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News about Climate Change and our Planet


Climate Queries, Asked and Answered

We hear you.

You ask us all kinds of questions about the most profound challenge of our times. You ask us about the science. You ask us what policy levers have worked to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. You ask us about your everyday dilemmas.

You often ask us what you can do.

So, a few weeks ago, we invited you to share what was on your minds, and then we divvied up the questions among several of the reporters on Team Climate, based on their areas of expertise. There were too many to answer, and of those, too many to list in one newsletter. Here’s a selection.

What countries, if any, have a realistic chance of meeting their Paris agreement pledges? — Michael Svetly, Philadelphia

According to Climate Action Tracker, a research group that analyzes climate goals and policies, very few. Ahead of United Nations talks in Glasgow last year, the organization found most major emitters of carbon dioxide, including the United States and China, are falling short of their pledge to stabilize global warming around 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

A few are doing better than most, including Costa Rica and the United Kingdom. Just one country was on track to meet its promises: Gambia, a small West African nation that has been bolstering its renewable energy use. — Lisa Friedman

What does the data look like for greenhouse gas emissions in the last 200 years if volcanic activity was subtracted out? — Haley Rowlands, Boston

Volcanic activity generates 130 million to 440 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the United States Geological Survey. Human activity generates about 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year — which is about 80 times as much as the high-end estimate for volcanic activity, and 270 times as much as the low-end estimate. And that’s carbon dioxide. Human activity also emits other greenhouse gases, like methane, in far greater quantities than volcanoes.

There is also no evidence that volcanic activity has increased over the past 200 years. While there have been more documented eruptions, researchers at the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program found that this was attributable not to an actual trend, but rather to “increases in populations living near volcanoes to observe eruptions and improvements in communication technologies to report those eruptions.”

All told, volcanic activity accounts for less than 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is not enough to contribute in any meaningful way to the increase we’ve seen over the past 200 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in 2013 (see Page 56 of its report) that the climatic effects of volcanic activity were “inconsequential” over the scale of a century. — Maggie Astor

How can we have faith in climate modeling when extreme events are much worse than predicted? — Kevin, Herndon, Va.

Climate scientists have said for a long time that global warming is causing the intensity and frequency of many types of extreme weather to increase. And that’s exactly what has been happening. But global climate models aren’t really designed to simulate extreme events in individual regions. The factors that shape individual heat waves, for instance, are very local. Large-scale computer models simply can’t handle that level of detail quite yet.

That said, sometimes there are events that seem so anomalous that they make scientists wonder if they reflect something totally new and unforeseen, a gap in our understanding of the climate. Some researchers put the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave in that category, and are working to figure out whether they need to re-evaluate some of their assumptions.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in April, concluded that we haven’t run out of time to slow global warming, but only if nations and societies make some huge changes right away. That’s a big if. — Raymond Zhong

Here is the full set of answers to browse.

We have also tackled common climate questions about food and diet, how to choose clothes that last, written a climate guide for kids and explained why plastic recycling got so confusing.

We hope our answers will deepen your understanding of the climate crisis. Please keep asking questions.

In photos: Frederick Law Olmsted, who is behind many of America’s most beloved parks, was born on April 26, 200 years ago. Marvel at his creations.

At the White House: Hundreds of people gathered in Washington on Saturday to press President Biden to enact climate legislation. Failure to do so, they said, might cost him their vote.

‘Grief and despair’: A climate activist died after setting himself on fire in apparent Earth Day protest on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Lagging behind: Investors worried about climate change are pressuring Warren Buffett to do more to cut emissions from his conglomerate’s businesses. He is not having it.

Fire season already: Wildfires have burned through 150,000 acres in three states. At least one person has died.

Reality check: Vaclav Smil argues that activists and policymakers need more realistic goals to tackle the climate crisis in this interview in The New York Times Magazine.

  • The global food system relies on very few varieties of fruits and vegetables. This makes it more vulnerable to a climate breakdown, The Guardian reported.

  • The war in Ukraine has sparked a global energy crisis, making demand for coal stronger than ever, according to Bloomberg.

  • Twitter has banned ads that promote climate change denialism, CNN reported.

  • There may be fewer North Atlantic right whales left than people working to save them. The Washington Post tells the creatures’ story.

  • Old-growth forests hold more carbon, cleaner water and greater diversity of life than younger ones. National Geographic explains why ancient forests matter.

  • The Sunnyside landfill posed a health hazard for a Black community for decades. Now, the Houston Chronicle reported, it will become the largest urban solar farm in the country.

Homosassa, a tiny town in Florida’s West Coast, and its rich aquatic life inspired the artist Winslow Homer to paint some of his most luminous pieces. Its “delightful climate,” as he once described it to his brother, made it a perfect refuge from Maine’s frigid winters. In Florida, Homer would paint dense jungles, and black bass jumping from the water in the Homosassa River, in watercolor. The technique made these works very different to the oil paintings for which Homer is best known.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Friday.

Manuela Andreoni, Jesse Pesta and Sarah Graham contributed to Climate Forward.

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