“The Wreck of the Kulluk”
The stunning and angering story of how Shell Oil lost control of its oil rigs and its plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Written by McKenzie Funk. Cover story of the New York Times Magazine, 4 January 2015. Cover photograph by Gary Braasch from his exclusive shoot of the Kulluk in October 2012. President Obama and the Interior Department have announced they will ask Congress to fully protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coast from oil drilling and development, and may also impose new restrictions on Alaskan land and off-shore drilling areas.
Pipeline breach on Yellowstone River near route of Keystone XL spills crude oil into river, focuses safety concerns.
Up to an estimated 1200 barrels — about 50,000 gallons — of crude oil from a Bridger Pipeline Co. 12-inch pipe has leaked into the Yellowstone river. The breach under the river was reported on January 17, according to news reports. Benzene, a carcinogenic part of crude oil, was later detected in the drinking water supply for 6000 people. The leak site in eastern Montana near the town of Glendive is only a few miles east of where the Keystone XL pipeline, three times the size of the Bridger pipe, will cross under the river. The coming Presidential decision whether to allow the Keystone has become a symbol and focus of oil politics, energy policy, environmental protest and the clear need to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Climate Photo of the Week
How hot is it? 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded, without any help from El Nino.
How hot is it? Whatever humorous answer you prefer to the old Tonight Show routine, the answer for the Earth is it was so hot that 2014 wa the warmest in 135 years of record keeping. "The annually-averaged temperature was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average,” reported NOAA, “... easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04°C (0.07°F). This also marks the 38th consecutive year (since 1977) that the yearly global temperature was above average.”
Even though the Eastern part of the United States had a cooler year than usual, Alaska, California, Nevada and Arizona had their warmest year on record. Record warmth also hit Far East Russia, parts of interior South America, most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, and parts of both eastern and western coastal Australia.
"Including 2014,” said NOAA, "9 of the 10 warmest years in the 135-year period of record have occurred in the 21st century. 1998 currently ranks as the fourth warmest year on record.” That year a strong El Nino, part of the atmospheric circulation cycle which brings heat in the western Pacific Ocean across to affect the entire Pacific, pushed Earth temperatures unusually higher. Other even warmer years like 2010 were also affected by El Nino. But 2014 had no El Nino, putting the cause of the record warmth squarely on the rapidly increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The rate of Earth surface temperature increase since 1998 is a bit lower than the full 1880-2014 rate — which climate change deniers have seized on to claim that global warming has “stopped” and the science is uncertain. Climatologists point out that that the change in rate is well within the natural range of short term variation in year-to-year temperature readings and that the 16-year time period is too short to suggest a long-term change.
James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt and colleagues confirmed in their report on 2014 temperature that the El Nino-La Nina cycle has a significant effect on Earth temperatures when it is strong. They wrote that some researchers see an increasing chance for a strong El Nino soon and "with the help of even a mild El Niño 2015 may be significantly warmer than 2014." Schmidt, Director of NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said "the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases."
News of the Keystone XL Pipeline — Congress puts on the pressure but this is a tiny controversy in the huge problem of keeping most fossil fuel in the ground.
Every nation agrees to agree to reduce global warming pollution at contentious climate negotiations in Lima — as Peru's great ecosystems and the people they support show the stresses of rising temperatures.
One of the most dramatic changes in Peru is the disappearance of Broggi Glacier in Huascaran National Park, a World Heritage site northeast of Lima.
Against the daunting backdrop of Peru’s glaciers disappearing, reductions in water for millions, and extinctions and forest migration in the Amazon rainforest, the 20th international UN Climate Convention, meeting in Lima in early December, laid plans for a long-sought all-nation agreement to stop the rise in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. Faced with climate change realities playing out worldwide, as starkly reported by this year's Fifth IPCC assessment, negotiators in Lima took steps toward an international agreement which would for the first time commit all nations to plan reductions in their emissions. National plans will be announced during the coming year and a final new agreement under the Climate Convention will be negotiated for signing at a Paris meeting a year from now. The Lima talks broke down early over how strict limits to global warming emissions would be reported and verified and over support for those nations and people already affected by rapid changes. There were other vast differences between developed and developing nations. Many of these details remain to be worked out in the coming year.
The diverse rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon basin to the east of the Andes, an area larger than France, is one of the deepest reservoirs of sequestered carbon on our planet. But its biodiversity is already changing with losses of frog species, tree species moving as temperature rises, and increased mining.
The limits expected in national reduction plans are not going to be enough to stop increasingly high temperatures and climate disruptions, most analysts said. The individual national plans have no mandatory amount of reduction, will not be independently verified, and only just before the Paris talks will the world know how much they accomplish. But the national plans would set the stage for an agreement by all 195 Convention signatories at the 2015 meeting -- which would be the first time all treaty parties together begin to follow the words of the Climate Convention: “to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
It is now too late, say most scientists, to follow the next sentence of the Convention, to achieve reductions "within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Under the Lima plan limits to carbon pollution would not take effect until after 2020, despite many nations wanting an agreement to begin much sooner. Developing nations left the Lima meeting dissatisfied about adaptation and preparedness funding from developed nations. But there is hope, determination, and pathways for action which can certainly slow the accelerating rush toward a disastrous century — if the world’s nations decide to act more decisively. The new promises by the U.S., China and the E.U. to slow and cut their pollution are an example of what we might expect to see from all countries in the coming year. Going farther toward really deep and faster emission reductions will depend on peer pressure and negotiation among nations — because the process adapted at Lima does not have top-down emissions limits like the Kyoto Protocol did. It appeared that only a flexible, non-forcing approach allowing for "differentiated responsibilities and capabilities” was able to get all 195 nations to sign on.
More on Peru's environment as it reacts to climate change, from World View of Global Warming's 2014 coverage, here.
15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2015
This project would be impossible without scientists and observers around the world who have provided hundreds of scientific contacts and papers. See Background, Advisors, and Reference for documentation, funders and major advisors, without whom I could not complete the work.
World View of Global Warming is a project of the Blue Earth Alliance, Seattle Washington, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. The project is supported entirely by donations, grants, and license fees for the photographs. Please see information about how to contribute.
For other information about Gary Braasch's climate change projects and books, please see the books Earth Under Fire and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and the exhibit "Climate Change in Our World" at the Books and Exhibits link on the top menu of this page.
Photography and text Copyright © 2005 - 2015 (and before) Gary Braasch All rights reserved. Use of photographs in any manner without permission is prohibited by US copyright law. Photography is available for license to publications and other uses. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. View more of Gary Braasch's photography here.