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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #4A

Posted on 22 January 2015 by John Hartz

Al Gore: oil companies 'use our atmosphere as an open sewer'

It’s not possible to listen to petroleum industry executives defending their reckless extraction of oil without feeling that we are living in an age of madness.

In a recent private conversation under the Chatham House rule, one of the world’s most senior industry leaders, who is considered to be at the more moderate end of the spectrum, insisted that we are going to burn all the world’s hydrocarbons despite the consequences.

His reasoning is that a growing population in the developing world needs energy to raise living standards, that renewables will not become a dominant energy source till the end of the century and that politicians don’t have the courage or power to limit production.

He acknowledged that the burning of all reserves would almost certainly lead to temperature rises of up to 4C, but argued the best way forward is to focus on limiting the damage through such technologies as carbon capture and storage.

Al Gore: oil companies 'use our atmosphere as an open sewer' by Jo Confino, The Guardian, Jan 21, 2015

Climate change researcher to sit with first lady at SOTU

A climate change and sea-level rise researcher with sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Nicole Hernandez Hammer’s research focuses on “how cities and regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change also have large concentrations of Hispanics,” the White House said Monday.

Hammer, an immigrant from Guatemala, lives in southeast Florida, where much of her research is focused.

She also leads efforts in her area for the Union of Concerned Scientists and Moms Clean Air Force. She is among 21 guests planning to attend President Obama’s speech with the first lady.

Climate change researcher to sit with first lady at SOTU by Timothy Cama, The Hill,

Food diversity under siege from global warming, U.N. says

Climate change threatens the genetic diversity of the world's food supply, and saving crops and animals at risk will be crucial for preserving yields and adapting to wild weather patterns, a U.N. policy paper said on Monday.

Certain wild crops - varieties not often cultivated by today's farmers - could prove more resilient to a warming planet than some popular crop breeds, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

But these wild strains are among those most threatened by climate change.

Ensuring food security and protecting at-risk species in the face of climate change is one of "the most daunting challenges facing humankind", the paper said.

Food diversity under siege from global warming, U.N. says by Chris Arsenault, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Jan 19, 2015

Former Saudi oil boss says it can handle low price

Saudi Arabia can cope with low oil prices for "at least eight years", Saudi Arabia's minister of petroleum's former senior adviser has told the BBC.

Former Saudi oil boss says it can handle low price, BBC, Jan 19, 205

How ‘Warmest Ever’ headlines and debates can obscure what matters about climate change

If you track developments related to human-driven global warming, my guess is you’re aware that the federal agencies that analyze climate conditions released the final word on 2014’s climate on Friday.

Both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration firmly concluded that last year beat out 2010 and 2005, the previous years that had held the title of warmest since methodical record-keeping began in 1880.

N.O.A.A. went the furthest, saying its calculations showed 2014 “easily breaking the previous records”:

How ‘Warmest Ever’ Headlines and Debates Can Obscure What Matters About Climate Change by Andrew C Revkin, Dot Earth, New York Times, Jan 21, 2015

Is a climate disaster inevitable?

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is home to almost 300 billion stars, and over the last decade, astronomers have made a startling discovery — almost all those stars have planets. The fact that nearly every pinprick of light you see in the night sky hosts a family of worlds raises a powerful but simple question: “Where is everybody?” Hundreds of billions of planets translate into a lot of chances for evolving intelligent, technologically sophisticated species. So why don’t we see evidence for E.T.s everywhere?

The physicist Enrico Fermi first formulated this question, now called the Fermi paradox, in 1950. But in the intervening decades, humanity has recognized that our own climb up the ladder of technological sophistication comes with a heavy price. From climate change to resource depletion, our evolution into a globe-spanning industrial culture is forcing us through the narrow bottleneck of a sustainability crisis. In the wake of this realization, new and sobering answers to Fermi’s question now seem possible.

Maybe we’re not the only ones to hit a sustainability bottleneck. Maybe not everyone — maybe no one — makes it to the other side.

Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable? Op-ed by Adam Frank, Sunday Review, New York Times, Jan 17, 2015

‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’

How depressed would you be if you had spent more than 40 years warning of an impending global catastrophe, only to be continually ignored even as you watch the disaster unfolding?

So spare a thought for Jørgen Randers, who back in 1972 co-authored the seminal work Limits to Growth (pdf), which highlighted the devastating impacts of exponential economic and population growth on a planet with finite resources.

