January 29, 2012

Abrupt Change, Tipping Points and Past and Future Climate

Climate Change Research Centre: Climate Science 2009

Abrupt Change and Tipping Points

  • There are several elements in the climate system that could pass a tipping point this century due to human activities, leading to abrupt and/or irreversible change.
  • 1°C global warming (above 1980-1999) carries moderately significant risks of passing large-scale tipping points, and 3°C global warming would give substantial or severe risks. …

(p 40)

Lessons from the Past

  • The reconstruction of past climate reveals that the recent warming observed in the Arctic, and in the Northern Hemisphere in general, are anomalous in the context of natural climate variability over the last 2000 years.
  • New ice-core records confirm the importance of greenhouse gases for past temperatures on Earth, and show that CO2 levels are higher now than they have ever been during the last 800,000 years. …

[Recent] Arctic warming is without precedent in at least 2000 years reversing a long-term millennial-scale cooling trend caused by astronomical forcing (ie orbital cycles).

Figure 20
Blue line: estimates of Arctic air temperatures over the last 2,000 years based on proxy records from lake sediments, ice cores and tree rings.
[Green line:] best fit long-term cooling trend for the period ending 1900.
[Red line:] recent warming based on actual observations.
(Science, modified by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research)
(pp 43-4)

The Future

  • Global mean air-temperature is projected to warm 2-7°C above pre-industrial by 2100. …
  • There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2°C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly by 2020.
  • Warming rates will accelerate if positive carbon feedbacks significantly diminish the efficiency of the land and ocean to absorb our CO2 emissions.
  • Many indicators are currently tracking near or above the worst case projections from the IPCC AR4 set of model simulations. …

(p 49)

Ice and Ocean

Climate Change Research Centre: Climate Science 2009

Rapid Arctic sea-ice decline:
Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models.
The area of summertime sea-ice during 2007-2009 was about 40% less than the average prediction from IPCC AR4 climate models.

Current sea-level rise underestimated:
Satellites show recent global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years) to be ~80% above past IPCC predictions.
This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets.

Glaciers and Ice-Caps

  • There is widespread evidence of increased melting of glaciers and ice-caps since the mid-1990s.
  • The contribution of glaciers and ice-caps to global sea-level has increased from 0.8 millimeters per year in the 1990s to be 1.2 millimeters per year today.
  • The adjustment of glaciers and ice caps to [the] present climate … is expected to raise sea level by ~18 centimeters [and under] warming conditions … as much as ~55 centimeters by 2100.

(p 23)

Ice-Sheets of Greenland and Antarctica

  • The surface area of the Greenland ice sheet which experiences summer melt has increased by 30% since 1979, consistent with warming air temperatures.
    Melt covered 50% of the ice sheet during the record season in 2007.
  • The net loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated since the mid-1990s and is now contributing as much as 0.7 millimeters per year to sea level rise due to both increased melting and accelerated ice flow.
  • Antarctica is also losing ice mass at an increasing rate, mostly from the West Antarctic ice sheet due to increased ice flow.

(p 24)

Ice Shelves

  • Ice-shelves connect continental ice-sheets to the ocean.
    Destabilization of ice-shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula has been widespread with 7 collapses over the past 20 years.
  • Signs of ice shelf weakening have been observed elsewhere than in the Antarctic Peninsula, eg in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas, indicating a more widespread influence of atmospheric and oceanic warming than previously thought.
  • There is a strong influence of ocean warming on ice sheet stability and mass balance via the melting of ice-shelves.

(p 27)


  • The observed summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has far exceeded the worst-case projections from climate models of IPCC AR4.
  • The warming commitment associated with existing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels means it is very likely that in the coming decades the summer Arctic Ocean will become ice-free …
  • Satellite observations show a small increase of Antarctic sea-ice extent and changes to seasonality, although there is considerable regional variability. …

(p 29)

The Oceans

  • Estimates of ocean heat uptake have converged and are found to be 50% higher than previous calculations.
  • Global ocean surface temperature reached the warmest ever recorded for each of June, July and August 2009.
  • Ocean acidification and ocean de-oxygenation have been identified as potentially devastating for large parts of the marine ecosystem.

(p 35)

Global Sea Level

  • Satellite measurements show sea-level is rising at 3.4 millimeters per year since these records began in 1993.
    This is 80% faster than the best estimate of the IPCC Third Assessment Report for the same time period.
    [The 2007 IPCC report projected essentially the same sea level rise as those of the TAR, to within 10%.]
  • Accounting for ice-sheet mass loss, sea-level rise until 2100 is likely to be at least twice as large as that presented by IPCC AR4, with an upper limit of ~2m based on new ice-sheet understanding.

(p 37)

Land and Atmosphere

Climate Change Research Centre: Climate Science 2009

Greenhouse Gases and the Carbon Cycle

  • Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel burning in 2008 were 40% higher than those in 1990, with a three-fold acceleration over the past 18 years.
  • Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are tracking near the highest scenarios considered so far by the IPCC.

(p 9)

The Atmosphere

  • Global air temperature, humidity and rainfall trend patterns exhibit a distinct fingerprint that cannot be explained by phenomena apart from increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.
  • Every year this century (2001-2008) has been among the top 10 warmest years since instrumental records began, despite solar irradiance being relatively weak over the past few years.
  • Global atmospheric temperatures maintain a strong warming trend since the 1970s (~0.6°C), consistent with expectations of greenhouse induced warming.

