Climate clippings 11

These posts include a brief mention of a number of news items relating to climate change. They don’t preclude treating any of these topics at more length in a separate post.

They can also serve as an open thread so that we can keep each other informed on important climate news.

The world’s reefs are in serious danger

Last December Charlie Veron said:

Reefs are the ocean’s canaries and we must hear their call. This call is not just for themselves, for the other great ecosystems of the ocean stand behind reefs like a row of dominoes. If coral reefs fail, the rest will follow in rapid succession, and the Sixth Mass Extinction will be upon us — and will be of our making.

Now at Climate Progress we are told that the current season looks like the second worst on record. This is how the Australian sea surface temperature has been going;

Australian sea surface temperature

Looks inexorable.

If ocean temperatures and ocean acidity continue to rise in Australian waters at the same pace as has occurred over the past 100 years, the Great Barrier Reef will be in significant danger by 2050.

See also Skeptical Science.

“Unstoppable effects” of climate change will last for 1,000 years

New research indicates

the impact of rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects to the climate for at least the next 1000 years, causing researchers to estimate a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet by the year 3000, and an eventual rise in the global sea level of at least four metres.

It is based on best-case, ‘zero-emissions’ scenarios constructed by a team of researchers from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis (an Environment Canada research lab at the University of Victoria) and the University of Calgary.

Creeping tide set to drown our coast

That’s according to according to Professor John Cole of the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Sustainable Business and Development.

He says a federal government report released just before Christmas points to rising sea levels and severe cyclones and tidal surges continuing to pound Queensland, threatening the economic prosperity and beach culture of many communities.

The report, Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coast, prepared by a panel of scientists, provides the first national assessment of the threats from rising sea levels.

Erosion from rising sea levels poses a threat to beaches at the heart of the tourism industry, which directly or indirectly employs 220,000 Queenslanders and injects $9.2 billion a year into the economy.

Actually, the report has been around for a while, but in case you missed it:

Up to $63 billion worth of residential property faces inundation, as well as 120 ports, some airports – including Brisbane and Sydney – and 1,800 bridges.

Greenland tipping point approaches

There are various processes in train in the melting and decay of the Greenland ice sheet, which all appear to be accelerating. If we keep to our current course, and that means implementing agreements made at Cancún, ice dynamics could take over after reaching a tipping point in about 30 years.

After that nothing will prevent the ice cap from eventually vanishing entirely.

How to fix global warming

Joe Romm at Climate Progress has had a new look at how to stabilise at 350 to 450ppm. Looks more like 450ppm to me.

Humanity has only two paths forward at this point. Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030.

If we take the first option we save our progeny a lot of grief.

He’s identified 12-14 wedges we need to implement over the next four decades starting ASAP.

We need to peak around 2020, then drop at least 60% by 2050… and then go to near zero net carbon emissions by 2100.

You won’t be surprised if I tell you that it’s too little too late.

Let’s drill the Arctic

Yesterday, Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) said that the rapid warming of the Arctic because of oil pollution means that more Arctic drilling should commence.

Begich was responding to the presidential oil spill commission’s report, which recommended new drilling around Alaska, subject to stronger standards. The Democratic senator from the state most changed by global warming pollution used the commission’s report to emphasize his desire for more “Arctic development“.

Climate change footprint in Australia

Climate change may be implicated in Australia’s flooding:

Climate change may be partly responsible for the intensity of the floods inundating the eastern Australian city of Brisbane, scientists say.

Climate change has likely intensified the monsoon rains that have triggered record floods in Australia’s Queensland state, scientists said on Wednesday, with several months of heavy rain and storms still to come.

NOAA ranks 2010 as equal hottest

Not only the equal hottest, but also wettest:

Precipitation globally was one area that was not lacking in 2010. The year ranked as the wettest on record since 1900 far exceeding the 1961 – 1900 average.

On a smaller scale, Central America, parts of Australia, southwestern China, east Asia, Borneo and much of India were the wettest regions. Drought however was widespread in northwestern Canada, parts of Peru and Brazil, as well as the Hawaiian Islands.

Snow in winter!

Surprise, surprise! It snows in winter.

