Climate Photo of the Week
Heat rises, fossil fuels plummet, clean energy spreads — how global warming is changing the world
In the weeks after the world’s nations decided to set plans to reduce greenhouse gases and try to limit the warming, both the direct effects of rapid climate change and disruptive events in energy markets were proving just how fast things can shift. Many people, companies and nations are struggling to keep up with rapid changes of weather, markets and income.
Record heat in 2015: "During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (.90°C) above the 20th century average,” NOAA reported in its State of the Climate. "This was the highest among all 136 years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C)” said the report, "and marking the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century. This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken,” far exceeding the margin by which 2014 was the previous high.
NOAA reported that “record warmth was broadly spread around the world.” 2015 was the warmest ever in Asia, spawning a major heat wave in India in May and June with temperatures as high as 118 degrees (48° C) and causing 2000 deaths. In the U.S. the California drought continued and overall it was the 2d warmest year ever, including in Alaska. The northern U.S. state continued with what a NOAA scientist called “absurdly warm” temperatures into 2016, and sea ice in January was at "the lowest overall Arctic sea ice extent of any January in the satellite record."
Coal and oil in free fall: Petroleum is in a downward spiral not seen since the 1990s, if not earlier, according to the NY Times. Once high-flying, high-profit oil companies of all sizes are laying off workers and decommissioning more than half the drilling rigs. "An estimated 250,000 oil workers have lost their jobs” worldwide, reported the Times. The price of a barrel of crude oil has sunk this year to its lowest level since 2003 — breaking below $30 in January — and oil executives were reported pessimistic about an early recovery. Many oil-rich nations along with major oil-exploring corporations pegged their incomes and spending commitments on oil at $70 to $100 a barrel, and their struggle has set off waves of insecurity about manufacturers dependent on them.
In this complicated, interlocking system, American fracking has flooded the market with oil and natural gas, fuel economy gains have helped lower the demand for oil, even as cheap gasoline is denting the drive toward high-efficiency and electric vehicles needed to help stem climate change. The booming Bakken region of North Dakota that was pumping 900,000 barrels a day when we did our story in 2013 — and which increased to 1,200,000 in early 2015 — is starting to tail off as there are less than a quarter of drilling rigs working now as were in 2013. Same is true for other major U.S. oil fields, according to industry reports. The U.S. drilling boom and result that it has become the world’s leading natural gas producer, comes at a cost of groundwater pollution from fracking and local earthquakes from well injection, and increasing rogue emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the major part of natural gas. Those methane leaks and flares will have to be cut by 40-45 percent by 2025 under an Interior Department rule issued January 22.
At the same time, at least 27 coal companies have declared bankruptcy, their stocks are down 75 percent in five years, 10 percent less coal is being burned by utilities (in favor of gas, renewables and efficiencies) and more than 250 mines have closed and 230 coal fired power plants retired or scheduled to be closed. The President’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant emissions is headed for court this summer as coal states fight it, but justices have not stayed the EPA from working on it. Coal leases on public land are finally being investigated and limited by the Administration after more than 30 years of urging by economic and environmental advocates.
Even China’s coal demand is shrinking — a good sign for global warming and the lungs of Chinese citizens. Two of the three huge coal companies we covered in our Powder River Wyoming story, giants Alpha and Arch, sought bankruptcy protection in recent months. The dreams of coal and oil companies and their transportation and refining partners of markets reached by long, dangerous energy trains running to the West Coast are being dashed by strong opposition in many communities to fossil fuel terminal and rail expansion.
Renewable energy powers on: The acceptance, financing and economic equality of wind, solar and other renewables continues to grow, even in the face of cheaper oil and the perennial false economy of coal. New programs like the Bill Gates initiated Breakthrough Energy Coalition and huge wind and solar developments in China and India will add to this growth. Much more about the energy revolution and how people worldwide are taking on climate change, on this website this year.
Renewable energy powers on with record investment: The acceptance, financing and economic equality of wind, solar and other renewables continues to grow, even in the face of cheaper oil and the perennial false economy of coal. See this graphically in animated charts by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. New programs like the Bill Gates initiated Breakthrough Energy Coalition and huge wind and solar developments in China and India will add to this growth. Much more about the energy revolution and how people worldwide are taking on climate change, on this website this year.
News, photos and analysis of the historic Paris Agreement by the UN climate convention may be found in our News & Photos archive.
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.
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