Wednesday, July 26, 2017

UK to Ban Sales of Gas, Diesel-Fueled Cars from 2040

A Mobil gas station in the East Village in New York (Contributor: Richard Levine / Alamy Stock Photo) Click to Enlarge.
Britain's government will announce on Wednesday that it will ban the sale of all gas- and diesel-fueled cars from 2040 as part of a plan to clean up air pollution, newspapers reported on Tuesday.

The reported move follows a similar announcement earlier this month by the French government.

Read more at UK to Ban Sales of Petrol, Diesel-Fuelled Cars from 2040

Allowable 'Carbon Budget' Most Likely Overestimated

Because greenhouse gas concentrations have been increasing since 1750 it would be preferable to define a baseline prior to then, but actual instrumental measurements of temperature did not exist before the 1800s. (Image Credit: © iStock Photo Drbouz) Click to Enlarge.
While most climate scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, implicitly define "pre-industrial" to be in the late 1800's, a true non-industrially influenced baseline is probably further in the past, according to an international team of researchers who are concerned because it affects the available carbon budget for meeting the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warming limit agreed to in the Paris Conference of 2015.

"The IPCC research community uses a definition of preindustrial that is likely underestimating the warming that has already taken place," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State.  "That means we have less carbon to burn than we previously thought, if we are to avert the most dangerous changes in climate."

The researchers explored a variety of date ranges for defining a "pre-industrial" baseline and the likelihood that, compared to those baselines, the global temperature averages could be held to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) or to the preferred 1.5 degrees C (1.7 degrees F).  They report their results in Nature Climate Change.

"When the IPCC says that we've warmed 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) relative to pre-industrial, that's probably incorrect," said Mann.  "It's likely as much as 1.2 degrees C (2.16 degrees F)."
...
"A widely used metric for climate change mitigation is how much carbon we can still burn and remain below 2 degrees C," said Mann.  "It's what we call the 'carbon budget.'"

A pre-industrial baseline that truly contained no human-caused warming would alter the amount of carbon that could be put into the atmosphere.  Measured in gigatons of carbon, to account for the 0.2 degrees C likely unaccounted for in previous estimates of human-caused warming, we would need to burn 40 percent less carbon to remain below the 2 degree C threshold, according to Mann.

"Either the Paris targets have to be revised," said Mann.  "Or, alternatively, we decide that the existing targets really were meant to describe only the warming since the late 19th century."

If nothing else, Mann says that the community needs to be far more precise in defining what baselines are being used in setting targets.

Read more at Allowable 'Carbon Budget' Most Likely Overestimated

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

  Tuesday, July 25

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.

Paul Hawken on One Hundred Solutions to the Climate Crisis

Environmentalist Paul Hawken believes that to motivate action on climate change, the focus needs to be on solutions rather the problem.  And, he says, those solutions – from changing the type of refrigerants used to reducing food waste – are already here.


Paul Hawken (Credit: e360.yale.edu) Click to Enlarge.
Paul Hawken acknowledges that the subtitle of his latest book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, is brash.  But the author and entrepreneur says he can get away with it because the plan he and his collaborators put forward is the first and only of its kind.

“We’ve never mapped, measured, and modeled the top solutions to global warming, after 40 years of this being in the public sphere,” he says in an interview with Yale Environment 360.  With this plan, he contends, “we have in hand now, in a practical way, the solutions that are needed in order to reverse global warming.”

The book, which he edited, represents the work of Project Drawdown, the organization he founded with the mission of researching and promoting a path to drawdown, the point at which the concentration of greenhouse gases begins to decline.  The volume includes descriptions of 100 of those solutions, 80 of which are currently in practice.  As Hawken puts it, “There are no wannabes.”

The solutions are ranked by the number of gigatons of CO2, or the equivalent, that they would avoid or sequester between the years 2020 and 2050.  They range from big difference-makers such as refrigerant management, wind turbines, and food waste to those that are important but not as impactful, including methane digesters, green roofs, and microgrids.

When it comes to global warming, Hawken says, we’ve been “focusing too much on the problem instead of the solution….  Regenerative development is development, whether it’s on an urban, transportation, housing, marine agriculture, or health level.  It’s development that actually heals the future as opposed to stealing from it, which is what we’re doing today.”

 Paul Hawken on One Hundred Solutions to the Climate Crisis

8 Senators Call for Probe of ‘Arbitrary’ Reassignment of Federal Scientists

The senators' letter, following a whistleblower complaint from a climate scientist in the Interior Department, says there may be as many as 50 similar cases.


Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell (center), Ron Wyden and Debbie Stabenow, wrote to the deputy inspector general of the Interior Department asking her to look into the reassignment of scientists. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (right) of Alaska also said she would talk with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. (Credit: Jim Watson/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Eight U.S. senators called for an investigation today after a federal climate scientist filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that he had been arbitrarily reassigned by the Trump administration in what he believed was retaliation for speaking out publicly about the dangers climate change poses to Alaska Native communities.

The scientist, Joel Clement, had been working on climate adaptation in Alaska for the Department of Interior when he was moved to an obscure accounting position that deals with fossil fuel royalty payments.

The senators, all members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asked the deputy inspector general in the Department of Interior to look into allegations that as many as 50 Senior Executive Service employees at the department has been arbitrarily reassigned.

"We believe that any reassignment of highly trained, highly competent senior executives within the department from the positions in which they may best use their training and competence to accomplish the department's mission and best serve the public interest to sinecures where their talents are wasted would constitute a serious act of mismanagement, a gross waste of public funds, and an abuse of authority," the senators wrote.

The Senior Executive Service was created to provide continuity in the management of public programs, with career experts in their subject areas serving under the political appointees. Under the law, agency heads can reassign senior executives, provided the changes are made "to best accomplish the agency's mission."

"Any suggestion that the department is reassigning SES employees to force them to resign, to silence their voices, or to punish them for the conscientious performance of their public duties is extremely troubling and calls for the closest examination," the senators wrote.  No Republicans signed the letter.

The letter came just days after Clement, formerly the director of the Office of Policy Analysis in the Interior Department, filed a formal complaint about his reassignment and published an op-ed in the Washington Post describing his experience.

Read more at 8 Senators Call for Probe of ‘Arbitrary’ Reassignment of Federal Scientists

Monday, July 24, 2017

  Monday, July 24

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.

A Mississippi-Sized Area of Forest Disappeared in 2015

Areas shaded in pink show points that have lost trees at least 16 feet in height due to deforestation, wildfire or some other cause of mortality between 2001 and 2015. (Credit: Global Forest Watch) Click to Enlarge.
A Mississippi-sized chunk of the world’s forests was decimated in 2015 because of wildfire, logging and expanding palm oil plantations, according to a new study.  The loss is part of a continuing trend of deforestation that could have devastating implications for the climate.

About 49 million acres of forest disappeared worldwide in 2015, mainly in North America and the tropics, putting the year’s global deforestation level at its second-highest point since data gathering began in 2001.  In all, the globe lost 47 percent more forested land in 2015 than it did 16 years ago, according to the study by Global Forest Watch.

Deforestation accounts for more than 10 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change.  Dense tropical forests are also critical to keeping the climate stable because they suck up large amounts of human carbon pollution from the atmosphere, storing it in tree trunks, leaves, roots and soil.

Using satellite data provided by Google and the University of Maryland, Global Forest Watch researchers measured the death or removal of trees at least 16 feet tall.  

2014 was a record-breaking year for tree-cover loss when nearly 60 million acres of forests disappeared.  2015 saw less, but it’s too soon to say whether deforestation is truly on a downward swing because of uncertainty in some of the data, study co-author Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst for Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute, said.

For example, Canada, Russia and the U.S. saw the most forest cover loss in 2015, mainly because of wildfire, pest infestations and commercial logging.  But the study says the actual level of forest loss in those countries is difficult to determine because there is insufficient available data on logging and natural tree re-growth.

Read more at A Mississippi-Sized Area of Forest Disappeared in 2015

How Distant Winds May Be Causing Antarctic Meltdown [and World Flooding]

West Antarctica's massive Pine Island Glacier is seen out the window of NASA's DC-8 research aircraft as it flies at an altitude of 1,500 feet in October 2009. Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica. (Credit: NASA/Jane Peterson) Click to Enlarge.West Antarctica's massive Pine Island Glacier is seen out the window of NASA's DC-8 research aircraft as it flies at an altitude of 1,500 feet in October 2009. Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica. (Credit: NASA/Jane Peterson) Click to Enlarge.
Estimates of just how much sea levels will rise and inundate coastal areas vary widely.  One of the reasons is that scientists just aren’t sure how quickly the vast ice sheets of Antarctica might melt into the sea because of the myriad triggers causing the ocean warming that is fueling that melt.

