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2018 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #30

Posted on 28 July 2018 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week.

Editor's Pick

How Did the End of the World Become Old News?

Wildfire Arctic Circle Sweden July 2018 

The fire this time (in Sweden). Photo: Mats Andersson/AFP/Getty Images

There has been a lot of burning lately. Last week, wildfires broke out in the Arctic Circle, where temperatures reached almost 90 degrees; they are still roiling northern Sweden, 21 of them. And this week, wildfires swept through the Greek seaside, outside Athens, killing at least 80 and hospitalizing almost 200. At one resort, dozens of guests tried to escape the flames by descending a narrow stone staircase into the Aegean, only to be engulfed along the way, dying literally in each other’s arms.

Last July, I wrote a much-talked-over magazine cover story considering the worst-case scenarios for climate change — much talked over, in part, because it was so terrifying, which made some of the scenarios a bit hard to believe. Those worst-case scenarios are still quite unlikely, since they require both that we do nothing to alter our emissions path, which is still arcing upward, and that those unabated emissions bring us to climate outcomes on the far end of what’s possible by 2100.

But, this July, we already seem much farther along on those paths than even the most alarmist climate observers — e.g., me — would have predicted a year ago. In a single week earlier this month, dozens of places around the world were hit with record temperatures in what was, effectively, an unprecedented, planet-encompassing heat wave: from Denver to Burlington to Ottawa; from Glasgow to Shannon to Belfast; from Tbilisi, in Georgia, and Yerevan, in Armenia, to whole swaths of southern Russia. The temperature of one city in Oman, where the daytime highs had reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, did not drop below 108 all night; in Montreal, Canada, 50 died from the heat. That same week, 30 major wildfires burned in the American West, including one, in California, that grew at the rate of 10,000 football fields each hour, and another, in Colorado, that produced a volcano-like 300-foot eruption of flames, swallowing an entire subdivision and inventing a new term — “fire tsunami” — along the way. On the other side of the planet, biblical rains flooded Japan, where 1.2 million were evacuated from their homes. The following week, the heat struck there, killing dozens. The following week.

How Did the End of the World Become Old News? by David Wallace-Wells, The Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine. July 26, 2018

Links posted on Facebook

Sun July 22, 2018

Mon July 23, 2018

Tue July 24, 2018

Wed July 25, 2018

Thu July 26, 2018

Fri July 27, 2018

Sat July 28, 2018

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Comments 1 to 17:

  1. I'd like to add to that list the severe thunderstorms that happened at the end of the spring in France, flooding multiple regions. France has been experiencing exactly the alternance of drought and flood that was predicted by multiple studies as a resut of the warming climate. 

    I think this is a very valuable article. We had countless discussions on this site recently with a former lawyer going by the handle of NorrisM and one pivotal argument of his was that causing economic transformations of any kind for climate risks was unjustifiable because these risks were possibilities that could materialize in the future, or not, with unclear probabilites and unclear severity. This already was disonest at thie time, but now has become a completely obsolete line of argument.

    Climate change is happening now, its predicted manifestations are happening all over the world, including the rather catastrophic types. Arguing that we can't launch any significant action because potential problems are diluted in an uncertain future is downright stupid. 

    But the Japanese floods and heat waves carry little weight in the public minds compare to Meghan Markle lates dress or other distractions. We'll eventually get what we deserve, and earn, as a species.

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  2. Two new things I just ran across: The Russian wheat crop might fail again, along with crop failures in other countries. And fresh water sources are warmer than normal, which limits their cooling ability for nuclear power plants. It's all connected...

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  3. Anecdotal story:

    I live in Tampa, Florida.  Some of the city is very low lying (less than 3 meters or 10 feet) but most is higher than 20 feet.  My son wants to buy a starter house.  We went to look at one that was a nice, small house and the neighborhood looked OK.   It was priced about $40,000 below comparable houses he had looked at. 

    Then I noticed that there were mangroves at the end of the street and the house was much less than 10 feet above sea level.  The neighbors across the street had recently raised their septic system, which means their old system flooded from sea level rise.

    I think the price of the house was lowered because of the flood risk.  We did not bother to find out what flood insurance would cost but the newspaper says it is a lot.

    Last summer I was in the Chesapeake Bay and in a neighborhood near where I stayed the houses were unsellable due to sea level rise.

