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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #2

Posted on 11 January 2014 by John Hartz

  • America's forest carbon sink is shrinking
  • Australia’s 2014 heat wave picks up where 2013 left off
  • Carbon emissions: coal reliance puts Australia second on OECD's dirt list
  • Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!
  • Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change
  • Concerns about sea level rise and the New Jersey shore grow
  • David Cameron right to link floods and global warming
  • Discovering a legal tool to curb climate change
  • In much of U.S., extreme cold is becoming more rare
  • Lessons from the 1960s?
  • Polar vortex in U.S. may be example of global warming
  • Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia
  • What is this “polar vortex” that is freezing the U.S.?
  • Why Canada sucks on climate change

America's forest carbon sink is shrinking 

America's forests seem likely to scrub much less carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the future compared to the last few decades, according to a government report submitted last week to the United Nations.

Although the timing and extent of the shift is hard to pin down, the expected change could make it harder for the United States to meet its commitments to control CO2, the principal greenhouse gas that is warming the planet.

In recent years, the nation's forests have been growing. The density of their trees has increased as growth exceeded harvests, and there have been small annual increases in the area of forested land. But the beneficial trends are expected to slow, and ultimately to reverse, the report warned.

America's Forest Carbon Sink Is Shrinking, Government Report Says by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Jan 8, 2014

Australia’s 2014 heat wave picks up where 2013 left off

The U.S. may just be climbing out of the freezer, but Australia has been sweating through a major heat wave to start the year. Heat records fell across a large part of the country in the first week of the New Year. The warm weather is currently centered over sparsely populated Western Australia, but it could hit major population centers along the east coast by late next week.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released a special statement to chronicle the extent of the heat wave and its movement. While noting that it didn’t affect as wide an area as the January 2013 heat wave, the statement said the heat wave has been, “highly significant with substantial areas having their hottest day on record.” The heat wave comes on the heels of Australia’s hottest year on record during which a slew of records were shattered, including the country's hottest summer.

Australia’s 2014 Heat Wave Picks Up Where 2013 Left Off by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Jan 9, 2014

Carbon emissions: coal reliance puts Australia second on OECD's dirt list

Environmental audit finds country has a poor record in achieving environmentally efficient growth.

Carbon emissions: coal reliance puts Australia second on OECD's dirt list by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Jan 9. 2014

Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

t's quite cold across much of the United States right now, thanks to the dread "polar vortex."Bitterly cold. Horrifically cold!

So what does this tell us about global warming? Not very much. Sorry. A single cold snap in the U.S. doesn't disprove global warming any more than the record heat waves currently hitting Australia prove that it's happening. But since a lot of people — like  Donald Trump — seem confused on this point, it's worth recapping a few basics:

Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes! by Brad Plumer, Wonk Blog, Washington Post, Jan 8, 2014

Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change

The record-breaking cold weather in the US doesn't mean the globe isn't warming, scientists say.

Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change by Peter Moskowitz, Aljazeera, Jan 5, 2014

Concerns about sea level rise and the New Jersey shore grow

As the planet warms, one of the biggest questions is how fast sea level will rise.

A team of Rutgers University researchers has attempted to answer that question and localize it by studying past sea-level rise along the East Coast, as well as other factors that could influence what happens along the New Jersey Shore.

In recently published studies, they conclude that sea level at the Shore - already rising faster than at any time in the last 4,300 years - could go up by 11 to 15 inches more than the global average by 2100.

Study finds sea levels rising fast; concerns grow about Shore by Sandy Bauers, The (Philadelphia) Inquirer, Jan 7, 2014

David Cameron right to link floods and global warming

Myles Allen and Peter Stott say prime minister right to make connection between recent weather and global warming. 

