Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

World Scientists: Climate Change as Serious a Risk as Nuclear War

July 27, 2015

 

Alex Kirby, Climate News Network | July 19, 2015 12:41 pm | Comments
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The UK government says that climate change poses risks that demand to be treated as seriously as the threat of nuclear war.

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Climate change poses risks that demand to be treated as seriously as the threat of nuclear war, says a report commissioned by the UK government.
Scientists from the UK, U.S., India and China say in a report commissioned by the UK that deciding what to do about climate change depends on the value we put on human life, both now and in years to come.

One of the lead authors of the report is Sir David King, formerly the UK government’s chief scientist, who last month co-authored a report on the scale of investment that should be made to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2025.
In a foreword to the latest report, Baroness Anelay, a minister at the British foreign office, writes that assessing the risks surrounding nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation means understanding inter-dependent elements—including what science says is possible, what other countries may intend, and systemic factors such as regional power dynamics.

“The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment,” she says.

Value Human Life

She concludes: “How much do we care about the effects of climate change? How important is it that we act to avoid them? What probability of their occurrence can we tolerate? … The answers to these questions depend in part on how we value human life—both now, and in the future.”

The report is not the first to put climate chaos and nuclear devastation in the same category of risk, but its sponsorship by one of the world’s nuclear powers is eloquent.

It says the most important political decision is how much effort to exert on countering climate change, taking into account what we are doing to the climate, how it may respond, what that could do to us, and what we might then do to each other.

The authors’ best guess, based on current policies and trends, is that greenhouse gas emissions will keep going up for another few decades, and then either level off or slowly decline.

This, they say, is for two reasons: governments are not making maximum use of the technologies already available; and technology is not yet progressing fast enough to give governments the policy options they will need. In the worst case, emissions could keep on rising throughout the century.

They warn that how the climate may change, and what that could do to us, are both highly uncertain. “The important thing to understand is that uncertainty is not our friend,” the report says. “There is much more scope to be unlucky than there is to be lucky.”

High Emissions Pathway

The report foresees wide ranges of possible global temperature and sea level increase. On a high emissions pathway, it says, where the most likely temperature rise is estimated at 5°C by 2100, anything from 3°C to 7°C may be possible.

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Climate Scientist Warns Sea Levels Are Rising Faster than We Thought

July 22, 2015

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A new report reveals a devastating sea level rise from the acceleration of the melting of ice shelves. The implications are significant and the urgency of the issue is now climate scientist James Hansen urges.

Limiting climate change to 2°C is not going to protect us from devastating sea-level rise, a new report has found.

According to the research, freshwater from land-based ice sheets melting into the oceans is inducing feedback that is accelerating the melting of ice shelves — a loop that indicates sea level rise will continue and could be devastating at much lower temperature changes than previously thought.

The study, authored by well-known climate scientist James Hansen and 16 other researchers, will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physicsthis week. The research explains that there is an “amplifying feedback” as polar ice melts, because as more fresh water enters the ocean, it traps warmer sea water, which melts more ice. The effect is not included in the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modeling but “extensive data indicate [it] is already occurring,” according to the report.

“We are underestimating the speed at which these things are beginning to happen,” Hansen, head of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Monday on a call with reporters.

This feedback loop is separate from other accepted science, such as the ice-albedo feedback loop, in which dark-colored water and exposed ground absorb more heat than the white, reflective ice and snow they have replaced.

The implications of this feedback loop are significant, Hansen said.

“This is substantially more persuasive than anything previously published about just how dangerous 2°C will be,” Hansen said on the call Monday.

The study has not been peer-reviewed. Instead, it is being published in a discussion journal, which means will be published in full and made available to the public. Peer review and revisions will be made publicly. The scientific community is sure to weigh in.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ThinkProgress that he was “skeptical about some of the specifics” of the paper — for instance, the ocean current modeling and meltwater assumptions. But, overall, Mann supported the discussion the article will prompt.

“Hansen and colleagues make a plausible case that even 2°C planetary warming (something we commit to in just a few years given business as usual fossil fuel burning) could indeed be very bad,” Mann wrote in an email. He pointed to the predicted collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet and the substantial rise in sea level that would result.

“On that basis alone, the article serves as a sobering wake-up call to those who still dispute the threat posed by our ongoing burning of fossil fuels,” Mann wrote.

In fact, Hansen said it’s the urgency of the issue that prompted him to submit the study to a discussion journal, rather than undergoing peer review, which might have taken too long.

Instead, the study is appearing months in advance of the United Nations’ climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Governments have already begun outlining their potential commitments to carbon emissions reductions, but Hansen suggested that current goals may not be sufficient to adequately address sea level rise. Other scientists have also criticized the 2°C limit, saying that it will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic drought, flooding, and other climate impacts.

And the stakes could not be higher, according to the authors. “High emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century,” they write. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Three-quarters of large cities worldwide are located on the coast, making sea level rise a significant climate change risk. In order to prevent this process, we need to curb carbon emissions by 3 percent a year and increase carbon capture through agricultural and forestry practices, Hansen said. Putting a price on carbon is the most effective — and likely only effective — way to address climate change and sea level rise, Hansen told reporters.

“The situation is more urgent than many politicians seem to realize,” he said. “What is really needed to happen requires that the major power decide we want to do this and we want to solve the problem and not just fiddle around the edges.”

At a meeting last month, leaders of the Group of Seven — a coalition of the world’s largest economies — agreed to limit warming to 2°C, but they did not announce a plan or mechanism for reducing emissions. China recentlypledged to cut its carbon intensity — its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP — by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The negotiations of the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris later this year are broadly structured around an attempt to limit global warming to 2°C through voluntary, agreed-upon carbon emission reductions. Hansen and his colleagues believe that goal is a chimera.

“We conclude that 2°C global warming above the preindustrial level, instead of being a safe ‘guardrail’, is highly dangerous,” the authors write.

James Hansen Warns of ‘Apocalyptic’ Climate Scenario

July 21, 2015

Polar bear. (photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Polar bear. (photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

James Hansen’s new study explodes conventional goals of climate diplomacy and warns of 10 feet of sea level rise before 2100. The good news is, we can fix it.

By Mark Hertsgaard, The Daily Beast

20 July 15

 

ames Hansen, the former NASA scientist whose congressional testimony put global warming on the world’s agenda a quarter century ago, is now warning that humanity could confront “sea level rise of several meters” before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed much faster than currently contemplated.

