Friday, September 27, 2013

Their verdict: man-made climate change is a reality -

Today, the (known in the field as AR5). The report represents, in many respects, the verdict on what we know about climate change from the planet’s leading climate scientists.

Maggie Fox

Over 800 experts representing 85 countries have spent the past several years reviewing the climate research happening all around the world and distilling the results into a series of reports that reflect the combined wisdom of the field. .

Deniers have a habit of reading these reports with electron microscopes looking for any details they can rewrite to fit their message with the imagination of a Stephen King novel. To judge from early indications, this year’s report is no different. Expect to see places like the Wall Street Journal or the Daily Mail fill their front pages with claims AR5 shows climate change isn’t happening and quotes out of context about temperature sensitivity and a pause in global warming. These are smoke and mirrors designed to detract our attention from the core facts and nothing more.

The truth is, for those of us who don’t spend our lives in research labs, there’s only one number that matters: 95 percent. Because it really matters. When scientists got together and released the second IPCC report in 1995, they were about 50 percent certain that humans were driving climate change. Today, that number is 95 percent.

Think about this number. Let it sink in. What makes the number stand out is that it doesn’t come from flag-burning protesters in the streets, climate advocates, or professional provocateurs with an agenda. It comes from climate scientists. Who, by their nature, are quite a conservative bunch when it comes to conclusions—especially collective conclusions. Unlike statements from oil companies and Glenn Beck, their work has to hold up to public scrutiny and reflect the truth to the very best of their knowledge. After all, their reputations and careers, and integrity are on the line.

Then there’s the fact that the report’s findings reflect the unanimous agreement of hundreds and hundreds of scientists and government officials, many with vastly different political ideologies and world views. Think about this: when was the last time you could get even 20 people in a room to agree on anything more complicated than the color of traffic lights?

That such a large, diverse, and risk-averse group is able to state with 95 percent certainty that we are causing climate change tells you everything about the fundamental reality of the crisis. Climate change is real. It’s happening now. It’s human-caused. So when you read or hear anti-science deniers claim climate change isn’t happening or it’s not caused by anything we’re doing, remember the overwhelming majority of real experts agree on those three simple truths: and there’s mountains of data behind those truths.

And they’re more certain than ever.

 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lord Stern: It would be absurd to underestimate climate change risks

It would be "absurd" to claim the risks of climate change are small, economic expert Lord Stern said before the publication of a key scientific report on global warming.

Nicholas Stern

The latest international assessment of climate science makes it crystal clear the risks are "immense", and it would be extraordinary and unscientific to ignore the evidence and argue for a delay in addressing the problem, he said.

The former World Bank chief economist and author of the key 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change also warned that scientific projections and economic predictions were underestimating the risks of global warming.

While scientists recognised some potential impacts such as the melting of permafrost, which would release powerful greenhouse gas methane, could be very damaging, they were left out of models because they were hard to quantify.

Many economic models, meanwhile, "grossly underestimate the risks" because they assumed that growth will continue and the costs of climate change will be relatively small, he said.

"Both assumptions trivialise the problem and are untenable given the kind of change that could take place," Lord Stern warned.

Temperature rises of 3C or 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 would put humans "way outside" the conditions in which civilisation developed, and could cause major disruptions that would damage growth.

Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived, causing conflict, there could be large-scale destruction of infrastructure and important services provided by nature could collapse, he warned.

His comments come as scientists and government officials meet in Sweden to finalise the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report assessing the evidence for climate change and its causes, to be published on Friday.

"The IPPC report makes crystal clear that the risks from climate change are immense," Stern said.

The IPCC has come under fire from climate change sceptics since its last assessment in 2007 over mistakes discovered in that report.

Stern said any assessment of thousands of sources of information, such as the IPCC carries out, was likely to contain some errors, but the message from the scientific information was remarkably consistent.

The IPCC assessment showed a dangerous underlying trend, based on laws of physics known for 200 years, of the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and their impact on temperatures, with immense risks as a result.

Stern said: "It would be extraordinary and unscientific to argue on the basis of 200 years of evidence that you're confident that the risks are small.

"Those who would have us delay have to argue they're confident the risks are small. It would be an astonishing statement to make in light of all this evidence.