As politicians and business leaders gather in Davos to look at ways to breathe new life into the global battle to address climate change, they would do well to listen to Randers’ sobering perspective.

The professor of climate strategy at the Norwegian Business School has been pretty close to giving up his struggle to wake us up to our unsustainable ways, and in 2004 published a pessimistic update of his 1972 report showing the predictions made at the time are turning out to be largely accurate.

What he cannot bear is how politicians of all persuasions have failed to act even as the scientific evidence of climate change mounts up, and as a result he has largely lost faith in the democratic process to handle complex issues.

‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’ by Jo Cofino, The Guardian, Jan 19, 2015

Matt Ridley wants to gamble the Earth’s future because he won’t learn from the past

Have you ever watched a zombie movie and wondered if the protagonists will grow physically tired from having to repeatedly kill zombies that inevitably rise once again from the dead? That’s how people often feel when confronted withclimate change myths that were debunked years ago. These myths never seem to stay dead, inevitably being revived by climate contrarians no matter how conclusively and repeatedly they’ve been debunked.

And so we have writer Matt Ridley once again published in the London Timescomplaining, “Rather than attack my arguments, my critics like to attack my motives.” That’s undoubtedly because when an individual keeps repeating the same myths over and over again, people eventually grow tired of debunking those myths and naturally question the motives of the individual who keeps making them.

Matt Ridley wants to gamble the Earth’s future because he won’t learn from the past by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Jan 21, 2015

Obama calls out Republicans for their “I’m not a scientist” line

At some point in the past few years, it dawned on leading Republicans that dismissing the science behind climate change was not doing them any favors with the public. Recent polls show that a clear majority of Americans believe the climate is in fact changing, and nearly half view that as a major threat to the country’s future.

But to embrace the science, for a GOP leader, would be to alienate a powerful conservative base that continues to plug its ears and shout “Climategate” when confronted with the evidence. And so, one by one, top Republicans—including presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—have fallen back on what is becoming the new party line: “I’m not a scientist.”

It is not a particularly compelling line, as many analysts have pointed out. “It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” one Republican energy lobbyist told theNew York Times. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything.”

Obama Calls Out Republicans for Their “I’m Not a Scientist” Line by Will Oremus, Slate, Jan 20, 2015

Obama strikes first in war of words with Congress over global warming

President Obama confronted Republicans on the science of climate change in a sometimes barbed State of the Union address that described rising temperatures as the greatest threat to future Americans.

The speech collided with the promises of newly empowered Republicans in Congress to depict Obama's climate and energy policies as symbols of excessive liberalism before the presidential elections next year. Obama was still delivering his address when a senior Republican senator described his climate views as part of a "socialist agenda."

Speaking on the heels of new research showing that 2014 was the warmest year on record, Obama warned that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions could worsen weather, erode the economy and endanger children's health.

Obama Strikes First in War of Words with Congress over Global Warming by Evan Lehmann and Umair Irfan, ClimateWire/Scientrific American, Jan 21, 2015

Satellite treats Earth as terrarium

SMAP lives in a stark white clean room at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will be launched on Jan. 29 into space, where it will unfurl a giant antenna that looks like a circular fence.

The antenna is designed to collect signals pinging up from Earth 426 miles below. To SMAP, also known as the Soil Moisture Active Passive instrument, the Earth looks like a gigantic glass chamber of carbon and water, a setup similar to scientist Joseph Priestly's experiment in 1771 when he discovered the carbon cycle. Priestly trapped a mouse and a mint plant inside a glass jar and found that the plant inhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) for photosynthesis and exhaled water vapor and oxygen, which the mouse breathed and thrived on. The carbon got used by the plant to make leaves and stems.

Scientists will use SMAP for their version of this experiments, with the planet as their glass jar. At the Arctic circle are stands of spruce, fir and pine form one of the largest contiguous forests on the planet. These boreal forests and other vegetated areas are like the mint plant. They absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and scientists call them net "carbon sinks" because traditionally they take in about 30 percent of the emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Satellite Treats Earth as Terrarium by Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire?Scientific American, Jan 20, 2015

US conservatives erupt over pope's plan for encyclical on moral duty to address climate change

Conservative distrust of Pope Francis, which has been building in the U.S. throughout his pontificate, is reaching a boiling point over his plan to urge action on climate change — and to do so through a document traditionally used for the most important papal teachings.

