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Salvation Gets Cheap

April 19, 2014
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.

But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.

What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.

Before I get to that revolution, however, let’s talk for a minute about the overall relationship between economic growth and the environment.

Other things equal, more G.D.P. tends to mean more pollution. What transformed China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Explosive economic growth. But other things don’t have to be equal. There’s no necessary one-to-one relationship between growth and pollution.

People on both the left and the right often fail to understand this point. (I hate it when pundits try to make every issue into a case of “both sides are wrong,” but, in this case, it happens to be true.) On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.

Let me add that free-market advocates seem to experience a peculiar loss of faith whenever the subject of the environment comes up. They normally trumpet their belief that the magic of the market can surmount all obstacles — that the private sector’s flexibility and talent for innovation can easily cope with limiting factors like scarcity of land or minerals. But suggest the possibility of market-friendly environmental measures, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and they suddenly assert that the private sector would be unable to cope, that the costs would be immense. Funny how that works.

The sensible position on the economics of climate change has always been that it’s like the economics of everything else — that if we give corporations and individuals an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they will respond. What form would that response take? Until a few years ago, the best guess was that it would proceed on many fronts, involving everything from better insulation and more fuel-efficient cars to increased use of nuclear power.

One front many people didn’t take too seriously, however, was renewable energy. Sure, cap-and-trade might make more room for wind and the sun, but how important could such sources really end up being? And I have to admit that I shared that skepticism. If truth be told, I thought of the idea that wind and sun could be major players as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.

But I was wrong.

The climate change panel, in its usual deadpan prose, notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.

Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.

It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait.

Leaked climate change report: Scientific body warns of ‘devastating rise of 4-5C if we carry on as we are’

April 13, 2014

The Independent on Sunday has seen a draft of the latest IPCC report, which says the world is not doing enough to combat problem. But, with sufficient political will, all is not lost

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Global greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade were the “highest in human history”, according to the world’s leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change. Without further action, temperatures will increase by about 4 to 5C, compared with pre-industrial levels, it warns, a level that could reap devastating effects on the planet.

The stark findings are to be revealed in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today, the last in a trilogy written by hundreds of scientists on what is considered the definitive take on climate change.

The experts were working on the report until the early hours of yesterday morning. Although the thrust of the report is dramatic, it does say that it is not too late to limit global warming to less than 2C, which experts regard as the minimum needed to avoid radical global shifts. But its suggested scenarios would mean slashing global emissions by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 from 2010 levels.

This would include “fundamental changes in energy systems and potentially the land”, the draft found, such as a move towards renewable energy, nuclear power and fossil energy whose carbon emissions are captured or stored.

“These reports make it crystal clear what is at stake, and no government can justifiably say the case hasn’t been made for strong and urgent action,” said Bob Ward, the policy director for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “It’s affordable and, frankly, the benefits are not even just in terms of climate risks. Shutting down coal-fired power stations in China, for example, will improve local air quality. The only thing standing in our way now is political will. The evidence is conclusive: the current pledges made by governments will be insufficient to get us to our targets.”

It was in 2010 that hundreds of governments agreed to reduce emissions so as not to breach the 2C warming mark – the point at which it is thought the risk to food and water supplies would be high, as well as a risk of irreversible changes, such as a meltdown of Greenland’s ice sheet.

At this level, we could lose 20 to 30 per cent of our wildlife, as well as face more extreme weather, according to Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth. At 4C of warming, there could be a “devastating” impact on agriculture, wildlife and human civilisation, he added.

But despite global attempts to mitigate climate change picking up in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions grew more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the previous three decades, according to the final draft of the IPCC report seen by The Independent on Sunday. The main contributors were a “growing energy demand and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix”, the draft found.

It estimated that if mitigation efforts are delayed until 2030, it would “substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer-term emission levels”.

Almost 80 per cent of the emissions growth between 1970 and 2010 was caused by fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes, according to the report. To reach the 2C target, the experts warned that the global energy supply must dramatically change, with at least a tripling of the use of “zero and low-carbon” energy, such as renewables, nuclear and fossil energy. It added that a growing number of renewable technologies had achieved a level of “technical and economic maturity to enable deployment at significant scale”.

