Warming Trends: Couples Disconnected in Their Climate Concerns Can Learn About Global Warming Over 200 Years or in 18 Holes

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Students and activists take part in a demonstration organized by the Fridays For Future movement in the Piazza del Popolo on Oct. 9, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Credit: Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images
Students and activists take part in a demonstration organized by the Fridays For Future movement in the Piazza del Popolo on Oct. 9, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Credit: Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images

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Love Me, Love My Climate Concerns

Couples in romantic relationships often don’t have the same beliefs or behaviors surrounding climate change. But that’s an opportunity for people who are concerned about climate change and favor climate action to convince their partners to adopt these viewpoints, a new study has found. 

Researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication surveyed 758 couples and found that only 38 percent of them shared the same beliefs surrounding climate change, such as believing that global warming is caused by humans and is important to address. And just 31 percent of the couples shared the same behaviors, like signing petitions and donating to climate change organizations. 

Lead author Matthew Goldberg said it was surprising that more couples didn’t share the same beliefs or behaviors surrounding climate change, given that people often seek out a partner who is similar to themselves. 

“It is arguably the closest relationship you can have, so we thought the correspondence would be higher,” he said. “But it is encouraging that it wasn’t as high, because that means there’s more room for change.”


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The researchers classified each respondent into one of six categories on a spectrum of engagement on climate change, ranging from “dismissive” to “alarmed.” About one-third of respondents who were in the “alarmed” category had partners in the less engaged “concerned” and “cautious” categories. 

This is the segment of couples in which Goldberg said climate-concerned people have the most opportunity to help shift their partners’ perceptions on global warming. People who are alarmed about climate change can use their understanding of their partner to appeal to the values that could increase their concern.

“I imagine that romantic partners know infinitely more about each other than we do about strangers,” Goldberg said. “So being able to point to the many connections that climate change has to other important issues, whether it be someone’s religious faith and caring for God’s creation or protecting future generations and leaving a positive legacy.”


Climate Timeline Shows Science Racing Ahead of Policy

In 1824, a French physicist hypothesized that the atmosphere affects Earth’s climate, comparing it to a glass box—an analogy that later inspired the term “greenhouse effect.” 

That marked the beginning of our understanding of global warming, according to a comprehensive timeline of climate science and policy created by Sharon Tisher, an economics lecturer at the University of Maine. 

What’s striking about the timeline, Tisher said, is it shows science advancing through the decades, but national and international policy lagging behind, or even moving backward, despite the increasing knowledge about the causes and dire effects of climate change.

The first U.S. leader to suggest policy to protect the climate was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who warned of accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and called for a “new conservation” in a 1965 speech—141 years after the greenhouse effect was hypothesized. And the first climate regulation in the U.S., according to Tisher’s chronology, came in 2010 when President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency issued fuel economy standards for several types of vehicles 186 years after that first step in climate science. 

“Three years from now, it will be the 200th anniversary of the first climate science,” Tisher said. “We’re not very far along at solving this problem.” 

Prior to working at the University of Maine, Tisher spent 15 years as a litigator, which often required her to assemble detailed timelines of the cases on which she was working. When she was teaching a course on energy law, she decided to create a similar chronology for human understanding and action on climate change. 

Each January, she will update the timeline with the climate news of the last year, she said, until she retires and passes the task on. And she plans to continue building out an interactive version of the timeline, complete with visuals.

“Throughout this chronology we see choices made that were not good ones, so this will give any reader today a much better understanding of the challenges of moving forward,” Tisher said. 

She also often thinks about her students’ children, and their children’s children, and hopes this chronology will remain for those generations. “I think they will probably want very, very much to understand how this happened to them,” she said.


But Is There a Windmill?

At each of the 18 holes on a new Brooklyn mini golf course, players can learn something new about climate change. 

The course, called Putting Green, is located on the north side of Domino Park on South First and River streets in Williamsburg and overlooks the East River and the Manhattan skyline. One hole shows polar bears walking on thin stepping stones of ice. Another shows an outline of Manhattan island with its edges submerged in water. A third is surrounded by planters of native, pollinator-friendly plants. And while it educates about global warming, the course has local flair, with each of the sculptures and artwork created by area artists and community groups.

