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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #20B

Posted on 16 May 2015 by John Hartz

Bjorn Lomborg’s consensus approach is blind to inequality

Bjorn Lomborg is, undoubtedly, seriously concerned with poverty and inequality. Both in the work of the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) and in his popular writings, this is a common theme. He has championed some very progressive ideas, including eradicating barriers to international migration. Unfortunately, he has also used rather distorted arguments and evidence about inequality to attack some of his favourite bugbears, such as subsidies for renewable energy.

The problem is that the central methodology of Lomborg and the CCC is at best blind to inequality and, in its application, could actually increase it. Moreover, there are good arguments to suggest that if we take a broader view of inequality to include intergenerational equality, the CCC methodology is not even equality-blind; it is equality-averse.

Bjorn Lomborg’s consensus approach is blind to inequality by Graham K Brown, The Conversation AU, May 14, 205

Clean energy access, a major sustainable development goal

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Forum will take place May 18-21 in New York. Success in achieving sustainable development and tackling climate change challenges requires investment in clean energy solutions.

The Millennium Development Goals were all contingent on having access to energy services. If you want to get more children into school, you need energy. To guarantee food security and manage water, you need energy. To combat HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality, you need energy. The list goes on.

Poverty can be lived and measured, also, as energy poverty. The poor don’t have access, or very bad supply. In fact, about 1.3 billion people globally do not have access to electricity, and nearly three billion use harmful, polluting and unsustainable methods, such as burning wood and charcoal at home for cooking.

Not only are these methods bad for health and the environment, but they eat into time that could be spent in school or at work, limiting people’s potential – especially women’s. Expanding access to energy services therefore goes hand-in-hand with poverty eradication, gender equality and sustainable development.

Opinion: Clean Energy Access, a Major Sustainable Development Goal by Magdy Martinez-Soliman. Inter Press Service (IPS), May 15, 2015

Geoengineering is fast and cheap, but not the key to stopping climate change

About 70,000 years ago, a super volcanic eruption in Indonesia released more than 2,000 cubic kilometres of material, blocking out sunlight and reducing global mean temperature by about four degrees. This rapid change in climate may have had a catastrophic impact on our ancestors, possibly cutting the human population to only 10,000 survivors. Although the academic debate surrounding this hypothesis has not yet been settled, there is strong evidence that rapid warming or cooling episodes have caused multiple mass extinctions of other species over the past 500 million years.

Geoengineering is fast and cheap, but not the key to stopping climate change by Andrew Snyder-Beattie, The Guardian, May 15, 2015

How rivers bury carbon at sea

Rivers transport 200 million tons of carbon to the oceans every year, according to new research that calculates the role of rivers in carbon storage.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, assessed samples from 43 river systems that put out more than 20 percent of the world’s river sediments. Their calculations show that the levels of carbon transported by rivers are equivalent to 0.02 percent of carbon in the atmosphere, but that over thousands of years, this could add up to significant chunks of carbon extracted from the atmosphere.

Most carbon in rivers is picked up from plant and rock debris. As the carbon makes its way downstream, some is released back into the atmosphere when it decays, while the rest makes it out to open ocean. Upon reaching the ocean, a fraction of the sediment sinks to the ocean floor, where it can be stored for millennia in the form of rocks. These rocks eventually make their way back to the surface, but the process is lengthy.

How Rivers Bury Carbon at Sea by Manon Verchot, ClimateWire/Scientific American, May 14, 2015

India, China commit to work together on climate change

China and India, the world's No. 1 and No. 3 greenhouse gas emitters, projected a united front on climate change on Friday with a rare joint statement that asked rich countries to step up efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.

The statement, issued by the two largest developing nations during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China, asked wealthy countries to provide finance, technology and other necessary support to emerging countries to help reduce their own emissions.

"The two sides urged the developed countries to raise their pre-2020 emission reduction targets and honour their commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries," the statement said.