He added: "It would be absurd to say you are confident that the risks are small."

There was a growing recognition from governments of the need to take action to address that risk, and he said he expected more countries to take the lead set by the UK and establish domestic laws to cut emissions.

Countries ranging from the biggest emitters, the US and China, through to Ethiopia and Mexico, were already taking action to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

Stern called on the European Union to set a target to cut the bloc's emissions by half on 1990 levels by 2030 to show leadership on the issue.

He criticised moves within the UK government to rethink its five-year carbon target up to 2027 and its failure to set a goal to slash emissions from the power sector by 2030as undermining the certainty needed to invest in a low-carbon economy. More

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

David Suzuki accuses Tony Abbott of ‘wilful blindness’ to climate change

Environmentalist David Suzuki has attacked the Coalition’s climate change policies, calling for a legal penalty to be imposed for “wilful blindness” in leaders who commit the “crime” of ignoring climate change.

David Suziki

Suzuki, a Canadian academic visiting Australia, told the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night that the government’s decision to disband The Climate Commission – which has since been resurrected as a privately funded body – was “very dangerous”.

“Human beings have become so powerful that we are altering the physical, chemical and biological properties of the Earth on a global scale,” he said. “In a time when we have become so powerful, how are we best making decisions for the future? I would think the best source of advice would be science.

“If we don’t listen to science, what are we going to turn to – the Bible? the Qur’an? An advertising agency? Australians are at a very critical time. You had a mechanism where science could be provided, with no commitment one way or the other, so that you could make up your own mind. By shutting that down, what does that tell you?

“I think it’s a crazy, dangerous situation if we’re going to marginalise science in favour of political priorities. I think that’s very, very dangerous.”

Suzuki said he didn’t regret comments made to the University of NSW on Saturday which accused the prime minister, Tony Abbott, of “criminal negligence” over his policies, which include the dismantling of the carbon price and scrapping various climate change agencies associated with it.

“I don’t think I went too far – what we are seeing is a crime against future generations,” he said. “There ought to be a legal position on intergenerational crime. If you stand out for a role of leadership and ignore the science on climate change, I think that’s wilful blindness.”

In Suzuki’s UNSW speech he also attacked “outrageously rich” people, such as mining magnate Gina Rinehart, for helping create a “campaign of confusion” over climate change.

“Environmentalism is a way of seeing our place within the biosphere,” he said. “That’s what the battles were fought over. The barbarians – that is, many of the politicians and corporate executives that environmentalists have been fighting all these years – are driven by a totally different set of values – by the drive for profit, for growth and for power.”

He added that Australians should be “at the ramparts” over climate change because of the impact it is already having in terms of drought and damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

“Mother Earth is giving you the signals in Australia, loud and clear,” he said. More

 

Children will bear brunt of climate change impact, new study says

Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of their increased risk of health problems, malnutrition and migration, according to a new study published on Monday. And food prices are likely to soar as a result of warming, undoing the progress made in combating world hunger.

The findings are published as scientists began meeting in Stockholm to produce the most comprehensive assessment yet of our knowledge of climate change. Over the next five days, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, bringing together the world's leading experts, will thrash out the final details of a message to the world's governments.

They are expected to warn that climate change is almost certainly caused by human actions, and that it will lead to a global temperature rise likely to top 2C, with related effects including the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap and glaciers, a rise in sea level by nearly 1 metre by the end of this century and more extreme rainfall in parts of the globe.

Unicef argues that, although children are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming, they have been largely left out of the debate. "We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world's children are threatened and their health, wellbeing, livelihoods and survival are compromised … despite being the least responsible for the causes," said David Bull, Unicef's UK executive director. "We need to listen to them."

Children born last year will come of age in 2030, by which time the effects of climate change in the form of an increase in droughts, floods and storms are likely to be more in evidence. In the 10 most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, there are 620 million children under 18.

Unicef estimates that 25 million more children will suffer malnourishment because of climate change, with a further 100 million suffering food insecurity, where they and their families are on the verge of running out. Children among the 150-200 million people estimated to have to flee their homes because of climate change will suffer more than adults because of their relative lack of resources and higher vulnerability to disease. In heatwaves, likely to grow more intense and frequent under climate change, babies and small children are more likely to die or suffer heatstroke because they find it difficult to regulate their body heat.