    Perhaps as more houses lose their value from sea level rise politicians will start to notice.

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  4. The media have done a bad job, by not reporting well enough on climate issues and connections between heatwaves and climate change.

    Heatwaves have already become more frequent. The media could at least have mentioned this, while awaiting expert opinion on this specific northern hemisphere heatwave.

    Imho there may well be a non linear sort of response where heatwave problems could accelerate if we do nothing. There are many examples of abrupt change in the past climate record.

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  5. nigelj - I certainly don't disagree, but I'm sure anytime the local news or weather even barely mentions Global Warming, they get bombarded by the deniers. And given the number of death threats Climate Scientists receive, I can't blame them for dancing around the subject. People like you and me have to just keep speaking the truth. Unfortunately, as things deteriorate, we will be heard more.

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  6. U.S. history records many large forest fires throughout the 19th and 20th  centuries.  Link to forest fires of the 1930's and you will be led to descriptions of many large fires throughout this country over the years.

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  7. Billev,

    Yes there have been fires in the past.  It also has rained in the past.  Records conclusively prove that the area burned in the past decade is much greater than it was in any past decade.  The increase in fires is caused by climate change.

    I note that you have provided no links to support your wild claim that past fires compare to current fires.  That is because current fires are much greater in extent than any past fires and you cannot find any citation that support your claims.

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  8. Right, and the establishment of fire servise and massive increase in their fire fighting capability could not be relevant? Of course you could look at some peer reviewed research. I dare you. 

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  9. Billev

     Fire season in much of Western U.S. has increased by two months since 1970.
     In California it has increased by 70 days.

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  10. Those worst-case scenarios are still quite unlikely, since they require both that we do nothing to alter our emissions path, which is still arcing upward, [...]

    And the first step in "altering our emissions path" would be to start speaking about it plainly and directly, instead of using stilted distancing language constructed specifically to obfuscate reality and reinforce inaction. "Emissions path" is a euphemism to distract people from the behavior changes necessary for a sustainable civilization. If we can't even speak honestly about what a low-carbon lifestyle looks like, how can we adopt one?

    The only "action" that matters for reducing emissions is behavior change by individuals. Namely, individuals must become moral. Morality is the force that takes the fun out of behaviors that are otherwise enjoyable to the actor but inflict harm on other people, other species, and the shared environment. A moral person may be forced through circumstances to inflict harm on others, but a moral person cannot enjoy doing inflicting harm, and will constantly look for ways to defeat those circumstances. Neither does a moral person use the kind of stilted distancing language which has become standard in the climate change community to deny personal responsibility for causing climate change.

    As long as people remain immoral enough to actually enjoy doing all the things that account for their personal carbon footprints that remain 5, 10, 20 or more times higher than the carbon fair share, we absolutely remain on pace to burn all the world's economically extractable fossil fuels.

    To see what has to stop or scale back by at least 90%, we need only look at where the bulk of a typical modern household's greenhouse gas emissions come from: driving, flying, heating, cooling, eating meat, owning meat-eating pets, and proceating. There are thousands more sources of emissions, but each person's focus needs to be on the largest sources of his or her emissions, not on some abstract world of huge numbers and other people and nations beyond his or her control. Until we control what we can control, how will we control what other people control?

    As long as people lack the moral development to stop them from experiencing pleasure when they rape the climate - for example, by flying on holiday - then they will continue to rape the climate and enjoy doing it. No amount of policy tinkering can substitute for morality, thanks to the iron laws of economics. As long as people are willing to spend money to buy things they enjoy, their money concentrates into the hands of whoever can give them what they want. The money then buys politicians, churns out disinformation, or whatever else is necessary to continue meeting the demand for climate-raping goods and services. The election of Trump shows the folly of imagining policy can substitute for individual morality.

    In contrast, a moral person cannot be lobbied. A moral person does not have to worry about getting re-elected. A moral person cannot be bought. He or she does what is right because it is right. For civilization to survive, it needs the vast majority of its constituent citizens to become moral.

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  11. #6 billev at 10:21 AM on 29 July, 2018

    U.S. history records many large forest fires throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Of course, but you are sampling from a long period of time (centuries) to find exceptional events, which you then compare to exceptional events from a much shorter period of time (the last few years).