(p 11)

Extreme Events

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report concluded that many changes in extremes had been observed since the 1970s …
  • more frequent hot days, hot nights and heat waves;
  • fewer cold days, cold nights and frosts;
  • more frequent heavy precipitation events;
  • more intense and longer droughts over wider areas; and
  • an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic but no trend in total numbers of tropical cyclones.
(p 17)

Land Surface

  • Land cover change, particularly deforestation, can have a major impact on regional climate, but at the global scale its biggest impact comes from the CO2 released in the process. …
  • Carbon dioxide changes during the Little Ice Age indicate that warming may in turn lead to carbon release from land surfaces, a feedback that could amplify 21st century climate change.

(p 19)

Permafrost and Hydrates

  • New insights into the Northern Hemisphere permafrost (permanently frozen ground) suggest a large potential source of CO2 and CH4 that would amplify atmospheric concentrations if released.
  • A recent increase in global methane levels cannot yet be attributed to permafrost degradation.
  • A separate and significant source of methane exists as hydrates beneath the deep ocean floor and in permafrost. …

(p 21)

January 24, 2012

Naomi Oreskes

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Daniel Patrick Moynihan ( 1927–2003):
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

A Part of the Solution

My book Merchants of Doubt was an attempt to understand the explosive mix that has developed around the question of climate change, and the ways in which science and politics have collided in this domain.
One of the things I learned by working on that project was the danger of scientists’ attempts to resist the reality that science and politics are in this together.

[The] debate about climate change really is not a scientific debate; that is to say, it is not an argument among scientists about the facts of climate change …
[It is, in fact,] a political argument about the implications of climate change. …

The scientific recognition of … anthropogenic climate change has huge implications for … how we organize our economic system in the industrialized West.
So the problem begins with science because
  • it was scientists who recognized the potential of greenhouse gases and deforestation to change Earth’s climate;
  • it was scientists who first began to talk about it as a potential problem;
  • it was scientists who recognized the political consequences of climate change; and
  • it was even scientists who began to recognize the economic consequences as well.
(p 19)

But scientists were not prepared to grapple with all the economic, social, moral, ethical, and aesthetic implications, and so they left a kind of vacuum that has been filled by disinformation and obfuscation.
[And, however] much we might want science and politics to be separate, however much we might dream of a world in which they are separate, that is not the world that exists.

The most important thing that we can do moving forward is to find ways for scientists and people in politics, economics, and the arts to work together — to see this as a team project.
With different insights from these diverse domains, we can come together to solve this very profound problem.
(p 20)

We know something about why people are in denial about climate change.
We know where the contrarian movement comes from, and it is not because the science is uncertain; the [scientific evidence is] overwhelming. …

We do need to do research, but it is not more research on the details of the climate system.
We might want to do that because we want to understand the climate system as scientists, but in terms of addressing climate change, it is questions about energy and about policy that we need to be asking.
We know that a tax can be an effective policy instrument, but we don’t know the conditions under which people accept taxation. …

We have been confused about what it is that we need to do …
Scientists could stand up and say yes, … we want to understand the natural world better, but in terms of what we need now I believe there are more urgent things [to be done].
(p 23, emphasis added)

(Bulletin, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Spring 2014)

Part of the Problem

Robert Brulle: Sociologist, Drexel University

[The climate change countermovement] is fairly well funded.
What’s interesting is that in comparison to the environmental movement, it actually doesn’t have as much money.
The environmental movement actually has more funding, but it’s the nature of the spending that makes the difference.

When you look at what the environmental movement spends its money on, it actually tries to spend its money on developing solutions to climate change, such as developing a solar panel industry in China, making sure everybody in India has an appropriate solar oven to reduce CO2 emissions, things like that.
And they spend hardly anything on political or cultural processes.
The climate change countermovement spends all of its money there.

So you end up with this great difference between the two movements.
As one movement is actually out there trying to develop technological solutions on the ground, the other is engaged in political action to delay any kind of action. …

[As] the funding of climate countermovement organizations has become more politically controversial [we have seen] less and less attributable funding to these organizations and more anonymous giving through the Donors Trust or Donors Capital Foundation …
[So, for example,] if you want to protest what the Heartland [Institute] is doing and write their funders, you don’t know who they really are. …

[If] we’re going to have democracy and public accountability of our institutions, we need to at least identify who these funders are so that we can understand who is really funding the different [operatives] in the climate countermovement. …

{[We've seen a] shift from attributable funding to anonymous funding [which coincided] with the publicity that Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace brought to the Koch brothers’ funding and ExxonMobil funding …
Donors Capital and Donors Trust [insulate] the giver from any kind of political fallout from their giving …
Politically, it’s a very skillful strategy.}

[Exxon Mobil ceased overt] funding any climate countermovement organizations [in 2009.]
… The American Petroleum Institute at the same time started a grant program funding climate countermovement organizations.
Now, whether this is a coincidence or is not, I [wouldn't] want to speculate …