22 thoughts on “Climate clippings 11”

  1. I only jsut found out that the Fifth Assessment Report’s low scenario will be 490 ppm. well they’re doing it differently, calculated by radiative forcing instead, but peaking at ~3W/m2, but that’s equivalent to 490. Other scenarios considered are 4.5W stabilisation (equiv 650 ppm), 6W (equiv 850 ppm) and >8.5W m-1 in 2100, equivalent to > 1370 ppm CO2 equiv in 2100

    See Moss et al, nature463:747-756 doi:10.1038/nature08823

  2. Weather i have come to understand is a chaotic system in which events have a lower or higher probability of occurring. Flooding events in Brisbane have occurred before as everyone now knows, notably in 1974. Without the Brisbane dams built subsequently would we have had the 1/100 year flood? Has anyone done the maths? But with the scale of events in Sri Lanka, Brazil and other places, combined, i think few in Brisbane would dismiss the likelihood of warming making the intensity worse. Insurers calculate the increased intensity of a storm corresponds to an exponential increase in damage.
    Dr Karoly in tv interviews attributed the rise in sea temperatures to global warming. This would seem to make sense and is conformity with what other professional climate scientists have said on the topic. Likewise we hardly need more tests to establish that warmer air holds and then release more water, more quickly. Its the intensity of release that can be most damaging to human life it seems. This as far as I know has been known for more than a hundred years. So how come we have Neville Nicholls, saying there is no credible argument saying warming would make things worse. Is he some politically motivated ultra conservative denier or is there some basic physics/chemistry and maths that i am missing? What more ‘tests’ would satisfy him?

    “It’s a natural phenomena. We have no strong reason at the moment for saying this La Nina is any stronger than it would be even without humans,” said Neville Nicholls of Monash University in Melbourne and president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.

    But he said global atmospheric warming of about 0.75C over the past half century had to be having some impact.

    “It has to be affecting the climate, regionally and globally. It has to be affecting things like La Nina. But can you find a credible argument which says it’s made it worse? I can’t at the moment.”

  3. Mystified, no probs, good comment. Not sure I can add anything. This thread is meant to double as an open thread on climate so this is the right place.

  4. The following comes from New Scientist (copied because the link often limited to subscribers. Of particular interest was this bit

    From AD 250 to 550, the climate flipped, from one decade to the next, between dry and cool, and warm and wet. “Such decadal changes seem to have the most impact” on civilisations, Büntgen says, because they harm agriculture but are not prolonged enough for people to adapt their behaviour.

    Could be the future story of Australia unless we realize that we have to adapt to increasing variation?

    Fall of Roman Empire linked to wild shifts in climate

    19:00 13 January 2011 by Michael Marshall
    For similar stories, visit the Climate Change Topic Guide

    Centuries of unpredictable climate may have been partly to blame for the fall of the western Roman Empire. A detailed record of 2500 years of European climate has uncovered several links between changing climate and the rise and fall of civilisations.

    Climate fluctuation was a contributing factor alongside political failures and barbarian invasions, says Ulf Büntgen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research in Birmensdorf, Switzerland, who led the project.

    Büntgen used tree rings to build up a history of European climate. Using nearly 9000 samples from oak, pine and larch, Büntgen and colleagues were able to reconstruct how temperatures and rainfall in western Europe changed over the last 2500 years.
    Climate flips and Black Death

    From AD 250 to 550, the climate flipped, from one decade to the next, between dry and cool, and warm and wet. “Such decadal changes seem to have the most impact” on civilisations, Büntgen says, because they harm agriculture but are not prolonged enough for people to adapt their behaviour.

    The climatic turmoil coincided with political upheaval and waves of human migrations. By AD 500, the western Roman Empire had fallen.

    In other notable periods, the relatively stable medieval society was characterised by more constant climatic conditions. But the Black Death coincided with a wet spell and the disease spreads faster in humid conditions
    Cold wars

    “Relatively modest changes in European climate in the past have had profound implications for society,” says Michael Mann of Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.

    Other studies have shown how war and climate are often intimately linked. For example, periods of unusually cold weather in China during the last millennium preceded 12 of the 15 major bouts of warfare.

