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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #31B

Posted on 2 August 2014 by John Hartz

Air pollution and climate change could mean more people going hungry

The combination of rising temperatures and air pollution could substantially damage crop growth in the next 40 years, according to a new paper. And if emissions stay as high as they are now, the number of people who don't get enough food could grow by half by the middle of the century.

Research shows rising temperatures are likely to lead to lower crop yields. Other work suggests air pollution might reduce the amount of food produced worldwide. But nobody has considered both effects together, say the paper's authors.

The two effects are closely related as warmer temperatures increase the production of ozone in the atmosphere. Here's lead author Professor Amos Tai from the Chinese University of Honk Kong to explain.  

Air pollution and climate change could mean 50 per cent more people going hungry by 2050, new study finds by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, July 30, 2014

Arctic sea ice minimum will be among 10 lowest

The extent of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean at the end of the summer season likely won’t surpass the record low of 2012, but 2014 will still likely rank as one of the lowest minimum extents (or areas) in the record books.

That’s according to Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. “It’s likely that it will be among the top 10 lowest,” Stroeve told Climate Central in an email.

Stroeve is one of many scientists who monitor the seasonal waxing and waning of the ice. The annual summer minimum in ice extent has been closely watched as its precipitous decline in recent decades has stood as a stark example of the effects of global warming in the Arctic, which can in turn impact global climate and weather, as well as throwing polar ecosystems out of whack. The Arctic could become seasonally ice-free by mid-century, according to some estimates.

No Record, But Arctic Sea Ice Will be Among 10 Lowest by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, July 31, 2014

“Climate change is killing our Mother Earth”

From Alaska to Peru, indigenous people across the world are already having to face up to the damage that climate change is imposing on their land. 

Due to their reliance on the land – culturally, spiritually and physically – indigenous people are one of the most vulnerable to climate risks. But campaigners warn against seeing them as one heterogeneous group.

From region to region, the difficulties and opportunities posed by climate change differ wildly. While in the Arctic circle, communities are worrying over thinning ice, in Peru communities are having to deal with the loss of their rainforests.

This week at RTCC, we’ve been looking at where indigenous people fit in the climate jigsaw, including their role in the UN, adaptation initiatives in Kyrgyzstan and how a Brazilian tribe is using solar powered smartphones to fight illegal logging.

To round up, we’re handing the stage over to indigenous people themselves. Here’s how they are coping with the loss of their “Mother Earth” – and how they’re fighting back.

“Climate change is killing our Mother Earth” by Sophie Yeo and Gitika Bhardwaj, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) Aug 1, 2014  

Climate change and disasters — where would you go?

When typhoon Glenda made landfall on July 15, many people affected by the storm faced one question: Where should I go? Fortunately the disaster preparedness measures put in place by the Philippine authorities offered them options to find safety.

Millions of people around the world confronted by earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts or storms have had to answer this question. Due to the increased prevalence and force of natural hazards and climate change related disasters, millions more will likely have to find an answer in the years to come.

Between 2008 and 2012 alone, natural disasters forced 144 million people out of their homes worldwide — more than the entire population of the Philippines. When typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, over 10 percent of the country’s population was affected. 

Climate change and disasters — where would you go?, Diplomatic Pouch By Ivo Sieber, Ambassador of Switzerland, The Philippine Star, July 31, 2014

How Antarctica shows we're at the point of no return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

How Antarctica shows we're at the point of no return by Anders Levermann, World Economic Forum/Project Syndicate, July 28, 2014

IMF: Raise fossil-fuel taxes to fight climate change

Countries all over the world, including the United States, should be collecting much higher pollution taxes on fossil fuels—stiff enough to reflect the long-term cost of global warming's damage, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday in an important new study.

The IMF, one of the world's leading development institutions, has long favored putting a price on carbon as an essential defense against the mounting damages of climate change.

But its advice has never been so blunt, or so detailed.

"Many energy prices in many countries are wrong," said the report, entitled Getting Energy Prices Right. "They are set at levels that do not reflect environmental damage, notably global warming."