{[The] conservative movement in the United States [is an] extremely well-organized, focused, well-funded and ideologically consistent social movement. …
[The] general coordination and capacity is really quite extraordinary, and to be able to retain focus for this long of a period of time on clearly identified goals is very impressive.
There is no counterpart on the left …}
[The environmental movement is, in fact,] much more disparate and fragmented. …

[However,] not all of the activities of the climate countermovement take part through [libertarian free market] think tanks. …
[The] American Petroleum Institute [is spending] millions of dollars on advertising campaigns.
[On any given day] you’ll see two or three commercials extolling the virtues of increased energy production and using all of our energy resources to create American jobs.
[There is no actual mention of climate change.]
[Instead, they reframe the debate in terms of things] that all Americans would generally support [—] more economic growth and more jobs.
[It’s] a well-developed, focus group-tested approach to convince people that we really don’t want to mess with the [current] energy mix …

Plutocracy is government by the rich, and so you have a whole process here where [private] interests with large amounts of money [are secretly directing] public policy in accordance with their particular interest [at the expense of the rest of the population]. …
[By comparison, the environmental movement operates within the] allowable parameters of political action in our society, and so they are sort of constrained …

(Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement", background interview for Climate of Doubt, PBS Frontline, 30 September, 2012, emphasis added)

A New Dark Age: The Second Fall of Western Civilization

Historian of Science, Second People's Republic of China, 2373

In the prehistory of “civilization,” many societies rose and fell, but few left as clear and extensive an account of what happened to them and why as the twenty-first-century nation-states that referred to themselves as Western civilization [1540-2073].
Even today, two millennia after the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires and one millennium after the end of the Byzantine and Inca empires, historians, archaeologists, and synthetic-failure paleoanalysts have been unable to agree on the primary causes of those societies’ loss of population, power, stability, and identity.
The case of Western civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted. …
While analysts differ on the details, virtually all agree that the people of Western civilization knew what was happening to them but were unable to stop it. …
Indeed, the most [striking] aspect of this story is just [how little action these people took given how much] they knew.
(p 40-41)

In 2001, the IPCC had predicted that atmospheric CO2 would double by 2050.
In fact, that benchmark had been met by 2042.
Scientists had expected a mean global warming of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius; the actual figure was 3.9 degrees.
(p 46)

[In] the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2014, unprecedented heat waves scorched the planet, destroying food crops around the globe.
Panic ensued, with food riots in virtually every major city.
Mass migration of undernourished and dehydrated individuals, coupled with explosive increases in insect populations, led to widespread outbreaks of typhus, cholera, dengue fever, yellow fever, and [AIDS. …]

[Following the abortive attempt at geo-engineering in 2047] mean global temperature [rebounded] to nearly 5 degrees Celsius [above the pre-industrial average. …]

By 2050, Arctic summer ice was completely gone [and widespread and accelerating] thawing of Arctic permafrost [had ensued. …]
[The] estimated total carbon release from Arctic CH4 during the next decade may have reached over 1,000 gigatons, effectively doubling the total atmospheric carbon load.
This [resulted in] what is known as the Sagan effect [—] a strong positive feedback loop between warming and CH4 release.
Planetary temperature increased by an additional 6 degrees Celsius over the 5 degree rise that had already occurred.
(p 47)

The ultimate blow for Western civilization came in a development that … had long been discussed but [generally discounted] as a serious threat [—] at least in the twenty-first century.
Technically, what happened in West Antarctica was not, in fact, a collapse [but] more of a rapid disintegration. …
Over the [next 10 years] approximately 90 percent of the ice sheet broke apart, disintegrated, and melted, driving up sea level approximately three meters across most of the globe.
[And, subsequently, the breakup of the Greenland Ice Sheet added] another two meters to mean global sea level rise.

Analysts had predicted that a five-meter sea level rise would dislocate 10 percent of the global population [—] the reality was closer to 20 percent.
[It] is likely that 1.5 billion people were displaced around the globe …
[This dislocation] contributed to the Second Black Death, as a new strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis emerged in Europe and spread to Asia and North America.
[In addition,] 60 to 70 percent of [non-human] species were driven to extinction. …

Survivors’ accounts make clear that many thought the end of the human race was near …
[Many believed that,] had the Sagan effect continued, warming would not have stopped at 11 degrees.
However, when a key species of lichen evolved to use atmospheric CO2 more efficiently, this adaptation, coupled with a fortuitous shift in Earth’s orbit, reversed the warming trend.
Survivors in northern inland regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as inland and high altitude regions of South America, were able to begin to regroup and rebuild.
The human populations of Australia and Africa [— as every schoolchild knows —] were wiped out.
(p 48)

As the devastating effects of the Great Collapse began to appear, the nation-states with democratic governments — both parliamentary and republican — were at first unwilling and then unable to deal with the unfolding crisis.
As food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without the infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people. …
[And while] China had taken steps toward liberalization [it] still retained a strong, centralized government.
When sea level rise began to threaten coastal areas, China rapidly built new inland cities and villages and relocated more than 250 million people to higher, safer ground. …
The [Mass Migration that began in 2074] was not easy …
[For] many older citizens, as well as infants and young children [the transition proved to much …]
Nonetheless, survival rates exceeded 80 percent.

