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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #47B

Posted on 22 November 2014 by John Hartz

Acid maps reveal worst of climate change

Much of the change in climate change is happening to the ocean. It’s not just the extra heat hiding within the waves. The seven seas also absorb a big share of the carbon dioxide released by burning the fossilized sunshine known as coal, natural gas and oil. All those billions and billions of CO2 molecules interact with the brine to make it ever so slightly more acidic over time and, as more and more CO2 gets absorbed, the oceans become more acidic.

Now scientists have delivered the most comprehensive maps of this acid phenomena, a global picture of the oceans in 2005 against which future scientists can track just how much more acidic the oceans have become.

Acid Maps Reveal Worst of Climate Change by David Biello, Scientific American, Nov 20, 2014

Buffalo mega snowstorm tied to climate change?

We wear extreme weather as a badge of honor in Minnesota.

But you have to admit we may be feeling a little “weather inferiority complex” given the incredible snowfall totals near Buffalo, New York. The snowfall in Buffalo is the equivalent of two to three Halloween Mega Storms this week.

Buffalo mega snowstorm tied to climate change? by Paul Hunter, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), Nov 19, 2014

China will place a limit on coal use in 2020

China plans to set a cap on coal consumption in 2020, an important step for the country in trying to achieve a recently announced goal of having carbon dioxide emissions peak by around 2030.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, released details of an energy strategy late Wednesday that includes capping coal consumption at 4.2 billion tons in 2020 and having coal be no more than 62 percent of the primary energy mix by that year.

In Step to Lower Carbon Emissions, China Will Place a Limit on Coal Use in 2020 by Edward Wong, New York Times, Nov 20, 2014

Climate change investment falls for second year in 2013

Global investment in tackling climate change fell for a second year in 2013 to $331 billion, largely due to a drop in the cost of solar power technology, according to an annual report on climate finance.

Overall, the world is falling further and further behind its low-carbon investment goals, warned the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a research and advisory group.

"Our analysis shows that global investment in a cleaner, more resilient economy is decreasing, and the gap between finance needed and actually delivered is growing," said Barbara Buchner, senior director of CPI. "As policymakers prepare a new global climate agreement in 2015, climate finance is a key ingredient to bring the world on a 2-degree Celsius pathway," she said.

Private investment totalled $193 billion in 2013, dropping 14 percent ($31 billion) from 2012. Climate finance from public sources stayed steady at around $137 billion.

Climate change investment falls for second year in 2013 by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nov 21, 2014

Fossil-fueled Republicanism

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.

The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation's energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.

Fossil-Fueled Republicanism: The Grand Oil Party Takes Washington by Storm  by Michael T Klare, TomDispatch, Nov 18, 2014

House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research

Congressional climate wars were dominated Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research by Lindsay Abrams, Salon, Nov 19, 2014

NASA CO2 animation recalls 1859 account of the global flow of this gas

A new NASA visualization shows how heat-trapping carbon dioxide from human sources mixes and spreads around the planet, and in so doing recalls for me a stirring 1859 description of the atmosphere written by Matthew Fontaine Maury, widely considered America’s first oceanographer. I quoted him in my 1992 book on global warming, centering on this phrase: “It is only he girdling encircling air, that flows above and around all, that makes the whole world kin.” 

NASA CO2 Animation Recalls 1859 Account of the Global Flow of this Gas by Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth, New York Times, Nov 19, 2014

New Zealand ducking the climate question

The Government faces two big decisions next year affecting the cost and effectiveness of climate policy over the next 15 years.

It has to decide what commitment to make in the negotiations on an agreement to govern global action on climate change through the 2020s.

And it has to decide what steps it is prepared to take to render the emissions trading scheme fit for purpose.

At this point we can be confident of two things: the Government will claim it has "got the balance right" between the environment and the economy; but judging by its record to date, it will do no such thing.

New Zealand ducking the climate question, Op-ed by Brian Fallow, New Zealand Herald, Nov 21, 2014

NRG sets goals to cut carbon emissions

NRG, which built a leading electricity business from coal and other conventional power plants, is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and by 90 percent by 2050, the company planned to announce Thursday.

