2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #19A

A congressional climate change denier's disingenuous defense

As chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is one of the most eminent and influential climate change deniers in Congress. He's also mightily irked that we described his press release announcing his committee's vote on NASA's funding last week as "a model of misdirection and deceit."

At least, that's the impression advanced by complaints we've received from Laura Crist, who identifies herself as the communications director for Smith and the committee. In emails and a phone call, Crist asked us to "explain how our release was somehow a 'model of misdirection and deceit.'"

We thought our original post was self-explanatory, but since Rep. Smith's office seems to disagree, we'll try to satisfy their curiosity.

A congressional climate change denier's disingenuous defense by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2015

Arctic ice melting faster and earlier as scientists demand action

There was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter during the satellite era, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists said on Tuesday.

The announcement was consistent with previous predictions that the Arctic would have entirely ice-free summers by 2040, they said in a briefing to the media on the state of climate trends in the north pole.

The consequences of such a small quantity of Arctic ice are major and far-reaching.

After undergoing a period of colder temperatures and slower ice retreat between 2007 and 2012, the Arctic is returning to a warm period with the overall trend over the decades continuing to show temperatures getting hotter and ice melting faster.

Arctic ice melting faster and earlier as scientists demand action by Rose Hackman, The Guardian, May 5, 2015

Church of England wields its influence in fight against climate change

Climate change campaigners have long liked to believe they are acting on the side of the angels. Now it seems the angels may be acting on the side of the climate change campaigners.

The growing involvement of the world’s religious organisations in the fight to tame global warming, which will hit the poorest hardest, took a significant step forward on Friday when the Church of England for the first time decided that climate change was an ethical reason to dump some investments from its £9bn endowment.

Earlier in the week, the Vatican called for a moral awakening on climate change, ahead of an encyclical from the pope, which is expected to be one of the most influential interventions in a year that ends with a crunch UN climate summit in Paris. With Methodists, Quakers, United Reformed Presbyterians and many other denominations across the UK and the world taking action on climate change by selling off their investments in coal, oil and gas, the question is how great an impact will the moral authority conferred by religious groups have?

Church of England wields its influence in fight against climate change by Damien Carrington, The Guardian, May 1, 2015

Clean power plan would save thousands of lives each year

The Obama administration has taken great pains to frame its Clean Power Plan as an immediate solution for an immediate, quantifiable problem. President Obama and other high-level administration surrogates have routinely focused on easy-to-picture issues like asthma, rather than the more existential threat of an increasingly warming planet, as they try to sell an ambitious plan to lower the power sector’s carbon emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels over the next 15 years.

So the key takeaway of the first independent, peer-reviewed study on the U.S. EPA regulation’s public health benefits was likely music to the administration’s ears.

“The general narrative is addressing climate change will be costly, and the benefits will now accrue for generations,” said Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future and one of the study’s co-authors. “We take a look at this and see there are important benefits and changes in air quality that accrue in the present, and close to home.”

Clean Power Plan Would Save Thousands of Lives Each Year by Scott Detrow, ClimateWire/Scientific American, May 5, 2015

Climate change threatens major building projects, says Chinese expert

Climate change threatens some of China's most important infrastructure projects, China's top meteorologist warned in a state newspaper, adding the country's rate of warming was higher than the global average.

Zheng Guoguang, head of China's Meteorological Administration, told the weekly newspaper the Study Times that the uptick in recent weather disasters such as floods, typhoons, droughts and heatwaves had a "big connection" to climate change.

Such catastrophes were a threat to big-ticket schemes such as the Three Gorges Dam and a high-altitude railway to Tibet, he said.

"Against the backdrop of the global warming, the risks faced by our large engineering projects have increased," Zheng told the newspaper's latest edition, published on Monday.

Climate change threatens major building projects, says Chinese expert Reuters, May 4, 2015

It's official: Global carbon levels surpassed 400 ppm for entire month

Marking yet another grim milestone for an ever-warming planet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed on Wednesday that, for the first time in recorded history, global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged over 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire month—in March 2015.

"This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times," said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, in a press statement. "Half of that rise has occurred since 1980."

This is not the first time the benchmark of 400 ppm has been reached.

"We first reported 400 ppm when all of our Arctic sites reached that value in the spring of 2012," explained Tans. "In 2013 the record at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory first crossed the 400 ppm threshold."

However, Tans said that reaching 400 ppm across the planet for an entire month is a "significant milestone."

It's Official: Global Carbon Levels Surpassed 400 ppm for Entire Month by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, May 6, 1015

Kofi Annan: ‘We must challenge climate-change sceptics who deny the facts’

The former secretary-general of the UN answers questions on climate change, the Paris summit set for later this year and how ordinary people can make a difference.

Kofi Annan: ‘We must challenge climate-change sceptics who deny the facts’ by Nicola Davis, The Guardian, May 3, 2015

Leftist party’s win in Alberta may affect future of Oil Sands

With an economy dominated by the oil industry and a conservative, free-market political tradition, Alberta has long been cast as the Texas of Canada. But on Tuesday night, not only did the province’s voters put the Progressive Conservative Party out of power after 43 years, they elected a government from the far left of Canada’s mainstream political spectrum.