The report found that emissions could be “reduced significantly” by replacing coal-fired power plants with more efficient alternatives. It added that the decarbonisation of the electricity system would be a “key component” of cost-effective strategies – but the Government voted down a plan to do this by 2030.

Caroline Flint, the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said that the report “provides overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that climate change will have a devastating impact if urgent action is not taken to reduce our carbon emissions and invest in mitigation”. She added: “It highlights the need for a global, legally binding treaty to cut carbon emissions at the Paris conference in 2015. But to have influence abroad we must show leadership at home. That’s why the next Labour government will set a decarbonisation target for the power sector for 2030, unshackle the Green Investment Bank and reverse the decline in investment in clean energy we have seen under David Cameron.”

Kaisa Kosonen, senior political adviser at Greenpeace International, said the report should encourage a move from “a decade of coal to the century of renewables”. She added: “The solutions are clear. Our energy system needs to undergo a fundamental transformation from fossil fuels to renewable and smart energy. In recent years, the transition has already started, but it must scale up and speed up. Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight, but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business.”

The report also concludes that the next decade could be a “window of opportunity” for mitigating global warming in cities, through locating residential areas in spaces of high employment, achieving diversity of land uses, increasing accessibility and investing in public transport.

Where there’s a will…

The world can reach its global warming targets if it reduces its emissions by 40 to 70 per cent. It is about transforming our energy supply and the way we use our land. After The Independent on Sunday viewed a final draft of the findings, we asked some climate change experts what we can do now to mitigate against global warming, before it is too late.

Mark Lynas, author and environmentalist, said: “It is important to remember that every measure of climate-change reduction is still worth it. This report is a like a climate-change version of a suspended sentence. The 5C rise would be catastrophic, but we still have time to avoid the permanent rise in sea levels, for example, and we could avoid losing large agricultural zones. The important thing for people to understand is that it doesn’t mean going back to living in caves; we can make many of these changes without making enormous changes to our lifestyles.”

Darren Johnson, the chair of the London Assembly, who has been working in the field for a quarter of a century, is less hopeful. “I’m desperately worried about the timescale we have to turn things around,” he said. “I’m appalled by the lack of will of previous governments and the coalition.” But he still believes there is a chance to reduce emissions and prevent the “worst-case scenario”. He added: “We need politicians to grasp this. We need a massive switch to renewables, a big investment in wind and solar power, and to reduce energy and reduce vehicles. This has to be made an absolute priority.”

As for Sian Berry, Green Party member and part of the Campaign for Better Transport, she thought it was more about behavioural change. “People can stand up against the construction of large supermarkets, and out-of-town developments that would require people to drive more. They can vote for people who are going to improve public transport. They should be planning their lives around driving less.”

Joe Kavanagh and Sarah Kavacs

Climate models underestimate costs to future generations

April 9, 2014

Date:
April 8, 2014
Source:
University of Gothenburg
Summary:
Future generations will have to pay more for today’s carbon emissions than what governments across the world currently understand. The climate models used by policymakers around the world to estimate the economic and social costs of CO2 emissions have to be improved according to experts.

Flooded street. Future generations will have to pay more for today’s carbon emissions than what governments across the world currently understand.
Credit: © fotonazario / Fotolia

Future generations will have to pay more for today’s carbon emissions than what governments across the world currently understand. The climate models used by policymakers around the world to estimate the economic and social costs of CO2emissions have to be improved according to Thomas Sterner, professor of Environmental Economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, and six other scientists in the journal Nature.

The seven scientists behind the article, due to be published 10 April, conclude that the reports by the UN climate panel serve an important function in setting the agenda for climate research. Yet the most important role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to inform the global political discussion on how the harm caused by climate change should be handled.

Thomas Sterner, expert on policy instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is a Coordinating Lead Author of one key chapter on policy instruments in the Working Group III of the Fifth Assessment Report of the UN (IPCC) climate report that is scheduled to be presented on Sunday 13 April in Berlin.

