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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #33A

Posted on 14 August 2014 by John Hartz

Ants may boost CO2 absorption enough to slow global warming

What if you could build a brick fence in your backyard that would offset a portion of your daily carbon dioxide emissions, such as those produced on your drive home from work? Would you do it?

Ronald Dorn, professor of geography at Arizona State University in Tempe, would. Except the fence he has in mind wouldn’t be just constructed from any old brick. It would be coated with calcium or magnesium and inhabited by a colony of ants.

If this idea sounds bizarre to you, that’s probably because—as Dorn himself would admit—it is. Yet, he says, it is conceivable that people all over the world could one day use their own version of this mineral/ant–based method of CO2 capture to limit the gas in the atmosphere and thereby help control its global heating effects.

Ants May Boost CO2 Absorption Enough to Slow Global Warming by Kevin Schultz, Scientific American, Aug 12, 2014

Brazil readies big push on solar energy but companies are wary

Grappling with its worst energy crisis in more than a decade, Brazil is making its first big move to develop a local solar power industry that could help reduce its dependence on a battered hydro power system.

In October, Brazil will hold an auction to negotiate energy to be produced exclusively by solar farms, the first ever of the kind in the South American country.

Power companies have registered some 400 projects for the auction, but many remain wary of the outlook for solar power in Brazil and say they need more clarity on investment conditions and financing before signing any deals.

Brazil readies big push on solar energy but companies are wary by Marcelo Teixeira and Anna Flávia Rochas, Reuters, Aug 11, 2014

Climate change and health - joining the dots

British epidemiologist Sir Andrew Haines headed the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicinefor almost ten years until September 2010. It's the largest institution of its kind in Europe. Under his leadership, the LSHTM received the 2009 Award for Global Health from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work on improving the health of poor people.

Sir Andrew Haines talked with Global Ideas ahead of the annual World Health Summit in Berlin, where he is one of the speakers, about the impact of climate change on the health of the planet's population in both, rich and poor countries. Haines says new approaches are needed to convince the public to engage in the fight against climate change. “If you say the future is dangerous and it's difficult, it does not motivate people,” he says. “If they believe that there’s not much they can do, they get depressive and passive. But there are opportunities. And I think we have to emphasize that.”

Climate change and health - joining the dots by Klaus Esterluss, Deutsche Welle (DW), Aug 12, 2014

Cutting emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change

What happens if humans keep emitting greenhouse gases? Answering that question is at the core of a lot of climate change research. But communicating the often complex findings isn't easy.

WRI's infographic is based on four scenarios used in the IPCC's reports, known as representative concentration pathways (RCPs).Late last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released three reports synthesising what the latest research had to say on the matter. Those documents were quite dense, so thinktank the World Resources Institute (WRI) has tried to condense the information into four, colourful panels:

Cutting emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by Matt Hope, The Carbon Brief, Aug 8, 2014

Danger to Great Barrier Reef growing

The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef looks grim, with many of the threats to its environmental health worsening over the past five years and expected to deteriorate further as climate change intensifies, two major reviews have found.

In worrying signs for the future of the world heritage site, two reports released by the federal government on Tuesday have warned the reef is under significant stress.

The first report is a five-yearly outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the agency that oversees the reef’s marine parks. The second is a strategic assessment prepared by the federal and Queensland governments as part of a request by the United Nations world heritage body to have the site better looked after.

Danger to Great Barrier Reef growing as reports reveal site's health is declining by Tom Arup and Lisa Cox, Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 12, 2014

In the ocean, clues to change

A few weeks ago, some 300 miles off the coast of New Zealand, scientists aboard the research vessel Tangaroa gently lowered two funky-looking orange orbs into the sea. Soon they disappeared, plunging of their own accord toward the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

They were prototypes, specialized robots designed to record temperature and other conditions all the way to the sea bottom, more than three miles down. Every few days since that June voyage, they have been surfacing, beaming their data to a satellite, then diving again.