New research suggests one more unexpected culprit: Changing winds at one end of the continent could actually be setting off a series of changes, like a set of falling dominoes, that pushes warm water below the ice at the other end, thousands of miles away.

Finding these pieces of the Antarctic melt puzzle and putting them together will help scientists better pin down how much sea level rise is in store as the world warms, and when cities from Miami to Shanghai may largely disappear from the map.

Sea levels have already risen by about 8 inches since the beginning of the 20th century from a combination of melting polar ice and the expansion of ocean waters as they absorb some of the excess heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gases.  And while 8 inches may not seem like much, it is already causing more costly damage from coastal flooding.

Storm surges created by hurricanes and other storms, like Hurricane Sandy, are stronger and higher than in the past, and there are more instances of so-called sunny day flooding, when tidal forces push water into the streets of Miami, Norfolk, Va., and other coastal cities.

The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimated that the world could see another 10 to 40 inches of sea level rise by 2100, but that is considered a fairly conservative estimate.  More recent research has suggested that Antarctic melt alone could push sea levels up by 3 feet by the end of the century, which would devastate coastal communities around the world.

Much of that melt could come from key areas of Antarctica where fast-retreating glaciers could destabilize large sections of the ice sheet.  The primary driver of their melt is warm water pushing in under the floating sections of the glaciers, called ice shelves.  As the water eats away at the ice from below, the thinner ice shelves exert less force on the glaciers, allowing them to flow faster to the sea, raising sea levels.

Scientists thought that changing local wind patterns — themselves linked to warming — could be pushing the water under the ice shelves, with the altered winds blowing over the ocean surface near West Antarctica providing the push. 

They didn't expect changes to winds across the continent to be a factor, but that's what climate scientist Paul Spence noticed when he was looking at climate models.  He saw that certain changes in East Antarctica created a big warming signal in West Antarctica, which is some 3,700 miles away.

Read more at How Distant Winds May Be Causing Antarctic Meltdown

Extreme’ El Niños to Double in Frequency Under 1.5C of Warming, Study Says

Aerial view of homes submerged in floodwaters along the Pearl and Leaf Rivers after record breaking storms dumped rain across the deep south March 13, 2016 in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. (Credit: US Army Photo / Alamy Stock Photo) Click to Enlarge.
The El Niño event of 2015-16 was one of the strongest on record, bringing flooding to much of South America, southern US and East Africa, and severe drought to Australia and southeast Asia.

Now a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that similar “extreme” El Niño events could become more frequent as global temperatures rise.

If global warming reaches 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – the aspirational limit of the Paris Agreement – extreme El Niño events could happen twice as often, the researchers find.

That means seeing an extreme El Niño on average every 10 years, rather every 20 years.

Extreme events
El Niño is a global weather phenomenon that originates in the Pacific Ocean.  A weakening in the trade winds across the equatorial Pacific brings warm ocean temperatures to the eastern Pacific, off the coast of South America.

This has major impacts on rainfall patterns worldwide, explains study co-author Dr Wenju Cai from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia. He tells Carbon Brief:
These movements cause a massive reorganisation of the atmosphere circulation, leading to extreme climate and weathers around the globe.  For example, floods in Ecuador, Peru and  southwest American, but drought in Indonesia and other western Pacific countries.
While we might see an El Niño event every five years or so, every decade or two an “extreme” event arrives.  As well as the 2015-16 event, some of the strongest El Niños in recent history include 1982-83 and 1997-98.

Read original at Extreme’ El Niños to Double in Frequency Under 1.5C of Warming, Study Says

Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast Pools Efforts Against Climate Change

Biologist Julio Barquero looks at palm trees planted in Puerto Vargas to strengthen the shoreline against the rising sea levels of the Caribbean Sea, which threaten the area with erosion, in Cahuita, in the southeastern Costa Rican province of Limón. (Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS) Click to Enlarge.
In Hone Creek, more than 200 km southeast of the capital, civil society organizations from Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region, grouped in the ACBTC, are joining forces against climate change.

As in the rest of the Caribbean region, this municipality in Costa Rica is suffering coastal erosion due to a rise in the sea level, which jeopardises the sandy beaches as well as the tourism-based economy of coastal areas.

At a regional level, the Association of Caribbean States is carrying out a project to adapt to the new climate change scenario, in small highly vulnerable island nations as well as mainland countries, which have in common fragile economies and vulnerable communities.