David Crane, the company’s chief executive, plans to make the announcement at a groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s new headquarters in Princeton, N.J., conceived as a green-energy showcase that will open in 2016.

“The power industry is the biggest part of the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, but it has the potential to be an even bigger part of the solution,” he said in an interview.

NRG Sets Goals to Cut Carbon Emissions by Diane Cardwell, New York Times, Nov 20, 2014

Record North Pacific temperatures threatening B.C. marine species

The North Pacific Ocean is setting record high temperatures this year fuelling global warming and raising concerns over the potential impact on cold water marine species like salmon along the B.C. coast.

Scientists say this year, ocean surface temperatures around the world reached the highest temperature ever recorded, due in large part to the normally chilly North Pacific which has warmed three to four degrees above average — far beyond any recorded value.

As a result warm water has spread along the North Pacific coast releasing enormous amounts of heat into the atmosphere that had been locked up in the western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade shifting hurricane tracks, and weakening trade winds. 

Record North Pacific temperatures threatening B.C. marine species, CBC News, Nov 21, 2014

Sydney heatwave and New York snowstorm: how to read the world's weird weather

Blistering heat across Australia but frigid conditions across much of the continental US – what's going on?

As Sydney braces for 38-degree heat and a total fire ban on Friday and some inland towns of NSW face their sixth heatwave since October, regions of north-eastern United States are digging themselves out of two metres of snow or more.

The challenge, says Matt England, a leading climate scientist at the University of NSW, is to avoid confusing day-to-day weather events with the longer-term climate trends under way.

Sydney heatwave and New York snowstorm: how to read the world's weird weather by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald, Nov 21, 2104

The U.S. public is wrong on climate, as it was on slavery, women’s rights

The latest public opinion study out of Yale’s Project on Climate Change Communication has all the usual hints of optimism we’ve seen in the Project’s many other climate reports. According to “Climate Change in the American Mind,” released this week, a majority of Americans support regulating carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, funding research for renewable energy, yada, yada. But there’s also some chilly stuff in there:

  • Only one in 10 Americans knows that over 90 percent of climate scientists have concluded that global warming is a human-made thing.
  • Only 11 percent of Americans are “very” worried about climate change, despite the fact that global warming impacts have been increasingly hitting our coasts, homes, and wallets over the last decade.
  • Only one in three even believes that climate change is happening right now — most see it as a relatively distant threat.
  • What’s worse — and I blame Ezra Klein for this — few Americans are optimistic that humans will do anything about global warming. (I’m kidding. I don’t blame Ezra.)

The public is wrong on climate, as it was on slavery, women’s rights by Brenton Mock, Grist, Nov 21, 2014

Toyota hopes to recreate Prius success with hydrogen-powered Mirai

From the driver’s seat of the Toyota Mirai, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car could be a plusher and more powerful version of the Prius – if it wasn’t for the H20 button on the dash which releases a trickle of water.

Until now, car companies have been slow to bring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market. But Toyota is betting on the Mirai (‘future’ in Japenese) to emerge as the next generation of green car.

For that to occur, the four-seater sedan will need to replicate the success of the Prius in taking the offbeat technology of a gas-electric hybrid engine and making it middle of the road within the space of only a few years. The Prius is now the top-selling car in California.

The Mirai goes on sale in Japan in December, and in the US and Europe in the second half of 2015.

Toyota hopes to recreate Prius success with hydrogen-powered Mirai by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Nov 21, 2014

U.S. voters view climate change at 'hyperlocal' level: Dem donor

Climate change resonates with voters more on a local than a national level, billionaire hedge fund trader turned Democratic fundraiser Tom Steyer said Wednesday, reflecting on the 2014 mid-term elections.

Steyer made a splash ahead of this month's elections, spending over $70 million to back candidates who took strong positions on climate change policy in key congressional and gubernatorial races.