IMF's Blunt Message to Nations: Raise Fossil-Fuel Taxes to Fight Climate Change by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Aug 1, 2014

Intensifying ocean acidity hitting Pacific shellfish industry

For more than a century, Bill Taylor's family has used the calm, protected waters of Puget Sound to raise oysters, planting billions of larvae in underwater beds and then harvesting them to ship to some of the finest restaurants in the world.

But then something went wrong. After the hatchery produced peak levels of seven billion larvae in 2006 and 2007, the numbers began to drop precipitously. In 2008, it had just half as many larvae. By 2009, it produced less than a third of the peak.

Up and down the Pacific Coast, from California to British Columbia to Alaska, other shellfish farms experienced the same decline: Something was happening to their larvae at the formative stage of life when they build their shells. No one in the industry knew why.

"We didn't know that much about the water because we didn't have any problems," Taylor said. Once the larvae started dying off, they tested the water: It was much too acidic.

Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry by Reid Wilson, Sydney Morning Herald. July 31, 2014

Leading climate economist accused of “distorting” research

One of the world’s top climate change economists stands accused of inserting inaccurate information into the UN’s recent climate science report.

US economist Dr Frank Ackerman has written to Sussex University professor Richard Tol, saying he used  “a narrow distorting lens” when compiling a 2013 paper examining the impacts of climate change.

In a document published on July 21 Ackerman, who is senior economist at consultancy Synapse Energy and an MIT lecturer, wrote: “Tol’s 2013 review article, despite its appearance of objectivity, is founded on faulty selection of data and analyses, and contains interpretive flaws that make its facile conclusions unsupportable.”

Leading climate economist accused of “distorting” research by Ed King, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) Aug 1, 2014

Record-setting drought intensifies in parched California

The relentless heat that has plagued the western half of the country this summer has ratcheted up California’s terrible drought once again, bringing it to record levels. More than half of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the highest category recognized by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which released its latest update on Thursday.

“The heat has been and continues to be a factor in drought expansion,” Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and this week’s Drought Monitor author, told Climate Central.

New information coming in about reservoir levels, stream flows and groundwater pumping prompted Rippey to increase the amount of California covered by exceptional drought to 58 percent from 34 percent (all of the state is in some level of drought). That is a record amount of the state covered by this level of drought since the Monitor began in 1990, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Record-Setting Drought Intensifies in Parched California by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Aug 1, 2014

Religious conservatives embrace pollution fight

he Rev. Lennox Yearwood punched his fist in the air as he rhythmically boomed into the microphone: “This is a moment for great leadership. This is a moment for our country to stand up. This is our moment.”

But Mr. Yearwood’s audience was not a church. It was the Environmental Protection Agency.

The E.P.A. on Wednesday ended two days ofpublic hearings on its proposed regulation to cut carbon pollution from power plants, and mixed in with the coal lobbyists and business executives were conservative religious leaders reasserting their support for President Obama’s environmental policies — at a time when Republican Party orthodoxy continues to question the science of climate change.

Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight by Theodore Schleifer, New York Times, July 30, 2014

Scotland fights to keep history from vanishing beneath the waves

As countries around the world, including the United States, are pondering how they might protect their historic sites from the threats of climate change, Scotland is showing them the struggles they may have to look forward to.

Climate change is chewing into Scotland's 6,000-mile coastline at an alarming rate. Precipitation is doubling in some areas of Scotland. Sea levels are rising, and the coastline is eroding. An increasingly hostile Atlantic Ocean is battering the soft, sandy shores with violent storms, and the trend is both unearthing hosts of undiscovered ancient sites and putting them in immediate danger of being lost again. 

Scotland Fights to Keep History from Vanishing Beneath the Waves by Hemry Glass, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Aug 1, 2014

Sea level rise driving 'Nuisance Flooding' higher in U.S. coastal cities

Many of the nation's coastal cities have seen big increases in recent years in what's known as "nuisance flooding," or flooding caused not by storms but by sea level rise, according to a new reportissued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Nuisance flooding has been on the rise on all three U.S. coasts since the 1960s, the report adds, shooting up by between 300 and 925 percent during that time.