‘Our purpose with this article in Nature is to discuss models that will enable us to calculate a necessary minimum level for the global environmental damage of emitting an additional ton of carbon dioxide. This cost is very relevant given the attempts of the White House to raise the so-called social cost of carbon in the U.S. to 37 dollars per ton. All U.S. authorities (such as the Departments of Energy or Transport) must take this cost into account in calculations of investments in roads and energy supply,’ says Sterner.

The social cost of carbon correspond to the money saved when damages due to climate change are avoided as a result of the countries of the world undertaking policy that leads to reduced emissions of CO2.

‘Sweden has already gone further than what the U.S. is discussing, since we have a CO2 tax of about USD 150 per ton, or SEK 1 per kilo, of CO2 emissions from transports and energy,’ says Sterner.

The article in Nature is entitled “Improve Economic Models of Climate Change.” The authors point to several weaknesses of the most commonly used climate models. However, they write that the models are useful, notwithstanding the significant uncertainties — since they do provide a minimum level and thus enable politicians to reduce the effects of climate change to some extent.

Also, the authors continue, modelers, economists and natural scientists must leave their ivory towers and cooperate with each other in order to identify research gaps and weaknesses, with a view to continuously improve their models. Economic climate models need to be updated more often to keep up with new research findings. If this is not done, the damage caused by CO2 emissions will be underestimated also in the future, which means that political decision-making around the world will continue to underestimate the true economic effects of climate change.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of GothenburgNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard L. Revesz, Peter H. Howard, Kenneth Arrow, Lawrence H. Goulder, Robert E. Kopp, Michael A. Livermore, Michael Oppenheimer and Thomas Sterner. Global warming: Improve economic models of climate changeNature, 2014 DOI:10.1038/508173a

Cite This Page:

University of Gothenburg. “Climate models underestimate costs to future generations.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140408111534.htm>.

Food quality will suffer with rising carbon dioxide, field study shows

April 8, 2014

Date:
April 6, 2014
Source:
University of California – Davis
Summary:
Climate change is hitting home — in the pantry, this time. A field study of wheat demonstrates how the nutritional quality of food crops can be diminished when elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide interfere with a plant’s ability to process nitrate into proteins. “Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop,” the lead researcher said.

Wheat field. “Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing,” said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.
Credit: © Elena Volkova / Fotolia

For the first time, a field test has demonstrated that elevated levels of carbon dioxide inhibit plants’ assimilation of nitrate into proteins, indicating that the nutritional quality of food crops is at risk as climate change intensifies.

Findings from this wheat field-test study, led by a UC Davis plant scientist, will be reported online April 6 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing,” said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.

“Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop,” he said.

The assimilation, or processing, of nitrogen plays a key role in the plant’s growth and productivity. In food crops, it is especially important because plants use nitrogen to produce the proteins that are vital for human nutrition. Wheat, in particular, provides nearly one-fourth of all protein in the global human diet.

Many previous laboratory studies had demonstrated that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide inhibited nitrate assimilation in the leaves of grain and non-legume plants; however there had been no verification of this relationship in field-grown plants.

Wheat field study

To observe the response of wheat to different levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the researchers examined samples of wheat that had been grown in 1996 and 1997 in the Maricopa Agricultural Center near Phoenix, Ariz.

At that time, carbon dioxide-enriched air was released in the fields, creating an elevated level of atmospheric carbon at the test plots, similar to what is now expected to be present in the next few decades. Control plantings of wheat were also grown in the ambient, untreated level of carbon dioxide.

Leaf material harvested from the various wheat tests plots was immediately placed on ice, and then was oven dried and stored in vacuum-sealed containers to minimize changes over time in various nitrogen compounds.

A fast-forward through more than a decade found Bloom and the current research team able to conduct chemical analyses that were not available at the time the experimental wheat plants were harvested.

