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2019 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #32

Posted on 10 August 2019 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week, i.e., Sun, Aug 4 through Sat, Aug 10, 2019

Editor's Pick

This Land Is the Only Land There Is

Here are seven ways of understanding the IPCC’s newest climate warning.

Drought in Australia

Climate change could make water even more scarce in naturally dry areas, the report warns. Australia’s ranchers have struggled under a drought for years. BROOK MITCHELL / GETTY

1. There is no shortage of scary facts in the major new report on climate change and land, a summary of which was released today by a United Nations–led scientific panel. Chief among them: For everyone who lives on land, the planet’s dangerously warmed future is already here. Earth’s land has already warmed more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since the industrial revolution, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s the same amount of warming that climate activists are hoping to prevent on a global scale.

This spike makes sense, scientifically: Land warms twice as fast as the planet overall. Earth as a whole has warmed by only 0.87 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) during the same period. But this increase makes the stakes of climate change clear: When scientists discuss preventing “1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming,” they are really talking about forestalling 3 degrees Celsius—or 5.1 degrees Fahrenheit—of higher land temperatures.

And land temperatures are what humanity usually cares about. Land, really, is what humanity cares about. That’s the point. 

This Land Is the Only Land There Is by Robinson Meyer, Science, The Atlantic, Aug 8, 2019

Links posted on Facebook

Sun Aug 4, 2019

Mon Aug 5, 2019

Tue Aug 6, 2019

Wed Aug 7, 2019

Thu Aug 8, 2019

Fri Aug 9, 2019

Sat Aug 10, 2019

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. “Land can’t, at the same time, feed people, and grow trees to be burned for bioenergy, and store carbon,” Stabinsky said.

    Yes, this is the essence of the problem, although there is one possibility for feeding people and growing more trees if we sacrifice livestock grazing lands. The area of the world in grasslands livestock farming is huge. The IPCC is encouraging a low meat diet because of the methane problem and that meat is an inefficient use of resources. Grasslands freed up could be used for a mixture of crops, forests and biofuels. A lot of this land would need to be in crops to replace reduced meat consumption, and for a growing population, and not all cattle farming is likely to be replaced, so use for forests still looks limited in potential.

    This is a conundrum as well, because there is some evidence properly managed livestock grazing has the potential to store more soil carbon than presently. However things look to be heading towards lower meat consumption so less livestock grazing lands. What's left could still be better managed to conserve more soil carbon.

    It's a complicated problem. It makes sense to stop deforestation and grow more trees, but the potential looks ultimately limited to using little bits of spare land, not continent sized BECCS plantations. One thing seems to be a given: Large areas of the planet will remain in crop lands, so we should look carefully at the potential of these to store more carbon using regenerative agriculture. It's there so use it.

    Maybe there are other possibilities, or I'm not seeing it right?

    Table of global land use data:

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  2. Nigelj,

    My understanding is that if people eat less meat that much less land needs to be in cultivation, not more as you suggest.  Since less land is in cultivation and less is needed for grazing livestock more can be used for forrests or biofuels.

    Currently much of agricultural production of plant type foods like corn and soybeans is fed to animals.  If we eat the corn and soybeans instead much less food needs to be produced.  You have to feed an animal about 10 pounds of food to get one pound of meat.  If you eat the feed you need less farm production because you directly eat the plants the farm grows.

    Unfortunately, most people prefer a high meat diet.

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  3. Michael Sweet @2

    Good point about cattle feed. I didn't think of that, because we dont rely as much on cattle feed as much some countries. Therefore reducing cattle grazed lands would indeed create a lot of space for forests, in theory. 

    I'm not so pessimistic about lower meat consumption. Granted most people do prefer a high meat diet, yet in fact several countries have declining meat consumption as below:

    Of course there are likely to be limits as to how much people would reduce meat consumption. Lets assume meat consumption could be cut 25% globally, (more in rich countries less in poorer countries), which seems like a plausible number, then according to data on land use that would free up approx 12 million kms2 for forests, all other things being equal. That is approximately the area of Canada which is huge, and would make something like BECCS at large scale feasible and capable of sequestering a big chunk of carbon emissions. Of course it's all idealistic, but far from impossible.

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  4. Both views ignore the system most efficient at both feeding people, feeding wildlife and sequestering carbon.

    “Land can’t, at the same time, feed people, and grow trees to be burned for bioenergy, and store carbon,” Stabinsky said.

    This quote is true, but it is because fundamentally they are attempting it with the wrong biome. There is clearly no concept of ecosystem services are supply by which.

    While you can't do what Stabinsky said, you could use a far more efficient and productive biome (grasslands) to do all that and even more.

