Sunday, October 30, 2016

Years of Living Dangerously Returns to Television Sunday

The National Geographic documentary series deals with the political realities of climate change that our presidential election has largely ignored.

NFL player Tom Brady and model Gisele Bundchen attend National Geographic's 'Years Of Living Dangerously' Season 2 World Premiere at American Museum of Natural History on September 21, 2016 in New York City (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
This year sees the implementation of the world’s first agreement to combat climate change.  An inadequate but major milestone, the Paris agreement was driven in part by President Barack Obama’s willingness to take some initial action to confront this looming threat to our planet.  Yet the topic of climate change hardly came up in this year’s presidential debates.

The Paris Agreement Is Set to Go Into Effect.  Will it Be Trumped?

Fortunately, voters — or at least those with access to the National Geographic Channel — will have the opportunity to see an in-depth, prime-time discussion of the issue when Years of Living Dangerously returns to television this weekend.  The series, which aired its Emmy Award-winning first season on Showtime in 2014, features celebrity hosts going where the Commission on Presidential Debates apparently feared to tread, exploring the steps we need to take to keep our planet’s climate in balance and the reasons why making progress has been so difficult so far.

Retired, voluminously bearded late-night host David Letterman is featured on the Season 2 premiere.  He journeys to India, where the country’s rapid expansion is evident in the nests of electrical wires that hang from buildings and telephone poles, part of a slipshod grid that causes daily power outages, even in some of the country’s largest cities.  Nearly 30 percent of the country’s electricity is lost before it reaches consumers.  Though solar holds huge potential for India — a potential that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set ambitious goals to tap — the country’s government also remains committed to expanding its fleet of coal power plants.

Those coal-fired plants mean that some of India’s cities have the worst air quality in the world — worse even than China’s notoriously smoggy metropolises.  Indians in the capital city of New Delhi sweep the soot from their floors and window sills multiple times daily; residents of major Indian cities who check Google weather will often find that the day’s forecast is only “smoke.”  And, of course, these coal plants drive climate change.

Yet when Letterman interviews the country’s minister of power, coal, renewable energy and mines (yes, all one job) and Modi himself, both insist that the country must keep burning coal. And their reasons are compelling:  Some 300 million Indians still are unconnected to the electrical grid — that’s only slightly less than the total number of people living in America. Modi, the leader of the world’s largest democracy, insists — and has insisted since he was first elected — that India’s first priority must be development, and that development requires the country to exploit every energy source available.

Climate change is a pressing concern that poses a dire threat to India.  Heatwaves, sea level rise, flooding and drought will all hit India harder than many more developed countries in more temperate climates.  But as India moves through its industrial revolution, Modi wants the countries that went through their own revolutions a century ago, and are wealthier for it today, to do the heavy lifting in addressing the climate crisis.

Read more at Years of Living Dangerously Returns to Television Sunday

Governments Agree U.N. Study of Tough Climate Limit, Despite Doubts

* IPCC launches study of 1.5 degree limit, due in 2018

* Some scientists doubt limit feasible, with rising temperatures

A man cycles past a chimney giving off emissions in an industrial area of Singapore, Jan. 5, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne) Click to Enlarge.
Governments gave the green light on Thursday for a U.N. scientific study on how to meet an ambitious global warming target, despite growing worries by some scientists that the goal may be unrealistic.

The report, due for completion in 2018, is meant to guide almost 200 nations including China and the United States on how to stop world temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

But some scientists say the 1.5C ceiling, favored most strongly by tropical island states which fear rising sea levels, will likely be breached soon because of a steady buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

And world leaders have only signed up for a less ambitious plan - their promise in Paris last December to limit global warming to "well below" 2C above pre-industrial times, while "pursuing efforts" for 1.5 degrees.

The study, approved by government officials and scientists at the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Bangkok on Thursday, will look at ways to meet the tougher target.

The paper, due for completion in 2018, will also look at the likely impacts of a 1.5C rise on the planet, from tropical coral reefs to Greenland's ice, and try to ensure that policies to limit warming also reduce poverty.
The IPCC report "should not be mis-interpreted as a sign that the industrialized countries are now willing to mitigate at the level that would be needed" to limit temperature rises to 1.5C or even 2C, he said.

And last week, two scientists wrote in the journal Science that a 1.5C limit would have to rely too heavily on so-called "negative emissions" to extract carbon dioxide from the air with technologies that do not yet exist.

Read more at Governments Agree U.N. Study of Tough Climate Limit, Despite Doubts

BlackRock Calls for Higher Carbon Price to Tackle Climate Change

Fund house says companies should pay more for the pollution they generate

Smokestacks at sunset (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
BlackRock has called on governments globally to make businesses pay a higher price for the pollution they generate, in a move aimed at forcing companies to reduce their carbon emissions.

The world’s largest fund house, which manages $4.9tn for investors, said it is struggling to understand the climate change risks it faces when making investment decisions because the price companies have to pay for emitting carbon is inconsistent.