    This is like comparing the heights of men in a professional basketball team to the heights of men in the general population. If you search through billions of men, you will find a few exceptionally tall ones. If we were to apply your reasoning about forest fires, we might erroneously conclude there is nothing unusual about the heights of basketball players.

    The name for what you are doing is: selection bias.

    It's hard for a basketball team of just 12 men to have taller individuals than the general population of billions. But that ignores what is special about the basketball team: its extraordinary concentration of tall men.

    To conclude nothing has changed weather-wise since the 19th and 20th centuries, you'd need to wait for the 21st and 22nd centuries to play out so you could compare equal spans of time. But we only have a small sample of the 21st century so far. And so far that brief span looks unusual compared to most of the similar spans within the last two centuries. What's more, climate scientists have a well-developed theory to account for what is different, giving us good reason to believe we're not just seeing an anomaly, but part of an ominous trend.

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  12. #3. michael sweet at 07:23 AM on 29 July, 2018

    Perhaps as more houses lose their value from sea level rise politicians will start to notice.

    It would be nice if politicians were to notice, but politicians do not control the fate of the climate - individual consumers do. Greenhouse gas emissions cannot be curtailed without curtailing the behaviors that emit greenhouse gases. In the very long term, perhaps technological substitution can reduce the emissions from a high-energy lifestyle, but we don't have the long term. We need to slash emissions yesterday.

    A politician can notice coastal flooding all day long, but that won't enable him or her to impose carbon rationing on individuals who refuse to ration their own carbon. Any politician who attempts real action on the climate will just get voted out by voters who refuse to take real action on their own contributions to climate change.

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  13. Daniel Mocsny:

    I think you are incorrect.  If renewable energy is substituted for fossil fuel for all electricity than CO2 release can be contained.  If we converted all heating and transportation to electricity (except airplanes) than we would be well on the way to a completely renewable society.  The remaining power could be from electrofuels.

    In order to have this renewable future we need politicians to make it profitable to switch to renewable and away from fossil fuels.  Most people cannot switch to completely renewable energy on their own. 

    A carbon fee would get society started.

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  14. Daniel Mocsny,

    I also think personal initiative in reducing carbon footprints is very important, although I think the term ethics might be more appropriate in this case. We cannot expect and wait for the government to fix every aspect of the climate problem for us. The problem is fundamentally a consumption problem, and we have to consume less fossil fuels and carbon intensive products.

    However we cannot expect people to do this if there aren't viable alternatives such as renewable electricity generation, electic cars,  and alternatives to high use of cement etc. Governments have a role to play in terms of renewable electricity generation and some related issues, because in some countries they own these systems, and in others we need government incentives to help develop this energy source. Of course this requires voters make good moral (or ethical) voting choices to parties that have the strongest positions on reducing emissions.

    I also don't see how you conclude renewable electricy would take a very long time to develop. Society could convert quite rapidly to renewable energy if it wanted, in a practical sense. I don't have time for a lengthy comment, but I suggest look at the massive economic transformation that happened during WW2 in just 5 years, and look at the costs of changing over to renewable electricity generation, which are calculated to be only 1% of a countries economic output per year spread over 30 years. On this basis I think its certainly possible to at least largely transform the transport and home heating sectors etcetera to renewable electricity by 2050, the Paris Accord timeframe, and without huge economic sacrifices or problems. It is more of a political problem than a practical problem. You are right about the power of lobby groups, but they cannot withstand strong popular support for climate policies.

    There is also a role for carbon tax and dividend schemes. Please appreciate no individual wants to make ethical choices unless they sense other people are prepared to do the same, because they will feel their own choices would have no significant effect unless everyone does the same. This dead lock situation can be broken with carbon taxes that put some pressure on everyone that few will be able to ignore.

    The July 28th edition has just published an article called "Sin Taxes" related to tobacco, alcohol and sugar and looked at the historical evidence and found them to be very effective at reducing use of these products, so carbon taxes are based on sound precedent. However it requires popular public support and understanding of why such taxes make sense, and how a tax and dividend scheme returns the money to consumers and is therefore not harsh on consumers and keeps the tax revenue separate from general government income.

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  15. This Climate Central article from 2015 documents the striking increase in fires in the USA.  Since then fires have increased substantially.

