Sunday, November 29, 2015

2104. Global Warming Will Be Faster Than Expected

By Science DailyNovember 26, 2015

Global warming will progress faster than what was previously believed. The reason is that greenhouse gas emissions that arise naturally are also affected by increased temperatures. This has been confirmed in a new study from Linköping University that measures natural methane emissions.

"Everything indicates that global warming caused by humans leads to increased natural greenhouse gas emissions. Our detailed measurements reveal a clear pattern of greater methane emissions from lakes at higher temperatures," says Sivakiruthika Natchimuthu, doctoral student at Tema Environmental Change, Linköping University, Sweden, and lead author of the latest publication on this topic from her group.

Over the past two years the research team at Linköping University has contributed to numerous studies that all point in the same direction: natural greenhouse gas emissions will increase when the climate gets warmer. In the latest study the researchers examined the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from three lakes. The effects were clear and the methane emissions increased exponentially with temperature. Their measurements show that a temperature increase from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius almost doubled the methane level. The findings was recently published in Limnology and Oceanography.

While increased anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are expected and included in climate predictions, the future development of the natural emissions has been less clear.

Now knowledge of a vicious circle emerge: greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels lead to higher temperatures, which in turn lead to increased natural emissions and further warming.

"We're not talking about hypotheses anymore. The evidence is growing and the results of the detailed studies are surprisingly clear. [DB1] The question is no longer if the natural emissions will increase but rather how much they will increase with warming," says David Bastviken, professor at Tema Environmental Change, Linköping University.
This means that warming will be faster than expected from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions alone. According to Professor Bastviken this also means that any reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse emissions is a double victory, by both reducing the direct effect on warming, but also by preventing the feedback with increased natural emissions.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Linköping Universitet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
1 Sivakiruthika Natchimuthu, Ingrid Sundgren, Magnus Gålfalk, Leif Klemedtsson, Patrick Crill, Åsa Danielsson, David Bastviken. Spatio-temporal variability of lake CH4fluxes and its influence on annual whole lake emission estimates. Limnology and Oceanography, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/lno.10222

2103. The Economist on Climate Change Policy

By The Economist, November 28, 2015
Climate protestors in Paris where demonstrations are banned offer the shoes instead.
IN SOME ways, the climate talks that begin in Paris on November 30th will show world leaders at their best. Taking a break from pressing issues such as terrorist threats and stuttering economies, they will try to avert a crisis that will pose its gravest risks long after they have left office. It is the opposite of the myopic thinking that is often said to afflict politics. A pity, then, that politicians have set themselves an impossible task, and that they are mostly going about it in the wrong way.

That climate change is happening, that it is very largely man-made and that it is exceedingly dangerous, are all now hard to deny (though America’s leading Republican presidential candidates routinely try). This year will all but certainly be the hottest since 1880, when NASA’s records begin. If so, 2015 will break a record that was set only in 2014. Every single year so far this decade has been hotter than every single year before 1998 (see article).

The wind turbines and solar panels that are spreading across Europe, America and China are barely restraining carbon-dioxide emissions. Since the turn of the century, global energy has become more, not less, carbon intensive. Coal now supplies 41% of the world’s electricity and 29% of the world’s energy—a bigger share than at any time in at least four decades. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is 40% higher than it was at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

A terrible two
The presidents and prime ministers who gather in Paris will insist that global warming must be halted before the world becomes 2°C (3.6°F) hotter than it was in pre-industrial days. That is what they have said for years but, considering the momentum behind climate change, this target is as unrealistic as it is arbitrary. If annual greenhouse-gas emissions remain at the present level, enough pollution will enter the atmosphere in just 30 years eventually to warm the world by two degrees.

Greens say that the target is a rallying point—that it is useful because it inspires action, and action, once under way, will inspire yet more action in a virtuous circle. If only world leaders would stiffen their spines and promise even more green energy, they argue, disaster could be averted. But this drastically understates the challenge. The parts of the planet that have become rich have done so by tapping a vast store of fossil energy with feckless, if understandable, abandon. For the rest of the world to join them over the century ahead, and then for all concerned—as well as the planet’s non-human inhabitants—to flourish in the centuries that follow, will take a lot more than just a big expansion of existing renewable technologies.