The unexpected rise of the New Democratic Party, which was partly founded by labor unions, may have implications for Alberta’s oil sands, which, many critics say, enjoyed a light regulatory touch under Conservative governments. And with a federal election coming up this year, the result will not be welcomed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative whose party’s power base is in Alberta, along with his own parliamentary constituency.

The New Democrats had always been distant also-rans in Canada’s most conservative province. But less than an hour after the polls closed Tuesday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation declared that the party, under its leader Rachel Notley, would hold a strong majority of seats in the provincial legislature.

Leftist Party’s Win in Alberta May Affect Future of Oil Sands by Ian Austen, New York Times, May 6, 2015

Methodists' new climate policy signals move away from dirtiest fossil fuels

The UK’s fourth largest Christian church has said it could rule out future investments in the dirtiest fossil fuels, such as oil and coal from tar sands.

The Methodists have deep roots in UK mining and manage £1.1bn of investments for charities and pension funds.

Under a new climate policy announced this week, those funds could exclude investment in coal used for power generation, tar sands and companies whose business model is dedicated to finding and exploiting new fossil fuel reserves.

Methodists' new climate policy signals move away from dirtiest fossil fuels by Nabeelah Shabbir, The Guardian, May 1, 2015

Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a 'prescription for disaster' says top climate scientist James Hansen

The aim to limit global warming to two degrees of pre-industrial levels is "crazy" and "a prescription for disaster", according to a long-time NASA climate scientist.

The paleo-climate record shows sea-levels were six to eight metres higher than current levels when global temperatures were less than two degrees warmer than they are now, Professor James Hansen, formerly head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now at Columbia University in New York, said.

"It's crazy to think that 2 degrees celsius is a safe limit," Professor Hansen told RN Breakfast on ABC Radio on Tuesday, adding that this would lock in several metres of sea-level rise by the middle of the century.

Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a 'prescription for disaster' says top climate scientist James Hansen

Paris climate summit: Carbon pledges to fall short of warming goal, Stern warns

This year's Paris climate summit will leave the world on course for dangerous climate change unless nations offer much deeper carbon emissions cuts than already pledged or signalled, according to researchers including the UK's Lord Nicholas Stern.

Based on commitments made by the European Union, the US and China – which together account for almost half of global emissions – the December summit will end limiting annual pollution to 55-57 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, a study by Lord Stern and other analysts found.

That total, while an improvement on the current trajectory of about 70GT, would still be far higher than the 40-42GT level the world needs to reach by 2030 to have a half to two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, according to UN estimates.

Paris climate summit: Carbon pledges to fall short of warming goal, Stern warns by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald, May 4, 2015

Pause needed in global warming optimism, new research shows

Since the turn of the century, the Earth’s climate has continued to accumulate heat at a rate equivalent to more than 4 atomic bomb detonations per second. During that time, the warming rate of the Earth’s surface temperatures (which represent about 1–2% of the overall warming of the Earth’s climate) has slowed somewhat.

That surface warming slowdown has been inaccurately named ‘the pause,’ and has been the basis of arguments that we needn’t worry about climate change. In reality, there’s no statistical evidence that we’ve deviated from the long-term surface warming trend observed over the past 40–50 years. Stefan Rahmstorf, who has researched recent global surface temperature changes, told me,

There is no change in the global warming trend. We’re just looking at random variability around a steady warming trend. And this random variability has been there all along, it’s not a recent change.

Pause needed in global warming optimism, new research shows by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, May 6, 2015

Planned curbs in greenhouse gas emissions won’t prevent global warming ‘danger limit’ being reached, warns report

The planned curbs in greenhouse gas emissions by the nations of the world fall well short of what is required to avoid global average temperatures exceeding the “danger limit” of 2C this century, a report has warned.

An analysis of the pledges made by countries attending the climate summit in Paris this December has found that the promised reductions as they stand will still exceed the amount of greenhouses gases widely considered to breach of the safe threshold, it says.

The authors of the report have called on nations to be more ambitious in their promises for reductions of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists have found are largely responsible for the rise on global average temperatures over recent decades.

The analysis by the Grantham Research Institute and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics found serious shortcomings in what countries have suggested for their future annual emissions, and what is actually needed as the basis of an international treaty in Paris – widely considered the most important climate summit yet. 

Planned curbs in greenhouse gas emissions won’t prevent global warming ‘danger limit’ being reached, warns report by Steve Connor, The Independent, May 5, 2015

UN climate chief says the science is clear: there is no space for new coal

The UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, has said there was “no space” for new coal developments and stressed the benefits of ambitious renewable energy targets after a meeting with representatives from seven Australian governments. 

At the meeting in Adelaide, organised by the South Australian government, federal, state and territory administrations agreed to work more closely to drive an uptake in renewable energy, coordinate energy-efficiency schemes and help communities adapt to climate change.

Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, urged the states and territories to work with the federal government to help deliver a “strong” global agreement at key climate talks in Paris in December. 

UN climate chief says the science is clear: there is no space for new coal by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, May 4, 2015

Willie Soon out of headlines, but still in the crosshairs

Climate contrarian has already lost his biggest fossil fuel industry funding, and Harvard-Smithsonian and the IRS may soon weigh in.

Willie Soon out of headlines, but still in the crosshairs by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News, May 4, 2015

Posted by John Hartz on Wednesday, 6 May, 2015

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.