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Rising Seas Aren’t Swamping Small Island Nations

October 9, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #375

At a U.N. Conference of world leaders in September, representatives of the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group said, “In another 75 years, many ... members may no longer hold seats at the United Nations if the world continues on its present course,” the Associated Press (AP) reports.

At the same meeting, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said, “We are already seeing a version of environmental Armageddon.”

The problem, according to the island nations represented at the U.N. meeting, is that low-lying islands such as Tuvalu will completely disappear within 75 years, covered by rising seas. Fortunately, scientific evidence demolishes such claims.

Current sea-level rise is not at all unusual historically. Also, several peer-reviewed studies in recent years demonstrate that, even as the world has warmed modestly, many island nations are seeing their land masses increase, not shrink.

As detailed in Climate at a Glance: Sea Level Rise, sea level has been rising at a relatively steady pace of approximately one foot per century since the mid-1800s, long before humans started emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms there has been no significant recent acceleration.

Some low-lying islands are likely threatened by relentless but entirely natural sea-level rise. However, as NASA reports, sea level always rises between ice ages as ice sheets retreat. Also, many islands and island nations, perhaps a majority in many locations, are actually seeing their land masses increase.

The island of Hawaii, for example, added 543 acres of new land due to lava flows between January 1983 and September 2002. In 2018 alone, Popular Mechanics reports, volcanic activity added 875 acres to Hawaii Island. Volcanic activity is creating a new Hawaiian coastline and adding height to the island, both of which diminish any threat to the island’s inhabitants from rising seas.

As early as 2010, many small island nations were actually growing, not being submerged beneath the seas, research shows. A study that examined 27 islands spanning Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Federated States of Micronesia found 80 percent of the islands either maintained their size or grew over the last 60 years, with some growing dramatically.

The 2010 study’s findings were confirmed and expanded in 2015 when the same group of researchers published a peer-reviewed study of 600 coral reef islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The researchers found approximately 40 percent of those islands remained stable, and 40 percent increased in size. As National Geographic reported at the time, “Some islands grew by as much as 14 acres (5.6 hectares) in a single decade, and Tuvalu’s main atoll, Funafuti—33 islands distributed around the rim of a large lagoon—has gained 75 acres (32 hectares) of land during the past 115 years.”

Despite political gimmicks designed to induce climate “reparations” from Western democracies, Tuvalu’s government has felt confident enough in its long-term future to build brand-new government buildings since 2015. In addition, there is no evidence Tuvalu is experiencing a forced migration of its population to other countries due to rising seas. The population on Fongafale, Tuvalu’s largest island, has increased by 33 percent.

Recent research published in 2018 by GIScience & Remote Sensing found 15 of the 28 uninhabited islands on Tuvalu’s Funafuti Atoll saw their shorelines increase in recent years.

In the peer-reviewed journal Geology in 2019, the same group of researchers explained the islands’ growth as resulting from strong wave action washing sand and gravel inland so the atolls and islands are “continually replenished by sediment from the surrounding reef.” In other words, the natural interaction of land and sea protect islands from sea-level rise. Even on islands where some shoreline is lost to the seas, the researchers found storms and wave action carrying sand and gravel inland are adding to the height of such islands, making them more resistant to rising seas.

Seas are rising slowly and will continue to rise as they have, without any help by humankind, for millennia. Even so, the evidence shows many island nations are gaining acreage, gaining height, and supporting growing populations.

—    H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Associated Press; Climate at a Glance: Sea Level Rise; NASA; Popular Mechanics; BBC; National Geographic; GIScience & Remote Sensing; Geology


IN THIS ISSUE …

CLIMATE ALARMISTS EMBRACE ROCK DUST AS A GEOENGINEERING CLIMATE FIX … CANADIAN COURT BATTLE WILL DEFINE FEDERAL CLIMATE POWERS … NUCLEAR, NATURAL GAS PLANTS DOMINATE ELECTRICITY DELIVERY


CLIMATE ALARMISTS EMBRACE ROCK DUST AS A GEOENGINEERING CLIMATE FIX

In a recent paper published in Nature, an international group of scientists from universities and research institutes in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the United States embrace a geoengineering response to climate change: the spreading of crushed silicate rocks on cropland to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As rain weathers rocks, it exposes minerals that naturally bind with carbon dioxide, transforming it into new chemicals. The research paper suggests we accelerate the process by grinding up millions of tons of rock each year and spreading the dust on farmers’ fields around the world. The researchers estimate such “enhanced weathering” could remove two billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, approximately one-third of what the United States emits annually.

The costs of using enhanced weathering to capture carbon dioxide would be lower in tropical, developing countries with good weathering conditions: “(warm, seasonally wet weather), and low labor and energy costs.” In such locations the costs could be as low as $60 per ton of carbon dioxide stored—comparable to or lower than many of the carbon tax proposals proposed in various countries in recent years. In countries like the United States, the costs could top $176 per ton of carbon dioxide removed, equaling about $225 per American annually, the scientists estimate. Some of those costs would be offset by the rock dust improving soil health and helping to fertilize crops, which would reduce the amount of other fertilizers farmers have to apply to their fields and would improve crop yields, which should lower food costs.

