ordering it online. A double footprint, plus a real downer for your local retailer.
  • Consider carbon offsetting your shipment. Some shippers offer carbon offsets, but you may need to do a little research to verify they are Gold Standard carbon offsets, the best kind.

(Or you could choose to simply shop less, which is the best option of all for the planet and your wallet…)

Happy sustainable shopping!  (More on the subject here.)

Celebrate National Battery Day by recycling those batteries

According to www.daysoftheyear.com, yesterday, February 12, was Extraterrestrial Culture Day.  Today is Tortellini Day.  And tomorrow is Cream-Filled Chocolates Day – nicely timed with Valentine’s Day!

But next Monday, February 18, is National Battery Day.  According to Statistics Canada, half of Canadian households recycle at least some of their batteries – that’s great news.  But the other half don’t, and that’s not-so-great news.

Batteries contain useful materials like metals and minerals that can be used again.  Some also contain heavy metals and toxic materials that need to be kept out of our environment.  So it makes sense to recycle.

And, these days, that’s really simple, thanks to Call2Recycle, a stewardship organization that collects batteries at over 60,000 drop-off locations across Canada and the US.  No matter where you live, chances are there’s one very near to you – and you can easily find it here.  See what types of batteries can be recycled here.  (No drop-off location near you?  Set one up here.)

Of course, Reduce is always better than Recycle – but when battery use is unavoidable, please be sure to recycle all your used batteries.

And happy National Battery Day!

The quickest, simplest way to save on gas

The ‘Gas Guru’ is a popular feature on CBC Radio here in New Brunswick.  A local reporter has figured out the formula our Energy and Utilities Board uses to set weekly gas prices every Thursday morning.  So every Wednesday morning, he comes on the radio with his prediction, and advises listeners whether they should fill up right away or wait a day – and it would seem many drivers follow his advice in an attempt to save money.

But here’s something to think about: over the past year, the average weekly gas price fluctuation has been just under two cents a litre.  That means that, on average, there’s potential to save precisely $1 on a 50 litre fillup.

Nice, but if you have to go out of your way at all to save that dollar – AND if you’re burning extra gas in the process – AND if your time is worth something… well, it doesn’t take a guru to see that you can quickly spend more than a dollar trying to save a dollar.

So here’s a thought: since gas costs more than $1/litre, you can save more by just burning one litre less between fill-ups than you can by chasing cheap gas prices. Burning a litre less can be as simple as combining errands into one trip; skipping drive-throughs; carpooling (even just once); not idling; accelerating and slowing down smoothly; or driving a touch slower.  A bonus: it’s way better for the environment too.

If you’re a fan of the Gas Guru, keep listening – he’s fun and entertaining.  But it’s good to remember that there are easier ways to save a buck than chasing marginally cheaper gas prices; and a litre saved is always better than a dollar saved.

Awaken your inner Climate Hero in 2019

Six months ago, a relatively unknown young Swedish girl took a bold step – and almost overnight she became a global celebrity.

Grieved by our global climate crisis, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on strike from school, saying, “What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”

Soon she was joined by other students – then more, then more.  Then similar strikes started happening on the first Friday of each month at other schools and in other countries.  Last month, more than 20,000 students held strikes in at least 270 cities in over a dozen countries (including Canada).

In November, Greta gave an impactful TEDx Talk in Stockholm (spoiler alert: expect a bit of shame and a lot of motivation); in December, she spoke at the UN’s climate summit in Poland.  The movement she began continues to grow monthly, and the media and politicians are starting to take note.

I’ve always believed each of us has the potential for greatness, and Greta proves that’s true.  She’s also shown you don’t need to write a book or invent a gadget; you just need commitment and focus.  You just need to show up.

So if you’re a student of any age, why not make this your jumping-off point to greatness?  You can find complete info on how to organize or take part in an event here.

And if you’re not into strikes or activism, why not at least call or write your elected leaders to demand action?  Find your federal Member of Parliament’s contact info here.

It’s climate crunch time, and we need more people like Greta (regardless of age).  Why not me, and why not you?

Renewed resolve

January 2, 2019

What’s your sustainability goal for 2019?

When it comes to climate change, 2018 was a pretty tough year.  Hurricanes Florence and Michael (neither caused by climate change, but both intensified by it).  The California wildfires.  A major report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we will blow past 1.5°C unless global emissions are reduced by half in just 12 years.  A dire US National Climate Assessment report that was quietly released during the US Thanksgiving weekend.

Clearly, we need strong collective action – but individual action too, because each of us can make a much bigger difference than we realize.

So, if New Year’s is a time for resolutions and new beginnings, what’s your sustainability resolution for 2019?  Here are a few ideas:

My 2019 resolution?  That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022.

I’d love to hear your 2019 sustainability resolution (just hit reply) – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine!

Happy – and sustainable – 2019!

Choose an alternative to helium balloons when you celebrate

Like everyone else, I’ve watched helium-filled balloons bob up into the sky to the cheers of people celebrating some event or other – or to the cries of a young person who inadvertently relaxed their grip.  There’s something exciting about seeing them defy gravity and go up, up and away.

But what goes up must come down.  And since balloons are not typically biodegradable, they become pollution: often ending up in our oceans, where they can be fatal for turtles and other sea life that mistake them as food.  More on that here.

So what to do instead?  For celebrations, why not consider ribbon dancers, pinwheels or garden spinners?

Pinwheels

For commemorations, why not consider a native seed bomb, releasing floating (native) flowers down a calm stream, or blowing giant bubbles?

seedbombs

More creative plastic-free celebration ideas here.

Greetings of the season, and Happy 2019!  Thanks for being a Green Ideas subscriber.

carl