Friday, January 31, 2014

Want to cut Arctic warming in half? Curb emissions now, study says

Global warming is changing the Arctic so quickly that experts say we should expect an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer within just a few decades.

But a group of scientists says there is a way to spare the Arctic from more disastrous climate change. In a new paper, they say that reducing global carbon emissions now could cut Arctic warming nearly in half by century’s end.

Society already has released enough carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere that over the next few decades temperatures in the Arctic will continue to rise two to three times faster than in Earth’s middle latitudes, according to the study.

“Over the next 20 or 30 years, the fix is in,” said James Overland, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the scientific paper. “That means more access to drilling, shipping and resource exploration. But it's not very good news for polar bears or walruses that depend on the sea ice habitat.”

Starting mid-century, society’s decisions about how to address climate change could begin to kick in, Overland said.

If carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory, by century’s end temperatures across the Arctic could rise by 23.4 degrees in the late fall and 9 degrees in the late spring, according to the study, which used computer models to predict the effects of different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

But if civilization levels off its emissions by mid-century, Arctic-wide warming would be limited to 12.6 degrees in the late fall and 5.4 degrees in the late spring, according to the paper accepted for publication in the journal Earth’s Future.

The Arctic is hypersensitive to climate change and is seeing some of the earliest and most severe effects because of a vicious circle known as “Arctic amplification.”

As Arctic sea ice shrinks to record lows, it is reflecting less sunlight and leaving behind more heat-absorbing ocean water. Thawing permafrost is increasing heat storage on land and raising temperatures even higher.

Already, the average annual temperature in the Arctic is 3.6 degrees higher than it was between 1971 and 2000, double the rise in lower latitudes during the same period, according to the study.

Overland conducted the research with three other scientists from the University of Washington, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., and the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The scientists wrote that their research “makes a strong case to begin mitigation activities for greenhouse gases,” adding that stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century “is a plausible target if decisive actions are begun soon.” More



Heed the warnings in extreme weather – or risk losing Earth

The recent cold spell united red and blue states: not in their interpretation of the event, but in their affliction. Weather can hit our fragile societies much harder than we care to admit.

No single weather extreme can be unequivocally attributed to global warming. But physics can say something about the big picture before the small events that form the big picture have occurred; and it says that extreme weather is likely to intensify.

On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change officially released its latest assessment of the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change, providing the huge body of science that support the much debated summary for policymakers agreed by the 194 governments some weeks earlier.

For the first time, future climate was not merely projected for the 21st century. About 20 climate models from around the world were used to look beyond the year 2100. They show that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have done in the past, the Earth will warm by more than 10C and it won't stop there.

Yet this is not going to happen. Not because the physical models are wrong. They are built on fundamental laws of nature that we rely on in our every-day life, laws that were established more than a hundred years ago and that have been tested in countless laboratory experiments. For more than a decade, different models project practically the same temperature ranges for the same greenhouse gas emissions. So those who want to make the world believe that climate models are bad in projecting the temperature of our planet are wrong.

Still, a warming of our planet by 10C, as predicted by some models, is not going to happen – simply because the underlying assumption of these projections is that there will be an industry around that can produce further emissions of that magnitude. But climate change will interfere with our fragile economic supply chains through unanticipated weather extremes. Whether this might reduce our industrial emissions is hard to say.

Initially a perturbation of our economic flows is likely to increase emissions because the loss will need to be compensated. But it seems inevitable that there will be a limit. A limit beyond which we cannot clean up the mess quick enough before the next hurricane makes land fall. When this limit is reached emissions might decline – but not for the good of humanity.

When climate scientists started to investigate the impacts of climate change, they did what scientists have always done: we sought the hardest problems that we considered solvable and went for them. In the case of climate change this led us to investigate gradual changes in large scale climate variables such as globally averaged precipitation or the monthly mean temperature of a continent.

But weather extremes are much harder to predict and so we did not. Such an approach is actually very common in science. In physics for example, people invented the theory of relativity and quantum physics than solving the turbulence problem which affects our every-day life whenever we drive a car or ride a bike. The world of the atoms and that of the remote universe posed solvable problems compared to the small-scale chaos that develops behind every car and every airplane.

Climate change, however, does not allow for that kind of scientific luxury – focusing on outer space instead of local weather.

If unabated, climate change will simply come upon us. Just because we cannot compute the track of a hurricane does not mean that we will not have to face it. Events like this year’s heavy winter in the US, or typhoon Haiyan which destroyed parts of the Philippines a few months ago, show that it is the unanticipated extremes and their impact on our fragile infrastructure that we will have to worry about.