James Hansen, among the most prominent climate alarmists, has embraced enhanced weathering as a response to climate change. Hanson is a coauthor of the paper. In an e-mail, Hansen told Grist he endorses enhanced weathering because it can store carbon dioxide for thousands of years without continuous active management: you just spread the rock dust and let weathering do the rest. “Hansen said other approaches, ‘such as reforestation, are important, but require management to assure that the carbon sink is maintained,’” Grist reports.

SOURCES: Nature; Bloomberg; Grist


CANADIAN COURT BATTLE WILL DEFINE FEDERAL CLIMATE POWERS

The Supreme Court of Canada recently heard arguments in a case with profound implications for the nation’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide by the amount required in its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

In 2016, the federal government, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, developed a plan, in consultation with the provinces, to cut Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions. The plan directed each provincial government to impose a price or tax on carbon dioxide emissions on various sectors of the economy and large emitters of carbon dioxide. The goal is reduce emissions by a minimum amount established by the federal government, consistent with its national commitments under the Paris climate agreement. Should a province fail to enact a carbon pricing plan, or offer a plan the national government considers insufficiently stringent, the federal government will impose its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act which, Watts Up With That reports,

operates as a backstop—a national safety net—with two parts. The first imposes a charge on a broad range of greenhouse gas emitting fuels. The second establishes an “output-based performance system” that requires industrial facilities to pay for the emissions that exceed an annual limit. The backstop only applies in provinces or territories that request it or that have failed to price emissions through a direct price or cap-and-trade system at the minimum benchmark level established by Ottawa.

The provincial government of Saskatchewan rejected the national framework from the outset. After the plan was adopted, the governments of Alberta and Ontario joined with Saskatchewan to fight the required greenhouse gas emission reductions on jurisdictional grounds. They claim the federal government does not have the authority to dictate energy policy to the provinces. The government of each province asked its respective court of appeals to issue an advisory opinion on whether the national government has jurisdiction over greenhouse gas emissions. Saskatchewan’s and Ontario’s courts of appeals ruled the federal government did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions within and among the provinces “under the ‘national concern branch’ of the federal government’s constitutional ‘peace, order, and good government’ power,” as Watts Up With That reports. Alberta’s court of appeals concluded the federal government lacked jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, creating a split in the courts that the Supreme Court of Canada has now decided to settle.

On appeal, the provinces are arguing granting Ottawa’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would violate provincial sovereignty on an issue best left to each province under Canada’s constitutional principle of subsidiarity, under which public policy issues are to be addressed at the most effective level of government closest to the citizens affected. If the Supreme Court upholds the federal government’s presumed power to impose, or force the provinces to impose, carbon dioxide restrictions, it could jeopardize the constitutionally designed balance of  power within the Canadian federation and open the door to many other incursions on legitimate provincial authority in the future, the provinces argue.

This case bears close attention because if the Supreme Court decides the federal government lacks the authority to impose greenhouse gas restrictions on unwilling provinces, Canada will probably be unable to meet its Paris climate commitments. If it is unable to impose restrictions on unwilling provinces, it will have to impose stricter emission limits on the remaining provinces or reduce its national backstop limits. Higher costs will result, which could encourage other provinces to withdraw from the carbon dioxide taxing scheme.

SOURCE: Watts Up With That


NUCLEAR, NATURAL GAS PLANTS DOMINATE ELECTRICITY DELIVERY

Despite tremendous government support for renewable power generation, which has resulted in huge growth in wind and solar power capacity over the past decade, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports in 2019 each of the top ten sources of electric power were traditional power plants. The EIA found “9 of the top 10 U.S. power plants that generated the most electricity in 2019 were nuclear plants. These 10 plants … account[ed] for 5.6 percent of all electricity generation in the United States.”

In 2010, the 10 highest-generating power plants in the United States were a mix of nuclear (six) and coal-powered (four). Environmental regulations and increased competition from low-priced natural gas plants and highly subsidized wind and solar facilities reduced coal’s share of total electric power generation in the United States from 45 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2019. Coal is still the second largest source of electric power generation, after natural gas.

Improved operational efficiencies and high capacity have allowed nuclear plants’ share of the nation’s electric power generation to remain steady at about 20 percent, even as some have been decommissioned.

With a 94 percent fleet-wide average, nuclear power plants have the highest capacity factor of any energy source in the United States, because the plants generally operate around-the-clock until they are taken offline for maintenance or refueling, the EIA notes. In 2019, the average capacity factor of wind facilities nationwide was 35 percent, the EIA reports. The capacity factor for solar photovoltaic was even lower, at just 25 percent. Wind and solar together accounted for less than 10 percent of the electricity generated in the United States in 2019.

SOURCES: Watts Up With That; Energy Information Administration

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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