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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #23B

Posted on 5 June 2015 by John Hartz

Climate change poses a brewing problem for tea

A myth ties the origins of tea to an errant gust of wind that blew tea leaves into a Chinese emperor’s hot water more than 4,700 years ago.

Since that lucky first brewing, tea has become the second most popular beverage in the world (behind water, of course). The industry has grown into a $20 billion behemoth that sells everything from pedestrian PG Tips to luxurious Yunnan golden tips.

Yet that industry and the farmers that rely on it for their livelihoods could be in hot water as the climate changes.Coffee’s struggles with a changing climate are well-documented, but the impacts on tea are just coming into focus. Early research indicates that tea growing regions could decline in some parts of the world by up to 40-55 percent in the coming decades and the qualities, particularly for high end teas, could also change.

“Crystal-ball gazing, there certainly is the case that some countries growing tea might not be growing tea in the future or certainly growing less,” Ann Marie Brouder, a sustainability advisor at Forum for the Future, said.

Climate change poses a brewing problem for tea by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 4, 2015 

Climate deal badly needs a big stick

Few economists are as versed in the global diplomatic effort to combat climate change as Nicholas Stern of Britain.

So it was particularly distressing to hear him say, at a debate in New York a few weeks ago, that the international effort to achieve a worldwide climate agreement in Paris next December is already falling short on its most critical goal. The various pledges by nations to cut their emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, he noted, will not be enough to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising beyond the level scientists consider the tipping point to devastating environmental disruption.

Professor Stern does not call this “failure.” At least emissions will be lower than without a deal. And he expects the agreement to include a mechanism to review progress every few years, so countries might ramp up their efforts to cut emissions as needed. “This is very much worth having,” he said.

Climate deal badly needs a big stick by Eduardo Porter, New York Times. June 2, 2015

E.P.A. to set new limits on airplane emissions

The Obama administration is set to announce that it will require new rules to cut emissions from airplanes, expanding a quest to tackle climate change that has included a string of significant regulations on cars, trucks and power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to report as early as Friday its conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes endanger human health because they significantly contribute to global warming, although people familiar with the agency’s plans said the announcement could slip into next week.

That announcement, known in legal parlance as an endangerment finding, will prompt a requirement under the Clean Air Act for the agency to issue new regulations to reduce airplane emissions. The agency is expected to limit the rule to commercial aircraft, leaving out small craft and military planes.

E.P.A. to Set New Limits on Airplane Emissions by Coral Davenport & Jad Mouawad, New York Times, June 2, 2015

Factcheck: Is climate change ‘helping Africa’?

A new paper saying greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have boosted rainfall in a drought-stricken region of Africa has received quite a lot of media attention in recent days.

The study, published on Monday in Nature Climate Change, found that rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa has increased by 10% in the past few decades, and that it could be down to climate change.

Despite no mention in the study of easing famine, a press release from the University of Reading made the link between the "accidental" return of "life-giving rains" in the Sahel to Bob Geldof's Live Aid  concerts, held across the world in 1985 to raise funds for victims of famine.

A string of dramatic headlines followed. A comment piece by Geoffrey Lean In The Telegraph declared, 'Global warming has fought famine', while The Times declared, 'Global warming does what Live Aid never could'.  Reuters opted for the more muted, 'Climate change boosts rain in Africa's Sahel region', while The Express suggested the new research means 'African drought is OVER'. MailOnline went a step further, its headline suggesting 'Climate change is HELPING Africa'.

The study's author tells Carbon Brief claims that climate change is "helping Africa" are misleading and that a temporary respite from the Sahel drought is no reason to slow action on tackling climate change.

Factcheck: Is climate change ‘helping Africa’? by Robert McSweeney & Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, June 3, 2015

G7 set for critical climate talks as Paris summit looms

Climate change is seen a primary focus for the Group of Seven when leaders gather in an idyllic fortress in Bavaria this weekend.

Russia’s annexing of Crimea kicked environment down the agenda in 2014, as members expelled it from the forum of major industrialised nations.

Though in the midst of UN talks in Bonn a year on, and with a global warming pact to be signed off in December, climate will feature as Germany’s Angela Merkel chairs talks in the Schloss Elmau castle.

