Category Archives: Climate

#debateisover: the science is real, this is what the dangers look like

Let’s get the word out:

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Leaked IPCC report confirms scientists have “95% confidence” we’re changing the climate

95sure

From the Jakarta Globe:

Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major UN report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.

The uncertainty is frustrating for government planners: the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the main guide for states weighing multibillion-dollar shifts to renewable energy from fossil fuels, for coastal regions considering extra sea defenses or crop breeders developing heat-resistant strains.

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic.

Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.

More details to come.

Not that it is a surprise to many of us.

The new normal (part 29): heat wave covering most of Australia

I’ll be doing my best to stay cool, Friday is expected to be a scorcher. It is worth noting just how abnormal this is:

”We have a major heat event under way,” Karl Braganza, manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology, said. ”There are not many instances in the historical record where you get a heat event covering such a large area of the continent.” 

Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist at Weatherzone, said it was unusual to have so prolonged a hot spell. ”It’s a once-in-20 or 30-year heatwave event in desert areas,” he said. ”More populated areas further south … are going to experience some of this as well.” 

The mercury is forecast to hit 36 degrees in Melbourne on Thursday and 41 degrees of Friday, with temperatures also soaring in Canberra although Sydney will largely be spared. Adelaide will swelter in 39-degree heat today and 42 tomorrow, the bureau predicts, while even Hobart will experience 32-degree and 38-degree maximums over the two days.

I’d recommend the BOM website for updates.

Expect to see temperature records tumble this summer.

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Highlights of WMO state of climate report in 2012: the years 2001-2011 the warmest on record

Still a pale blue dot at this point

Still a pale blue dot at this point

The World Meteorological Organisation has released its provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2012, and it makes sobering reading.

Some of the highlights worth noting:

The last eleven years (2001–2011) were among the top warmest years on record, and the first ten months of 2012 indicate that this year will not be an exception. The year was characterized by unusual warmth across most of the globe’s land areas and a weak-to moderate La Niña at the beginning of the year…

Which puts lie to the claim “warming stopped 16 years ago”. Across the globe, regions experienced record temperatures:

During the first ten months of 2012, above-average temperatures affected most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western and central Russia, and parts of northern Africa. However, cooler-than-average conditions were observed across Alaska and parts of northern and eastern Australia.

And:

During the first ten months of 2012, above-average temperatures affected most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western and central Russia, and parts of northern Africa. However, cooler-than-average conditions were observed across Alaska and parts of northern and eastern Australia.

Climate extremes are fast becoming the norm:

Major heat waves impacted the Northern Hemisphere during the year, with the most notable heat waves occurring in early Northern Hemisphere spring (March–May) across the contiguous United States and Europe. Summer-like temperatures affected a large portion of the U.S. and Europe throughout most of March 2012. The extraordinary warm spell resulted in nearly 15,000 new daily records for high maximum and minimum temperatures across the contiguous United States during March 2012, nearly double the number of broken records experienced during the August 2011 heat wave. The heat continued into the Northern Hemisphere summer (June–August), exacerbating drought conditions and fuelling wildfires. Greenland, which had above-average temperatures for much of the year, recorded its all time highest May maximum temperature, when temperatures soared to 24.8°C at Ivittuut/Narsarsuaq on May 29th…

And:

During April and May 2012, most of China experienced exceptional warmth, with most areas having anomalies as high as 5°C above the 196 1–1990 average.

The world saw extrme drought and wildfires:

2012 began with severe to exceptional drought, as defined by the North American Drought Monitor (NADM), across the south central and southeastern contiguous United States and the northern half of Mexico. In the southern Plains of the U.S., the 2012 drought was a continuation of severe drought conditions which developed in 2011. Throughout 2012, drought conditions evolved across the United States, improving in some areas while deteriorating in others. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), nearly two-thirds of the contiguous United States (65.5 percent) was considered to be in moderate to exceptional drought…

Northern Hemisphere summer precipitation across sub-Saharan Africa was above average, with much of western Africa—specifically Senegal, southern Mauritania, western and eastern Mali, Niger, northern Burkina Faso—having 40 percent or more above normal precipitation, while several countries in the Gulf of Guinea and eastern Africa had precipitation deficits, recording only 70 percent of normal precipitation.

And:

Devastating floods impacted Pakistan during September 2012. Monsoonal rains prompted deadly floods across Pakistan, with Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh the hardest hit regions. Over 5 million people and over 400,000 hectares of crops have been affected by floods, with more than 460,000 houses and infrastructures damaged or destroyed.

It’s a mad, mad and hotter world: the top 6 climate stories of 2012

As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?

So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?

In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.

I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.

But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.

In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.

And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.

1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.

Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.

By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).

And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?

Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.

2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates

There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.

While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.

3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum

If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”

And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.

4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out

The end product of the merchants of hate (source News)

In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.

The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”

Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.

The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.

And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.

So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?

Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.

5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting

Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.

You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.

Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.

Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.

But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.

“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”

This is the situation humanity faces.

In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:

It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.

Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.

6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute

I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.

Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.

Was it worth it?

In retrospect, yes.

The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.

Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.

Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.

Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.

And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.

The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.

