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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #17A

Posted on 22 April 2015 by John Hartz

Big insurance companies are warning the U.S. to prepare for climate change

A coalition of big insurance companies, consumer groups, and environmental advocates are urging the United States to overhaul its disaster policies in the face of increasingly extreme weather due to human-caused climate change.

According to a report released Tuesday by the SmarterSafer coalition, the U.S. needs to increase how much it spends on pre-disaster mitigation efforts and infrastructure protection. That way, it asserts, the U.S. can stop wasting so much money on cleaning up after a disaster happens.

“Our current natural disaster policy framework focuses heavily on responding to disasters, rather than putting protective measures in place to reduce our vulnerability and limit a disaster’s impact,” the report reads. “This needlessly exposes Americans to greater risks to life and property and results in much higher costs to the federal government.”

Big Insurance Companies Are Warning The U.S. To Prepare For Climate Change by Emily Atkin, Climate Central, Apr 21, 2015

Can Peru stop ‘ethical chocolate’ from destroying the Amazon?

Tamshiyacu plantation in northern Peru

The Tamshiyacu plantation in northern Peru where it is alleged a United Cacao subsidiary illegally cleared primary rainforest. Photograph: Environmental Investigation Agency

Cattle-ranching, logging, mining, highways, hydroelectric dam projects, oil and gas, soy, oil palm. . . These are what first come to mind to many people when thinking about how the Amazon is being destroyed, but what about chocolate too?

NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report on 7 April mainly about monoculture oil palm plantations, which it describes as a “major new threat to Peruvian forests.” The report, Deforestation by Definition, focuses on the Romero Group, Peru’s “largest economic actor”, and what it calls the “Melka Group”, a network of 25 companies recently established in Peru and controlled by businessman Dennis Melka, a major player in the destructive oil palm industry in Malaysia.

According to EIA, two “Melka Group” companies have illegally deforested an estimated “nearly 7,000 hectares” of mainly primary rainforest in Peru over the last three years, and others have acquired at least 456 “rural properties” and requested the government set aside another 96,192 hectares.

Can Peru stop ‘ethical chocolate’ from destroying the Amazon? by David Hill, The Guradian, Apr 17, 2015

Carbon reserves held by top fossil fuel companies soar

The carbon locked up in coal, oil and gas reserves owned by the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies has swollen by 10% in the last five years, despite warnings from the World Bank and others that most existing reserves cannot safely be burned.

The top 200 publicly traded coal, oil and gas companies now hold 555 gigatonnes of CO2 in their fuel reserves, boosted by their continuing efforts to find and develop new reserves. That figure alone is close to the total amount the world could ever emit while keeping global warming below the danger limit of 2C.

Far more fossil fuels – about 2650GT – are held by state-owned companies, meaning that in total there are four to five times more fossil fuels in existing reserves than can be safely burned. But the exploitation of expensive fossil fuels in the Arctic, tar sands and deep sea waters, which scientists say must be kept in the ground, is dominated by the 200 commercial firms.

Carbon reserves held by top fossil fuel companies soar by Damien Carrington, Fossil Fuel Divestment, The Guardian, Apr 19, 2015

China and other big emitters challenge Australia over its climate change policies

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, including China and the US, have questioned the credibility of Australia's climate change targets and "direct action" policy in a list of queries to the Abbott government.

In the latest sign of diplomatic pressure over Canberra's stance on global warming, China accused Australia of doing less to cut emissions than it is demanding of other developed countries, and asked it to explain why this was fair.

China and other big emitters challenge Australia over its climate change policies by Adam Morton and Tom Arup, Sydney Morning Herald, Apr 20, 2015

Explainer: the models that help us predict climate change

What will the weather be like next week, next season, or by the end of the century? In the absence of a second Earth to use in an experiment, global weather and climate model simulations are the only tools we have to answer these questions.

Having access to this information is vital for the community, government and industries to make informed decisions – this includes sectors like tourism, natural resource management, agriculture and emergency services to name a few.

Weather and climate may never be completely predictable, but the science has now come far enough for us to be more confident when it comes to knowing whether it will rain this afternoon and for projecting what Australia’s climate may look like many decades in the future.

We’re also getting better at predicting the next season or two, so that we can be more prepared to respond to the extremes in weather like cyclones, heatwaves and flooding rains that already impact Australian communities.

Explainer: the models that help us predict climate change by Kamal Puri, Aurel Moise, Robert Colman, and Robert Colman, The Conversation, Apr 20, 2015

France's Hollande sees many obstacles to climate deal in Paris

French President Francois Hollande said on Monday there were many obstacles to reaching a U.N. deal to fight climate change at a summit in Paris in December, with concerns about the strategy of big emerging nations such as India.