In Honduras, local communities are reporting changes in the geography of the coastline, and in Cuba scientists are racing against time to protect the country’s sandy beaches.

It is a recurring pattern among Central American countries and each country is seeking its solutions.

“While we work at a global level and expect international agreements to be respected, we have to start locally,“ biologist Julio Barquero, who also works with the ACBTC, explained to IPS.

With a 200,000-dollar budget, provided by the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change Adaptation Fund, the ACBTC promotes a vision of a ”biological corridor” from the forested mountains to the sandy beaches.

It encourages farmers in hilly areas in the municipality to incorporate their forest lands to the Payments for Environmental Services programme, by which the Costa Rican government provides economic compensation for protecting the forest cover.

Under this programme, 478 hectares have been protected in the key Carbón River basin, which brings benefits to the communitiesalong the lower stretch of the river.

“When it rains a lot in a short period of time and there is no vegetation cover, the water does not filter down into the ground but washes the surface away,“ explained Barquero.

Read more at Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast Pools Efforts Against Climate Change

Grid:  'No Political Interference,' DOE Study Author Says

Energy Secretary Rick Perry. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A veteran energy consultant who penned the leaked draft of a high-profile grid study for Energy Secretary Rick Perry is speaking out about speculation that the report has been politically tainted.

Alison Silverstein, an independent consultant who served as an adviser to former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood III, also confirmed her work pointed a finger at low demand for electricity and cheap natural gas as the drivers of coal and nuclear plant closures, and renewables and regulations as exacerbating the problem.  The draft review also concluded the current level of renewables does not pose a threat to the U.S. electric grid, she said.

Read more at Grid:  'No Political Interference,' DOE Study Author Says

Indonesia Environment Minister Wants Permanent Ban on Licenses to Use Forest Land

Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar signs the Paris Agreement on climate change held at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar) Click to Enlarge.
Indonesia's environment minister said on Monday she wants to make permanent a moratorium on issuing new licenses to use land designated as primary forest and peatland.

The moratorium, part of an effort to reduce emissions from fires caused by deforestation, was extended by President Joko Widodo for a third time in May.

"So far its only been extended, and extended again.  I want a permanent (moratorium)," said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.  "Our primary forest cannot be cleared out."

Indonesia is prone to outbreaks of forest fires during dry seasons, often blamed on the draining of peatland forests and land clearance for agriculture such as the cultivation of palm oil.

The resulting choking smoke from the world's biggest palm oil producer often blows across to neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia, slashing visibility and causing a health hazard.

Established in 2011, the moratorium covered an area of more than 66 million hectares (163 million acres) by November 2016.

Read original at Indonesia Environment Minister Wants Permanent Ban on Licenses to Use Forest Land

  Sunday, July 23

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.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mexico Launches Scheme to Insure Its Coral Reef

A coral canyon in the Yutican Peninsula, Mexico. (Credit: Darrell/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A stretch of coral reef off Mexico is the testing ground for a new idea that could protect fragile environments around the world:  insurance.

The reef, off the coast of Cancún, is the first to be protected under an insurance scheme by which the premiums will be paid by local hotels and government, and money to pay for the repair of the reef will be released if a storm strikes.

Coral reefs offer a valuable buffer against storm damage from waves but their condition has deteriorated in recent years, the result of human exploitation and destruction of the reefs, as well as climate change, plastic waste, and the acidification of the oceans.

Under the Cancún insurance policy, pioneered by the insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, a U.S. environmental charity, local organisations dependent on tourism will pay in to a collective pot likely to amount to between $1 million (£770,000) and $7.5 million for the insurance premiums on the policy, and a 40 mile (60km) stretch of reef and connected beach will be monitored.  If any destructive storms damage the reef system, the insurer will pay out sums likely to be $25m to $70m in any given year.

Any payouts will be used for restoration of the reef, for instance by building artificial structures that can increase the height of the reef in case of storm damage.

Corals from the reef can be removed and rested for a period of weeks or months, to help them regrow, at which point they can be safely reattached to their native habitat to regenerate the growth of the reef system.

The advantages of such restoration go far beyond the hotels that border the seafront.  As well as providing a natural brake against destructive storms, coral reefs provide nurseries for fish when they are growing, and form a vital part of the marine ecosystem.  Their health or decline is seen as one of the key indicators of the state of the natural environment globally.