The world and its leaders need more ambition and more realism. The ambition requires increasing the options available. Generous subsidies perpetuate today’s low-carbon technologies; the goal should be to usher in tomorrow’s. Unfortunately, energy companies (unlike, say, drug firms or car companies) see investment in radical new technologies as a poor prospect, and governments have been feeble in taking up the slack. A broad commitment quickly to raise and diversify R&D spending on energy technologies would be more welcome than more or less anything else Paris could offer.

This would be costly. But remember three things. One is that spending money to reduce grave risks is reasonable. The second is that some of today’s climate policies cost a lot more than a greatly expanded research portfolio and yield rather less. The subsidies that have created thousands of wind and solar farms have achieved only a little and at great cost. Other green subsidies, such as some of those for biofuels, have done actual harm. There is plenty of money to be saved.
A third is that one of the best measures against climate change raises money. Well-designed carbon prices can boost green power, encourage energy-saving and suppress fossil-fired power much more efficiently than subsidies for renewables. A few brave places have plumped to set such prices through carbon taxes: the latest is Alberta, in Canada. Most countries that have tried to price carbon have instead issued tradable pollution permits—invariably too many of them, with the result that the price is too low to change behaviour. Ideally such countries would admit their mistake and start taxing. Failing that, they should keep their emissions-trading schemes but add a floor price, and raise it steadily.

The new research agenda needs to tackle the deficiencies of renewables. Though solar, in particular, has become a lot cheaper, new materials, manufacturing and assembly technologies could make it cheaper still. Better ways of storing energy are required—so that wind or solar power can be used, for example, in the cold, still winter evenings when European electricity demand tends to peak. So are better ways of getting it from A to B, either through larger grids or in the form of newly synthesised fuels. Could biotechnology produce photosynthetic bugs that pump out lots of usable fuels? No one knows. It would be worth a few billion to find out.

Nor should the ambitions for research be limited to renewables. There are other forms of fossil-fuel-free energy, such as nuclear. Innovation in nuclear energy is not easy: such power plants are dangerous and need vigilant, independent regulation; they are unpopular and currently vastly expensive. But a civilisation that looks decades or more ahead cannot exclude new forms of nuclear from the research agenda.

Living with it
Radical innovation is the key to reducing emissions over the medium and long term, but it will not stop climate change from getting worse in the meantime. This is where the realism comes in: many people will have to adapt to a hotter Earth, and some of them will need help.

Wealthier countries (including China) have promised $100 billion a year to help poorer ones. The trouble is that it is not clear what counts towards this total or what the money is for. If the Paris climate conference dissolves in rancour, this will probably be the cause. The priority should be research into crops that can survive extreme weather; better sanitation and health care to make the poor more resilient to climate shocks; and cheap energy, whether green or not. The poor need all these things more than they need gifts of green-power technologies that even the West finds too expensive.

The final strand of new thinking ought to be research into cooling the Earth artificially. Climate models suggest that global warming could be slowed by spraying particles into the stratosphere or by using salt crystals to make clouds whiter, and hence better at reflecting sunlight. No one knows whether such “geoengineering” projects can be designed in a way that does not replace existing climate risks with worse new ones. But that is a reason for research and debate, not for looking the other way. Geoengineering is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions (for one thing, it does not stop carbon dioxide from changing the chemistry of the oceans). But putting it off-limits, as many greens desire, is foolish.

In short: thinking caps should replace hair shirts, and pragmatism should replace green theology. The climate is changing because of extraordinary inventions like the steam turbine and the internal combustion engine. The best way to cope is to keep inventing.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

2102. Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, November 28, 2015

After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.

They have pointedly declined to take up a recommendation from scientists, made several years ago, that they set a cap on total greenhouse gases as a way to achieve that goal, and then figure out how to allocate the emissions fairly. The pledges countries are making are voluntary, and were established in most nations as a compromise between the desire to be ambitious and the perceived cost and political difficulty of emissions cutbacks.