This roughly ten feet of sea level rise—well beyond previous estimates—would render coastal cities such as New York, London and Shanghai uninhabitable. “Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water,” Hansen says, “but you couldn’t live there.”

This apocalyptic scenario illustrates why the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is not the safe “guardrail” most politicians and media coverage imply it is, argue Hansen and 16 colleagues in a blockbuster study they are publishing this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. On the contrary, a 2 C future would be “highly dangerous.”

If Hansen is right—and he has been right, sooner, about the big issues in climate science longer than anyone—the implications are vast and profound.

Physically, Hansen’s findings mean that the earth’s ice is melting and its seas are rising much faster than expected. Other scientists have offered less extreme findings; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected closer to three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, an amount experts say will be difficult enough to cope with. (Three feet of sea level rise would put runways of all three New York City area airports underwater unless protective barriers were erected. The same holds for airports in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Worldwide, approximately $3 trillion worth infrastructure vital to civilization such as water treatment plants, power stations, and highways are located at or below three feet of sea level, according to the Stern Review, a comprehensive analysis published by the British government.

Hansen’s track record commands respect. From the time the soft-spoken Iowan told the U.S. Senate in 1988 that man-made global warming was no longer a theory but had in fact begun and threatened unparalleled disaster, he has consistently been ahead of the scientific curve.

Hansen has long suspected that computer models underestimated how sensitive earth’s ice sheets were to rising temperatures. Indeed, the IPCC excluded ice sheet melt altogether from its calculations of sea level rise. For their study, Hansen and his colleagues combined ancient paleo-climate data with new satellite readings and an improved model of the climate system to demonstrate that ice sheets can melt at a “non-linear” rate: rather than an incremental melting as the earth’s poles inexorably warm, ice sheets might melt at exponential rates, shedding dangerous amounts of mass in a matter of decades, not millennia. In fact, current observations indicate that some ice sheets already are melting this rapidly.

“Prior to this paper I suspected that to be the case,” Hansen told The Daily Beast. “Now we have evidence to make that statement based on much more than suspicion.”

Politically, Hansen’s new projections amount to a huge headache for diplomats, activists, and anyone else hoping that a much-anticipated global climate summit the United Nations is convening in Paris in December will put the world on a safe path. President Barack Obama and other world leaders must now reckon with the possibility that the 2 degrees goal they affirmed at the Copenhagen summit in 2009 is actually a recipe for catastrophe. In effect, Hansen’s study explodes what has long been the goal of conventional climate diplomacy.

More troubling, honoring even the conventional 2 degrees C target has so far proven extremely challenging on political and economic grounds. Current emission trajectories put the world on track towards a staggering 4 degrees of warming before the end of the century, an amount almost certainly beyond civilization’s coping capacity. In preparation for the Paris summit, governments have begun announcing commitments to reduce emissions, but to date these commitments are falling well short of satisfying the 2 degrees goal. Now, factor in the possibility that even 2 degrees is too much and many negotiators may be tempted to throw up their hands in despair.

They shouldn’t. New climate science brings good news as well as bad. Humanity can limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C if it so chooses, according to a little-noticed study by experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts (now perhaps the world’s foremost climate research center) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published in Nature Climate Change in May.

“Actions for returning global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 are in many ways similar to those limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the study. “However … emission reductions need to scale up swiftly in the next decades.” And there’s a significant catch: even this relatively optimistic study concludes that it’s too late to prevent global temperature rising by 2 degrees C. But this overshoot of the 2 C target can be made temporary, the study argues; the total increase can be brought back down to 1.5 C later in the century.

Besides the faster emissions reductions Rogelj referenced, two additional tools are essential, the study outlines. Energy efficiency—shifting to less wasteful lighting, appliances, vehicles, building materials and the like—is already the cheapest, fastest way to reduce emissions. Improved efficiency has made great progress in recent years but will have to accelerate, especially in emerging economies such as China and India.

Also necessary will be breakthroughs in so-called “carbon negative” technologies. Call it the photosynthesis option: because plants inhale carbon dioxide and store it in their roots, stems, and leaves, one can remove carbon from the atmosphere by growing trees, planting cover crops, burying charred plant materials underground, and other kindred methods. In effect, carbon negative technologies can turn back the clock on global warming, making the aforementioned descent from the 2 C overshoot to the 1.5 C goal later in this century theoretically possible. Carbon-negative technologies thus far remain unproven at the scale needed, however; more research and deployment is required, according to the study.

Together, the Nature Climate Change study and Hansen’s new paper give credence to the many developing nations and climate justice advocates who have called for more ambitious action. The authors of the Nature Climate Change study point out that the 1.5 degrees goal “is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change.” In May, the governments of 20 of those countries, including the Philippines, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Bangladesh, declared the 2 degrees target “inadequate” and called for governments to “reconsider” it in Paris.

Hansen too is confident that the world “could actually come in well under 2 degrees, if we make the price of fossil fuels honest.”

That means making the market price of gasoline and other products derived from fossil fuels reflect the enormous costs that burning those fuels currently externalizes onto society as a whole. Economists from left to right have advocated achieving this by putting a rising fee or tax on fossil fuels. This would give businesses, governments, and other consumers an incentive to shift to non-carbon fuels such as solar, wind, nuclear and, best of all, increased energy efficiency. (The cheapest and cleanest fuel is the fuel you don’t burn in the first place.)

But putting a fee on fossil fuels will raise their price to consumers, threatening individual budgets and broader economic prospects, as opponents will surely point out. Nevertheless, higher prices for carbon-based fuels need not have injurious economic effects if the fees driving those higher prices are returned to the public to spend as it wishes. It’s been done that way for years with great success in Alaska, where all residents receive an annual check in compensation for the impact the Alaskan oil pipeline has on the state.

“Tax Pollution, Pay People” is the bumper sticker summary coined by activists at the Citizens Climate Lobby. Legislation to this effect has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile, there are also a host of other reasons to believe it’s not too late to preserve a livable climate for young people and future generations.

