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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #25A

Posted on 18 June 2014 by John Hartz

6 things Michael Mann wants you to know about climate change science

Mann believes that climate change “skepticism” could not exist if the public had a better understanding of how science works—if they got that climatology is based on the same scientific method as any other field of knowledge. spoke with Michael Mann, and here are six things he’d like you to understand about the scientific consensus on global warming.

6 Things Michael Mann Wants You to Know About the Science of Climate Change by Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company/Eco Watch, June 13, 2014

6 ways the planet is different than the one your dad was born into

This Father’s Day, we can probably all think of some variation on a classic dad’s tease we heard growing up:

“When I was your age, I had to walk 10 miles in the snow just to get to school!”

Well, dads, you may have to put that old saw to rest. Unfortunately, because of rapid climate change in the last century, the adage may be working in reverse. Younger generations are actually seeing more extreme weather, pollution and hotter summers—not to mention the slow loss of vital natural resources like glaciers.

All that change has taken its toll on both people and animals. Climate change may be making us sicker in more ways than one. And our warming planet is certainly a big part of the heartbreaking loss of numerous animal species due to extinction.

So next time Dad tries to tell you he had it worse, remind him of these six sobering ways the world is different now than when he was a boy:

6 Ways the Planet Is Different Than the One Your Dad Was Born Into by Allie Goolrick, Weather Underground, June 14, 2014 

Acid seas threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen

What happens when phytoplankton, the (mostly) single-celled organisms that constitute the very foundation of the marine food web, turn toxic?

Their toxins often concentrate in the shellfish and many other marine species (from zooplankton to baleen whales) that feed on phytoplankton. Recent trailblazing research by a team of scientists aboard the RV Melville shows that ocean acidification will dangerously alter these microscopic plants, which nourish a menagerie of sea creatures and produce up to 60 percent of the earth's oxygen.

Acid seas threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen by Martha Baskin and Mary Bruno,, June 16, 2014

Apparent pause in global warming blamed on 'lousy' data

A widely reported "pause" in global warming may be an artefact of scientists looking at the wrong data, says a climate scientist at the European Space Agency

Global average sea surface temperatures rose rapidly from the 1970s but have been relatively flat for the past 15 years. This has prompted speculation from some quarters that global warming has stalled.

Now, Stephen Briggs from the European Space Agency's Directorate of Earth Observation says that sea surface temperature data is the worst indicator of global climate that can be used, describing it as "lousy". 

"It is like looking at the last hair on the tail of a dog and trying to decide what breed it is," he said on Friday at the Royal Society in London. 

Apparent pause in global warming blamed on 'lousy' data by Stuart Clark, The Guardian, June 13, 2014

Central Asian countries pledge action on climate change

Climate change poses an undisputable challenge to Central Asian countries now, more than ever. At a time when an annual temperature increase of even 1 or 1.5 degrees can have a significant impact on a country’s economy, it has become imperative for the countries in the region to work together on mitigating the effects of climate change.  

A recent regional conference sought to do just that in Almaty.

The Second Central Asia Climate Knowledge Forum brought together civil society organizations (CSOs), and government officials from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, along with regional educational institutions, universities, and development partner representatives to prepare a forward-looking regional strategy for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Central Asia.

Central Asian Countries Pledge Action on Climate Change, The World Bank News, June 17, 2014

Coal's share of energy market at highest level since 1970

Coal has reached its highest market share of global energy consumption for more than 40 years, figures reveal, despite fears that its high carbon emissions make it a prime cause of climate change.

The use of coal for power generation and other purposes grew by 3% in 2013 – faster than any other fossil fuel – while its share of the market breached 30% for the first time since 1970, the BP Statistical Review reports.

The figures were published as Prof Nick Stern, author of the influential climate change report the Stern Review, said his latest research indicated the economic risks of unchecked climate change were bigger than previously estimated.

Coal's share of energy market at highest level since 1970 by Terry Macalister, The Guardian, June 14, 2014

How much are the world's ecosystems worth?

Back in 1997, ecologist Robert Constanza and a team of researchers set out to quantify a seemingly unquantifiable abundance: the value, in dollars, of the world's ecosystems.

But first they needed a good, concrete list of what exactly it was the ecosystems provide. They came up with 17 discrete categories, which they labeled "ecosystem services," although some are technically goods. There were the obvious things, like food (game, fish, nuts, and so on) and raw materials (timber, fuel, etc.). But there were also more subtle effects, such as how wetlands protect some coastal areas from the battering of storms or how forests convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Cultural and recreational uses also made the list.

And so what's the value of all that? Or, as the authors framed it, how much would we have to pay to recreate those services if for some reason they didn't occur naturally? Fifteen years ago, they estimated that cost to be around $33 trillion ($48.7 trillion in today's dollars)—more than the GDP of the entire globe at the time. 

How Much Are the World's Ecosystems Worth? by Rebecca J.Rosen, The Atlantic, June 16, 2014

Pipeline approval flies in the face of democracy and global warming

THERE WAS LITTLE doubt the federal government would approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, regardless of public opposition or evidence presented against it. The prime minister indicated he wanted the pipeline built before the Joint Review Panel hearings even began. Ad campaigns, opponents demonized as foreign-funded radicals, gutted environmental laws, and new pipeline and tanker regulations designed in part to mollify the B.C. government made the federal position even more clear.

