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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #30B

Posted on 26 July 2014 by John Hartz

14 concepts that will be obsolete after catastrophic climate change

Naomi Oreskes is a professor of the history of science at Harvard University. Erik Conway is a historian of science and technology at the California Institute of Technology. They are the co-authors of “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future” (Columbia University Press), from which this article is excerpted.

It’s 2393. A historian is recounting the collapse of Western civilization due to catastrophic climate change. In her anniversary lecture, she explains how the carbon-combustion complex and blind faith in free markets during the late 20th and early 21st centuries conspired to prevent action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, until it was too late to prevent the Mass Migration of 2093 and the inundation of the world’s great coastal cities. But first, she has to introduce a few old concepts and terms that may no longer be familiar to her audience:

14 concepts that will be obsolete after catastrophic climate change, Op-ed by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Washington Popst, July 25, 2014

Abrupt climate shifts in the past offer warning for future

At the end of the last Ice Age 18,000 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere transitioned rapidly into a new climate state. Glaciers retreated and the world warmed, and by 11,500 years ago, the planet had entered the constant summer of today's Holocene Epoch.

Right before this shift, there may have been a warning sign that the planet was hitting a tipping point into a warmer state, finds a new study published yesterday in the journal Science.

The signal was this: Climate and temperature conditions in the northern Pacific Ocean, near Alaska, closely matched temperatures in Greenland such that as the northern Pacific warmed, so did Greenland.

This was highly unusual; usually, the climates of the regions are out of sync. 

Abrupt Climate Shifts in the Past Offer Warning for Future by Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire/Scientific American, July 25, 2014

Changing human behavior is major factor in selling cleaner cars, curbing congestion

Henry Ford's vision to create cars "for the great multitude" has been far better received than anyone could have imagined.

More than a century since the Model T was introduced, global demand for personal vehicles is stronger than ever, particularly in the developing world, where people want cars for improved mobility and as status symbols. But as car culture spreads, vehicles are clogging up city streets and threatening the planet with harmful emissions.

Automakers have invested billions in lightweight materials and low-carbon fuels to drive down greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But these technological advances will mean little if consumers' desire to own large, powerful vehicles continues to grow.

Changing human behavior is major factor in selling cleaner cars, curbing congestion by Julia Pyper, ClimateWire, July 25, 2014

China’s energy plans will worsen climate change, Greenpeace says

China’s plans for 50 coal gasification plants will produce an estimated 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and contribute significantly to climate change, according to a report released Wednesday by Greenpeace East Asia.

The plants, aimed in part at reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants in China’s largest cities, will shift that pollution to other regions, mostly in the northwest, and generate enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by fossil fuels, said the organization, which is based in Beijing.

If China builds all 50 plants, the carbon dioxide they produce will equal about an eighth of China’s current total carbon dioxide emissions, which come mostly from coal-burning power plants and factories, the organization said. Two of the plants have already been built as pilot projects, three more are under construction, 16 have been given the green light to be built and the rest are in various planning stages, according to the report.

China’s Energy Plans Will Worsen Climate Change, Greenpeace Says by Edward Wong, New York Times, July 23, 2014

Extreme weather – Canadians better get used to it

Floods (again) in southern Manitoba. Ferocious forest fires (again) in the Northwest Territories. Memories still fresh from last year’s terrible floods in Calgary. Summer in Canada.

Canada’s climate is changing, and with that change goes more extreme weather conditions. We are not immune from global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions; we just have to adapt differently from other places.

Extreme weather – Canadians better get used to it by Jeffry Simpson, Globe & Mail. July 26, 2014

Forest fires: Climate change’s new normal

“In our Cranbrook [research] area we have fire records back to the 1300s,” she said, referring to the data being gathered from tree rings.

Now, driven by climate change and fuelled by a stockpile of debris, the forests of B.C. are headed for another period of frequent fires.

But this time around they will be more intense and the fire season will be two months longer, according to one Natural Resources Canada study that looked at the impact of climate change on forests.