The transition away from fossil fuels has begun and is gaining speed and legitimacy. In 2014, global greenhouse gas emissions remained flat even as the world economy grew—a first. There has been a spectacular boom in wind and solar energy, including in developing countries, as their prices plummet. These technologies now qualify as a “disruptive” economic force that promises further breakthroughs, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

Coal, the most carbon-intensive conventional fossil fuel, is in a death spiral, partly thanks to another piece of encouraging news: the historic climate agreement the U.S. and China reached last November, which envisions both nations slashing coal consumption (as China is already doing). Hammering another nail into coal’s coffin, the leaders of Great Britain’s three main political parties pledged to phase out coal, no matter who won the general elections last May.

“If you look at the long-term [for coal], it’s not getting any better,” said Standard & Poor’s Aneesh Prabhu when S&P downgraded coal company bonds to junk status. “It’s a secular decline,” not a mere cyclical downturn.

Last but not least, a vibrant mass movement has arisen to fight climate change. Its most visible manifestation were the hundreds of thousands of people who thronged the streets of New York City last September, demanding action from global leaders gathered at the UN. The rally was impressive enough that it led oil and gas giant ExxonMobil to increase its internal estimate of how likely the U.S. government is to take strong action. “That many people marching is clearly going to put pressure on government to do something,” an ExxonMobil spokesman told Bloomberg Businessweek.

The climate challenge has long amounted to a race between the imperatives of science and the contingencies of politics. With Hansen’s paper, the science has gotten harsher, even as the Nature Climate Change study affirms that humanity can still choose life, if it will. The question now is how the politics will respond—now, at Paris in December, and beyond.

 

Seven Climate Records Broken in 2014 Indicates Earth is ‘Gravely Ill’

July 18, 2015

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The 25th annual environmental report is out and there is proof of climate change everywhere. With more than 400 scientists contributing to this report, it is hard for climate deniers to oppose at all.

The annual State of the Climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and American Meteorological Societyassembles climate studies and reports from the previous year in one package. The 25th annual report is out and the news isn’t good: indicators ofclimate change show up everywhere.

Geographical distribution of notable climate anomalies and events occurring around the world in 2014. Image credit: NOAA State of the Climate report
(Click to enlarge) Geographical distribution of notable climate anomalies and events occurring around the world in 2014. Image credit: NOAA State of the Climate report

“Most of the dozens of essential climate variables monitored each year in this report continued to follow their long-term trends in 2014, with several setting new records,” the report said.

A lot of the 292-page study is highly technical as it incorporates the work of more than 400 scientists analyzing everything from temperatures to precipitation to extreme weather events to ice melt all over the world. But one of the main conclusions of the report is how much things are changing and how quickly.

Perhaps Jeff Severinghaus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides the best takeaway from the report, saying, if this is Earth’s annual checkup, “the doctor is saying ‘you are gravely ill.’”

Here are seven climate records broken in 2014:

1. Hottest Year: Records for the hottest temperature were set around the world with the highest average global surface temperature since record-keeping began, according to four separate analyses. Records were shattered everywhere. Europe and Mexico had their warmest years ever, while Argentina and Uruguay had their second hottest years and Australia its third warmest after enduring all-time record heat in 2013. Africa and Asia also had above-average temperatures.

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The following table lists the global combined land and ocean annually-averaged temperature rank and anomaly for each of the 10 warmest years on record. Chart credit: NOAA

“Warmer-than-average conditions were present across much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces during 2014,” the report said. “These contributed to a global average temperature that was the highest or joint highest since records began in the mid-to-late 1800s. Over land surfaces, Eurasia and western North America were particularly warm, while noticeable cold was felt in eastern North America, which suffered several Arctic cold-air outbreaks in early 2014. The frequency of warm extreme temperatures was above average for all regions apart from North America.”

2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Driving those temperature increases were all the major heat-trapping greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which reported record-high atmospheric concentrations. Carbon levels at Mauna Loa stayed above 400 ppm from April through June, and globally the average was 397.2ppm. Methane concentrations rose as well, with an increase that’s bigger than the average annual increase of the past decade.

3. Sea Surface Temperature: The average sea surface temperature globally was the highest on record, with especially warm temperatures in the western Atlantic and central and northeast Pacific. While this didn’t drive an El Niño event in 2014, scientists expect one to arrive in 2015.

4. Ocean Temperature: The heat content of the ocean’s waters also set a record, reflecting the fact that the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases. As greenhouse gases rise, therefore, so do ocean temperatures.

Ocean heat content each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line) from a variety of data sources. Exact estimates differ among data sets, but they all show the same upward trend. Graph adapted from Figure 3.7 in State of the Climate in 2014.
Ocean heat content each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line) from a variety of data sources. Exact estimates differ among data sets, but they all show the same upward trend. Graph adapted from Figure 3.7 in State of the Climate in 2014.

5. Sea Level Rise: Sea levels are setting records too. Sea levels are now about 67 millimeters, or about 2.6 inches, higher than they were in 1993.  Factors contribution to this rise includes the melting of glaciers and other sea ice, the fact that water expands as it warms and melting land ice flowing out to sea.

Global sea level each year since 1993 compared to the 1993* average (dashed line). Graph adapted from Plate 1.1x in State of the Climate in 2014. Image credit: NOAA's State of the Climate report
(Click to enlarge) Global sea level each year since 1993 compared to the 1993 average (dashed line). Graph adapted from Plate 1.1x in State of the Climate in 2014.

6. Greenland Ice Melt: The Greenland ice sheet was above average in its rate for melt for 90 percent of the regular melt season. It hit a record low for August in how much of the sun’s energy is reflected off its surface. Melting darkens the ice sheet’s surface, making it less able to reflect the sun’s energy.

a) Map of Greenland Ice Sheet surface albedo for summer (June to August) 2014, relative to the summer average 2000-2011, b) Average surface albedo of the whole ice sheet each summer since 2000, and c) Average surface albedo of the ice sheet each August since 2000.  Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society
a) Map of Greenland Ice Sheet surface albedo for summer (June to August) 2014, relative to the summer average 2000-2011, b) Average surface albedo of the whole ice sheet each summer since 2000, and c) Average surface albedo of the ice sheet each August since 2000. Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society

7. Antarctic Ice Melt: Antarctic sea ice set a different record—for highest sea ice extent, which has broken records three years running. One possible reason for that is changing wind patterns, scientists say. Without land to block it as in the Arctic, ice near land blows out to sea, exposing open water, which then freezes. While it might sound counterintuitive to the idea of a warming planet, it’s indicative of  potentially climate change-driven atmospheric shifts.

