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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #44A

Posted on 29 October 2014 by John Hartz

A chronicler of warnings denied

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science at Harvard, but she is attracting wide notice these days for a work of science fiction.

“The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future,” written with Erik M. Conway, takes the point of view of a historian in 2393 explaining how “the Great Collapse of 2093” occurred.

“Without spoiling the story,” she told me, “I can tell you that a lot of what happens — floods, droughts, mass migrations, the end of humanity in Africa and Australia — is the result of inaction to very clear warnings” about climate change caused by humans. The 104-page book was listed last week as the No. 1 environmental best-seller on Amazon. Dr. Oreskes, 55, spoke with me for two hours at her home in Concord, Mass., and later again by telephone. Here is an edited and condensed version of the conversations.

A chronicler of warnings denied by 

Arctic Ice Melt Seen Doubling Risk of Harsh Winter in EU

The decline in Arctic sea ice has doubled the chance of severe winters in Europe and Asia in the past decade, according to researchers in Japan.

Sea-ice melt in the Arctic, Barents and Kara seas since 2004 has made more than twice as likely atmospheric circulations that suck cold Arctic air to Europe and Asia, a group of Japanese researchers led by the University of Tokyo’s Masato Mori said in a study published yesterday in Nature Geoscience.

“This counterintuitive effect of the global warming that led to the sea ice decline in the first place makes some people think that global warming has stopped. It has not,” Colin Summerhayes, emeritus associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute, said in a statement provided by the journal Nature Geoscience, where the study is published.

Arctic Ice Melt Seen Doubling Risk of Harsh Winter in EU by Stefan Nicola, Bloomberg, Oct 26, 2014

Building for the next big storm

“All of this was hit pretty hard,” said Kai-Uwe Bergmann, sweeping his arm from the East River toward the looming sprawl of the Baruch Houses, a public housing complex that sits along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive on the Lower East Side. “If another storm hits here in the future, it will be just as bad, probably worse.”

Mr. Bergmann’s job is to ensure that it doesn’t happen. As a partner at the Bjarke Ingels Group, a Danish architecture firm, he is one in a cast of hundreds trying to fortify New York against another storm like Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through the region two years ago this week. In the storm’s aftermath, there were calls for a single big fix, like sea gates that would close off New York Harbor to swells of rising water. But the solutions being tried out now are more widespread, and humbler, including stone revetments on Coney Island Creek to prevent “backdoor” flooding, and solar-powered streetlights on the East 12th Road boardwalk in Broad Channel, Queens, which is often flooded, even by lesser storms.

While only a few of the smallest projects have been finished, the vast constellation of proposals — backed by what one official called a “strange polyamorous relationship” of the city, state and federal governments — will most likely take years and billions of dollars to complete, if indeed that is ever achieved. If there is one guiding principle at work, it is the notion that the city, which has thumbed its nose at the water for 300 years, can no longer keep the sea at bay, but must by necessity invite it in.

Building for the next big storm by Alan Feuer, New York Times, Oct 25, 2014

Carbon trading edges closer as UN brokers deal

The world is on the brink of enlisting market forces in the fight against climate change on a truly global scale for the first time, United Nations officials have claimed.

After years of opposition, hundreds of the world’s major companies and investment firms – including several oil giants – have agreed that there should be a charge for the damage done to the planet by greenhouse gases.

This means that an international carbon market – in which companies buy and sell the right to produce harmful emissions – is now close to becoming a reality.

Climate change: Carbon trading edges closer as UN brokers deal by Irene Hell and Ian Johnston, The Indepndent, Oct 26, 2014

Five things to know about 2014 global temperatures

No doubt about it: 2014 will go down as one of the warmest years on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center’s global surface temperature monitoring. Here are five global temperature items to keep in mind as 2014 closes out.

Five things to know about 2014 global temperatures by Derek Arndt*, NOAA, Oct 24, 2014

*Deke Arndt is Chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Great Barrier Reef protection plan 'ignores the threat of climate change'

The Australian government’s multimillion dollar plan to halt the worrying decline of the Great Barrier Reef does nothing to address the leading threat of climate change and is likely to prove largely ineffectual, scientists have warned.

In its formal response to the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, which was drawn up by the Australian and Queensland governments, the Australian Academy of Science states the strategy is “inadequate to achieve the goal of restoring or even maintaining the diminished outstanding universal value of the reef”.

Although a recent government assessment found climate change is the leading threat to a declining reef, the Australian Academy of Science states there is “no adequate recognition” in the 2050 plan of the importance of curbing greenhouse gases.

Great Barrier Reef protection plan 'ignores the threat of climate change' by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Oct 27, 2014

Maybe you can change people’s minds about climate change after all

It's no secret that certain political worldviews prevent people from accepting the science of global warming.

And it's not just that conservative and pro-free market beliefs are strongly correlated with dismissal of climate science. Get this: Conservatives who are more scientifically literate, or better at math, are even less likely than their ideological compatriots to accept global warming. That's how powerful ideology can be — and such findings have often been used to call into question whether educational initiatives can really make any difference when it comes to hot-button scientific issues like climate.

new study just out in the journal Climatic Change, however, suggests education may work after all.

Maybe you can change people’s minds about climate change after all by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washington Post, oct 28, 2014

New study strengthens link between Arctic sea-ice loss and extreme winters

Declining Arctic sea-ice has made severe winters across central Asia twice as likely, new research shows. The paper is the latest in a series linking very cold winters in the northern hemisphere to rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic.

