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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #10A

Posted on 5 March 2015 by John Hartz

Analysis: UK carbon emissions fell 9% in 2014

UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by more than nine per cent in 2014 year-on-year, according to Carbon Brief analysis of newly released government energy data.

A 20 per cent reduction in coal use and record warm temperatures both contributed to the decline in emissions. Continued falls in energy use were also a factor.

The estimated 9.2 per cent fall in UK carbon emissions is the largest year-on-year reduction since 1880 for a year with a growing economy. There were larger carbon reductions in 1893, 1921, 1926 and 2009, when GDP was falling.

Analysis: UK carbon emissions fell 9% in 2014 by Simon Evans, The Carbon Brief, Mar 4, 2015

Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments

Insurance companies could suffer a “huge hit” if their investments in fossil fuel companies are rendered worthless by action on climate change, the Bank of England warned on Tuesday.

“One live risk right now is of insurers investing in assets that could be left ‘stranded’ by policy changes which limit the use of fossil fuels,” said Paul Fisher, deputy head of the bank’s prudential regulation authority (PRA) that supervises banks and insurers and is tasked with avoiding systemic risks to the economy.

“As the world increasingly limits carbon emissions, and moves to alternative energy sources, investments in fossil fuels – a growing financial market in recent decades – may take a huge hit,” Fisher told an insurance conference. He said there “are already a few specific examples of this having happened”, but did not name them, and added that it was clear his concerns had yet to “permeate” the sector.

Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments by Damian Carrington. The Guardian, Mar 3, 2015

Doctors should take lead in push to curb climate change - experts

Doctors should take the lead in supporting political efforts to cut the pace of climate change and encouraging more people to see the problem as a crucial issue for public health, experts say.

With the 68th World Health Assembly coming up in May in Geneva, countries are poised to adopt the world's first resolution on air pollution and health, in an effort to reduce premature deaths linked to air pollution.

Studies have found that air pollution can worsen a variety of health problems, from heart disease to strokes, said Carlos Dora, coordinator of public health and the environment at the World Health Organization (WHO).

That suggests doctors should take action to try to curb air pollution and climate change, he said.

"Climate change is a big factor (in determining peoples') health in the short term and doctors should take notice," he said.

Doctors should take lead in push to curb climate change - experts by Kyle Plantz, Thompson Reuters Foundation, Feb 28, 2015

EU's 2050 green goals will need radical policy shifts-report

The European Union will need radical new policies to reach goals for safeguarding the environment by 2050 after limited progress in curbing pollution and climate change, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said on Tuesday.

"We need to start now," Hans Bruyninckx, head of the EEA, told Reuters of a five-yearly environmental report that said "profound changes" in technologies, policies and lifestyles were necessary to achieve long-term green targets.

The Copenhagen-based EEA said Europe — backed by some of the toughest environmental legislation in the world — had improved air and water quality, cut greenhouse gas emissions and raised waste recycling in recent years.

"Despite these gains, Europe still faces a range of persistent and growing environmental challenges," including global warming, chemical pollution and extinctions of species of animals and plants, the report said.

EU's 2050 green goals will need radical policy shifts-report by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Mar 3, 2015

Forget about that snowball — here’s what climate change could actually do to our winters

So for Inhofe, allow me to present another view of climate change and of winter — one that is not irreligious, but is suffused with a broader contextual understanding of how global climate change now strongly shapes weather phenomena.

Forget about that snowball — here’s what climate change could actually do to our winters by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Mar 3, 2015

Global warming upped heat driving California’s drought

Despite a recent influx of snow and rain this past weekend, extremely low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada has conspired with warm temperatures to keep the state in the grips of one its worst droughts on record for at least another year.

The precipitation has been the key ingredient to start the drought, but heat has played an important role in maintaining and intensifying it. A new paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that human greenhouse gas emissions have helped increase the odds in favor of warm, dry conditions for the Golden State. More ominously, the results suggest that by 2030, the warm weather driving the current drought could become a yearly occurrence.

Global Warming Upped Heat Driving California’s Drought by Brian Hahn, Climate Central, March 2, 2015

Is the environment a moral cause?

According to a recent poll, a large majority of Americans, and roughly half of Republicans, say they support governmental action to address global warming. The poll, conducted by The New York Times, Stanford and the research organization Resources for the Future, stands in stark contrast to the vast partisan gulf in political efforts to address climate change. How could it be that so many Republicans view global warming as a problem, but so few on the right are pressuring the government to take action to address it?

A paper that Matthew Feinberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, and I published in the journal Psychological Science in 2013 suggests one answer to this puzzle: While the number of Republicans who say global warming is a serious problem has reached high levels, there remains a very large gap in moral engagement with the issue. We found that conservatives were less likely than liberals to describe pro-environmental efforts in moral terms, or to pass moral judgment on someone who behaved in an environmentally unfriendly way, for example by not recycling. Where liberals view environmental issues as matters of right and wrong, conservatives generally do not.

Is the Environment a Moral Cause? by Robb Willer, New York Times, Feb 27, 2015

Leaf-eating insects may limit how much carbon forests absorb, study says

Insects could restrict how well trees absorb and store carbon in the future, according to a new study. In experiments simulating carbon dioxide levels in 2050, insects munched their way through almost double the number of leaves than under current conditions.

