2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #2

America's forest carbon sink is shrinking 

America's forests seem likely to scrub much less carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the future compared to the last few decades, according to a government report submitted last week to the United Nations.

Although the timing and extent of the shift is hard to pin down, the expected change could make it harder for the United States to meet its commitments to control CO2, the principal greenhouse gas that is warming the planet.

In recent years, the nation's forests have been growing. The density of their trees has increased as growth exceeded harvests, and there have been small annual increases in the area of forested land. But the beneficial trends are expected to slow, and ultimately to reverse, the report warned.

America's Forest Carbon Sink Is Shrinking, Government Report Says by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Jan 8, 2014

Australia’s 2014 heat wave picks up where 2013 left off

The U.S. may just be climbing out of the freezer, but Australia has been sweating through a major heat wave to start the year. Heat records fell across a large part of the country in the first week of the New Year. The warm weather is currently centered over sparsely populated Western Australia, but it could hit major population centers along the east coast by late next week.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released a special statement to chronicle the extent of the heat wave and its movement. While noting that it didn’t affect as wide an area as the January 2013 heat wave, the statement said the heat wave has been, “highly significant with substantial areas having their hottest day on record.” The heat wave comes on the heels of Australia’s hottest year on record during which a slew of records were shattered, including the country's hottest summer.

Australia’s 2014 Heat Wave Picks Up Where 2013 Left Off by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Jan 9, 2014

Carbon emissions: coal reliance puts Australia second on OECD's dirt list

Environmental audit finds country has a poor record in achieving environmentally efficient growth.

Carbon emissions: coal reliance puts Australia second on OECD's dirt list by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Jan 9. 2014

Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

t's quite cold across much of the United States right now, thanks to the dread "polar vortex."Bitterly cold. Horrifically cold!

So what does this tell us about global warming? Not very much. Sorry. A single cold snap in the U.S. doesn't disprove global warming any more than the record heat waves currently hitting Australia prove that it's happening. But since a lot of people — like  Donald Trump — seem confused on this point, it's worth recapping a few basics:

Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes! by Brad Plumer, Wonk Blog, Washington Post, Jan 8, 2014

Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change

The record-breaking cold weather in the US doesn't mean the globe isn't warming, scientists say.

Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change by Peter Moskowitz, Aljazeera, Jan 5, 2014

Concerns about sea level rise and the New Jersey shore grow

As the planet warms, one of the biggest questions is how fast sea level will rise.

A team of Rutgers University researchers has attempted to answer that question and localize it by studying past sea-level rise along the East Coast, as well as other factors that could influence what happens along the New Jersey Shore.

In recently published studies, they conclude that sea level at the Shore - already rising faster than at any time in the last 4,300 years - could go up by 11 to 15 inches more than the global average by 2100.

Study finds sea levels rising fast; concerns grow about Shore by Sandy Bauers, The (Philadelphia) Inquirer, Jan 7, 2014

David Cameron right to link floods and global warming

Myles Allen and Peter Stott say prime minister right to make connection between recent weather and global warming. 

David Cameron right to link floods and global warming, say climate scientists by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, Jan 10, 2014

Discovering a legal tool to curb climate change

On Mother’s Day, 2011 a legal campaign was launched in fifty states and in Federal court arguing that global warming violated the rights of the plaintiffs — young people and their posterity.  The actions were based on an innovative application of an ancient legal principle known in the US as the “public trust doctrine.”  They asserted that, under the public trust doctrine, governments serve as trustees of the atmosphere for the true beneficiaries, current and future generations, and that they are violating their most compelling duties by failing to protect it from devastating climate change.  Successful or not, these cases may transform public discourse on the role of government in protecting the environment.  The ideas underlying them, which go far beyond these climate cases per se, have now been laid out in a new book by Mary Christina Wood called Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  

Discovering a Legal Tool to Curb Climate Change by Jeremy Brecher, On the Commons / Commons Magazine, Jan 2014

In much of U.S., extreme cold is becoming more rare

The deep freeze that continues to affect the U.S. has resulted in numerous daily temperature records, and some all-time cold temperature records. But in general, this Arctic outbreak, courtesy of a huge chunk of the polar vortex that the jet stream temporarily dislodged from the Arctic, is bringing the coldest temperatures in 20 to 30 years to many areas of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Deep South, and the eastern seaboard.

Some of the most severe cold has affected the Midwest, from Minnesota to Illinois and east to Michigan. Chicago set a record for the 7th coldest noontime temperature since 1930, with a temperature of just -14°F at midday on Monday. But the city did not set any all-time cold records

While the cold temperatures have been unusual and even deadly, climate data shows that intense cold such as this event is now occurring far less frequently in the continental U.S. than it used to. This is largely related to winter warming trends due to manmade global warming and natural climate variabiility.

In Much of U.S., Extreme Cold is Becoming More Rare by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central, Jan 7, 2014

Lessons from the 1960s? 

Over the next several years, Americans will observe the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Malcolm X, the Selma protests and march, the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Watts riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the riots that occurred in their wakes, the Kent State shootings, the first Earth Day, the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Watergate Break-In and, two years later, the resignation of Richard Nixon.

In a time when the United States faces great challenges, including the need to act on climate change, the nation will reflect on one of the most turbulent decades in its history.

In these public acts of remembrance, environmental journalists and climate change communicators have an opportunity to study a period of significant social change. But what lessons can, or should, they learn?

From Social Change to Climate Change: Lessons from the 1960s? by Michael Svoboda, The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, Jan 9, 2014

Polar vortex in U.S. may be example of global warming

While the ongoing cold snap is breaking records from Minnesota to Florida, it will not go down in history as the most significant Arctic outbreak in U.S. history, not even by a longshot. Scientists said the deep freeze gripping the U.S. does not indicate a halt or reversal in global warming trends, either. In fact, it may be a counterintuitive example of global warming in action. 

Researchers told Climate Central that the weather pattern driving the extreme cold into the U.S. — with a weaker polar vortex moving around the Arctic like a slowing spinning top, eventually falling over and blowing open the door to the Arctic freezer — fits with other recently observed instances of unusual fall and wintertime jet stream configurations.

Polar Vortex in U.S. May be Example of Global Warming by Andrew Freedman, Climate Central, Jan 6, 2014

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia

Weather system disrupts flora and fauna in Nordic countries, with bears reportedly emerging from hibernation.

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia by Jessica Aldred, The Guradian, Jan 10, 2014

What is this “polar vortex” that is freezing the U.S.?

The polar vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that circles the Arctic, flowing from west to east all the way around the Earth. It normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. Occasionally, though, the vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada into the U.S., or down into other regions such Eastern Europe. In addition to bringing cold, the air mass can push the jet stream—the band of wind that typically flows from the Pacific Ocean across the U.S.—much further south as well. If the jet stream puts up a fight, the moisture it carries can fall out as heavy snow, which atmospheric scientists say is the circumstance that caused the February 2010 “snowmageddon” storm that shut down Washington, D.C.

What is this “polar vortex” that is freezing the U.S.? by Mark Fischetti, Scientific American, Jan 6, 2014

Why Canada sucks on climate change

So when it comes to climate and energy, Canada looks not like Western Europe, but more like its bloated, backward neighbor to the south. But why?

Why Canada sucks on climate change by Ben Adler, Grist, Jan 8, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 11 January, 2014

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