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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #18B

Posted on 2 May 2015 by John Hartz

Amazon: 1% of tree species store 50% of region's carbon

About 1% of all the tree species in the Amazon account for half of the carbon locked in the vast South American rainforest, a study has estimated.

Although the region is home to an estimated 16,000 tree species, researchers found that just 182 species dominated the carbon storage process.

Amazonia is vital to the Earth's carbon cycle, storing more of the element than any other terrestrial ecosystem.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

Amazon: 1% of tree species store 50% of region's carbon by Mark Kinver, BBC News, Apr 28, 2015

California Governor orders new target for emissions cuts

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Wednesday sharply ramping up this state’s already ambitious program aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, saying it was critical to address “an ever-growing threat” posed by global warming to the state’s economy and well-being.

Under Mr. Brown’s order, by 2030, emission levels will have to be reduced by 40 percent compared with 1990. Under existing state law, emissions are supposed to be cut 80 percent from what they were in 1990 by 2050, and Mr. Brown said this tough new interim target was essential to helping the state make investment and regulatory decisions that would assure that goal was reached.

Mr. Brown faulted Republicans in Congress for “pooh-poohing” the threat of global warming. He said that he wanted California to set an example for the rest of the country and the world on the urgency of responding to what he described as a slow-moving crisis.

California Governor Orders New Target for Emissions Cuts by Adam Nagourney, New York Times, Apr 29, 2015

Caribbean stakes out “red lines” for Paris climate talks

When the international climate change talks ended in Peru last December, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a political and economic union comprising small, developing, climate-vulnerable islands and low-lying nations, left with “the bare minimum necessary to continue the process to address climate change”.

“The Lima Accord did decide that the Parties would continue to work on the elements in the Annex to develop a negotiating text for the new Climate Change Agreement. We wanted a stronger statement that these were the elements to be used to draft the negotiating text,” Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre told IPS.

Caribbean Stakes Out “Red Lines” for Paris Climate Talks by Kenton X. Chance, International Press Service (IPS), Apr 

Climate change could eventually claim a sixth of the world’s species

Up to one-sixth of the species on Earth could disappear if climate change remains on its current course, according to a new analysis of more than 100 smaller studies.

“All the studies are in pretty good agreement: The more warming we have, the more species we’ll lose,” says Dov Sax, a conservation biologist at Brown University who was not involved in the work. “This is really important to know, from a policy viewpoint.”

Industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases have boosted the global average temperature about 0.8°C (1.44°F) since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But studies have disagreed about what impact the rise is having on the world’s species, says Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Some have estimated that as many as 54% of species could eventually become extinct as a result of climate change, but others have suggested no significant impact.

Climate change could eventually claim a sixth of the world’s species by Sid Perkins, Science/AAAS, Apr 30, 2015

Climate change joins terrorism, the economy as a top diplomatic issue

For the first time, climate change has received full treatment in an important State Department planning document, joining terrorism, democracy, and the global economy among the nation’s top diplomatic priorities. It’s the clearest sign yet that the warming climate has the full attention of the Obama administration.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry released the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the once-every-four-years strategic planning document for America’s diplomatic corps. The QDDR is a wonky initiative begun by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State and modeled off a similar process that the Defense Department uses. At that time, her team prioritized energy diplomacy and frequently mentioned climate change in a list of complex challenges, but this week’s document ups the ante significantly.

Climate Change Joins Terrorism, the Economy as a Top Diplomatic Issue by Eric Holthaus, Slate, Apr 30, 2015

Climate change will significantly affect Australians’ health, report finds

Climate change will have significant repercussions for Australians’ health as warming temperatures fuel extreme weather events, help spread disease and disrupt food and water supplies, according to a report backed by the country’s peak scientific and medical bodies.

The Climate change challenges to health report, released by the Australian Academy of Science, warns that vulnerable people, particularly the sick, elderly and poor, will “suffer disproportionately from the worst impacts of climate change.”

The report notes that the world will have warmed by “at least 2C compared with pre-industrial times” by the end of the century, leading to heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods that will “lead directly to loss of life and will have a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of communities.” 

Climate change will significantly affect Australians’ health, report finds by Oliver Milman and Melissa Davey, The Guardian, Apr 29, 2015

College students are making global warming a moral issue. Here's why that scares people

The Pope plans on delivering an encyclical on climate change this summer, and it has American conservatives freaking out. The Heartland Institute, a leading anti-environmental "think tank," has even dispatched a crack team of deniers to Rome to dissuade His Holiness.

Why the agita from the right? After all, similar statements of climate concern have been issued by virtually every major government, international development organization, and national science council in the world. It's not like the Pope is spilling the beans on a well-kept secret.

