climate change

Fri, 2013-07-26 09:00Laurel Whitney
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New Nature Study Calls Melting Underwater Arctic Permafrost An "Economic Time Bomb"

Three academics walk into a bar.

After what must have been the worst happy hour ever, they emerge having discovered that melting oceanic permafrost could come with a hefty $60 trillion dollar price tag, slightly less than the entire world economy.

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Penned in a recent issue of Nature, Gail Whitman (Sustainability professor at Erasmus University Netherlands), Chris Hope (Policy modeler, University of Cambridge) and Peter Wadhams (Ocean physics, University of Cambridge) set out to calculate the economic consequences of an ice-free Arctic, which some have estimated could happen as early as 2020.

Their main concern followed the melting of underwater permafrost - called methane clathrates - in which natural methane gas beneath the ocean is trapped in frozen beds of ice. Normally, the cold temperatures of ocean water and high pressure of ocean sitting atop the clathrates keep them in place. But with the Arctic ice cap quickly melting, the warming may penetrate farther toward the ocean floor and release this 50 Gt reservoir of methane.

Like stinky bubbles emanating from their Arctic bathtub, methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 with about 20x the warming capability, could either be released gradually over time, or in one fell swoop, accelerating atmospheric warming.

Sat, 2013-07-13 06:00Farron Cousins
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Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

Fri, 2013-07-12 10:53Graham Readfearn
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Climate Sceptic Professor Sacked From Australian University Was Banned By National Science Foundation For "Deceptive Conduct"

A CLIMATE sceptic professor fired from his Australian university for alleged policy breaches had previously been banned for three years from accessing US taxpayer-funded science research money.

Dr Murry Salby, sacked in May by Macquarie University in Sydney, was the subject of a long investigation by the US National Science Foundation.

The investigation (pdf), which was finished in February 2009, concluded that over a period when Dr Salby was working at the University of Colorado, he had likely fabricated time sheets in relation to research paid for through NSF money.

We conclude that the Subject (Dr Salby) has engaged in a long-running course of deceptive conduct involving both his University and NSF. His conduct reflects a consistent willingness to violate rules and regulations, whether federal or local, for his personal benefit. This supports a finding that the Subject is not presently responsible, and we recommend that he be debarred for five years.

The NSF subsequently decided to only “debar” Dr Salby for three years, preventing him from accessing any NSF research grants or being involved in work related to them. The investigation was carried out by NSF’s Office of Inspector General - an arms-length organisation providing oversight to the NSF.

Thu, 2013-07-04 07:00Ben Jervey
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Resilient Communities for America: City Mayors Prep for Climate Chaos

As international bodies and national governments fail to do anything significant to curb the ever-rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, local governments are taking it upon themselves to get prepared for the perilous impacts of unmitigated climate change.

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious, sprawling $20 billion dollar plan to do everything from gird the city with levees to fortifying infrastructure to hurricane-proofing buildings.

Then a group of 45 mayors from many of the nation’s largest and most vulnerable cities gathered in the nation’s capital to announce an agreement to create more climate resilient communities.

The elected officials – from Denver, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Sacramento, to name a few – pledged “to prepare and protect their communities from the increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change.” You can see the growing list of signatories, which stands at 58 as of today.

Wed, 2013-07-03 11:00Farron Cousins
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Obama's War On Coal Doesn’t Exist…Says Coal Lobby?

During the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran ads and the party adopted as a platform the “war on coal” being waged by President Barack Obama.  While the platform failed when it came to securing votes for the Republican Party, it hasn’t stopped the GOP from re-launching the same talking points in the wake of President Obama’s recent climate change action speech.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was one of the first to voice his concerns for the coal industry, saying that the President’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants would have a devastating impact on employment and the industry itself

Boehner has fallen into the “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it” trap.  As it turns out, the coal industry and their lobbying groups have already admitted that the 2012 “war on coal” talking point was an abject failure.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association recently lamented the following in the industry publication “Coal Age” (courtesy of The Huffington Post):

Anyway, ‘war on coal’ never resonated with much conviction among ordinary Americans. For them, the EPA keeps the air and water clean, their kids safe. The Appalachian permits the EPA held up, the Spruce Mine permit the agency yanked, the regulatory standard it proposed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and stop new coal plant construction – all that flew over the head of most voters who, let’s face it, know far more about the Kardashians than they do about coal.

HuffPost goes on to note that the “war on coal” never really ended for the Republican Party:

Mon, 2013-07-01 16:19Don Lieber
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Obama’s Climate Double Standard: Keystone and Fracking

President Obama, during his climate speech last week, surprised many observers by his unexpected remarks about the Keystone XL pipeline.   The President, for the first time, placed a clear condition on the pipeline’s approval – its impact on the climate. 

