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Archive for the ‘Climate Research’ Category

“Next year, when my youngest daughter goes to college, I wouldn’t mind spending more time in Hawaii” I mused over dinner with my friends Tom and Betsy. And quickly added that I felt conflicted about the idea. Given the climate situation, I told them, it felt irresponsible to engage in such gratuitous behavior. Both of my friends looked at me as if I was some crazy woman. Why wouldn’t I want to fly to Hawaii? No way would they change their habit of flying to Europe three of four times a year.  Tom started ranting about not subscribing to moralistic attitudes towards climate change. No, the solution lied in new technologies. What about all the predictions that keep getting worse and worse? I asked. Tom, an engineer with an interest in data visualization, expressed skepticism. There is a lot we don’t know. All those data are to be taken with a grain of salt. No, both he and Betsy were adamant they were not about to change their lifestyle, one bit. I was shocked. And changed subject.

This morning came this alarming news from the Associated Press:

The world pumped up its pollution of the chief man-made global warming gas last year, setting a course that could push beyond leading scientists’ projected worst-case scenario, international researchers said Thursday.

The new numbers, called “scary” by some, were a surprise because scientists thought an economic downturn would slow energy use. Instead, carbon dioxide output jumped 3 percent from 2006 to 2007.

That’s an amount that exceeds the most dire outlook for emissions from burning coal and oil and related activities as projected by a Nobel Prize-winning group of international scientists in 2007.

Meanwhile, forests and oceans, which suck up carbon dioxide, are doing so at lower rates than in the 20th century, scientists said. If those trends continue, it puts the world on track for the highest predicted rises in temperature and sea level.

The pollution leader was China, followed by the United States, which past data show is the leader in emissions per person in carbon dioxide output. And while several developed countries slightly cut their CO2 output in 2007, the United States churned out more.

Still, it was large increases in China, India and other developing countries that spurred the growth of carbon dioxide pollution to a record high of 9.34 billion tons of carbon (8.47 billion metric tons). Figures released by science agencies in the United States, Great Britain and Australia show that China’s added emissions accounted for more than half of the worldwide increase. China passed the United States as the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter in 2006.

Emissions in the United States rose nearly 2 percent in 2007, after declining the previous year. The U.S. produced 1.75 billion tons of carbon (1.58 billion metric tons).

“Things are happening very, very fast,” said Corinne Le Quere, professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s scary.”

Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said he was surprised at the results because he thought world emissions would drop because of the economic downturn. That didn’t happen.

“If we’re going to do something (about reducing emissions), it’s got to be different than what we’re doing,” he said.

The emissions are based on data from oil giant BP PLC, which show that China has become the major driver of world trends. China emitted 2 billion tons of carbon (1.8 billion metric tons) last year, up 7.5 percent from the previous year.

“We’re shipping jobs offshore from the U.S., but we’re also shipping carbon dioxide emissions with them,” Marland said. “China is making fertilizer and cement and steel and all of those are heavy energy-intensive industries.”

Developing countries not asked to reduce greenhouse gases by the 1997 Kyoto treaty – and China and India are among them – now account for 53 percent of carbon dioxide pollution. That group of nations surpassed industrialized ones in carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, a new analysis of older figures shows.

India is in position to beat Russia for the No. 3 carbon dioxide polluter behind the United States, Marland said. Indonesia levels are increasing rapidly.

Denmark’s emissions dropped 8 percent. The United Kingdom and Germany reduced carbon dioxide pollution by 3 percent, while France and Australia cut it by 2 percent.

Nature can’t keep up with the carbon dioxide from man, Le Quere said. She said from 1955 to 2000, the forests and oceans absorbed about 57 percent of the excess carbon dioxide, but now it’s 54 percent.

What is “kind of scary” is that the worldwide emissions growth is beyond the highest growth in fossil fuel predicted just two years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Under the panel’s scenario then, temperatures would increase by somewhere between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 to 6.3 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100.

If this trend continues for the century, “you’d have to be luckier than hell for it just to be bad, as opposed to catastrophic,” said Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider.

I read this, and I think about my conversation with Tom and Betsy. And I wonder, what is it going to take, for the reality to sink in, with people like them. The message is not getting through.

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Friday, I joined 4 billion people to watch the China’s Olympic Games opening ceremony. And stayed glued to my TV for the whole four hours of the show. How could I not be dazzled?

(Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)
(Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

China’s awesome PR move still cannot hide the grim environmental reality behind the spectacle:

  • 16 of the world’s most polluted cities are in China
  • 2 million pollution-related cancer deaths in China each year
  • 500 million Chinese who lack access to safe drinking water
  • 1 percent of China’s 560 million urbanites who breathe air considered safe by European standards

Of course, as the world’s largest importer of China goods, we the American consumers are playing a huge role in the Chinese mess. And we are being paid back in rising world emissions and unhealthy air over our coastlines.

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The Olduvai theory and catastrophic consequences‘, a paper by James Leigh in Energy Bulletin, paints a very scary picture of what awaits us if we do nothing to prepare for the times ahead.

Will be wise enough and follow James Leigh‘s recommendation?  

. . . to cooperatively take urgent steps to ameliorate this looming situation and prepare for how we will live in a post-energy world and its civilization. A whole new sustainable, localized and agricultural based civilization is needed; with a new mindset of cooperation and care, and harmonious social behavior, along with alternative fuels for a less fuel-hungry society.

Thanks to Gary Peters for tipping me on this paper.

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Better four years late than never, . . . The White House finally issued a comprehensive climate report, confirming the man-made origin of global warming, and validating earlier U.S. specific predictions from the IPCC.

Nothing that we did not know already, but still, it is a step towards more transparency from the top. Bad news have never sounded so good.

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What should be good news about global warming, is getting environmentalists very worried. Nature magazine just released a study by German climate scientists, stating:

Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming.

The danger is that such short-term trends will be taken out of context and perceived as license to ease up on the climate fight. According to Noel Keenlyside, climate researcher at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences who led the study:

“The natural variations change climate on this timescale and policymakers may either think mitigation is working or that there is no global warming at all. . . Natural changes as opposed to human causes may play a bigger role in the short term . . . This is important because policies are made in the short term. Our results show we might not have as much change in climate over the next 10 years.”

Back in January, Real Climate had a great article explaining the difference between short term and long term temperature trends, and why we should never lose sight of the reality of global warming as a long term problem. The following chart from the NASA website tells the story:

Next time a climate skeptic gives you a hard time, show him – or her – the facts . . .

 

 

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Just published by Reuters, the following update from Lord Stern, the author of the now famous 2006 Stern Report. I am reproducing the Reuters interview in its entirety, as this is critical information in my opinion:

Climate change expert Nicholas Stern says he under-estimated the threat from global warming in a major report 18 months ago when he compared the economic risk to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Latest climate science showed global emissions of planet-heating gases were rising faster and upsetting the climate more than previously thought, Stern said in a Reuters interview on Wednesday.

For example, evidence was growing that the planet’s oceans — an important “sink” — were increasingly saturated and couldn’t absorb as much as previously of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

Emissions are growing much faster than we’d thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we’d thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster,” he told Reuters at a conference in London.

Stern said that increasing commitments from some countries such as the European Union to curb greenhouse gases now needed to be translated into action. Policymakers, businesses and environmental pressure groups frequently cite the Stern Review as a blueprint for urgent climate action.

The report predicted that, on current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2-3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years or so and could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent, with the poorest nations feeling the most pain.

Some academics said he had over-played the costs of potential future damage from global warming at up to twenty times the cost of fighting the problem now, such as by replacing fossil fuels with more costly renewable power.

Stern said on Wednesday that increasing evidence of the threat from climate change had vindicated his report, published in October 2006.

People who said I was scaremongering were profoundly wrong,” he told the climate change conference organized by industry information provider IHS.

A U.N. panel of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), writes regular summaries on climate science and last year shared the Nobel Peace prize with former U.S. vice president Al Gore for raising awareness.

Its latest report in 2007 had not taken detailed account of some dangerous threats, including the falling ability of the world’s oceans to absorb CO2, because scientists had to be cautious and that evidence was just emerging, the former World Bank chief economist added.

“The IPCC has done a tremendous job but things are moving on,” he told Reuters.

“The IPCC’s (cautious) approach to this is entirely understandable and sensible, but if you’re looking ahead and asking about the risk then you do have to go beyond.”

Stern said that to minimize the risks of dangerous climate change global greenhouse gas emissions should halve by mid-century. He said the United States should cut its emissions by up to 90 percent by then.

Will world leaders listen, and take action, quick?

 

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In the scary global warming video category, here is one more, just released today on Youtube, to announce ‘Six Degrees Could Change the World‘, an upcoming show on National Geographic Channel:

You mean, 6 degrees, that’s all it will, would take, to wipe out the planet? This is probably one of the scariest numbers I have heard about global warming. From a non scientist, average citizen perspective.

