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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #51A

Posted on 17 December 2014 by John Hartz

3.6 degrees of uncertainty

After two weeks of grinding meetings in Lima, Peru, the world’s climate negotiators emerged this weekend with a deal. They settled on preliminary language, to be finalized a year from now in Paris, meant to help keep the long-term warming of the planet below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

That upper boundary was first settled on four years ago at another round of talks in Cancun, Mexico. On the centigrade scale, it equals two degrees above the global average temperature at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — the “2C target.”

But where did that target come from in the first place? And even if we manage to stay below it, will it really protect the planet from serious harm?

3.6 Degrees of Uncertainty by Justin Gillis, New York Times, Dec 15, 2014

9 Things scientists did this year to ensure a better climate future

While in many ways this was the year of “I’m not a scientist” — a refrain used by politicians to eschew responsibility for an issue they’ve decided doesn’t behoove them or their donors — actual scientists were working hard, and mostly behind the scenes, to address an issue they see as preeminent to the future well-being of humankind.

Ninety-seven percent of scientists already agree that global warming is driven by human activity and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While politicians work to obscure this consensus, scientists are working to better understand the implications of climate change and how to best deal with them through adaptation, mitigation, and innovation.

If the year in climate science had to be summed up, the key takeaway would be that action now to reduce emissions and prevent catastrophic warming is still affordable,cheap even, while delayed action is costly in myriad ways.

9 Things Scientists Did This Year To Ensure A Better Climate Future by Ari Phillips, Climate Progress, Dec 15, 2014

Climate change in the Himalayas a reality: Experts

Experts have concluded that the impact of climate change in the Himalayas is being felt on the lives of people and wildlife in the region.

The observation was made in the final report of the international conference on development, biodiversity and climate change organized by the department of sociology, Government Post Graduate College, Chamba and Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, in collaboration with the Asia Climate Education Centre, Jeju, South Korea, International Union for Conservation and Nature, WG-05 International Sociological Association, NDMA, Government of India and Sewa Himalayas. Experts recommend scientific monitoring of the Himalayan region with focus on local community based practices on a regular basis. They also urged government departments and agencies to take remedial measures.

The report said Himalayan glaciers are the water towers of Asia and the source of many of the world's great rivers, The Yangtze, the Ganges, the Indus and the Mekong. More than a billion people depend directly on the Himalayas for their survival, with more than 500 million people in South Asia and another 450 million in China completely reliant on the health of this fragile mountain landscape.

Climate change in the Himalayas a reality: Experts, Times of India, Dec 12, 2014

Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo

A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.

Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo by Robin McKie, The Observer, 

Fossil fuel companies grow nervous as divestment movement grows stronger

Though fossil fuel companies may wave their hands dismissively at the divestment movement, some nervous actions of late show more concern than they let on. Consider this curious incident here in Lima, as the United Nations climate talks entered their second week. Shell’s chief climate change advisor was slated to present a panel, cosponsored by Chevron, entitled, “Why Divest from Fossil Fuels When a Future with Low-Emission Fossil Energy Use Is Already a Reality?” Except … they didn’t. Late last week, the title was quietly changed to the more innocuous, “How Can We Reconcile Climate Targets with Energy Demand Growth?”

It must have been done in a hurry because they forgot to change the web address for the event page.

Fossil fuel companies grow nervous as divestment movement grows stronger by Geoffrey Supran and Ploy Achakulwisut, Grist, Dec 12, 2014

Global warming: It’s OK to be smart about it

So you know the Earth is warming up—after all, it’s overwhelmingly obvious and the vast majority of climate scientists agree about it. But some people just can’t seem to accept that; in the loudest cases they’re ideologically driven (and/or fossil fuel–funded), but it’s possible that a lot of folks just don’t have the facts. 

When you talk to them at a cocktail party (or at family dinners, what with the holidays and all that), things can get ugly fast. Short of running away or having your head explode, what can you do?

Here’s an idea: Show them this video from It’s OK to Be Smart, created by scientist and science communicator Joe Hanson.

Global Warming: It’s OK to Be Smart About It by Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy, Slate, Dec 10, 2014

Good COP, bad COP: Winners and losers at the Lima climate conference

Representatives of 190 countries agreed the Lima Call for Climate Action early on Sunday morning, recommitting countries to preventing temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

None hailed the deal as a triumph, and no single actor came away feeling totally satisfied with what went on over the last two weeks, or what looks set to come over the next year. But there were small victories smattered throughout the text.

We review the deal, and identify Lima's winners and losers.

Good COP, bad COP: Winners and losers at the Lima climate conference by Mat Hope, The Carbon Brief, Dec 15, 2014

New paper raises question of tropical forest carbon storage

The world's forests provide a huge carbon sink, absorbing around a third of manmade carbon emissions, and helping to moderate global temperature rise.

A new study argues that the speed of tree growth in tropical rainforests isn't keeping pace with rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and so it may be "too optimistic" to expect this buffering effect to keep pace with rising emissions.

But another scientist tells us the finding needs to be examined carefully, and it could be difficulties in taking measurements in tropical rainforests that are leading to the result.

New paper raises question of tropical forest carbon storage by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Dec 14, 2014

New satellite maps reveal hidden intricacies of Greenland ice loss and sea level rise

Greenland lost enough ice between 2003 and 2009 to raise sea levels by more than four centimetres, according to new research that maps the vast ice sheet in unprecedented detail.