Canadian resource policy is becoming increasingly divorced from democracy. Two infamous omnibus bills eviscerated hard-won legislation protecting Canada's water and waterways and eased obstacles for the joint review process, which recommended approval of the $7.9-billion project, subject to 209 conditions. The government has now agreed to that recommendation. The time-consuming hearings and numerous stipulations surely influenced the government's decision to restrict public participation in future reviews, making it difficult for people to voice concerns about projects such as Kinder Morgan's plan to twin and increase capacity of its Trans Mountain heavy oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby from 300,000 to 900,000 barrels a day, with a corresponding increase in tanker traffic in and out of Vancouver.

And to keep democracy out of fossil fuel industry expansion, the government switched decision-making from the independent National Energy Board to the prime minister’s cabinet.

Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline approval flies in the face of democracy and global warming, Op-ed by David Suzuki, (Vancouver), June 17, 2018

How the insurance industry sees climate change

Twenty years ago, I interviewed Frank Nutter, then and now president of the Reinsurance Assn. of America, on the threat climate change posed to the $2-trillion-plus global property and casualty insurance industry.

"It is clear," he said back then, "that global warming could bankrupt the industry."

But in the two decades since, the industry mostly limited itself to talk, sponsoring innumerable reports on the threat. Now a major insurance company has moved to protect itself, and it may be the most important milestone yet in the struggle to contend with global warming.

How the insurance industry sees climate change, Op-ed by Eugene Linden, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014

Republicans to try to block funds for EPA emissions rules

Republicans will try to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed greenhouse-gas rule by denying the funding to implement it, according to a senior member of a U.S. House appropriations panel.

The funding ban “will be in Interior,” Idaho Republican Mike Simpson said, referring to the spending bill being drafted for the Department of Interior and EPA. Simpson, head of the House’s Energy-Water Appropriations subcommittee, formerly chairman of the Interior and Environment appropriations panel.

“We’re going to take a serious look at it,” Representative Ken Calvert, a California Republican and chairman of the Interior-Environment subcommittee, said in a separate interview at the Capitol.

Republicans to Try to Block Funds for EPA Emissions Rules by Derek Wallbank, Bloomberg News, June 13, 2014

Saving the world should be based on promise, not fear

None of this is to suggest that we should not discuss the threats or pretend that the crises faced by this magnificent planet are not happening. Or that we should cease to employ rigorous research and statistics. What it means is that we should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-shitty-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been.

Above all, this means not abandoning ourselves to attempts to appease a minority who couldn't give a cuss about the living world, but think only of their wealth and power. Be true to yourself and those around you, and you will find the necessary means of reaching others. 

Saving the world should be based on promise, not fear, Op-ed by George Monbiot, The Guardian, June 16, 2014

So you want to change the world? Better read this first

History is often made by strong personalities wielding bold new political, economic or religious doctrines. Yet any serious effort to understand how and why societies change requires examination not just of leaders and ideas, but also of environmental circumstances. The ecological context (climate, weather and the presence or absence of water, good soil and other resources) may either present or foreclose opportunities for those wanting to shake up the social world. This suggests that if you want to change society—or are interested in aiding or evaluating the efforts of others to do so—some understanding of exactly how environmental circumstances affect such efforts could be extremely helpful. 

So You Want to Change the World? Better Read This First by Richard Heinberg, EcoWatch, June 15, 2014

Tony Abbott's climate change policy makes me cringe

Abbott’s only real concern is protecting Australia’s world-topping coal industry, whose expansion plans would make it utterly impossible to bring climate change under control. You would think Abbott might have noticed this – his continent is located closer than almost anyone else’s to the Antarctic, where scientists last month offered definitive proof that melting glaciers have committed the planet to an extra three metres of sea level rise. But instead Abbott’s travelling the world to try to stop international efforts to combat global warming. In Texas, he told his audience we must prevent the "ostracizing of any particular fuel", as if he were the global ambassador of coal, determined to prevent his favourite hydrocarbon from having to take a back seat to what his Treasurer recently referred to as "utterly offensive" wind turbines.

Tony Abbott's climate change policy makes me cringe, Opinion by Bill McKibben, Sydney Morning Herald, June 17, 2014

U.N. climate talks edge towards 2015 emissions deal

U.N. climate negotiations made tentative progress on Saturday towards a text for a 2015 deal to bind all nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The talks, which were heading to a close on Saturday, drew some 1,900 diplomats from 182 countries to Bonn to line up what their leaders will be prepared to sign up to next year to tackle emissions that U.N.-backed scientists say will cause more severe flooding, droughts and the sea level to rise.

Negotiators and observers said signs of action from China and the United States, the world's top two emitters, had raised hopes but they warned the talks could break down unless rich nations pledged billions of dollars in aid to poorer states by the end of the year.

"We are getting to the point where all parties have a sense of trust that we can act together to combat climate change, but my biggest concern is about the cash," said Seyni Nafo, a Malian envoy representing a negotiating bloc of over 50 African states. 

