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Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

Climate Change: the clock is ticking (pt.1)

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web_stateofclimate2015_coverHere’s some news we already know or thought we knew. Yes, climate change is here and here to stay according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and its effects are no longer subtle or easily argued away.

NOAA and the American Meteorological Society released the “State of the Climate in 2015”, a 300-page document published the AMS Bulletin last month.

It makes for sobering reading, for example (quoting from the Abstract):

  • “In 2015, the dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—all continued to reach new high levels. At Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the annual CO2 concentration increased by a record 3.1 ppm, exceeding 400 ppm for the first time on record. The 2015 global CO2 average neared this threshold, at 399.4 ppm.
  • “Owing to the combination of El Niño and a long-term upward trend, Earth observed record warmth for the second consecutive year, with the 2015 annual global surface temperature surpassing the previous record by more than 0.1°C and exceeding the average for the mid- to late 19th century—commonly considered representative of preindustrial conditions—by more than 1°C for the first time.
  • “Across land surfaces, record to near-record warmth was reported across every inhabited continent. Twelve countries, including Russia and China, reported record high annual temperatures.
  • “In the Arctic, the 2015 land surface temperature was 1.2°C above the 1981–2010 average, tying 2007 and 2011 for the highest annual temperature and representing a 2.8°C increase since the record began in 1900. Increasing temperatures have led to decreasing Arctic sea ice extent and thickness. On 25 February 2015, the lowest maximum sea ice extent in the 37-year satellite record was observed, 7% below the 1981–2010 average.
  • “Above average sea surface temperatures are not confined to the Arctic. Sea surface temperature for 2015 was record high at the global scale; however, the North Atlantic southeast of Greenland remained colder than average and colder than 2014…The Greenland Ice Sheet, with the capacity to contribute ~7 m to sea level rise, experienced melting over more than 50% of its surface for the first time since the record melt of 2012.
  • “Springtime ozone depletion resulted in one of the largest and most persistent Antarctic ozone holes observed since the 1990s.
  • “Closer to the equator, 101 named tropical storms were observed in 2015, well above the 1981–2010 average of 82. The eastern/central Pacific had 26 named storms, the most since 1992. The western north Pacific and north and south Indian Ocean basins also saw high activity. Globally, eight tropical cyclones reached the Saffir–Simpson Category 5 intensity level.
  • “An above-normal rainy season led to major floods in Paraguay, Bolivia, and southern Brazil. In May, the United States recorded its all-time wettest month in its 121-year national record. Denmark and Norway reported their second and third wettest year on record, respectively, but globally soil moisture was below average, terrestrial groundwater storage was the lowest in the 14-year record, and areas in “severe” drought rose from 8% in 2014 to 14% in 2015. Drought conditions prevailed across many Caribbean island nations, Colombia, Venezuela, and northeast Brazil for most of the year. Several South Pacific countries also experienced drought. Lack of rainfall across Ethiopia led to its worst drought in decades and affected millions of people, while prolonged drought in South Africa severely affected agricultural production. Indian summer monsoon rainfall was just 86% of average. Extremely dry conditions in Indonesia resulted in intense and widespread fires during August–November that produced abundant carbonaceous aerosols, carbon monoxide, and ozone.”

Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist at Penn State, last month told the Guardian, “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home.”

More on the parlous state of the climate, and what we are not doing about it, next time.

Image: State of the Climate in 2015 cover from the AMS website.

Written by William DiBenedetto

19 September, 2016 at 7:20 am

Trump Opting for Big Oil and Climate Change Denial

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Donald Trump_caricatureAnother reason — among many — not to vote for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president. (Those words still sound absurd and bizarre, the world according to Dali or Pirandello.)

Reuters reported that Trump has chosen Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, one of the country’s most ardent oil and gas drilling advocates and climate change skeptics, to advise him on energy policy. North Dakota of course, has long been in bed with the U.S. shale oil and gas industries.

The Reuters report says Trump’s team asked Cramer, who has endorsed Trump, to prepare some white papers on his energy policy ideas, according to Cramer and sources familiar with the matter. “Cramer said in an interview that his white paper would emphasize the dangers of foreign ownership of U.S. energy assets, as well as what he characterized as burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will have an opportunity to float some of the ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 26, Cramer said,” according to Reuters.

The article also said the congressman is among a group of Trump advisers who recently met with lawmakers from Western energy states, who hope Trump will open more federal land for drilling, a lawmaker who took part in the meeting said.

“Kevin Cramer has consistently backed reckless and dangerous schemes to put the profits of fossil fuel executives before the health of the public, so he and Trump are a match made in polluter heaven,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“Donald Trump’s choice of outspoken climate (change) denier Kevin Cramer to advise him on energy policy is just the latest piece of evidence that letting him get near the White House would put our children’s health and futures at risk,” said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“Trump might find that Cramer occupies gray spaces on energy and climate policy,” according to a Scientific American article. “The former utility regulator acknowledges that the world is on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he calls himself skeptical of the broadly held view by scientists and Democrats that warming could cause severe economic and physical damage.”

“I’ve been skeptical, but I don’t resist the reality that we’re heading toward or our goal is a more carbon-constrained world,” Cramer was quoted in the SA article. For example, he would tell Trump that the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to decrease power plant emissions, should be rolled back. But Cramer seems to acknowledge that something else might have to take its place.

Image: Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

16 May, 2016 at 8:30 am

ExxonMobil: SEC says vote! vote!

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exxonmobil_greenpeaceEnvironmental Leader reported last week on a Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that ExxonMobil must allow its shareholders to vote on a climate change resolution.

