Category: Earth

Climate study is scary as ever – but, James Hansen still has hope


Click to enlarge — Hurricane Isaac storm surge greater than Hurricane Katrina — Lt. Conrad H. Franz

When James Hansen speaks, climate hawks listen. Hansen was legendary during his long career as NASA’s chief climatologist for being ahead of the curve on seeing the threat of catastrophic climate change. Now he teaches at Columbia University, and he has more bad news to deliver. According to a study conducted by Hansen and 16 coauthors, being published this week in the European Geophysical Union’s open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the effects of even moderate warming on sea-level rise are worse than previously believed.

Hansen and his colleagues combined analysis of the historical record with modeling and current observation and found that the rate of oceanic ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica may exceed our expectations. As InsideClimate News explains, the scientists “analyzed how an influx of cold freshwater from the planet’s melting ice sheets will disrupt the ocean’s circulation … They concluded the influx of freshwater from melting ice sheets in modern times would essentially shut down the ocean’s circulation, causing cool water to stay in the Earth’s polar regions and equatorial water to warm up even faster.”

“The cooling mechanism is cut off, so it’s melting ice shelves,” Hansen explained in an interview with Grist. “It’s a really dangerous situation where you get melting that causes more melting.”…

The bottom line, as Slate’s Eric Holthaus writes, is that “glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea-level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.” A sea-level rise of 10 feet would inundate parts of major cities from New York to Shanghai…

Hansen, despite his reputation for doomsaying, remains hopeful about the prospects for fending off the worst of climate change. The biggest emitting nations are not pledging to cut emissions enough to even keep warming below 2C, but Hansen says a gradually rising global carbon fee could change that. It could force emissions to drop several percentage points per year and hold us down to 1.5C in warming. To get this outcome from the messy global climate treaty process would be fantastic, but it is highly unlikely. Hansen sort of admits this, but holds out hope nonetheless.

“I don’t think it’s impossible that you could get key players to agree to the concept of an international carbon fee,” he says. “It’s not going to happen with 190 countries sitting around a table. It’s going to happen with key players negotiating directly either at Paris or in the years ahead.” Specifically, Hansen imagines that the world’s two biggest economies and biggest carbon emitters, the U.S. and China, would negotiate a carbon fee bilaterally and then use their global buying power to force all of their trading partners to join.

People who actually read and study agree. At least economists who earn a living in the world of business and finance – as well as academia. I happened to see Peter Orszag on Bloomberg Surveillance, the other morning, and he was working at advancing the Hansen solution as practical and possible. Hoping against hope that reasonable leaders of industrial nations might engage in bilateral negotiations and treaties to force the reduction in atmospheric carbon.

No, he didn’t hold out any hope for the United States offering world leadership unless anti-science conservatives were absent from both houses of Congress and the White House. Poisonally, I don’t think Americans are well-enough informed or yet free enough of medieval hobgoblins to bring about that quality of change.

Repeated, record-breaking rainfall events increase with global warming

montana
Click to enlargeSean R. Heavey

Heavy rainfall events setting ever new records have been increasing strikingly in the past thirty years. While before 1980, multi-decadal fluctuations in extreme rainfall events are explained by natural variability, a team of scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research detected a clear upward trend in the past few decades towards more unprecedented daily rainfall events.

They find the worldwide increase to be consistent with rising global temperatures which are caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels…

The average increase is 12 percent globally – but 56 percent in South East Asia

An advanced statistical analysis of rainfall data from the years 1901 to 2010 derived from thousands of weather stations around the globe shows that over 1980-2010 there were 12 percent more of these events than expected in a stationary climate, a scenario without global warming. “Due to the upward trend, the worldwide increase of record-breaking daily rainfall events in the very last year of the studied period reaches even 26 percent”, Lehmann adds.

The record-breaking anomaly has distinct patterns across Earth’s continents with generally wet regions seeing an over-proportional increase and drier regions less so. In South East Asian countries the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56 percent, in Europe 31 percent, in the central US 24 percent. In contrast, some regions experienced a significant decrease of record-breaking daily rainfall events. In the Mediterranean, the reduction is 27 percent, and in the Western US 21 percent. Both regions are at risk of severe droughts.

While a statistical analysis of course cannot provide direct physical cause-effect relations, the scientists compared their findings to existing knowledge about how much more water can be stored in the atmosphere when temperatures rise, as given by the well-known Clausius-Clapeyron equation. This additional moisture can be released during short-term heavy rainfall events. The scientists show that the observed increase in unprecedented heavy rainfall events generally fits with this thermodynamically expected increase under global warming…

Up to now, studies could add up to only medium confidence on how human induced greenhouse gases have contributed to changes in heavy precipitation events at the global and regional scale. The new analysis now helps to fill this research gap. Building on previous work on extreme precipitation, it is the first to study worldwide observational data of record-breaking daily rainfall events in this context.