In an interview with Canada’s CBC News on Thursday Merkel indicated it was an “important issue” for the group, which would discuss how it can deliver more green funds to developing countries and accelerate its own carbon cutting plans.

G7 set for critical climate talks as Paris summit looms by Alex Pashley, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), June 5, 2015

Here’s why the global warming hiatus might not exist

The global warming hiatus — a decade-plus slowdown in warming — could be chalked up to some buoys, a few extra years of data and a couple buckets of seawater.

That’s the finding of a new study published on Thursday in Science, which uses updated information about how temperature is recorded, particularly at sea, to take a second look at the global average temperature. The findings show a slight but notable increase in that average temperature, putting a dent in the idea that global warming has slowed over the past 15 years, a trend highlighted in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

The term “ global warming hiatus” is a bit of a misnomer. It refers to a period of slower surface warming in the wake of the 1997-98 super El Niño compared to the previous decades. However, make no mistake, the globe’s average temperature has still risen over that period (including record heat in 2014) and temperatures now are the hottest they’ve been since recordkeeping began in the 1880s. So let’s call it what it really is: a slowdown, not a disappearance of global warming.

Here’s why the global warming hiatus might not exist by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 4, 2015

How Big Carbon can—and must—pay for its climate damage

I was traveling through a typically crowded street in Jakarta on the back of a motorbike recently, breathing the usual noxious stench of exhaust fumes, when I was struck by a powerful realization about the climate crisis. Many of the people around me were two, three, or more to a bike. So many faces were covered with masks to protect against life-threatening pollution. The fossil fuel industry has the world fooled, I couldn’t help but think—billions are addicted to its products with nowhere else to turn.

One of the most incredible and outrageous things about the so-called “issue” of human-caused climate change is the mountain of credible evidence showing a decades-long, highly strategic effort by fossil fuel companies to prevent climate action.

ExxonMobil, for example, generated $32.5 billion in revenue in 2014 by extracting and selling oil and gas, and recently made clear that it intends to continue doing so without limit, explaining that serious emissions cuts from the world’s governments are “highly unlikely.” Dirty energy giants like Exxon and Koch Industries have spent millions funding conservative think tanks and their climate denial campaigns, and they’ve had a considerable impact—especially in the United States, where 72 percent of Senate Republicans don’t “believe” in the science.

How Big Carbon can—and must—pay for its climate damage by Stephen Leonard, Common Dreams, June 5, 2015

How would a low-carbon economy work?

What would a green financial system that encourages net zero greenhouse gas emissions look like?

It would have to reduce the risks of high-carbon assets while simultaneously scaling up capital for the low-carbon transition. But who would set the ground rules, and what role would there be for investors? It would mean a rechanneling of trillions of dollars of private capital. Can this be done in a way that doesn’t threaten the world economy?

These are key questions in an ongoing dialogue among global business leaders. The discussion became public last month at a one-day summit meeting here that showcased solutions and highlighted actions taken by a growing number of pioneering bankers, insurers and institutional investors. They had come together under the auspices of the United Nations and the French government to suggest low-carbon policies. Then they were asked how the new policies might work if they were applied together.

How would a low-carbon economy work? by Eric Marx, ClimateWire/Scientific American, June 2, 2015

Hurricane Blanca is about to be Earth's sixth Category 5 hurricane of 2015

UPDATED 5:00 p.m. ET: Hurricane Blanca has strengthened, with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour as of 5 p.m. ET. It is nearly stationary, centered about 465 miles south of Manzanillo, Mexico.

The hurricane is forecast to begin moving north-northwest on Thursday, with an increase in its forward speed. The National Hurricane Center still anticipates some additional strengthening to occur during the next 24 hours. However, the storm's lack of movement may cause the storm's strong winds to upwell cooler ocean waters from deeper layers of the ocean underneath the storm, potentially halting its intensification process. The Hurricane Center is advising residents of the Baja Peninsula and southwest Mexico to continue to keep an eye on the storm, though no watches or warnings have been issued.