"Everybody thinks this is a meeting where we will easily find an agreement. I don't think so," Hollande said in a speech on "green growth" at the Elysee presidential palace.

"The more I get into the preparations for this conference, the more I see obstacles," he said.

France's Hollande sees many obstacles to climate deal in Paris, Reuters, Apr 20, 2105

Giant waves quickly destroy Arctic Ocean ice and ecosystems

The chance encounter of a Norwegian research vessel with the largest waves ever recorded amid floating packs of Arctic ice shows how such rollers could reroute shipping, damage oil platforms and threaten coastal communities with erosion. In a March report in Geophysical Research Letters scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) describe how large waves can penetrate more deeply into ice cover and break it up faster and more completely than anyone had suspected.

Less ice means more open water to generate large waves—creating a feedback loop that could doom the ice cap. (This dangerous cycle is illustrated in “Waves of Destruction” in the May issue of Scientific American.)

Giant Waves Quickly Destroy Arctic Ocean Ice and Ecosystems by Mark Harris, Scientific American, Apr 21, 2015

Here’s what China closing coal-power plants means for emissions

China’s recent scrapping of small coal plants will avoid the release of as much as 11.4 million metric tons annually of climate-warming carbon dioxide, helping the country cut emissions for the first time in more than a decade.

The impact is a sign of what’s to come as China pushes for a cap on coal and moves to shutter, or refit, its dirtiest coal-burning power plants. China overhauled or scrapped as much as 3.3 gigawatts of the facilities in 2014, according to a March statement from the National Bureau of Statistics.

The reduction in greenhouse gases assumes most of the capacity was retired because it doesn’t meet current standards and estimates that the plants annually used 5.2 million tons of coal, producing 2.2 million tons of carbon emissions per million ton of coal, according to estimates from Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Here’s What China Closing Coal-Power Plants Means for Emissions, Bloomberg Business News, Apr 19, 2015

Latin America slow to pledge emissions cuts

Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year.

Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting emissions are largely responsible for holding up the process.

By Mar. 31, the first deadline for registering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), only Mexico had done this. In the rest of the world, Switzerland, the European Union as a bloc, Norway, the United States, Gabon and Russia, in that order, had also filed their plans.

“The time taken by international negotiations and the debate over who is responsible for climate change should not be an excuse” for Latin American countries “not to make progress with risk prevention” in regard to climate change, said María Marta di Paola, a researcher with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cuts by Emilio Godoy, Inter Press Service (IPS), Apr 18, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Politicians denying science is ‘Beginning of the end of an informed Democracy’

What will you be doing on Monday, 4/20, at 11 p.m.?

Perhaps watching the premiere of acclaimed astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new show StarTalk. Tyson, who may be best known for hosting the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series in 2014, will now be appearing weekly on the National Geographic Channel in what may be the first late-night science talk show. Along with a trusty cast of comedians and science-minded folks like Bill Nye, Tyson hopes the adaptation of his popular podcast to a broadcast format will make getting a regular dose of science as pain-free as possible. He thinks that by embedding it between pop culture discussions and entertaining asides, the science will go down easy, and even leave you wanting more. And he’s right.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Politicians Denying Science Is ‘Beginning Of The End Of An Informed Democracy’ by Ari Phillips, Climate Progress, Apr 18, 2015

Plants may not protect us against climate change

Plants are one of the last bulwarks against climate change. They feed on carbon dioxide, growing faster and absorbing more of the greenhouse gas as humans produce it. But a new study finds that limited nutrients may keep plants from growing as fast as scientists thought, leading to more global warming than some climate models had predicted by 2100.

Plants need different nutrients to thrive, such as nitrogen for making the light-absorbing pigment chlorophyll and phosphorus for building proteins. Farmers supply these in fertilizer, but in nature, plants have to find their own sources. New nitrogen comes from the air, which is 78% nitrogen by volume, but it is almost all in the form of nitrogen gas. Plants can't break this down, so they rely on soil bacteria to do it for them. Some plants, mainly legumes, have evolved nodules on their roots that harbor these bacteria. New phosphorus comes from weathering rocks or sometimes from sands blown on the wind from deserts.

Yet these two key nutrients are not particularly well accounted for in climate models. Only two of the 11 models used to project future warming in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considered the effects of limited nitrogen on plant growth; none considered phosphorus, although one paper from 2014 subsequently pointed out this omission.