But as Heartland clearly recognizes, the Pope's statement carries unique significance for the simple reason that he has unquestioned moral authority for millions of people. He threatens to situate the fight against climate change as a deeply moral issue, a matter of God's work on earth. Once it is so situated, it will slowly and inexorably drag culture and politics along in its wake.

College students are making global warming a moral issue. Here's why that scares people. by David Roberts, Vox, Apr 29, 2015

Cutting NASA’s earth science budget is short-sighted and a threat 

When I went to bed last night, I had no intention of writing this commentary. However, I literally could not sleep contemplating the reckless cuts to NASA’s earth sciences budget being proposed by some in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Phil Plait at Slate and Capital Weather Gang recently documented the stark and primitive cuts being proposed for the NASA authorization bill.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, one of the few people that has actually seen our home planet from the vantage point of space, issued a statement noting that proposed cuts, “gut our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events…” This statement is measured and appropriate, but I am writing to amplify this statement.

Cutting NASA’s earth science budget is short-sighted and a threat by Marshall Shepherd, Capital Weather Gang, Washington Post, May 1, 2015

England faces major rise in record hot years due to climate change 

Record-breaking hot years in England have become at least 13 times more likely because of manmade climate change, scientists have discovered.

The new study suggests England faces a “significant and substantial increase” of years similar to 2014, which was the hottest on record worldwide and the warmest in England since records began more than three and a half centuries ago.

Dr Geert Jan van Oldenborgh from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who co-authored the study, said climate change had become so influential on the world’s weather that its effects could be modelled at increasingly local levels.

England faces major rise in record hot years due to climate change by Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian, May 1, 2015

Fossil fuel companies defy warnings on burning reserves

The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies are taking a defiant stance against warnings that reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times larger than can be burned if the world’s governments are to meet their pledge to tackle climate change.

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, said on Monday that global warming was “an environmental crisis predicted by flawed computer models”.

Another coal giant, Glencore Xstrata, said on Tuesday that governments would fail to implement measures to cut carbon emissions. Oil and gas major ExxonMobil said new reserves in the Arctic and Canadian tar sands must be exploited, moves scientists deem incompatible with tackling global warming.

Fossil fuel companies defy warnings on burning reserves by Damien Carrington, The Guardian, Apr 29, 2015

Heartland Institute takes climate foolishness to a Biblical level

I just received a notice that made me laugh. The Heartland Institute, one of the groups responsible for misleading the public about climate change, sent out a notice about an upcoming Papal event. The event itself sounds great, it is a workshop on April 28th to address global warming. I have written about the bold action taken by Pope Francis; he is clearly a leader amongst the faith community on this topic which is already having large societal and human health impacts. At the upcoming events, world leaders in science, business, and religion will congregate to work toward solutions to help protect the most vulnerable. 

Of course, this is all bad news for those who are trying to sweep the problem of climate change under the rug. That brings us to the Heartland Institute. They are asking their members and readers to tell the Pope that climate change is not a crisis. In an email I received, it is stated that Heartland will be bringing “real scientists to Rome” to dissuade the Pope from taking climate change seriously.

So, who are these “real” scientists that can show us climate change either isn’t happening or isn’t serious? Well, if you’ve followed climate change research over the past few years, you will have noticed that the number of scientists who share Heartland’s view is dwindling fast. The few remaining scientists either aren’t climate scientists at all or their work has been revealed as faulty.

Heartland Institute takes climate foolishness to a Biblical level by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Apr 28, 2015

House GOP wants to eviscerate NASA Earth Sciences in new budget

There’s no other way to put this, so I’ll be succinct: A passel of anti-science global warming denying GOP representatives have put together a funding authorization bill for NASA that at best cuts more than $300 million from the agency’s current Earth science budget.

At worst? More than $500 million.

The actual amount of the cut depends on whether some caps enacted in 2011 are removed or not. If they are, then Earth sciences gets $1.45 billion. If not, it gets $1.2 billion. The current FY 2015 budget is $1.773 billion.

Compare that with the White House request for FY ’16 of $1.947 billion for Earth sciences. The bill will be marked up (amended and rewritten) by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today.

House GOP Wants to Eviscerate NASA Earth Sciences in New Budget by Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy, Slate, Apr 30, 2015

Melting moments: a look under East Antarctica’s biggest glacier

It’s 11 o’clock on a January evening in 2011 as our venerable old DC-3 aircraft banks over Casey Station, in the last golden rays of an Antarctic sunset. Offshore, an armada of giant icebergs sits stalled in the relative shallows along Peterson Bank, a mix of dusky pink highlights and violet shadows.

Inside the aircraft we shut down our instruments, and I strap myself back in my seat before the gentle bump and swoosh of the snowy landing – another mission under our belts.