That would be a first for the oil major, which has consistently denied or avoided shareholder votes on resolutions designed to determine the long-term impacts of its business decisions on climate, and perhaps force—or shame—it to make changes. If that all seems rather nebulous and, in the end, pointless—given Exxon’s business model (oil exploration and production)—it’s because it is. But it might be a small step in the right direction for a company that has lied (or covered up) for decades about what it knew about climate change and that continues to fund climate science deniers.

The latest resolution that shareholders will vote on at its annual meeting in May would force the oil giant to disclose how climate change would affect its business. According to the EL report, New York comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli co-filed the shareholder proposal in December, asking Exxon to publish an annual assessment of the long-term portfolio impacts of climate change policies. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

28 March, 2016 at 7:30 am

The sordid whack-a-mole nature of climate change denial

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It’s all about doubt when it comes to climate change, no matter what the science is telling us. The playbook is tried and true as illustrated in the 2014 film, Merchants of Doubt—if you can create enough doubt about the science and the harmful effects of tobacco, asbestos or fossil fuels, basically you’re home free. Instead of solving an obvious problem, companies in those industries can obscure and obstruct, and continue to make truckloads of money.

And it’s still happening. In a report from the Desmog Blog this month, “Study Finds The ‘Era of Climate Science Denial Is Not Over,'”  Graham Readfearn writes: “Conservative think tanks in the United States are a sort of ‘ground zero’ for the production of doubt about the links between fossil fuel burning and dangerous climate change.

“These think tanks produce reports, hold conferences, write books, go on television, produce columns and blogs and generally and liberally splatter the public discourse with talking points.

“You’ll have heard their manufactured doubt everywhere. ‘CO2 is great for the planet… fossil fuels are good… climate scientists are wrong… the world has been hotter in the past… cutting emissions will kill the economy.’ That sort of thing.”

He points to a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change that says, “the era of climate science denial is not over.”

Dr. Travis Coan, of the University of Exeter, and Dr Constantine Boussalis, of Trinity College Dublin, analyzed 16,000 articles, reports, transcripts, letters, reviews and press releases from the websites of 19 conservative think tanks, mainly based in the U.S, who work on climate change.

In the study, Boussalis and Coan discuss how commentators had been speculating about an end of climate science denial for more than a decade. But analyzing documents from 1998 until mid-2013, Boussalis and Coan found that think tanks had in recent years been focusing less on policy and more on attacking the science.

Why change the playbook if it works so well?

Republican Bob Inglis a conservative former South Carolina congressman, lost a bid for re-election in 2010 after telling a radio host that he believed humans were contributing to climate change. “The most enduring heresy that I committed was saying the climate change is real,” he told PBS’ FRONTLINE.

Inglis saw through the thick fog machines of doubt and denial, to his cost. He closed the Merchants of Doubt, with moving and spot analysis of why it so hard to embrace the reality of climate change:

He’s a hero.

Written by William DiBenedetto

25 January, 2016 at 6:00 am

COP21 a cop-out or an opt-in?

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COP ParisIt’s been awhile, but in the great scheme of things not that long, and my absence here lately is of no great import. Things have changed in the past few months, including an engagement, a time-consuming book project and a re-think of my assocoation with TriplePundit. It’s all great-to-good-to-exhausting, but without getting into details, the gist is that I’ll concentrate more on this blog space in the future. Maybe.

First, some venting about the climate change summit that concluded in December, COP21. Remember? It already seems like a long time ago! The results were better than expected and encouraging, but still probably too little too late. Coverage and punditry was mixed, which is better than saying the effort failed. Time will tell on that. Yes, it’s a climate accord among a slew of nations, but unenforceable.

Here’s Bill Mckibben, founder of 350.org, the global grass-roots climate campaign, writing in the New York Times: “In the hot, sodden mess that is our planet as 2015 drags to a close, the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995, when the first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Berlin.

“Under its provisions, nations have made voluntary pledges to begin reducing their carbon emissions. These are modest — the United States, for instance, plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 by 12 to 19 percent from their levels in 1990. As the scrupulous scorekeepers at Climate Action Tracker, a nongovernment organization, put it, that’s a ‘medium’ goal ‘at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.'”

If all parties keep their promises, and if you expect that to happen I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy, the planet will warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. “That is way, way too much,” McKibben says. “We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.”

The irony is, he continues, an agreement like this adopted at the first climate conference in 1995 “might have worked.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

11 January, 2016 at 8:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (3)

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Pope Francesco I_Jeffrey BrunoHere’s the next installment of our close reading of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

Chapter One: What Is Happening To Our Common Home

The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity. (Para. 18)

Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of society are now adopting a more critical approach. We see increasing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet. Let us review, however cursorily, those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (Para. 19) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

21 September, 2015 at 8:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (2)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasHere’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

We left off last time at Paragraph 8.

In the Saint Francis of Assisi section, whose name Pope Francis too k as his “guide and inspiration” when he was elected Bishop of Rome:

I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authenti­cally. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast…  Francis helps us to see that an integral ecol­ogy calls for openness to categories which tran­scend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be hu­man. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise… If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our at­titude will be that of masters, consumers, ruth­less exploiters, unable to set limits on their im­mediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.  (Paragraphs 10 and 11)

The he finishes his introductory matter with My appeal:

The urgent challenge to protect our com­mon home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change…Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home…Particu­lar appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmen­tal degradation on the lives of the world’s poor­est. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better fu­ture without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. (Paragraph 13)

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our plan­et. We need a conversation which includes every­one, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological move­ment has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous or­ganizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental cri­sis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from de­nial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solu­tions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”.  (Paragraph 14)

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientif­ic research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the pres­ent situation, so as to consider not only its symp­toms but also its deepest causes. This will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience. (Paragraph 15)

With that introductory work done, we’ll look into Chapter One: What Is Happening To Our Common Home, next time.

Image: Laudato Si’ (cover) by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

14 September, 2015 at 6:00 am

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