People play at the Putting Green mini golf course in Brooklyn, New York. Photo Courtesy of Two Trees Management
People play at the Putting Green mini golf course in Brooklyn, New York. Photo Courtesy of Two Trees Management

Domino Park was originally conceived after Hurricane Sandy brought the effects of climate change right to New York City in 2012. That’s the reason why the creators of the mini golf course chose the climate change theme, Domino Park director Mike Lampariello said. 

Each hole begins with a placard of information about the hole’s environmental topic, whether it’s how whale skeletons at the bottom of the ocean are important habitats for thousands or organisms, but climate change and pollution puts these ecosystems at risk, or how nearly 70 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from inefficient buildings. 

“It’s been so much fun to see people’s reactions to the course, because some of these climate change themes are pretty heavy,” Lampariello said. “Applying it to a mini golf course where there are smaller, bite-sized, fun pieces as a way to learn about these issues, it makes it interesting and compelling and educational for the visitors.”  


A Lesser Great Lake

The Great Salt Lake in Utah reached a record low last week, dropping an inch below its 1963 record, after a months-long drought in the West and a winter of below-average snowpack.

The lake dropped to 4,191.3 feet above sea level on July 24, nearly a foot lower than its average height. Almost the entire state of Utah is in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, meaning that streams and reservoirs that lead to the lake do not have enough water to keep lake levels up. Most stream gauges in the state are reporting below-average flows.

The U.S. Geological Survey warns that the lake could drop another foot in the coming months.

“A drying Great Salt Lake has far reaching consequences,” said Utah Division of Water Resources deputy director Candice Hasenyager. “It can impact our air quality, reduce snow, increase salinity, habitat loss and overall can have an economic consequence to the state as a whole.”

Hasenyager said it is difficult to determine if this event is caused by climate change, but the drought conditions sweeping the Western United States this summer are an intensification of an ongoing megadrought caused by dry summers and low-snow winters, which studies show climate change is behind.

Nevertheless, Hasenyager said she and her team are preparing for higher temperatures and more precipitation extremes. 

“We’re hoping for a great winter to pull us out of it, but we are preparing in case it doesn’t,” she said. “This extreme drought has caused us to reevaluate how we use water and motivated us to conserve more. Policy discussions on water conservation have advanced probably a decade in recent weeks, which is fantastic, so we are working closely with the governor’s office to develop and implement a plan to make meaningful changes on how we use water in the state.”


Average American Family of Four Causes One Heat-Related Death by 2100

The average lifetime emissions generated by 3.5 Americans will cause one excess heat-related death by 2100, a new study found, based on a novel metric called the “mortality cost of carbon.” 

Published this week in Nature Communications, the study conducted by R. Daniel Bressler, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, found that globally, one excess death will occur due to increased temperature for every 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, based on 2020 emissions rates. That’s approximately the equivalent average lifetime emissions of 12.8 global citizens, 34.8 Indians, 5.6 Germans or 3.5 Americans.

Bressler updated the social cost of carbon—a dollar value encompassing the projected damage to society caused by a ton of emitted carbon dioxide—to $258 a ton when the mortality cost of carbon is included in the metric, up from $51 set by the Biden administration earlier this year. Mortality was included in the original social cost of carbon calculation, which informs policy decisions around carbon emissions, but Bressler’s update brings in the latest science with his new metric.

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In a baseline emissions scenario, where emissions plateau and drop after 2050 and temperatures warm by 4.1 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100, Bressler projects that 83 million excess people would die from heat. But if the global economy fully decarbonizes by 2050, that number would be just 9 million.

“The study suggests that there are very large mortality benefits, lives that can be saved if we have more aggressive climate policy,” Bressler said. 

The mortality cost of carbon only includes deaths related to temperature. There are several other ways that climate change could increase human mortality, such as with disease, conflict, food supply, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

“That’s one reason that in the future as we get better projections on these other sources of climate-related mortality, you could imagine that number going up depending on how big they are,” Bressler said. “but that remains to be seen.”