But the spending of his NextGen Climate Action political committee yielded mixed results, with just three wins for strong climate advocates out of the seven candidates backed.

U.S. voters view climate change at 'hyperlocal' level: Dem donor by Valerie Volcovici, Reuters, Nov 19, 2014

Will next UN climate treaty be a thriller, or shaggy dog story?

This December, 195 nations plus the European Union will meet in Lima for two weeks for the crucial U.N. Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, known as COP 20. The hope in Lima is to produce the first complete draft of a new global climate agreement.

However, this is like writing a book with 195 authors. After five years of negotiations, there is only an outline of the agreement and a couple of ‘chapters’ in rough draft.

The deadline is looming: the new climate agreement to keep climate change to less than two degrees C is to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

Will next UN climate treaty be a thriller, or shaggy dog story? by Stephen Leahy, Tierramérica/IPS, Nov 17, 2014

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. Surely all weather events that are now occurring, extreme or otherwise, are linked to climate change. Weather systems are all connected so it seems nonsense to isolate a particular event and state it is or isn't connected to climate change. We argue for scientific accuracy about what is happening to the climate and classifying individual weather events as "yes or no" seems a matter of opinion rather than accurate science.

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  2. localis: From the SkS Climate Science Glossary:

    Extreme weather event

    An extreme weather event is an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of rare vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of the observed probability density function. By definition, the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place in an absolute sense. Single extreme events cannot be simply and directly attributed to anthropogenic climate change, as there is always a finite chance the event in question might have occurred naturally. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classed as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., drought or heavy rainfall over a season).

    Definition courtesy of IPCC AR4.

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  3. At what point do we accept that anthropogenic climate change is actually taking place? If we accept that it is actually occurring now (as many scientists seem to concur) then all weather events must be accepted as being influenced by that change unless it can be proved that any part of our climate system functions independently of the rest.

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  4. localis @3 anthropogenic climates forcings are a factor in every weather event that occurs (which I believe is what you are saying).  However, just because it is sunny with a chance of showers in Brisbane today (made up example) does not mean that the probability of its being sunny with a chance of showers in Brisbane in November would have been low without anthropogenic forcings.  In fact, given conditions over the range of holocene climate conditions, that would have been a reasonably common occurence in any event.  So, while it is true that anthropogenic factors are a factor in every modern weather event, it does not mean that the probability of such weather events has been changed by anthropogenic factors.  And it is such changes in probability that we are concerned with.

    However, for some types of weather events there have been detectable increases in the probability of such events (particularly extreme warm weather, but also floods and droughts) which are potentially attributable to the influence of anthropogenic forcing.  Typically such events are similar to events that are fairly common (or would have been) in any event, but small increments in temperature, or evaporation (for droughts) or precipitation (for floods and hurricanes) have increased the intensity of the event so that very intense events are occuring more frequently.

    Further, some of the events are so intense that the probability of their occuring if their had been no anthropogenic forcing is << 1% (the 2010 Russian heat wave comes to mind; as does the proximate cause of the 2011 Brisbane floods, although the floods themselves were not unprecedented and have a magnitude with a return interval between 50 and 100 years).

    So, as I understand your point it is valid - but it is not very interesting except to note that some pseudo-sketpics contradict themselves by insisting that (a) weather is chaotic, such that "the flap of a butterflies wings can cause hurricanes", but that (b) anthropogenic factors have not influence on weather.

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  5. Thankyou for your replies but what I have difficulty with is the obvious evidence of climate change throughout the globe especially in the Artic and good evidence of melting glaciers elsewhere but when it comes to attributing any weather event to climate change there seems a reticence to do so by many scientists. To me this is food for the deniers to thrive on. I have great respect for the scientific method but there has to be a time when reputations cease to be so important if we are to escape the science itself becoming the millstone that condemns us to failure.

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  6. @5, localis: It's somewhat like loaded dice that have been fixed to increase the number of sixes. You can know that the dice are loaded and, given enough trials, you can determine an accurate percentage of sixes above the level that chance would produce. You cannot, however, say what exact balance of natural and unnatural factors influenced any particular six, nor can you predict whether the next roll will produce a six or not.