“As we step into the next quarter-century of this report’s life, we look forward to seeing our Earth science disciplines grow to meet the challenges associated with documenting the evolving state of our planet’s climate system in this series,” says the report. “These challenges are not just in observing and documenting, but in connecting: across the climate system’s several major components and associated myriad sub-components, the time scales and observing practices related to these, and the possibilities of satellite-era Big Data with the longevity and purpose of more traditional observations.”

People and Planet First

July 2, 2015

Photo from outside the climate conference at the Vatican. (photo: CIDSE)
Photo from outside the climate conference at the Vatican. (photo: CIDSE)

By Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

02 July 15

 

aomi delivered the following remarks at a press conference introducing “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course,” a high-level meeting being held at the Vatican this week to explore Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ recently-released encyclical letter on ecology. The gathering will take place on July 2-3, and is being convened by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Alliance of Catholic Development Organisations (CIDSE).

Here is video of the full press conference, followed by the prepared text of Naomi’s statement. Other speakers included Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Bernd Nilles, Secretary General of CIDSE.

Thank you. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and to CIDSE for hosting us here, and for convening this remarkable 2-day gathering that I’m very much looking forward to.

It’s also a real honour to be here supporting and indeed celebrating the historic publication of the Pope’s encyclical.

Pope Francis writes early on that Laudato Si’ is not only a teaching for the Catholic world but for “every person living on this planet.” And I can say that as a secular Jewish feminist who was rather surprised to be invited to the Vatican, it certainly spoke to me.

“We are not God,” the encyclical states. All humans once knew this. But about 400 years ago, dizzying scientific breakthroughs made it seem to some that humans were on the verge of knowing everything there was to know about the Earth, and would therefore be nature’s “masters and possessors,” as René Descartes so memorably put it. This, they claimed, was what God had always wanted.

That theory held for a good long time. But subsequent breakthroughs in science have told us something very different. Because when we were burning ever larger amounts of fossil fuels—convinced that our container ships and jumbo jets had leveled the world, that we were as gods—greenhouse gases were accumulating in the atmosphere and relentlessly trapping heat.

And now we are confronted with the reality that we were never the master, never that boss—and that we are unleashing natural forces that are far more powerful than even our most ingenious machines. We can save ourselves, but only if we let go of the myth of dominance and mastery and learn to work with nature—respecting and harnessing its intrinsic capacity for renewal and regeneration.

And this brings us to the core message of interconnection at the heart of the encyclical. What climate change reaffirms—for that minority of the human species that ever forgot—is that there is no such thing as a one-way relationship of pure mastery in nature. As Pope Francis writes, “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.”

For some who see interconnection as a cosmic demotion, this is all too much to bear. And so—actively encouraged by fossil-fuel funded political actors—they choose to deny the science.

But that is already changing as the climate changes. And it will likely change more with the publication of the encyclical. This could mean real trouble for American politicians who are counting on using the Bible as cover for their opposition to climate action. In this regard, Pope Francis’s trip to the U.S. this September could not be better timed.

Yet as the encyclical rightly points out, denial takes many forms. And there are many across the political spectrum and around the world who accept the science but reject the difficult implications of the science.

I have spent the past two weeks reading hundreds of reactions to the encyclical. And though the response has been overwhelmingly positive, I have noticed a common theme among the critiques. Pope Francis may be right on the science, we hear, and even on the morality, but he should leave the economics and policy to the experts. They are the ones who know about carbon trading and water privatization, we are told, and how effectively markets can solve any problem.

I forcefully disagree. The truth is that we have arrived at this dangerous place partly because many of those economic experts have failed us badly, wielding their powerful technocratic skills without wisdom. They produced models that placed scandalously little value on human life, particularly on the lives of the poor, and placed outsized value on protecting corporate profits and economic growth.

That warped value system is how we ended up with ineffective carbon markets instead of strong carbon taxes and high fossil fuel royalties. It’s how we ended up with a temperature target of 2 degrees which would allow entire nations to disappear—simply because their GDPs were deemed insufficiently large.

In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality. Because if we agree that endangering life on earth is a moral crisis, then it is incumbent on us to act like it.

That doesn’t mean gambling the future on the boom and bust cycles of the market. It means policies that directly regulate how much carbon can be extracted from the earth. It means policies that will get us to 100 per cent

renewable energy

in 2-3 decades—not by the end of the century. And it means allocating common, shared resources—like the atmosphere—on the basis of justice and equity, not winners-take-all.

That’s why a new kind of climate movement is fast emerging. It is based on the most courageous truth expressed in the encyclical: that our current economic system is both fueling the climate crisis and actively preventing us from taking the necessary actions to avert it. A movement based on the knowledge that if we don’t want runaway climate change, then we need system change.

And because our current system is also fueling ever widening inequality, we have a chance, in rising to the climate challenge, to solve multiple, overlapping crises at once. In short, we can shift to a more stable climate and fairer economy at the same time.

This growing understanding is why you are seeing some surprising and even unlikely alliances. Like, for instance, me at the Vatican. Like trade unions, Indigenous, faith and green groups working more closely together than ever before.

Inside these coalitions, we don’t agree on everything—not by a long shot. But we understand that the stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us. When 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York last September, the slogan was “To change everything, we need everyone.”

Everyone includes political leaders, of course. But having attended many meetings with social movements about the COP summit in Paris, I can report this: there is zero tolerance for yet another failure being dressed up as a success for the cameras. Until a week later, when those same politicians are back to drilling for oil in the Arctic and building more highways and pushing new trade deals that make it far more difficult to regulate polluters.

If the deal fails to bring about immediate emission reductions while providing real and substantive support for poor countries, then it will be declared a failure. As it should be.

What we must always remember is that it’s not too late to veer off the dangerous road we are on—the one that is leading us towards 4 degrees of warming. Indeed we could still keep warming below 1.5 degrees if we made it our top collective priority.

It would be difficult, to be sure. As difficult as the rationing and industrial conversions that were once made in wartime. As ambitious as the anti-poverty and public works programs launched in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

But difficult is not the same as impossible. And giving up in the face of a task that could save countless and lives prevent so much suffering—simply because it is difficult, costly and requires sacrifice from those of us who can most afford to make do with less—is not pragmatism.

