2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #37B

Agribusiness drives most illegal deforestation

Everyday products like beef, soy and palm oil already are widely blamed for spurring massive losses of the world's tropical forests. These products are also frequently linked to clearing that takes place in spite of local laws enacted to protect these forests.

But a new report from the environmental nonprofit Forest Trends for the first time attempts to quantify exactly how much of the world's illegal deforestation takes place to make way for palm oil plantations, cattle ranching, soy cultivation and other agricultural commodities.

The research team concluded that between 63 and 75 percent of global deforestation between 2000 to 2012 took place to make way for commercial agriculture. Of this, the authors found, 36 to 65 percent was illegal—the result of fraudulent licenses, destructive clearing techniques or other activities formally prohibited—but often overlooked—by local governments. Forest Trends estimates that the international trade of such products is worth an estimated $61 billion each year.

Agribusiness Drives Most Illegal Deforestation by Elizabeth Harball and Climate Wire/Scientific American, Sep 11, 2014

Can carbon capture technology be part of the climate solution?

For more than 40 years, companies have been drilling for carbon dioxide in southwestern Colorado. Time and geology had conspired to trap an enormous bubble of CO2 that drillers tapped, and a pipeline was built to carry the greenhouse gas all the way to the oil fields of west Texas. When scoured with the CO2, these aged wells gush forth more oil, and much of the CO2 stays permanently trapped in its new home underneath Texas. 

More recently, drillers have tapped the Jackson Dome, nearly three miles beneath Jackson, Mississippi, to get at a trapped pocket of CO2 for similar use. It's called enhanced oil recovery. And now there's a new source of CO2 coming online in Mississippi — a power plant that burns gasified coal in Kemper County, due to be churning out electricity and captured CO2 by 2015 and sending it via a 60-mile pipeline to oil fields in the southern part of the state.

Can Carbon Capture Technology Be Part of the Climate Solution? by David Biello, Yale Environment 360, Sep 8, 2014

In 'This Changes Everything,' Naomi Klein sounds climate alarm

Naomi Klein has made a career critiquing the effects of global capital and consumerism. Her 2000 book "No Logo" looked at the exploitation of workers by large multinationals, including Nike; her follow-up, "The Shock Doctrine" (2007), examined the ways in which corporations benefit from disasters, wars and other upheavals, often with the assistance of policy initiatives. These books have led to the Canadian-born Klein being called "the most visible and influential figure on the American left."

For Klein, the tensions between individual freedom, individual rights and the primacy of the political-corporate complex exist in something of a crisis state. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to climate change, the subject of her new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate," which argues, in the starkest terms imaginable, that we as a culture have reached a tipping point.

"Slavery wasn't a crisis for British and America elites," Klein writes, "until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn't a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn't a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn't a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one."

In 'This Changes Everything,' Naomi Klein sounds climate alarm, Book review by David L. Ulin, Los Angelest Times, Sep 12, 2014

Is India's new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, a climate sceptic?

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, reportedly will be a no-show at the United Nations climate summit this month. Could it be because he does not accept the science behind climate change?

Modi used to be a supporter for climate action. But in public remarks on two occasions in the last week, the leader of one of the fastest growing – and biggest emitting – economies appeared to express doubt about whether climate change was even occurring.

“Climate has not changed. We have changed. Our habits have changed. Our habits have got spoiled. Due to that, we have destroyed our entire environment,” the rightwing leader told students in a video Q&A, according to India Today on Friday .

Is Narendra Modi, a climate sceptic? by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Sep 9, 2014

Judge cleared ‘necessity’ defense for use in climate trial 

Even before a prosecutor in Massachusetts dropped criminal and conspiracy charges against climate activists for blocking a coal shipment with a lobster boat, the judge in the case broke new ground in favor of the foes of fossil fuels. For the first time in the U.S. climate fight, he cleared the way to use "necessity" as a defense in the courtroom.

State District Judge Joseph Macy in Fall River, Massachusetts, found the defendants could call expert witnesses to justify the violation of the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming, and to argue they had no legal alternative. His findings carry legal implications for future acts of civil disobedience, climate activists and lawyers say, and may even have had a direct impact on the outcome of this case.

Judge Cleared ‘Necessity’ Defense for Use in Climate Trial for the First Time by Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News, Sep 11, 2014

Judith Curry scores own goal in climate hockey

Did you ever read a textbook on economic history, or an in-depth article on the relative value of goods over the centuries expressed in current US dollars? Have you ever encountered a graphic that shows long term trends in rainfall patterns or other climate variables, using a couple of simple lines, designed to give a general idea of relative conditions during different eras? Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. 

Judith Curry Scores Own Goal in Climate Hockey, Greg Laden's Blog, Sep 12. 2014 

Monsoon floods kill 420 in India and Pakistan

Torrential monsoon rains of over 12" (305 mm) lashed the India-Pakistan border region of Kashmir and Jammu Provinces on September 3 - 7, triggering devastating floods that swept through the mountainous region, killing at least 420 people, according to Reuters. Thousands more have been trapped by flood waters, and on the Indian side of the border, over 2,000 villages have been inundated, along with the major city of Srinagar. The heavy rains fell in what has been a below-average monsoon season, with rainfall from June 1 - September 3 totaling 15% below average over India and 32% below average over the flood-hit northern provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, according to the India Meteorological Department. 

