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2013 SkS Weekly News Roundup #40B

Posted on 5 October 2013 by John Hartz

  • A brief history of climate science
  • A reprieve from climate doom
  • Coal cash, climate denial fuel 'Citizens United 2'
  • Earth Care Week: Buddhists respond to climate change
  • Envoys spar over aviation carbon market mompromise deal
  • European official: US, EU climate collaboration possible
  • Global warming and heat waves – our bodies working to stay cool
  • Insights into the personalities of conspiracy theorists
  • Ireland might be losing its green
  • Latest IPCC climate report puts geoengineering in the spotlight
  • Toxic algae may be longer, more intense
  • What the new IPCC report says about sea level rise
  • When the levees break: disasters converging on a finite planet

A brief history of climate science

Climate change is often seen as a recent phenomenon, but its roots are actually far older – the effects of human activity on the global climate have been discussed for more than 150 years.

A brief history of climate science by Ed Hawkins, The Hindu, Sep 30, 2013

A reprieve from climate doom

When I first saw the September 17 Wall Street Journal headline, “A Reprieve from Climate Doom: A forthcoming report dials back the alarm on global warming,” I hoped against all odds this was a credible, evidence-based story and not just another piece of well-placed oil industry PR. Skimming down to paragraph three, I learned that a forthcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s largest and most respected international body of climate scientists, “points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet.” Wow. If only the Fox News universe was real, life could be grand. 

A Reprieve From Climate Doom Op-ed by Michael I Niman, Art Voice/Truthout, Oct 4, 2013

Coal Cash, Climate Denial Fuel 'Citizens United 2'

Alabama coal baron and conservative activist Shaun McCutcheon has a problem. He doesn't feel that $123,200 buys him enough influence in Washington. He wants to spend more. A lot more.

McCutcheon, a big fan of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, apparently feels that this existing aggregate federal campaign contribution limit is a restriction of his "right" to spend what he wants on politics.

Next Tuesday at the Supreme Court, shutdown willing, the Court will hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. Already being called Citizens United 2 by a coalition of democracy, environmental, and labor activists, the case could enable a single wealthy donor, like McCutcheon, to contribute more than $3.6 million to the Democratic or Republican party's candidates and party committees in a single election cycle.

Coal Cash, Climate Denial Fuel 'Citizens United 2' by Stephen Kretzmann, Blog, The Huffington Post, Oct 3, 2013

Earth Care Week: Buddhists respond to climate change

As a Buddhist teacher I've been interested in finding true happiness through directly opening to suffering. A major interest and focus of my teaching has been awakening the natural joy that is within us. But two years ago after reading Bill McKibben's brilliant, sobering book, Eaarth, I had to face the harsh realities of climate change. My optimism was shaken as I came to terms with the fact that the future looks pretty bleak.

Although the current picture can seem pretty depressing, it's also been heartening to see that more and more people are starting to become aware of the dangers connected with the most crucial issue facing us today. As a wise friend of mine says, "We're in a race between ignorance and consciousness."

This past June fifty senior teachers met at an International Vipassana Teachers Conference at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif., where I teach. On the agenda was Climate Change: specifically the role Buddhism might play and the responsibility of those who share the teachings.

Earth Care Week: Buddhists Respond to Climate Change by James Braatz, The Huffington Post, Oct 2, 2013

Envoys Spar Over Aviation Carbon Market Compromise Deal

Aviation negotiators have begun final talks in Montreal over the creation of a carbon market for the world airline industry.

More than 190 countries in the International Civil Aviation Organization are discussing a revised proposal by the assembly’s President Michel Wachenheim that would limit the European Union emissions trading system prior to the global deal and exempt countries with a low share in international civil aviation. The triennial meeting ends Oct. 4.

At stake is international commitment to agree on the details of a market-based emissions-reduction tool for the $708 billion industry in 2016 and start the program in 2020. An agreement would be unprecedented for any global industry. Airlines emit 2 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide.

Envoys Spar Over Aviation Carbon Market Compromise Deal by Ewa Krukowska, Bloomberg News, Oct 2, 2013

Global warming and heat waves – our bodies working to stay cool

Increases in extreme heat due to global warming will pose challenges to our cities, infrastructure, and bodies.

Global warming and heat waves – our bodies working to stay cool by John Abrahams, Climate Consensus-the 97%, The Guardian, Oct 3, 2013

Insights into the personalities of conspiracy theoris

Conspiracy theories and scientific theories attempt to explain the world around us. Both apply a filter of logic to the complexity of the universe, thereby transforming randomness into reason. Yet these two theoretical breeds differ in important ways. Scientific theories, by definition, must be falsifiable. That is, they must make reliable predictions about the world; and if those predictions turn out to be incorrect, the theory can be declared false. Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are tough to disprove. Their proponents can make the theories increasingly elaborate to accommodate new observations; and, ultimately, any information contradicting a conspiracy theory can be answered with, “Well sure, that’s what they want you to think.”

