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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #43A

Posted on 24 October 2014 by John Hartz

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals

The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated rapidly in the past two months, underscoring the shortcomings of the government’s environmental policies.

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

Figures released by Imazon , a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals by Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, Oct 19, 2014

An in-depth look at the oceans, climate change and the hiatus

Oceans cover more of the planet than anything else. So it makes sense that we need to know what's happening to them to understand how humans are changing the climate. 

If you follow climate science, you'd be forgiven for being a little confused recently by different news reports suggesting the oceans are warming, slightly  cooling or doing  nothing at all.

So are the oceans hotting up or aren't they? And how does what happens beneath the waves influence what we feel up here on earth's surface? Here's our top to bottom look at the oceans and climate change.

Probing the deep: An in-depth look at the oceans, climate change and the hiatus by Roz Pidcock and Rosamund Pearce, The Carbon Brief, Oct 20, 2014

Citing rising seas, Florida officials vote to cut state in half

Could global warming lead to the creation of the nation's 51st state? Officials in the City of South Miami have voted to cut Florida in two because, they argue, politicians in the northern parts of the state are ignoring the problem of rising sea levels brought on by climate change. 

"It's very apparent that the attitude of the northern part of the state is that they would just love to saw the state in half and just let us float off into the Caribbean," South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard told the Sun-Sentinel.

The scarcely-reported resolution passed on October 7 by a 3-2 vote, and will now be sent to the governing bodies of the South Florida counties that would comprise the new state for their consideration, the Sun-Sentinel reported. 

Citing Rising Seas, Florida Officials Vote to Cut State in Half by David Knowles, Bloomberg, Oct 22, 2014

Climate records are breaking so often now, we’ve stopped paying attention

On Monday, we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that last September was the hottest of them all, out of 135 Septembers going back to 1880.The same was true for August 2014. And June of 2014. And May of 2014. What that means is that for each of these months, the combined average global land and ocean surface temperature has never been higher, at least since we started recording these temperatures back in the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.

These kinds of records are becoming so regular that they're starting to seem a lot less impressive. They're shrug-inducing. But to think of them in that way is a mistake. A little context shows just how dramatic the warming of the globe, on a month-by-month basis, has actually been.

Climate records are breaking so often now, we’ve stopped paying attention by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washington Post, Oct 21, 2014

How Do You Wake People Up to Climate Change

The U.S. and European Union are pushing for a stronger explanation about the dangers of climate change and the consequences of failing to stem fossil-fuel emissions in the UN’s most extensive report on global warming.

The appeals are detailed in a document putting together comments from more than 30 governments about the United Nations report, due to be published next month. The study is the culmination of five years of work by some 2,000 scientists.

“This report is a story of what happens if we don’t act, and what can happen if we do,” U.S. negotiators wrote. “It should be an effective story.” The text, they said, “lacks a threading narrative.”

Five Years, 2,000 Scientists and How Do You Wake People Up to Climate Change? by Alex Morales, Bloomberg, Oct 22, 2014

New study maps countries most at risk from El Niño flooding

From South America to the Sahel, scientists have for the first time mapped how flood risk rises and falls across the world each time the extreme weather phenomenon known as El Niño hits.

With an El Niño brewing in the Pacific right now, being prepared for flooding can help protect vulnerable communities and curb damages, say the researchers.

New study maps countries most at risk from El Niño flooding by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Oct 20, 2014

There’s a surprisingly strong link between climate change and violence

Earlier this year, when a study came out suggesting global warming will increase the rates of violent crimes in the United States — producing "an additional 22,ooo murders, 180,000 cases of rape," and many other crime increases by the year 2099 — it drew widespread criticism. "This ... is what people who are losing the argument look like," noted the conservative publication National Review.

One study may seem easy to dismiss. But the combined results of 56 of them? Not so much.

In a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Stanford researcher Marshall Burke and two colleagues present a meta-analysis — an evaluation and statistical synthesis of a large body of studies — of the existing research examining the relationship between climate change and violence and conflict. After throwing out a host of studies they consider flawed, Burke and his colleagues still had 56 left, many of them quite recent.

There’s a surprisingly strong link between climate change and violence by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washington Post, Oct 22, 2014

Threat of air pollution to worsen along with global warming

Increased air pollution from bushfires is among the rising threats facing NSW residents as global warming makes blazes more likely, according to a new report by the Climate Council.

The council said air quality levels were 50 times worse than usual in the Sydney Basin during the Blue Mountains bushfires a year ago, with NSW Health reporting 228 people attending hospital with breathing difficulties.

Ambulance staff treated 778 other individuals, while the number of asthma patients seeking hospital help more than doubled.

"Bushfires can have all sorts of impacts other than people losing their homes," said Lesley Hughes, a professor of biological sciences at Macquarie University and author of the report.

Threat of air pollution to worsen along with global warming, warns (Australia's) Climate Council by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 21, 2014

UN climate talks to test New York summit gains

The impact of Ban Ki-moon’s New York summit on UN efforts to curb climate change faces its first test on Monday in Bonn, where envoys from over 190 countries meet for a week of negotiations.

The meeting is one of the last opportunities for diplomats to build consensus on what a climate agreement could look like before they meet again in December for the annual two-week Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru.

Last month in New York over 120 leaders – including US president Barack Obama, French president Francois Hollande and Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli – confirmed their support for the international process.

Liz Gallagher, a climate diplomacy analyst at E3G, said a task for Bonn will be to “capture the Ban Ki-moon outcomes and get them into something concrete.”