Weather forecasters recognized early on that Hurricane Blanca would be a storm to watch due to its potential for extraordinarily rapid intensification. Forecasts predicted it would develop from a tropical storm on Tuesday to a major hurricane by Wednesday.

Those forecasts may have been a bit conservative. Blanca is now a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, and is forecast to intensify further into a Category 5 monster. 

Hurricane Blanca is about to be Earth's sixth Category 5 hurricane of 2015 by Andrew Freedman, Mashable, June 3, 2015

New research suggests global warming is accelerating

As humans emit more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the Earth continues to warm. When I use the term “warm”, I mean there is an increase in thermal energy (heat) contained in the oceans and atmosphere of this planet.

We can measure warming by measuring temperatures; however, obtaining an accurate reading of the Earth’s temperature is complicated. Temperatures change with seasons, with locations, and there are natural long term variations that move heat around. So, we don’t expect temperatures just to continue increasing at all locations and at all times. We do expect the long term trend to be upwards, however, and that is what we’ve observed.

But if you follow the conversation about global warming, and particularly if you listen to cable news or online bloggers, you might have heard that there has been a hiatus or a halt to global warming. I’ve written before on this site that there is no halt, there never has been one. However there has been a vigorous debate about whether the increase in lower atmosphere temperatures has slowed down.  

New research suggests global warming is accelerating by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, Guardian, June 5, 2015

No 'slowdown' in global surface temperatures after all, study finds

A new paper published today says the much-discussed "slowdown" in warming at Earth's surface may not exist after all.

The study, published in the journal Science, says it is likely to be largely a figment of the way temperature records have been pieced together over time.

Scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reanalysed temperature records and concluded that surface warming over the past 15 years is higher than reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body set up to assess global warming. Temperatures are rising at least as fast as they were in the second half of the 20th century, say the authors.

Given the interest in the topic, this new finding is likely to generate headlines. But it's probably not the last word on this complex topic, scientists tell Carbon Brief.

No 'slowdown' in global surface temperatures after all, study finds by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, June 4, 2015

Puzzling global warming 'pause' was illusion

An apparent pause in global warming might have been a temporary mirage, according to recent analysis. Global average temperatures have continued to rise throughout the first part of the 21stcentury, researchers report on 5 June in Science1.

That finding, which contradicts the 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is based on an update of the global temperature records maintained by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The previous version of the NOAA dataset had showed less warming during the first decade of the millennium.

Researchers revised the NOAA dataset to correct for known biases in sea-surface temperature records and to incorporate data from new land-based monitoring stations that extend into the Arctic — an area where observations are sparse. The updated NOAA dataset also includes observations from 2013 and 2014; the latter ranked as the warmest year on record.

Puzzling global warming 'pause' was illusion by Jeff Tollefson, Nature News, June 5, 2015

Research downplaying impending global warming is overturned

A new paper just published in Science Bulletin by Mark RichardsonZeke HausfatherDana NuccitelliKen Rice, and John Abraham shows that mainstream climate models simulate global temperature observations much better than the “irreducibly simple climate model” of Christopher MoncktonWillie SoonDavid Legates, and William Briggs.

When the Monckton paper was published in the Chinese journal Science Bulletinthis January, it was covered by conservative media outlets like the Daily Mail,Breitbart and World Net Daily, which used it to manufacture doubt about the dangers associated with human-caused global warming. The ideologically-appealing but scientifically incorrect message from the paper was essentially, ‘climate models are running hot, the climate is insensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect, and thus future global warming will be minimal and nothing to worry about.’

However, our team identified numerous glaring fundamental errors in the Monckton paper. The first was in the very premise of the paper itself, claiming that global climate models are “running hot.” In reality, as I show in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience, mainstream climate models have done a good job at projecting the observed changes in the global surface temperature.

Research downplaying impending global warming is overturned by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus - the 97%, Guardian, June 3, 2015

The climate context for India’s deadly heat wave

The broiling heat wave that suffocated parts of India with temperatures regularly above 110°F at the end of May — and killed around 2,000 people in just a few days according to estimates — has finally waned. But the deadly episode has focused world attention on the plight of vulnerable populations during such extreme events and raised questions about how to better prepare for such disasters when the climate could be tipping toward more of them.