In effect, the countries are vowing to make changes that collectively still fall far short of the necessary goal, much like a patient who, upon hearing from his doctor that he must lose 50 pounds to avoid life-threatening health risks, takes pride in cutting out fries but not cake and ice cream.

The scientists argue that there is only so much carbon — in the form of exhaust from coal-burning power plants, automobile tailpipes, forest fires and the like — that the atmosphere can absorb before the planet suffers profound damage, with swaths of it potentially becoming uninhabitable.

After years of studying the issue, the experts recommended to climate diplomats in 2013 that they consider the concept of a “carbon budget” to help frame the talks. Yet the idea was quickly dismissed as politically impractical, and more recent pleas from countries like Bolivia to consider it have been ignored.

If any serious push had been made ahead of Paris to divvy up the emissions budget, the negotiators “would have all run screaming from the room,” said Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York. “So that’s not a real alternative.”

The carbon budget will probably not get much attention in Paris for simple reasons.

Wrestling with a budget would, for instance, throw into stark relief the global inequities at the heart of the climate crisis. And it would underscore just how big the problem really is, how costly the delay in tackling it has been and how inadequate the plans being discussed in Paris are for limiting the risks.

Consider, for example, that Europe, the United States and China have offered emissions-reduction pledges that are their most ambitious ever. And yet, if their plans are carried out, a recent analysis suggests those regions will use up most of the remaining room for emissions in the atmosphere, leaving relatively little for the other five billion people on the planet or their descendants.

To change that equation, the biggest polluters would have to commit to cutting their emissions at rates that would be difficult to achieve, potentially disruptive to their economies and politically unrealistic.

Moreover, any serious discussion of the carbon budget would amplify a point of serious contention, known as “climate injustice,” in the talks. It refers to the idea that poor countries bear little past responsibility for climate change but are first in line to suffer its consequences, without much capacity to protect themselves.

Many of those same countries want to develop their economies by burning some fossil fuels, but because decades of high emissions by richer countries have created such profound risks, they are under pressure to adopt costlier green energy instead.

The idea of a carbon budget is based on a goal that the nations of the world set for themselves. In hopes of heading off the worst effects of climate change, they agreed in Cancún in 2010 to try to keep the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the level that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution.

Many scientists do not believe that such a limit would be particularly safe — it may still cause the sea to rise 20 feet or more, for instance, over a long period — but they agree that going beyond it would certainly be disastrous, precipitating an even larger rise of the sea, catastrophic heat waves, difficulty producing enough food and many other problems.

A series of scientific papers in 2009 demonstrated that limiting the temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit could be achieved by calculating the total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that could be emitted into the atmosphere before emissions needed to stop. The United Nations committee that periodically reviews climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, highlighted the idea in a report it issued in Stockholm in 2013.

The group calculated a budget that can be thought of as something like — to use another food metaphor — a carbon pie, with the central question being: How can it be carved up fairly?
The problem is that about two-thirds of the pie has already been eaten by a handful of rich countries, plus China. At current rates, the remainder of it will be gone in 30 years or less. Many poor countries are crowding around the table, pleading for a sliver, but the big emitting countries insist on laying claim to most of the rest of the pie.

It is already clear, based on analyses published recently by several groups, that the pledges to cut emissions will come nowhere close to meeting the carbon budget. Many negotiators are pushing for a mechanism in which countries would gradually ratchet up their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases over time. But that would entail more delays, and it is not certain the carbon limit can be met that way.

Given the political realities, some of the scientists involved in devising the budget have resigned themselves to seeing it ignored in this round of negotiations, with the hope that countries will accelerate their efforts in coming years.

Myles R. Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University and a leading proponent of the budget idea, said it was better for countries to keep negotiating than not. “It was probably the right call to brush it under the carpet for now,” he said.

Though it will be ignored in Paris, the idea of a carbon budget is gaining currency in the broader world of climate-change politics. For instance, the notion is at the heart of the student-led movement urging college endowment funds and other investors to shed their holdings in fossil-fuel companies. The students’ argument is not just that the companies are blocking needed change, but that they represent risky investments, given that much of the fossil fuels they hold as reserves cannot be burned if the world intends to stay within the carbon budget.

