Category Archives: Things fall apart

Stunning NASA images of Victorian fires: why we are choking on smoke

Some stunning images that give you an idea of the scale of the fires we are currently experiencing in Victoria:

And:

Season of purgatory: the “new Australian summer” revealed in Victoria’s current bushfire emergency

Almost five years to the day after Black Saturday, Victoria finds itself in the grip of another bushfire emergency.

Thankfully there are no reported deaths, however at least 20 homes have been destroyed. The fires have caused major disruption, skirting the northern suburbs and putting the Hazelwood power station at risk.

The Age is providing excellent coverage on their website.

We must now come to terms with the fact that each summer is now a season of purgatory.

Summer is not merely the season to catch the Boxing Day test or escape to the beach. It is now a time to anxiously watch the weather and scan the horizon for the tell-tale signs of a fire.

This is the “New Australian Summer”.

Sure, some summers will be less extreme than others.

But as global temperatures continue to rise (in response to increasing quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere) we can expect the fires to come with greater frequency and ferocity.

As I have noted it is time we began discussions adapting to these changed conditions.

Several strategies come to mind:

  • a phased strategic retreat from at risk areas in the state (or country)
  • a greater investment in emergency services and management
  • changes to planning and development
  • changes to infrastructure.

With little doubt, by the middle of this century our hands will be forced.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

[Image source: The Age]

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2013 among top 10 warmest years: a civilisational response is urgently required

WarmingCan you see a pause in the warming of the planet?

The World Meteorological Organisation have just released the following press release:

The year 2013 was among the top ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest year, with a global land and ocean surface temperature that was 0.50°C (0.90°F) above the 1961–1990 average and 0.03°C (0.05°F) higher than the most recent 2001–2010 decadal average. 

Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. The warmest years on record are 2010 and 2005, with global temperatures about 0.55 °C above the long-term average, followed by 1998, which also had an exceptionally strong El Niño event.

At this point many commentators, scientists and bloggers will say “Well look at that. We told you the planet is warming.” Of course those that deny climate change will mutter about conspiracies, the “pause in warming” and such nonsense.

But let us move well beyond that conversation, cherry picking of facts and the finger-pointing that takes place every time a press release such as this comes out.

When I look at this graph I see a planetary and civilisational emergency. I see a looming catastrophe if we don’t begin advanced planning.

What I see is the urgent need to examine how we adapt to a changed climate.

Many hard decisions are before us.

Time to consider our options.

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Uncertainty is not our friend: leaked IPCC report confirms climate change still dangerous

gamble

There has been a rash of articles of late claiming the next IPCC report (AR5) will revise the temperature response to increased levels of atmospheric CO2 downwards. Turns out this is not the case, but more on that soon.

This is what I like to call “The Great Climate Sensitivity Debate of 2013” in which we all rushed out to understand what this once obscure branch of science was about.

The message from the deniers and some sections of the media was that the silly scientists had gotten it wrong, and that the consensus was shifting towards “Things aren’t as bad as we once thought.”

Perhaps the most notorious example of this “bright siding” was this article from the The Economist

Silly, silly scientists!

Panicking us for 30 years only to say “Oops sorry guys we waz wrong! So sorry – our bad!”

Seems this whole flap over climate sensitivity was a pointless distraction, as New Scientist notes:

Can we all stop worrying about global warming? According to a recent rash of stories in the media, the “climate sensitivity” – the extent to which temperatures respond to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – is lower than expected, and thus that the world won’t get as hot as predicted. One story, in The Economist, based on leaked information from a draft of the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claims the IPCC will revise its sensitivity estimate downwards when they release their official report this September.

Turns out climate change is still dangerous and something we may wish to prevent:

The bottom line is that there is no new consensus that climate sensitivity is lower than previously thought, says Knutti. The observed trend points to lower values because of the recent slowdown, but other evidence continues to support higher values.

The last IPCC report stated that equilibrium climate sensitivity was between 2 and 4.5 °C, mostly likely 3 °C. The Economist claims the IPCC’s next report will give a figure between 1.5 and 4.5 °C, with no most likely value. The IPCC won’t confirm or deny it, but it’s not a huge change if it is true.

“What matters for avoiding dangerous climate change is the upper end, and that hasn’t changed,” says Knutti. Ward makes the same point. “We can’t afford to gamble on sensitivity definitely being low,” he says.

But will it all be a huge waste if sensitivity does turn out to be low? Far from it. If we don’t cut emissions, Knutti points out, all low sensitivity means is that it will take a decade or two longer for the planet to warm as much as it would if sensitivity was high. “It doesn’t get away from the fact that emissions have to be reduced,” he says.

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Tipping point: the Arctic is a slowly boiling jug of ice water

Summer is the period when sea-ice reaches it’s minimum extent in the Arctic, but thanks to climate change this extent has been declining rapidly.

There are signs the Arctic is approaching a death spiral, when the Arctic will be ice-free during the summer months. 

This will have profound effects on the planet’s climate.