With luck, a fleet of hundreds like them will be prowling the ocean in a few years, and the great veil of human ignorance will lift a bit further.

In the Ocean, Clues to Change by Justin Gillis, New York Times, Aug 11, 2014

Keystone XL could be worse for climate change than U.S. claims

The world’s most debated pipeline could be worse for global warming than previously believed, a new economic analysis says.

Keystone XL could produce four times more greenhouse gases than the U.S. State Department calculated in January — those estimates did not take into account that the added oil from the pipeline is likely to decrease prices and increase consumption — which would probably create more pollution, researchers say.

“There is no indication that the State Department took the market implication into consideration,” said lead author Peter Erickson.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Erickson and Michael Lazarus, of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Seattle, Wash., evaluated how building Keystone XL could affect oil prices: they found that for every barrel of oil obtained from Alberta’s oilsands as a result of the pipeline, global oil consumption would increase by 0.6 barrels because the surplus oil would lower oil prices and encourage people to use more.

Keystone XL could be worse for climate change than U.S. claims, say researchers by Raveena Aulakh, Toronto Star, Aug 10, 2014

'Not a mystery' why Republicans are blind facts on climate change

It might seem strange that the issue of man-made global warming, or climate change, has become a partisan matter. What policies are needed to mitigate this development will, of course, entail partisan differences. But the question of whether climate change itself is actually occurring, and how much change is caused by human beings, is an empirical issue, which depends not on one’s values or ideology, but on scientific measurement and analysis.

The scientific community has reached near unanimous agreement: The vast majority of scientists who deal with climate-related issues, and virtually all scientific organizations, agree that human activity is driving climate change and needs to be addressed.

Nevertheless, in the United States today the question of climate change itself divides Americans by partisan orientation. This point is reaffirmed by the new Post-Gazette/?iMediaEthics poll which shows a solid majority of Democrats saying that man-made climate change is happening now (68 percent to 20 percent), while a majority of Republicans say it’s not (53 percent to 30 percent).

'Not a mystery' why Republicans are blind facts on climate change by David W. Moore, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug 10, 2014

Renewed signs of an El Nino event in 2014

An El Nino remains a possibility in 2014 after renewed signs of the weather event were detected in the Pacific, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The normally easterly trade winds have weakened in the past two weeks and temperatures are again picking up in a broad region of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, the bureau said in its fortnightly update.

If the winds remain weak, “there could be a renewed push to an El Nino”, said Robyn Duell, a senior climatologist at the bureau. “It’s still a real possibility for 2014.”

Renewed signs of an El Nino event in 2014 by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 12, 2014

Rules prevent solar panels in many states with abundant sunlight

Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkerson's property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days.

But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power.

Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts.

Rules prevent solar panels in many states with abundant sunlight by Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times, Aug 9, 2014

Scientific consensus on climate change has not permeated the public

Despite the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and caused by human activity, a new survey conducted for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette demonstrates that many Americans remain uncertain about the impact of climate change and the need for government action to address it.

This is contrary to some polls suggesting wide support for steps to counter the phenomenon. David W. Moore, director of the iMediaEthics survey, said the results suggest that, because of flaws in methodology or wording, some other surveys have overstated the degree of public knowledge on the issue, and the intensity of support for measures to curb carbon emissions. [See Mr. Moore’s essay in today’s Forum section, “Climate Partisans.” The poll report is available here, along with a description of the methodology.]

Mr. Moore argues that while many poll respondents will express an opinion on issues such as global warming, closer scrutiny shows that they do not have strong feelings on it one way or another. One indication of the relative lack of intense, informed views on the issue is the way responses can be influenced by outside factors. As an example, the survey of 1,000 respondents was divided into subsamples with half asked about their support for “federal government” action to regulate greenhouse gases, and the other half asked about the “Obama administration.” 