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Experiencing the landscape: essential training for environmental scientists (reprint)

Another great piece from The Conversation published today by Andrea Leigh, University of Technology, Sydney. What I found interesting was the mixture of science, experience and engaging Australia’s indigenous community. Article follows:

Science disciplines – physics, biology, geology and so on – are often treated as discrete from one another. But when it comes to environmental science, students – and the scientists that they become – have to be able to synthesise material from a range of different disciplines to try and make sense of the ecology of ecosystems and, ultimately, conservation priorities.

Most students studying degrees in the environmental sciences will undertake field trips at some stage in their degree. Usually these field trips involve staying at a field station and heading out each day to nearby places to observe and learn field techniques.

Landscapes, however, are varied; different biotic regions and ecological gradients are the result of different climatic and geological influences. It can be difficult to see some of the big-picture influences on an environment without taking a step back, and travelling through the landscape in a way that allows the changes to become evident. It is not always obvious how different regions are utilised and perceived by various people.

I teach three units that each aim to expose students to landscape from a broad and contextualised perspective. Like all good field trips, they employ experiential learning. Unlike most, however, they are in many ways like a road trip, allowing us to traverse different Australian landscapes.

The southern field trip follows an altitude gradient from the lowest point of the land, on the coast near Eden, to the highest point in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko. This trip looks at the influence of altitude on river systems, vegetation and fauna. The northern field trip follows a chain of extinct volcanoes up the Great Diving Range, looking at the changes in rainfall from the east to the west of the Great Divide. Crossing from one side of the Divide to the other allows students to see how the landscapes and the biota inhabiting them change according to different rainfall patterns and topography. The western field trip takes students to the South Australian border. On the way they cross semi-arid woodlands, before heading north parallel to the border as far as the Sturt National Park.

Flora like the Mountain Gentian on Mount Kosciuszko is restricted to a specific habitat based on altitude. Peter Kent

All of these trips allow students to observe, as they travel, the way in which topology influences vegetation and fauna. Students gain a more interdisciplinary understanding of landscape and environment. As the geology changes, the catchment changes, and so too the associated vegetation complexes change. In turn this will support different bird life, marsupials, reptiles and so on.

Recognising the interconnected nature of landforms, water catchments, soil structure, vegetation and animal life is, and always has been, a key part of the study of ecology. However, until one can experience ecology in action, so to speak, it is little more than a word – an academic concept. It’s necessary to travel through the landscape and experience it changing around you in order to get a sense and understanding of different environments.

This kind of awareness has implications for understanding conservation priorities but also for understanding effective land use practices, such as which areas are suitable for agricultural production or forestry, and where this production might rely heavily on resource-intensive practises such as irrigation.

Students also gain a solid understanding of environmental processes. For example, they find it easier to understand orographic rainfall because they experience it as they cross the Great Divide, and observe its effects on the landscape. Students usually find that they retain concepts more easily through experiencing them first-hand, rather than memorising something they are told, only to forget it after the exam is over.

A key element of this experiential learning is the inclusion of speakers on all of the trips. These speakers are researchers and professionals who work in the area on a variety of projects. On the western trip, students hear from indigenous speakers of the Barkindji people.

The indigenous speakers offer a very different perspective of the land from what the students are used to. In classes back in Sydney, they learn about ecology and the agricultural use of land. On the field trip, the students are “living” in the landscape themselves, albeit for a brief period, and develop their own perspectives based on their experiences and their studies.

Being in the landscape lets you experience concepts first-hand. Andrea Leigh

The indigenous perspective – which includes thinking about how indigenous people used and continue to use the land – makes students aware of another angle from which to think about the land around them.

For example, in Mutawintji National Park, the students might learn about what the plants are called, how they survive harsh temperatures and what vegetation complex they belong to.

But an indigenous speaker might instead tell the students to look out for the dust on the westerly aspect of the trees – settled there because of the prevailing winds. The knowledge of how to follow the dust patterns on the trees would help young children find their way home if they strayed too far.

These kind of stories have a big impact on some students and shape the way they understand and appreciate the landscape around them. It is also a reminder that it would be foolish of environmental scientists to neglect the perspective of people who have had continuous association with the land for as long as the Barkindji tribe.

Many students have grown up in the city with limited exposure to landscapes and natural environments (in spite of their evident interest in environmental science), so there is a hidden curriculum to this kind of experiential learning as well.

Learning how to live with thirty other students, taking turns cooking for one another, sleeping in tents, coping with setbacks that arise due to the weather – all of these things are not formal parts of the curriculum, but are nonetheless essential for students who hope, on graduating, to head out into the field as an environmental scientist.

Experiencing landscape in a manner that recognises the varying influences of topography, soils, water and climate, and with the opportunity to see this landscape from new perspectives, is good training for environmental science students. Taking the big-picture view of ecosystems and landscapes is essential if we are to accurately evaluate landscape health and conservation priorities in the future.

Andrea Leigh does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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VoD: How Earth avoided the grim fate of Venus…

A wonderful video from NASA, called “Dynamic Earth”, exploring the sun’s impact on our planet and how it powers the climate:

Just under 5 minutes, worth watching.

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