Joanna Cound, head of government affairs and public policy in Europe for BlackRock, said: “Governments have a fundamental role to play [in] giving clarity and predictability around climate-related policies.

“We are thinking in particular of [governments] creating frameworks that result in higher and consistent carbon prices across all the different sectors.  That would increase certainty and allow a much better quantification of carbon risks within portfolios.”

While there are government-mandated carbon pollution systems in place in certain territories, such as in the EU or California, some of these have come in for criticism.

The EU’s 11-year-old emissions trading system requires many companies to buy permits to emit carbon, but the price of these permits slumped so much after the 2008-09 financial crisis and again in 2013 that critics believe the scheme is not severe enough to drive green investment.

Some analysts estimate that in order to reach the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping global warming well below 2C, the carbon price should be above €40 per tonne.  The current permit price is €6 in Europe.

Ms Cound said a clearer carbon pricing system globally would help drive investments towards greener businesses.

She added that just 80 companies are responsible for more than half of the world’s carbon emissions.  “If we could nudge some of those in the right direction, that can make a big difference.”

BlackRock, which last month released a paper warning about the impact of climate change on portfolios, said:  “Higher carbon prices … could minimize the economic costs of reducing emissions, incentivize companies to innovate and help investors quantify climate factors.”

Carbon pricing and climate change has risen up investors’ agenda in the wake of last year’s Paris agreement to tackle global warning.  There are concerns that as governments introduce policies to combat climate change, some businesses could become stranded or suffer big losses.

In August, 130 investors with more than $13tn in combined assets under management called on the G20 — a forum comprised of 20 large economies — to “provide stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon pricing that helps redirect investment”.

Read more at BlackRock Calls for Higher Carbon Price to Tackle Climate Change

Carbon Pricing:  A Useful Cautionary Tale - by James Hansen

James Hansen  (Credit:
A few weeks ago a friend sent an e-mail asking my opinion about I-732, a proposed Washington State carbon tax that would use most of the funds to reduce the sales tax.  My opinion, in brief, is that it would be the best approach in the world so far.  It is better than the British Columbia tax swap (BC uses the carbon tax money to reduce the payroll tax, but half of the people are not on a payroll, so its effect is uneven, being favorable mainly to middle-income employed people).  However, it falls short of the simple carbon fee-and-dividend that I have proposed, which is now championed by

Unfortunately, a danger of today’s rapid-fire electronic correspondence reared its head:  there was some confusion between my strong support of the legal case brought by Our Children’s Trust against the state of Washington and the Washington ballot initiative I-732.  I have been very involved in the legal case, but had not previously been involved in I-732.  Upon being informed about I-732, I agreed to write an op-ed giving my strong but qualified support of I-732.

My op-ed was published in the Seattle Times, but the editors made two seemingly innocuous edits that dramatically altered my intended meaning.  I wrote a 2-page explanation, but you may prefer a 2-minute video featuring Cosmos and my grandchild Sophie.

A remarkable grassroots campaign has generated enough support for I-732 that it has a chance of passing.  Thus for the past several days my friend has tried to generate support of people who may be able to influence undecided voters.  This led to an hour-long telecom yesterday with Van Jones, who spoke with me, my friend and a colleague, none of us from Washington.  I got in only a few sentences, my usual statements about the crucial need to make the price of fossil fuels honest by including their (human health, environmental, and climate change) costs to society, and specifically the merits of a revenue neutral carbon fee with no money to the government.

In my 75 years, to the best of my knowledge, I was never previously accused of condescension and racism.  However, I understand our responsibility to try to make amends, to the extent that is even possible, for our past and continuing injustices.  I am sure the condemnation was not meant to be personal, and I have great respect for the intellect, communication abilities, and obvious humanity of Van Jones.  My concern is my own failure to communicate the merits of a simple honest carbon fee-and-dividend to accomplish much of the social justice that Van Jones and many others so passionately desire.

Van Jones vowed to go on Bill Maher’s program to sink I-732 and carbon fee-and-dividend. He said that the community concerned about actions to slow human-made climate change needs to start over, work together with communities of color, and come up with a better plan that better compensates all communities.  I believe that we have failed to communicate the situation well, because, I suggest, what we propose is in the best interests of disadvantaged communities.
Bottom line:  In every country and state where I have tried to make the case for a simple, honest carbon fee-and-dividend the politicians respond that they want part of the money to spend on “this and that” (Sophie’s words) or any politically-favored programs.  However, when the government grabs the money, rather than returning 100% to the public, it becomes a tax. That renders the measure toxic to conservatives, who do not want to see larger government and higher taxes.  It depresses the economy.  It loses the economic benefits that would accrue especially to low income people.  And it prevents us from achieving the most rapid reductions of fossil fuels and associated pollution.

Perhaps the most crucial lesson in the cautionary tale is this:  if you open up the funds from the carbon fee to one special interest group, the game may be lost.  You will be descended upon by many special interests, each demanding a share.  It becomes a tax, just another tax.