In the recent study, the researchers documented that three different measures of nitrate assimilation affirmed that the elevated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide had inhibited nitrate assimilation into protein in the field-grown wheat.

“These field results are consistent with findings from previous laboratory studies, which showed that there are several physiological mechanisms responsible for carbon dioxide’s inhibition of nitrate assimilation in leaves,” Bloom said.

3 percent protein decline expected

Bloom noted that other studies also have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately 8 percent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 percent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades,” Bloom said.

While heavy nitrogen fertilization could partially compensate for this decline in food quality, it would also have negative consequences including higher costs, more nitrate leaching into groundwater and increased emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, he said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – DavisNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Arnold J. Bloom, Martin Burger, Bruce A. Kimball, Paul J. Pinter, Jr. Nitrate assimilation is inhibited by elevated CO2 in field-grown wheatNature Climate Change, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nclimate2183

Cite This Page:

University of California – Davis. “Food quality will suffer with rising carbon dioxide, field study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140406162420.htm>.

Climate Science’s Dire Warning: Humans Are Baking the Planet

April 5, 2014
Article image
Amy goodman
NationofChange/
Published: Saturday 5 April 2014
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over 1,800 scientists from around the world, collects, analyzes and synthesizes the best, solid science on climate and related fields. The prognosis is not good.

The majority of the world is convinced that humans are changing the climate, for the worse. Now, evidence is mounting that paints just how grim a future we are making for ourselves and the planet. We will experience more extreme weather events, including hurricanes and droughts, mass extinctions and severe food shortages globally. The world’s leading group of climate-change experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has issued its most recent report after a five-day meeting last week in Yokohama, Japan. The IPCC, over 1,800 scientists from around the world, collects, analyzes and synthesizes the best, solid science on climate and related fields. The prognosis is not good.

At the news conference announcing the report, IPCC chairperson Rajendra Pachauri warned, “If the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake.” Pachauri speaks with the discipline of a scientist and the reserve of a diplomat. The latest report, though, states clearly: “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” It stresses how the world food supply, already experiencing stress, will be impacted, and those who are most vulnerable will be the first to go hungry. But the problem is even larger.

The IPCC’s previous comprehensive report came out in 2007. Since that time, the amount of scientific findings has doubled, making human-induced climate change an irrefutable fact. But there are still powerful deniers, funded by the fossil-fuel industry. Oxfam, a global anti-hunger campaign organization, also is challenging the deniers with a report released last week called “Hot and hungry—how to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger.” Oxfam’s Tim Gore says that “corporations like Exxon, the powerful economic interests that are currently profiting from our high-carbon economic model … stand to lose the most from a transition to a low-carbon, fair alternative.” Undaunted, ExxonMobil issued its own report following the IPCC’s this week, asserting that climate policies are “highly unlikely” to stop it from producing and selling fossil fuels in the near future. 

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Fossil-fuel corporations like ExxonMobil exert enormous influence over climate-change policy, especially in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a measure that would effectively force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and related bodies to ignore climate change, focusing instead on forecasting severe weather, but not its likely causes. Meanwhile, at the state level, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill banning investment in certain forms of public transit. According to ThinkProgress, the measure received critical funding from the billionaire Republican oil barons Charles and David Koch. The political influence of people like the Kochs will likely become more direct, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate personal contribution caps to candidates in its ruling in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

One of the IPCC report authors, Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq, put it this way on the “Democracy Now!” news hour: “Fossil-fuel companies … are the drug suppliers to the rest of the world who are junkies and are hooked on fossil fuels. But we don’t have to remain hooked on fossil fuels. We are going to have to cut ourselves off from them if we want to see a real transition and prevent temperature rises up to 4 degrees Celsius [7.2 degrees Fahrenheit].”

That is the crux of the crisis: The major polluting nations are obstructing a binding global agreement to combat climate change. They have agreed, in principle, with the rest of the world, at the United Nations climate negotiations, to limit greenhouse-gas emissions to levels that would allow a global temperature increase of only 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. But the science says that goal is quickly slipping away, and that we are facing a 4-degree increase

Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, another IPCC report co-author, told me: “It’s not just a problem for the rest of the world … think about Hurricane Sandy. Think about how hard it was to deal with that storm. That’s today’s storms. Think about what happens over the next 10, 20, 30 years, when sea level goes up and the storms get worse.”