    I remember reading a peer reviewed article (sorry no cite) several years ago that looked at fires in remote areaas of the American West where no fire control had ever taken place.  There was a substantial increase in fires recently from the historical average.  This showed that more fires is not due to fire control measures that have been in place for the past 100 years in the USA, although fire control may affect individual fires.

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  16. Daniel Mocsny:

    As long as people remain immoral enough to actually enjoy doing all the things that account for their personal carbon footprints that remain 5, 10, 20 or more times higher than the carbon fair share, we absolutely remain on pace to burn all the world's economically extractable fossil fuels.

    I'm sorry, but this ignores economic reality while putting all hope for decarbonization on aspirational morality.  Like other commenters, I don't think voluntary personal sacrifice should be discouraged, and it may reduce carbon emissions noticeably.  It won't cap AGW on its own, however, because AGW is a Drama of the Commons.  It's a result of the individual pursuit of happiness, or of sheer survival, agreggated over all individuals in the global economy. Yet we're already paying for climate change in money and tragedy, in the the US as well as globally. If we're not directly affected by a record-breaking weather disaster, our taxes, donations and sympathy go to victims at home or abroad. Nevertheless, while SkepticalScience commenters may voluntarily pay more for carbon-neutral energy ourselves and exhort others to do the same, the bulk of the US and the world's consumers will buy fossil carbon until alternatives are able to compete on price. 

    Because the free market (free, that is, of collective intervention in private transactions) for energy externalizes, i.e socializes, the marginal climate-change costs of each fossil-fuel transaction, FFs enjoy a potent price advantage over alternatives. What's needed is collective (i.e. government) intervention in the 'free' market, to re-internalize a portion of the climate-change cost of FFs in their price 'at the pump', thereby reducing emissions immediately to the extent ernergy demand is price-sensitive, and nudging the 'invisible hand' of the market to drive build-out of the carbon-neutral economy rapidly and at the lowest social cost. I specifically favor a revenue-neutral national Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment Tariff. The US economy is the 2nd largest producer of CO2, and our collective national choices at the polls can result in both a disproportionate reduction in emissions, and regain some of the technological and industrial leadership we once possessed. Please see for details.

    Of course, before anything like CF&D with BAT can be enacted, we first have to tip a few key legislative elections in favor of the candidate who is more realistic, or less in denial, about AGW. It will typically be a choice of the lesser of two weevils. Then we have to lobby our newly-rational legislators to move toward an effective national decarbonization policy. Piece of cake? No, but IMHO well within the realm of probability over the next 15 years or so. The alternative is frightening to contemplate.

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  17. Considering Alley's work on abrupt climate change and the latest Siberian Traps research, global warming should be considered and immediate existential threat.

    As such, either keep a quasi market system (like WWII mobilization, but hopefully more equitable) or create a rational society that uses less energy, produces more free time and ensures we don't have this issue in the future (as very likely any market 'solution' would insure since markets have always tended to expand)...

    examples of rational societies are Paris Commune (worked well until French allied with German Capitalists to crush it), Catalonia for a few years (until Capitalists crushed it) and Rojova (in process of being crushed by Capitalists)... we know how to have a higher standard of living, using much less energy.

    In the US, the vast majority of people pumps tons of carbon to drive in a big circle to an activity that does not need to happen (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate); couple that with Graeber's bullshit jobs and we've a whole lot of folk that can help others do real (material) work. If automate most of this and localize production (Bookchin, et. al.), we could all have much better lives and save this set of evolution's species (what's left of them anyway).

    We could do this in a democratic way (as in Catolonia).

    Of course, I'm not too hopeful, considering folk on this very site talk about market incentives that might have worked, had they been implented at the turn of the 20th century (and yes folk knew about global warming even then... see Tyndall and others around that time).


    We might have 10 or fewer years to get to 0 emissions. Even the overly optimistic Paris Accord depend on carbon extraction that as of now we're not sure will work.

    So, yes, using markets, hoping for new technology, might work, but it doesn't seem worth the risk, considering possible scenarios.

    Notice also the recent study on the AMOC slowing and speeding up in a natural cycle, which of course means two things. It's going to get hotter in the next few years and we get to see if the paper's contention is true or if the extra heat in the newly claimed altantic (from the arctic) ocean will offset the mechanism from the past (the paper contends that in the past, more melting led to a slowdown which led to less tropical water delivered, which reset the cycle... of course that was before all the extra heat we've beening allowing our emissions to trap)

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