I-732 is not perfect, but it would be the best approach so far.  I strongly urge Washington residents to vote yes for I-732, for the sake of our young people and nature.

Read more at Carbon Pricing:  A Useful Cautionary Tale

  Saturday, Oct 29

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

10 Years on, Climate Economists Reflect on Stern Review

The world's economy will need to shift from one based on fossil fuels to one based on low carbon technologies. (Credit: dru/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is ultimately a problem of dollars and cents across generations.  That’s because the actions society takes today to address climate change — namely cutting carbon pollution — won’t provide immediate benefits.  Instead, those benefits will be reaped in the coming years and decades and even centuries in the form of fewer people dying from heat waves, cities not being submerged by rising seas, farmers dealing with reduced risk of megadroughts.

Weighing all these costs and benefits in terms that governments can create policies around and businesses can prepare for is no small task.  Yet 10 years ago, that’s the Stern Review, a 700-page behemoth of a report, did.

Commissioned by the British government and led by economist Nicholas Stern, the massive report was the first of its kind to quantify the costs to address climate change and its impact on the global economy vs. what would happen if the world continued emitting carbon pollution unchecked.

It found that cutting carbon emissions so that carbon dioxide peaked in the range of 450-550 parts per million would cost 1 percent of the GDP annually, but ignoring climate change could cause economic damage on the order of up to 20 percent of the GDP.  Translated into real world numbers, the Stern Review put a price of about $85 per ton of carbon pollution emitted today, well above the current rate used by the U.S. of $40 per ton.

Since the Stern Review’s publication, other economists have made estimates of what it would cost to address climate change, but the Stern Review still stands out as a seminal document similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports on science.

With the 10-year anniversary coming up at the end of October, Climate Central reached out to a group of leading and up-and-coming climate economists dealing with the challenge of valuing climate action now and into the future.  Their answers are below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.  It’s a stark finding — though one that has yet to inspire major action — that was both heralded as a breakthrough and hotly debated in the intervening decade.

What’s the legacy of the Stern Review?
How have its conclusions held up over time?

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute:  The legacy is exceedingly important.  Until then, economists didn’t really focus adequately on issues of climate change or at least they had a relatively naive review of things.  What the Stern Review did is by careful way of marshalling evidence of costs and benefits, it provided a massive leap forward in our understanding of the economics of climate change.

The conclusions have stayed correct but the messages would be much stronger if it were written today than they were then.  The case for action is much more clear today than it was back then.  That’s partly because technology has changed, making the transition to a low carbon future much more cost-effective.  Second, because we’re 10 years on, the problem has become more obvious.  Essentially, the costs of inaction have gone up and costs of action have come down a lot.

Kate Gordon, vice chair of climate and sustainable urbanization at the Paulson Institute: The Stern Review was critically important in moving the climate issue from one of science to one of economics.  It has inspired a huge amount of work afterward, including the Risky Business Project, which in its pilot phase was actually known as “the Stern Review for the U.S.”  So its legacy is one of opening the door to a sober economic conversation about the implications of climate change, which is critically important.  Its specific conclusions may be less useful as we move from climate diplomacy to the operational phase of climate mitigation, as those economic and workforce development strategies are profoundly local and must be done at a far more granular level than the Stern Review used.

Read more at 10 Years on, Climate Economists Reflect on Stern Review

Elon Musk Reveals Solar Roof Made of Glass Tiles in L.A.

Solar roof that looks better than normal roof, Musk Says

Tuscan, Slate, Textured, and Smooth Solar Tiles (Credit: Tesla) Click to Enlarge.
Elon Musk showcased his ambitions to make Tesla Motors Inc. a clean-energy behemoth Friday, unveiling a new “solar-roof” product at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California.

As the sun set, Musk told hundreds of guests gathered in an outside courtyard on the “Desperate Housewives” set that Tesla and SolarCity Corp., the company that he chairs and which he aims to acquire, will make solar roofs that look better than normal roofs.  He then showcased several houses with solar tiles gracefully embedded.  Because the tiles are fully integrated into the roofs, many guests in attendance could not tell that they were solar.

Musk’s presentation was short on details about the proven efficiency of the solar cells, the roof’s warranty, cost or when it will be available to customers.  The solar roof will be offered in four styles:  Textured Glass, Slate Glass, Tuscan Glass, and Smooth Glass -- due to a variety of architectural choices.  SolarCity’s website says production will begin in mid-2017 and that the tempered glass is as "tough as steel."

"The solar roof consists of uniquely designed glass tiles that complement the aesthetics of any home, embedded with the highest efficiency photovoltaic cells," said Tesla in a statement. "Customers can choose which sections of their roof will contain the hidden solar technology while still having the entire roof look the same."
Musk said he’s targeting the roughly 5 million homeowners who replace their roofs each year.

New Biochar Model Scrubs Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere

New Cornell University research suggests an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart global warming.

Biochar soil (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
An economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been developed to thwart runaway, point-of-no-return global warming.  The researchers propose using a “bioenergy-biochar system” that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an environmental pinch, until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical.