“America is addicted to oil,” President George W. Bush, himself a failed oilman, famously said at his State of the Union address in 2006. The U.S. political establishment is swimming in fossil-fuel money, which is drowning democracy. Change will come from grass-roots organizing, from movements like students pushing their university endowments to divest from fossil-fuel corporations, from local communities fighting against fracking, and from the growing nonviolent direct-action campaign to block the Keystone XL pipeline.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Author pic
ABOUT AMY GOODMAN

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

Climate Change and Inequality Brewing Global Social Upheaval

April 4, 2014

World Bank chief admits institution’s past mistakes, but has it changed its destructive ways?

- Jon Queally, staff writer

President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is warning that the combined crises of planetary climate change and rising global inequality in a highly interconnected world will lead to the rise of widespread upheaval as the world’s poor rise up and clashes over access to clean water and affordable food result in increased violence and political conflict.

As Jim Yong Kim warned of the risks of climate change, the UN said food prices had risen to their highest in almost a year. (Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)In an interview ahead of a bank summit next week, Kim predicts that battles over food and water will break out in the next five to ten years as a direct result of a warming planet that world leaders have done too little to address, despite warnings from the environmental community and scientists.

“The water issue is critically related to climate change,” Kim told the Guardian. “People say that carbon is the currency of climate change. Water is the teeth. Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years. There’s just no question about it.”

Despite the acknowledgement of the problem, however, and even as he made mea culpa for past errors by the powerful financial institution he now runs (including a global push to privatize drinking water resources and utilities), Kim laid the blame on inaction on the very people who have done the most to alert humanity to the crisis, saying that both climate change activists and informed scientists have not done enough to offer a plan to address global warming in a way he deems “serious.”

He said: “They [the climate change community] kept saying, ‘What do you mean a plan?’ I said a plan that’s equal to the challenge. A plan that will convince anyone who asks us that we’re really serious about climate change, and that we have a plan that can actually keep us at less than 2C warming. We still don’t have one.”

Kim also acknowledged the threat of unaddressed inequality, saying that access to the internet (mostly through smartphones) in the developing world has created conditions where everyone on the planet knows how other people live, which means that the “next huge social movement” could erupt anywhere at anytime.

“It’s going to erupt to a great extent because of these inequalities,” he continued and said heads of state from around the world have called for “a much, much deeper understanding of the political dangers of very high levels of inequality.”

The question remains: Do these acknowledgements of the dual crisis of a warming, less equal planet from the leader of the World Bank really translate into a transformation of the institution that is well known as one of the key proponents of the policies and projects that have led us to this point.?

According to a new report the World Resources Institute, the answer remains: No.

The new analysis from WRI says that despite Kim’s recent rhetoric and focus on “sustainability” for the bank, the reality “shows that while the World Bank has successfully addressed a number of important economic and social risks in its projects, it is falling short in recognizing climate risks.”

Out of 60 recent World Bank projects assessed, according to researchers, “only 25 percent included features that took climate change risks into account. This shortfall could leave communities vulnerable to extreme weather, sea level rise, and other climate impacts—impacts that threaten to undermine the World Bank’s efforts to eliminate poverty.”

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Exxon Mobil’s Response to Climate Change Is Consummate Arrogance

April 4, 2014

Environmental activist Bill McKibben. (photo: BillMcKibben.com)
Environmental activist Bill McKibben. (photo: BillMcKibben.com)

By Bill McKibben, Guardian UK

03 April 14

 

As scientists laid bare the impacts of climate change, the oil and gas giant said climate policies are highly unlikely to stop it digging up fossil fuels. So what are we going to do about it?

onday saw the release of the latest climate report from the planet’s scientists. Predictions of famine, flood, and so on – mostly what we already knew, in even more striking language.

