It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.
The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported on Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.
Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.
Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.
Analysis of climate change modelling for past 15 years reveal accurate forecasts of rising global temperatures
The debate around the accuracy of climate modelling and forecasting has been especially intense recently, due to suggestions that forecasts have exaggerated the warming observed so far – and therefore also the level warming that can be expected in the future. But the new research casts serious doubts on these claims, and should give a boost to confidence in scientific predictions of climate change.
The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience, explores the performance of a climate forecast based on data up to 1996 by comparing it with the actual temperatures observed since. The results show that scientists accurately predicted the warming experienced in the past decade, relative to the decade to 1996, to within a few hundredths of a degree.
The forecast, published in 1999 by Myles Allen and colleagues at Oxford University, was one of the first to combine complex computer simulations of the climate system with adjustments based on historical observations to produce both a most likely global mean warming and a range of uncertainty. It predicted that the decade ending in December 2012 would be a quarter of degree warmer than the decade ending in August 1996 – and this proved almost precisely correct.
The study is the first of its kind because reviewing a climate forecast meaningfully requires at least 15 years of observations to compare against. Assessments based on shorter periods are prone to being misleading due to natural short-term variability in the climate.
More at The Guardian
With the announcement that the Sierra Club will engage in an act of civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history, this grassroots environmental organization is stepping up to join a long and honorable American tradition that civil rights advocates and so many others have used to strengthen American values.
In the 19th century, the searing injustice of slavery inspired Henry David Thoreau to lay out the principles of civil disobedience, even as he and other antislavery activists helped fugitive slaves reach freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. In the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a courageous campaign of nonviolent resistance that ultimately prevailed over a caustic national legacy of racism and segregation. Now the threat of climate disruption, hammered home last year by wildfires, droughts, and superstorm Sandy, again tests our moral values.
Civil disobedience is the response of ordinary people to injustices committed by powerful and entrenched special interests. The NAACP and the Sierra Club share a long history fighting for justice. Both of our organizations recognize that environmental pollution and recklessness causes enormous suffering in communities of color, where people still face a hugely disproportionate share of the burden. From “Cancer Alley” on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, to the brownfields of Camden, NJ, to the coal-ash–contaminated lands of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians in Nevada, good people with little power suffer from the indefensible actions of rich and powerful corporations — and no corporations wield their power to more corrosive effect than those in fossil fuel industries.
Simply facing a powerful foe does not justify civil disobedience. Anyone familiar with the histories of the Sierra Club and the NAACP knows that both organizations have long and proud traditions of working within the system to effect change — through the courts, public opinion, community organizing, and the ballot box. How, then, do we choose the moment that demands something more? In truth, it is the moment that chooses us.
… [A]lthough President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone. Worse, he could make decisions, such as allowing the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. — that would make it virtually impossible to stop climate disruption from spinning out of control and “betray[ing] … [his word] future generations.”
This is the moment that has chosen us. We must seize it. [more]
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. [continue]
The city will adapt to flooding—but at the expense of the poor?
I devoured Lord Stern’s now famous report six years ago (has it been that long!?). At the time Stern’s report was very controversial. It focused primarily on the economic impacts from climate, and had included some incredibly high numbers. It was widely thought to be out-of-touch with reality - that his numbers were wildly overestimated and his analysis of the models was flawed. True, this reception has softened somewhat over the years.
Now Stern says he didn’t go far enough.
Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”
The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”
He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.
“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”
Refining Canada’s oil sands into gasoline may speed global warming more than previously estimated after accounting for use of a waste product, which can be burned like coal.
Opening a new front in a fight to persuade President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, environmental groups yesterday released a study that found refining the heavy material will create 5 billion tons of petroleum coke, or petcoke, that’s used by power plants, aluminum factories and steel mills.
Compared with coal, petcoke is cheaper and releases more carbon dioxide when burned. Much of the U.S. supply is exported.
“Petcoke is the coal hiding in the tar sands,” said Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International, a Washington-based advocacy group that works for a transition away from fossil fuels. Until now, “the emissions of burning petcoke has not been included in the analyses.”
Opponents of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s 1,661-mile (2,673- kilometer) pipeline are stepping up their efforts to stop the project as the U.S. State Department completes its review of a new route in Nebraska that avoids drinking water supplies. Obama delayed* the pipeline year ago, citing concerns about water, and encouraged the company to reapply.
