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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #22A

Posted on 29 May 2014 by John Hartz

Forget ‘saving the Earth’ – it’s an angry beast that we’ve awoken

Environmentalism is undergoing a radical transformation. New science has shown how long-held notions about trying to “save the planet” and preserve the life we have today no longer apply.

Instead, a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as “the wakened giant” and “the ornery beast”, a planet that is “fighting back” and seeking “revenge”, and a new era of “angry summers” and “death spirals”.

Whether you consider yourself to be an environmentalist or not, the warnings from Earth system science have far-reaching implications for us all. 

Forget ‘saving the Earth’ – it’s an angry beast that we’ve awoken by Clive Hamilton, the Conversation (UK), May 27, 2014

'Global Warming' scarier than 'Climate Change,' surveys find

Americans are more concerned about the changing planet when the words "global warming" are used than when they hear "climate change," new research finds.

The two terms are often used synonymously, but new surveys reveal that they carry different connotations for many people, particularly African Americans, Hispanic Americans, liberals and people between the ages of 31 and 48. Republicans see the two terms as more or less equivalent, but Democrats, political independents, liberals and moderates are more likely to express concern about "global warming" than "climate change."

"The studies found that the two terms are often not synonymous — they mean different things to different people — and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond," the researchers wrote in a report released today (May 27). [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

'Global Warming' Scarier Than 'Climate Change,' Surveys Find by Stephanie Pappas,  Live Science, May 27, 2014

Governments await Obama’s move on carbon

President Obama is expected to announce on Monday an Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s fleet of 600 coal-fired power plants, in a speech that government analysts in Beijing, Brussels and beyond will scrutinize to determine how serious the president is about fighting global warming.

The regulation will be Mr. Obama’s most forceful effort to reverse 20 years of relative inaction on climate change by the United States, which has stood as the greatest obstacle to international efforts to slow the rise of heat-trapping gases from burning coal and oil that scientists say cause warming.

Governments Await Obama’s Move on Carbon to Gauge U.S. Climate Efforts by Coral Davenport, New York Times, May 26, 2014

Having kids probably won't destroy the planet

An overpopulated planet is not necessarily doomed. What matters most is how those billions of people choose to live.

Having Kids Probably Won't Destroy the Planet by Sheril Kirshenbaum, The Atlantic, May 25 2014, 

It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It's 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible. 

It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up, Op-ed by George Monbiot, The Guardian, May 27, 2014

Mercer's protege (L Thompson) carries out expeditions with new heart

ne of John H. Mercer’s most famous Ohio State University students was Lonnie Thompson, who has led 60 expeditions over 40 years, many to high-mountain regions, in search of ice that yields clues about the Earth’s climate history.O

Now — as if that sort of career isn’t adventurous enough — he’s doing it with a new heart.

Mr. Thompson, 66, led an expedition to mountains in west-central Tibet in May, 2013, less than a year after receiving a heart transplant on June 1, 2012. And he recently traveled to South Korea.

Mr. Thompson wants to be an inspiration to all people who receive organ transplants. He also wants to show insurance companies and employers that they should not discourage organ-transplant recipients from trying to resume their lifelong passions.

Mercer's protege (Lonnie Thompson) carries out expeditions with new heart by Tom Henry, Toldedo Blade, May 25, 2014

Northern hemisphere hits carbon dioxide milestone in April

Carbon dioxide levels throughout the northern hemisphere hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history in April, an ominous threshold for climate change, the World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.

The 400 ppm level in the atmosphere, up 40 percent since wide use of fossil fuels began with the Industrial Revolution, is rapidly spreading southwards. First recorded in 2012 in the Arctic, it has since become the norm for the Arctic spring.

The WMO expects the global annual average carbon dioxide concentration to be above 400 ppm in 2015 or 2016. Rising concentrations of the heat-trapping gas raise risks of more heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Northern hemisphere hits carbon dioxide milestone in April, Reuters, May 26, 2014

Obama's new rules for coal plants are a B.F.D.