[The ultimate irony was that] China’s ability to weather disastrous climate change vindicated the necessity of centralized government, leading to the establishment of the Second People’s Republic of China and inspiring similar structures in other, [reconstituted] nations.
By blocking anticipatory action, neoliberals [not only exposed] the tragic flaws [of lassiez faire capitalism:] they fostered expansion of the very system of government that they most abhorred.

Today [in the 300th year since the Great Collapse,] we remain engaged in a vigorous intellectual discussion [as to whether —] now that the climate system has finally stabilized [— political] decentralization and redemocratization may [safely] be considered.
(p 53)

(Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 142:1, Winter 2013)

Would you like to know more?

January 23, 2012

Developments in the Science of Climate Change

Climate Council: Climate Science, Risks and Responses

Observations of changes in the climate system

  • The average air temperature at the Earth’s surface continues on an upward trajectory at a rate of 0.17 °C per decade over the past three decades.
  • The temperature of the upper 700 m of the ocean continues to increase, with most of the excess heat generated by the growing energy imbalance at the Earth’s surface stored in this compartment of the system.
  • Recent observations confirm net loss of ice from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets;
    the extent of Arctic sea ice cover continues on a long-term downward trend [and most] land-based glaciers and ice caps are in retreat.
  • The alkalinity of the ocean is decreasing steadily as a result of acidification by anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
  • Sea-level has risen at a higher rate over the past two decades, consistent with ocean warming and an increasing contribution from the large polar ice sheets.
  • The biosphere is responding in a consistent way to a warming Earth, with observed changes in gene pools, species ranges, timing of biological patterns and ecosystem dynamics.

(p 6)

Why is the climate system changing now?

  • There is no credible evidence that changes in incoming solar radiation can be the cause of the current warming trend.
  • Neither multi-decadal or century-scale patterns of natural variability, such as the Medieval Warm Period, nor shorter term patterns of variability, such as ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) or the North Atlantic Oscillation, can explain the globally coherent warming trend observed since the middle of the 20th century.
  • There is a very large body of internally consistent observations, experiments, analyses, and physical theory that points to the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide (CO2) the most important, as the ultimate cause for the observed warming.
  • Improved understanding of the sensitivity of the climate system to the increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration has provided further evidence of its role in the current warming trend, and provided more confidence in projections of the level of future warming.

(p 13)

How is the carbon cycle changing?

  • Despite the dip in human emissions of greenhouse gases in 2009 due to the Global Financial Crisis, emissions continue on a strong upward trend, on average tracking near the top of the family of IPCC emission scenarios.
  • Ocean and land carbon sinks, which together take up more than half of the human emissions of CO2, appear to be holding their proportional strengths compared to emissions, although some recent evidence questions this conclusion and suggests a loss of efficiency in these natural sinks over the past 60 years.
  • If global average temperature rises significantly above 2 °C (relative to pre-industrial), there is an increasing risk of large emissions from the terrestrial biosphere, the most likely source being methane stored in permafrost in the northern high latitudes.

(p 17)

How certain is our knowledge of climate change?

  • The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report has been intensively and exhaustively scrutinised and is virtually error-free.
  • The Earth is warming on a multi-decadal to century timescale, and at a very fast rate by geological standards. …
  • Human emissions of greenhouse gases — and CO2 is the most important of these gases — is the primary factor triggering observed climate change since at least the mid 20th century. …
  • Many uncertainties surround projections of the particular risks that climate change poses for human societies and natural and managed ecosystems, especially at smaller spatial scales.
    However, our current level of understanding provides some useful insights:
    1. some social, economic and environmental impacts are already observable from the current level of climate change;
    2. the number and magnitude of climate risks will rise as the climate warms further.

(p 19)

Risks Associated with a Changing Climate

Climate Council: Climate Science, Risks and Responses

For coastal areas around Australia’s largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — a rise of 0.5 m leads to very large increases in the incidence of extreme events, by factors of 1000 or 10,000 for some locations.
A multiplying factor of 100 means that an extreme event with a current probability of occurrence of 1-in-100 — the so-called one-in-a-hundred-year event — would occur every year.
(p 26)

[The] very low streamflow in the River Murray for the 1998-2008 period is … about a 1-in-1500 year event.
(p 33)

Sea-level rise

With much of our population and a high fraction of our infrastructure located close to the coast, Australia is vulnerable to the risks posed by sea-level rise. …
  • A plausible estimate of the amount of sea-level rise by 2100 compared to 2000 is 0.5 to 1.0 m. …
  • Much more has been learned about the dynamics of the large polar ice sheets through the past decade but critical uncertainties remain, including the rate at which mass is currently being lost, the constraints on dynamic loss of ice and the relative importance of natural variability and longer-term trends.
  • The impacts of rising sea-level are experienced through “high sea-level events” when a combination of sea-level rise, a high tide and a storm surge or excessive run-off trigger an inundation event.
    Very modest rises in sea-level, for example, 50 cm, can lead to very high multiplying factors — sometimes 100 times or more — in the frequency of occurrence of high sea-level events.
(p 23)