Scientists have used satellites to measure ice loss at nearly 100,000 locations, concluding that the Greenland ice sheet is far more complicated that it's often assumed to be. And that means projections of how much we can expect sea levels to rise need updating.

Between 2003 and 2009, Greenland lost about 243 billion tonnes of ice a year, adding 0.68 millimetres to sea levels annually, the research finds. Almost half the ice lost came from Southeast Greenland.

New satellite maps reveal hidden intricacies of Greenland ice loss and sea level rise by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Dec 15, 2014

Richard Branson joins forces with Amory Lovins in climate fight

Sir Richard Branson's climate change-fighting foundation is aligning forces with one of the world's most heady alternative energy think tanks to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, the two organizations said Tuesday. First up: Helping Caribbean island nations shift away from dependence on diesel fuel.

"Together we can go further, faster," Branson, the entrepreneur who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways, said in a statement announcing the alliance between his Carbon War Room and Amory Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing market-based solutions to drive global energy use away from fossil fuels.

Executives from both organizations tapped to lead the alliance described it as a marriage between an agile and young entrepreneurial organization full of make-it-happen passion with one that is steeped in analytical rigor, insight and thought leadership.

"If we work together, the synergies and the economies of scale will together make us much more effective and will allow us to have more impact on addressing the energy transformation," Jules Kortenhorst, the chief executive of Rocky Mountain Institute and leader of the new alliance, told NBC News.

Richard Branson Joins Forces With Amory Lovins in Climate Fight, NBC News, Dec 16, 2014

Rising sea levels could make Florida residents 'climate refugees'

Florida’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change doesn’t seem at first blush to be a Canadian issue. 

But every year, some 3.5 million Canadians travel to the sunshine state. What’s more, about half a million Canadians own property in Florida, much of it at risk from rising sea levels.

A lot of that property, particularly if it’s situated along one of the coveted stretches of Miami’s fabled beaches, could well be worthless and literally underwater in a few decades, says Harold Wanless, the chair of the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami.

His word for the future of Miami and much south Florida? Doomed.

Rising sea levels could make Florida residents 'climate refugees' by Chris Wodskou, CBC News Posted: Dec 14, 2014

Skeptics, deniers, and contrarians: The climate science label game

A bit over a week ago, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry posted an open letter declaring that "Deniers are not Skeptics." To the Committee, skepticism is central to its goals, and it defines the activity as a careful analysis of evidence. As such, the group has been rather annoyed that people who doubt climate change have labelled themselves as skeptics, even if they have never taken the time to come to grips with any evidence.

The letter called for the news media to stop allowing doubters of climate change to use the label "skeptic" and instead label them deniers, based on the root "denial," which was defined as "the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration." In doing so, the Committee had the support of scientists and science communicators such as Bill Nye and Ann Druyan, the woman behind the latest version of Cosmos.

There's no shortage of denial when it comes to climate change—the public proclamations of Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), which the letter cites, are classic examples. And there's also genuine skepticism of individual scientific claims, as we saw by the response to a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on California's recent drought. But there are a whole host of things in between that make using any single label problematic.

Skeptics, deniers, and contrarians: The climate science label game by John Timmer, ArsTechnica, Dec 16, 2014

The 7 psychological reasons that are stopping us from acting on climate change

You may have noticed: We can't act on climate change. Granted, very devoted people are in Lima, Peru, right now, trying to change that. But inaction has been the norm on this issue, especially in the United States.

When a gigantic threat is staring you in the face, and you can't act upon it, it's safe to assume there's some sort of mental blockage happening. So what's the hangup? That's what a new report  from ecoAmerica and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University's Earth Institute — entitled Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication -- seeks to help us better understand.

The report is framed around communicating about climate change effectively — but read more closely and you'll quickly see that the reason we need help here to begin with is that humans have some pesky attributes, ones that render us pretty poor at grappling with slow-moving, long-range, collective problems like climate change. So which traits are we talking about? 

The 7 psychological reasons that are stopping us from acting on climate change by Chris Mooney, The Wonkblog, The Washington Post, Dec 11, 2014

US and India to announce joint climate change action during Obama visit

America and India will unveil joint efforts to fight climate change when Barack Obama visits New Delhi next month, as the US tries to keep up the momentum of international negotiations.

Obama’s visit – on the back of the United Nations talks in Lima – is seen as a key moment to persuade one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters to step up its efforts to fight climate change.

After China and the US, India is the world’s third largest producer of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change – although it is responsible for only about 6% of such emissions globally.

During the visit, Obama and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, are expected to unveil a number of modest initiatives to expand research and access to clean energy technologies.

US and India to announce joint climate change action during Obama visit by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Dec 15, 2014

Will new technologies give critical boost to solar power?

Today, despite recent progress, solar power accounts for about one percent of the world’s energy mix. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that solar energy, most of it generated by decentralized “rooftop” photovoltaic systems, could well become the world’s single biggest source of electricity by mid-century. 

So how do we get from here to there?

Will New Technologies Give Critical Boost to Solar Power? by Cheryl Katz, Yale Environment 360, Dec 11, 2014

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