But Monday also saw the release of another document somewhat less expected, and probably at least as important in the ongoing battle over the future of the atmosphere and hence all of us who live in its narrow envelope.

Here’s the backstory. For 18 months now some of us have been campaigning for colleges, churches, cities and the like to sell their shares in fossil fuel companies, on the grounds that their business plans call for burning far more carbon than scientists believe the planet can safely handle. It’s become the fastest growing divestment movement in history — but some have tried to reach out to the industry and reach a middle ground instead, hoping to reform them instead of simply trying to break their power.

Profound thanks are due, then, to those shareholder activists who urged “constructive engagement” with the oil, gas and coal barons.

Because those organisations, groups like As You Sow, CERES, and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, managed in very short order to get Exxon Mobil, the leader of the fossil fuel industry, to show its cards. In fact, in a truly historic moment, Exxon Mobil turned over the whole deck — and to its credit it showed it has nothing up its sleeve, no tricky rhetoric or sleight of hand. Just endless amounts of oil and gas.

On Monday the company issued two reports, in formal response to a shareholder resolution that demanded they disclose their carbon risk and talk about how they planned to deal with the fact that they and other oil giants have many times more carbon in their collective reserves than scientists say we can safely burn.

The company said that government restrictions that would force it to keep its reserves in the ground were “highly unlikely,” and that they would not only dig them all up and burn them, but would continue to search for more gas and oil — a search that currently consumes about $100 million of its investors’ money every single day. “Based on this analysis, we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded,’” they said.

This is an honest reply. It is as honest as the report that emerged the same day from the world’s climate scientists, which demonstrated that if Exxon Mobil and its ilk keep their promise to dig up their reserves and burn them, then the planet will no longer function effectively.

Some of us, cynically, thought all along that this would be Exxon’s posture. The company, after all, poured millions into denying climate science when that was still possible. That’s why we’ve been calling for divestment.

We’ve never thought that there was a small flaw in their business plan that could be altered by negotiation; we’ve always thought their business plan was to keep pouring carbon into the atmosphere. And indeed Exxon’s statements are easy to translate: “We plan on overheating the planet, we think we have the political muscle to keep doing it, and we dare you to stop it.” And they’re right — unless we build a big and powerful movement, they’ll continue to dominate our political life and keep change from ever taking place.

So now, with that information clearly on the table, it’s time for college boards and foundation heads, church denominations and city mayors to act and act firmly. By divesting — by announcing that they are breaking ties with these companies — they will begin the process of politically bankrupting them. Of taking away the social license that allows them to act with such consummate arrogance, on the very day that the planet’s scientists laid bare the impact of climate change on everything from crop yields to civil wars.

It’s never fun to see one’s cynicism confirmed. But Monday was a day for reality, on the scientific front but also the political, economic, and corporate.

The only open question left is what we’re going to do about it.

Warming climate may spread drying to a third of earth: Heat, not just rainfall, plays into new projections

April 2, 2014

Date:
March 31, 2014
Source:
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Summary:
A new study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates are considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought.

Increasing heat is expected to extend dry conditions to far more farmland and cities by the end of the century than changes in rainfall alone.
Credit: © carloscastilla / Fotolia

Increasing heat is expected to extend dry conditions to far more farmland and cities by the end of the century than changes in rainfall alone, says a new study. Much of the concern about future drought under global warming has focused on rainfall projections, but higher evaporation rates may also play an important role as warmer temperatures wring more moisture from the soil, even in some places where rainfall is forecasted to increase, say the researchers.

The study is one of the first to use the latest climate simulations to model the effects of both changing rainfall and evaporation rates on future drought. Published this month in the journal Climate Dynamics, the study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates from the added energy and humidity in the atmosphere is considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought. The study excludes Antarctica.

“We know from basic physics that warmer temperatures will help to dry things out,” said the study’s lead author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with joint appointments at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Even if precipitation changes in the future are uncertain, there are good reasons to be concerned about water resources.”