Conventional wisdom holds that second term presidencies rarely yield accomplishments and that this second term president, in particular, has lost the ability to get much done. In one week, President Obama has a chance to prove that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

And he can do it while helping to stop the planet from cooking.

On June 2, Obama will to unveil a new set of federal regulations on power plants, designed primarily to keep coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere. The hope is that these new regulations will slow down climate changeat first incrementally, by reducing emissions from existing plants in the U.S., and then more dramatically, by providing the Administration with more leverage to negotiate a far-reaching, international treaty on emissions from multiple sources.

Obama's New Rules for Coal Plants Are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger. by Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, May 25, 2014

Obama will let states decide how to cut greenhouse gas emissions

President Barack Obama is about to unveil the centerpiece of his agenda to fight climate change, a much anticipated rule to slash the emissions of planet-warming gases from power plants.

The president will call for major reductions, according to sources familiar with the planning, with each state given its own greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and the power to decide how to meet it. The Environmental Protection Agency is putting the plan together, and Obama will announce it Monday.

The plan could push states to require more renewable energy use and to lower demand by investing in efficiency programs for homes and businesses. States also could use so-called “cap-and-trade” systems, in which emissions are limited and polluters buy and sell rights to release greenhouse gases, according to indications the Obama administration has given to environmental groups and others.

Obama will let states decide how to cut greenhouse gas emissions by Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 27, 2014 

OSU scientist vindicated on melting, global warming predictions

Thirty-six years after catching flak for one of the most bold and dire predictions about global warming, former Ohio State University glaciologist John H. Mercer is being hailed as a visionary.

Mr. Mercer was hardly the first to sound an alarm about greenhouse gases: Scientists were well on their way by the late 1950s toward connecting mankind’s burning of fossil fuels to Earth’s changing climate.

But Mr. Mercer made a groundbreaking contribution with a peer-reviewed research paper about West Antarctica’s instability he got published on Jan. 26, 1978, in the scientific journal Nature.

In it, he warned the world that West Antarctica’s massive ice sheet — one of Earth’s largest and most important — would eventually melt from beneath, become dislodged, and cause global sea levels to rise 5 meters, the equivalent of nearly 16.5 feet.

Eccentric OSU scientist vindicated on melting, global warming predictions by Tom Henry, Toledo Blade, May 25, 2014

The nations guaranteed to be swallowed by the sea

Imagine the street you live on is knee-deep in floodwater, and it’s ruining everything in sight, including your home. Now imagine that those awful floodwaters never, ever recede. Instead, the water just keeps rising and rising until your entire country drowns.

For a number of island nations, that's ultimately the significance of the recent reports about the unstoppable melt of the massive ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, along with hundreds of glaciers.

“We’ve already lost some island atolls. On others the rising sea is destroying homes, washing away coffins and skeletons from graves,” Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, told me. “Now with every full moon the high tides brings salt water into our streets. We’re moving further inland but can’t move much further."

The Nations Guaranteed to Be Swallowed by the Sea by Stepehn Leahy, Motherboard, May 27, 2014

Will Big Oil execs ever stand trial for willful climate deceit?

Fossil fuel executives, watch out.

A group of environmental organizations want to know who is going to be held responsible for the corporate obstructionism of climate change information and policies, despite clear scientific consensus.

In a letter of warning issued Wednesday to over 75 major insurance and fossil fuel corporations, Greenpeace International, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) beg the question: Who will pay for this climate deceit?

Citing "asbestos to tobacco to oil spills," Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, said history shows that "those who mislead the public, the market or the government about the risks of their products, or the availability of safer alternatives, can face substantial legal liability, both as companies and as individuals."

Will Big Oil Execs Ever Stand Trial for Willful Climate Deceit? by Lauren McCauley, Common dreams, May 28, 2014

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Thanks for another week of well selected articles. Here's my nomination for the next "toon of the week":

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thaks for the positive feedback and the suggested cartoon.