Insights into the Personalities of Conspiracy Theorists by Caitlin Shure, Scientific American, Oct 4, 2013

Ireland might be losing its green

Summer visitors to Ireland used to coping with frequent outpourings from the heavens might be in for a bit of a shock in future if the latest projections on the country’s climate by Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, prove correct.

In a just-released report, Ireland’s climate: the road ahead, Met Eireann says that as a result of climate change summers will become considerably drier, with up to a 20% decrease in precipitation. But winters will become wetter, with precipitation increases of up to 14%.

That could mean those famously green fields will lose their lushness in spring and summer months. This happened earlier this year as grasslands across much of Ireland turned brown through lack of rainfall.

Ireland Might Be Losing Its Green by Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network, Truthdig, Oct 4, 2013

Latest IPCC climate report puts geoengineering in the spotlight

Attempts to counter global warming by modifying Earth's atmosphere have been thrust into the spotlight following last week's report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Mention of ‘geoengineering’ in the report summary was brief, but it suggests that the controversial area is now firmly on the scientific agenda. Some climate models suggest that geoengineering may even be necessary to keep global temperature rises to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Latest IPCC Climate Report Puts Geoengineering in the Spotlight by David Kressy and Nautre magazine, Scientific American, Oct 2, 2013

Toxic algae may be longer, more intense

Toxic algae blooms appear to be increasing in frequency and intensity around the country, but the full range of their causes -- and their health effects -- remains far from clear. Some experts, meanwhile, are suggesting that lakes, rivers and ponds that breed such blooms are becoming more hazardous thanks in part to a warming planet.

Green Lake, a popular local recreation destination, is no exception. Nearly every morning, Garet Munger and his little black dog, Charlie, make the 3-mile trek around the lake -- which is currently more than living up to its name.

Toxic Algae Blooms May Be Longer, More Intense Due To Climate Change by Lynne Peeples, The Huffington Post, Oct 2, 2013

What the new IPCC report says about sea level rise 

Scientists' best guess on sea level rise this century has increased considerably on its last projections in 2007. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now estimates seas will rise between 26 and 82 centimetres.

So what's changed?

What the new IPCC report says about sea level rise by Freya Roberts, The Carbon Brief, Oct 3, 2013

When the levees break: disasters converging on a finite planet

The 19th century novel Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by American author Mary Mapes Dodge features a brief story-within-the-story that has become better known in popular culture than the book itself. It’s the tale of a Dutch boy (in the novel he’s called simply “The Hero of Haarlem”) who saves his community by jamming his finger into a leaking levee. The boy stays all night, despite the cold, until village adults find him and repair the leak. His courageous action in holding back potential floodwaters has become celebrated in children’s literature and art, to the point where it serves as a convenient metaphor.

Here in early 21st century there are three dams about to break, and in each case a calamity is being postponed—though not, in these cases, by the heroic digits of fictitious Dutch children.

When the Levees Break: Disasters Converging on a Finite Planet by Richard Heinberg, Common Dreams, Oct 2, 2013

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. For those interested in australian politics or who understand their voting system (honestly beyond my grasp, definitely the most complex in the world), a piece of bad news came from the latest senate results:

    The "Palmer United Party" candidate has unexpectedly won the WA senate seat, beating Green party candidate, despite receiveing less votes (9.48% GRN vs 5.0% PUP). Due to some unexplained, whacko "preference distributions" series of steps, a PUP candidate was pushed ahead of GRN. At some step, only 14 votes have decided the outcome. Even with such narrow circomstances, the electoral law does not allow for recount, I imagine to an even bigger frustration of Greens.


    The important and bad aspect (good for climate change denialists) is that the ALP + GRN senators are currently holding the new PM Tony Abbott's "bloody" attempt to "repeal carbon tax". When the new senate takes seats on July 2014, ALP + GRN numbers will dwindle and they may not be able to oppose Abbott's attempt anymore. That extra one seat loss by GRN may tip the ballance of that opposition: a PUP senator is likely to support Abbott. Analysts are now saying Abbott will be able to do the deal with the new senate about cabron tax repeal in July 2014 while previously they've been saying the deal will be hard to achive.

    So, in short, this election event may decide that Australia, so far playing decent role in climate change mitigation, will be going backwards in July 2014. That's the bad news. To those interested how it happened that a party receiving 5.0% of popular vote can beat that of 9.48%, go figure:

    WA senate federal-election-2013

    For me, it's not worth it, as the system should be thrashed in many opinions. Climate science is much much easier and better to spend time on.