Forest fires: Climate change’s new normal by Mark Hume, The Globe & Mail, July 25, 2014

Funds needed to prevent coastal disasters, not just recover from them

A group of top scientists has called for a fundamental change to how the United States deals with risks to its Atlantic and Gulf coasts from storms and climate change in a National Research Council report released Wednesday.

Urging a "national vision" toward addressing coastal risks, the report comes on the heels of a Reuters analysis published earlier this month showing that coastal flooding along the densely populated Eastern Seaboard of the United States has surged in recent years, with steep financial consequences. The great majority of money — most of it federal dollars — spent on coastal risks goes toward recovery after a disaster rather than on planning for and mitigating against storms, climate change and sea-level rise, the report said.

Scientists Urge For Funds To Prevent Coastal Disasters, Not Just Recover From Them, Reuters, July 23, 2014

How ignoring climate change could sink the U.S. economy

Good economic decisions require good data. And to get good data, we must account for all relevant variables. But we’re not doing this when it comes to climate change — and that means we’re making decisions based on a flawed picture of future risks. While we can’t define future climate-change risks with precision, they should be included in economic policy, fiscal and business decisions because of their potential magnitude.

The scientific community is all but unanimous in its agreement that climate change is a serious threat. According to Gallup, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that global warming is caused by human activity. Still, for many people, the effects of climate change seem like a future problem — something that falls by the wayside as we tackle what seem like more immediate crises.

But climate change is a present danger. The buildup of greenhouse gases is cumulative and irreversible; the pollutants we are now emitting will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So what we do each day will affect us and the planet for centuries. Damage resulting from climate change cuts across almost every aspect of life: public health, extreme weather, the economy and so much else.

How ignoring climate change could sink the U.S. economy, Op-ed by Robert Rubin, Washington Post, July 24, 2014

States against E.P.A. rule on carbon pollution would gain

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma are among the most vocal Republican skeptics of the science that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but a new study to be released Thursday found that their states would be among the biggest economic winners under a regulation proposed by President Obama to fight climate change.

The study, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group, both research organizations, concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.

States against E.P.A. rule on carbon pollution would gain by Coral Davenport New York Times, July 23, 2014

Strategy of climate science denial groups 'extremely successful'

Professor Naomi Oreskes says actions of climate denialists are laying the foundations for the government interventions they fear the most.

Harvard historian: strategy of climate science denial groups 'extremely successful' By Graham Readfearn, Planet Oz, The Guardian, July 24, 2014

To cut carbon emissions, give communities rights to forest land

Giving forest communities secure rights to their land is an effective but underused way to limit carbon emissions from deforestation, a report showed on Thursday.

Communities are far more likely to stop trees being cut down than governments or business, found the research issued by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a U.S.-based research group, and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global forest policy coalition.

Rural communities and indigenous peoples have legal or official rights to only about one eighth of the world's forests, around 513 million hectares. Those forests store 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases - 29 times the annual emissions from the world's passenger vehicles.

To cut carbon emissions, give communities rights to forest land - report by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, July 24, 2014

Tropical fish cause trouble as climate change drives them toward the poles

Marine ecologist Adriana Vergés emerged from a scuba dive in Tosa Bay off the coast of southern Japan last week and was amazed at what she'd seen: A once lush kelp forest had been stripped bare and replaced by coral.

The bay is hundreds of miles north of the tropics, but now "it feels like a tropical place," said Vergés, a lecturer at New South Wales University in Australia.

The undersea world is on the move. Climate change is propelling fish and other ocean life into what used to be cooler waters, and researchers are scrambling to understand what effect that is having on their new neighborhoods. They are finding that the repercussions of the migration of tropical fish, in particular, are often devastating. Invading tropical species are stripping kelp forests in Japan, Australia, and the eastern Mediterranean and chowing down on sea grass in the northern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard.

Tropical Fish Cause Trouble as Climate Change Drives Them Toward the Poles by Doug Struck, National Geographic, July 25, 2014

Two realities

Our contemporary world is host to two coexisting but fundamentally different—and, in at least one crucial respect, contradictory—realities. One of these might be termed Political Reality, though it extends far beyond formal politics and pervades conventional economic thinking. It is the bounded universe of what is acceptable in public economic-social-political discourse. The other is Physical Reality: i.e., what exists in terms of energy and materials, and what is possible given the laws of thermodynamics.