    That said, it is difficult to draw conclusions for the present day from studies like Büntgen’s. As Halvard Buhaug of the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway points out: “Modern societies are not nearly as dependent on the climate, because trade and technology can mitigate its effects.”

    Whether or not African civil wars today can be linked to modern climate change is the subject of intense debate.
    Huge sample size

    Büntgen and his colleagues used over 7284 oak tree samples from low-lying areas of France and Germany to obtain a record of spring rainfall, and 1089 Stone pines samples and 457 larches samples from high in the Austrian Alps to determine summer temperatures.

    Others, including Mann, have used similar methods to put together detailed reconstructions of global temperatures during the last 1000 years. Going back 2500 years is “a very substantial contribution,” says Mann.

    Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1197175

    In many ways the risk of conflict is the thing I fear will affect us first.

  5. From the Daily Fail of all places …

    The sun over Greenland has risen two days early, baffling scientists and sparking fears that Arctic icecaps are melting faster than previously thought.

    Experts say the sun should have risen over the Arctic nation’s most westerly town, Ilulissat, yesterday, ending a month-and-a-half of winter darkness.

    But for the first time in history light began creeping over the horizon at around 1pm on Tuesday – 48 hours ahead of the usual date of 13 January.

    The mysterious sunrise has confused scientists, although it is believed the most likely explanation is that it is down to the lower height of melting icecaps allowing the sun’s light to penetrate through earlier.

    Thomas Posch, of the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Vienna, said that a local change of the horizon was ‘by far the most obvious explanation’.
    He said as the ice sinks, so to does the horizon, creating the illusion that the sun has risen early.
    {My emphasis which some of The Fail‘s readers missed in venting their denier spleen}

  6. I’d caution against reading the Daily Fail’s letters column. It’s the equivalent of The Blot over here.

    As the saying goes: the stupid, it burns.

    For those feeling like reading something in this vein here’s one I clipped which touches many of the bases:

    I am becoming increasingly sick of this climate change drivel. Perhaps some bearded twit from the sandal brigade can tell me why the ice age occured 3 times in not to distant history? Was it because some Trogladyte left his fridge door open, or burned too much wood on his camp fire? Or could it be because the world is a constantly changing planet, with cycles of peaks and troughs in temperature, dependent upon the suns cycle as well? Or is that too simple to grasp and doesn’t attract taxes?? – Stuart, Birmingham, 14/1/2011 18:32

    That Trog you are talking about was my GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGreat Grandfather & he couldn’t help it because the fridge was made in Taiwan & had a dodgy hinge! There makes as much sense as a sandal weaving, tofu sniffing, bearded, liberal prat!

  7. The secondary purpose of these threads is as an open thread on climate change, so thanks for the links, Fran, and john D @ 6.

  8. Fran; The argument in your link is a bit iffy. The methane generated by ruminants and things like rice growing is part of a natural cycle that sees the carbon in the methane cycling back to cattle feed. Sure it would help if the amount tied up in the cycle was reduced but it is not correct to talk about it as some equivalent to adding fossil carbon to the atmosphere.

    I am all in favour to changes in the diet that allow us to produce food with less environmental impact. As your article points out our protein consumption is well above the daily requirement. Part of the problem is that Australians use meat as flavouring. New recipes and better use of spices are part of the solution. The other problem is that we often seem to be presented with demands to go to a non-meat diet. More progress might be made if more emphasis was put on low meat.

  9. John D

    I’d urge you to read the whole article. While CH4 is certainly an important factor, there’s a lot more in the footprint than that. Also, the numbers of livestock count, especially when one takes land-clearance into account.

    The other problem is that we often seem to be presented with demands to go to a non-meat diet. More progress might be made if more emphasis was put on low meat.

    Well there are a variety of approaches, from “meat free days” to abstinence. I’m an ovo-lacto vegetarian so I’m not claiming the extreme ground here. I’m not opposed to meat if it can be raised sustainably and in ways that are not demonstrably cruel. I’ve posted on places where this has been done.

    Overall though, I suspect that it needs in practice to be one of those occasional foods rather than a staple. Today, with gluten and bean curd you can pretty much make foods that taste and seem like meat at a tiny fraction of the ecological footprint and zero sensate animal suffering.