Such individual events might remain just as unpredictable in the future as they have been in the past, and they will continue to impact the global flow of goods, energy and information which connects economies across the planet and makes it one world. If Google’s headquarters in California were shut down by, say the lack of cooling during a heat wave, this would affect large and small business everywhere. If a severe storm was to hit the harbour of Hong Kong, the effects would not just be local. It would spread along the supply chains around the globe.

The temperature difference between the last ice age and our current warm period, which carried humankind into civilisation over the past 10,000 years, is less than 5C. This is about the amount of warming that we will have caused by the end of the century if we continue as we have done in the past. Only we are doing it about one hundred times faster than nature did while trying to keep a highly efficient global economic network running.

The 2011 floods in Thailand surprised insurance companies around the world, because they disrupted Japanese production of hard drives and other computer essentials and led to shortages in Europe and the US. In 2010, an Icelandic volcano spitting dust into the air led to flight cancellation for two weeks – and were enough to push Europe to the edge of an economic deadlock. Not only major airlines were reported to be in economic trouble, the entire transportation system in Europe was in turmoil , shaking all economic and political processes in the European Union.

Societies do not need to be brought to the verge of starvation to slide into crisis. The social unrests we have seen in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina or more recently in Greece as a result of the financial crisis suggest that also seemingly stable countries are vulnerable to abrupt perturbations.

It is the unanticipated impacts on fragile infrastructures and supply networks that constitute the largest threat of global warming. While climate change is often considered to be a problem for the global poor and for fragile ecosystems, the impact of extreme events on the global economic network will test the stability of America as much as that of Europe.

No one knows where the limits of our adaptive capacity are, but a path towards 10C of warming will likely challenge these limits. The wall we are speeding towards may be hidden in the fog, but not knowing where it is does not make it vanish. The warnings provided by weather impacts on our society are quite clear. We can either take them seriously and turn around or find out the hard way. More


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

If There's Global Warming ... Why Is It So Cold?

It's that time of year, the perennial "It's snowing so it can't be warming" season - or, as scientists call it, "winter". Depends on where you're standing, actually -- I stood on a frozen lake with Dr. Jeff Masters to discuss the current planetary changes, but at the same time, in Alaska, historic warm temperatures were unfolding, and across the west, the deepest drought in decades...

Climate Change Is Already Causing Mass Human Migration

There are a lot of reasons people move: for work, for love, for the draw of the big city or the quiet of nature. But as the world continues to warm, it's expected that global climate change will become another factor driving people to move: to dodge coastal erosion and sea level rise, to follow changes in rainfall, to avoid strengthening storms.

Climate change is already inducing marine animals to migrate, and according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, it's starting to make people move, too.

For the past 21 years, researchers have been studying the migration patterns of people in Pakistan. (Similar studies are done in America—that's how we know that most emigrants from New York are going to Florida.) Migration data in hand, the scientists, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute's Valerie Mueller, measured the relationship between Pakistanis' movements and changes in a handful of environmental variables, from the quantity and timing of rainfall, to temperature, the strength of the annual monsoon and the occurrence of floods.

“This approach reveals a complex migratory response that is not fully consistent with common narratives of climate-induced migration,” the scientists wrote in their report.

Traditionally, scientists have assumed that it is big, catastrophic natural disasters that drive people to pack up and leave. But as with those who hunker down in Tornado Alley, the researchers found that even though Pakistan is prone to extreme floods, like the devastating 2010 floods that affected 20 million people and forced 14 million to move temporarily, flooding in general has little effect on where people chose to live long-term.

Instead, they found, high temperatures, particularly during the spring and winter farming season, were the dominant driver of mass migration. It's not that it suddenly became too hot for people to live. But as temperature and weather patterns change, previously productive ground may become uneconomical to work. High heat wipes out the farming economy, the researchers suggest, causing Pakistani men to pack up and leave for greener pastures.

“Thus, we are left with an overall picture that heat stress—not high rainfall, flooding, or moisture—is most strongly associated with migration. The risk of a male, non-migrant moving out of the village is 11 times more likely when exposed to temperature values in the fourth quartile,” they wrote.

The failure of the farm and the exodus that follows, the scientists say, sends a rippling shock through the rest of the economy as people stop buying and start leaving. More


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Climate Change Deep Freeze

Paul Beckwith

I discuss the severity and extent of the North American deep freeze and how it results from fractured jet streams due to climate change. Also discussed is extreme stress on infrastructure (roads, rail, pipelines,...) from rapid 40 degree C temperature swings.