For decades these two realities have developed along separate lines. They overlap from time to time: politicians and economists use data tied to measurable physical parameters, while physical scientists often frame their research and findings in socially meaningful ways. But in intent and effect, they diverge to an ever-greater extent.

The issue at which they differ to the point of outright contradiction is economic growth. And climate change forces the question.

Two Realities by Richard Heinberg, EcoWatch, July 23, 2014

U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts not prepared for sea-level rise

The U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are not ready for the increased flooding and stronger storms that are expected from climate change, scientists say.

The National Research Council report, released today, warns that the past few years have seen "a dramatic rise in coastal-storm-related losses" along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, thanks to an increase in population and a rise in the number of homes and other structures built in at-risk areas.

"There's a huge sense of urgency here," says Greg Baecher, one of the report's co-authors and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

Report: Gulf and Atlantic Coasts Not Prepared for Sea-Level Rise by Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic, July 23, 2014

What would Jesus do (about climate change)?

Gordon College science professor Dorothy Boorse wants evangelical Christians to connect practicing their faith with caring for the environment.

What would Jesus do (about climate change)? by Jennifer Weeks, Boston Magazine, July 25, 2014

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Comments 1 to 2:

  1. On the Oreskes and Conway Washington Post article.

    O&C have done great service in their Merchants of Doubt research and many of the "14 concepts that will be obsolete after catastrophic climate change" hit the target but one sticks out like a sore thumb as being dead wrong.  Apparently along with "Fugitive emissions" one of the great evils contributing to catastrophic climate change is "Physical scientists" (I kid you not) who are described as:

    The practitioners in a network of scientific disciplines derived from the 18th-century natural philosophy movement. Overwhelmingly male, they emphasized study of the world’s physical constituents and processes — the elements and compounds; atomic, magnetic and gravitational forces; chemical reactions; flows of air and water — to the neglect of biological and social realms, and focused on reductionist methodologies that impeded understanding of the crucial interactions between the physical, biological and social realms.

    This is laughably absurd, it's just nonsense.  It does not take too much knowledge of climate literature, both science and policy, to realise that the problem lies with special interests and competitive national interests, all at the expense of long-term global well being (yet O&R obscured these under "Market failure").  It is certainly not the physical scientists that bear blame for doing their job.  How can O&R get this so wrong?

    O&R's dig smacks of the Pielke Jr [dis]Honest Broker schtick of blaming the scientists, its very disappointing coming from them as historians of science.  

    Among the academics my own reading of conferences, research and policy documents is that it is the social sciences especially those in policy and in economics who have failed far more than the physical and biological scientists.  After all the latter groups report the observations and best explanations whereas resolving the problem is all about how humans respond, which is the area where social scientists are supposed to be expert.  But no, blame the poor physical scientists, next O&R'll be saying it's a conspiracy.  

    And what is this 'overwhelmingly male' quip?  There seem to be a great many excellent women climate scientists, well represented on Twitter for example.   Very odd to be demeaning them in the group.  I don't get the gender comment.  It might make sense if they were talking about climate disinformers who are predominantly older, white, rich, educated and male, but physical scientists?  Puzzling.

    Having nailed the Merchants of Doubt and their special interest funders showing how they to ensure that policy and politicians and economists stay on board the fossil fuel supertanker O&R somehow themselves come over all MsofD themselves and blame the scientists.  'Climate denial'  doesn't even make the article's list.  

    Irony level seems high.

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  2. Haha. Yeh, I was somewhat bemused by that part of the article. But I have some sympathy for Oreskes. She worked as a geologist in Australia before she became a science historian and I expect that was an overwhelmingly male-dominated field of work, probably with a very macho culture. That might have left her with a fairly unsympathetic view of people in the physical sciences. 

    Personally, I was once part of a postgraduate electrical engineering program where there were 73 postgraduate students with a grand total of two of them being women.

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