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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #5A

Posted on 28 January 2015 by John Hartz

As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes

With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people’s mind, the world’s super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session in Davos, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said.

Johnson, who heads the Institute of New Economic Thinking and was previously managing director at Soros, said societies can tolerate income inequality if the income floor is high enough. But with an existing system encouraging chief executives to take decisions solely on their profitability, even in the richest countries inequality is increasing.

Johnson added: “People need to know there are possibilities for their children – that they will have the same opportunity as anyone else. There is a wicked feedback loop. Politicians who get more money tend to use it to get more even money.”

As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes by Alec Hogg, Public Leaders Network, The Guardian, Jan 23, 2015

Climate and population are linked — but maybe not the way you thought

It’s not a topic that comes up in high-level international negotiations on climate change. Yet who would disagree that when individuals and couples use modern contraception to plan childbearing according to a schedule that suits them, they tend to have fewer children than they would otherwise? Could it be that this aspect of family planning, multiplied hundreds of millions of times, might lessen the severity of human-caused climate change and boost societies’ capacity to adapt to it?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after all, recently noted that population and economic growth “continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.” Not many analysts see “win-win” opportunities in reining in economic growth. Population growth, by contrast, might be slowed as a side effect of efforts that have multiple other benefits — such as education, empowerment of women, and the provision of reproductive health services including safe and effective contraception. And there’s reason to believe that slower population growth also makes societies more resilient to the impacts of climate change already upon us or on the way.

This line of reasoning raises concerns among some groups that are active in climate change advocacy, who argue that linking family planning to climate change amounts to blaming parents of large families in developing countries for a phenomenon caused more by smaller but high-consuming families in industrialized countries. A more pragmatic worry may be the less-than-generous pie of international funding available to address climate change. Should family planning have precedence over renewable energy and direct efforts to adapt to climate change, when the needs are so great and the financial resources to address them are already insufficient?

Climate and population are linked — but maybe not the way you thought by Robert Engelman and Alexander Ochs, Grist, Jan 24, 2015

Climate change could impact the poor much more than previously thought

It’s widely accepted that climate change will have bigger negative impacts on poorer countries than wealthy ones. However, a new economic modeling studyfinds that the economic impacts on these poorer countries could be much larger than previous estimates. 

As a result, they suggest that we should be aiming to limit global warming to near, or perhaps even less than the international target of 2°C. This conclusion is in sharp contrast to current economic models, which generally conclude that the economically optimal pathway results in a global surface warming around 3–3.5°C.

Current economic models mainly treat economic growth as an external factor. In these models, global warming and its impacts via climate change don’t significantly affect the rate at which the economy grows. However, several economic studies have concluded that this is an inaccurate assumption, with a 2012 paper by Melissa Dell and colleagues taking the first stab at quantifying the effects of climate damages on economic growth.

Climate change could impact the poor much more than previously thought by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Jan 26, 2015

Climate change responsible for super-charging winter storms

Winters may be getting shorter, but watch out when it does snow: climate change is super-charging storms like the blizzard engulfing the American north-east, scientists said on Monday.

The heavier storms of recent years – snowfalls that shut down cities and brought heavy flooding to coastal areas of New England – carried the imprints of climate change, as researchers get better at detecting the fingerprints of global warming – even from snow.

It was too soon to pin the current storm to climate change, but a trend line was emerging, the scientists said.

“The snow season is getting shorter,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “But the interesting thing is you can end up with heavier snows in part because of climate change.”

Climate change responsible for super-charging winter storms, scientists say by Suzanne Goldenerg, The Guardian, Jan 26, 2015

Climate change will hit Australia harder than rest of world, study shows

Australia could be on track for a temperature rise of more than 5C by the end of the century, outstripping the rate of warming experienced by the rest of the world, unless drastic action is taken to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to the most comprehensive analysis ever produced of the country’s future climate.