Eight of the top 10 cities lie along the East Coast, where the problems nuisance flooding causes – forcing road closures, damaging urban infrastructure such as water and sewer systems, and overwhelming cities' storm drains – are becoming costlier and more destructive.

In many cities, it no longer takes a strong storm or a hurricane to cause flooding, said Dr. William Sweet, an oceanographer at NOAA and the report's lead author, in a press release announcing the study. 

Sea Level Rise Driving 'Nuisance Flooding' Higher in Coastal Cities Across U.S. by Terrell Johnson, The Weather Channel, July 30, 2014

The 'greatest threat' to the peoples of the Pacific

The Pacific Ocean is "under siege" and with it its small islands states - that was the message given by the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, at the opening ceremony of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum in Koror on July 29. The three-day meeting is being used as an opportunity to draw international attention to the impact of climate change on the region ahead of a United Nations special summit on the issue in September.

The majority of the countries represented in the forum are small islands in the Pacific that lie barely a meter (three feet) above sea level and face submersion should sea levels continue to rise. The island nations have been calling for a globally coordinated response on climate change for years, saying it is "threatening to wipe entire states off the map."

In a DW interview, the Secretary General of the Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, says that overfishing, pollution and rising ocean temperatures are some of the biggest challenges faced by the Pacific Islands given that these can destroy whole economies and people's livelihoods.

Climate change: The 'greatest threat' to the peoples of the Pacific by Sofia Diogo Mateus, Deutsche Welle (DW), July 30, 2014

US: A dozen states file suit against new coal rules

Twelve states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on Friday seeking to block an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate coal-fired power plants in an effort to stem climate change.

The plaintiffs are led by West Virginia and include states that are home to some of the largest producers of coal and consumers of coal-fired electricity.

Republicans have attacked the E.P.A. proposal as a “war on coal,” saying that it will shut down plants and eliminate jobs in states that depend on mining. But the rule is also opposed by the Democratic governors of West Virginia and Kentucky.

A Dozen States File Suit Against New Coal Rules by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Aug 1, 2014

What climate change debate?

The truth is that there is a strikingly strong consensus among climate scientists — above 97 percent — that our planet is warming and we are primarily to blame. It's near impossible to get 97 percent of scientists to agree about much of anything beyond the basic laws of physics. The fact that the consensus is this broad tells us it is time to end the idea that there is any debate in the scientific community.

What climate change debate?, Op-ed by Seth B. Darling, Chicago Tribune, July 31, 2014

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. There's a new video out that your readers might appreciate:

    "Arctic Emergency: Scientists Speak"

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  2. Thanks for another week's worth of climate news!  FYI, the link for "What Climate Change Debate" invokes the Chi Tribune Pay Wall, so cannot be viewed by non-subscribers.

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  3. That article on increasing ocean acidification hitting the Pacific shellfish industry is pure nonsense and doesn't belong on this serious site. Atmospheric CO2 buildup has decreased ocean pH by less than 0.1 pH unit. That is harmless to shellfish at any life stage. There are much greater pH changes among seasons and perhaps during the diurnal cycle. Don't provide ammunition to the deniers by letting false alarms muddy the waters.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please see further discussion here.

    [Rob P] - Corrosive seawater has indeed proven to be lethal to 'farmed' oyster larvae off the coast of Oregon in the USA. Oyster farmers were able to stem the loss of larvae by monitoring the acidity of ocean water drawn into the hatcheries - avoiding times when water was naturally highly corrosive. See Barton et al (2012) for instance.

    This is only a short-term measure because continued emission of carbon dioxide from human industrial activity will keep increasing the corrosiveness of the upwelled seawater in the California Current system. Another point to ponder is that the carbonate saturation state of the upwelled water is reflective of atmospheric CO2 several decades ago - when the source waters were last at the ocean surface. In other words, there is a considerable lag in saturation state of upwelled water in the California Current system, and it will take decades to catch up to the CO2 we have already emitted.

    Oyster farmers will have to come up with some cost-effective ways to combat the increasingly corrosive seawater there, or they will no longer be viable.