For months, Francis has been drafting an encyclical on the environment and global warming which he hopes to release by June or July. Encyclicals are written with the help of a small group of advisers working under strict secrecy. But in a news conference as he traveled last week to the Philippines, Francis gave his strongest signal yet of the direction he'll take.

He said global warming was "mostly" man-made. And he said he wanted his encyclical out in plenty of time to be absorbed before the next round of U.N. climate change talks in Paris in November after the last round in Lima, Peru, failed to reach an agreement.

US conservatives erupt over pope's plan for encyclical on moral duty to address climate change by Rachel Zoll, AP/Star Tribune, Jan 19, 2015

Was 2014 hot enough for you?

So, it’s official: 2014 was the hottest year on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Japan Meteorological Agency both rank it that way while NASA puts it in a statistical tie with 2005 and 2010.

I’m not a huge fan of “hottest year” type statistics, as I’ll get to in a moment, but this one is important for two reasons: One is that there was no El Niño last year, which tends to drive global temperatures up. (Many record years were ones that had El Niños.) 2014 broke the record without any help. The other is that, according to the NOAA and JMA, 2014 was statistically significant.

Let’s say you flip a coin 10 times, and it comes up heads six times. Is that significant? No, it’s very likely just a random fluctuation, because if you flip a coin 10 times you expect pretty big deviations from a 50/50 distribution of heads and tails. If you flip it a million times and get 600,000 heads, then you’re talking significant.

Was 2014 Hot Enough for You? by Phil Plait, Slate, Jan 19, 2015

Why it's good to laugh at climate change

Did you hear the one about the climate policy analyst? Or the polar bear who walked into a bar?

Climate change is not generally considered a source of amusement: in terms of comedic material, the forecast is an ongoing cultural drought. But perhaps campaigners have missed a trick in overlooking the powerful role that satire and subversion can play in social change. Could humour cut through the malaise that has smothered the public discourse, activating our cultural antennae in a way that graphs, infographics and images of melting ice could never do?

This is the challenge that a panel of British comedians, including Marcus Brigstocke – a seasoned climate humourist, will take up at an event on Tuesday evening hosted by the RSA and the Climate Outreach and Information Network in London (the event is fully booked but it will be streamed live online). Maybe laughing about something as serious as climate change is just another form of denial. But perhaps its relative absence from the comedy realm is another warning sign: despite decades of awareness raising, the cultural footprint of climate change is faint, fragile and all-too-easily ignored.

Why it's good to laugh at climate change by Adam Corner, The Guardian, Jan 20, 2015

Yup, a climate change denier will oversee NASA. What could possibly go wrong?

So, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was just named to be the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness as Republicans take over the Senate. This subcommittee (which used to be just Space and Science but was recently renamed) is in charge of oversight of, among other things, NASA.

This is not a good thing. Just how bad it is will be determined.

Before I rip into this, I want to be as fair as possible here: Poking around the Web, I don’t see any statements from Cruz that I'd consider directly antithetical to NASA’s efforts specificallyto explore space. For example, in 2013 he wanted to reduce NASA’s budget, but that was more so that it would comply with the caps set by the Budget Control Act. In fact, he made a statement saying, “Proceeding with an authorization while pretending that the existing law is something other than what it is, is not the most effective way to protect the priority that space exploration and manned exploration should have.” That’s at least superficially heartening.

Yup, a Climate Change Denier Will Oversee NASA. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Phil Plait, Slate, Jan 13, 2015

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Any estimates on the Colima volcano yet?  Will this have a measurable cooling effect?

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  2. The link US conservatives erupt over pope's plan for encyclical on moral duty to address climate change leads to a different story  Climate change researcher to sit with first lady at SOTU

    Just pointing that out.

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Link fixed. Thank you for pointing out the glitch

  3. I've noticed deniers going bonkers over NASA - Gavin Schmidt's supposed statement that he is only 38% sure 2014 was warmest on record, but can only find it in places akin to checkout aisle rags, like the Daily Mail.  Anyone know where this claim comes from?  Sure didn't see it on NASA or NOAA.

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [TD] See the comments starting here.

  4. Missing "h" in 'It's profitable to let the world go to ell'

    0 0
    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Typo fixed. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

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