As Robert Scribbler notes in his blog the past few weeks have been concerning:

Over the past month, warmth and energy have been building in the Arctic. All around, from Siberia to Scandinavia to Alaska, heatwaves have flared beneath anomalous long-wave patterns in the Jet Stream. Patterns, that in many cases have persisted for months. The Alaskan heat dome sent temperatures there to 98 degrees (Fahrenheit). Temperatures in Siberia flared to the low 90s. And heat built and flared again in Scandinavia and Northeastern Europe, sending Arctic temperatures first into the 80s and then to 92. 

This building and highly anomalous heat was coupled by another unusual event — a long duration series of Arctic storms that have thinned and weakened large sections of sea ice near the North Pole. This Persistent Arctic Cyclone has flared and faded, remaining in the Arctic since late May. 

Now, with central sea ice weakened and with heat circling in from all around, the Arctic appears to be bracing for a period of rapid sea ice loss.

Last year we saw a record decline in sea ice. This year’s decline did not seem as precipitous, tracking slightly below the 1981-2012 average extent and within standard deviation.

As the above graph from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center indicates, the trend of the past few weeks looks worrisome.

A sharp decline is obvious, pushing it closer to the 2012 record minimum – though I hasten to add within the standard deviations.

Noise or signal?

Hard to say at this point, but I’ll be watching the trend over August. What ever the outcome, low and declining sea-ice extent during the summer months can be considered “the new normal”.

Tipping point cometh?

The oceans cover 70% of the planet’s surface, and are a crucial component of the climate system itself.

But at some point the oceans will stop soaking up the extra heat/energy we’re adding to the climate system.

Like a slowly boiling jug of ice water, we’ll reach a tipping point.

At first the temperature rise is imperceptible.

Slowly the heat builds – slowly the ice begins to melt.

Linear – manageable.

To preserve the ice, one merely has to remove the source of the heat. 

But what if you don’t?

What if you continue to expose the contents of the jug to the same – or increased – levels of heat?

Slowly the heat builds – slowly the ice melts.

But there comes a point when the ice is gone.

A tipping point is reached and passed.

Within moments, the water reaches boiling point.

This simple brute fact of physics is now playing out in the Arctic.

The sacrifices one must make (part 2): should Gillard resign for the good of the nation? Yes.

My post on whether or not Julia Gillard should stand aside  as Prime Minister got a little attention. But it was not an easy thing to suggest, especially given the vitriol and hatred the Prime Minister has experienced. I do not wish to “let the bastards win”. No one does.

But what matters now is the future of nation, the skeletal climate change policy framework we have only just begun to implement and a genuine contest of ideas.

There are times when personal careers have to be sacrificed.

This is such a time.

The editors of The Age have come to similar conclusions, arguing for “the good of the nation” Julia Gillard must stand aside:

It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.

And that:

The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.

Time is running out. Labor needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.

There was nothing prescient in what I wrote, nor do I think the MSM pays much attention to bloggers such as myself. Farifax’s Sydney Morning Herald said the same thing a few weeks back.

It is simply that I am not alone in reading the situation or the risks should Labor continue to be led by Julia Gillard. Commentators across all sections of the media and on both sides can see the writing on the wall.

Is it fair? No.

Did Gillard deserve to be treated with respect? Yes.

Was she handed an extraordinarily difficult situation? Yes.

Was overt sexism a feature of the attacks on her? Yes.

Was the malice of the shock jocks and News Limited a factor? Yes.

As a nation, we need to reflect on just how toxic the level of debate has become these past few years. I lay much of the blame on News Limited and the Coalition. But the blame also rests with the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan.

The nexus for all this strife began when the “kitchen sink” cabinet that included Swan and Gillard convinced Rudd not to take us to a double dissolution election on the carbon price. At that time the public and mood of the nation was with them.

But they blinked, they thought they could ditch a policy which helped deliver them office in 2007. Since then Labor has been paying the price for the failure of the first iteration of the ETS under Rudd.

They thought we lived in a time of “politics as usual”.

Politics has been reshaped by climate change: it is time to acknowledge that reality.

This is the new normal on so many fronts.

If you want to proportion blame then start with this decision. 

Julia’s finest hour, and the speech that will be her enduring legacy:

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Global warming is winning: new evidence of Australia’s shifting climate

Australia’s climate is shifting to a new state

Via The Age, recent evidence of climate change’s impact on Southern Australia:

Southern Australia is in the midst of a climate tug-of-war that’s giving Melbourne weather previously experienced in NSW Riverina towns such as Deniliquin, according to new CSIRO research.

Warming global temperatures tend to push westerly winds south while El Nino weather patterns tend to push them north.

The atmospheric tussle of the past 50 years is becoming one-sided as global warming wins out, as inland dry zones shift about 250 kilometres south, said Wenju Cai, a principal research scientist and climate modeller at the CSIRO.

I’ll post a link to the report once I’ve tracked it down.

However, at this point it is Global Warming 3 – Humanity 0.

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