  4. Well said, DavidBird at comment #3. To maintain integrity we have to stick to what is known:

    "Few field observations to date demonstrate biological responses attributable to anthropogenic ocean acidification, as in many places these responses are not yet outside their natural variability and may be influenced by confounding local or regional factors."

    IPCC AR5 WG11 p.9 

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  5. Speaking of sticking to what is known, how about we start by quoting in context:

    "A few studies provide limited evidence for adaptation in phytoplankton and mollusks. However, mass extinctions in Earth history occurred during much slower rates of change in ocean acidification, combined with other drivers, suggesting that evolutionary rates may be too slow for sensitive and long-lived species to adapt to the projected rates of future change (medium confidence)."

    (Bolded sections elided by M Thompson)

    Also from the summary on Ocean Acidification:

    "Ocean acidification poses risks to ecosystems, especially polar ecosystems and coral reefs, associated with impacts on the physiology, behavior, and population dynamics of individual species (medium to high confidence). See Box TS.7. Highly calcified mollusks, echinoderms, and reef-building corals are more sensitive than crustaceans (high confidence) and fishes (low confidence), with potential consequences for fisheries and livelihoods (Figure TS.8B). Ocean acidification occurs in combination with other environmental changes, both globally (e.g., warming, decreasing oxygen levels) and locally (e.g., pollution, eutrophication) (high confidence).  Simultaneous environmental drivers, such as warming and ocean acidification, can lead to interactive, complex, and amplified impacts for species."

    (Bold in original)

    So, to "stick with what is known" in M Thompson's version, you need to quote out of context, and ignore the IPCC's findings.  That is not what I would call integrity.

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  6. Sorry, I picked up the wrong original quote.  Here is the proper one:

    " Few field observations to date demonstrate biological responses attributable to anthropogenic ocean acidification, as in many places these responses are not yet outside their natural variability and may be influenced by confounding local or regional factors. See also Box TS.7. Natural climate change at rates slower than current anthropogenic change has led to significant ecosystem shifts, including species emergences and extinctions, in the past millions of years."

    (Bolded elided by M Thompson)

    Also relevant are the two following from the Executive Summary of Chapter 6:

    "Rising atmospheric CO2 over the last century and into the future not only causes ocean warming but also changes carbonate chemistry in a process termed ocean acidification (WGI, Chs. 3.8.2, 6.4.4). Impacts of ocean acidification range from changes in organismal physiology and behavior to population dynamics (medium to high confidence) and will affect marine ecosystems for centuries if emissions continue (high confidence). Laboratory and field experiments as well as field observations show a wide range of sensitivities and responses within and across organism phyla (high confidence). Most plants and microalgae respond positively to
    elevated CO2 levels by increasing photosynthesis and growth (high confidence). Within other organism groups, vulnerability decreases with increasing capacity to compensate for elevated internal CO2 concentration and falling pH (low to medium confidence). Among vulnerable groups sustaining fisheries, highly calcified corals, mollusks and echinoderms, are more sensitive than crustaceans (high confidence) and fishes (low confidence). Trans-generational or evolutionary adaptation has been shown in some species, reducing impacts of projected scenarios (low to medium confidence). Limits to adaptive capacity exist but remain largely unexplored. [6.3.2, CC-OA]

    Few field observations conducted in the last decade demonstrate biotic responses attributable to anthropogenic ocean acidification, as in many places these responses are not yet outside their natural variability and may be influenced by confounding local or regional factors. Shell thinning in planktonic foraminifera and in Southern Ocean pteropoda has been attributed fully or in part to acidification trends (medium to high confidence). Coastward shifts in upwelling CO2-rich waters of the Northeast-Pacific cause larval oyster fatalities in aquacultures (high confidence) or shifts from mussels to fleshy algae and barnacles (medium confidence), providing an early perspective on future effects of ocean acidification. This supports insight from volcanic CO2 seeps as natural analogues that macrophytes (seaweeds and seagrasses) will outcompete calcifying organisms. During the next decades ecosystems, including cold- and warm-water coral communities, are at increasing risk of being negatively affected by ocean acidification (OA), especially as OA will be combined with rising temperature extremes (medium to high confidence, respectively). [6.1.2, 6.3.2, 6.3.5]"

    My summary of the preceding post remains fair comment.