The ICECAP (International Collaboration for Exploration of the Cryosphere through Aerogeophysical Profiling) project – a collaboration between US, British and Australian Antarctic researchers – has been mapping the East Antarctic ice sheet to look for changes. On our many flights, we have used radar, laser, geomagnetic and gravity instruments to survey an area the size of New South Wales, inland from Casey Station. So far, the flights have covered a total of 150,000 km over the frozen continent’s vast eastern expanse.

And it turns out that East Antarctica needs careful watching. The project is giving us a new look at the underside of the ice sheet in East Antarctica, and causing significant concerns for future increases in sea level. One of the project’s major recent discoveries is that the terrain under the region’s biggest and most important glacier may make it more vulnerable to melting than we thought.

Melting moments: a look under East Antarctica’s biggest glacier by Tas van Ommen, The Conversation, Apr 29, 2015

Overlooked evidence - global warming may proceed faster than expected

It’s known as “single study syndrome”. When a new scientific paper is published suggesting that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, potentially modestly downgrading the associated climate change threats, that sort of paper will generally receive disproportionate media attention. Because of that media attention, people will tend to remember the results of that single paper, and neglect the many recent studies that have arrived at very different conclusions.

Overlooked evidence - global warming may proceed faster than expected by Dana Nuccitelli,Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Apr 30, 2015

Vatican spells out vision for zero-carbon world

The Vatican has gathered religious leaders, scientists, politicians and businessmen under one roof to agree that acting on climate change is a "moral and religious imperative for humanity".

This was the essence of a declaration signed by the attendees of a one-day meeting hosted yesterday by the Holy See. It outlines a vision for the future of the planet, including the adoption of low-carbon energy systems, a shift of investment away from the military and towards sustainable development, and the transfer of money from the rich to the poor.

The meeting was organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences - academic bodies under the auspices of the Pope that seek to combine scientific and spiritual values.

Today, these institutions released their own report, designed to accompany the declaration and to support a forthcoming encyclical on climate change authored by Pope Francis.

Vatican spells out vision for zero-carbon world by Sophie Yeo, The Carbon Brief, Apr 29, 2015

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. This New York Times article refers to a recent study and report led by Erich M. Fischer evaluating the increased probabilities of extreme weather events for different levels of increase of global average surface temperature.

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  2. I have decided not to use the Luntz' term "climate change" except to describe global warming related effects.  The cause is Global Warming.  The effect is climate change.

    Why anyone would decide to go along with a denialist talking point is beyond me.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Scientists had used the term "climate change" long before Luntz decided it would be preferrable to "global warming" for political communications purposes. The term "climate change" is not a "denialist talking point."

  3. Those with long memories will recall that it was California that turned the world onto cheap and reliable electronic fuel injection for consumer vehicles.  As of Governor Brown's setting a high bar for reducing carbon emissions, so did California in the 60s when an exceptionally high bar was set for vehicle exhausts in that state when air pollution was becoming a crippling issue for cities like LA.  Volkswagen took up the challenge with Bosch being given the job of designing a cheap fuel injection system that has now universally replaced carburettors. Of course other companies had to follow in the footsteps of Bosch.  We have California, VW and Bosch to thank for what we have today.  I can see California once more putting the challange to industry which will feed through to the rest of the world.

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  4. In addition to the mentioned benefits of 'leadership' from California, the global community has benefited from the leadership of the European Community on matters like reduced sulphur content in diesel.

    In the late 1970s the unacceptability of sulphur in diesel fuel was globally understood. However, the US deliberately delayed implementing reduced sulphur content requirements in order to obtain an economic advantage in trade with Europeans or anyone else who did implement lower sulphur requirements . The US requirements continue to lag behind what can be accomplished (European developed diesel technology is still 'ruined' by the quality of fuel in the US).

    There are many other examples of the deliberate delay of action by the US in any area where temporary economic advantage can be obtained by such delay. That is why the US (and Canada and Australia), increased emissions from 1990 to 2005 compared to the Europeans holding emissions fairly constant through to 2005 (and it is why the US proposes its reductions relative to its 2005 levels rather than 1990 levels which were 17% lower).

    The real problem to overcome is the profitability and popularity of political and economic leadership action that appeals to desires that it is possible to understand are unacceptable, or creates fear to garner support for actions that can be understood to be unacceptable.

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  5. Arctic researchers missing, presumed dead.

    Apparently, they (Marc Cornelissen & Philip de Roo) were on a trip to survey the remaining multi-year ice north of the Candaian arhcipelago (projected to eventually be the 'Last Ice' remaining in the Arctic) when they encountered unexpectedly thin ice and their sled broke through and sank.

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