2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #35B

Antarctic riddle: How much will the South Pole melt?

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the fate of the planet’s coastlines is dangling from its underbelly. 

The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has long been a relatively minor factor in the steady ascent of high-water marks, responsible for about an eighth of the 3 millimeters of annual sea-level rise. But when it comes to climate change, Antarctica is the elephantine ice sculpture in the boiler room. The ice sheet is so massive that its decline is, according to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, “the largest potential source” of future sea level rise. Accurately forecasting how much of it will be unleashed as seawater, and when that will happen, could help coastal communities plan for surging flood risks.

study published Aug. 14 in Earth System Dynamics — one that took more than 2 years and 50,000 computer simulations to complete, combining information from 26 atmospheric, oceanic, and ice sheet models from four polar regions — has helped scientists hone their forecasts for this century’s Antarctic thaw. And the results of the global research effort were more sobering than the findings of most of the more limited studies that came before it.

Antarctic Riddle: How Much Will the South Pole Melt? by John Upton, Climate Central, Aug 25, 2014

As Louisiana sinks and sea levels rise, the State is drowning. Fast.

In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater. 

As Louisiana Sinks And Sea Levels Rise, The State Is Drowning. Fast. by Bob Marshall, The Lens, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw, ProPublica, The Huffington Post, Aug 28, 2014

Climate change's health toll: 'We can save millions of lives, even now'

While the effects of climate change on the environment are gaining wide attention, there's a lack of awareness about the impact on human health. The WHO's Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum tells DW how both can be adressed.

Climate change's health toll: 'We can save millions of lives, even now' by Anke Rasper, Deutsche Wekle (DW), Aug 28, 2014

Climate change ups odds of a megadrought in Southwest U.S.

f you think the drought in California is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. New research indicates that climate change is giving a boost to the odds of long-term drought across the Southwest.

The research, published Thursday in the Journal of Climate, puts the chances of a megadrought lasting 35 years or longer at up to 50 percent in the region. It would be a drought of epic proportions that would wreak havoc on the region’s already tenuous water supply for its growing population.

Climate Change Ups Odds of a Southwest Megadrought by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Aug 29, 2014

Climate policy goes hand-in-hand with water policy

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops.

Climate policy goes hand-in-hand with water policy by Desmond Brown, International Press Service (IPS), Aug 27, 2014

Does Antarctic sea ice growth negate climate change?

In the blue half-light of the Antarctic autumn, a thin film spreads across the continent's coastal waters. It's an embryonic form of sea ice: a mush of microscopic crystals that floats on the dense, salty water of the Southern Ocean.

As winter takes root, this proto-sea ice grows thicker and stronger until it encircles Antarctica in a vast frozen ring. The ice spans nearly 7 million square miles at its peak, an area roughly twice the size of the United States.

This year, Antarctic sea ice has expanded its frigid reach with unprecedented speed, setting records in June and July. By the time spring punctures the long Antarctic night, 2014 stands a decent chance of topping 2012 and 2013, which each broke records of maximum total ice extent.

In fact, since scientists started making satellite observations in the late 1970s, they have watched winter sea ice around Antarctica swell slowly but indisputably, despite predictions that it should shrink.

This poses a puzzle that climate scientists struggle to explain: How can sea ice grow in a warming world?

Does Antarctic sea ice growth negate climate change? Scientists say no by Julia Rosen, Los Angeles Times, Aug 29, 2014

Full extent of global coal 'binge' is hidden, say researchers

The climate impacts of the world's fossil-fuelled power plants are being underestimated because of poor accounting, say researchers.

Governments would get a truer picture if they included the lifetime emissions of a facility in the year it goes into production

These "committed emissions" have been growing by 4% a year between 2000 and 2012, the scientists say.

Power plants in China and India alone account for half of this commitment.

At present, UN accounting procedures only include the emissions from coal and gas powered electricity generation in the year in which they occur.

Full extent of global coal 'binge' is hidden, say researchers by Matt McGrath, BBC News, Aug 26, 2014

No economic reason to delay climate action - global commission

Acting to curb climate change makes economic sense, even before counting the benefits of lower risks from climate threats, an upcoming report by leading financial, business and political officials will say.

But that action must happen soon, or the world will be locked into dangerous levels of climate change that will disrupt economies and lives for decades or centuries to come, the report will warn.

“The next 15 years are absolutely critical,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, programme director for the New Climate Economy project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, chaired by former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

“People always tend to make the case for urgency … But the science in this case, leaving all rhetoric aside, makes it extraordinarily clear we have a 15-year window to change the underlying current premise,” he said. 

No economic reason to delay climate action - global commission by Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Aug 29, 2014

The time for burning coal has passed

People have gathered here to tell their politicians that the way in which we used energy and our environment in the 19th and 20th centuries is now over,” says Radek Gawlik, one of Poland’s most experienced environmental activists. “The time for burning coal has passed and the sooner we understand this, the better it is for us.”

Gawlik was one of over 7,500 people who joined an 8-kilometre-long human chain at the weekend linking the German village of Kerkwitz with the Polish village of Grabice to oppose plans to expand lignite mining on both sides of the German-Polish border.

The Time for Burning Coal Has Passed by Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli, International Press Service (IPS), Aug 26, 2014

‘Urgency of climate change’ to debut as legal defense

As protests go, Ken Ward’s and Jay O’Hara’s daylong blockade of a coal delivery was low-key. There were no kerfuffles involving authorities and nobody was arrested — the men learned of criminal charges later by mail. But the duo’s trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 8 in a Massachusetts district court, is shaping up as a high-profile affair, featuring an unusual defense and planned testimony by some of the biggest names in climate science.

The men’s attorneys are planning to deploy a novel strategy. It’s called the necessity defense. They will argue that the urgency of climate change and greenhouse gas pollution was so great that their clients’ actions were legally justifiable.

The trial’s outcome could have far-reaching implications, with fossil fuel blockades growing in popularity around the world as a form of climate-related protest. And the trial could grab national headlines. Former NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen and prolific climate writer Bill McKibben told Climate Central that they plan to testify in Ward’s and O’Hara’s defense.

‘Urgency of Climate Change’ to Debut as Legal Defense by John Upton, Climate Central, Aug 28, 2014

Why climate change won't intensify extreme snowstorms

Better hold on to that snow shovel. Despite global warming, the massive snowstorms that bury cars and close down schools aren't disappearing any time soon.

Even though ferocious snowstorms will become more frequent this century, there's a glimmer of good news. Their intensity will stay about the same, according to a study published today (Aug. 27) in the journal Nature. This means the amount of snow dumped during the worst snowstorms will be similar to records set in the past.

"Snowfall extremes don't respond very strongly to climate change," said lead study author Paul O'Gorman, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Why climate change won't intensify extreme snowstorms by Becky Orskin, LiveScience, Aug 27, 2014

Why it's already legal for Obama to take on climate change without Congress

News broke Wednesday that the Obama administration may propose a “politically binding” climate agreement at upcoming United Nations talks that would bypass the U.S. Senate, where the climate accord negotiated in Kyoto in 1997 famously went to die. The outcry among conservative members of Congress was immediate. House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) called it evidence that Obama “is willing to ignore the rule of law to get what he wants."

Yet one overlooked provision in U.S. law may already give the president all the legal grounds his administration needs to proceed with something even stronger than a “politically binding” international climate plan: one that is legally binding.

Enter Section 115 of the Clean Air Act.

Why It's Already Legal for Obama to Take On Climate Change Without Congress by Zoë Schlanger, Newsweek, Aug 28, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 30 August, 2014

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