With fewer leaves, the trees are likely to become less effective at absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, the researchers say.

Leaf-eating insects may limit how much carbon forests absorb, study says by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Mar 5, 2015

McConnell urges states to defy U.S. plan to cut greenhouse gas

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, is urging governors to defy President Obama by refusing to implement the administration’s global warming regulations.

In an op-ed article published Wednesday in The Lexington Herald-Leader with the headline, “States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations,” Mr. McConnell wrote: “The Obama administration’s so-called ‘clean power’ regulation seeks to shut down more of America’s power generation under the guise of protecting the climate.” He added, “Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class.”

McConnell Urges States to Defy U.S. Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Mar 4, 2015

Syrian conflict has underlying links to climate change, says study

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”

Syrian conflict has underlying links to climate change, says study by Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service (IPS), Mar 2, 2015 

This is where distrust of science really comes from — and it’s not just your politics

Nearly every week, it seems, we get a new survey or study correlating people’s ideological beliefs with their views on science. Thus, we know that conservatives are more likely to doubt climate change and evolution, liberals are more likely to distrust nuclear power, and that both political camps include anti-vaccine minorities. Research also tells us that left-wing sociologists distrust attempts to explain many aspects of human behavior by invoking our evolutionary history.

It’s a fun game to play, this correlating — but it lends itself more to partisan finger pointing than deeper explanations. Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily get at what political antagonists on either side of the aisle feel about science itself, as opposed to how they feel about a particular scientific issue that may rub lefties (or righties) the wrong way for some reason.

new paper, published in the journal Social Forces by sociologist Gordon Gauchat of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, goes much further in this regard. And what did it find? That to simply claim that conservatives distrust science, or that liberals love it, doesn’t really explain much at all. 

This is where distrust of science really comes from — and it’s not just your politics by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Mar 2, 2015

Understanding grief can help us adapt to climate change

Grief is a natural response to the loss of something cherished – a loved one, a place, a memory, an icon, a way of life.

As people adapt to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and to a changing environment, researchers are starting to realise the role grief can play in how well people are able to cope with climate change.

Even with concerted efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, some climate change cannot be avoided, with many changes such as increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events to 2040 being locked in, regardless of action we take. These changes are already happening now and will continue into the foreseeable future.

The resulting impacts will require all communities and individuals to adapt in some way. If they don’t adapt in a planned way and react to events as they happen, it is likely to increase the likelihood of loss, poor responses and vulnerability to future events.

These impacts are not only changing the world around us but also the way we live. As with all change, there is an element of loss and the potential for grief.

Understanding grief can help us adapt to climate change by Celeste Young, The Conversation US Pilot, Mar 2, 2014

We are already seeing the first examples of how climate change will leave us all thirsty

Climate change is reshaping the planet in a big way.

Rising temperatures, melting ice, and surging seas are just a few of the obvious effects that we're already observing.

And, according to recent climate reports, these events could bring on a whole host of other consequences, including bigger storms, increases in infectious disease, shifts in plant and animal life, famines, droughts, and even increased poverty and civil unrest.

In fact, climate change is threatening one of our planet's most precious and necessary resources: our water.

We are already seeing the first examples of how climate change will leave us all thirsty by Chelsea Harvey, Business Insider, Mar 3, 2015

We must defend science if we want a prosperous future

Australia, like the US, UK, Canada and much of Europe, has undergone a serious decline in the quality of debate on public policy. The British journalist Robert Fisk has called this “the infantilisation of debate”.

In the era of “spin”, when a complex issue is involved, leaders do not explain. They find a mantra (“stop the boats!”) and repeat it endlessly, “staying on message”, without explanation or qualification. The word “because” seems to have fallen out of the political lexicon.

Evidence-based policies and actions should be a central principle in the working of our system and reliance on populism and sloganeering should be rejected, but in reality they are not.

We must defend science if we want a prosperous future by Barry Jones, The Conversation US Pilot, Mar 2, 2015

Why you shouldn’t freak out about those mysterious Siberian craters

Siberian craters are back in the news — apparently thanks to a Siberian Times report, full of stunning pictures, claiming that “Dozens of new craters suspected in northern Russia.”

This tends to freak us out, and not surprisingly. After all, one leading idea about the source of the mysterious craters is that these might represent explosions of methane gas into the atmosphere — liberated by melting Arctic permafrost, which is, of course, destabilizing because of global warming.

“What I think is happening here is, the permafrost has been acting as a cap or seal on the ground, through which gas can’t permeate,” says Paul Overduin, a senior scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany who studies permafrost, of the craters. “And it reaches a particular temperature where there’s not enough ice in it to act that way anymore. And then gas can rush out.”

Why you shouldn’t freak out about those mysterious Siberian craters by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, March 2, 2015

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  1. About "We must defend science if we want a prosperous future" by Barry Jones.

    Texts like this one are very important because they point out to a much bigger issue than global warming alone, or vaccination, etc. Good thinking, or the lack of, is a root problem that has to be address.

    Regarding our line of defense, I would add that we should make a heavy use of social dilemmas.

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