Ocean acidification

[Marine] organisms that form calcium carbonate shells are at risk from decreasing alkalinity of the ocean, which reduces the concentration of carbonate ions in seawater.
Corals are probably the most well-know of these organisms, but other calcifying organisms are important for the marine carbon cycle and play fundamental roles in the dynamics of marine ecosystems. …
  • The contemporary rate of increase in ocean acidity (decrease in alkalinity) is very large from a long-time perspective.
  • The effects of increasing acidity are most apparent in the high latitude oceans, where the rates of dissolution of atmospheric CO2 are the greatest.
  • Increasing acidity in tropical ocean surface waters is already affecting coral growth;
    calcification rates have dropped by about 15% over the past two decades.
  • Rising SSTs [Sea Surface Temperatures] have increased the number of bleaching events observed on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) over the last few decades.
    There is a significant risk that with a temperature rise above 2 °C relative to pre-industrial levels and at CO2 concentrations above 500 ppm, much of the GBR will be converted to an algae-dominated ecosystem.
(p 27)

The water cycle

Australia is the driest of the six inhabited continents, and experiences a high degree of natural climatic variability …
  • Observations since 1970 show a drying trend in most of eastern Australia and in southwest Western Australia but a wetting trend for much of the western half of the continent.
  • Given the high degree of natural variability of Australia’s rainfall, attributing observed changes to climate change is difficult. …
    Evidence points to a possible climate change link to observed changes in the behaviour of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).
  • Improvements in understanding of the climatic processes that influence rainfall suggest a connection to climate change in the observed drying trend in southeast Australia, especially in spring.
    In southwest Western Australia, climate change is likely to have made a significant contribution to the observed reduction in rainfall.
  • The consensus on projected changes in rainfall for the end of this century is
    1. high for southwest Western Australia, where almost all models project continuing dry conditions;
    2. moderate for southeast and eastern Australia, where a majority of models project a reduction; and
    3. low across northern Australia.
    There is a high degree of uncertainty in the projections in (2) and (3), however.
  • Rainfall is the main driver of runoff, which is the direct link to water availability.
    Hydrological modelling indicates that water availability will likely decline in southwest Western Australia, and in southeast Australia, with less confidence in projections of the latter.
    There is considerable uncertainty in the projections of amounts and seasonality of changes in runoff.
(p 32)

Extreme events

  • Modest changes in average values of climatic parameters — for example, temperature and rainfall — can lead to disproportionately large changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.
  • On a global scale and across Australia it is very likely that since about 1950 there has been a decrease in the number of low temperature extremes and an increase in the number of high temperature extremes. …
  • The seasonality and intensity of large bushfires in southeast Australia is likely changing, with climate change a possible contributing factor.
  • … The global frequency of tropical cyclones is projected to either stay about the same or even decrease.
    However a modest increase in intensity of the most intense systems, and in associated heavy rainfall, is projected as the climate warms.
  • On a global scale, several analyses point to an increase in heavy precipitation events in many parts of the world, including tropical Australia, consistent with physical theory and with projections of more intense rainfall events as the climate warms.

(pp 38-9)

Abrupt, non-linear and irreversible changes in the climate system

Many projections of future changes in climatic variables are simulated and presented as smooth curves from present values to an altered state at some future point in time. …
However, smooth changes are not the norm in the climate system. …
The abrupt drop in rainfall in the mid-1970s in southwest Western Australia is a well-known Australian example.
  • A number of potential abrupt changes in large sub-systems or processes in the climate system — so-called “tipping elements” — have been identified largely through palaeo-climatic research.
    Many of these, if triggered, would lead to catastrophic impacts on human societies.
  • Examples of tipping elements include abrupt changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation, the switch of the Indian monsoon from a wet to a dry state or vice versa, and the conversion of the Amazon rainforest to a grassland or a savanna.
  • Very large uncertainties surround the likelihood, or not, of human-driven climate change triggering any of these abrupt or irreversible changes.
    [However, experts] agree that the risk of triggering them increases as temperature rises.
  • Abrupt shifts in atmospheric circulation can occur very quickly and can have large impacts on regional climates.
(p 48)

Implications of the Science for Emissions Reductions

Climate Council: Climate Science, Risks and Responses

The budget approach

Although the targets-and-timetables approach (eg an agreed percentage reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020) remains the most common approach to defining trajectories for climate mitigation, the budget, or cumulative emissions, approach is rapidly becoming the favoured approach in analyses in the scientific community.
It offers a much simpler, easier-to-understand, transparent and powerful framework to estimate what level of emission reductions is required to meet the 2°C guardrail. …
  • The budget approach directly links the projected rise in temperature to the aggregated global emissions in Gt CO2 or Gt C for a specified period, usually 2000 to 2050 or 2100. …
  • Given an overall carbon budget between 2000 and 2050, the approach does not stipulate any particular trajectory, so long as the overall budget is respected.
(p 53)

Implications for emission reduction trajectories

Although the budget approach allows more flexibility in the economic and technical pathways to emissions reductions than does a targets-and timetables approach, the fact that we have already consumed over 30% of our post-2000 budget means that much of that flexibility has been squandered if we wish to avoid the escalating risks associated with temperature rises beyond 2°C.
Thus, there is no room for any further delay in embarking on the transition to a low- or no-carbon economy. …
  • Reducing emissions of CO2 does not reduce or stabilise its concentrations in the atmosphere; it slows the rate of increase of CO2 concentration.
    To stabilise the concentration of CO2 requires emissions to be reduced to very near zero.
  • The peaking year for emissions is very important for the rate of reduction thereafter.
    The decade between now and 2020 is critical.
  • Targets and timetables are, in principle, less important in the budget approach, but the urgency of bending emission trajectories downwards this decade implies that more ambitious targets for 2020 are critical in preventing delays in the transition to a low- or no-carbon economy.
(p 55)