In its latest climate report, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that soil moisture is expected to decline globally and that already dry regions will be at greater risk of agricultural drought. The IPCC also predicts a strong chance of soil moisture drying in the Mediterranean, southwestern United States and southern African regions, consistent with the Climate Dynamics study.

Using two drought metric formulations, the study authors analyze projections of both rainfall and evaporative demand from the collection of climate model simulations completed for the IPCC’s 2013 climate report. Both metrics agree that increased evaporative drying will probably tip marginally wet regions at mid-latitudes like the U.S. Great Plains and a swath of southeastern China into aridity. If precipitation were the only consideration, these great agricultural centers would not be considered at risk of drought. The researchers also say that dry zones in Central America, the Amazon and southern Africa will grow larger. In Europe, the summer aridity of Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain is expected to extend farther north into continental Europe.

“For agriculture, the moisture balance in the soil is what really matters,” said study coauthor Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty. “If rain increases slightly but temperatures also increase, drought is a potential consequence.”

Today, while bad weather periodically lowers crop yields in some places, other regions are typically able to compensate to avert food shortages. In the warmer weather of the future, however, crops in multiple regions could wither simultaneously, the authors suggest. “Food-price shocks could become far more common,” said study coauthor Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty. Large cities, especially in arid regions, will need to carefully manage their water supplies, he added.

The study builds on an emerging body of research looking at how evaporative demand influences hydroclimate. “It confirms something we’ve suspected for a long time,” said Toby Ault, a climate scientist at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study. “Temperature alone can make drought more widespread. Studies like this give us a few new powerful tools to plan for and adapt to climate change.”

Rainfall changes do not tell the whole story, agrees University of New South Wales researcher Steven Sherwood, in a recent Perspectives piece in the leading journal Science. “Many regions will get more rain, but it appears that few will get enough to keep pace with the growing evaporative demand.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Earth Institute at Columbia UniversityNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Benjamin I. Cook, Jason E. Smerdon, Richard Seager, Sloan Coats. Global warming and 21st century dryingClimate Dynamics, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00382-014-2075-y

Cite This Page:

The Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Warming climate may spread drying to a third of earth: Heat, not just rainfall, plays into new projections.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331144149.htm>.

Arctic melt season lengthening, ocean rapidly warming

April 2, 2014

Date:
March 31, 2014
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
The length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness, according to a new study.

An image mosaic of sea ice in the Canadian Basin, taken by Operation IceBridge’s Digital Mapping System on Mar. 28, 2014.
Credit: Digital Mapping System/NASA Ames

The length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness, according to a new study by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA researchers.

Arctic sea ice has been in sharp decline during the last four decades. The sea ice cover is shrinking and thinning, making scientists think an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer might be reached this century. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years.

“The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover.”

To study the evolution of sea ice melt onset and freeze-up dates from 1979 to the present day, Stroeve’s team used passive microwave data from NASA’s Nimbus-7 Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer, and the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder carried onboard Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft.

When ice and snow begin to melt, the presence of water causes spikes in the microwave radiation that the snow grains emit, which these sensors can detect. Once the melt season is in full force, the microwave emissivity of the ice and snow stabilizes, and it doesn’t change again until the onset of the freezing season causes another set of spikes. Scientists can measure the changes in the ice’s microwave emissivity using a formula developed by Thorsten Markus, co-author of the paper and chief of the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Results show that although the melt season is lengthening at both ends, with an earlier melt onset in the spring and a later freeze-up in the fall, the predominant phenomenon extending the melting is the later start of the freeze season. Some areas, such as the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, are freezing up between six and 11 days later per decade. But while melt onset variations are smaller, the timing of the beginning of the melt season has a larger impact on the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the ocean, because its timing coincides with when the sun is higher and brighter in the Arctic sky.

Despite large regional variations in the beginning and end of the melt season, the Arctic melt season has lengthened on average by five days per decade from 1979 to 2013.

Still, weather makes the timing of the autumn freeze-up vary a lot from year to year.