It is surrender of the most cowardly kind. And there is no cost-benefit analysis in the world that is capable of justifying it.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

We have been hearing these supposedly serious-minded words for more than two decades. For the entire lifetime of today’s young climate activists. And every time another UN summit fails to deliver bold, legally-binding and science-based polices, while sprinkling empty promises of reshuffled aid money, we hear those words again. “Sure it’s not enough but it’s a step in the right direction.” “We’ll do the harder work next time.” And always: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

This, it must be said inside these hallowed walls, is pure nonsense. “Perfect” left the station in the mid-1990s, after the first Rio Earth Summit. Today, we have only two roads in front of us: difficult yet humane—and easy yet reprehensible.

To our so-called leaders preparing their pledges for COP 21 in Paris, getting out the lipstick and heels to dress up another lousy deal, I have this to say: Read the actual encyclical—not the summaries, the whole thing. Read it and let it into your hearts. The grief at what we have already lost, and the celebration of what we can still protect and help to thrive.

Listen, too, to the voices of the hundreds of thousands who will be on the streets of Paris outside the summit, gathered simultaneously in cities around the world. This time, they will be saying more than “we need action.” They will be saying: we are already acting.

We are the solutions: in our demands that institutions divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies and invest them in the activities that will lower emissions.

In our ecological farming methods, which rely less on fossil fuels, provide healthy food and work and sequester carbon.

In our locally-controlled renewable energy projects, which are bringing down emissions, keeping resources in communities, lowering costs and defining access to energy as a right.

In our demand for reliable, affordable and even free public transit, which will get us out of the cars that pollute our cities, congest our lives, and isolate us from one another.

In our uncompromising insistence that you cannot call yourself a climate leader while opening up vast new tracks of ocean and land to oil drilling, gas fracking and coal mining. We have to leave it in the ground.

In our conviction that you cannot call yourself a democracy if you are beholden to multinational polluters.

Around the world, the climate justice movement is saying: See the beautiful world that lies on the other side of courageous policy, the seeds of which are already bearing ample fruit for any who care to look.

Then, stop making the difficult the enemy of the possible.

And join us in making the possible real.

 

Can A 4°C Earth Support 10 Billion People?

June 24, 2015
CLIMATE

POSTED ON JUNE 1, 2015 AT 8:00 AM

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

“Homo sapiens is poised to become the greatest catastrophic agent since a giant asteroid collided with the Earth 65,000,000 years ago, wiping out half the world’s species in a geological instant.” So wrote anthropologist Richard Leakey in his 1995 book, “The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind.”

Because of the vital dependence we have on the “ecosystem services” provided by the rest of nature, Leakey warned, “unrestrained, Homo sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.”

Twenty years later, the great climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert has won a very deserved Pulitzer prize for her nonfiction book “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”

In her book, Kolbert

quotes

Leakey and explains that there’s no way of knowing if humanity will be wiped out in this self-inflicted disaster. For her, “what’s most worth attending to” right now, is the fact that “we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathway remain open and which will forever be closed.” As she notes, “no other creature has ever managed this.”

I personally doubt homo sapiens will go fully extinct. The more important question for me is whether the planet can support upwards of 10 billion people post-2050 given that we have already overshot the Earth’s biocapacity — and the overshoot gets worse every year.

footprint-biocapacity

Homo sapiens already use the equivalent of 1.5 Earths to support our consumption.

CREDIT: WORLD WILDLIFE FUND

Most significantly, we are in the process of destroying a livable climate upon which so many species, including our own, rely. We are currently on a trajectory to warm the planet 4°C (7°F) or more this century and then continue warming in the next. In 2011, the UK Royal Society devoted a special issue of one of its journals to “Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications.” The concluding piece warned:

“In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world.”

In particular, “drought and desertification would be widespread” and we’d see “large areas of cropland becoming unsuitable for cultivation, and declining agricultural yields.” At the same time, we’d “also rapidly be losing [the world’s] ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes, and terrestrial carbon stores, supported by an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem.”

Can such a world support 10 billion people?

As for biodiversity, a 2015 study in Science said we may lose one-sixth of all species to extinction if we warm 4°C. “Other experts said the real toll may turn out to be even worse,”reported the New York Times. The paper quoted evolutionary biologist John Wiens warning the number of extinctions “may well be two to three times higher.”

As I reported a few weeks ago, another 2015 study in Science concluded that the Permo-Triassic extinction 252 million years ago (“the greatest extinction of all time”) happened when massive amounts carbon dioxide were injected into the atmosphere, first slowly and then quickly (driven by volcanic eruptions). The researchers found “During the second extinction pulse, however, a rapid and large injection of carbon caused an abrupt acidification event that drove the preferential loss of heavily calcified marine biota.” This extinction killed over 90 percent of marine life and wiped out some 70 percent of land-based animal and plant life.

A 2014 review article in the journal Science led by Duke conservation ecologist Stuart Pimm, “The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection,” concluded, “Current rates of extinction are about 1,000 times the background rate of extinction. These are higher than previously estimated and likely still underestimated.”

The current mass extinction is due to a combination of factors, many driven by humans, including habitat destruction and over-fishing and over-hunting. A number of aspects of climate change have begun contributing to species extinction, but what is of most concern to biologists today is that as the rate of global warming speeds up in the coming decades, the climate may well change too quickly for many if not most species to adapt.

Significantly, there is more to biodiversity than just the number of species, as shown in a2011 study , “Cryptic biodiversity loss linked to global climate change.” It was the first global study “to quantify the loss of biological diversity on the basis of genetic diversity.” Cryptic biodiversity “encompasses the diversity of genetic variations and deviations within described species.” It could only be studied in detail since molecular-genetic methods were developed.

Researchers noted that “If global warming continues as expected, it is estimated that almost a third of all flora and fauna species worldwide could become extinct.” But their research “discovered that the proportion of actual biodiversity loss should quite clearly be revised upwards: by 2080, more than 80% of genetic diversity within species may disappear in certain groups of organisms.” Species may survive, but ”the majority of the genetic variations, which in each case exist only in certain places, will not survive,” as study co-author Carsten Nowak explained. A species’ genetic variation increases its adaptability to a changing climate and changing habitats. Losing genetic diversity decreases the species’ long-term chances for survival.

A similar point was made in a January 2015 Science article, “Planetary boundaries,” by 18 international experts led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Here is the key chart of their findings (an update of their original 2009 findings).

planetary boundaries

Researchers find 4 of 9 planetary boundaries have been crossed: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).