Relationship between fossil and biological carbon emissions and uptake

Carbon “offsets”, in which emitters of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion can meet their emission reduction obligations by buying an equivalent amount of carbon uptake by ecological systems, are often proposed as a way of achieving rapid emission reductions at least cost.
However, although the immediate net effect on the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is the same for both actions, the nature of the carbon cycle means that the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere by an ecosystem cannot substitute in the long term for the reduction of an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.
In fact, the offset approach, if poorly implemented, has the potential to lock in more severe climate change for the future.
(p 56, emphasis added)

Although it is very important to sequester atmospheric CO2 into land ecosystems [it] is not a good idea to consider such biological sequestration as an offset for fossil fuel emissions. …
  • Avoiding emissions by protecting ecosystem carbon stocks is a necessary part of a comprehensive approach to mitigation.
    Sequestering CO2 into degraded ecosystems is also an important mitigation activity because it reverses an earlier emission.
    However … the sequestered carbon is vulnerable to human land use and management …
  • The only way that CO2 sequestered into land ecosystems can permanently “offset” fossil fuel combustion is if the sequestered carbon is subsequently removed from the land ecosystem and stored in an inert state or in a stable geological formation, thus locked away from the active atmosphere-land-ocean cycle.
(p 57)

January 15, 2012

Scientific American

Green Army: Communications

Daniel Kahneman (1934):
[People] can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.
(Steve Mirsky, Data deliver in the clutch, January 2017, p 84)

Voltaire | François-Marie Arouet (1697‒1778):
Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Dan Baum:
The first law of hydrodynamics is that water flows towards money.
(Changes of State: Searching for California's missing moisture, August 2015, p 59)

Richard Schiffman:
… Cutting the forest for ranches is the largest driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, accounting for nearly 70% of clearing. …
[The] rain forest pumps 20 billion tons of water vapor daily into the atmosphere through leaf transpiration …
The Amazon is currently nearly 20% deforested [and the combination] of deforestation, fire and climate change … could transform vast swaths [of what remains] into savanna.
[A] fully deforested Amazon would mean a 50% less snowfall in California's Sierra Nevada, quashing spring runoff vital to the region's agriculture.
(Rain-Forest Threats Resume, June 2015, p 14)

The Editors:
Libya and Tanzania [have] vaccination rates of 99%. …
[In the US, coverage] is as low as 86% in states such as Colorado and Ohio, and the national average is 91%.
(Wooing the Fence Sitters, May 2015, p 10)

[Since] about 1950 the polygraph has become firmly established in industry and government. …
Many companies retain polygraph examiners not only to investigate specific losses but also to conduct routine preemployment interviews in an attempt to identify applicants with a criminal record, alcoholics, homosexuals or people who are likely to be disloyal to the company.
(Lie-Detecting Hucksters, 1967)

California has voted to set up a firearms violence research centre, and to provide $5 million of funding over the next five years. …
Less the $5 million a year is currently spent on gun violence research.
This is the result of a 1996 amendment, pushed [through] by the gun lobby, that [effectively bans] all federal funding of such research.
(NewScientist, 25 June 2016, p 7)

Science Agenda: Board of Editors

Ready. Aim. Investigate.

By the 1960s … more than 50,000 people a year [were dying in motor vehicle accidents.]
[Carmakers] held that [all these] fatalities were [due to driver-error:]
[Cars] don't kill people …
[Drivers] kill people …
[By the mid-1950s, research] had found that deaths could be lowered with simple safety devices such as seat belts.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 mandated many of these improvements [and set in] motion a decades-long federal effort to better understand highway safety.
As a result … the death rate per mile traveled has fallen [by] 80% since 1966.
[On present trends,] in two years car crashes will no longer [be] the number-one cause of violent death in the US.
[That] honor will go to gunshot wounds.

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) has been [remarkably] successful in [obstructing] public safety research into guns.
[In 1996, when] the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that having a gun in the home tripled the chance of a family member [getting shot] representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas added language to federal law … that barred the CDC from conducting [any further] research that might be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”
[Coupled] with a campaign of harassment of researchers [this] effectively halted federally funded gun safety research.

In January, President Barack Obama instructed the CDC to resume studying the causes and prevention of gun violence. …
[Given its track record,] the NRA will [almost certainly] attempt to impede these new investigations. …
{[Commendably,] Congressman Dickey [at least, has changed his mind and now accepts] that firearms research is the best way to reduce the violence.}

The NRA has [misleadingly] framed the debate as a choice between banning all guns and doing nothing.
[This is a false dilemma. …]
We didn't have to ban automobiles to cut roadway fatalities, and we don't have to ban all guns to reduce gun-related deaths.
All [that is needed] is a willingness to
  • examine the causes of violence [and]
  • go where the data lead.