The Cancún scheme, which is to be run by Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, with backing from the Mexican government, is thought to be one of the first in the world to tie environmental benefits and the “eco-system services” provided by natural environmental features to firm monetary costs and rewards.  It could provide a model for similar projects in the future, linking the protection and preservation of the environment to payouts in case of disaster.

Read more at Mexico Launches Scheme to Insure Its Coral Reef

L.A. Metro Wants to Spend $138 Million on Electric Buses.  The Goal:  An Emission-Free Fleet by 2030

Passengers wait to board the Metro Orange Line, which will be one of two routes that will use the agency's first electric vehicles. (Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times) Click to Enlarge.
Southern California’s biggest transit agency retired its last diesel bus six years ago, capping a 15-year process to replace tailpipes that belched black smoke with quieter, cleaner engines powered by natural gas.

Now, Los Angeles County transportation leaders are working toward a bolder goal:  buses that don’t pollute at all.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has begun to plan how to eliminate emissions from its fleet by 2030, a move that will require buying more than 2,300 buses that run on electric batteries or another form of zero-emission power, such as hydrogen.

Metro’s ambitious goal, at a time when no other major U.S. transit agency owns more than a handful of battery-powered buses, would make Los Angeles a proving ground for a relatively untested technology.

But the 2030 benchmark has prompted some questions from critics about how much Metro should spend on electric buses while the technology is still new and expensive.  Supporters have said the agency’s investment could help a budding industry that pledges significant air-quality benefits.

“We have two choices,” said Metro chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who introduced the 2030 goal.  “We can wait for others, and follow, at the expense of residents’ health — or lead and innovate, and reduce emissions as quickly as possible.  I’d much rather do the latter.”

Next week, Metro’s directors are expected to approve the first steps toward electrifying the bus fleet.  The board will consider a $138-million proposal to buy 95 electric buses for two lines and to install the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.

Read more at L.A. Metro Wants to Spend $138 Million on Electric Buses.  The Goal:  An Emission-Free Fleet by 2030

Climate Change Is Killing Us Right Now

The most obvious effect of global warming is not a doomsday scenario.   Extreme heat is happening today, and wreaking havoc on vulnerable bodies.


Pouring water on child's head (Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
“For heat waves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” Camilo Mora, a geography professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa, told CNN last month. Mora was the lead author of a recent study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showing that deadly heat days are expected to increase across the world. Around 30 percent of the world’s population today is exposed to so-called “lethal heat” conditions for at least 20 days a year.  If we don’t reduce fossil-fuel emissions, the percentage will skyrocket to 74 percent by the year 2100.  Put another way, by the end of the century nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s population will face a high risk of dying from heat exposure for more than three weeks every year.

This is the worst-case scenario.  Even the study’s best-case scenario—a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases across the world—shows that 48 percent of humanity will be exposed regularly to deadly heat by the year 2100.  That’s because even small increases in temperature can have a devastating impact.  A study published in Science Advances in June, for instance, found that an increase of less than one degree Fahrenheit in India between 1960 and 2009 increased the probability of mass heat-related deaths by nearly 150 percent. 

And make no mistake:  Temperatures are rising, in multiple ways.  “We’ve got a new normal,” said Howard Frumkin, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.  “I think all of the studies of trends to date show that we’re having more extreme heat, and we’ve having higher average temperatures.  Superimposed on that, we’re seeing more short-term periods of extreme heat.  Those are two different trends, and they’re both moving in the wrong direction.”  Based on those trends, the U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts “an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths in the summer ... each year as a result of climate change by the end of the century.” And that’s along with the deaths we’ve already seen:  In 2015 Scientific American noted that nine out of the ten deadliest heat waves ever have occurred since 2000; together, they’ve killed 128,885 people.

In other words, to understand how global warming wreaks havoc on the human body, we don’t need to be transported to some imagined dystopia.  Extreme heat isn’t a doomsday scenario but an existing, deadly phenomenon—and it’s getting worse by the day.  The question is whether we’ll act and adapt, thereby saving countless lives.

Read more at Climate Change Is Killing Us Right Now

Are We Ready for a ‘Managed Retreat’ from the Coasts — and from the Forests?

As climate change advances, BC’s Lower Mainland is likely to find itself between the devil and the deepening blue sea. (Photo Credit: BC Wildfire Service) Click to Enlarge.
Rising sea levels threaten the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of millions around the world.  The public has barely registered what this means, but climate scientists have been thinking about it for years.  ...