The researchers propose using a "bioenergy-biochar system" that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an environmental pinch, until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical.  Their work appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of Nature Communications.

"If we continue on current emissions trajectories, we will need to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we're going to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. We're offering a mitigation model that can do that.  It's not a silver bullet, but it may be among the tools we need in a portfolio of carbon dioxide mitigation strategies," said Dominic Woolf, Cornell University research associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the study.

The new study suggests a system using biochar, carbonized plant matter made by charring organic material -- burning without using air -- in a process called pyrolysis.  The bioenergy-biochar system, called BEBCS, is stable and lowers sequestration losses when carbon is captured.  After the organic matter is turned into carbon-sequestering biochar, it can be placed into the soil as a fertilizer substitute and improve crop production.

Although it has been omitted from major atmospheric mitigation scenarios until now, the new model shows that including biochar in a suite of options unlocks the ability to achieve cost-effective carbon dioxide removal earlier and deeper than would otherwise be possible.

Read more at New Biochar Model Scrubs Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere

  Friday, Oct 28

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Exxon Concedes It May Need to Declare Lower Value for Oil in Ground - The New York Times

Oilpump (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Exxon Mobil, in a concession to market and regulatory pressures, said Friday that it might be forced to write down the value of some of its oil and gas assets in Canada and elsewhere if energy prices remain low through the end of the year.

The announcement, which accompanied the company’s release of another quarter of lackluster earnings, was an apparent reversal of Exxon Mobil’s stance in recent years.

The company has long insisted that it has been adequately accounting for the value of its oil and gas reserves — even as many other petroleum companies have taken big write-offs to reflect a two-year price slump.

On Friday, though, the company acknowledged that it faced what could be the biggest accounting revision of reserves in its history.  Exxon Mobil might have to concede that 3.6 billion barrels of oil-sand reserves and one billion barrels of other North American reserves are currently not profitable to produce.

The way Exxon Mobil accounts for the value of assets still in the ground has made the company a target of inquiries by the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.

Mr. Schneiderman, along with many energy experts, has criticized Exxon Mobil for being slow to take into account the impact of anticipated future government actions to curb Mr. Schneiderman, along with many energy experts, has criticized Exxon Mobil for being slow to take into account the impact of anticipated future government actions to curb climate change, which may force energy companies to leave at least some fossil fuels untapped in the ground.

On Friday, Exxon Mobil seemed ready to acknowledge that the value of its assets might change.

“We anticipate that certain quantities of currently booked reserves such as those associated with our Canadian oil sands will not qualify as proven reserves at year-end 2016,” Jeff Woodbury, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for investor relations, said during a conference call.

Mr. Woodbury added that if current price levels persist, other oil and gas operations in North America may have to be written down, although he indicated that they could also be put back on the books if prices recovered sufficiently.

In August the S.E.C. requested company documents and explanations about the value of Exxon Mobil’s reserves, but it has not publicly commented on its inquiry.  Exxon Mobil has promised to comply fully with the agency’s requests and has expressed confidence that it has met its legal and accounting requirements.

The company has resisted Mr. Schneiderman’s broader investigation into its accounting and its past public positions on climate change.  The New York attorney general contends that Exxon Mobil has misled the public, even as the company’s own scientists were warning about the climate impacts of greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Other oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil’s rivals Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, have lowered valuations by more than $50 billion since oil prices plunged from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to the current price of around $50 a barrel.

In contrast, Exxon Mobil resisted write-downs, saying that it conservatively valued its assets on a long-term basis and that price volatility was normal in commodity markets.

Mobil’s oil sand reserves in Canada’s Alberta province are a prime target for a write-down because they are particularly expensive to mine.  Investments in oil sands have been slowing, and several oil companies have given up on the resource.  Turning oil sands into a usable form of petroleum requires heavy processing and refining.

Because Exxon Mobil’s earnings on oil and gas exploration and production have been in decline, said Brian Youngberg, a senior energy analyst at Edward Jones, “it is increasingly hard for it to demonstrate its reserves as economical in today’s world of more moderate oil prices.”

Read more at Exxon Concedes It May Need to Declare Lower Value for Oil in Ground

Melting Ice Raised Sea Levels More Than Previously Thought, Study Says

Relying on tidal gauges in the Northern Hemisphere skewed previous estimates over the 20th century, leaving the world's coasts more vulnerable than expected.

Greenland's melting ice has driven sea levels higher than previously thought, a study says. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Readings from coastal tide gauges around the world—the most reliable historical water-level records—have underestimated 20th century sea level rise caused by various melting ice caps and glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere by between 5 and 28 percent, said a new study published in the journal Geographical Research Letters.

Using historical tide gauge observations as well as climate models, the researchers found that the least amount of global sea level rise that could have occurred last century is about 5.5 inches.

"The most likely amount," the study concluded, "is closer to 6.7 inches," with implications for the hundreds of millions of people who live along the world's coasts.