Separately, a report by Oxfam warned that global warming would cause rapid rises in food prices, causing severe consequences in poor countries. In pointed contrast to climate sceptics, who have seized on some of the areas of uncertainty in the IPCC assessment to claim that global warming is a far-off and minor problem, Oxfam listed recent examples of extreme weather that have caused food shortages and raised prices, quoting scientific estimates that these are likely to increase in number as warming continues. "Today one person in eight goes to bed hungry. Analysis suggests that the number of people at risk of hunger is projected to increase by 10-20% by 2050 as a result of climate change," the study found.

The authors cited the 2012 drought in Russia, which cut the grain harvest by a quarter, resulting in grain and bread prices rocketing and many farmers falling into serious debt and hardship. The same year, the worst drought in 50 years in the mid-west of the US cut maize yields by a quarter, leading to a 40% rise in prices. Two years before, the devastating Pakistan floods destroyed 570,000 hectares of crops, and 80% of food stored was lost in some areas. More

 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Top 10 cities most at risk of natural disaster

Earthquakes, Floods, Storms, Tsunamis, Etc...

All the natural disasters in the news lately made us wonder what parts of the world were most threatened by things like floods & earthquakes. Massive reinsurer Swiss Re (a reinsurance company sells insurance to insurance companies, allowing them to offload some risks...) has a new report titled "Mind the risk: A global ranking of cities under threat from natural disasters" (pdf) that sheds some light on exactly that. Using their sophisticated modelling software and huge database of past events, they came up with a probabilistic ranking.

There are all kinds of ways to look at the data, but here are some of the most interesting variations.


Swiss Re/Screen capture
There are all kinds of ways to look at the data, but here are some of the most interesting variations.

 

Swiss Re/Screen capture

The list changes a bit if we look at it by "working days lost". More European and US cities appear on the top 10.

If we look at just earthquake risk, this is what the top 10 looks like for both people affected and working days lost: More

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Climate change to have double impact - study

As the world awaits the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest verdict on the state of the climate, new research out this year finds that climate change could have double the impact previously thought.

The peer-reviewed study published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Societyargues that conventional conclusions on climate sensitivity - the extent to which global temperatures respond to greenhouse gas emissions - underestimate the role of some amplifying feedbacks that may intensify climate impacts in ways that many models tend to overlook.

Traditional estimates of climate sensitivity such as that adopted by the IPCC focus on "fast feedbacks" like water vapour, natural aerosols, clouds, and snow cover, but do not sufficiently account for slower feedbacks including "surface albedo feedbacks from changes in continental ice sheets and vegetation", and climate greenhouse gas feedbacks "from changes in natural (land and ocean) carbon sinks."

These types of feedbacks refer to self-reinforcing process which, once human-induced emissions create a change in a particular eco-system, lead to further changes beyond the initial human forcing as different parts of the system continue to respond. With 'albedo', for instance, the reduction of snow and ice cover due to melting induced by global warming means less surfaces reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere, and thus more absorption of heat, which leads to further melting - and potentially a self-reinforcing cycle that contributes further to overall warming.

With 'carbon sinks', as the oceans absorb CO2 and excess heat due to global warming, they could reach a saturation point where their ability to absorb is continually reduced, in turn allowing global warming to accelerate - eventually, the oceans themselves could become an increasing source of CO2 if this process continues.

Climate sensitivity estimates based on fast feedbacks alone, ignoring the above processes, average out at suggesting a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would lead to a global temperature rise of about 3C. However, the new paper by a multidisciplinary team led by Columbia University's Earth Institute, notes that ice sheet and vegetation surface have wrongly been assumed to be irrelevant "based on the long-standing notion that continental ice sheet changes occur so slowly (over several millennia)."

The paper cites "evidence from the palaeoclimatic record for sea-level changes of several metres per century" as well as "present-day observations of increasing melt and overall mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica", which together "imply that ice sheet changes can occur more rapidly than previously recognized." They also point to several studies indicating that "significant vegetation response can occur on decadal-to centennial time-scales." Taking these processes into account gives an estimate known as the 'Earth system sensitivity', which the study finds is double that of other estimates at between 6 to 8C. The dramatic changes that this higher sensitivity implies would occur over "several centuries to about a millennium", if not "several millennia."