    Cows, Carbon and Climate

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  5. Improving the sustainability of how meat is produced (and how feed for meat is produced) is possible and would be helpful to the future of humanity. And it would be helpful to correct the diets of the 'supposedly most advanced humans setting the example that others aspire to' would also be helpful (like those supposedly more advanced humans setting the example of lower energy consumption, with all their consumed energy being sustainably sourced renewable energy, as the example for all others to aspire to)

    There is already a robust, but still improving, understanding of protein needs of humans and the impacts of that human activity (like there is regarding human activity related to climate science).

    There are many references for that understanding, but my internet search engine fairly responsibly put this Harvard School of Public Health item near the top of my search "The Nutrition Source -> What Should I Eat -> Protein"

    The item states the following summary of research into health related to different sources of protein (about what you are eating along with the protein in the food item you consume) "...eating healthy protein sources like beans, nuts, fish, or poultry in place of red meat and processed meat can lower the risk of several diseases and premature death."

    However a major point in the article is that 2 - 4 oz servings of meat provide more than the daily protein for most people (and that is excluding protein obtained from other consumed foods). And other research indicates that eating more than 4 oz of meat in a meal is a waste since a body will only process the protein from 4 oz in a meal. So a significant reduction of meat consumption can be achieved by people limiting their per-meal and total-daily meat consumption to amounts that their body will actually use, further reduced by accounting for the protein they get from other foods they eat like the beans in a chili mix.

    Also note that Nuts grow on Trees - leads to thoughts of forests. However, being able to sustain tree growth of food is a function of climate. The current amount of tree based food production in California required an unsustainable over-consumption of water during the recent string of years with low rainfall in summer and low recharge of aquifers. Unlike annual crops that can be allowed to suffer in a severe drought and replanted the next year, trees must be kept alive. And a large amount of aquifer water has been needed to keep the California trees alive through the past several years.

    The understanding of the required corrections is well established. The main thing keeping the corrections from being implemented is the power of correction resistant people, people who have developed unsustainable perceptions of success and status in the status quo system and can promote them, and fight against their correction, through the mechanisms explained by Edward S. Herman's Propaganda Model. The type of leadership that recently won power in Brazil, and how they did it, and the termination of the director of the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil for exposing that the New Government policies had resulted in increased Rain Forest cutting (mainly cut to expand beef production), is an example of that damaging power of harmfully correction resistant people.

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  6. The vast majority of American grasslands which are used to graze beef cattle can not be used for anything else, they are too arid, and indeed face desertification by next century.  You can not put new forests on them or grow crops there.  But you raise beef to 2/3rds to 3/4's of their final weight there, on nothing but grass and rainfall. That is as efficient as agriculture gets.


    Meanwhile, in the US, crop ag generates more GHG emissions than the entire livestock industry (which produces a ton of products besides milk and meat).  90% of crop ag is wastage, and a lot of that 'waste' becomes livestock feed.  Globally, 86% of what a cow eats in unsuitable for human consumption, and that figure is almost certainly higher in the US.

    So, depending on where you live, not eating meat may actually increase your carbon footprint. And the fact remains that meat is likely NOT the issue - the 80%+ of US GHG emissions and ~80% of global emissions are from fossil fuel burning, not livestock.


    In any case, livestock ain't going away. But ICE engines and furnaces sure can.

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  7. RedBaron @4

    "Both views ignore the system most efficient at both feeding people, feeding wildlife and sequestering carbon.....Cows, Carbon and Climate"

    I don't think I ignored the issue. I mentioned that grasslands cattle farming has some potential to sequester more soil carbon. I sincerely believe it does, just that I don't expect miracles.

    The problem is cattle farming is not efficient in terms of resource use and food production, because it requires a huge voume of plants to produce a small volume of meat. However as others point out, a lot of land is only really suitable for cattle grazing. I dont have time to research exactly how much so I'm taking them at their word.

    I therefore think my numbers of reducing grasslands cattle farming (including dairy farming) by 25% are probably ball park feasible. It looks plausible that people would reduce meat consumption about 25%, particularly red meat, based on trends were are already seeing especially in younger people, and noting OPOF's numbers on the issue. At a guess, or first appromimation, it looks like about 25% of grasslands might be potentially convertible to forests; clearly there are limits as others have pointed out.

    This creates a large continent sized area of land for forests or other land uses, and still leaves vast grasslands that could sequester more carbon. We can have things both ways.

    Grasslands might also suit fast growing grasses for a BECCS type of application, however there are many valid criticisms of BECCS. 

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  8. Regarding the conversion of grasslands to forests, and how much area of grasslands could be converted to forests.

    Grasslands are already being converted to forests in places like Brazil here. ironically perhaps. Forests are also naturally replacing grasslands in some places here.Research paper on the conversion of grassland to acacia forest as an effective option for net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions here.

    It's difficult to get an idea of how many grasslands could be converted to forests, but its clearly significant in area. But does it make sense? It's a form of natural geoengineering, that will probably have unintended consequences (as in the Brazil example). However taking land originally in forests and converted to grasslands back to forestry looks sustainable.

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