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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #24A

Posted on 11 June 2014 by John Hartz

A call to action to protect our oceans

he ocean covers almost three quarters of our planet and sustains life on Earth as we know it. But our ocean is at grave risk today — and we know the reason why.

Human activity threatens the world's ocean. Often illegal international fishing practices are decimating fisheries. A garbage patch twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific Ocean, evidence of the trash we cast into our waterways. Rising carbon dioxide levels from emissions increase ocean acidity, endangering coral reefs and other marine life.

The warning could not be starker: Unless these trends are reversed, the effects across the planet will be profound. The damage will be felt whether you live on a coastline or hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean's edge. The ocean produces half the world's oxygen, creates the clouds that bring fresh water and regulates our climate. More than a billion people eat fish for their primary source of protein. Fishing is a $500 billion global industry, and one in six jobs is marine-related in the United States.

A Call to Action to Protect Our Oceans by John Kerry, The Huffington Post, June 9, 2014 

And even more on climate change

Last week, the big news was that the Obama administration had unveiled anew Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon emissions from United States power plants 30 percent by 2030.

But E.P.A. legislation aside, it has already been a banner year for climate news. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’sFifth Assessment Report confirmed once again that human-caused global warming is proceeding rapidly. Last month, scientists reported theirreversible disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and, closer to home, the National Climate Assessment asserted that the United States is already falling victim to severe, global warming-related droughts.

In light of this, a new series from The New York Times called The Big Fixwill examine potential solutions to climate change. In the first installment, Justin Gillis examines a worldwide experiment that may create economic incentives for companies to invest in emission-control projects. One such project takes Wisconsin dairy cows and extracts power from their excrement, which is paid for by California. See how that works in this slideshow.

And Even More on Climate Change by Joshua A Kirsch, New York Times, June 9, 2014

Beetles ravaging Mount Rushmore drain budgets as West warms

Beetles are obliterating forests throughout Colorado and the West, draining budgets as property values decline and threatening tourism at national parks, including the home of Mount Rushmore.

Voters in Colorado communities raised taxes to protect ski resorts that bring in $3 billion annually to the economy. The pine beetles, each the size of a rice grain, have devoured 25 percent of the woods in South Dakota's Black Hills, where the mountain with massive carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is the linchpin of a $2 billion-a-year tourism industry.

"It's difficult to stop the spread," said Bill Smith, a South Dakota Agriculture Department conservation program administrator. "What we're trying to do is slow it down."

Beetles ravaging Mount Rushmore drain budgets as West warms by Jennifer Oldham, Bloomberg News/Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2014

Climate Change, National Security focus of Vermont Journal of Environmental Law Symposium Edititon

On the heels of the Obama administration’s climate change plan announced last week and a recent government-funded report on climate change’s threat to national security, Vermont Law School’s Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (VJEL) explores the national security implications of a warming planet.

Released Monday and available online, “Rising Temps and Emerging Threats: The Intersection of Climate Change and National Security in the 21st Century” is a compilation of scholarship and remarks from VJEL’s 2013-2014 symposium of the same name, held last October at VLS. The publication includes articles by experts in climate science, international security, military law, and global migration.

“The symposium aimed to invigorate the growing national discourse on climate change by bringing together a variety of experts to discuss and debate pressing national security implications,” said Molly Gray ’14, VJEL symposium editor. “We are pleased to share their scholarly leadership in this edition of the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.”

Climate Change, National Security Focus of Vermont Journal of Environmental Law Symposium Edititon, News Release, Vermont Law School, June 10, 2014

Climate change to almost triple risk of extreme Indian Ocean weather events

Shifting climate patterns in the Indian Ocean driven by global warming are likely to increase the frequency of “devastating” weather events for much of Australia, Indonesia and eastern Africa, a study led by Australian researchers has found.

While attention has focused on the prospect of an El Nino forming in the Pacific, a similar phenomenon may be under way in the Indian Ocean that could exacerbate dry and hot conditions for large areas of Australia.

Climate change to almost triple risk of extreme Indian Ocean weather events by Peter Hannam, The Age, June 11, 2014

Dust in the wind could speed Greenland’s ice melt

Despite it’s name, Greenland is predominantly white, as snow and ice cover the majority of the country. New research indicates that Greenland’s main color may be starting to fade and in fact darken, though, thanks to a widespread increase of dust across the ice sheets. That darkening could speed up surface melt, and with it, sea level rise around the globe. 

Dust in the Wind Could Speed Greenland’s Ice Melt by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 4, 2014

How El Niño will change the world's weather in 2014

he global El Niño weather phenomenon, whose impacts cause global famines, floods – and even wars – now has a 90% chance of striking this year, according to the latest forecast released to the Guardian.