U.N. climate talks edge towards 2015 emissions deal by Ben Garside, Reuters, June 13, 2014

World's energy systems vulnerable to climate impacts, report warns

Rising sea levels, extremes of weather and an increase in the frequency of droughts and floods will all play havoc with the world's energy systems as climate change takes hold, a new report has found.

Energy companies are more often cited as part of the problem of climate change, generating the lion's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to around 40% of the total. But they will also suffer as global warming picks up pace, as generators – from nuclear reactors to coal-fired power plants – feel the brunt of the weather changes.

Many large plants are particularly at risk from droughts, because they need water to cool their facilities, and floods, because they lack protection from sudden storms. Electricity distribution networks are also likely to be affected.

World's energy systems vulnerable to climate impacts, report warns by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, June 17, 2014

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. Within '6 ways the planet is different than the one your dad was born into', I found the 'Unprecedented' Climate Extremes in Last Decade by WMO, where they show decadal temp trends. And indeed, the 2001-10 decade shows the largest trend to date (at the extreme value of last 4 decades since 70s when AGW really kicked off). Given that data from WMO, it's mind bogling why the "global warming stopped in last 17y" meme is still alive. Why people are so irrational, that they still believe is such nonsense?

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  2. chriskoz@1: I think, in a nutshell, that's the purpose of this website, and of others like it.  "Why, indeed, is this happening?"  is what Cook and others (Peter Sinclair at climate crocks) have been asking, and the answers have been illuminating about human behavior and the 'calculus' by which vested commercial interests prey upon societies understanding of 'truth' in service to their profitability.

    Changing the subject, I really enjoyed the Ecowatch article 'So you want to change the World?  Better read this first.'  about how societies really only change when infrastructural requirements (resource depletion, new technologies), force them to (and that this is one of those times).  It's illuminating to see modern trends put in a 'cultural anthropologists' perspective.  A quote: "How can you know if your idea fits the emerging infrastructure? There’s no hard and fast rule, but your idea stands a good chance if it assumes we are moving toward a societal regime with less energy and less transport (and that is therefore more localized); if it can work in a world where climate is changing and weather conditions are extreme and unpredictable; if it provides a way to sequester carbon rather than releasing more into the atmosphere; and if it helps people meet their basic needs during hard times."  From here on out, 'may you live in interesting times' is our fate.  It's useful to have such thinkers working to provide a useful guide to how to respond to these challenges.

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  3. ubrew12: I second your endorsement of Richard Heinberg's article, So You Want to Change the World? Better Read This First posted on EcoWatch.

    I encourage everyone reading this thread to carefully read Heinberg's article. It is insightful and thought-provoking.

    In addition to including Heinberg's article in the above OP, I also posted a link to it on the SkS Facebook page. I am pleased to report that it has "reached" more than 15,500 people.   

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  4. chriskoz@1:They believe the meme because they don't want to face the alternative, profound changes to their current lifestyles. How would you reduce your carbon footprint to 10% of everything you've taken for granted? I certainly find it a struggle.

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  5. Well assuming "Kiwiiano" is in NZ, then he/she has it a lot easier than much of western world because of the high renewable generation. However reducing your carbon footprint by individual lifestyle change is always going to be a losing proposition. Far more obtainable is moving to alternative energy and more efficient use of energy which is something nations do rather than individuals. On the other hand, if you believe all government is evil and unnecessary except for courts and defense, then a problem that needs collective solution is a challenge to your values.

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  6. The title of the article about sea-surface temperature being a lousy indicator of global climate is incorrect.  Stephen Briggs referred to surface air temperature, not sea-surface temperature; the correction is in an update at the end of the article.

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  7. Prior to this sea-surface temperature reference I'd understood that ocean temperatures such as in GISTEMP were measured below the surface to varying amounts perhaps as much as a few metres and "sea-surface temperature" was not measured. I'd like to be disabused with some authoritative detail if that's not so, but otherwise I'd suggest that persons of SKS comment quality start being precise with the phrasings. Additionally, I think it's a poor aspect of the science that 2 entirely dissimilar measurements (air temperature a few feet above the surface and ocean temperature a few feet below the surface) are cobbled together into a single number. It seems to have led to much silliness of "debate" (most definitely in quotes).

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  8. Re #7

    Whilst not exactly a definitive statement as to SSTs, one of the FAQs on the UK Met Office web site states ...

    The most plentiful measurements of temperature over the oceans are sea-surface temperature measurements. Air temperatures measurements are also made over the oceans, but these measurements are prone to a number of problems. During the day the sun heats the ship's hull causing temperature measurements to be artificially high. This can be avoided by only using measurements made at night, at the cost of reducing the number of available observations by half. Air temperature measurements from buoys are unreliable so those cannot be used either. In using sea-surface temperature anomalies we assume that the anomalies of sea-surface temperature are in agreement with those of marine air temperature. Tests show that night marine air temperature anomalies agree well with sea-surface temperature anomalies on seasonal and longer time scales in most open ocean areas. Globally the agreement is very good (Rayner et al, 2003).

    Hopefully that might be of some help.

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