  2. Reading that LiveScience article ('Global Warming' scarier than 'Climate Change,' surveys find) I got the distinct image of people rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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  3. ubrew12: You seem to have missed the point of the article and the purpose of the two surveys it summarizes. 

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  4. Saw this article floating around social media the other day. My guess is it is a distortion, or at the least a distraction from Arctic collapse, but is there a more scientific response someone can point me to?

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  5. Regarding 'Global Warming' scarier than 'Climate Change,' surveys find, I believe the blog writer is somewhat confused about the difference in the terms. Do you believe that these two are synonymous? I think that the consensus of commenters on this site is that both are happening, both are quantifiable and both portend catastrophe. Even so, these concepts are not the same thing, though the belief is that they are linked. The aforementioned article's blogger does a disservice to the climate-concerned community by suggesting at the end of the article that scientist should be aware of the different responses elicited by the different terms. I would infer that the preferred terminology would be "global warming," in order to "scare" the most people. Is this an intentioned implication, and should climate scientists make sure to be as scary as possible in their publications? If so, then they should also clearly state in their abstract that the results of the study support the consensus belief that global warming is accelerating and that is being caused primarily by human emissions of carbon dioxide?

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  6. SeaHuck5891@4,

    You're correct that this is "distraction from Arctic collapse". But it is not distortion. Antarctic is indeed gaining sea ice but the gain has no "colling effect" at all, and in fact it is paradoxically, partially related to the melting of AIS...

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  7. MThompson@5,

    I believe the blog writer is somewhat confused about the difference in the terms 'Global Warming' and 'Climate Change'

    Really? The definition of the terms in the article:

    "Global warming refers to the increase in the Earth's average surface temperature since the Industrial Revolution, primarily due to the emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change," Yale University researcher Anthony Leiserowitz and colleagues wrote in the new report, "whereas climate change refers to the long-term change of the Earth's climate, including changes in temperature, precipitation and wind patterns over a period of several decades or longer."

    Sounds correct and perfectly clear to me. What's wrong with that definiton, or where is the "confusion about the difference", according to you?

    Maybe, judging from the rest of your post, you disagree about the interchangeable use of the two terms rather that their definitions. But in that case, it's just your opinion which has no bearing on the integrity of the aticle and its author. Please clarify.

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  8. John Hartz@3.  I'm going to 'double down' on my criticism.  The West Antarctic is now in unstoppable collapse.  With that as context, what are we to make of "men are 12 percent more likely to believe that 'global warming' is happening versus 'climate change.' "?  I'll tell you what I make of it: Run For Your Lives!!

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  9. Thank you, M. Koz for your kind invitation to clarify my post on line 5. After reading your comment on line 7, I learned that my comment, while clear in my own mind, could be vague to other readers. After reviewing Ms. Pappas' blog article in preparation for my clarification, I discovered an egregious mistake on my part. When I wrote my original comment I believed that the blogger had made the pronouncement that “Scientists … should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public and specific subgroups.” This is an honest mistake on my part because I believed that Yale researchers would never deign to instruct scientists on what terminology they should choose when reporting the results of their research. Especially when the implication is that scientists could elicit different emotional responses from their colleagues and readers. It turns out Ms. Pappas was correctly quoting the authors’ of the study: Leiserowitz, A., Feinberg, G., Rosenthal, S., Smith, N., Anderson A., Roser-Renouf, C. & Maibach, E. (2014). What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. So I do owe her an apology. Notwithstanding, I must confess shock and dismay that Yale researchers would presume to press upon climate scientists the methods of marketers, entertainers and politicians. Are climate scientists supposed to be “aware” of the connotations in order to avoid criticism, or in order to promote a noble cause? Which one is it? Who gets to choose?