CREDIT: STEFFEN ET AL, SCIENCE 2015. DESIGN: GLOBAÏA.

We are already well beyond the zone of uncertainty and into the high risk area for the “genetic diversity” component of biosphere integrity. Researchers label climate change and biosphere integrity as “core boundaries.” They could “drive the Earth System into a new state” if substantially changed. Steffen notes, “Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries.”

The bottom line, as the Science authors explain, is that “The relatively stable, 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch is the only state of the ES [Earth System] that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies.” As we move beyond that stable state, the risks for all species — including ours — grow and grow.

Climate Change Is a Crisis We Can Only Solve Together

June 23, 2015

Naomi Klein. (photo: Kourosh Keshiri/Grist)
Naomi Klein. (photo: Kourosh Keshiri/Grist)

By Naomi Klein, Common Dreams

22 June 15

 

This speech was delivered on June 6, 2015, in Bar Harbor, Maine, as the College of the Atlantic commencement address.

irst of all, a huge congratulations to all the graduates—and to the parents who raised you, and the teachers who guided you. It’s a true privilege to be included in this special day.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

Usually, commencement addresses try to equip graduates with a moral compass for their post-university life. You hear stories that end with clear lessons like: “Money can’t buy happiness.” “Be kind.” “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

But my sense is that very few of you are flailing around trying to sort out right from wrong. Quite remarkably, you knew you wanted to go not just to an excellent college, but to an excellent socially and ecologically engaged college. A school surrounded by tremendous biological diversity and suffused with tremendous human diversity, with a student population that spans the globe. You also knew that strong community mattered more than almost anything. That’s more self-awareness and self-direction than most people have when they leave graduate school—and somehow you had it when you were still in high school.

Which is why I am going to skip the homilies and get down to business: the historical moment into which you graduate—with climate change, wealth concentration, and racialized violence all reaching breaking points.

How do we help most? How do we best serve this broken world? And we know that time is short, especially when it comes to climate change. We all hear the clock ticking loudly in the background.

But that doesn’t mean that climate change trumps everything else. It means we need to create integrated solutions—ones that radically bring down emissions, while closing the inequality gap and making life tangibly better for the majority.

This is no pipe dream. We have living examples from which to learn. Germany’s energy transition has created 400,000 jobs in just over a decade, and not just cleaned up energy but made it fairer—so that energy systems are owned and controlled by hundreds and hundreds of cities, towns, and cooperatives. The mayor of New York just announced a climate plan that would bring 800,000 people out of poverty by 2025, by investing massively in transit and affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.

The holistic leap we need is within our grasp. And know that there is no better preparation for that grand project than your deeply interdisciplinary education in human ecology. You were made for this moment. No, that’s not quite right: You somehow knew to make yourselves for this moment.

But much rests on the choices we make in the next few years. “Don’t be afraid to fail” may be a standard commencement-address life lesson. Yet it doesn’t work for those of us who are part of the climate-justice movement, where being afraid of failure is perfectly rational.

Because, let’s face it: The generations before you used up more than your share of atmospheric space. We used up your share of big failures too. The ultimate intergenerational injustice. That doesn’t mean that we all can’t still make mistakes. We can and we will. But Alicia Garza, one of the amazing founders of Black Lives Matter, talks about how we have to “make new mistakes.”

Sit with that one for a minute. Let’s stop making the same old mistakes. Here are a few, but I trust that you will silently add your own. Projecting messianic fantasies onto politicians. Thinking the market will fix it. Building a movement made up entirely of upper-middle-class white people and then wondering why people of color don’t want to join “our movement.” Tearing each other to bloody shreds because it’s easier to do that than go after the forces most responsible for this mess. These are social-change clichés, and they are getting really boring.

We don’t have the right to demand perfection from each other. But we do have the right to expect progress. To demand evolution. So let’s make some new mistakes. Let’s make new mistakes as we break through our silos and build the kind of beautifully diverse and justice-hungry movement that actually has a chance of winning—winning against the powerful interests that want us to keep failing.

With this in mind, I want talk about an old mistake that I see reemerging. It has to do with the idea that since attempts at big systemic change have failed, all we can do is act small. Some of you will relate. Some of you won’t. But I suspect all of you will have to deal with this tension in your future work.

A story: When I was 26, I went to Indonesia and the Philippines to do research for my first book, No Logo. I had a simple goal: to meet the workers making the clothes and electronics that my friends and I purchased. And I did. I spent evenings on concrete floors in squalid dorm rooms where teenage girls—sweet and giggly—spent their scarce nonworking hours. Eight or even 10 to a room. They told me stories about not being able to leave their machines to pee. About bosses who hit. About not having enough money to buy dried fish to go with their rice.

They knew they were being badly exploited—that the garments they were making were being sold for more than they would make in a month. One 17-year-old said to me: “We make computers, but we don’t know how to use them.”

So one thing I found slightly jarring was that some of these same workers wore clothing festooned with knockoff trademarks of the very multinationals that were responsible for these conditions: Disney characters or Nike check marks. At one point, I asked a local labor organizer about this. Wasn’t it strange—a contradiction?

It took a very long time for him to understand the question. When he finally did, he looked at me like I was nuts. You see, for him and his colleagues, individual consumption wasn’t considered to be in the realm of politics at all. Power rested not in what you did as one person, but what you did as many people, as one part of a large, organized, and focused movement. For him, this meant organizing workers to go on strike for better conditions, and eventually it meant winning the right to unionize. What you ate for lunch or happened to be wearing was of absolutely no concern whatsoever.

This was striking to me, because it was the mirror opposite of my culture back home in Canada. Where I came from, you expressed your political beliefs—firstly and very often lastly—through personal lifestyle choices. By loudly proclaiming your vegetarianism. By shopping fair trade and local and boycotting big, evil brands.

These very different understandings of social change came up again and again a couple of years later, once my book came out. I would give talks about the need for international protections for the right to unionize. About the need to change our global trading system so it didn’t encourage a race to the bottom. And yet at the end of those talks, the first question from the audience was: “What kind of sneakers are OK to buy?” “What brands are ethical?” “Where do you buy your clothes?” “What can I do, as an individual, to change the world?”

Fifteen years after I published No Logo, I still find myself facing very similar questions. These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.