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Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released an important report on ‘The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change‘, the result of months long conversations between ‘nationally recognized leaders in the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security. The CSIS report takes the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report one step further, and paints likely scenarios for the “age of consequences”, one that will increasingly be defined by the intersection of climate change and the security of nations.’

According to the report, the world should be prepared for the following ‘10 highly consequential implications of climate change‘:

1) Soft power and North-South tensions will increase.

‘A failure of the developed nations to assist developing countries to manage the climate change challenge will almost certainly cause a further spike in north-south tensions.

2) Migration and immigration will rise, producing a strong backlash.

‘A profound increase in the movement of people will cause greater tensions and perhaps violent conflicts between and within countries over uncontrolled immigration issues.’

3) Public health problems will grow.

‘Climate change will also have profoundly negative consequences for global health, especially in poorer regions of the world.’

4) Resource conflicts and vulnerabilities will intensify.

‘Over the next three decades, climate change-exacerbated water scarcity could well contribute to instability in many regions of the world.’

‘Climate change could also affect the international politics of energy production and consumption.

5) Nuclear activity will increase, with attendant risks.

‘many developing countries will begin operating their own commercial nuclear reactors during the next few decades. This would increase the total number of nuclear reactors around the world, including those under the control of nations that may lack the experience to safely conduct these operation. The threat of global climate change also provides governments interested in acquiring nuclear weapons yet another justification to pursue nuclear-related research and nuclear technologies.’

6) Challenges to global governance will intensify.

‘the United Nations and other existing international institutions will have great difficulty managing the full range of adverse consequences. The implication of new international alignments driven by environmental factors are uncertain, but the complex and inherently divisive nature of climate change is likely to impede collective responses.

7) Domestic political repercussions and state failure will occur.

‘Political authorities unable to manage climate-induced challenges might well lose necessary public support. National leaders professing authoritarian ideologies could become more attractive if liberal democratic systems fail to marshal sufficient political will to manage the climate challenge. In some instances people might resort to violent means-especially when opportunities to change leaders through elections are circumscribed-to remove existing governments. In a few places people might turn to non-state actors, including religious movements or terrorist groups for comfort or to effect more dramatic change. Moreover, under conditions of severe global climate change, environmental factors may push already failed states deeper into the abyss of ungovernability, while driving other states toward the brink.’

8) The balance of power will shift in unpredictable ways.

‘Over the long term, the very divergent regional effects of climate change could affect the evolving global distribution of power with unpredictable consequences for international security.’

9) China’s role will be critical.

‘Many members of the international community are calling on Beijing to adopt more rigorous policies to limit the growth of China’s carbon emissions to reflect the country’s status as an emerging global stakeholder sharing the burdens of world leadership. Some of these appeals have been less than effective as China’s reasoning that the United States is not showing itself to be serious still holds. According to the World Bank, 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China.’

10) The United States must come to terms with climate change.

‘the unique character of the American people, with the depths of optimism and penchant for practicality, will be a major asset.’

If there is one thing to take away from this report, it is the need for a systems approach to the climate change solution. One cannot stress enough the pivotal role to be played by the United State within the world system of nations.

The report ends on a positive note:

‘While all those who collaborated in this study completed the process with a profound sense of urgency, we also collectively are encouraged that there is still time for the United States and the international community to plan an effective response to prevent, mitigate, and where possible adapt, to global climate change.’

To be tempered by Machiavelli’s cautionary wisdom, as quoted in the report’s preface:

“The Romans did in these instances what all prudent princes ought to do, who have to regard not only present troubles, but also future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy, because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable; for it happens in this, as the physicians say it happens in hectic fever, that in the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure. Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evil that arise have be3n foreseen (which it is only given to a wise man to see), they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy.”

For more on The Age of Consequences report, I suggest you go to Real Climate, and read David’s post there.

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Just released from Associated Press, ‘Ominous Arctic Melt Worries Experts:

An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

Greenland’s ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer’s end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

“The Arctic is screaming,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.

 

The Arctic is Screaming 2

 

The Arctic is Screaming 1

 

Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions.”

So scientists in recent days have been asking themselves these questions: Was the record melt seen all over the Arctic in 2007 a blip amid relentless and steady warming? Or has everything sped up to a new climate cycle that goes beyond the worst case scenarios presented by computer models?

“The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming,” said Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal. “Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.”