But the long-term picture suggests these cold winters might only be a temporary feature before further warming takes hold.

New study strengthens link between Arctic sea-ice loss and extreme winters by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Oct 26, 2014

Our planet's primal scream — Is anyone listening?

Recent headlines have sounded the alarm on the mounting impacts of climate change. Over the past few months, we have seen everything from the hottest summer on record, to historic droughts and extreme wildfires ravaging communities in California, to vanishing wildlife habitat in Alaska, to toxic algae blooming out of control and contaminating drinking water supplies in America's heartland.

How much more do we need to know about the devastating effects of climate change before Congress takes action?

In California, the first six months of 2014 were the hottest on record, and 82 percent of the state is currently experiencing extreme drought. And the situation is expected to get worse — recently scientists predicted that 2014 will end as the hottest year ever recorded. Experts also tell us that climate change has tripled the probability that the drought-causing weather conditions will continue.

Our Planet's Primal Scream — Is Anyone Listening?, Op-ed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), The Huffington Post, Oct 24, 2014

Q&A: The EU's 2030 climate targets

Last night EU leaders came to a compromise deal on climate targets for 2030.

The headline target is to cut EU emissions by "at least" 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. The EU has also agreed targets to get at least 27 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to cut energy use by at least 27 per cent against business as usual.

Is the deal ambitious and world-leading, as some EU countries are claiming? Or is it more a case of bungs to the Polish coal industry and weak ambition on energy saving and renewables?

We take you through the essential questions about the 2030 deal.

Q&A: The EU's 2030 climate targets by Simon Evans, The Carbon Brief, Oct 24, 2014

Revealed: What the Southern Ocean's ice belt means for sea level rise

Changes to the Southern Ocean's sea ice belt could mean future ice sheet melt and global sea level rising several metres in coming centuries, according to a new study which has shed more light on a long-standing ice-age mystery.

The sea ice belt - comprised of frozen ocean water, and which grows as a protective fringe around Antarctica's ice sheets - is susceptible to ocean warming as greenhouse gases continue to rise.

Work by PhD student Molly Patterson, under the supervision of Dr Robert McKay and Professor Tim Naish from Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre, shows that the stability of the world's largest ice sheet is influenced by the presence of a sea ice belt in the Southern Ocean.

Dr McKay said the research contributes to a long-standing ice-age mystery, resolving how exactly the Earth's orbit around the sun contributes to natural ice-age cycles.

Revealed: What the Southern Ocean's ice belt means for sea level rise, New Zealand Herald, Oct 28, 2014

The Coalition’s 19th-century colonial time warp on climate

Greens senator Scott Ludlam’s prophecy that environment minister Greg Hunt has been directed to play solitaire for an entire term of office is so far holding up to scrutiny.

It is looking increasingly unlikely that Australia will meet even its now-minuscule target of cutting emissions to 5% of 2000 levels by 2020, in the face of news that the European Union has just agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030.

This landmark agreement leaves Australia’s bipartisan target pitifully short of any internationally credible benchmark. But even this target is being eroded by direct inaction on Hunt’s part and the coal mining lobby’s resurgence in Australia.

Not only has the gap between accepting the science of climate change and the Coalition’s policies on mitigation widened since assuming office, the government has discarded the links between them all together with an all-out sales pitch for coal as not just good for our economy but for humanity.

The Coalition’s 19th-century colonial time warp on climate by David Holmes, The Conversation AU, Oct 28, 2014

Two years after Sandy, there's still work to be done

After Superstorm Sandy, officials in New York and New Jersey vowed to make sure the unprecedented destruction wouldn't happen again. 

Two years later, would it? 

Are we ready for the next big storm? Two years after Sandy, there's still work to be done by Jennifer Peltz and Wayne Parry, AP/The Huffington Post, Oct 26, 2014 

UN climate change draft sees risks of irreversible damage

Climate change may have "serious, pervasive and irreversible" impacts on human society and nature, according to a draft U.N. report due for approval this week that says governments still have time to avert the worst.

Delegates from more than 100 governments and top scientists meet in Copenhagen on Oct 27-31 to edit the report, meant as the main guide for nations working on a U.N. deal to fight climate change at a summit in Paris in late 2015.

They will publish the study on Nov. 2.

European Union leaders on Friday agreed to cut emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, in a shift from fossil fuels towards renewable energies, and urged other major emitters led by China and the United States to follow.

UN climate change draft sees risks of irreversible damage by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Oct 26, 2014

With storms intensifying, Milwaukee braces for bigger floods

Back when Pabst Blue Ribbon was for working folks – not hipsters – the brewery was a Milwaukee icon, bustling along the western edge of the city's central business district. 

Hitting hard times, Pabst left town a couple decades ago. But now the site infamous for cheap lager has permeable roads, abundant gardens and an underground tunnel to catch excess rainwater. 

It has re-emerged a symbol of how Milwaukee is greening to keep pace with a changing climate. 

The site's developer, Joseph J. Zilber, partnered with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which is touting such changes to cope with more intense storms and flooding.

Milwaukee is emblematic of how climate change is forcing the hand of sanitation departments in the Midwest. More frequent, intense storms threaten aging systems, making repairs, upgrades and innovative solutions more urgent.

With storms intensifying, Milwaukee braces for bigger floods by Brian Bienkowski, The Daily Climate, Oct 26, 2014

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