The readings come mainly from 15 gauges in North America and Europe, where sea level rise has likely been slower than the global average, skewing earlier estimates.  The study shows that melting ice raises sea level faster than the global average in areas farthest from the melt sources, like the southern Pacific Ocean and equatorial regions.

Sea level rise due to the Greenland ice melt, for instance, has been underestimated by 28 percent, the study said, while the sea level drop from the melting Alps was underestimated by 5 percent.

"If you want to understand the future, you have to understand how much sea level rise was caused by past warming," said lead author Philip Thompson, associate director of the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center.

The study is also important because it helps identify regional patterns of sea level rise, information that can help communities adapt to rising water in coming decades.

Read more at Melting Ice Raised Sea Levels More Than Previously Thought, Study Says

U.N. Sets Rules to Cut Sulfur Emissions by Ships from 2020

Smoke is blown from a cargo ship off the coast of Falmouth, Cornwall, Britain at dawn October 7, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Russell Boyce) Click to Enlarge.
The United Nations' shipping agency set global regulations on Thursday to limit the amount of sulfur emissions from vessels and said they would come into force from 2020.

A session of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee in London set the new requirements, which will see sulfur emissions fall from the current maximum of 3.5 percent of fuel content to 0.5 percent.

The move will add extra costs to the shipping industry at a time when parts of it are going through their worst ever downturn.  Analysts estimate the additional costs for the container shipping sector alone could be $35-$40 billion.

And some also questioned whether refiners would undertake lengthy and costly investments to produce lower sulfur fuel, and so whether there would be enough produced to meet demand.

Environmental groups welcomed the outcome, as well as the 2020 start date.  The IMO had considered the option of delaying introduction of the regulations until 2025.

"This is a landmark decision and we are very pleased that the world has bitten the bullet and is now tackling poisonous sulfuric fuel in 2020," said Bill Hemmings of campaigner Transport & Environment.

"This decision reduces the contribution of shipping to the world’s air pollution impact from about 5 percent down to 1.5 percent and will save millions of lives in the coming decades." 

The shipping industry is among the world's biggest sulfur emitters, with sulfur oxide content in heavy fuel oil up to 3,500 times higher than the latest European diesel standards for vehicles.

Read more at U.N. Sets Rules to Cut Sulfur Emissions by Ships from 2020

Rapidly Warming Mediterranean Headed for Desertification, Study Warns

Even with 2 degrees of global warming, the current global goal, desertification would overtake parts of this lush and vibrant region.

People rush to the beach during heat waves in the Mediterranean region, which will get more extreme as the globe warms. (Credit: Getty Images)  Click to enlarge.
If the Earth warms much more than it already has, the climate and ecosystems of the Mediterranean region might suddenly become unrecognizable, according to a new study.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that even if warming is constrained to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial time—which is the central goal of the Paris climate agreement—the Mediterranean region would see changes never experienced during recorded history.

With 2 degrees of warming, Morocco, for instance, would see increased temperatures and drought that would drive the southern deserts further north, displacing forests.  Deserts would expand in the Middle East, too, pushing temperate forests higher into the mountains.

If warming continues unabated, the results would be significantly worse.  The study found that all of southern Spain would become desert and most of the deciduous forests in the region would be replaced by shrubs and bushes.

These changes are already close at hand.

The Mediterranean is already warming faster than much of the rest of the world.  Globally, temperatures have risen an average of .85 degrees Celsius since 1880-1920, while the Mediterranean basin has seen 1.3 degrees Celsius of warming.  Historically, the Mediterranean has been characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.  The area is home to roughly 466 million people, and, in addition to its rich biodiversity, its ecosystems provide clean water, flood protection and carbon storage.
Calling the study's findings "highly significant," Stephen Jackson, the director of the Department of the Interior's Southwest Climate Science Center, said the past 10,000 years are a critical comparison point.  "Western civilization developed in and around the Mediterranean Basin within that period, and we risk going into new climatic territory within a very short time in the absence of emission reductions," said Jackson, who is not affiliated with the study.

The past 10,000 years have seen some periods of extended drought, according to the study. Roughly 3,000 years ago, a drought lasted several centuries, which researchers have cited as a possible factor in the fall of ancient Bronze Age societies before the rise of Classical Greece. The Science study points to two other extended periods of drought, both also associated with declines or collapses of civilizations in the region.

Those droughts were different from the region's current state, and what is projected in the future, in one significant way:  They were not accompanied by extended rises in temperature.
The study is one of many these days emphasizing the importance of keeping temperatures well below 2 degrees of warming.

When the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, its primary goal read:
"To hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C."
That would mean reducing net emissions of carbon dioxide to zero some time in the mid to late century.

Guiot and Cramer found that holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is the only way to keep a recognizable Mediterranean ecosystem.

"The difference is really important," said Guiot.  "With 2 degrees of warming, for the Mediterranean we will have a change in the vegetation which has never been known in the past 10,000 years.  1.5 degrees corresponds to the variability of 10,000 years."