David Cameron right to link floods and global warming, say climate scientists by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, Jan 10, 2014

Discovering a legal tool to curb climate change

On Mother’s Day, 2011 a legal campaign was launched in fifty states and in Federal court arguing that global warming violated the rights of the plaintiffs — young people and their posterity.  The actions were based on an innovative application of an ancient legal principle known in the US as the “public trust doctrine.”  They asserted that, under the public trust doctrine, governments serve as trustees of the atmosphere for the true beneficiaries, current and future generations, and that they are violating their most compelling duties by failing to protect it from devastating climate change.  Successful or not, these cases may transform public discourse on the role of government in protecting the environment.  The ideas underlying them, which go far beyond these climate cases per se, have now been laid out in a new book by Mary Christina Wood called Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  

Discovering a Legal Tool to Curb Climate Change by Jeremy Brecher, On the Commons / Commons Magazine, Jan 2014

In much of U.S., extreme cold is becoming more rare

The deep freeze that continues to affect the U.S. has resulted in numerous daily temperature records, and some all-time cold temperature records. But in general, this Arctic outbreak, courtesy of a huge chunk of the polar vortex that the jet stream temporarily dislodged from the Arctic, is bringing the coldest temperatures in 20 to 30 years to many areas of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Deep South, and the eastern seaboard.

Some of the most severe cold has affected the Midwest, from Minnesota to Illinois and east to Michigan. Chicago set a record for the 7th coldest noontime temperature since 1930, with a temperature of just -14°F at midday on Monday. But the city did not set any all-time cold records

While the cold temperatures have been unusual and even deadly, climate data shows that intense cold such as this event is now occurring far less frequently in the continental U.S. than it used to. This is largely related to winter warming trends due to manmade global warming and natural climate variabiility.

In Much of U.S., Extreme Cold is Becoming More Rare by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central, Jan 7, 2014

Lessons from the 1960s? 

Over the next several years, Americans will observe the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Malcolm X, the Selma protests and march, the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Watts riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the riots that occurred in their wakes, the Kent State shootings, the first Earth Day, the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Watergate Break-In and, two years later, the resignation of Richard Nixon.

In a time when the United States faces great challenges, including the need to act on climate change, the nation will reflect on one of the most turbulent decades in its history.

In these public acts of remembrance, environmental journalists and climate change communicators have an opportunity to study a period of significant social change. But what lessons can, or should, they learn?

From Social Change to Climate Change: Lessons from the 1960s? by Michael Svoboda, The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, Jan 9, 2014

Polar vortex in U.S. may be example of global warming

While the ongoing cold snap is breaking records from Minnesota to Florida, it will not go down in history as the most significant Arctic outbreak in U.S. history, not even by a longshot. Scientists said the deep freeze gripping the U.S. does not indicate a halt or reversal in global warming trends, either. In fact, it may be a counterintuitive example of global warming in action. 

Researchers told Climate Central that the weather pattern driving the extreme cold into the U.S. — with a weaker polar vortex moving around the Arctic like a slowing spinning top, eventually falling over and blowing open the door to the Arctic freezer — fits with other recently observed instances of unusual fall and wintertime jet stream configurations.

Polar Vortex in U.S. May be Example of Global Warming by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central, Jan 6, 2014

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia

Weather system disrupts flora and fauna in Nordic countries, with bears reportedly emerging from hibernation.

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia by Jessica Aldred, The Guradian, Jan 10, 2014

What is this “polar vortex” that is freezing the U.S.?

The polar vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that circles the Arctic, flowing from west to east all the way around the Earth. It normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. Occasionally, though, the vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada into the U.S., or down into other regions such Eastern Europe. In addition to bringing cold, the air mass can push the jet stream—the band of wind that typically flows from the Pacific Ocean across the U.S.—much further south as well. If the jet stream puts up a fight, the moisture it carries can fall out as heavy snow, which atmospheric scientists say is the circumstance that caused the February 2010 “snowmageddon” storm that shut down Washington, D.C.

What is this “polar vortex” that is freezing the U.S.? by Mark Fischetti, Scientific American, Jan 6, 2014

Why Canada sucks on climate change

So when it comes to climate and energy, Canada looks not like Western Europe, but more like its bloated, backward neighbor to the south. But why?