Monsoon Floods Kill 420 in India and Pakistan by Jeff Masters, Weather Underground, Sep 9, 2014

Personalising climate change through open data and apps

Government-released open data is fuelling a whole new level of innovation in sustainability. Moving beyond hackathons, today’s climate data partnerships are creating unique ventures that cross boundaries between business, government and academia.

In the US, “datapaloozas” – gatherings focused on creating open data innovations in the areas of health , education , energy  and safety  across sectors – are popping up all over the place.

Recently, the geographic information system technology (GIS) company Esri held the Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge  in conjunction with the White House’s Climate Data Initiative. The challenge’s winner, the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Solar Suitability Analysis app , identified the best sites for solar panel installations across the state.

Personalising climate change through open data and apps Rachael Post, Guardian Professional, Sep 11, 2014

The good and bad climate news from permafrost melt

Earth’s subterranean carbon blisters are starting to pop.

Carbon inside now-melting permafrost is oozing out, leaving scientists scrambling to figure out just how much of it is ending up in the atmosphere. Whether recent findings from research that attempted to help answer this question are good or bad climate news might depend on whether you see an Arctic river basin as half full of mud — or half empty.

Frozen soils known as permafrosts  can be found across the planet, and they’re concentrated heavily in the Arctic, which has been warming since the 1980s at twice the global  rate. Taken together, permafrosts contain more carbon than is already in the atmosphere. Their warming-induced breakdown is helping to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. In a self-feeding cycle, that's fueling the very climatic changes that are causing permafrost to waste away.

The Good and Bad Climate News from Permafrost Melt by John Upton, Climate Central, Sep 12, 2014

The hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle

I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most news stories. I told myself the science was too complicated and the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my "elite" frequent-flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or maybe we do really look, but then we forget. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything.

And we are right. If we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas; our children will spend much of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. Yet we continue all the same.

Naomi Klein: the hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle by Naomi Klein, The Guardian, Sep 12, 2014

UN body says greenhouse gas levels at record high

As activists are mobilizing for what they hope will be "the largest climate march in history," the World Meteorological Organization has issued another warning that runaway greenhouse gas emissions show "we are running out of time" to act on the climate crisis.

In its latest annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (pdf), which was released Tuesday, the WMO states that atmospheric levels of CO2 — the single most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere — are at record levels.

In 2013, levels of CO2 were 396 parts per million (ppm), which is 142 percent of the pre-industrial level. The Bulletin warns that the world's global annual average is on track to surpass 400 ppm of CO2 in 2015 or 2016.

'We're Running Out of Time': UN Body Says Greenhouse Gas Levels at Record High by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, Sep 9, 2014

Warming air was trigger for Antarctic ice shelf collapse

It was clear to anyone who went to Antarctica in the summer of 2001-02 that it was an unusually warm one — record-setting, in fact — and just one in a series of warm austral summers.

That December, geologic oceanographer Eugene Domack, now at the University of South Florida, was part of an expedition sampling the Southern Ocean seafloor around the Antarctic Peninsula — then, as now, one of the fastest-warming places on the globe. Taking advantage of their proximity to the peninsula’s Larsen B ice shelf (a tongue of ice that floats on the sea and is fed by land-bound glaciers and ice streams), the group took a detour to check out the ice and sample some of the sediments from the waters around it. 

The scientists knew that the ice shelf’s northern neighbor, the Larsen A, had disintegrated back in 1995, but still the sight of the Larsen B shocked them. What should have been alternating layers of compacted snow and ice, laid down each winter, was instead a huge solid layer of ice at the top of the ice shelf. Summer meltwater was forming large pools on the surface and tumbling off the edges into the ocean.

Warming Air Was Trigger for Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Sep 12, 2014

Why an ice shelf snapped in 2002 and what's coming next

Like Cape Fear or Starvation Lake, a place called Scar Inlet might be a good setting for … the perfect murder.

Unfortunately for aspiring homicidal maniacs, the population of Scar Inlet is zero, so this 900-square-mile ice cube on the northernmost finger of the Antarctic Peninsula will have to serve as the site of another kind of vanishing.

Scar Inlet used to sit next to what was once a 1,250-square-mile ice shelf — basically a sheet of ice above water, not land — that shattered unexpectedly and spectacularly in early 2002. The inlet is next.

No one is likely to be hurt by the collapse of Scar Inlet, just as everyone survived so-called Larsen-B in 2002. But the disappearance of an ice shelf is basically like popping a cork. It clears the way for land-based glaciers to slide toward the ocean. That's the genius of global warming. It's so subtle that even though we're responsible, nobody calls it a crime.

Extensive study of the Larsen-B ice shelf's demise has shown that surface warming — which we know is driven by smokestacks large and small — was most likely the guilty party, and a new study out today provides further evidence.

Glacial Death Watch: Why an Ice Shelf Snapped in 2002 and What's Coming Next by Eric Roston, The Grid, Bloomberg, Sep 11, 2014 

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 13 September, 2014

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