2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #32A

40 million people depend on the Colorado River. Now it's drying up.

Science papers don't generate much in the way of headlines, so you'll be forgiven if you haven't heard of one called "Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin," recently published by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers.

But the "water security of the Colorado River basin" is an important concept, if you are one of the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water, a group that includes residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. Or if you enjoy eating vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach during the winter. Through the many diversions, dams, canals, and reservoirs the river feeds as it snakes its way from the Rockies toward Mexico, the Colorado also provides the irrigation that makes the desert bloom in California's Imperial Valley and Arizona's Yuma County—source of more than two-thirds of US winter vegetable production.

40 Million People Depend on the Colorado River. Now It's Drying Up. by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, Aug 4, 2014

Climate Change Talks: Equity Reference Framework fails

The disparity between countries with unequal responsibility for causing climate change could get deeply embedded in the 2015 agreement if Equity Reference Framework is applied to measuring the justness of countries’ contributions. A good idea principally, in its application it legally sanctions the transfer of economic burden and goal posts by the developed countries.
One must remember, the US is dead set against the idea of accounting for historical emissions and the consequent damage to climate from its years of inaction. It has more or less had its way in climate talks since 2009 when EU began deploying much of its diplomatic prowess against emerging economies rather than convince the US to compensate for its years of sitting out of Kyoto Protocol. Today, EU looks like a leader only when compared to the more recalcitrant US and its allies such as Japan and Australia.
Against this backdrop, the ERF is being advocated by some countries and NGOs as the basis of operationalizing the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities in the 2015 agreement. The negotiations that work by consensus, provide one vote to each country, but it’s a known fact that some votes are more powerful than others. The ERF weighs in favour of those holding diplomatic and economic heft.

Climate Change Talks: Equity Reference Framework fails by Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, Aug 5, 2014

Climate scientists dub this year’s El Niño “a real enigma”

Last month, forecasters were predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, driving severe weather patterns worldwide. But with little sign so far of the ocean and atmospheric changes scientists expected, those odds have dropped off quite a bit.

We'll probably still see an El Niño before the year's out but it's unlikely to be a strong one, scientists are saying.

Climate scientists dub this year’s El Niño “a real enigma” by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Aug 4, 2014

Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

The toxins that contaminated the water supply of the city of Toledo – leaving 400,000 people without access to safe drinking water for two days – were produced by a massive algae boom. But this is not a natural disaster.

Water problems in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater system – have spiked in the last three years, largely because of agricultural pollution. Toledo draws its drinking water from Lake Erie.

Residents were warned not to drink the water on Saturday, after inspectors at the city’s water treatment plant detected the toxin known as microcystin. The toxin is produced by microcystis, a harmful blue-green algae; it causes skin rashes and may result in vomiting and liver damage if ingested. It has been known to kill dogs and other animals and boiling the water does not fix the problem; it only concentrates the toxin.

Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Aug 3, 2014

First summit on women and climate decries lack of grassroots funding

A global summit on women and climate, the first of its kind, opened on Sunday, bringing together some 80 activists working on women’s rights, climate change and natural resources, in a bid to build alliances and raise the profile of female environmental leaders. 

Experts have long said women and children, especially in developing countries, are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and are disproportionately affected.

The four-day summit in Bali - with participants from 37 countries - is focusing on the positive work being done by grassroots women to tackle the issue, despite a dearth of funding. 

First summit on women and climate decries lack of grassroots funding by Thin Lei Win, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Aug 3, 2014

For most of us, global warming has become 'normal' climate

Global warming has been going on for so long that most people were not even born the last time the Earth was cooler than average in 1985 in a shift that is altering perceptions of a "normal" climate, scientists said.

Decades of climate change bring risks that people will accept higher temperatures, with more heatwaves, downpours and droughts, as normal and complicate government plans to do more to cut emissions of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Because the last three decades have seen such a significant rise in global and regional temperatures, most people under the age of 30 have not lived in a world without global warming," Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told Reuters.

For most of us, global warming has become 'normal' climate by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Aug 6, 2014

India: US wants to link power pacts with climate change agreement

A visiting US team has told Indian negotiators it would link pacts on the power sector to the agreement the two countries draw on climate change and one would not happen without the other.

This message was conveyed by the US team to India in a meeting held with the power ministry on Wednesday. Power Minister Piyush Goyal and other ministry officials attended the meeting.

The US team, headed by Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, also called on Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar in its bid to stitch an agreement on various climate change issues.

US wants to link power pacts with climate change agreement by Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, Aug 2, 2014

Mysterious craters are just the beginning of Arctic surprises

It's not just craters purportedly dug by aliens in Russia, it's also megaslumps, ice that burns and drunken trees. The ongoing meltdown of the permanently frozen ground that covers nearly a quarter of land in the Northern Hemisphere has caused a host of surprising arctic phenomena.
Temperatures across the Arctic are warming roughly twice as fast as the rest of the globe, largely due to the reduction in the amount of sunlight reflecting off of white, snow-covered ground. "At some point, we might get into a state of permafrost that is not comparable to what we know for 100 years or so, some new processes that never happened before," says geologist Guido Grosse of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.
The mysterious craters in far northern Russia are just such an example. "There is nothing described in the scientific literature than can really, fully explain those craters," says Grosse, who is headed to the Lena River Delta in Siberia this summer, which hosts a joint German-Russian research station. The most likely explanation for the newly discovered craters in Russia is an accumulation of methane over centuries or more that then burst out of the thawing ground sometime in the last few years. "High pressure built up and [the ground] literally popped open," explains biogeochemist Kevin Schaefer of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. "If it is indeed caused by melting methane ice, we should expect to see more."