Read more at Rapidly Warming Mediterranean Headed for Desertification, Study Warns

Sea Ice Extent Is Near Record Lows-South as Well as North - by Bob Henson

Figure 1. The extent of Arctic sea ice has moved into record-low territory this month compared to all other Octobers since satellite monitoring of the Arctic began in 1979. This year surpassed its nearest rival, 2007, in mid-October. (Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center) Click to Enlarge.
It’s been a banner year for global sea ice, and not in a good way.  After a record-smashing mild winter, the Arctic’s summer sea-ice melt culminated in a tie with 2007 for the second-lowest extent since satellite measurements began in 1979.  The drama intensified this month, with Arctic sea ice extent now at a clear record low for late October as calculated by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (see Figure 1 right).  This behavior isn’t really such a shock, given that Arctic sea ice has been declining for decades in the midst of sharp high-latitude warming.  What’s more
Figure 2. The extent of Antarctic sea ice decreased rapidly in October 2016 compared to all other Octobers since satellite monitoring of the Antarctic began in 1979. The only year with a lower Antarctic extent as of October 24 was 1986 (gold line). Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.
startling is the huge extent loss this year in the Antarctic, where sea ice extent had actually been increasing in recent years.  This year’s Antarctic extent peaked very early, on August 31, and it’s now at its second-lowest value on record for late October, beaten only by 1986 (see Figure 2 left).

Together, these simultaneous drops have sent global sea ice extent--Arctic plus Antarctic--to its lowest level by far for this time of year since regular satellite monitoring began in 1979.  The global extent as of October 25 was more than 1 million square kilometers below this date in 2011, the previous record-holder.  In fact, it appears that the last few days are the first time we’ve seen a global departure from average in sea ice extent of more than 3 million sq km—which is more than four times the area occupied by Texas.

We shouldn’t pin too much on this record, because global sea ice extent is a much-abused and somewhat artificial metric.  The Arctic and Antarctic have vastly different climate regimes, and what happens at one pole is far more important to its own regional climate than what’s occurring at the other pole.  Still, the dramatic dip in global ice extent is worth noting if only because climate-change skeptics and deniers have pointed to global sea ice for years, and especially the Antarctic’s unexpected evolution, in an attempt to discount other evidence of a planet being warmed by increasing amounts of human-produced greenhouse gases.  As Jeff Masters put it in this blog in 2010:  “Diminishing the importance of Arctic sea ice loss by calling attention to Antarctic sea ice gain is like telling someone to ignore the fire smoldering in their attic, and instead go appreciate the coolness of the basement, because there is no fire there.”

The big north-vs-south difference in sea ice
The stark difference between yearly patterns of sea ice in the Arctic versus the Antarctic is mainly a function of where the land sits.  Northern sea ice melts and freezes within the Arctic Ocean, which surrounds and includes the North Pole.  Southern ice melts and freezes in a ring around the continent of Antarctica, which keeps it well away from the South Pole and at lower latitudes than Arctic sea ice.  As a result, southern sea ice covers a larger area than northern sea ice each winter, yet more than 80% of it disappears each summer.  From winter max to summer min, a typical yearly drop in sea-ice extent in recent years would be from around 15 to 5 million sq km in the Arctic and from around 19 to 3 million sq km in the Antarctic.

Unfortunately, the longer-term, year-round decline in Arctic sea ice extent over the last couple of decades makes all too much sense.  Temperatures at high northern latitudes have been soaring, this year in particular.  (One example:  the statewide temperature average in Alaska for the first nine months of 2016 is nearly 3°F warmer than for any Jan-Sep period since records began in 1925.)  The Arctic is still more than cold enough each winter to re-cover the Arctic Ocean with sea ice, but the quality and thickness of that return ice has been declining, and the amount that survives as multiyear ice has plummeted. 

Scientists long expected the Antarctic’s sea ice to decline as well.  Instead, it’s actually expanded to record-high extents at times over the last few years.  Even top computer models have been flummoxed by this trend.  Among the simulations of Antarctic climate carried out in support of the most recent IPCC report, a majority predicted that ice should have declined between 1979 and 2013.  In a review paper published in Nature Climate Change in September, a group of Antarctic experts surveyed what we know about high-latitude southern climate.  It appears that a set of interlocking, difficult-to-model factors over the last few years has fostered the increasing trend in Antarctic sea ice, especially in the Ross Sea area.

Read more at Sea Ice Extent Is Near Record Lows--South as Well as North

Indirect Effects of Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels on Ecosystems More Important than Previously Thought

The indirect effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, such as changes in soil moisture and plant structure, can have a bigger impact on ecosystems than previously thought.  Understanding the importance of these indirect effects, in comparison to the direct effects, will improve our understanding of how ecosystems respond to climate change.

A mixed-grass community prairie in Iowa. (Credit: Denise Krebs (Flickr) via a Creative Commons License) Click to Enlarge.
The indirect effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, such as changes in soil moisture and plant structure, can have a bigger impact on ecosystems than previously thought.