The national science agency CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have released the projections based on 40 global climate models, producing what they said was the most robust picture yet of how Australia’s climate would change.

The report stated there was “very high confidence” that temperatures would rise across Australia throughout the century, with the average annual temperature set to be up to 1.3C warmer in 2030 compared with the average experienced between 1986 and 2005.

Temperature projections for the end of the century depend on how deeply, if at all, greenhouse gas emissions are cut. The world is tracking at the higher emissions scenario, meaning a temperature increase of between 2.8C and 5.1C in Australia by 2090.

According to the report, this “business-as-usual” approach to burning fossil fuels is set to cook Australia more than the rest of the world, which will average a temperature increase of 2.6C to 4.8C by 2090.

Climate change will hit Australia harder than rest of world, study shows by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Jan 26, 2015

Global warming spells disaster for tropical Andes glaciers

Glacier monitoring technology shows the most rapid glacier depletion for at least three centuries. Big glaciers are shrinking, with small ones disappearing altogether,

Global warming spells disaster for tropical Andes glaciers by Bernard Francou, Science, The Guardian, Jan 27, 2015

Greenland’s melting ice sheet mapped in unprecedented 3D detail

Recently, NASA and the NOAA confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on the books, and projected that even warmer years are ahead of us. The finding underscores the need to not only confront climate change on a political level, but also to anticipate some of the most dramatic effects it will have on Earth.

One of the most unpredictable and threatening consequences of a warming planet will be rising sea levels caused by massive melting of ice at the poles. Given that coastal regions are among the most populated areas in the world, this issue has the potential to displace millions of people. Indeed, some communities have already had to concede their homes to the advancing oceans.

That’s why NASA has made climate research a top agency priority, greenlighting dozens of projects designed to get a handle on the scope of this global environmental crisis. The agency’s latest win was producing the most comprehensive 3D map of Greenland’s ice sheets ever created, as part of the multi-year Operation IceBridge initiative.

Greenland’s Melting Ice Sheet Mapped in Unprecedented 3D Detail by Becky Ferreria, Motherboard, Jan 26, 2015

Lessons From the Senate's Keystone XL Debate

Nobody really needs a sense-of-the-Senate resolution to figure out whether climate change is real, or what is causing it.

So what can we learn from the past week or so of debate around the Keystone XL pipeline, and the shadow-boxing amendments it inspired?

One lesson seems to be that the climate crisis, with all its complicated energy policy baggage, is back on the Congressional agenda.

Another is that the Congress remains institutionally incapable of addressing the problem head on.

Hence the convoluted debate unfurling, ostensibly over whether the Keystone XL line, meant to carry high-carbon tar sands fuel from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, is in the national interest.

Lessons From the Senate's Keystone XL Debate by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Jan 23, 2015

Modi shifts on climate change with India renewables goal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Indiais ready to expand its use of renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a signal that his government is moving toward joining an international deal on global warming.

After a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New Delhi, the prime minister said that his nation along with all others has an obligation to act on reducing the fossil-fuel emissions blamed for damaging the climate.

The remarks represent a shift in India’s tone on global warming. It previously emphasized the historical responsibility of industrial nations for creating the problem, and the Indian government has been ambiguous about whether it will adopt domestic targets for reducinggreenhouse gases. Modi’s comments suggest he’s ready to work with Obama on a deal in Paris in December that would for the first time require all nations, rich and poor alike, to restrain emissions.

Modi Shifts on Climate Change With India Renewables Goal by Reed Landberg and Natalie Obiko Pearson, Bloomberg, Jan 25, 2015

Obama & Modi link zero carbon and zero extreme poverty

At a news conference wrapping up President Obama's visit in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asked whether he felt pressure from his guest to make a big pledge about tackling climate change, as China did a few months ago.

"India is an independent country," he replied, "and there is no pressure on us from any country or any person."

That might sound prickly, but what Modi said next might as well have come out of the mouth of Obama, a president who covets global warming progress as a jewel in his own crown.