(March 2013, p 6)

Don't Blind NASA to Earth's Climate

{… NASA's Earth science budget [suffered] a nearly 40% cut … during the George W Bush administration. …}
This year congressional Republicans [have again] moved to decrease [its] Earth science budget. …
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas … chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, [has said] that Earth science was not part of the agency's "core mission" and, indeed, that it was not "hard science" at all. …

In June [House Republicans] slashed Earth science funding by $260 million and added extra money for planetary science that the agency did not ask for.
For example, [when] NASA requested $30 million for a robotic mission to [Europa] the House gave it $140 million [instead. …]
[And, when] NOAA requested $30 million for a study of ocean acidification [the] House granted $8.4 million [and] cut NOAA's total budget by about 5% …

Of all federal agencies, [NASA] is best positioned to study the heavens and the major environmental changes that affect our lives on Earth.
Political extremists need to back off … and let the agency do both its jobs.

(September 2015, p 7, emphasis added)

Sham Vaccination

[There have been numerous credible reports that in] its zeal to identify [Osama] bin Laden … the CIA [ran a] sham hepatitis B vaccination program to collect DNA in the [Pakistani] neighborhood where he was hiding.
{[The program initially] started in a poor neighborhood of Abbottabad, no doubt to give it an air of legitimacy.
Yet after the first of a standard series [of three] shots was given, the effort was abandoned so the team could more to bin Laden's wealthier community.
[This proved] that the best interests of the recipients were not the guiding principle of the [exercise — while also] betraying the program for the sham [that] it was.}
The effort apparently failed …

[Since then, villagers] along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border [have] chased off legitimate vaccine workers, accusing them of being spies [and] Taliban commanders [have] banned polio vaccinations … citing the bin Laden ruse as justification.
[In December 2012] nine vaccine workers were murdered in Pakistan [—] prompting the United Nations to withdraw its vaccination teams.
Two months later gunmen killed 10 polio workers in Nigeria …

The distrust sowed by the sham campaign [could delay] polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred …
Leslie F Roberts [Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University]:
Forevermore, people would say this [child was crippled] because the US was so crazy to get Osama bin Laden.

(May 2013, p 6)

Energy, Net Neutrality and Health

US energy policy must be guided by two intertwined goals:
  • guaranteeing the security of the nation's energy supply and
  • limiting runaway climate change.
A tax on the carbon dioxide emissions of fuels is a key to achieving both.
A firm carbon price would encourage individuals and businesses to shift away from carbon-heavy fuels such as petroleum and coal.
It would also encourage the development of next-generation energy sources …
The president and Congress must also end the market-distorting subsidies given out … to industries across the energy spectrum ‒ from coal and oil to wind and solar.
Without a level playing field and a steady price on carbon, companies cannot assess whether advanced technologies such as "clean coal" power plants or electric vehicles will ever make economic sense. …

Net neutrality guarantees the right to speak freely on the Internet without fear of gatekeepers who would block content with which they disagree.
[The FCC should] reverse policies enacted a decade ago … and reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service. …
[Owners] of broadband Internet lines should not be allowed to interfere with what online content citizens have access to. …

[Obamacare] was never supposed to be the last word in health care reform.
The president and Congress must reach at least three additional objectives for the US to rehabilitate its alarmingly dysfunction health care system:

  1. figure out a way to lower medical costs, which threaten to bankrupt the country …
  2. improve the health outcomes of its patients; and
  3. make health care affordable for businesses and individuals.

These are massive challenges that demand systemic changes to our health care system.
[We] might begin with …
  • rewarding primary care physicians and nurse practitioners … if they keep their patients healthy and out of hospital [and]
  • [targeting] individuals who have asthma, heart disease or diabetes [‒] given that complications from these conditions can be very expensive to treat but are often preventable.
(January 2013, p 6)

Michael Shermer: Climate Change Sceptic

Bjørn Lomborg reports the findings of a study sponsored by his Copenhagan Consensus 2012 project in which more than 50 economists evaluated 39 proposals on how best to solve such problems as armed conflicts, natural disasters, hunger, disease, education and climate change.
Climate change barely rated a mention in the top 10 …
Number 12 was R&D for geoengineering solutions to climate change, and number 17 was R&D for green energy technologies.
The rest of the top 30 were related to disease, water and sanitation, biodiversity, hunger, education, population growth and natural disasters. …

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more about climate change.
But what? …
If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority.
Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

(Climapocalypse!, August 2014, p 69)

There appears to be a general consensus among scientists that global warming is real and human-caused, but I disagree that there is as much consensus about the consequences.
Given the levels of uncertainty in climate models projecting out a century, wouldn't it be prudent to save lives now with the relatively less expensive measures … ?

(Letters, December 2014, p 6, emphasis added)

[Climate change] skepticism was once tenable.
No longer.
It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.

(The Flipping Point, 1 June 2006)

The Danger of Opting Out

{When vaccinations drop below the herd immunity threshold — the proportion of immune individuals needed to prevent widespread transmission — [epidemics] arise.}
[These] threaten
  • all unvaccinated children,
  • vaccinated children and adults who have weak immune [responses,] and
  • [are potentially fatal to] babies who are too young to get their shots. …
The 2012 US outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) … infected 42,000 people …
[It] was the largest since 1955.
Rates for two crucial childhood vaccines [—] DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) [—] are falling.
Other rates, such as for polio, are stable.