While India is no stranger to heat waves this time of year, before the monsoon kicks in and brings relief with its rains, this event was notable because it has been so lethal so quickly. The severity of the event came from a deadly combination of meteorology, possibly with a boost from climate change, and highly vulnerable populations.

Such oppressive heat waves are likely to become more common in a warming world. That is one of the more robust links in climate science, but teasing out such a connection with specific, local events can be difficult, as a new analysis from scientists working with Climate Central, as part of its World Weather Attribution program, shows. The program combines observational data, output from multiple models, peer-reviewed research, and on-the-ground reports to more quickly analyze extreme weather events. This analysis found some suggestions that extreme heat waves in this region are more common than they once were, but more research is needed to firm up such a link.

The climate context for India’s deadly heat wave by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, June 3, 2015

Trolling our confirmation bias: one bite and we’re easily sucked in

Earlier in the year the world was finally treated to some good news from science: a report was published that claimed to show that eating chocolate could help you lose weight faster.

Although it all seemed too good to be true, the story was reported in news outlets around the world. Europe’s largest daily newspaper, Bild, ran it on the front page. It made TV news in Australia and the US, it landed on the Irish ExaminerThe Times of India, and the Huffington Post in various languages.

But it was too good to be true. Or, if you’re an aficionado of the work of trolls, it was even better.

Last week science journalist John Bohannon revealed that the whole study was an elaborate prank, a piece of terrible science he and documentary film makers Peter Onneken and Diana Löbl – with general practitioner Gunter Frank and financial analyst Alex Droste-Haars – had set up to reveal the corruption at the heart of the “diet research-media complex”.

Trolling our confirmation bias: one bite and we’re easily sucked in by Will J Grant, The Conversation AU, June 2, 2015

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Here in Canada the CBC Radio program "Ideas" has just finished presenting a 3-Part series called "Science Under Siege".

    I have not yet listened to this series. However, the episodes of Ideas that I have listened to have always been quite informative, thorough and thought provoking.

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  2. At about 17 minutes into Episode one of "Science under Siege" the assertion is made that science has always had a close relationship with power, either driving towards a common objective or in conflict with power. Hence science is always political. And the times when science was deemed to be contrary to the interests of those in power resulted in failed societies.

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  3. The Ideas program includes clarification tat science has no political ideology. Therefore, any disconnect between power and science that leads to the downfall of a society is due purely to the politiocal ideaology of the powerful.

    From my perspective that clearly identifies the current socio-economic-political system as destined for failure because of two powerful motivations:

    • Lower cost appeals to buyers and investors. And the lowest cost or maximum benefit is obtained by those who get away with the least acceptable actions. The ones among the population who are willing to try to do something tyhat can be understood to be unacceptable will have a competetive advantage as long as they can get away with it.
    • Marketing science enables such people to drum up popular support for their desired unacceptable pursuits. And that popularity can be business or political.

    Those two points indicate that the free-market and libertarianism will be destined to develop an endless stream of damaging unsustainable development that only benefits a few for a short time. Any attempt to develop a lasting better future for all would be at a significant competetive disadvantage.

    That means that the future for humanity on this amazing planet requires science to continue to advance the best understanding of what is going on, and for leaders who will apply that science in policy-making contrary to potential short-term popularity and profitability.

    A better future can be developed. But it has to be at the expense of the hoped for unacceptable opportunities of those who do not care about that type of development.

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  4. The application of science is engineering. Infact to conduct science we must apply science and such is the complexity of measurement and the uncertainty and therefore politics that surrounds its results.

    Science is simply method and cannot be at fault.

    Words are fanstastic things but they don't contain the truth- fascists wield guns and make decisions that hold tribal politics together and we all stand behind it without batting too many eyelids.

    Saying money-makers want a low cost solution to everything really betrays the subtle fact that the system of capitalism sets up a value-for-money solution. All systems are corruptible... some have even said that "system corrupts man" as opposed to the more well worn version that alleges "man corrupts system". 

    Go complexity...

    We all know what limits are and diminishing returns are coming home to roost if we don't start realising Hollywood is aka the illusion of Mara!

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