El Niño begins as a giant pool of warm water swelling in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, that sets off a chain reaction of weather events around the world – some devastating and some beneficial.

India is expected to be the first to suffer, with weaker monsoon rains undermining the nation’s fragile food supply, followed by further scorching droughts in Australia and collapsing fisheries off South America. But some regions could benefit, in particular the US, where El Niño is seen as the “great wet hope” whose rains could break the searing drought in the west. 

How El Niño will change the world's weather in 2014 by Damien Carrington, Suzanne Goldenberg &  Graham Readfearn, The Guardian, June 11, 2014

Intense heat bakes India as monsoon approaches 

Intense heat continues to scorch India this week, straining an already fragile power grid as more than a billion people await the cooling monsoon rains.

One part of New Delhi hit 118 degrees today, the seventh straight day of temperatures above 110 degrees. One spot, Satna, hit 119 degrees, the Indian Meteorological Department reported. These temperatures are about 9 degrees above average.

Protests broke out because of blackouts earlier this week in New Delhi, Al Jazeera reported, as frustration mounted over power cuts. Riots were also reported last weekend in Uttar Pradesh.

Intense heat bakes India as monsoon approaches by Doyle Rice, USA Today, June 11, 2014

Interests, ideology and climate

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.

Interests, Ideology And Climate by Paul Krugman, New York Times, June 8, 2014

Interests, ideology and the Climate Denial Machine

Paul Krugman has an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times entitled "Interests, Ideology & Climate." In this commentary, Krugman argues that the current campaign to deny climate change is steeped more in political ideology than in industry-funded opposition.

I'm a big fan of Krugman's work, and he makes a number of very good points in this latest commentary. I agree with him that the current campaign to deny the reality and threat of climate change does indeed feed off a very large, ideologically-driven partisan divide that is grounded in anti-regulatory beliefs and libertarian principles.

But I take issue with Krugman's argument that the massive funding of climate change denial by monied interests like the Koch Brothers doesn't play an equal role. The fallacy in Krugman's thesis, in my view, is that the ideological divide that exists with regard to climate change is somehow independent of the massively-funded disinformation campaign. It isn't.

Interests, Ideology And the Climate Denial Machine by Michael E Mann, The Huffington Post, June 9, 2014

Obama on Obama on Climate

When it comes to dealing with the world’s climate and energy challenges I have a simple rule: change America, change the world.

Obama on Obama on Climate, Op-ed by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, June 7, 2018

Tom Steyer’s slow, and ongoing, conversion

At the base of the mountain, Tom Steyer was a billionaire hedge-fund manager with oil and gas investments and a seemingly conflicted conscience. But by the time he and environmentalist Bill McKibben finished a hike up two tall Adirondacks peaks on that summer day in 2012, Steyer had revealed that he was ready to change his life — he would unload his investments in fossil fuels and become an activist in the fight against global warming.

Just two years later, Steyer, 56, has become the environmental hero he set out to be, giving the left its own billionaire donor to counter the powerful Koch brothers on the right. Steyer has vowed to spend up to $100 million in 2014 to help elect Democrats who are committed to fighting global warming. And with an eye on playing a similar role in the 2016 presidential race, he has positioned himself as a potent new force in the growing world of big-money donors. 

Tom Steyer’s slow, and ongoing, conversion from fossil-fuels investor to climate activist by Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman,Washington Post, June 9, 2014

Weakest link in climate rule?

key concession touted by vulnerable Democrats in the administration's new carbon pollution standards may provide the greatest legal threat to the controversial new rules, the cornerstone of President Obama's climate change agenda.

The administration is giving states broad flexibility on how they meet Environmental Protection Agency targets for existing power plants to reduce their carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Under the rules, states may take actions to reduce pollution that aren’t directly related to power plant emissions. A state could avoid retiring a power plant by investing in cleaner technology, push energy efficiency programs that will cut demand, or invest in wind and solar, according to the EPA.

That latitude marks an unprecedented move by the agency, which typically specifies methods of reducing emissions solely for power plants.

Weakest link in climate rule? by Laura Barron-Lopez, The Hill, June 8, 2014

Weighing the risks of investing in energy companies

Norway’s economy is highly dependent on oil and gas production, yet the Nordic country’s largest private pension fund manager, Storebrand, worries about the risks of investing in companies that extract fossil fuels. Figuring that tighter regulations on carbon emissions will emerge in the coming years in an effort to combat climate change, Storebrand has decided not to invest in businesses that it believes will be hurt most by those new rules: coal companies and large producers of oil from tar sands.

“The business case is the main driver for what we do; companies with a sound and systematic environmental performance also perform better financially,” said Christine Meisingset, Storebrand’s head of sustainability.