The irony is that people with relatively little power tend to understand this far better than those with a great deal more power. The workers I met in Indonesia and the Philippines knew all too well that governments and corporations did not value their voice or even their lives as individuals. And because of this, they were driven to act not only together, but to act on a rather large political canvas. To try to change the policies in factories that employ thousands of workers, or in export zones that employ tens of thousands. Or the labor laws in an entire country of millions. Their sense of individual powerlessness pushed them to be politically ambitious, to demand structural changes.

In contrast, here in wealthy countries, we are told how powerful we are as individuals all the time. As consumers. Even individual activists. And the result is that, despite our power and privilege, we often end up acting on canvases that are unnecessarily small—the canvas of our own lifestyle, or maybe our neighborhood or town. Meanwhile, we abandon the structural changes—the policy and legal work— to others.

This is not to belittle local activism. Local is critical. Local organizing is winning big fights against fracking and tar-sands pipelines. Local is showing us what the post-carbon economy looks and feels like.

And small examples inspire bigger examples. College of the Atlantic was one of the first schools to divest from fossil fuels. And you made the decision, I am told, in a week. It took that kind of leadership from small schools that knew their values to push more, shall we say, insecure institutions to follow suit. Like Stanford University. Like Oxford University. Like the British royal family. Like the Rockefeller family. So local matters, but local is not enough.

I got a vivid reminder of this when I visited Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Red Hook was one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods and is home to an amazing community farm—a place that teaches kids from nearby housing projects how to grow healthy food, provides composting for a huge number of residents, hosts a weekly farmers’ market, and runs a terrific CSA [community-supported agriculture] program. In short, it was doing everything right: reducing food miles, staying away from petroleum inputs, sequestering carbon in the soil, reducing landfill by composting, fighting inequality and food insecurity.

But when the storm came, none of that mattered. The entire harvest was lost, and the fear was the storm water would make the soil toxic. They could buy new soil and start over. But the farmers I met there knew that unless other people were out there fighting to lower emissions on a systemic and global level, then this kind of loss would occur again and again.

It’s not that one sphere is more important than the other. It’s that we have to do both: the local and the global. The resistance and the alternatives. The “no” to what we cannot survive and “yeses” that we need to thrive.

Before I leave you, I want to stress one other thing. And please listen, because it’s important. It is true that we have to do it all. That we have to change everything. But you personally do not have to do everything. This is not all on you.

One of the real dangers of being brilliant, sensitive young people who hear the climate clock ticking loudly is the danger of taking on too much. Which is another manifestation of that inflated sense of our own importance.

It can seem that every single life decision—whether to work at a national NGO or a local permaculture project or a green start-up; whether to work with animals or with people; whether to be a scientist or an artist; whether to go to grad school or have kids—carries the weight of the world.

I was struck by this impossible burden some of you are placing on yourselves when I was contacted recently by a 21-year-old Australian science student named Zoe Buckley Lennox. At the time she reached me, she was camped out on top of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig in the middle of the Pacific. She was one of six Greenpeace activists who had scaled the giant rig to try to slow its passage and draw attention to the insanity of drilling for oil in the Arctic. They lived up there in the howling winds for a week.

While they were still up there, I arranged to call Zoe on the Greenpeace satellite phone—just to personally thank her for her courage. Do you know what she did? She asked me: “How do you know you are doing the right thing? I mean, there is divestment. There is lobbying. There’s the Paris climate conference.”

And I was touched by her seriousness, but I also wanted to weep. Here she was, doing one of the more incredible things imaginable—freezing her butt off trying to physically stop Arctic drilling with her body. And up there in her seven layers of clothing and climbing gear, she was still beating herself up, wondering whether she should be doing something else.

What I told her is what I will tell you. What you are doing is amazing. And what you do next will be amazing too. Because you are not alone. You are part of a movement. And that movement is organizing for Paris and getting their schools to divest and trying to block Arctic drilling in Congress and the courts. And on the open water. All at the same time.

And, yes, we need to grow faster and do more. But the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.

That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.

Which is why I am going to skip yet another commencement-address tradition—the one that somberly tells graduates that they have finally become adults. Because my strong sense is that most of you have been adults since your early teens.

So what I really want to say to you is something else entirely. Make sure to give yourself time to be a kid.

And make sure to truly enjoy this tremendous accomplishment.

Congratulations.

 

Study Links Global Warming to Hurricane Sandy and Other Extreme Weather Events

June 23, 2015

Escalators to the South Ferry Whitehall St. subway station in the financial district of Manhattan are shown flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Reuters)
Escalators to the South Ferry Whitehall St. subway station in the financial district of Manhattan are shown flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Reuters)

By John Abraham, Guardian UK

23 June 15

 

The paper finds that global warming is putting extreme weather on steroids

ne of the hottest areas of climate research these days is on the potential connections between human emissions, global warming, and extreme weather. Will global warming make extreme weather more common or less common? More severe or less severe?

New research, just published today in Nature Climate Change helps to answer that question by approaching the problem in a novel way. In short yes, human emissions of greenhouse gases have made certain particular weather events more severe. Let’s investigate how they arrived at this conclusion.

Lead author Kevin Trenberth and his team recognized that there are two potential ways a warming climate may lead to weather changes. The first way is through something called thermodynamics. We experience thermodynamics in our own lives. Warm air can be more humid than cold air; we feel that difference throughout the year. Also, warm air evaporates water more quickly. That’s why hair blow dryers and restroom hand dryers usually use heated air. It’s why puddles evaporate more quickly on hot days.

In short, the atmosphere can become either warmer and wetter or warmer and dryer, depending on where you are. The general rule of thumb is that areas which are currently dry will become drier; areas that are currently wet will become wetter; and rains will occur in heavier downbursts.

The scientists list the following questions as a guide to their study.

1. Given a particular weather pattern, how were the temperatures, precipitation, and associated impacts influenced by climate change?

2. Given a drought, how was the drying enhanced by climate change and how did that influence the moisture deficits and dryness of the soils, leading to a more intense and long-lasting drought?

3. Given a flood, where did the moisture come from? Was it increased by warmer ocean waters?

4. Given a heat wave, how was that influenced by drought, changes in precipitation, and extra heat from global warming?

5. Given extreme snow, where did the moisture come from? Was it related to oceans that are warmer?

6. Given an extreme storm, how was it influenced by sea temperatures, ocean heat content, unusual moisture transports?

7. Was a storm surge worse because of higher sea levels?

In other words, the authors take for granted that an event has occurred and they ask, how did climate change affect its impact?