“There is a trend for later freeze-up, but we can’t tell whether a particular year is going to have an earlier or later freeze-up,” Stroeve said. “There remains a lot of variability from year to year as to the exact timing of when the ice will reform, making it difficult for industry to plan when to stop operations in the Arctic.”

To measure changes in the amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and ocean, the researchers looked at the evolution of sea surface temperatures and studied monthly surface albedo data (the amount of solar energy reflected by the ice and the ocean) together with the incoming solar radiation for the months of May through October. The albedo and sea surface temperature data the researchers used comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s polar-orbiting satellites.

They found that the ice pack and ocean waters are absorbing more and more sunlight due both to an earlier opening of the waters and a darkening of the sea ice. The sea ice cover is becoming less reflective because it now mostly consists of thinner, younger ice, which is less reflective than the older ice that previously dominated the ice pack. Also, the young ice is flatter, allowing the dark melt ponds that form at the early stages of the melt season are able to spread more widely, further lowering its albedo.

The researchers calculated the increase in solar radiation absorbed by the ice and ocean for the period ranging from 2007 to 2011, which in some areas of the Arctic Ocean exceed 300 to 400 megajoules per square meter, or the amount of energy needed to thin the ice by an additional 3.1 to 4.2 feet (97 to 130 centimeters).

The increases in surface ocean temperatures, combined with a warming Arctic atmosphere due to climate change, explain the delayed freeze up in the fall.

“If air and ocean temperatures are similar, the ocean is not going to lose heat to the atmosphere as fast as it would when the differences are greater,” said Linette Boisvert, co-author of the paper and a cryospheric scientist at Goddard. “In the last years, the upper ocean heat content is much higher than it used to be, so it’s going to take a longer time to cool off and for freeze up to begin.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. The original article was written by Maria-José Viñas. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. C. Stroeve, T. Markus, L. Boisvert, J. Miller, A. Barrett.Changes in Arctic melt season and implications for sea ice lossGeophysical Research Letters, 2014; 41 (4): 1216 DOI:10.1002/2013GL058951

Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. “Arctic melt season lengthening, ocean rapidly warming.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331180642.htm>.

World close to tipping point on global warming, UN body warns

April 2, 2014

High temperatures and humidity would compromise normal human activities

Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 00:32

The world is at risk of “crossing multiple tipping points”, triggering dangerous global warming, if average surface temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius or more, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the second volume of its Fifth Assessment Report, released yesterday, the IPCCwarns of “severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction [and] large risks to global and regional food security”.

Although the precise levels of warming sufficient to trigger tipping points – thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change – “remain uncertain”, it says the risk of crossing multiple tipping points in the Earth’s climate system increases with rising temperatures.

The IPCC working group, comprising more than 300 scientific authors from 70 countries, says high temperatures and humidity would compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year.

The report is the second in a four-part series intended to guide governments across the world that have promised to agree a pact next year to slow climate change.

Human health
The report confirms that climate change is being felt “on all continents and across the oceans…Observed impacts have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies and some people’s livelihoods.”

It says the most striking feature of these observed impacts is that they are “occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest” – although it is the poorest who will be hardest hit.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri told a press conference in Yokohama, Japan, where a 44-page “summary for policymakers” was released.

It warns that some risks of climate change are “considerable” even if warming is capped at 2 degrees – currently the international goal. For example, it would have an impact on human health, mainly by exacerbating heath problems that already exist.

Heatwaves and fires
“Throughout the 21st century climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill health in many regions and especially in developing countries with low income [with a] greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires.”

Climate-change impacts would “slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”

There was also an increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from lower food production in poor regions and increased risks from water-borne diseases. The magnitude and severity of such negative impacts would “increasingly outweigh” any positives.

“It is true that we can’t find many benefits of climate change, and I believe it’s because there aren’t many benefits, even though we tried really hard to find them,” working group co-chairman Dr Chris Field said. In many places, there would be “widespread negative impacts”, he added.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” working group co-chairmanVicente Barros told the Yokohama briefing.

“In many cases we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends.”


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