Stockman said he gave State Department officials a research report yesterday showing that 15 percent to 30 percent of a barrel of oil sands bitumen can end up as petcoke. A lighter crude would have less than 2 percent, he said.
In its annual report, State of the Climate, NOAA reported that the average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees — 3.3 degrees greater than the average temperature for the 20th century.
(Source: Los Angeles Times)
40.33c/104.6f average for the entire country.
The nation has suffered a week of extreme heat; heat that has shattered record temperatures while also sparking hundreds of bushfires.
Monday was called the “hottest day on record” after the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) calculated a national average high temperature of 40.33 degrees C (104.6 degrees F), the Australian ABC News website said.
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable. Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry. It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands. We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the cost would be terrible – all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years. But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.
Those who care to know realize that this Winter so far has meant no relief from severe drought over most of the central United States and prospects do not look good for Spring either. Another Summer like last year, and some towns in West Texas will start to run out of water entirely. Despite that, not a single West Texas broadcast news station has used the words “climate change” in three years of reporting on the drought. Denialism is rife in the Red States even when the object of denial is right up in people’s faces.
And here’s another symptom where the underlying cause is hardly being talked about where it matters – the mighty Mississippi is so shallow that barge traffic cannot move - costing the economy billions in lost trade and wages.
A news release issued by two trade groups, the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, warned last week that water levels had fallen faster than anticipated, and a section of the river may become impassable by Thursday. The groups estimate that a closure until the end of the month would affect about 8,000 jobs, $54m in wages and benefits, and 7.2m tonnes of commodities, worth around $2.8bn dollars.
Debra Colbert, senior vice-president of the Waterways Council, told The Independent: “We have never had an extended closure on the Mississippi. This is the height of the export shipping season. From now until March, more than 60 per cent of the nation’s grain moves on the inland waterway, bound for export. The impacts are going to be enormous, not only to barge and towing operators, but also to farmers, shippers and producers, and those who rely on the waterways.”
The worst-affected stretch runs 180 miles from St Louis, Missouri, south to Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi is met by the Ohio River. A depth gauge at Thebes, Illinois, measured just 6ft last week; the National Weather Service forecasts a drop to 3ft by Thursday, and as low as 2ft before February. The minimum depth for the safe passage of most barges is 9ft.
Responsibility for keeping the shipping channel open falls to the US Army’s Corps of Engineers, which said the drought-induced crisis was “equal to or worse than any of the past five decades”.
Last year’s drought could herald further disruption. Ms Colbert said: “Whether or not anyone believes in climate change, it is worth looking at how the Corps of Engineers manages all the rivers it is responsible for. Their operating manual was last updated in the 1940s, so it doesn’t take into account the changes we’ve seen.”
Climate change is set to be a big story in 2013 whether the denialists like it or not, however. 2012 was a disaster of a year, weather-wise, with 11 billion dollar events. The Mississippi drying is only the first such event of 2013.
Emerging Consensus Shows Climate Change Already Having Major Effects on Ecosystems and Species
“Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.
The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.
“These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.
Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species’ survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.
“The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities,” said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. “Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water.”
Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.
“The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely,” said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.
For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. “These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes.”
Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.
“The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife,” said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.
Other key findings of the report include:
- Changes in precipitation and extreme weather events can overwhelm the ability of natural systems to reduce or prevent harm to people from these events. For example, more frequent heavy rainfall events increase the movement of nutrients and pollutants to downstream ecosystems, likely resulting not only in ecosystem change, but also in adverse changes in the quality of drinking water and a greater risk of waterborne-disease outbreaks.
- Changes in winter have big and surprising effects on ecosystems and their services. Changes in soil freezing, snow cover and air temperature affect the ability of ecosystems to store carbon, which, in turn, influences agricultural and forest production. Seasonally snow-covered regions are especially susceptible to climate change because small precipitation or temperature shifts can cause large ecosystem changes. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are already increasing the likelihood of pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and more intense, extensive fires. Decreased or unreliable snowfall for winter sports and recreation will likely cause high future economic losses.