I probably haven’t said this for at least 10 minutes, but — if I was starting out, today, I’d point myself at a geek career in computational analysis. This stuff is fascinating. Most particularly when you have the opportunity to gather wide-reaching data and spend time data-mining, winnowing away the chaff – perhaps discovering a new direction, insight to old problems.

British Columbia’s policy of killing cubs not based on scientific reality

The fate of two orphaned bear cubs remains uncertain as a B.C. conservation official says they show signs of habituation to humans. A conservation officer was suspended after reportedly refusing to destroy the cubs last weekend.

B.C.’s most experienced rehabilitation specialist for black bears said Wednesday it is crazy for the Ministry of Environment to assert that two eight-week-old cubs on Vancouver Island needed to be killed because they’d become habituated to human food.

“It’s just ridiculous,” said Angelika Langen, co-founder of Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers. “There is absolutely no scientific proof that cubs that follow their mothers for (human) food at this age have learned anything…

Langen said of the more than 300 black bears her facility has released in the past 25 years, not one has run into trouble by rummaging for human garbage. Bears receive ear tags and microchips to identify them after release…

There’s been an outpouring of support for conservation officer Bryce Casavant, who was suspended without pay after sparing the lives of two black bear cubs near Port Hardy on Sunday.

The B.C. government has since revised those conditions to a suspension with pay pending an investigation into the incident.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 55,000 people had signed an online petition asking for the officer’s reinstatement.

Ricky Gervais, the British actor, comedian and animal rights advocate with nine million Twitter followers, has urged the government to “reinstate this honourable man.”…

Conservation officers killed a total of 1,872 black bears during the past four years across the province — an average of almost 500 per year, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Environment. The ministry does not keep statistics on how many were cubs…A total of 137 cubs were taken to rehabilitation centres.

I tire of bureaucrats stuck into policies promoted centuries ago to keep cattle herds happy – municipalities continuing in happy ignorance. We move into nature’s habitat and expect guns to control conflicts.

Koch Bros flunky opposes more national parks

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…Throughout the national park system, an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance is eroding the visitor experience and threatening the very resources that the National Park Service was created to protect. Earlier this year, the park service announced that the cost of deferred maintenance had reached $11.5 billion…

Despite this, in December President Obama effectively spread the maintenance budget even thinner by adding seven new parks totaling approximately 120,000 acres to the park system. The administration also supports reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes up to $900 million annually from offshore oil and gas leases to federal land acquisitions and state recreational grants — but nothing explicitly for the maintenance of our federal lands.

Adding more land to the federal estate is irresponsible when the government is failing to maintain the parks, forests and grazing lands it currently owns. Rather than using the conservation fund to acquire more land, Congress should use the money to help address the deferred maintenance backlog.

True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself.

Advocates for reauthorizing the conservation fund, including the Interior Department, point to broad public support for public land acquisition, particularly for private holdings within park boundaries and other ecologically sensitive parcels threatened by development. However, federal land agencies can acquire these priority parcels in a revenue-neutral manner by swapping them with other federal lands, leaving the land and water conservation money for critical maintenance and repairs.

Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center blthers on with sophistry for a spell – then, gets to his point:

First, Congress should stop acquiring more land and use the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help pay down the deferred maintenance backlog. Second, Congress should renew and expand the authority of federal land agencies that oversee our parks, forests and rangelands to charge user fees and allow those fees to be used at the locations where they were collected.

No thought given to reordering priorities on how our government spends its whole budget.

The Park Service budget for fiscal year 2015 is $2.6 billion – less than 1/10th of 1% of the federal budget. At the same time all of the regular activities of the Department of Defense are projected to consume 54% of all federal discretionary spending, or $598.5 billion out of a total of $1.1 trillion.

Might we consider withdrawing the taxpayer subsidies in the billion$ we hand over to fossil fuel companies? Nope, flunkies like Watson spend their lobbying time before Congress and the public prating about more efficient use of the pittance set aside for nature’s natural heritage in the United States. In the heart of hearts of creeps like the Koch Bros, there is nothing they’d like better than ignoring real conservation – until after they’ve sucked every bit of carbon from the ground and stuffed it into the air we breathe.

The man who planted a forest in Kerala

Abdul Kareem, 66, of Parappa, Kasargod, Kerala had a liking to ‘Kavu’, the sacred forests of Kerala, right from his childhood. He would frequently visit his wife’s house in Puliyankulam village and it was during such visits that he noticed the barren hillside land nearby. In 1977, as if on an impulse, he bought five acres of the land for Rs 3750. The people nearby and even his family were not able to comprehend his action, and he became a laughing stock in the locality. The property had only a single well that remained almost dry throughout the year. Since it could not provide enough to water the saplings that he planted, he would carry water in cans from outside sources on his two-wheeler. This continued for three years, at the end of which, nature started responding to his unrelenting efforts and the trees actually started growing.