Plants may not protect us against climate change by Tim Wogan, Science News, Apr 20, 2015

Shrinking Antarctic has us skating on thin ice 

One of the most troubling lines in the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was tucked away in a footnote. It stated that, of their various future sea-level scenarios, the estimate of the upper limit – a 1.1 metre rise by 2100 – was actually not the worst case. That is, the $226 billion value of Australian roads, rail, commercial buildings and homes spread over the coastal zone that may be underwater regularly by 2100 could be an underestimate. And they did not know by how much.

The potential source of that extra water? A destabilised West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The unknown that niggled at the authors was the possibility that West Antarctica would do what observations and theory say is possible – collapse, adding an extra five metres to sea levels. Recent observations suggest irreversible retreat has now commenced, and so the key question is not if, but how quickly? The IPCC did not know and the science community still does not know (guesses on timescales vary from 200 to 1000 years or more).

Shrinking Antarctic has us skating on thin ice by Matt King, Sydney Morning Herald, Apr 19, 2015

Study finds low cost in reducing methane emissions

Reducing methane leaks from oil and gas operations around the world could provide a relatively inexpensive way to fight climate change, according to a new report commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The amount of methane that escaped worldwide in 2012 was roughly 3.6 billion cubic feet and would have been worth $30 billion on the market, said Kate Larsen, a director of the Rhodium Group, which produced the study. A country that produced that amount of gas would rank seventh in the world, coming in just after Russia, she said.

Methane, the major component of natural gas, is also a powerful greenhouse gas. It is valued as an alternative to coal because it produces half of the carbon dioxide that coal does when burned in power plants. But released directly into the atmosphere, methane has short-term climate effects that are much greater than those of carbon dioxide.

Study finds low cost in reducing methane emissions by John Schwartz, New York Times, Apr 21, 2015

Tiny marine plants could amplify Arctic warming by 20%, new study finds

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than the rest of the world. Now, new research suggests microscopic algae could speed up warming even further.

These miniscule floating plants, which do everything from storing carbon to supporting the ocean food web, could drive faster sea ice melt as the Earth heats up, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Microalgae are already showing signs of adapting to warmer oceans, says a second study. But this is no guarantee they'll be able to cope with future temperature increases, the researchers say.

Tiny marine plants could amplify Arctic warming by 20%, new study finds by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Apr 20, 2015

University offering free online course to demolish climate denial

Starting 28 April, 2015, the University of Queensland is offering a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) aimed at “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial”.

The course coordinator is John Cook, University of Queensland Global Change Institute climate communication fellow, and founder of the climate science myth debunking website Skeptical ScienceCook’s research has primarily focused on the psychology of climate science denial. As he explains,

97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming; however, less than half of Australians are aware of humanity’s role in climate change, while half of the US Senate has voted that humans aren’t causing global warming. This free course explains why there is such a huge gap between the scientific community and the public. Our course looks at what’s driving climate science denial and the most common myths about climate change.

The course includes climate science and myth debunking lectures by the international team of volunteer scientific contributors to Skeptical Science, including myself, and interviews with many of the world’s leading climate science and psychology experts. Making Sense of Climate Science Denial is a seven-week program featuring interviews with 75 scientific experts, including Sir David AttenboroughKatharine HayhoeRichard AlleyMichael Mann, and Naomi Oreskes.

University offering free online course to demolish climate denial by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consenus - the 97%, The Guardian, Apr 21, 2015

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Signifficant story is developping on mitigation denial front:

    Bjorn Lomborg, Abbott's Four Million Dollar 'Climate Contrarian'

    also in smh: Bjorn Lomborg centre or the University of Western Australia

    If I was affiliated with UWA, I would be outraged by Tony Abbott's efforts to introduce the climate change mitigation denialism into australian education system, and further force my uni to finance 2/3 of the cost.

    John Cook, or Stephen, if you guys read it, can you explain what is the position of UWA on that story? Does UWA board really not mind bringing Lomborg's disinformation to their own classrooms at their own funding?

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  2. Addendum to my @1. The news is developping fast:

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office the origin for controversial Bjorn Lomborg centre decision

    and confirms my opinion that our current PM should by default be blamed for all contrarian/science denying decisions.

    PS: I appologise for mistyping Stephan Lewandowsky's surname @1. And would be happy if a mod could correct it.

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  3. It is quite apparent the majority of Australia is appalled that the good name of UWA is now mud. The 'talking points' UWA have delivered to staff reveal this was a known quantity to have to deal with... given W.A. delivered the mining boom it will not be forgotten and will in my opinion be the continuing saga of what was always a global joke !

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  4. The practice of either shutting down or hobbling an organisation that doesn't agree with your political agenda of appointing a stooge into a potentially influential position are the hallmarks of several state and federal administrations here in Oz.

    Abbot has never reacanted his rant   "The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger" , so I can only believe that he is still the scientific ignoramus that he was back then in 2010.

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