Understanding the importance of these indirect effects, in comparison to the direct effects, will improve our understanding of how ecosystems respond to climate change.

A study, involving researchers from the University of Southampton, found that water-limited ecosystems in arid and semi-arid regions, such as The Great Plains and South-West United States and some in Australia and Mediterranean Europe, were particularly impacted by these indirect effects.  For those ecosystems, the importance of the indirect effects was as much as or in some cases, greater than, the direct effects.

Read more at Indirect Effects of Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels on Ecosystems More Important than Previously Thought

  Thursday, Oct 27

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

It’s Not Just Clean Air:  Electric Cars Can Save the US Billions

If, by 2050, all new car sales and about 65 percent of all cars on the road are electric, like the 2016 Nissan LEAF pictured here, health- and climate-related costs in the US could drop by $21 billion. (Credit: John Murphy/Nissan) Click to Enlarge.
It’s hard to get a handle on the ugly, smoggy implications of this nation’s dependence on fossil fuel-burning cars.  Deaths from pollution and climate change tend to pile up slowly, in asthma attacks, flood fatalities, and respiratory illnesses.  But you, me, the kids, the politicians—everyone is suffering the effects of passenger car-related pollution.

According to a new report from the American Lung Association of California, cars are responsible for $37 billion in health and climate costs each year.

That’s just for California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont—the 10 states that have zero emission vehicle sales programs.  The price tag includes the economic costs of 220,000 days of missed work, 109,000 asthma-related attacks, and 2,580 premature deaths per annum.

Even if you don’t have asthma, you’re getting hit:  The report estimates that every tank of gasoline you combust adds $18.42 to public health and climate bills—bills your taxes pay off.

Fortunately, the policy/lung specialists can imagine a rosier future, if those states get even more into electricity.  The report estimates that if, by 2050, EVs account for 100 percent of new sales and about 65 percent of cars on the road, health- and climate-related costs will drop by $21 billion, to $15.7 billion.  If the states get real aggressive and move away from the current coal-tinged grid toward 100 percent renewable energy, those benefits could climb by 40 percent.

Read more at It’s Not Just Clean Air:  Electric Cars Can Save the US Billions

Red, Race and Blue

Bill McKibben and other activists are calling for a World War II-style mobilization to fight climate change.  But would Americans trust the government to carry it out?

Trust in government by party (Credit: Pew Research Center) Click to Enlarge.
On August 15th of this year, 71 years to the date after Japan announced its intention to surrender, author and activist Bill McKibben, writing in the webpages of New Republic, called for a World-War-II-scale effort on climate change.

Unlike previous calls for a wartime-level mobilization, such as that of Al Gore at the end of An Inconvenient Truth, McKibben’s call was buttressed by a detailed breakdown of the factories, plants, installations, and materials required.  He also pointed to a just-published book about America’s mobilization for World War II that carefully documented the federal government’s hands-on management of several key industries.

Together, these two detailed works imply that America both has the means to do what is needed now and that doing what was needed then had been more contentious than we remember.  Thus, he argued, Americans just have to muster the will to overcome the current political divide so that we can get down to the business of combatting climate change.


What McKibben’s impassioned essay left out was the profound transformation of the United States in the decades since the war.  As this review of recent titles assessing the state of America’s economy and politics will suggest, progress on climate change must begin with the recognition that “the past is a foreign country“:  we no longer live in the nation that won World War II.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia deserves special mention here.  He perfected the tactic of running for government by running against government.  He learned that one could block and obstruct responsive action in Congress and then campaign on the failure of Congress to act.

Read more at Red, Race and Blue

Population Boom Adds to City Threats

A new Atlas of the Human Planet shows how the world’s rising urban population is adding to the impacts caused by climate change.

Flooded slums in the densely-populated city of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Image Credit: Kent Clark via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s cities are growing even faster than the human population.  Within the last 40 years, the global population has increased by a factor of 1.8,  but built-up areas have multiplied 2.5 times.

All of this information, and much more, appears in a new European Commission (EC) publication called the Atlas of the Human Planet, prepared to coincide with the recent third UN Habitat conference in Quito, Ecuador.

The Atlas shows that, 40 years ago, most of the world’s 4.1billion population lived in rural areas.  Now more than half live in towns and cities − urban clusters that cover 7.6% of the planet’s land mass, equivalent to an area about half the size of the European Union.

Most of the people in the world are crammed into urban centres with a density greater than 1,500 persons per square kilometre(579 sq mi), and in settlements greater than 50,000 inhabitants.

Altogether, geographers have identified 13,000 urban centres, altogether surrounded by 300,000 “urban clusters” of at least 5,000 inhabitants living at a density of 300 per square kilometre (116 sq mi).
And a group of scientists led by Timon McPhearson, assistant professor of urban ecology at the New School in New York, publish a warning in Nature journal that more urban areas will be built in the next 30 years than ever before just to house and shelter the additional 1.1billion people expected in the next 14 years − most of them in the crowded cities of Asia and Africa.