  10. John D makes good point – sustainably produced and cruelty free meat won’t ever be acceptable to an animal liberationist so why link the ethical considerations to appeals to change the diet based on GHG enmissions?
    Methane from cattle can be reduced by 50% by feed additives – see recent links provided by Brian and as John D notes methane is part of a sustainable cycle.

    When GHGs are taxed red meat production will evolve to being a boutique business and consumption will necessarily be a luxury.Cattle raising is a poor business based on return on equity (even at current prices) and won’t survive at a large scale for much longer.

    As an alternative source of protein I always wonder why tissue culture propagation is rarely mentioned. The link Fran has above suggest insect eating but as the thread mentions has it’s own problems of monoculture disease vulnerability.

  11. Oh and “ovo-lacto vegetarian” is really like having a bob each way isn’t it?
    Dairy production is not in any of it’s manifestations a production without terrible conditions for the animals involved.

  12. MtS said:

    sustainably produced and cruelty free meat won’t ever be acceptable to an animal liberationist

    Well it’s OK by me and I’d certainly count myself a fellow traveller of the movement. I daresay that the vast majority of those favouring the humane treatement of animals would be OK with it and the minority that wouldn’t could please themselves. Nobody has to eat meat after all.

    Methane from cattle can be reduced by 50% by feed additives – see recent links provided by Brian and as John D notes methane is part of a sustainable cycle.

    That’s expressly challenged in Geoff’s article, and is 50% enough anyway? I’d say not. In any event, you could reduce the CH4 from livestock by 90% by reducing livestock numbers by 90%. Revegetate much of that land or other land growing animal feed with something apt and you’re way up on the deal.

    As an alternative source of protein I always wonder why tissue culture propagation is rarely mentioned.

    I don’t know either.

    Oh and “ovo-lacto vegetarian” is really like having a bob each way isn’t it? Dairy production is not in any of it’s manifestations a production without terrible conditions for the animals involved.

    Not really. I’m not fostering industrial scale cruelty to cattle in meat and dairy production, but I do accept that even the places I buy my dairy from aren’t summer camps for milking cows. My plan is to be off dairy completely over the next six months. The family currently consumes about 1.5 litres of milk each week (mostly in tea) the rest is No2 son, and about 250g of rennet-free cheese each fortnight. We eat certified free range, organic eggs.

  13. murph @ 14, there was a Qld govt report recently, maybe 2009, that found the Qld beef industry with the current vegetation laws to be carbon neutral, including the associated services and infrastructure.

    I don’t have time to look it up right now.

  14. Well it is all a question of balance within the Carbon cycle Fran.
    Thanks for the reminder of the Qld govt study Brian , I do remember it and yes Fran I also see that the site you linked too attempts to discredit it.
    They don’t have any agenda beyond a rigorous and dispassionate understanding do they?
    You say AL and I say MLA.
    Lets agree that the investigations should continue.
    The point about the additives Brian linked to was that they were novel and weren’t listed on Geoff’s site.And they will be complemented by further research.

  15. Fran @13: I read most of the article. Certainly enough to understand that that the authors greenhouse balance was counting the methane emitted by the burping cows but not counting the methane oxidizing to CO2 nor the CO2 moving from the atmosphere to generate new cow feed. It is completely different from burning fossil fuel with none of the fossil carbon released into the atmosphere being refossilized.
    Sure you can change the atmospheric composition by changing the vegetation mix, changing meat consumption, ruminant replacement with kangaroos, etc. However, you need to do the whole mass balance to decide if these things are worth doing, not just the bit that makes your case overwhelming.
    My observation of injured worms and arthropods suggests that they are at least doing a very good imitation of feeling pain. My inclination would be to include them in any tally of the sensate animal suffering that is an essential feature of modern crop growing.

  16. John D @ 12, don’t forget that a lot of the methane from ruminants is ultimately derived from oil (fertiliser, fuel for agricultural plant, etc).

    Well, I still eat meat too, but we all should be more mindful of the effects of our diet on the environment.

  17. Some one on recently pointed out that the increased use of LNG is a serious environmental hazard simply from the accumulated gas leaks throughout the distribution system. Leaking methane (LNG) wipes out the CO2 emission gains from the use of the gas against other fuels.

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