Earlier at dinner, my friend Veronique asked, ‘Why so much attention on global warming? Shouldn’t we place our efforts on, say, saving the children in Bengladesh?’

The answer is, The Arctic is Screaming, that’s why.

Tonight, I am mad, at myself, and even more so, the rest of the world, for having been oblivious to nature’s protests, for a little too long.

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The much awaited Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was just released today. No doubt, a document that will be scrutinized by policymakers all over the world, and will inspire
much discussion in the media as well.

I feel it is important to not muddle the findings of the report with my own commentaries, and to let the facts speak for themselves. Here are the eighteen key points from the twenty three page report:

#1 Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

#2 Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.

#3 There is medium confidence that other effects of regional climate change on natural and human environments are emerging, although many are difficult to discern due to adaptation and non-climatic drivers.

#4 Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.

#5 Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousand of years.

#6 Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHC concentrations. It is likely there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)

#7 Advances since the TAR show that discernible human influences extend beyond average temperature to other aspects of climate.

#8 Anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has likely had a discernible influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems.

#9 There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHC emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades.

#10 Continued GHC emissions at or above the current rates would cause further warming and incuce many changes in the global climate system during hte 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

# 11 There is now higher evidence than in the TAR in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation, and some aspects of extremes and sea ice.

#12 Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feebacks, even if GHC concentrations were stabilized.

#13 Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.

#14 A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change. There are barriers, limits and costs, which are not fully understood.

#15 Adaptive capacity is intimately connected to social and economic development but is unevenly distribute across and within societies.

#16 Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is high agreement and much evidence of substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHC emissions over the coming decades that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels. while top-down and bottom-up studies are in line at the global level there are considerable differences at the sectoral level.

#17 Altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems.

#18 A wide variety of policies and instruments are available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action. Their applicability depends on national circumstances and sectoral content.

The report also gives examples of some projected regional impacts. Here is what we can expect in our part of the world (North America):

  • Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.
  • In the early decades of the century, moderate climate change is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or which depend on highly utilized water resources.
  • During the course of this century, cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential of adverse health impacts.
  • Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

All is not lost. The report also provides selected examples of policies, measures and instruments shown to be environmentally effective, along with some key constraints or opportunities for each recommendation:

  • Energy supply:
    • Reduction of fossil fuel subsidies; Taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels; Resistance by vested interests may make them difficult to implement
    • Feed-in tariffs for renewabe energy technologies; Renewable energy obligations; Producer subsidies; May be appropriate to create markets for low emissions technologies
  • Transport:
    • Mandatory fuel economy, biofuel blending and CO2 standards for road transport; Partial coverage of vehicle fleet may limit effectiveness
    • Taxes on vehicle purchase, registration, use and motor fuels, road and parking pricing; Effectiveness may drop with higher incomes
    • Influence mobility needs through land use regulations, an infrastructure planning; Investment in attractive public transport facilities and non-motorized forms of transport; Particularly appropriate for countries that are building up their transportations systems
  • Buildings:
    • Appliance standards and labeling; Periodic revision of standards needed
    • Building codes and certification; Attractive for new buildings; Enforcement can be difficult
    • Demand-side management programs; Need for regulations so that utilities may profit
    • Public sector leadership programs, including procurement; Government purchasing can expand demand for energy-efficient products
    • Incentives for energy service companies (ESCOs); Success factor: Access to third party financing
  • Industry:
    • Provision of benchmark information; Performance standards; Subsidies, tax credits; May be appropriate to stimulate technology update; Stability of national policy important in view of international competitiveness
    • Tradable permits; Predictable allocation mechanisms and stable price signals important for investments
    • Voluntary agreements; Success factors include: clear targets, a baseline scenario, third party involvement in design and review of formal provisions of monitoring, close cooperation between government and industry
  • Agriculture:
    • Financial incentives and regulations for improved land management, maintaining soil carbon content, efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation; May encourage synergy with sustainable development and with reducing vulnerability to climate change, thereby overcoming barriers to implementation
  • Forestry/forests:
    • Financial incentives (national and international) to increase forest area, to reduce deforestation, and to maintain and manage forests; Land-use regulation and enforcement; Constraints include lack of investment capital and land tenure issues; Can help poverty alleviation
  • Waste:
    • Financial incentives for improved waste and wastewater management; May stimulate technology diffusion
    • Renewable energy incentives or obligations; Local availability of low-cost fuel
    • Waste management regulations; Most effectively applied at national level with enforcement strategies

This recommendation obviously only deals with the policy part of the climate change solution.

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