The same idea was at the heart of a speech recently by Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, who cited the potential economic risks of “unburnable carbon,” as it has become known. It is even an element of a recently disclosed investigation by the New York attorney general, who is studying whether Exxon Mobil and other companies have properly disclosed to investors the possibility that they may not be able to burn all their reserves.
Yet, within a month of the adoption of the carbon budget, as part of the Stockholm report two years ago, the idea of using it in the global negotiations had been dismissed out of hand. “I don’t think it’s possible,” Ms. Figueres, of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, told The Guardian newspaper that fall.

Yet, within a month of the adoption of the carbon budget, as part of the Stockholm report two years ago, the idea of using it in the global negotiations had been dismissed out of hand. “I don’t think it’s possible,” Ms. Figueres, of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, told The Guardian newspaper that fall. “Politically it would be very difficult.”

Some country or group of countries may well try to inject the carbon budget into the Paris talks. But most delegates are so unenthusiastic about the concept that it is likely to be quickly dismissed. Dr. Levi, of the Council on Foreign Relations, is among the realists about what can be achieved in the negotiations.

“The only way you can assess foreign policy is by asking, is what we’re getting better than something else?” Dr. Levi said in an interview. “I don’t see a better deal out there.” 

2101. COP21: Why Science Make a Difference

By Eric Rehm, Yes Magazine, November 21, 2015

I’m a climate scientist headed to Paris next week for the 21st round of U.N. Conference of Parties climate talks because I believe this time will be different. Why? Science.

In less than one week, COP21 will establish an international agreement on the reduction of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gas emissions required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But individually and collectively the commitments countries have made in advance of COP21, even if carried out to the letter, have failed to meet this target, allowing warming to 2.7–3 degrees. I’m making the trip to observe the talks and join in with organizations demanding better commitments than that.

Let’s examine the evidence: Has science sufficiently warned the planet so that we can take action? Has the scientific community provoked policy change? Has science inspired and supported movements for climate and social change?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Scientists have been publishing the dire consequences of global warming since the 1970s, when Yale professor William Nordhaus predicted that sea level rise and “hardship in low-lying areas” would accompany 1 C of global temperature warming, a level we recently achieved, according to the UK Met Office.

And what about me, just one scientist? I study the effects of the changing climate on Arctic marine ecosystems. I see that ice is melting sooner, forming later. Spring algae blooms in the Arctic are occurring earlier, lasting longer. I spend weeks on the ice doing field work near indigenous communities that are among the first to suffer from climate-based changes to their food sources, directly aggravating their struggle with poverty and food security. I write papers, create posters, and speak in classrooms about what I do and what I have learned. I am aware that all of my colleagues are also spending each day like this, confronting Earth’s changes every hour of their working lives. I think we are learning to do a better job telling the story of what has happened and will happen to the planet, and why.

But that’s not enough.

From science to radical change
As fascinating as it is to study, I don’t want to see climate change. The change I do want to see is nations responding to the widespread calls for limiting carbon emissions from fossil fuels. We can make better choices about agriculture and forest land use, and governments need to assure safe and healthy lives for their citizens. Personal and social transformation go hand-in-hand. One person alone changes very little, but unjust authority can be overturned when many people work together with passion and discipline. I’m driven to discover the path from science to policy to radical change. How does this happen?

One of the most influential papers in the history of climate science was published six years ago, and it was only six pages long. “Greenhouse-Gas Emission Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2 °C” changed the way scientists and activists alike advocated for climate change policy by shifting the conversation from concentration to accumulation. Malte Meinshausen and colleagues created a carbon budget, showing that we can emit only 565 more gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere before 2050 if we want to reliably limit warming to 2 degrees. Further, they found that at current rates of carbon emission, we will blow this 565 gigatonnes budget by 2024. This immediately transformed the science and policy questions to how much coal, oil, and natural gas is unburnable and how can we quickly slow down our burn rate?

By 2012, Bill McKibben and had seized on this idea of the carbon budget with their brilliant “Do the Math” tour and movie, identifying three simple numbers that activists could use:

1. We need to keep global warming below 2 C.
2. To do that we can only emit roughly 565 more gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
3. The scariest of all, the amount of fossil fuel recoverable under current economic conditions is five times that, or 2,795 gigatonnes.