PG poll: Scientific consensus on climate change has not permeated the public by James P. O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 10, 2014

The lasting damage of sudden heat waves is highly unpredictable

It’s well known that gradual increases in global temperatures will likely bring melting Arctic ice that floods major coastal cities. But recent research suggests that sudden heat waves can cause just as serious disasters—with the power to destroy ecosystems—in even less time.

Since the seventies just under two million acres of white spruce in Alaska’s Kenai Penninsula have been infested by beetles. One major outbreak in the 1990’s destroyed 38 million trees, the most killed by an insect infestation in American history.

Scientists now believe that warmer temperatures in the Arctic, where climate change is helping to melt ice twice as fast as the national average, allowed the beetles to mature faster, reproduce more, and stay alive through the winter.

The Lasting Damage of Sudden Heat Waves Is Highly Unpredictable by Stephen Buranyi, Motherboard, Aug 11, 2014

Tony Abbott under pressure to put climate change on G20 agenda

Tony Abbott has come under fresh pressure to put climate change on the agenda at the upcoming G20 gathering, with a group of medical scientists led by the Nobel laureate Prof. Peter Doherty warning Australians face “serious health risks” if the issue isn’t urgently tackled.

In an open letter to the prime minister, a group of 12 of Australia’s leading medical scientists call on Australia to take a “strong lead” in reducing carbon emissions or risk a major impact on public health.

“Adverse health outcomes related to climate change are already evident in many regions of the world,” the letter states.

“By mid-century serious health risks are likely to be widespread, particularly in vulnerable communities, including in Australia. Workloads and economic and logistical demands on the nation’s health system will also rise as these impacts increase.” 

Tony Abbott under pressure to put climate change on G20 meeting agenda by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Aug 10, 2014

What climate change in the Rockies means for its water

In the West, Colorado is known as a “headwaters” state because most of the region’s biggest rivers begin in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado River. The Arkansas River. The Rio Grande. The San Juan River. The Platte River — North and South. Altogether, they provide 19 states with drinking and irrigation water, including the cities of Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver, among many others.

All of the water in those rivers comes from one source: the Rocky Mountains’ snowpack, which is expected to shrink as temperatures rise in a warming climate.

What Climate Change in the Rockies Means for its Water by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Aug 12, 2014

Why more companies should tie bonuses to sustainability

I didn’t get my full stock bonus last year. It wasn’t because I didn’t meet my revenue or profit goals; I exceeded them. Instead, it was because my carbon emissions reduction efforts fell short, partly due to the integration of multiple companies DSM North America purchased in 2012.

DSM tied all managers’ compensation to sustainability in 2010, with targets related to greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water usage, eco-friendly product development and employee engagement, as well as - of course - profit. Last year was the first time in my career - on Wall Street, American Standard and DSM North America - that I missed my numbers.

And you know what? I’m not mad about it. Instead, I’m more determined than ever to meet the goal this year. By not giving me all of my deferred stock compensation, my company made it clear it means business when it comes to sustainability practices. In my opinion, this is the way it should be.

An insider’s view: why more companies should tie bonuses to sustainability by Hugh Welsh, The Guardian, Aug 11, 2014

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. The link to the "Not A Mystery" editorial is broken in the green box. Works in the body text.

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Glitch fixed. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  2. I'm not sure if SkS prefers to steer clear of reporting on specific extreme weather events (I can imagine that could become rather overwhelming these days), but there have been some pretty amazing downpours recently in Detroit and in the US

    (Did I do it right, this time?)

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Yes, you activated the link correctly. You can also embed a link into the title of an article which is preferable where appropriate. 

  3. I once amused myself with a fantasy future where every adult inhabitant of planet Earth has to "cultivate" an artificial "tree" that removes over time the amount of CO2 corresponding to that person's cumulative carbon footprint, maybe more in this century.

    If you think of paying a tax instead, there you have carbon taxes, in a way.

    The ant thing is interesting, though. Our new insect masters, turned into our saviours?

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