Mysterious Craters Are Just the Beginning of Arctic Surprises by David Biello, Scientific American, Aug 5, 2014

Putting a climate context on southern California's flash floods

A confluence of extreme atmospheric conditions over Southern California, possibly with an assist from the intense drought in the state, set the stage for the torrential rains and flash flooding that washed away cars and homes in some areas like Mt. Baldy on Sunday.

And while the U.S. Southwest is expected to increasingly dry out in a warming world, when it does rain it is more likely to come as a heavy downpour. Heavy rainfalls are expected to increase around the world as the warmer atmosphere packs more moisture to fuel downpours.

The rains that fell across parts of Southern California into western Arizona and parts of Nevada on Sunday were the result of a summer monsoon over the Southwest. A monsoon is a seasonal reversal in the winds over a region that can bring with it changes in rainfall patterns. The winds switch directions because the beating of the summer sun on the ground in the Southwest contrasts strongly with the relatively cool Pacific waters, with air rising over the land and the wind blowing in from the ocean to replace it. The ocean winds bring with them plenty of moisture to fuel seasonal summer rains that fall in bursts and account for more than half of the annual precipitation in some parts of the Southwest.

Putting a Climate Context on SoCal’s Flash Floods by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Aug 5, 2014

Shattering myths to help the climate

Each new climate-change study seems more pessimistic than the last. This May and June, for example, were the hottest ones on record for the planet. Storms and droughts occur with increasing frequency. Glaciers are rapidly retreating, portending rising seas that could eventually displace hundreds of millions of people.

Effective countermeasures now could actually ward off many of these threats at relatively modest cost. Yet despite a robust scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are at the root of the problem, legislation to curb them has gone nowhere in Congress. In response, President Obama has proposed stricter regulations on electric utilities, which some scientists warn may be too little, too late.

Why aren’t we demanding more forceful action? One reason may be the frequent incantation of a motley collection of myths, each one rooted in bad economics: 

Shattering Myths to Help the Climate, Op-ed by Robert H. Frank, The Upshot/New York Times, Aug 2, 2014

Toledo’s algae bloom in line with climate projections

A two-day ban on drinking water has been lifted in Toledo, Ohio. But the toxic algae bloom that led to the ban is still floating around Lake Erie and ones like it could become more common as the climate continues to change in a warming world.

Nutrients in agricultural runoff is the biggest contributor to algae blooms in Lake Erie. What brings that runoff from farm fields to the lake is rain, and lots of it.

“It’s a combo of more rainfall; that climate change is predicted to cause more severe rain events. And more rainfall means more nutrients and higher nutrients mean more toxicity,” Timothy Davis, an ecologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, said.

Toledo’s Algae Bloom in Line with Climate Projections by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Aug 4, 2014

Tornado outbreaks could have a climate change assist

Days with more tornadoes have become more common over the past 60 years, a trend that new research says could have a climate change connection.

Understanding the connection between climate change and tornadoes, if any, is one of the most fraught areas of research. But a study released Wednesday posits that changes in heat and moisture content in the atmosphere, brought on by a warming world, could be playing a role in making tornado outbreaks more common and severe in the U.S.

Tornado Outbreaks Could Have a Climate Change Assist by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Aug 5, 2014

Want to have a real impact on climate change?

Between widespread economic disparities, population growth, unsustainable agriculture and climate change, a study partially funded by Nasa predicted that civilization as we know it could be steadily heading for a collapse within the next century – and the window to create impactful change is narrowing. That means millennials are potentially the last generation during which creating meaningful change is possible. But how do we accomplish this?

It’s time to start a dietary revolution.

Millennials represent $200bn in economic worth, and if a statistical majority of our generation become vegetarians or vegans, or at least eat significantly less meat than previous generations, we have a chance to have a real economic – and thus environmental – impact.

Want to have a real impact on climate change? Then become a vegetarian by Travis McKnight, The Guardian, Aug 4, 2014

Warmer seas change UK fish stock as cod head north

Cod and chips could soon become a dish of the past, as Britain's waters become ever warmer. Marine experts have warned that rising sea temperatures are transforming the makeup of fish stocks in our (UK's) coastal waters.

Where cod and haddock once thrived, sea bass, hake, red mullet and anchovies are now being caught in rising numbers. If Britain wants sustainable fisheries round its shores, it will have to turn to these for the fish suppers of the future, they add.

"We are going to have to be much more flexible about the fish we eat as our coastal waters continue to warm," said Professor Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

"The idea that the cod is the only fish worth eating is part of a mindset that we can no longer support."

Gurnard and chips, please: warmer seas change UK fish stock as cod head north by Robin McKie, The Observer/The Guardian, Aug 2, 2014

Will climate change lead to conflict or cooperation?

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation? by Joel Jaeger, inter Press Service (IPS), Aug 4, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Wednesday, 6 August, 2014

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