Whatever problems these new city-dwellers have will be compounded, other researchers warn, by climate change − with ever more frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, floods, and days of bad air quality.

Around 40% of the world’s people live in coastal cities, and are therefore increasingly vulnerable to floods, tsunamis, surges and tropical storms.

Because of the notorious urban “heat island effect”, cities are inevitably hotter than the surrounding countryside, and many are likely to face a crisis in the supply of safe, clean water.

Dreaded Polar Vortex May Be Shifting

As the Arctic wind pattern migrates toward Europe it could allow frigid air to descend upon the U.S.

Analysis of meteorological fields (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The polar vortex in recent years has brought the kind of miserable cold to northern states that made it hard to breathe outside.  We’re probably in for more of the same.

That’s the finding of a new study published Monday in the journal Nature that finds that as the Arctic warms, it is shifting the polar vortex to Europe. That in turn will bring more bursts of frigid cold to North America.

Those temperature drops could lead to miserable days in February and March, the research finds. Conversely, those drops in temperature could offset some of global warming’s effect in those regions, said Martyn Chipperfield, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the paper.

“Climate change can lead to extremes; it’s not like a regular change, everyone to the same extent at all times and places,” he said. “Despite the overall warming, you can get in places like the Northeastern U.S. extreme cold events. That’s consistent with climate change and global warming.”

The polar vortex is a fast-moving band of air that encircles the frigid Arctic in winter months and traps it there. Its movement is part of a decadeslong change.

The polar vortex has actually “shifted persistently” away from North America and into Europe and Asia over the last 30 years, researchers found. That results in cooling over North America but warmer winters in Europe.

As global warming decreases sea ice, the sun’s warmth absorbed by the ocean is instead released from the ocean for a longer period of time, which disrupts the vortex.

Read more at Dreaded Polar Vortex May Be Shifting

New Oil Discoveries Largely Unaffected by Paris Pact

An oil drilling rig near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  (Credit: jweston_40/flickr)  Click to Enlarge.An oil drilling rig near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  (Credit: jweston_40/flickr)  Click to Enlarge.
Large crude oil discoveries in 2016 face uncertain prospects of development for many reasons, but climate change isn’t one of them, at least for the moment.

Climate policies that help countries meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement are likely to have little effect on newly discovered oil fields because the Paris pact all but ignores crude oil consumption and production, experts say.  The fate of new oil discoveries hinges mainly on volatile crude oil markets, the availability of oil in existing fields, and evolving electric vehicle technology.

Energy companies in the U.S. have announced major crude oil discoveries that could significantly contribute to greenhouse gas pollution even as U.S. carbon-cutting policies like the Clean Power Plan are contested in court.

Apache Corp. announced in September that it has discovered 3 billion barrels of oil in West Texas, and Caelus Energy said in October that it found 6 billion barrels of crude beneath the Arctic Ocean off of Alaska’s North Slope.

If all of the oil in those discoveries is consumed, its carbon dioxide emissions may be roughly equivalent to 70 percent of the U.S.’s total annual carbon dioxide pollution, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.  Every billion barrels of oil that are consumed emit roughly the equivalent of about 8 percent of U.S. annual carbon emissions, Energy Information Administration analyst Perry Lindstrom said.

The Paris Agreement, which [takes effect Nov. 4], aims to prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).  Most countries, including the U.S., plan to meet their emissions-cutting obligations primarily by cutting carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants, adopting more renewable energy sources, and using electricity more efficiently.  Countries are also adopting emissions and efficiency standards for airplanes, trucks and cars.

Beyond those efforts, little is being done to curb oil demand.  Crude oil consumption is expected to remain high until new technology can fully replace oil as a transportation fuel, said Michael Wara, a climate and energy researcher and professor at Stanford University Law School.

“The things that are going to matter in terms of climate are:  what can we do with the battery in terms of creating a substitute for that oil to move people around?” he said.  “We need to find a better way to do that that’s better than oil.”

Deborah Gordon, director of the energy climate program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said little was discussed during the Paris climate negotiations that focused directly on the oil sector.

“For example, the U.S. nationally determined commitment (NDC) only mentions oil by name once in relation to methane emissions, which are only small part of the oil supply chain,” she said.  “This is a huge omission.”

Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said the the Paris Agreement calls for “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases,” which implicitly means fossil fuels should be phased out.

“However, the agreement assiduously avoids saying anything explicit about that or about halting oil exploration and development, otherwise some countries would have refused to sign,” Gerrard said.  “Achieving the Paris temperature goals and continuing to develop new oil fields are inconsistent, but the Paris Agreement has nothing that in itself will stop this development.”

Only a global shift away from oil as transportation fuel and low oil prices, which are currently hovering around $50 per barrel, will keep large new oil discoveries from being developed — especially in areas that are expensive to drill, Wara said.

Read more at New Oil Discoveries Largely Unaffected by Paris Pact