The scientists have considered various options.  One is to stand our ground, building walls high and thick enough to hold off the rising seas.  Just recently, we’ve learned how the Romans built sea walls with concrete that’s lasted for 2,000 years.

It’s an attractive technological solution because we love to live near the sea, and we have whole cities that could soon be under water.  The cost of losing them would be in the multi-trillions, and the walls would cost only multi-billions.

But a more realistic idea is called “managed retreat,” when communities at risk of submergence simply move to higher ground — like a tsunami alarm in slow motion.

Well, it’s realistic if both governments and coastal residents think it is.  A recent study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, gives us a sense of what would be involved.

After studying cases around the world that have resettled over a million people, the researchers found that a lot depends on who wants the resettlement.  If the government wants it and the residents don’t, trouble will follow.  But if the residents want to move and the government agrees, everyone benefits.

This model works fine if you’re dealing with a small Alaskan island or a patch of Dutch farmland.  It doesn’t work so well if the sea is threatening some very expensive real estate, like Vancouver’s.  A 2016 study looks at climate change adaptation in Manila, Lagos, and Vancouver.  All three cities are susceptible to both rising sea level and serious storm surges.

In Vancouver, we’re especially at risk along the shores of the North Arm of the Fraser, False Creek, and the harbor itself.  No one wants to write off the billions invested in those neighborhoods.

Read more at Are We Ready for a ‘Managed Retreat’ from the Coasts — and from the Forests?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Planet Is Warming.  And It's Okay to Be Afraid

Climate warriors from around the world, like those facing rising seas in the Pacific islands, have turned the fear of lost homes and future devastation into the courage to confront the most powerful industries on the planet. (Image Credit: 350.org/Medium) Click to Enlarge.
Last Week, David Wallace-Wells wrote a cover story for of New York Magazine, "The Uninhabitable Earth," on some of the worst-case scenarios that the climate crisis could cause by the end of this century.  It describes killer heat waves, crippling agricultural failures, devastated economies, plagues, resource wars, and more.  It has been read more than two million times.

The article has caused a major controversy in the climate community, in part because of some factual errors in the piece—though by and large the piece is an accurate portrayal of worst-case climate catastrophe scenarios.  But by far the most significant criticism the piece received was that it was too frightening.

"Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it," wrote  Michael Mann, Susan Joy Hassol, and Tom Toles at the Washington Post.

Erich Holthaus tweeted about the consequences of the piece:
"A widely-read piece like this that is not suitably grounded in fact may provoke unnecessary panic and anxiety among readers."

"And that has real-world consequences.  My twitter feed has been filled w people who, after reading DWW's piece, have felt deep anxiety."

"There are people who say they are now considering not having kids, partly because of this.  People are losing sleep, reevaluating their lives."
While I think both Mann and Holthaus are brilliant scientists who identified some factual problems in the article, I strongly disagree with their statements about the role of emotions—namely, fear—in climate communications and politics.  I am also skeptical of whether climate scientists should be treated as national arbiters of psychological or political questions, in general.  I would like to offer my thoughts as a clinical psychologist, and as the founder and director of The Climate Mobilization.

Affect tolerance—the ability to tolerate a wide range of feelings in oneself and others—is a critical psychological skill. On the other hand, affect phobia—the fear of certain feelings in oneself or others—is a major psychological problem, as it causes people to rely heavily on psychological defenses.

Much of the climate movement seems to suffer from affect phobia, which is probably not surprising given that scientific culture aspires to be purely rational, free of emotional influence. Further, the feelings involved in processing the climate crisis—fear, grief, anger, guilt, and helplessness—can be overwhelming.  But that doesn’t mean we should try to avoid "making" people feel such things.  Experiencing them is a normal, healthy, necessary part of coming to terms with the climate crisis.  I agree with David Roberts that it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story.  As I argued in a 2015 essay, The Transformative Power of Climate Truth, it's the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.

Read more at The Planet Is Warming.  And It's Okay to Be Afraid

Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf:  New Rift Detected

Where a trillion-ton iceberg calved last week, researchers have detected a new rift.  The concern is that the Larsen C ice shelf will destabilize and collapse, releasing glacial ice into the sea.
Aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C ice shelf (Credit: Reuters/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center) Click to Enlarge.

A new rift has been detected in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica - just a week after one of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke off from it.

Researchers at Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf and first detected the iceberg's calving, say the new rift appears to be extending northward.