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  2. chriskoz #1

    Commiserations ... in the Proportional Representation system (auch as we have in Ireland), voters express preferences in descending order. If no candidate (for 1 seat, say) gets more than 50% first preferences, then the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated, and his/ her 2nd preferences is divided among the others. And so on, until there is only one candidate left with a clear margin of victory.

    It is a bit more complicated with n seats per constituency - a "quota" is calculated by the Total Valid Poll divided by (n+1), and votes are counted and candidates eliminated until there are n candidates left standing. PR is much beloved by math anoraks because of its complexity - the purpose is supposed to ensure that the total number of seats held by a party is proportional to the number of votes it received. A first-past-the-post system can skew results.

    It is popular in continental Europe, where it ensures small parties at least some representation. At its best it opens the political system to minority views, at its worst it leads to factionalism and paralysis.

    For example, the German PR system ensured the Greens would sit in parliament while the anti-renewable energy Free Democrats would not. Here in Ireland we had a small group of Greens in government up to 2011 thanks to PR - but they all lost their seats (due to the country's fiscal crisis, for which they were not to blame - just caught in the crossifre). However, at least some should  re-gain seats at the next election.

    Sometimes PR can work for you, sometimes against. Best roll with the punches.

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  3. Incidentally, the report of the Irish Met Office (Met Eireann)  Ireland in a Warmer World can be found here:

    Ireland in a Warmer World

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  4. chriskoz #1,

    The Australian system is actually not that complicated.

    For the House of Representatives, voters number candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, then the least popular candidate is eliminated and their next preferences are distributed as if they were first preferences — effectively asking "What would the outcome be if this candidate didn't run?" This process repeats until a candidate has 50%. That candidate may well have started out with a low first preference percentage, but the fact that they won in the end means that more than half preferred that candidate to the alternative.

    The Senate is complicated by the fact that there is more than one position being filled and a "quota" of votes is required to be elected. (The House of Representatives method can be seen as a special case where there is only one position and therefore the quota is 50% + 1 vote.)

    The Senate vote count proceeds in the same way as above when unpopular candidates are eliminated, but the wrinkle is that when a candidate has reached the quota and been elected, their voters' subsequent preferences are also reallocated in proportion to the "surplus" that the successful candidate had (so the second preferences of a really popular candidate will be worth more than the second preferences of a candidate that only just got over the line.)

    In the case in question, the PUP candidate was elected because he had a quota and the Green's candidate did not. The fact that the PUP candidate received preference flows from similarly-minded organisations who are likely to be voted for by similarly-minded voters means that if you asked all of those voters who they would have preferred out of PUP and the Greens, they would probably pick PUP.

    The "gaming of the Senate vote" that people are complaining about is related to the short-hand Senate voting system introduced by the Hawke government in the 80s. Traditionally you would have to number every candidate in order, just like you do with the House of Reps candidates. However, because there are so many more candidates in the Senate, Hawke introduced the "above the line" voting option, where you could simply put a "1" in the box above the line that belonged to the party you supported, and your ballot paper would be treated as if you had filled it out according to the template that the party had registered. (I normally vote below the line even though it takes a lot longer.)

    In this particular election, there were quite a few surprising preference flows registered by the various minor parties, which might have meant that those voting for those parties might not have agreed with the order of the other parties had they bothered to look it up before the election.

    In this case, however, the final Senate seat was a battle between the Greens and Labor anyway, so the outcome wouldn't make a difference to the Carbon Tax. PUP leapfrogged both to win the fifth seat thanks to some late flows from the Libs, Nationals, and Liberal Democrats, which have similar ideologies to PUP, so it seems the system worked in this case even if the outcome is undesirable.

    It seems that Tony Abbott is going to get his way when the new Senators take their positions next year. It's also very unlikely that he would back down on his plan to "Axe the Tax" given the opportunity. The best we can hope for, it seems, is a major groundswell in support for doing something about climate change that paints the Libs as Luddites that caused us to miss an opportunity because their heads were firmly buried in the sand and unable to accept reality and forces climate change back onto the agenda at the next election. It's possible that having the country take a step back from having "solved" the problem will focus people's attention on it again. In addition, the fact that he's likely to get his way next year might mean it takes some of the heat out of the issue until then and avoids any attempt he might have otherwise made to get rid of it in the meantime. Until then, we'll just be getting on with the business of living with a carbon pricing scheme that is doing its job and not causing the end of the world, making most people wonder what all the fuss was about and hopefully making it easier to bring back in the future.

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  5. Thanks JasonB, your explanation is very helpful.

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