India is under the same pressure as the rest of the world to defuse the climate crisis, Modi continued. And that means finding a way to achieve a global agreement on how to address the problem, not shrugging it off as someone else's responsibility.

"When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure," said Modi (through an interpreter). "Global warming is a huge pressure.  And all those who think about a better life and a better world for the future is their duty and their give a better lifestyle to the future generations, a good life and a good environment. There is pressure for all those people. There is pressure on all countries, on all governments, and on all peoples."

Indeed, Obama could end his second visit to India with some evidence that his host country—the third biggest source of global warming gases behind China and the U.S.—is serious about confronting the problem, in partnership with the United States.

Obama & Modi Link Zero Carbon and Zero Extreme Poverty by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Jan 26, 2015

Obama's India visit: Hopes for clean energy and climate deals

Barack Obama was advised, only half-jokingly, to wear a gas mask when he appears as guest of honour at India’s Republic Day parade on Monday. The air pollution in Delhi and other Indian cities has become that bad.

Providing a fix for that very unhealthy air – 13 of the world’s most polluted cites are in India – is a growing priority for the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, and could take key position in a suite of clean energy initiatives the two leaders are expected to roll out on Monday.

“The co-operation on clean energy and climate change is critically important,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told a conference call with reporters.

America is hoping to persuade India, one of the world’s biggest emitters, to commit to an ambitious post-2020 plan for reining in its greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the international climate change meeting in Paris this December.

Obama's India visit: Hopes for clean energy and climate deals by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Jan 23, 2015

Pope's visit to stoke climate fight

Pope Francis’s visit to the United States this fall will give him an important stage to push for climate change policies, in a year when global warming is shaping up to be a central issue both for the Vatican and Washington. 

Francis’s visit, which he told reporters this week will almost certainly include visits to both D.C. and United Nations headquarters in New York, will come only a few months after he is scheduled to issue an encyclical urging Catholics to fight climate change.

He’ll also use the encyclical — a decree of sorts — to push United Nations leaders to be tough in December when they work to write an international agreement to reduce emissions and help poorer countries adapt.

Francis’s visit will also come as leaders in the United States debate what to do about climate change and fight over the Obama administration’s proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the most ambitious move yet to reduce global warming in this country.

Pope's visit to stoke climate fight by Timothy Cama, The Hill, Jan 25, 2015

There’s a sunny future ahead for rooftop solar power: here’s why 

Over the past five years the world has seen a dramatic fall in the cost of solar energy, particularly rooftop solar panels or solar photovoltaic power. It is now a real alternative and considerable player in the power markets.

In Australia more than 4 gigawatts (peak generation capacity) of solar panels are mounted on more than a million Australian roofs to date, adding up to about 7% of Australia’s electricity generation capacity.

As solar panels do not always produce all the electricity they possibly can, rooftop solar today contributes around 2% of Australia’s total electricity generation. But in some states during the day, solar’s contribution already reaches double digits. You can watch solar generation live here.

But what’s next for rooftop solar? It’s likely that costs will continue to fall, eventually making solar the dominant source of electricity in many parts of the world including Australia. Here’s the evidence.

There’s a sunny future ahead for rooftop solar power: here’s why by Bernhard Mitchell, The Conversation AU, Jan 25, 2015

Three minutes away from Doomsday

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

Three Minutes Away from Doomsday by Leila Lemghalef, Inter Press Service (IPS), Jan 23, 2015

What are Republicans going to do about climate change?

It's two years until the 2016 presidential race, but debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is pushing some GOP presidential hopefuls to go on the record about an issue they might rather not discuss: climate change. 

What are Republicans going to do about climate change? by Jared Gilmour, The Christian Science Monitor, Jan 23, 2015

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  1. The Weekly News Roundup is perhaps the most informative and vital contribution to climate change public awareness.  Thanks for all the work.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thank you for the positive feedback. 

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