They point out that although this new rift will probably turn toward the shelf edge, creating a small iceberg, there is a risk it will continue toward the Bawden Ice Rise, a point that is crucial to keeping the shelf stable.

"We see a new short feature of around 6 kilometers [3.7 miles] heading north from the complex region of cracks that formed just before the iceberg broke away," said Adrian Luckman, a professor of glaciology at Swansea University, who is leading the research at MIDAS.

Luckman says that researchers will continue to monitor the new rift, and that there is "no cause for concern" just yet.

Read more at Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf:  New Rift Detected

Coral Reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba May Survive Global Warming

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720100616.htm
Coral reefs in the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba can resist rising water temperatures.  If they survive local pollution, these corals may one day be used to re-seed parts of the world where reefs are dying. The scientists urge governments to protect the Gulf of Aqaba Reefs.

Coral reefs are dying on a massive scale around the world, and global warming is driving this extinction.  The planet's largest reef, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, is currently experiencing enormous coral bleaching for the second year in a row, while last year left only a third of its 2300-km ecosystem unbleached.  The demise of coral reefs heralds the loss of some of the planet's most diverse ecosystems.

Now, scientists at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and UNIL (Université de Lausanne) in Switzerland, and the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University and the InterUniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Israel, have shown that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Northern Red Sea are particularly resistant to the effects of global warming and ocean acidification.  The results were recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The implications are important, as the Gulf of Aqaba is a unique coral refuge.  The corals may provide the key to understanding the biological mechanism that leads to thermal resistance, or the weakness that underlies massive bleaching.  There is also the hope that the Gulf of Aqaba Reefs could be used to re-seed deteriorated reefs in the Red Sea and perhaps even around the world.

Coral Reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba May Survive Global Warming, New Study Finds

Heat Makes It Too Hot for Africa’s Wild Dogs to Hunt

African wild dog. (Credit: Josh More/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Rising temperatures are making it too hot for African wild dogs to hunt and the number of their pups that survive is plummeting, according to a new study.  The research is among the first to show a direct impact of increased heat on wildlife that appears well adapted to high temperatures.

There are only 7,000 African wild dogs left in the wild and they have lost 93 percent of their historic ranges to humans.  Research earlier in July suggested that a biological annihilation of wildlife in recent decades means a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is already under way.

African wild dogs leave their young pups in dens when they set off for their early morning and late evening hunts, avoiding the worst heat of the day.  The scientists found rising peak daily temperatures in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Botswana cut the time the dogs were active and the survival of the pups.

In Botswana, where the team had the longest records, they found the average number of pups surviving to a year old in each litter fell from 5.1 between 1989-2000 to 3.3 between 2001-2012, with temperatures rising 1.1°C between the two periods.  In Kenya, a 1C rise in the peak temperature cut yearlings by 31 percent and in Zimbabwe 14 percent.

“When people think about climate change affecting wildlife, they mostly think about polar bears,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Zoological Society of London and who led the new research published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.  “But wild dogs are adapted to the heat — surely they’d be fine?  So it is shocking and surprising that even right on the equator these effects are being seen.  It illustrates the global impact of climate change.”
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The dogs’ highly energetic lifestyles makes them susceptible to losses of food when it is too hot to hunt antelopes.  “Wild dogs live fast and die young,” said Woodroffe.  “They have these huge litters (of up to 14 pups) and then the mortality is quite high.

“If you are an animal who makes your living by running around really fast, obviously you are going to get hot.  But there are not enough hours in the day any more that are cool enough to do that.  This is something which is genuinely suppressing population size.”

Other new research also warns of the consequences of global warming for animals normally tolerant of heat.  Aardvarks in the Kalahari desert, usually nocturnal and burrowing animals, died of starvation during a particularly arid spell, with scientists concluding:  “With climate change predicted to increase the frequency and duration of droughts, aardvarks may be (eliminated) from much of their current range.”

Another new study has shown that the African wild dog is far from alone in losing more than 90 percent of their historic ranges.  The Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion and cheetah have all suffered the same fate, with scientists saying reintroductions are essential to ensure their survival.

Read more at Heat Makes It Too Hot for Africa’s Wild Dogs to Hunt

Here’s How Much Arctic Sea Ice Has Melted Since the ‘80s

Current Arctic sea ice area compared to the averages from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Sea ice level in mid-July is already below the annual low of the 1980s. (Credit: Zack Labe/JAXA) Click to Enlarge.
Arctic sea ice has been melting at a steady clip this summer as it heads toward its annual low point. But a new chart shows that with nearly two months still left in the melt season, sea ice area is already below what would have been a yearly low in the 1980s.