(Graphic Science, June 2013, p 80)

The Antioxidant Myth

Melinda Wenner Moyer: Adjunct Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York

[A 2007] review of 68 clinical trials … concluded that [antioxidants] do not reduce risk of death.
[When only randomised double blind trials were included] certain antioxidants were linked to an increased risk of death [of] up to 16 percent.
[The] American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, now advise [against people taking antioxidants] except to treat diagnosed vitamin deficiency.

(February 2013, p 61)

January 11, 2012

Rear Vision

ABC Radio National

Paul Cleary [Senior Writer, The Australian]:
… 90% of a $330 billion revenue windfall [from the 2003 mining boom] was spent by the Howard government in the last few years of office.
(Australia's Mining Boom, 10 April 2016)

January 10, 2012

Strategic Studies Institute

Green Army: Research and Development

Paul J Kern [USA-Ret General, The Cohen Group]:
When you look at two great countries in this world as economic challenges to the United States, India and China, we can make a threat out of them, or we can make friends out of them. …
There is only one biosphere here, and we somehow or another have to figure out how to share it …
(p 406)

January 9, 2012

Climate Science, Risks and Responses

Climate Council

The evidence that the earth’s surface is warming rapidly is now exceptionally strong, and beyond doubt.
Evidence for changes in other aspects of the climate system is also strengthening.
The primary cause of the observed warming and associated changes since the mid-20th century — human emissions of greenhouse gases — is also known with a high level of confidence.
(p 3)

January 6, 2012

Security Implications of Global Climate Change

Center for Strategic and International Studies and Center for a New American Security

The Methodological Approach of this Study and Previous Research on the Impacts of Climate Change

A distinguished group of nationally recognized leaders were identified and recruited from the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security to take part in this endeavor. …
  • [Economist and] Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling;
  • Pew Center Senior Scientist [—] Jay Gulledge;
  • National Academy of Sciences President [—] Ralph Cicerone;
  • American Meteorological Society Fellow [—] Bob Correll;
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Senior Scientist [—] Terrence Joyce …
  • former Vice President [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute —] Richard Pittenger;
  • Climate Institute Chief Scientist [—] Mike MacCracken;
  • [Historian] John McNeill of Georgetown University;
  • former CIA Director [—] James Woolsey;
  • former Chief of Staff to the President [Clinton —] John Podesta;
  • former National Security Advisor to the Vice President [Al Gore —] Leon Fuerth;
  • Jessica Bailey, Sustainable Development Program Officer at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund;
  • Rand Beers, President of Valley Forge Initiative;
  • General Counsel Sherri Goodman of the Center for Naval Analysis;
  • CNAS Senior Fellow [—] Derek Chollet;
  • President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change [—] Eileen Claussen;
  • Gayle Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress;
  • Daniel Poneman, Principal of The Scowcroft Group;
  • Senior Fellow Susan Rice of The Brookings Institution; and
  • Principal of The Albright Group [—] Wendy Sherman. …

[The expected and severe] scenarios in this report use the timeframe of a national security planner: 30 years, the time it takes to take major military platforms from the drawing board to the battlefield.
The exception is the catastrophic scenario, which extends out beyond fifty years to a century from now.
(p 14)

Executive Summary

The expected climate change scenario considered in this report, with an average global temperature increase of 1.3°C by 2040, can be reasonably taken as a basis for national planning.
(p 7)

In the case of severe climate change, corresponding to an average increase in global temperature of 2.6°C by 2040, massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive non-linear societal events. …

The catastrophic scenario, with average global temperatures increasing by 5.6°C by 2100, finds strong and surprising intersections between the two great security threats of the day — global climate change and international terrorism waged by Islamist extremists. …

Historical comparisons from previous civilizations and national experiences of such natural phenomena as floods, earthquakes, and disease may be of help in understanding how societies will deal with unchecked climate change. …

Poor and underdeveloped areas are likely to have fewer resources and less stamina to deal with climate change — in even its very modest and early manifestations.
(p 7)

Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people — both inside nations and across existing national borders. …

The term “global climate change” is misleading in that many of the effects will vary dramatically from region to region. …

A few countries may benefit from climate change in the short term, but there will be no “winners.” …

Climate change effects will aggravate existing international crises and problems.
(p 8)

We lack rigorously tested data or reliable modeling to determine with any sense of certainty the ultimate path and pace of temperature increase or sea level rise associated with climate change in the decades ahead. …

Any future international agreement to limit carbon emissions will have considerable geopolitical as well as economic consequences. …

The scale of the potential consequences associated with climate change — particularly in more dire and distant scenarios — made it difficult to grasp the extent and magnitude of the possible changes ahead. …

At a definitional level, a narrow interpretation of the term “national security” may be woefully inadequate to convey the ways in which state authorities might break down in a worst case climate change scenario.
(p 9)

The Lessons of History

The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12, following on serious floods in the Ohio and Mississippi basins, helped the prophet Tecumseh — who allegedly predicted the earthquakes — [to] rally Native Americans to his religious war against the United States (which incidentally helped maintain Canada as an independent entity). …

[If] the future holds more serious extreme weather events it seems likely that the most extreme will generate new forms of religion and intensified commitment to old ones.
(p 32)