India, China commit to work together on climate change, Reuters, May 15, 2015

New study finds a hot spot in the atmosphere

A new study, just published in Environmental Research Letters by Steven Sherwood and Nidhi Nashant, has answered a number of questions about the rate at which the Earth is warming. Once again, the mainstream science regarding warming of the atmosphere is shown to be correct. This new study also helps to answer a debate amongst a number of scientists about temperature variations throughout different parts of the atmosphere.

When someone says “The Earth is warming”, the first questions to ask are (1) what parts of the Earth? and (2) over what time period? The Earth’s climate system is large; it includes oceans, the atmosphere, land surface, ice areas, etc. 

When scientists use the phrase “global warming” they are often talking about increases to the amount of energy stored in oceans or increases to the temperature of the atmosphere closest to the ground. By either of these measures, climate change has led to a progressive increase in temperatures over the past four decades. But what about other parts of the climate system? What is happening to them?

New study finds a hot spot in the atmosphere by John Abraham, Climate Consensus-the 97%, The Guardian, May 15, 2015

One magical politician won't stop climate change. It's up to all of us

Lots of people eagerly study all the polls and reports on how many people believe that climate change is real and urgent. They seem to think there is some critical mass that, through the weight of belief alone, will get us where we want to go. As if when the numbers aren’t high enough, we can’t achieve anything. As if when the numbers are high enough, beautiful transformation will magically happen all by itself or people will vote for wonderful politicians who do the right thing.

But it’s not the belief of the majority or the work of elected officials that will change the world. It will be action, most likely the actions of a minority, as it usually has been. This week’s appalling Obama administration decision to let Shell commence drilling in the Arctic sea says less about that administration, which swings whichever way it’s pushed, than that we didn’t push harder than the oil industry. Which is hard work, but sometimes even a tiny group can do it.

One magical politician won't stop climate change. It's up to all of us by Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian, May 15, 2015

The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit

There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence.

The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.

The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit by David Roberts, Vox, May 15, 2015

The Carbon Brief interview: Prof Dame Julia Slingo OBE 

Prof Dame Julia Slingo has been the chief scientist at the Met Office since February 2009. Before joining the Met Office, she was the director of climate research in NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading. In 2008, she became the first female president of the Royal Meteorological Society. Earlier this month, she was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

On the 2013/14 winter flooding in the UK: "I can't give a definitive answer, but all the evidence points to the potential for climate change to have played a role."

The Met Office's new supercomputer: "It gives me more confidence in the advice we give to government, to businesses, to public on what climate change might look like."

On adaptation: "There's no point putting in flood defences that respond to mean climate change if you haven't thought of what a one-in-a-hundred-year event will look like in a warmer world."

On overinterpreting short-term temperature trends: "There are real issues with looking at too short a time period to define what we believe is climate sensitivity."

On the reliability of climate models: "Do I think our models run too warm? No, I don't."

The Carbon Brief interview: Prof Dame Julia Slingo OBE by Leo Hickman, The Carbon Brief, May 15, 2015

What is the ‘warm blob’ in the Pacific and what can it tell us about our future climate?

People living across the US have lived through some odd weather in the past year. It’s been unusually warm and dry in the western US, while the East had a very cold and snowy winter. Meanwhile, scientists have been seeing Pacific marine species in places they’re not normally found and a huge spike in hungry, stranded sea lion pups on California shores.

All these phenomena are linked to a giant patch of remarkably warm water off the West Coast in the northeast Pacific Ocean called “the blob,” a term I coined when we first started to notice it during the fall of 2013 and winter of 2014.

This piece summarizes the mechanisms responsible for the blob, enumerates some of its direct and indirect impacts, and discusses the opportunity provided by this climate event.

Better understanding the blob is important not only to predicting weather and its impact on ecosystems but also because it can provide insight into the effects we could see from warmer ocean waters in the future.

What is the ‘warm blob’ in the Pacific and what can it tell us about our future climate? by Nicholas A Bond, The Conversation US, May 15, 2015


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  1. Precisely correct, Bjorn Lomborg is blind to intergenerational inequality. His political message is a global one: that carbon emissions be allowed to warm the earth by three degrees. (What was his choice of measurement btw as I  cannot recall?)

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