The comparison shows the clear long-term decline of Arctic sea ice fueled by the global rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases.  The dramatic shrinkage of sea ice over the past few decades is driving major changes, from the loss of crucial Arctic habitat to the potential influence of weather patterns around the world.

The graph, put together by Zack Labe, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, shows the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice right now and compares it to the averages throughout the melt seasons of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.  It is clear that with about 50 days of the melt season still to go, sea ice area is already below the point where it would have bottomed out for any year in the 1980s.

“It really shows that we’re in a very different Arctic,” Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said.

Arctic sea ice reflects incoming solar rays back to space, helping to regulate the planet’s temperature.  But as human activities have released more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the ensuing warming has caused ice to melt.  That melt means more of the ocean is open and absorbs solar energy, raising temperatures more and driving more melt in a vicious cycle.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, and the accompanying ice loss means that walruses and polar bears are losing critical habitat, more of the fragile local ecosystem is being opened up to shipping, and waves from storms can more easily batter coastal settlements.  The reduced amount of sea ice may also be causing heat to be released into the atmosphere that is altering wind patterns and weather over the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Read more at Here’s How Much Arctic Sea Ice Has Melted Since the ‘80s

Mountain Glaciers Recharge Vital Aquifers

Mountain glaciers may play a more important role in drier areas than previously thought.

UAF researcher Anna Liljedahl puts up a wind shield around a rain gauge she installed on Jarvis Glacier. (Credit: UAF photo by Todd Paris) Click to Enlarge.
Small mountain glaciers play a big role in recharging vital aquifers and in keeping rivers flowing during the winter, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The study also suggests that the accelerated melting of mountain glaciers in recent decades may explain a phenomenon that has long puzzled scientists -- why Arctic and sub-Arctic rivers have increased their water flow during the winter even without a correlative increase in rain or snowfall.

"I think that mountain glaciers in the Arctic and sub-Arctic have really been underappreciated as a source of water to the landscape," said Anna Liljedahl, the lead author and an associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Water and Environmental Research Center.

Read more at Mountain Glaciers Recharge Vital Aquifers

Friday, July 21, 2017

  Friday, July 21

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.

Coal Has No Future, Says US Railroad Boss

CSX Will Not Buy Locomotives to Haul the Fuel Despite Trump Pledge to Revive Industry.


Meeting an empties train at Corwith (state line between Maryland and West Virginia) (Credit: trainboard.com) Click to Enlarge.
One of the largest haulers of US coal says fossil fuels have no future, despite pledges to the contrary from President Donald Trump.

CSX, a freight railroad company with origins in the bituminous coal seams of Appalachia, will not buy a single new locomotive to pull coal trains, chief executive Hunter Harrison told analysts on Wednesday.

“Fossil fuels are dead,” Mr Harrison said.  “That’s a long-term view.  It’s not going to happen overnight.  It’s not going to be in two or three years.  But it’s going away, in my view.” 

His comments come as the White House aims to revive the American coal industry by rescinding environmental regulations and abandoning the Paris climate agreement.  Mr Trump surrounded himself with coal miners earlier this year when he signed an executive order he said was “putting an end to the war on coal”. 

Yet US power generators are building more plants fuelled by cheap natural gas, displacing old coal-fired units.  Falling costs for solar and wind energy have also eaten into coal’s market share. 

North American railroads have reshaped their asset holdings in acknowledgment that coal’s apex has passed.

Lance Fritz, chief executive of the Union Pacific railroad, said in a recent interview that Mr Trump’s move to scrap Clean Power Plan regulations was unlikely to grow its coal business. “It takes away a headwind," he said.

Nearly a fifth, or $530m, of CSX’s $2.9bn of second-quarter revenue came from coal, a 27 per cent rise from the same period a year before.  In the second quarter of 2011, CSX coal revenue totaled nearly $1bn.

CSX’s rise in coal volumes derived from 8.2m tonnes of exports.  Deliveries of coal to US utilities declined year on year to 11m tonnes.  Despite long-term trends, Mr Harrison reiterated his support for the business.  “The last carload of coal that’s shipped out of this country, I want to be the carrier that ships it,” he said.

Read more at Coal Has No Future, Says US Railroad Boss (Financial Times[$])