UN climate talks to test New York summit gains by Ed King, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), Oct 20, 2014

U.S. oil exports would worsen global warming, government auditors say

Allowing United States oil producers to export crude would not only sway markets at home and abroad, it would also worsen global warming and present other environmental risks, the Government Accountability Office said in a new survey of experts.

"Additional crude oil production may pose risks to the quality and quantity of surface groundwater sources; increase greenhouse gas and other emissions; and increase the risk of spills," said the report.

That finding dampened what otherwise read as a win-win conclusion—that oil producers would get higher prices, production would rise and consumers would pay less at the pump if exports were allowed.

U.S. Oil Exports Would Worsen Global Warming, Government Auditors Say by John H. Cushman, Jr., InsideClimate News, Oct 20, 2014

U.S. takes charge of efforts to cope with a fast-changing Arctic

The Obama administration is pushing to make climate change a focal point as the United States becomes the new leader of the international Arctic Council, a move that is winning praise from environmentalists, even though it's unclear how it may translate into action.

This week, senior Arctic officials from multiple countries will meet in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to hear the United States present its agenda for its two-year chairmanship starting next year. The council is a forum for nations bordering on the Arctic.

Many environmentalists are cheering about recent remarks from U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Adm. Robert Papp Jr., who indicated via speeches that climate change would be a main theme at the council, with new efforts on things like controlling black carbon and reducing methane.

U.S. takes charge of efforts to cope with a fast-changing Arctic by Christa Marshall, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Oct 20, 2014

Water crisis squeezes Sao Paulo state

On Friday, the city of Sao Paulo recorded its hottest temperature in more than 71 years, and 70 cities in the state are facing extreme drought, with 30 cities already on some sort of water rationing.

The problem stems from a lack of water at the Cantareira, a complex of reservoirs and small dams built in the 1970’s that are the primary source of water for more than 10 million people in the state.

The water levels at the Cantareira are now below four percent, the lowest in recorded history, and estimates on when it could totally dry range from November to March of next year.

Water crisis squeezes Sao Paulo state by Gabriel Elizondo, Al Jazeera, Oct 18, 2014

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. Thanks for covering the Amazon and Sao Paulo sitiations here. That Al Jazeira article was particularly good. I have to remember to check their coverage of these issues more often.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Your'e welcome.

  2. Kevin Anderson's response to EU's "2030 Framwork"--emissions reductions should be 80%, not the 40% by 2030 proposed in the document. 

    Letter to the PM outlining how 2°C demands an 80% cut in EU emissions by 2030

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  3. About the climate change/violence link, I think most of us heard about the possible link between the drought in the Iraq and Syria (between 2008-2010) and the 2011 events then lead to the brutal Syrian Civil War between the Syrian Government and the Syrian Rebels.

    Early this year I read about a new drought in this region, perhaps even more severe than the previous one, that created concerns about an humanitarian disaster for the already hit population there. There were even concerns about a repeat of the 2010-2011 food price spikes (that by some people were also a trigger for the unrest wave known as "Arab Spring" that began a few months before the Syrian crisis).

    The food price concerns did not materialize, but the conflict in Syria/Iraq worsened with the surge of the so-called ISIS/ISIL.

    Is there any study supporting or refuting a link between 2013-2014 drought and the surge of the ISIS/ISIL in 2014, just like was done with the 2011 events?

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  4. FP, I don't know of any such studies. But one thing to watch going forward is Russian wheat production. Their ban on exports of wheat (after a bad winter harvest and then a devastating drought in '10) greatly exacerbated (at least) the already brutal conditions MENA countries, especially Egypt, which particularly dependent on Russian wheat. Conditions are already looking worse than back then for the prospects of the coming year's winter wheat.

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  5. From Peru @3, I would not look to global warming for a proximate cause of the rise of ISIS.  There is sufficient explanation of that in the pre-existing chaotic political state in Syria and Iraq along with the partially sectarian nature of the conflict and a strong, extreme fundamentalist religious strand in Islam at the moment.  Once you have a vicious civil war in a country, famine is redundant as a cause of instability.

    Further, even if a study was done as to the impacts of global warming on the rise of ISIS, apart from the impacts in starting the initial civil war, there would be too many confounding factors to determine any influence.

    Having said that, there are still a number of middle east nations that have borderline stability currently, where a famine could in fact tip the balance.  Renewed famine in those nations would reasonably raise concerns about their ability to maintain the stability they have already.  

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  6. TC, it is of course devilishly hard to prove causation, but if you look at surface temperature and drought maps, Syria stands out as particularly hard hit, iirc. Of course, there are long standing oppressions and grievances in the area. But extreme heat and drought beyond historic norms would seem to be reasonable exacerbating factors at the least for why these long-term problems have been boiling over in the last few years there.

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  7. wili @6, I am not denying the link from civil war in Syria, although there were a number of other exacerbating factors involved.  What I am denying is a link between the drought and the development of ISIS as a faction in that civil war, or its apparent success.  Drought will strain the civil capacity of a society, and if that society is already strained, may tip it over into civil disorder (including civil war).  It will not determine the form of the civil disorder, or how the different factions identify themselves or act, or how popular or successful they are.  Further, once a society has descended into a multifaction civil war with atrocities being committed by several (if not all) factions, the civil capacity of the society is prety much defunct in any event.  Drought can't tip the society into civil disorder because it is already well beyond that border.

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  8. Got it. I agree.

    I guess I had just read 'ISIS' as a kind of short hand for the whole mess that lead up to this particularly nasty recent turn of events.

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