- The ecosystem services provided by coastal habitats are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and more severe storms. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are most vulnerable to the loss of coastal protection services provided by wetlands and coral reefs. Along the Pacific coast, long-term dune erosion caused by increasing wave heights is projected to cause problems for communities and for recreational beach activities. However, other kinds of recreation will probably improve due to better weather, with the net effect being that visitors and tourism dollars will shift away from some communities in favor of others.
- Climate change adaptation strategies are vital for the conservation of diverse species and effective natural resource policy and management. As moreadaptive management approaches are developed, resource managers can enhance the country’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change through forward-looking and climate science-informed goals and actions.
- Ecological monitoring needs to be improved and better coordinated among federal and state agencies to ensure the impacts of climate change are adequately monitored and to support ecological research, management, assessment and policy. Existing tracking networks in the United States will need to improve coverage through time and in geographic area to detect and track climate-induced shifts in ecosystems and species.
Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report — underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.”
Although many industries have fought to prevent action on climate change, there’s at least one major business that’s taking it seriously, according to a recent perspective in Science. Climate change is estimated to cost the world economy $1.2 trillion annually, which is proving to be a stress test for the insurance industry. Lest you think that’s a niche concern, insurance accounts for seven percent of the global economy and is the world’s largest industry.
… the insurance industry’s steps towards climate change mitigation and adaption are necessarily going to be limited, and the risks of climate change may eventually become uninsurable. And it seems that many companies are struggling to define their approach. Mandatory risk disclosures identified a broad consensus on the relevance of climate change among insurers in the United States, but only one in eight companies has a formal strategy.
Insurers publicly voiced concern about human-induced climate change four decades ago, and have warned that loss-prone development is unsustainable.
List by Tom Giesen, an adjunct professor at University of Oregon. I edited it down some, for the entire post, visit here. I’ll add that, generally, I personally cannot see how we’re going stop the climate from changing. Too many people in the world are starting to want - and get - TVs, laptops, cars, and a single family home. Who are we to deny them?
1. Delayed consequences. Warming is a current phenomenon, but most of the damage is in the future, like a time-delayed bomb – we emit now and suffer the consequences later. Because it is a future event, neither citizens nor politicians feel sufficient urgency.
2. Belief in the necessity of growth! The sanctity of growth in the economy and in population is the real American religion. What all cities/communities want is more economic and population growth. But growth is now impossible without cheap and abundant fossil fuels, and they are finite and becoming prohibitively expensive – causing recessions.
3. Energy cornucopia! The “booms” in oil and gas are mostly just Wall Street bubbles like the real estate and internet bubbles of recent years. Conventional (cheap) fossil fuels are declining resources, and fracked, deep water, oil sands and arctic sources are prohibitively expensive. But no matter – the press is still full of empty chatter about the US out-producing Saudi Arabia and being energy independent.
4. Individualism. Devotees of individualism dislike cooperative processes, preferring go-it-alone methods. Cutting emissions requires a globally cooperative effort, and such cooperative projects might feel to individualists like unacceptable collectivism, and hence resisted.
5. Anti-intellectualism. Many in America have not moved beyond medieval science. Rationality does not often apply in scientific issues with political overtones, or with personal preferences, and hence global warming, the end of cheap oil, and other issues are falsely labeled as scientific frauds by opponents of science.
6. American exceptionalism. We imagine we are different from other nations, and many Americans accept that we are not subject to the same rules as other nations.
7. Failure of international cooperation. It is nearly universally believed that the solution to the problem of warming lies in global treaties involving all nations and dealing with emissions reductions and related equity/financial issues. It’s now 25 years since James Hansen warned Congress, and we have done nothing. Nothing.
8. Difficulties of monitoring and assuring compliance. How do you closely monitor emissions of a gas which quickly diffuses globally in the atmosphere? How do you closely monitor all production and use of fossil fuels? How do you monitor and control land use change (deforestation) before the deed is done? Etc.
9. Greed. Greed permeates political life: worldwide, governments’ subsidies to fossil fuel producers now total $100,000,000,000 a year, and subsidies to consumers are $675,000,000,000. The subsidies are like crack cocaine – the addiction is extremely difficult to treat.
10. Disinformation. The fossil fuel industry lavishly funds global warming deniers and skeptics – the “lavish” funding is chump change in view of current profits.
If we follow the path we are on, the path of no cutting back on emissions, and in fact the path of continued increases in the rate of increase of emissions, our civilization will very possibly collapse.