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Climate Hustle

2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #35A

Posted on 27 August 2014 by John Hartz

Act now on climate change or face growing health risks - UN

Swift action to tackle climate change would reduce the damage to global health caused by rising air pollution and more extreme weather, top U.N. officials said on Wednesday.

Christiana Figueres, head of the United Nations climate change secretariat, told the first global conference on health and climate in Geneva that climate change is an "accelerating phenomenon that is already affecting, in particular, the most vulnerable populations due to impacts that are no longer preventable".

"At the same time, climate change is a global reality that threatens to impose much more severe and widespread health impacts, which could be avoided with timely measures," she added.

Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is hosting the gathering, said there is "overwhelming" evidence that climate change endangers health. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory,” she said.

Act now on climate change or face growing health risks - UN by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Aug 27, 2014

Climate change may disrupt global food system within a decade

The world is headed "down a dangerous path" with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations' ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official.

Rising urban populations are contributing to expanded demand for meat, adding to nutrition shortages for the world's poor. Increased greenhouse gas emissions from livestock as well as land clearing will make farming more marginal in many regions, especially in developing nations, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and special envoy for climate change.

"The challenges from waste to warming, spurred on by a growing population with a rising middle-class hunger for meat, are leading us down a dangerous path," Professor Kyte told the Crawford Fund 2014 annual conference in Canberra on Wednesday.

Climate change may disrupt global food system within a decade, World Bank Says by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morining Herald, Aug 27, 2014

Climate sceptics see a conspiracy in Australia's record breaking heat

(Australia's) Bureau of Meteorology says claims from one climate sceptic that it has corrupted temperature data are false.

Climate sceptics see a conspiracy in Australia's record breaking heat by Graham Readfearn, The Guardian, Aug 27, 2014

Cutting emissions pays for itself, research shows

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing ? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the U.S., and found that the savings on  and other costs related to illness can be big—in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of  implementation.

"Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve ," says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. "In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution."

Cutting emissions pays for itself, research shows,, Aug 24, 2014

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing, and growing more dangerous, draft of U.N. report says

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing, and growing more dangerous by Justin Gillis, New York Times, Aug 26, 2014

'Incredible' rate of polar ice loss alarms scientists

The planet's two largest ice sheets – in Greenland and Antarctica – are now being depleted at an astonishing rate of 120 cubic miles each year. That is the discovery made by scientists using data from CryoSat-2, the European probe that has been measuring the thickness of Earth's ice sheets and glaciers since it was launched by the European Space Agency in 2010.

Even more alarming, the rate of loss of ice from the two regions has more than doubled since 2009, revealing the dramatic impact that climate change is beginning to have on our world.

The researchers, based at Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research – used 200m data points across Antarctica and 14.3m across Greenland, all collected by CryoSat, to study how the ice sheets there had changed over the past three years. The satellite carries a high-precision altimeter, which sends out short radar pulses that bounce off the ice surface and then back to the satellite. By measuring the time this takes, the height of the ice beneath the spacecraft can be calculated.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

'Incredible' rate of polar ice loss alarms scientists by Robin McKie, The Observer/The Guardian, Aug 23, 2014

IPCC attribution statements redux: A response to Judith Curry

I have written a number of times about the procedure used to attribute recent climate change (here in 2010in 2012 (about the AR4 statement), and again in 2013 after AR5 was released). For people who want a summary of what the attribution problem is, how we think about the human contributions and why the IPCC reaches the conclusions it does, read those posts instead of this one.

The bottom line is that multiple studies indicate with very strong confidence that human activity is the dominant component in the warming of the last 50 to 60 years, and that our best estimates are that pretty much all of the rise is anthropogenic.

If you are still here, I should be clear that this post is focused on a specific claim Judith Curry has recently blogged about supporting a “50-50″ attribution (i.e. that trends since the middle of the 20th Century are 50% human-caused, and 50% natural, a position that would center her pdf at 0.5 in the figure above). She also commented about her puzzlement about why other scientists don’t agree with her. Reading over her arguments in detail, I find very little to recommend them, and perhaps the reasoning for this will be interesting for readers. So, here follows a line-by-line commentary on her recent post. Please excuse the length. 

IPCC attribution statements redux: A response to Judith Curry by Gavin Schmidt, Real Climate, Aug 27, 2014

Obama pursuing climate accord in lieu of treaty

The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Aug 26, 2014

Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind?

Scientists around the world have been watching closely to see if an El Niño develops this year - a weather phenomenon in the Pacific that drives extreme weather worldwide.