Why Canada sucks on climate change by Ben Adler, Grist, Jan 8, 2014

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. This might not be such a calamity as it might have been before the US became determined to become energy independent via atural gas and shale oil.  As a result of this push it is claimed US CO2 emissions have fallen 3.8% from 2011 to 2012, are 11% below the 2007 peak, are at the lowest levl since 1994 and.  have declined in five of the last eight years (  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] On Jan 13, 2014, the US Energy Information Adminsitration posted the following: U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2013 expected to be 2% higher than in 2012

  2. Climate scientist Arctic & Antarctic specialist Dr. Dan Lubin has a lecture on video on the web "Global Warming and the Polar Regions: Signs of Human Impact" at University of California Television discussing the Polar Night Jet and some changes of last few decades. I forget whether it has close relevance to this "Polar Vortex" but likely yes.

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  3. Great news for the Australian economy, bad news for environmentalism.

    $20 trillion shale oil find surrounding Coober Pedy 'can fuel Australia'

    Brisbane company Linc Energy yesterday released two reports, based on drilling and seismic exploration, estimating the amount of oil in the as yet untapped Arckaringa Basin surrounding Coober Pedy ranging from 3.5 billion to 233 billion barrels of oil.

    At the higher end, this would be "several times bigger than all of the oil in Australia", Linc managing director Peter Bond said.


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  4. Barry @ 3,

    Those reports are a year old.  As of four weeks ago there have been no commercial discovery, no identified reserves and no "unidentified resources."  I haven't seen any investor interest yet, but I haven't looked much.

    There are no new technologies employed in spite of what the article says.  What spurs this exploration is a global-benchmark oil price of $100 a barrel over a couple of years, not technological improvements.  Horizontal drilling accompanied by fracking has one big demand that can't be met at Coober Pedy:  great volumes of water.  That's desert country out there.

    South Australia has faced water constraints for a good long time, and they're getting tighter what with drought from blazing summers.  I'd be surprised to see much happen with the Arckaringa anytime soon.

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  5. Australia's heatwave is spreading and deepening again.

    This may be a test case for the theory that it takes a major, clearly-GW-related disaster to wake a nation up to the need to stop UNsequestering and burning fossil-death-fuels.

    Australia's hottest-ever year is looking like it will be followed up by more of the same over the next 12-18 months, at least. Yet it has just become the number two coal producer in the world.

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  6. The comment about Australia's coal production conveys the false impression that Australia can make a significant contibution to tackling climate change. The stark reality is that irreversible rapid climate change has been initiated by past fossil fuel emissions around the globe with Australia making a trivial contribution. A marked reduction in the global rate of emissions can do no more than slow down global warming slightly.

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  7. Looking at posts 3-5 it is perhaps both relevant and appropriate to note that in today's SMH, hardly a bastion of the deniers, there is a piece by Tom Switzer that is quite severe on those considering anthropogenic global warming/climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.  Pehaps, amongst many cogent comments, this one is worthy of note:  "Last year's Lowy Institute survey said that only 40 per cent (down from nearly 70 per cent in 2006) think climate change is serious and requires action".  The article can be found at It certainly provides plenty to digeat and I wonder how it will impact on those who read it.  In essence though, is Tom Switzer right or isn't he?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link

  8. Synapsid, I didn't look at the date. Thanks for the heads up.


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  9. Poster@7,

    Tom Switzer's article is almost entirely distortion of reality (e.g. famous "global warming stopped" theme and confusion of weather event vs. climate) and baseless politically loaded rhetoric, as I indicated on Weekly Digest #2 thread.

    It would be interesting to check the source of that Lowy Institute survey that allegedly showed the drop of acceptance of AGW in AUS from 70 to 40% to find out if his rhetoric is based on at least one undistorted fact.

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  10. poster, perhaps this discussion would be more focussed if could be more specific about which points from the Switzer article are actually right? That the cryosphere is increasing (implied) or that public doesnt get it? Others? A survey of public opinion is only a measure of how well the science is being communicated to the public, something seriously hindered by rhetoric from someone living in a reality-distortion field like this author.

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  11. Actually quoting the Lowry Institute report.

    " For the first time since 2006, the steady decline in the number of Australians supporting strong action on climate change has reversed, with 40% (up 4 points) now saying global warming is a ‘serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’. Opposition to the carbon-pricing legislation has fallen 5 points to 58%."

    Not exactly the spin in the SMH is it?