Weighing the Risks of Investing in Energy Companies by Stanley Reed, New York Times, June 23, 2014

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Printable Version  |  Link to this page


Comments 1 to 16:

  1. gavin from RC is stepping into the shoes of Jim Hansen

    This news can not be missed by any climate science blogger, so a must read for everybody here.

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  2. Regarding “Obama on Obama …”, it is to be understood that the U.S. as one of the top emitters of greenhouse gas, must take a leadership position and encourage the rest of the world to follow. President Obama’s plan is to reduce CO2 emission by 30 percent by 2030 and, if the rest of the world follows his lead, there might be measurable decrease in atmospheric CO2 by then. It is concerning that such reduction may not have a large effect on the net global temperature increase by 2100. There must be an incremental approach, and more aggressive targets must be established. One of the confounding factors is that since the disintegration of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now unstoppable, a large amount of energy will be required to relocate populations at risk of being submerged. Much of our infrastructure relies on production and transportation of concrete and steel. Is anyone aware of CO2 budget estimates for relocating a large fraction of the world’s population? Please share it here. Also, interesting would be proposals for low CO2 infrastructure that would certainly mitigate the damage of relocation.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Good questions. Have you done any Google searches on this matter? If so, what have you found to date?

  3. @chriskoz

    Re; Gavin Schmidt's promotion. It's funny how there has been no official announcement at though the news has been in the blogosphere since the beggining of the week.

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  4. "disintegration of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now unstoppable" I am fairly sure there should be a rider on that like "unstoppable unless we can cool the climate". In terms of cost though, it would depend on how fast it melted. At this stage, I dont think it changes estimates of sealevel rise by 2100 that much.

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  5. scaddenp, no, no rider on that one. It's unstoppable. It's in the process of sliding off the continent. Even if we could 'cool the climate' somehow (which we can't), we certainly can't cool the oceans (nor stop a glacier already in freefall from sliding into the sea). It is warm ocean water that is undermining the glacier (helped along a bit by some geo-thermal warming from below. )

    Good question on how muc it changes slr by 2100. Not a lot of clear info on that that I could find. It certainly means that we can be even less sure than before about when the tipping point will come that will shift this monster into rapid-disintegration mode. The estimate of 200 years or more was based on the current rate continued linearly into the future. But things are very UN-likely to proceed linearly, since the processes at work are feedbacks.

    But perhaps I misunderstood something about your brief post. If so, please do elaborate on your intended meaning.

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  6. MT @#2: I believe Monbiot in his book "Heat" discusses ways to make concrete without generate the enormous amounts of CO2 that it usually creates. Is that what you were thinking of?

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  7. We are talking long time frames here. If we reduce greenhouse gases, we eventually cool the climate and eventually cool the ocean.

    Vaughan and Spouge 2002 put risk of collapse in 200 years at 5% though Katz and Wooster 2010  put it higher. Neither are assuming linear dynamics that I can see. Coping with 4m of extra SLR over 5 centuries is obviously easier than coping with that over 2 centuries, but I am not aware of papers that suggest you could that in 1 century.

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  8. Review of carbon-neutral cement in Nature. Steel remains a much tougher problem.

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  9. Whoever follows tha fate of CT in Aus shuld read that:

    Taxing the truth on carbon pricing

    Several swifties have been pulled on the electorate by both sides, but one of the more amazing is the idea that the Coalition will in fact scrap the carbon tax. A surprising number of people from both sides seem to believe that.

    As a simple fact: the government intends to maintain a carbon tax – it's just being disguised in general revenue.

    The $2.5 billion for the vague "direct action" spend is raised by taxation, not being printing plastic notes.

    I'd add my personal $.02 to that: the only difference is that the money raised by "direct action" goes into the pockets of the moguls who support the current government, rather than to the pockets of the general public as Jim Hansen envisaged ideal CT should work.

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  10. In continuation of the insightful comments 2, 4,5, 5 and 7, If we can warm the globe by accident then we can most certainly cool it on purpose. The fundamental question is: “Should we?” There have been a number of proposals made over the years to reduce global warming by reducing the sunlight that arrives at the surface of the planet. The real problem is that even if we can all agree on and return to the “correct” global temperature that is no guarantee that we will achieve a specific climate. Climates are defined by an ensemble of chaotic processes. Temperature is simply a measure of one aspect of these processes. Chaos, as the name implies, is not controllable.

    As for cooling the sea enough to halt collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet, that concept is not well thought-out. The seawater beneath the ice shelf is hot, perhaps a few degrees centigrade. Any ice re-formed beneath that is by congelation, where heat is lost through the overbearing ice to the atmosphere above. Transport of heat through a thick layer of insulating ice is a slow process, and reducing the temperature of the ocean even slower. Furthermore, active volcanoes recently discovered in the Thwaites glacier basin are significant sources of heat that will resist any amount of ocean cooling. The only practical approach to save the ice sheet is to increase snowfall from above and force the water back out to sea. Artificial snow making on a continental scale will require a huge amount of energy. What would we choose: nuclear or wind?

