2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #30C

A new climate-change danger zone?

w much does the climate have to change for it to be “dangerous”? This question has vexed scientists ever since the first climate models were developed, back in the nineteen-seventies. It was provisionally answered in 2009, though by politicians rather than scientists. According to an agreement known as the Copenhagen Accord, which was brokered by President Barack Obama, to avoid danger, the world needs “to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Now a group of climate modellers is arguing that the danger point is, in fact, a lot lower than that. In a paper set to appear online this week in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the modellers, led by James Hansen, the former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warn that an increase of two degrees Celsius could still be enough to melt large portions of Antarctica, which, in turn, could result in several metres’ worth of sea-level rise in a matter of decades. What’s important about the paper from a layperson’s perspective—besides the fate of the world’s major coastal cities, many of which would be swamped if the oceans rose that high—is that it shows just how far from resolved, scientifically speaking, the question of danger levels remains. And this has important political implications, though it seems doubtful that politicians will heed them.

A new climate-change danger zone? by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, July 23, 2015

Canada, Alaska wildfire surge sends smoke plume to Texas

Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in Alaska and northern Canada is drifting as far south as Texas, NASA images show.

The monitoring service described the long, dense plume of smoke as “pretty remarkable”.

According to Alaska’s forestry service, 2015 already ranks as one of the top 5 wildfire seasons on record, with nearly 5 million acres burned.

A recent report by Climate Central found the region’s wildfire season had expanded 40% since the 1940s, with longer, hotter and drier summers.

Canada, Alaska wildfire surge sends smoke plume to Texas  by by Megan Darby, Responding to Climate Change (RTTC), July 23, 2015

Global warming deniers are an endangered species

At the end of this year there will be a critically important international climate change conference in Paris. At this conference, nations will attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming.

Over the past few months there’s been a flood of big climate-related news, most of which will help build support and pressure for a strong agreement to curb global warming at the Paris conference. The political and social climate is shifting, and those in denial about human-caused climate change are struggling to adapt.

Global warming deniers are an endangered species by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus-the 97%, The Guardian, July 22, 2015

Hollande: 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground

Francois Hollande says 80% of known fossil fuels will need to stay in the ground for the world to achieve a “viable” global climate deal later this year in Paris.

The French president made his views known at the “Summit of Conscience for the Climate” held in Paris earlier this week.

“Today, with the agreement we see taking shape, we are still above two degrees Celsius, and probably three,” he said in quotes reported by AFP.

A deal to keep warming below the UN-approved ceiling of 2C above pre-industrial levels would mean “forsaking the use of 80% of fossil-based energy resources to which we still have easy access”.

Hollande: 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground by Ed King, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), July 24, 2015

How this El Niño is and isn’t like 1997

It was the winter of 1997-1998 when the granddaddy of El Niños — the one by which all other El Niños are judged — vaulted the climate term to household name status. It had such a noticeable impact on U.S. weather that it appeared everywhere from news coverage of mudslides in Southern California to Chris Farley’s legendary sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” Basically, it was the “polar vortex” of the late ‘90s.

So it’s no wonder that it is the touchstone event that people think of when they hear that name. And naturally, as the current El Niño event has gained steam, the comparisons to 1997 have been increasingly bandied about.

The most recent came this week in the form of an image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationthat compares satellite shots of warm Pacific Ocean waters — a hallmark of El Niño — from this June to November 1997, when that El Niño hit its peak.

How This El Niño Is And Isn’t Like 1997 by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, July 23, 2015

How to make the post-2015 development agenda climate-smart?

With the U.N. Financing for Development Conference having adopted an agreement last week, the second major development policy milestone in 2015 is over. But the train is quickly moving on to New York.

From July 20 to 31, government delegates aim to finalise the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, with the Sustainable Development Goals at its core.

Then, at the end of September, world leaders are expected to convene in New York to adopt this agenda. Most likely, the sustainable development summit will integrate the Addis Ababa outcomes as the “means of implementation”. 

How to make the post-2015 development agenda climate-smart?, Op-ed by Sven Harmeling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, July 22, 2015

Rice revolution? New rice could help feed world, fight climate change.

Researchers have developed a new strain of rice with the potential to feed a burgeoning global population while reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions rice paddies generate.

They have coaxed the rice into growing more and larger grains. At the same time, the genetic change cut methane emissions from paddies growing the rice by more than 90 percent compared with paddies growing unaltered plants.

By some estimates, rice farming may be the single largest source of methane emissions humans deliver to the atmosphere, though estimates vary widely.

Scientists have been working to develop rice with higher-nutrition, low-emissions traits for years, given that the crop that plays such a significant role in the diets of some 3 billion people.

Rice revolution? New rice could help feed world, fight climate change. by Pete Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2015

States appeal case against EPA climate rule

Fourteen states are asking a federal appeals court to revive their challenge to the Obama administration’s signature regulatory proposal on climate change.

The states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, want all 17 judges on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hear the case that a three-judge panel rejected last month against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That panel of judges decided the challenge was premature because the rule has not yet been made final, and a court has never reviewed a proposed rule before.

The states said the judges made a huge mistake.

States appeal case against EPA climate rule by Timothy Cama, The Hill, July 24, 2015 

The bad news for Western drought: 'monster' hot El Nino on the way

In the dead of a Prairie winter, when cars won't start and exposed skin freezes in 30 seconds, people pray for a searing hot summer. But across Western Canada this season, many may be recalling the old adage, "be careful what you wish for" as forest fires, drought and pestilence invite biblical comparisons.

More worrisome, though, than the sight of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia wilting under 30 degree temperatures in June and July — and rationing scarce water supplies in some areas — is that this might just be the start of an even bigger problem.

Many meteorologists are chalking up today's weird and wacky weather in the West to the fact that this is an El Nino year, referring to the cyclical Pacific Ocean phenomenon that disrupts global weather patterns.

The problem with that, according to Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips: "It's not even arrived in Canada yet."

"We don't see the effects of El Nino until late fall, winter and early spring," he says. 

The bad news for Western drought: 'monster' hot El Nino on the way by Cara Cruz, CBS News, July 14, 2015

Tory attacks on green policies signal dark times ahead for the environment

he last few months mark the worst period for environmental policy that I have seen in my 30 years’ work in this field. The attacks on renewable energy, the scrapping of zero carbon homes and the resumed use of pesticides that are known to kill birds and beneficial insects are among the policy reversals that confirm we are into a new and troubling period.

The basis for the lurch backwards has been predicated on managing public money and the cost of living, when if fact neither are backed by evidence. Take the fact that more than 40% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (Decc) budget is spent on nuclear waste management, and yet this technology, which will take years to make a material difference to our energy security, remains favoured by policy while renewable technologies that could deliver more quickly and cleanly are being undermined.

When one looks at the scale of subsidy backing fossil fuels – never mind pro-fracking policies – the government’s position becomes even more nakedly distant from evidence and rationality.

Tory attacks on green policies signal dark times ahead for the environment Op-ed by Tony Juniper, The Guardian, July 24, 2015

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 25 July, 2015

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