Despite that long time-scale, unfortunately some early impacts could still be seen this century. The study warns:

"The higher Earth system sensitivity thus implies a real possibility of exceeding the 2C global warming threshold if atmospheric GHG concentrations are sustained at or above present-day levels. This needs to be communicated clearly to policymakers and to the general public in order to ensure appropriately informed decisions about future GHG stabilization."

The difficulties in estimating the Earth system sensitivity, the paper points out, are due to "the lack of palaeo-analogues for the present-day anthropogenic forcing" as well as because "current models are unable to adequately simulate the physics of ice sheet decay and certain aspects of the natural carbon and nitrogen cycles." More

 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Industrial Soot Linked to the Abrupt Retreat of 19th Century Glaciers

A NASA-led team of scientists has uncovered strong evidence that soot from a rapidly industrializing Europe caused the abrupt retreat of mountain glaciers in the European Alps that began in the 1860s, a period often thought of as the end of the Little Ice Age.

The research, published Sept. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help resolve a longstanding scientific debate.

In the decades following the 1850s, Europe underwent an economic and atmospheric transformation spurred by industrialization. The use of coal to heat homes and power transportation and industry in Western Europe began in earnest, spewing huge quantities of black carbon and other dark particles into the atmosphere.

Black carbon is the strongest sunlight-absorbing atmospheric particle. When these particles settle on the snow blanketing glaciers, they darken the snow surface, speeding its melting and exposing the underlying glacier ice to sunlight and warmer spring and summer air earlier in the year. This diminishing of the snow cover earlier in each year causes the glacier ice to melt faster and retreat.

The Little Ice Age, loosely defined as a cooler period between the 14th and 19th centuries, was marked by an expansion of mountain glaciers and a drop in temperatures in Europe of nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). But glacier records show that between 1860 and 1930, while temperatures continued to drop, large valley glaciers in the Alps abruptly retreated by an average of nearly 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) to lengths not seen in the previous few hundred years. Glaciologists and climatologists have struggled to reconcile this apparent conflict between climate and glacier records.

"Something was missing from the equation," said Thomas Painter, a snow and ice scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who led the study. "Before now, most glaciologists believed the end of the Little Ice Age came in the mid-1800s when these glaciers retreated, and that the retreat was due to a natural climatic shift, distinct from the carbon dioxide-induced warming that came later in the 20th century. This result suggests that human influence on glaciers extends back to well before the industrial temperature increases."

To help the scientists understand what was driving the glacier retreat, Painter and his colleagues turned to history. The researchers studied data from ice cores drilled from high up on several European mountain glaciers to determine how much black carbon was in the atmosphere and snow when the Alps glaciers began to retreat. Using the levels of carbon particles trapped in the ice core layers, and taking into consideration modern observations of how pollutants are distributed in the Alps, they were able to estimate how much black carbon was deposited on glacial surfaces at lower elevations, where levels of black carbon tend to be highest.

The team then ran computer models of glacier behavior, starting with recorded weather conditions and adding the impact of the lower-elevation pollution. When this impact was included, the simulated glacier mass loss and timing finally were consistent with the historic record of glacial retreat, despite the cooling temperatures at that time.

"We must now look more closely at other regions on Earth, such as the Himalaya, to study the present-day impacts of black carbon on glaciers in these regions," said Georg Kaser, a study co-author from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and lead author of the Working Group I Cryosphere chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's upcoming Fifth Assessment Report.

"This study uncovers likely human fingerprints on our changing environment," said co-author Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research and Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. "It's a reminder that the actions we take have far-reaching impacts on the environment in which we live."

CIRES is a joint institute of the university and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Other institutions participating in the study include the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and the University of California, Davis. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. More

Black Soot and Snow, A Warmer Combination -- a report from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies

 

Angola: Head of State appoints Ecocide Convention Work Team

The Angolan head of State José Eduardo dos Santos Wednesday in Luanda ordered the setting up of a Work Team to study and draft proposals for incorporation in the country’s legal system of the Ecocide Convention, Angop learned from an official source.