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  12. Poster @7, Tom Switzer's article begins with the claim that the Australasian Antarctic ("Spirit of Mawson") Expedition (AAE) "... was promoted as the voyage to study the melting of ice sheets in the South Pole".  That is, at best a 1/10th truth, and a massive misdirection.  The Antarctic Ice Sheet is indeed melting, but the AAE did not go to Antarctica to study that melt, and nor was the Akademik Shokalskiy trapped by a sudden freeze of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

    The actual scientific reasons for the expedition are explained at the AAE website, an explanation mentions ice sheet melt just twice; and which details the specific scientific reasons for going to Antarctica:

    "We are going south to:

    1. gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
    2. explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
    3. use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past
    4. investigate the impact of changing climate on the ecology of the subantarctic islands
    5. discover the environmental influence on seabird populations across the Southern Ocean and in Commonwealth Bay
    6. understand changes in seal populations and their feeding patterns in the Southern Ocean and Commonwealth Bay
    7. produce the first underwater surveys of life in the subantarctic islands and Commonwealth Bay
    8. determine the extent to which human activity and pollution has directly impacted on this remote region of Antarctica
    9. provide baseline data to improve the next generation of atmospheric, oceanic and ice sheet models to improve predictions for the future"

    (My emphasis)

    The most interesting item (in this context) is (2).  The Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped by windblown fast ice (ie, sea ice) and the AAE went to Antarctica to study (among other things) "...the growth of extensive fast ice...".  Unfortunately for deniers, a tail about scientists going to Antarcitica to study growth of extensive fast ice and then being trapped by that extensive fast ice due to a short term wind change doesn't have the right level or irony.  Consequently they simply made up reasons for the expedition not significantly related to the objectives of the expedition, and imply the ship was trapped by a sudden freeze (it was not), and in Switzer's case, imply it was trapped by a sudden extension of the ice sheet itself.  That is, because the truth does not suit their propaganda needs, they deal in fantasies.

    Almost the entire rest of the article discusses political facts.  That is worth noting.  Switzer's evidence against global warming consists almost entirely of evidence that people are ignoring the harm from global warming.  Even his narrow purported case that he is not denying the warming but only the harm from the warming is not helped by that.  Indeed, it is made worse in that he cites no studies or evidence of the likely impacts of global warming at all.  Apparently in Switzer's opinion, global warming is likely to be harmless because all of the right people do not believe it to be harmfull, regardless of scientific evidence to the contrary.

    I distinguish between his purported case and his actual case because his sole "scientific argument" is "Meanwhile, 2013 marked the 15th year of flat-lined global surface temperatures, despite record levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere since 1998."  Flat lined?  In fact the 15 year trend to the end of 2013 is 0.093 +/- 0.14 per C/decade, greater than the 0.084 +/-0.009 C/decade trend since January 1901.  Further, adding that fifteen years increases the trend, ie, the trend from Jan 1901 to Dec 2013 is greater than the 0.071+/- 0.01 C/decade trend from Jan 1901-Dec 1998.  Even with his obvious cherry pick, saying the temperature trends "flat-lined" is another case of spreading fantasies because the facts are not suitable to the propaganda purposes of the author.

    The article is a disgrace to journalism.  It shows in full that theory of journalism that anything labeled as "opinion" is publishable, if it comes from the right people, even if it is fact free, or completely counter factual.  It represents, further, an example of that political theory that holds democracy in such high regard they think the way to advance their political cause is to con the people.  To pervert Lincoln's famous dictum to say that "You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool enough of them enough of the time to suite your ends."

    Given the debasement of journalistic and democratic ethics evident in Switzer's article, it is no surprise that his background is with the American Enterprise Institute; as opinion editor of The Australian, as an advisor to former Liberal Party leader, Brendan Nelson, and as an unsuccessful candidate for preselection for the Liberal Party. 

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  13. scaddenp@11

    Thanks for that quote from Lowry. We can definitely say that Switzer's spin on it is a sentence taken out of context to suit his agenda. Similar to other distortions of reality therein.


    Thanks for your analysis which is spot on and worth promoting to an article or debunking Climate Myths from Politicians where Switzer is not featured yet.

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