The result? The climate movement is successfully promoting a “leave it in the ground” fossil fuel strategy, divestment in the financially risky fossil fuel sector—whose net worth may plummet by 80 percent because of those “stranded assets”—and instigating calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies for organizing a sustained deception campaign disputing climate science and failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public.

These campaigns have led hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to demand specific limits on carbon emissions and helped to topple the Keystone XL pipeline. After the People's Climate March in New York City, in September 2014, President Obama remarked, “Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”

For the climate movement, science provided the numbers, and the numbers added up.

Scientists as activists
Using this carbon budget, science has identified the radical changes needed in how we produce and distribute electricity, in the forms and modes of transportation we use, in the use and care of agricultural and forest land, and in how much energy we must conserve in our homes, buildings, and industries. Unlike at previous climate talks, countries are coming to the table with science-backed contributions that challenge the business-as-usual approach.

Yes, some rich countries will try to buy their way out. Switzerland, for example, proposes to buy 40 percent of its carbon emission reductions on the carbon market rather than making actual reductions itself. Yes, the U.S. moved the goal post by basing their 35 percent reduction on 2005 levels. U.S. carbon emission commitments to 2030 actually represent a 15 percent increase from the internationally recognized benchmark date of 1990.

Yes, some of the reductions we are sold are a lie. For example, greenhouse gas emissions due to movement from coal to fracked natural gas fuels appear lower until you factor in methane leakage from gas drilling sites, pipelines, and flaring. Until such “fugitive emissions” are resolved, the greenhouse gas footprint of fracked gas is larger than coal, and gas plays no transitional role toward real reductions in climate warming.

But science is getting in the way of business-as-usual. COP21 representatives will return home to popular movements increasingly demanding radical change. Outside the formal COP21 talks, popular movements will take advantage of this unique moment in history to engage in important and vigorous debate about how the climate movement and other social movements can unite around common goals. When we consider, for example, the inattention to the physical, environmental, and cultural destruction of the Arctic communities shared by polar bears, whales, walruses, and Inuit alike, the questions and urgency for action are very similar to those raised by Black Lives Matter and Idle No More when discussing human rights.

Popular movements need to take note that science has demonstrated the links between climate change, mass migration, and war in Syria. Similarly, we must link climate, refugee support, and antiwar movements. Green and anti-austerity parties are proposing climate stabilization strategies focused on clean renewable and efficiency investments, demanding large-scale public investment. We, the people, will also win by proposing specific carbon budget objectives.

Scientists have and will continue to get uncomfortably in the way of things, creating a new narrative for change.

For example, climatologist Michael E. Mann, whose 1999 “hockey stick graph” of the mean temperature record of the past 100 years demonstrates the uncharacteristic and rapid nature of current warming, helped establish, where claims of climate deniers are soundly and scientifically debunked.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author Petra Tschakert has called to task U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change executives on their apparent acceptance of carbon emission targets that lead to a 2 C warmer world, calling the resulting “danger, risk and harm … utterly unacceptable.” Her passionate argument is not just about a specific temperature target. Rather she sees at stake “a commitment to protect the most vulnerable and at-risk populations and ecosystems.” Agreeing, former NASA climatologist James Hansen has called the 2 C target “highly dangerous,” backing it up with science currently under peer review.

Scientists are “people like you, with hopes and dreams and loved ones,” stories from remind us. “We are mothers, fathers, farmers, fishermen, hikers, hunters … and we’re concerned.”

The world depends on continued conversation with scientists. So I'm headed to Paris in a few days to raise my voice.

2100. Summary and Index for the Last 99 Posts

By Kamran Nayeri, November 28, 2015
Assistant Editor, Agatha Christie

Of the last 99 posts, 20 were about climate change/global warming. Science-related posts were a close second with 19 posts.  Distant third were capitalism and Cuba each with 9 posts. There were 7 posts on drought (I live in California!). Other topics came fourth with 4 posts each: alternative visions (including ecosocialism), animals, ecocide, evolution/evolutionary theory, food, imperialism, and synthetic biology/gene editing. 

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