Angolan head of State José Eduardo dos Santos

Ecocide is defined as the destruction or degradation of various ecosystems in a certain territory, through human action or others, putting at stake the full development of the resources by the population.

The United Nations has decided to discuss, approve and promote among the member states an International Convention against the Ecocide, aiming to protect the earth and its living species against the evil and hold legally accountable the institutions, organisms, organisations and their leaders found responsible for the phenomenon.

Internally, the Executive is required to set up national mechanisms of combat against the ecocide, promotion of the enforcement of the law and regulation of the cooperation with the international organisms and organisations involved in the protection of the environment, its technical assistance and exchange of information.

The just appointed Work Team is coordinated by the minister of Environment and includes representatives of the ministries of Energy and Water, Interior, Oil and National Defence.

According to the source, The Work Team is expected to conduct a deep study on the Ecocide Convention draft, by analysing the impact the phenomenon might have on the country’s legal system.

It is also the Work Team’s duty to create a legal framework for the country’s economic development, promote and facilitate international cooperation and provide technical assistance to prevent the ecocide, the source said.

The body is also tasked with arranging and promoting inter-sectoral programmes of information, publicity and social awareness, through environmental education campaigns and identifying and protecting the communities based in threatened areas. More

 

A Climate Alarm, Too Muted for Some

This month, the world will get a new report from a United Nations panel about the science of climate change. Scientists will soon meet in Stockholm to put the finishing touches on the document, and behind the scenes, two big fights are brewing.

In one case, we have a lot of mainstream science that says if human society keeps burning fossil fuels with abandon, considerable land ice could melt and the ocean could rise as much as three feet by the year 2100. We have some outlier science that says the problem could be quite a bit worse than that, with a maximum rise exceeding five feet.

The drafters of the report went with the lower numbers, choosing to treat the outlier science as not very credible.

In the second case, we have mainstream science that says if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles, which is well on its way to happening, the long-term rise in the temperature of the earth will be at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but more likely above 5 degrees. We have outlier science that says the rise could come in well below 3 degrees.

In this case, the drafters of the report lowered the bottom end in a range of temperatures for how much the earth could warm, treating the outlier science as credible.

Climate change skeptics often disparage these periodic reports from the United Nations, claiming that the panel writing them routinely stretches the boundaries of scientific evidence to make the problem look as dire as possible. So it is interesting to see that in these two important cases, the panel seems to be bending over backward to be scientifically conservative.

Is it right to throw out bleeding-edge science in the one case while keeping it in the other? That is hard to judge for anybody who is not a working climate scientist. After all, we pay them for their expertise, just as we pay doctors to advise us if we are diagnosed with cancer. And we are talking about two distinct issues here, each with its own specialized body of research.

The group making these decisions is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a worldwide committee of several hundred scientists knowledgeable in the complex field of climatology. It won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore, for helping to alert the public to the risks that are being run with the unchecked combustion of fossil fuels.

The group’s decisions will not be final until the official report is released on Sept. 27. We know about them only because a secret draft was leaked ahead of the final editing session coming up in Stockholm. Scientists from a few countries have raised objections to the preliminary decisions on sea level and temperature, and they could well change in the final report.

Perhaps they should; there are climate scientists not serving on the committee this year who think so. Their fear is that the intergovernmental panel might be pulling punches.

It turns out that the Nobel Prize, welcome as it might have been back in 2007, served the same function it has for many other scientists who have won it over the years: it painted a fat target on the committee’s back. The group has been subjected to attack in recent years by climate skeptics. The intimidation tactics have included abusive language on blogs, comparisons to the Unabomber, e-mail hacking and even occasional death threats.

Who could blame the panel if it wound up erring on the side of scientific conservatism? Yet most citizens surely want something else from the group: an unvarnished analysis of the risks they face.

To be clear, even if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ends up sticking with the lowball numbers in these two instances, they are worrisome enough. As best scientists can tell, the question with sea level is not whether it is going to get to three feet and then five feet of increase, but merely whether it will happen in this century or the next.

Likewise, with temperature, the panel is saying only that the lowball numbers are possible, not that they are likely. In fact, the metric used in the scientific literature, the temperature effect of doubled carbon dioxide, is merely a convenient way of comparing studies. Many people make the mistake of thinking that is how much of a global temperature increase will actually occur. More