State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup: Week of 5/15

Climate Scientist Fears His “Wedges” Made It Seem Too Easy, National Geographic, May 17

In their 2004 paper, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies,” Princeton physics and engineering professor, Robert Socolow, and his colleague, ecologist Stephen Pacala proposed a theory to check any increase in greenhouse gas emissions by tackling the anticipated growth in chunks, or wedges. Socolow now laments that the paper gave the wrong impression that dealing with climate change will be easy, leading to oversimplification and discouraging action. Stabilizing emissions will still lead to a 3-degree rise in global temperatures. In holding out the prospect of success, adherents of the paper stressed the minimal goals, overestimated what realistically could be achieved, and underestimated the price tag.

NASA to Launch New Ocean-Watching Satellite in June,, May 18

NASA is preparing a new observatory, Aquarius, designed to study the relationship between the saltiness of Earth’s oceans and the planet’s climate, for its launch into orbit next month. By tracking variations in ocean surface salinity, Aquarius will monitor changes in the water cycle caused by evaporation and precipitation over the ocean, river runoff, and the freezing and melting of sea ice. The ocean science community desires more information about salinity, as it is the link between two major components of Earth’s complex climate system: ocean circulation and the global water cycle.

U.S. weather extremes show “new normal’ climate, Reuters, May 18

At a conference of the Union of Concerned Scientists, scientists, civic planners, and a manager at the giant Swiss Re reinsurance firm all cited human-caused climate change as a factor pushing the shift toward more extreme weather, such as heavy rains, deep snowfalls, floods, and droughts. Although no specific weather event can be blamed on climate change, climate scientists Katharine Kayhoe of Texas Tech University said a background of climate change had an impact in every rainstorm, heat wave, or cold snap. “What we’re seeing is the new normal is constantly evolving,” said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of Swiss Re’s Global Partnerships team. “Globally what we’re seeing is more volatility … there’s certainly a lot more integrated risk exposure.”

US military goes to war with climate sceptics, The Guardian, May 20

A recent report, “A National Strategic Narrative,” written by Pentagon staff, asserts that change is “already shaping a ‘new normal’ in our strategic environment.” CNA Corporation, a nonprofit that conducts research for the Navy and Marines, echoed the Pentagon’s urgency, writing, “Climate change, from the Military Advisory Board’s perspective, presents significant risks to America’s national security.” The Army Environmental Policy Institute, the National Intelligence Council and the Centre for a New American Security have issued similar reports on the dangers of runaway climate change and what it could mean for geopolitics.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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