Friday, January 24, 2014

A Win for the Climate Scientist Whom Skeptics Compared to Jerry Sandusky

In 2012—after writers for the National Review and a prominent conservative think tank accused him of fraud and compared him to serial child molester Jerry Sandusky—climate scientist Michael Mann took the bold step of filing a defamation suit. The defendants moved to have the case thrown out, citing a Washington, DC, law that shields journalists from frivolous litigation.

But on Wednesday, DC Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion, opening the way for a trial.

Although public figures like Mann have to clear a high bar to prove defamation, Judge Weisberg argued that the scientist's complaint may pass the test. And he brushed aside the defendants' claims that the fraud allegations were "pure opinion," which is protected by the First Amendment:

Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity. They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable.

Weisberg's order is just the latest in a string of setbacks, which have left the climate-change skeptics' case in disarray. Earlier this month, Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm representing the National Review and its writer, Mark Steyn, withdrew as Steyn’s counsel. According to two sources with inside knowledge, it also plans to drop the National Review as a client.

The lawyers’ withdrawal came shortly after Steyn—a prominent conservative pundit, who regularly fills in as host of Rush Limbaugh's radio show—publicly attacked the former judge in the case, Natalia Combs Greene, accusing her of "stupidity" and "staggering" incompetence. Mann’s attorney, John B. Williams, suspects this is no coincidence. "Any lawyer would be taken aback if their client said such things about the judge," he says. "That may well be why Steptoe withdrew."

Steyn's manager, Melissa Howes, acknowledged that his commentary "did not go over well."* But Steyn maintains it was his decision to part ways with his attorneys.

The lawsuit centers on Mann's famous "hockey stick” graph. In 1999, Mann and two colleagues charted 1,000 years worth of climate data, and found a steep uptick in global temperatures beginning in the 20th century. The graph, named for its iconic shape, became a potent, easy-to-grasp symbol of global warming. And it was featured prominently in the landmark 2001 report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that "the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years." More


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Planet Earth - The Next Thirty Years

What These Climate Scientists Said About Earth's Future Will Terrify You

I spoke with apocalyptic climate scientists about what our next generation faces, and their answers were bleak.

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 12:11 PM GMT

Consider this timeline:

  • Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.
  • Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.
  • Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.
  • October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.
  • November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.
  • December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.
  • 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.
  • November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: "The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today's levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models."

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

"Things Are Looking Really Dire"

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested. Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn't be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of "the web of life," and "it's happening very quickly."

"Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology," Dawe says. "Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don't reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us." And he isn't hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. "Everything is worse and we're still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don't exact immediate punishment on the stupid."

The University of Arizona's Guy McPherson has similar fears. "We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat," he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, "They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere."

Here's the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change—and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth's climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

"The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet," climate scientist James Hansen has said. "There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we'll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don't want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change."

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not. As McPherson put it, "If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we've already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops."

He adds: "All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm' by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm' and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can't adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us—so we'll die."

If you think McPherson's comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to apaper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, "We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events."

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40 percent of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: "The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.")

"This is already a mass extinction event," Wasdel adds. "The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60 percent to 80 percent of the populations and species of life on Earth."

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that "a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today."

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a "4C world" marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. "There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees," says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy."

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: "When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?"

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread. All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

"Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world," Leifer comments. "While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it's just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica."

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled "Guy McStinction"—to which he responds, "I'm just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don't think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I'm not making this information up, I'm just connecting a couple of dots, and it's something many people have difficulty with."

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, "There's not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction." The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, "because there is money in this, and as long as that's the case, it is going to continue."

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. "In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it'll happen very fast." He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: "People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it."

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family. Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining. But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books:Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied IraqandThe Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Climate Change Worse Than We Thought, Likely To Be 'Catastrophic Rather Than Simply Dangerous'

Climate change may be far worse than scientists thought, causing global temperatures to rise by at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, or about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Nature, takes a fresh look at clouds' effect on the planet, according to a report by The Guardian. The research found that as the planet heats, fewer sunlight-reflecting clouds form, causing temperatures to rise further in an upward spiral.

That number is double what many governments agree is the threshold for dangerous warming. Aside from dramatic environmental shifts like melting sea ice, many of the ills of the modern world -- starvation, poverty, war and disease -- are likely to get worse as the planet warms.

"4C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous," lead researcher Steven Sherwood told the Guardian. "For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet."

Another report released earlier this month said the abrupt changes caused by rapid warming should be cause for concern, as many of climate change's biggest threats are those we aren't ready for.

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it was "extremely likely" that human activity was the dominant cause of global warming, or about 95 percent certain -- often the gold standard in scientific accuracy.

"If this isn't an alarm bell, then I don't know what one is. If ever there were an issue that demanded greater cooperation, partnership, and committed diplomacy, this is it," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after the IPCC report was released. More