The authors use a few well-known cases studies. “Snowmaggedon,” which occurred in Washington DC in 2010; superstorm Sandy; supertyphoon Haiyan; and the flooding in Boulder, Colorado. They found that for Snowmaggedon and Sandy, unusually warm waters made those events worse. In addition, for Sandy, the human-caused sea level rise added to the storm surge. They report,

It is possible that subways and tunnels may not have been flooded without the warming-induced increases in sea level and storm intensity and size. Putting the potential price tag of human climate change on this storm in the tens of billions of dollars.

For supertyphoon Haiyan which ravaged the Philippines in November 2013, the increased sea temperatures and ocean heating along its path increased its strength and this made the impacts worse. For the Colorado floods, the authors found that ocean temperatures off the coast of Mexico were very high. This was where much of the water entered the atmosphere before subsequently falling in Colorado. According to the authors,

the extremely high sea surface temperatures and record water vapor amounts that accompanied the event … probably would not have occurred without climate change.

Later, the authors make reference to the 2010 Russian heat wave and the current drought in California. This new study reconciles past conflicting studies where very little evidence of a climate link was found of general circulation changes, but evidence is clear in the thermodynamics.

Without getting too deep in the weeds, the authors also explain why other teams have failed to make a connection between extreme weather and a warming planet. In some cases, they have asked the wrong questions. In other cases, they have used tools that were too crude. For instance, calculations performed in 2014 by another team relied upon climate models that did not have sufficient resolution.

In summary, human warming affects weather in two ways. It changes the odds that any given extreme event will occur. But more importantly it makes the events more severe. I’ll leave you with the final paragraph from the paper which summarizes this as well as I could.

The climate is changing: we have a new normal. The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.

 

California’s Senate Passes Sweeping Climate Change Legislation

June 6, 2015

CAClimateChange6615

California already has one of the highest renewable portfolio standards in the country and the state is now leading the way after passing a climate change legislation that addresses climate change. Is this a “lofty and noble goal?”

The California Senate passed a package of bills this week to address climate change, legislation that includes a plan to reduce gasoline use on California’s roads by 50 percent, increase energy efficiency by 50 percent, and have 50 percent of California’s electricity come from renewable sources, such as wind and

solar

.The 12 bills also include measures to direct cap and trade funds toward public transportation infrastructure, extend the emissions reduction target to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and divest California’s public pensions from coal.

“This package of bills represents the most far-reaching effort to fight climate change in the history of our nation,” Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León said in astatement. “These bills put California on path to sustainable economic growth, while also protecting the health of our communities.”

California has generally been leading the charge in the Unites States on addressing climate change. These bills echo previous initiatives by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who released higher emissions reductions targets in April. Brown also signed an agreement with Mexico in May to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address other environmental issues. He signed another11-party agreement last month with city leaders around the world to help pave the way to keeping climate change under the 2°C limit, which is assumed as necessary to avoid some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

California is also acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and fossil fuel use. The state is in the midst of a historic drought, which is intensifying forest fire risks, damaging the agriculture business, and raising concerns about the state’s future. The drought has been specifically tied to climate change. In addition, in May, an oil pipeline burst near Santa Barbara at a state beach, spilling thousands of gallons of oil.

One bill addresses offshore oil and gas drilling, seeking to close a loophole that allows some offshore drilling close to the spill’s location.

“As long as you drill, there will be spills,” Santa Barbara Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said. The bill would not close any existing wells, but it would prohibit any news ones in California waters.

California Republicans criticized the new measures, which still have to be approved by the Assembly before they are sent to the governor’s desk.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff called the bill package a “lofty and noble goal,” but questioned whether or not it would accomplish anything. Other lawmakers said the bill would be a job killer.

California already has one of the highest renewable portfolio standards in the country, requiring 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2016, and 33 percent by 2020. Unsurprisingly — or surprisingly, whichever way you want to look at it — these policies have not killed California’s economy. The solar industry employs nearly 55,00 Californians, and last year $11.75 billion was spent on solar in the state.

Scientists Warn We’re Ever-Closer To The Apocalypse

May 21, 2015

Posted: 01/22/2015 7:21 pm EST Updated: 01/23/2015 12:59 pm EST

WASHINGTON -– The world crept closer to doomsday on Thursday.

That’s according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which each year updates the hands on a clock meant to symbolize how close we are to the annihilation of the human race, or midnight. For the last three years, the world was five minutes from the end. Today, we’re three minutes away.

The two-minute move is symbolic, but it gives a sense of how grim the outlook some of the best scientific minds have for humanity. The decision to move the hands forward, said Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists executive director Kennette Benedict, came about largely due to the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

“World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from catastrophe,” Benedict said Thursday at an event held in the auditorium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Stunning governmental failures have imperiled civilization on a global scale.”

The announcement came the day after the U.S. Senate voted to acknowledge that climate change is real, bringing it up to speed with every major world scientific body, but it declined to acknowledge that human activity plays any role.

Decisions on the Doomsday Clock are made by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. Richard Somerville, a member of the board and a research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, ticked off a list of climate-related reasons for pessimism this year. He cited the latest National Climate Assessment,released in May, the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the fact that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that 2014 was the world’s hottest year on record. While those indicators all are grim, world leaders have moved slowly on enacting meaningful limits on emissions.

“To profoundly transform the Earth’s climate will harm millions of people, and threaten many key ecological systems upon which humanity relies,” said Somerville. “To avoid such unacceptable levels of climate change, the need for urgent action instead of continued procrastination is clear.”

While world leaders have set a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the current emissions trajectory puts the world on path to more like 3 degrees to 8 degrees C (5 degrees to 15 degrees F). “It only took modest 3- to 8-degree warming to bring the world out from the frigid depths of the last ice age,” said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute specializing in climate risks. Warming on that level again, he said, raises “the specter of a future where the surface of the earth is again radically transformed.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 to use “the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.” The closest the hands have ever come to midnight was 11:58, in 1953, after the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union began testing thermonuclear bombs.

While the movement of the minute hand closer to midnight signals distress among Bulletin members, the whole point of the symbolic clock is to draw public attention to the issues in hopes forcing change.

“This threat looms over all of humanity,” said Somerville. “We need to respond now while there is still time.”


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