 “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward” he said, calling on the United States to |lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.”  

Later in the speech, Mr. Obama spoke in favor of the increased use of natural gas as a 'transition fuel' and called on the United States to “strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” 

In a speech focused entirely on climate change, however, these two positions - placing climate change conditions on one fossil-fuel (tar sands oil) project while ignoring the climate implications (indeed touting the merits) of another fossil fuel industry (natural gas) – contradict each other and call into question Mr. Obama’s pledges, “as President, as a father, and as an American,” to take meaningful action on climate change.

Fri, 2013-06-28 14:21Sharon Kelly
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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Relies on Dubious Coal Tech for Obama Climate Strategy

The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement this week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama’s strategy is administered.  

The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress  “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this.”

What’s wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn twenty percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world’s coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

Tue, 2013-06-25 14:16Brendan DeMelle
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President Obama Pegs Fate of Keystone XL On Climate Change Impact; Slams Climate Denial Flat Earth Society

“I refuse to condemn your generation, and future generations, to a planet that is beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change.” 

President Obama stepped up his game today on the issue of climate change, committing to several strong actions to curb dangerous climate pollution from coal power plants, build resilient communities to deal with extreme weather events, and foster clean energy investments around the world.

The speech was peppered with notable nods to the movement-building work undertaken by the environmental community, especially the clear shout-out to Bill McKibben and 350.org with the “invest and divest” line towards the end.

And it was a rough day for climate deniers, who again took multiple shots to the chin from the commander in chief, who said he doesn't have the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm.”  [Salon.com notes the president of the actual Flat Earth Society accepts climate science, adding insult to injury for climate deniers.]

But perhaps the most important thing the president did today was to confirm that the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be determined chiefly based on its climate impact - whether the pipeline will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions - firmly cementing the issue of climate change as the central determining factor in the president's mind.

Here is what the president said:

Tue, 2013-06-18 21:14Graham Readfearn
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Heartland Institute - the Keystone Cops Of Climate Science Denial - Strike Again

THERE’S a section on the Heartland Institute’s website pointing readers to “Stuff We Wish We Wrote”.

After events over the last year or so, the chaps at the fossil fuel-funded “think tank” might want to add a new section with the title “Stuff We Wish We Hadn’t Wrote”.

The Heartland Institute, for those who don’t know, is a Chicago-based group promoting any view or position that argues we shouldn’t do anything about human-caused climate change. They run campaigns, hold conferences, write op-eds in the media and pay contrarian scientists.

Right there on the think-tank’s homepage, the group proudly displays a quote from The Economist magazine describing Heartland as “The world's most prominent think-tank promoting scepticism about man-made climate change.”

Yet as is the case with most things Heartland says about climate change, things are not always as they seem. Heartland’s boastful quote is taken out of context and comes from this article in The Economist, documenting a spectacular own goal by Heartland.

Heartland, The Economist wrote, had lost an estimated $825,000 in funding after running a billboard campaign that equated acceptance of human-caused global warming to the values of serial killer Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski.

So when The Economist was describing Heartland as a prominent think-tank promoting climate science denial, it wasn’t doing it in a good way. No wonder then that Heartland didn’t hyperlink the quote.

This brings us to Heartland’s most recent example of self-aggrandizing – implying the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) thinks they’re awesome because it translated two of Heartland’s reports, only to be told by aforementioned academy to apologise for misrepresenting what they had actually done. Here are the nuts and bolts of the story. On June 11, Heartland released a statement detailing how CAS had translated two volumes of its NIPCC reports  – Climate Change Reconsidered.

Fri, 2013-06-07 04:00Guest
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Could This Be the 21st Century’s Most Powerful Idea?

This is a guest post by Chris Wood, adapted from his brand new book, Down the Drain: How We Are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources.

What we have here is a system failure. 

It’s not just that our profligate burning of fossil fuels is winding up the planet’s thermostat. Nor that our rampant over-consumption of goods and overflowing wastes are exhausting its resources. Nor even that market-driven media and money-fueled politics are obscuring these vital truths.

The more intractable problem is that these threats and many more besides are the permissible, even inevitable, products of underlying laws and customs that constitute our socio-political operating system. 

What this implies is that we need not only a host of new practical ideas—new technologies, new materials—but also fundamental changes in laws that enable and even in some instances compel behaviors that are leading us daily closer to climageddon.

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