    P.S. Thanks to commenters 7 and 8 for references. I willendeavor to educate myself, time permitting.


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  11. MThompson

    " Climates are defined by an ensemble of chaotic processes".

    There are some important insights around this that limit the extent of the 'chaos'.

    Let me use an analogy.

    I have a swimming pool in my garden. The average water level of the pool is set by how much water is in the pool. From time to time my family like to use the pool. Various people get in and out and the displacement of their bodies varies the water level somewhat. And they like splashing around making lots of waves.

    If I examine the water level in my pool it is extremely chaotic. But it is a bounded chaos. A wave that is higher here can only occur because a trough there is lower. The average of this chaos is actually tightly constrained by how much water is in the pool.

    The seeming chaos is actually a small amount of variation around a baseline that is extremely non-chaotic.

    That baseline (how much water is in the pool) is Climate. The bounded chaos (the waves on the top) is Weather.

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  12. MThompson: You state:

    Climates are defined by an ensemble of chaotic processes. Temperature is simply a measure of one aspect of these processes. Chaos, as the name implies, is not controllable.

    First, please document the sources that you have used to arrive at your assertions.

    Second, please review the SkS Glossry for the definitions of  "climate" and "temperature." The definitions contained in the SkS Glossary are taken directly from the IPCC and are the commonly accepted defitions used by climate scientists throughout the world.

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  13. Mr. Hartz , thank you for your kind offer to familiarize myself with an acceptable definition of climate, and your challenge to document my assertions in your comment numbered 12. I now understand the definition of the word “climate” to be a statistical mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to millions of years. It is also reasonable to choose a 30 year time frame, as attributed to AR4, to be a classical reference frame as a basis for studying the time dependence of these statistics.

    In light of this please permit me to rephrase your challenge, for I did not define climate as chaos, or say that climates were chaotic in their nature. My assertion is that climates are defined by chaotic processes that can be characterized by the statistics of temperature, humidity, wind, etc. Just one of the chaotic processes that define climates (again, making no assault on the word) is a concept known as weather. It is most certainly understood by those of scientific acumen that weather is a chaotic process, so perhaps your invitation to provide references is for our readers that have very little such expertise. There are many references for the general reader, but here I provide a somewhat incestuous one:

    To sum up, the weather is chaotic because it can run free, climate is on a leash.

    I return to Mr. Tamblyn’s seductive analogy in comment numbered 11. In this he bounds the system with swimming pool walls, gravity and atmosphere. The playful splashing within the pool is the source of waves, and the assumed randomness creates apparent disorder in the surface of the water. The average amount of water in the pool is one of many statistics that quantify this system, and thus he compares to climate. We all know that analogies generally only have finite integrity, and unfortunately there is a key element this one lacks: nonlinear feedbacks. We could try to patch it up by saying that the sound of happy children splashing draws more into the pool, then vagaries of the perception of happy sounds and the local density of children provide feedback that drives the disorder. Even so, the key metric, the average quantity of water in the pool, is not modulated. We could continue with refinements, but ultimately we are well beyond climate in this commentary thread, but rather discuss climate change.

    Now Mr. Hartz, I believe the component of my assertion that piqued you is that returning the globe to a specific temperature cannot guarantee a specific climate. Is this a contentious point for climate scientists? I assume you understand that by using the term “global temperature” no one learned in the subject would assume that I meant that “global climate” is an issue here. While there is most certainly a statistical basis to describe the climate of our globe, it is far too coarse a measure to be immediately relevant. The changes in “classical” climate that are essential as of late cannot recovered by simply retuning to some past planetary mean temperature. I believe this assertion would be consensus of climate experts, but I hope to be corrected forthwith.

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  14. MThompson@13:

    Darned if I understand what you are saying. Is English not your native language?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] How about toning down a little bit everyone? Snark doesnt lead to constructive debate.

  15. PS: I did not intend my question to MThompson to be snarky. I find his prose to be very difficult to understand. It would be extremely helpful if he could distill his comments into a few succinct points. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] okay, maybe heavy handed but I thought the thread going downhill with what sounded like snark to me in MThompson's responses too. I was intervening before any policy violations were made by anyone.

  16. I found Mr Hartz’s comment 14 to be in jest, so I take him at his word that he had no “snarky” intent in his statement. I also unabashedly admit that his response to my comment numbered 10 irritated me to the point I willfully engaged in "snark." This entire debacle could have been avoided had I submitted a comprehensible comment.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Thank you. Please continue.

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