After initially predicting with 90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, forecasters began scaling back their predictions earlier this month.

But interest in the Pacific weather phenomenon shows no sign of waning. And after much talk of El Niño cooling off, there are hints it could be rebounding, say scientists.

Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind? by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Aug 22, 2014

Soon, Europe might not need any new power plants

Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe.

That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas. According to Renew Economy, which picked up the report, the tipping point will arrive around 2020. At that point, investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe. Crucially, this math holds even without any government subsidies for solar power.

“In other words,” the report says, “a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free” for a system purchased in 2020.

Soon, Europe Might Not Need Any New Power Plants by Jeff Spross, Climate Progress, Aug 24, 2014

The Climate Swerve

AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.

The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats

The Climate Swerve Op-ed by Robert Jay Lifton, Sunday Review, New York Times, Aug 23, 2014

UK’s winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change 

More than a quarter of people say UK’s winter floods strengthened their belief in human-induced climate change, a survey has found.

Half the people polled for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said widespread flooding in early 2014 made them more convinced the climate was changing, and 27% said the floods had also increased their belief humans were the main cause.

But the polling by ComRes of 2,021 people also revealed misconceptions about climate science, despite a majority of people claiming to be very or fairly well informed on climate change.

Only one in nine people (11%) said that almost all climate scientists believe that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are mainly responsible for rising temperatures.

More than two-fifths (43%) think that a majority of climate scientists believe in human-induced climate change, but 35% think experts are split half and half, and 11% believe either a minority or almost none of the scientific community accept the theory. 

UK’s winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change – poll, Press Association/The Guardian, Aug 27, 2014 

U.S think tank ALEC fights environmental legislation

Internal documents from this summer’s Dallas meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, leaked to a watchdog group, reveal several sessions casting doubt on the scientific evidence of climate change. They also reveal sessions focused on crafting policies that reduce rules for fossil fuel companies and create obstacles for the development of alternative forms of energy.

The meeting, hosted in Dallas from July 30 to Aug. 1, involved a mix of lobbyists, U.S. legislators and climate change contrarians, and was sponsored by more than 50 large corporations, including several that do business in Alberta’s oilsands.

One workshop had the goal of teaching politicians “how to think and talk about climate and energy issues” and provided them with guidance for fighting environmental policies and regulations.

U.S think tank ALEC fights environmental legislation by Mike De Souza, Toronto Star, Aug 24, 2014

What will climate change do to the economy

Accurately assessing how the planet's climate will change in the decades and centuries to come is an incredibly complex and uncertain task. Predicting future twists and turns in the economy is no easier. Mesh the two together, and you're a long way from a back-of-the-envelope sort of calculation. To take just one variable out of thousands: Will sea-level rise this century remain in the expected range of two to seven feet, or could instability in the massive East Antarctic ice sheet add significantly to the surge? And if that happens, which cities can adapt and which will be inundated, and how will such variations affect economic production?

A number of key policy decisions depend on anticipating what will happen with the climate, the economy, and the interactions between the two in coming decades. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin wrote, "Good economic decisions require good data. And to get good data, we must account for all relevant variables. But we're not doing this when it comes to climate change—and that means we're making decisions based on a flawed picture of future risks. While we can't define future climate-change risks with precision, they should be included in economic policy, fiscal, and business decisions because of their potential magnitude." 

What will Climate Change do to the Economy, Yale Insights, Undated

Why The Washington Post is running a series of editorials on the "existential threat" of climate change

In an interview with Media Matters about the ongoing series, Hiatt said that the Post views this as a moment "when the debate could begin to get unstuck." He believes that increasingly dire warnings from scientists about the threat of climate change and new regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution could lead to new legislation on this issue. "So we wanted to encourage that process and also put forward as you'll see later in the week, a couple of approaches that we think would make a lot of sense and might at some point even be politically feasible."

The series marks a major effort from an editorial page that has in the past been criticized by progressives for publishing misleading columns about global warming.

"Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don't get much bigger than that," Hiatt said about the decision to run the week of editorials. "That doesn't mean that you can set aside other really big problems that are facing us today, but over time ... the longer we wait to do something about it, the greater the damage is likely to be and the more disruptive the response will be."

Monday's first editorial lamented the faltering national debate on this issue, while today's offering explained why the country can't afford to "wait while the world warms."

Why The Washington Post Is Running A Series Of Editorials On The "Existential Threat" Of Climate Change by Joe Strupp, Media Matters, Aug 26, 2014

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