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  7. Perhaps once again my commentary was unclear to some. In my original comment numbered 4, I was referring to the article “Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry,” and not to all the possibilities of extreme anthropogenic global climate change in general. The IPCC quote I provided stands in plain opposition to the headline of the referenced article, unless some dramatic new evidence has come to light since the final draft of the IPCC AR5.

    If I correctly understand Tom Curtis’ missives (5 & 6), I have left some readers with the impression that, since the IPCC reports that there are few examples of PH decrease beyond natural variability, my assertion is that marine life will not be harmed by increasing atmospheric CO2.

    Please forgive the pedantic, but the scientific method applied to this situation:

    1) It is observed that atmospheric CO2 levels are rising, and have been doing so for decades.
    2) It is observed that reduced PH is harmful to marine organisms, both in natural and laboratory settings.
    3) It is hypothesized that the increase in atmospheric CO2 will lead to decreased PH of the oceans, and that will in turn be harmful to marine life.

    Thus I restate:
    "Few field observations to date demonstrate biological responses attributable to anthropogenic ocean acidification, as in many places these responses are not yet outside their natural variability and may be influenced by confounding local or regional factors."
    IPCC AR5 WGII p.9

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    Moderator Response:

    [Rob P] - That's a poorly-worded paragraph in the IPCC assessment. Not as bad as the Himalayan glacier error from the previous report, but the inference is that ocean acidification needs to be outside natural variability to cause problems for marine calcifiers - which is just silly.

    This is like suggesting that even though the Earth is warming, and causing heatwaves and droughts to intensify and occur more frequently, we can't attribute enhanced tree mortality in drought-affected regions to global warming, because the mean temperature has not moved outside natural variability.

    I suspect this has been watered down by the political process involved in signing off the reports. Watered down to such an extent that it is nonsensical. No matter, there's plenty of emerging research being published on ocean acidification, and we'll start to get a better idea of which species are likely to survive, and which will perish.  

    As for your assertion that marine life will not be affected by ocean acidification, it's a nice idea, but one not supported by the scientific literature, nor present-day observations. The dissolution of the shells of pteropods around Antarctica, and in the California Current System are a case in point.

    It certainly seems that corrosive seawater can be tolerated by many marine organisms, provided that the exposure is brief, but long-term exposure creates energy demands that simply cannot be met under normal conditions. In other words, as long as the calcifier can get sufficient food to power the calcification process, it can make up for the dissolution occurring outside the calcifying space. In the real world, this isn't going to happen over the long-term as the entire carbon chemistry of the ocean continues to change. Ocean acidification is like a rising tide in that it raises all boats i.e. the energetic demand increase right throughout the life-cycle.

  8. MThompson @7, the first rule of science is to keep an accurate emperical score.  In this case, the emperical score is a few studies showing harm to organisms in situ as a result of declining pH.  There are also some more studies that show in the presence of low pH, certain organism have greatly reduced frequency of occurence, even over seperations of mere meters.  That is, in addition to laboratory studies, field studies show both that the hypothesized fall in pH with increase in atmospheric CO2, and the harm to some marine organisms due to low pH are actually occuring now.  Repeatedly quoting the IPCC out of context to suggest that there are few relevant studies while ignoring the fact that those studies that exist support the hypothesis is not being scientifically "pedantic".  It is misleading and deceptive conduct.

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  9. MThompson,

    Since when did "few" mean "none"?  The IPCC quote you cite is not in contradiction to the OP.   North east scallop aquaculture is a well documented example of one of the few.

    I think scientists are handicapped by always limiting comments to things that have been proved beyond doubt.  Meanwhile, skeptics repeat the same old myths over and over until people believe them.  Then some people insist that scientists need many examples, one is not enough.  This single example is the tip of the iceberg, more are coming.  our insistance that scallps are not currently affected by pH change is contrdicted by the facts on the ground.  You need to read the background on the article you object to.

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