    I have great respect for the scientific method but there has to be a time when reputations cease to be so important

    It's not about reputation, it's about being scientific. The inability to definitively differentiate the random-roll factors from the dice-loading factors would still be the case with dice so loaded that they gave sixes 99.9% of the time. So any reticence to declare certainty about any given six is quite justified. On the other hand, with sufficient data there should equally be reticence to state that there won't be more sixes on average. And the longer the sequences of rolls that you record, the more certainly you can declare the influence of the loading factor for the sequence. Similarly you can make predictions for future sequences, the longer the better.

    To me this is food for the deniers to thrive on.

    I quite agree but unfortunately everything seems to be food for the deniers. I can't imagine how they'll do it yet but I fully expect them to spin the end of the hiatus as some kind of "proof" and a victory for their anti-science. ;o)

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  7. @ 5 and 6

    As Firgoose rightly points out, the nature of the beast is inherently non-deterministic. Let's examine this a bit deeper by putting some numbers into the dice analogy...

    In an honest die, the chance of rolling any of the six numbers (1-6) is exactly 1 in 6, or about 16.7%. Consider what happens if a pair of dice are subtly loaded in favour of the 6, such that the numbers 1-5 now each only have a 16% chance of turning up. The chance of rolling a 6 is now 1-in-5, or 20%, and hence the chance of throwing a pair of sixes has increased from 1-in-36 to 1-in-25.

    In a hundred throws of an honest pair of dice, one would expect (on average) that there would be just under 3 (or 2.77777.... to be exact) instances of a double 6 (i.e. an extreme event). With the loaded dice, this anticipated average number rises to 4 per hundred throws.

    How do you even begin to say which 3 were "legitimate" and which one could, with certainty, be attributed to the changed conditions? It is only the persistence of average results outwith the expected range which raises the eyebrow.

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  8. Continuing the dice analogy what do we think when a 7 or an 8 comes up?

    Hansen showed several years ago that etremely hot summers were 98% casued by AGW.  Hotter summers than that (+ 4-5  sigma) have such a low chance of occuring that they are almost certainly caused by AGW.  This analysis does not address single hot days or weeks. 

    There is still the possibility, however small, that it could have occured without AGW. 

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  9. michael sweet @8, when you say Hansen showed "extremely hot summers were 98% caused by AGW", you need to be careful clariffy what is meant.  What is meant is that an extremely hot summer has a very low probability of occuring without anthropogenic forcings.  The statement could be interpreted as saying that anthropogenic forcings caused 98% of the heat or 98% of the temperature difference from the mean.  In both cases that interpretation would make the claim false.  There are problems in determining the exact temperature contributions of anthropogenic forcings to a particular hot summer (or heat wave), but an intuitive approach is to simply take the zonal land temperature increase as being the contribution of anthropogenic forcings, on which basis the anthropogenic contribution generally resolves down to 20% or less of the difference from the mean.  That is, without anthropogenic factors, what are experienced as extremely hot summers would have been very hot summers or at least hot summers (and ignoring butterfly effect complications).  The small relative contribution of anthropogenic forcings, however, takes the actual temperatures into ranges very rarely experienced without anthropogenic factors.

    (I am aware that you know this, but not all readers or this thread may, so it is worth clariffying.)  

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  10. Tom,

    Thank you for the clarification.  It is easy to confuse what is claimed with other claims.

    On the other hand, many times the damages from a small increase in summer heat are greatly disproportionate to the measured increase in temperature.  Frequently if the temeprature was 20% lower, compared to the mean, the damage from drought and heat would be greatly less.  Similarly, the last nine inches of flooding from hurricane Sandy in New York caused disproportionate damage.  That flooding was 100% due to AGW since it was sea level rise.  When combined with the uncertainty with how much of the heat is caused by AGW it is very difficult to determine how much of the damage was from AGW, even when it is most of the damage.

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