    Thus as you have correctly surmised, the integrity of the blog article is intact, and the author has accurately recapitulated the content of the original scientific publication. I should not have been taken in by the sensational headline (probably not attributable to the writer), and I find that the concept of invoking fear or “scarier” is found nowhere else in the blog or the original cited work.

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  10. MThompson@9,

    That's the clarification I was expecting from an honest person. Thank you!

    I have a  bit different opinion to yours about emotional aspect of "Global Warming vs. Climate Change" but I don't think this topic is worth discussing here, so I concede it.

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  11. Re: "It's an angry beast that we've awoken".


    But have we awoken the Sheeple?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link

  12. Non-Scientist.

    No, not yet. The Sheeple may be fractious and disturbed, filled with an ill-defined disquiet. But not awoken, not yet.

    It would take a ..... WHAT IS THAT SMELL?......

    .... A Stinking mix of dung and lanolin.....

    .... Those SCREAMS.... Just like the sound of Shearers dying.....

    Nobody panic.... JUST NOBODY PANIC.....It's just a few sheep!

    Oh My God!!! Billions of Sheep. And they aren't smiling!

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  13. I for one find it abhorrent that posters to this blog refer to a group of humans as "sheeple." I infer from this that the writers use the term to indicate disdain for the relatively uneducated and impoverished peoples of the earth. Most people have no way to understand how the issues of the carbon cycle affect them. They are fighting day-to-day for food and energy to survive. All this while the erudite sit in air conditioned abodes on high munching carrots from vertical gardens perched on balconies with panoramic views. But I suppose that many readers of this generally insightful blog will relish the humor of such posts.

    If my inference was too hastily drawn, then please accept my heart-felt apology, and keep up the good work!

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  14. MThompson:

    I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that, when someone links to an XKCD comic mocking the "wake up, sheeple!" thing (*), it's not serious.

    I might add that the impression I have from posts here at Skeptical Science which (a) detail the authors' direct experiences with working in developing countries around the world, or (b) share links to news agencies and various organizations, that the majority of people living in developing countries are generally quite aware of how AGW is affecting their day-to-day lives - at least, more aware than too many in affluent countries who allow themselves to be blinded.

    (*) Does anyone actually use the term sheeple in a non-ironic way anymore?

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  15. MThompson wrote:

    I for one find it abhorrent that posters to this blog refer to a group of humans as "sheeple."  I infer from this that the writers use the term to indicate disdain for the relatively uneducated and impoverished peoples of the earth.

    I performed two searches.  One was for sheeple in Skeptical Science, the other for sheeple in WattsUpWithThat, both using Google. sheeple returned 9 webpages sheeple returned 501 webpages

    Now before you think I am responding with a "they do it too" or "they do it more often" I should also let you know that I looked at the 9 instances at Skeptical Science.

    There was the reference to the cartoon the response to the reference to the cartoon, neither of which was in a context specific to the acceptance or dismissal of climate science, one reference to the "uneducated masses" who don't get climate science.  In this case the comment was posted by someone calling himself "actually thoughtful" who isn't a regular, just passing through.  The 6 other webpages contained references by those who are pro-science refering to those who are pro-science — mocking the use of the term itself.

    I will let you discover for yourself how the term gets used at Watts Up With That.

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  16. Mr. Chase,

    Thank you for your comment and research on the use of "sheeple" at other blogs.

    I followed your suggestion to spend some time on the “WattsUpWithThat” website. As you reported, there were far more references to “sheeple” than on the present blog. While didn’t see the value of attempting a statistical analysis of the detailed usage of the term (it would be too subjective to be meaningful) , I did get quite a few chuckles from some of the other posts and comments. Perhaps higher web traffic would account for some of increased frequency of usage, but I see your point.

    Perhaps I need to become a little more tolerant of this lack of civility so often encountered on the web. My hope is that the SKS blog will be more conducive to the open sharing of ideas, and the “regulars” will challenge those few bad actors to keep our discourse substantive. The television is quite sufficient for mindless entertainment.

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