The change was now to be seen – birds came in flocks and helped Kareem by bringing seeds of umpteen varieties and started setting their nests in this new haven. Soon other forms of life also appeared. The ecosystem was developing at a good pace. In the meanwhile, Kareem bought another 27 acres of land and planted trees all over the place with the new-found vigour, motivated by the fruits of his efforts.

One notable feature of Kareem’s forest (that is what the Department of Tourism, Kerala Government, calls this place) which makes it a forest in the true sense is that Kareem never tried to interfere in its natural development once it started sustaining itself, rather he gamely prevented anything and everything that would interfere with the natural growth of his forest. He has never weeded the forest; neither does he sweep away the fallen leaves. There is no effort for intervention of any kind.

The forest has brought about amazing changes to the surroundings. The once dry well in the plot is now brimming with pure, fresh water. The underground water table in an area of about 10 kilometers has risen, it is said. The temperature inside the forest is markedly cooler than outside. Kareem has been living inside the forest since 1986, keeping constant vigil on his creation, which is dearer to him than anything. Visitors are allowed inside, even to stay as paying guests for a few days, provided they comply with Kareem’s regulations. Plastic is banned inside the forest; so is the use of automobiles. Wild partying, loud noises – all are a strict no-no.

Kareem has resisted various offers to commercialize the forest and to turn it into a theme park…For those who know him, the man who was once a laughing stock, has now grown colossal in stature, along with his creation – one that generations will cherish.

Inspiring.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Nobel Laureates sign declaration calling for urgent action on climate change

In 1955, partly out of urgency and partly out of guilt, a group of 52 Nobel Laureates signed a declaration on Mainau Island in Germany calling for an end to the use of nuclear weapons. The work of some of these prizewinners—including that of Otto Hahn, who discovered nuclear fission—was used to build nuclear weapons. They were horrified their work was turned into technology that could kill billions.

Now, 60 years on, again out of a mix of urgency and guilt, a group of 36 Nobel prizewinners have signed a new Mainau Declaration calling for urgent action on climate change. The document is open for other Nobel Laureates to join.

The discoveries of these signatories have mostly improved the quality of life of people around the world, but they now stand horrified at the prospect of what unchecked use of natural resources could do to the future.

In our fight against climate change, another declaration—even if it’s signed by some of the most eminent living scientists—probably won’t do much. But the declaration comes at a time when world over preparations are being made for a climate-change summit to be held in Paris in November 2015. Although previous global summits have resulted in more talk and less action, there is hope that the Paris talks would be different.

One of the leaders of the 1955 Mainau Declaration was Linus Pauling, whose relentless work against nuclear weapons won him the 1962 Nobel Peace prize—putting him in the rare category of a single individual winning two Nobel prizes. Who knows? Perhaps the same could happen to one of these Nobel Laureates.

Click the link above and you’ll find the full statement from this group of scientists at the end of the article. Certainly, it will mean a great deal in the world of science. But, hey, those are just folks who advance knowledge, medicine, healthcare, technology, biology, botany, all the intellectual pursuits that brought us a modern lifespan.

It will take further action from ordinary folks like you and me to push our politicians into doing something positive in response.

Lloyd hat-trick inspires U.S. Women to World Cup victory


Click to enlargeReuters/Michael Chow

The United States won the Women’s World Cup for the third time, crushing Japan 5-2 on Sunday with striker Carli Lloyd scoring the tournament’s fastest ever hat-trick, including a spectacular goal from the half-way line.

The American captain struck three times inside 16 minutes as the U.S. stormed into an unexpected and unsurmountable 4-0 lead over their shell-shocked opponents.

Japan, winners four years ago, were utterly stunned as the U.S’s deadly finishing ensured they added to their 1991 and 1999 titles, and became the first nation to win the Cup three times…

No team had ever scored more than two goals in a Women’s World Cup final but the brilliant Lloyd went one better all by herself — and within just 16 minutes…

And got her the Golden Ball for the tournament.

Japan restored a little bit of pride in the 27th minute when Yuki Ogimi turned Julie Johnston in the area and fired past Hope Solo to make it 4-1.

The Japanese have been widely praised for their short-passing game but it was an old-fashioned route that brought them, temporarily, back into the game early in the second half.

Aya Miyami’s long free-kick into the box was aimed at Sawa and Johnston rose for the ball but could only deflect a header past a helpless Solo.

The glimmer of hope flickered for just two minutes, however, when a U.S. corner fell to Morgan Brian beyond the far post and she did well to find Tobin Heath, who confidently fired home to make it 5-2 and effectively end Japan’s hope of a comeback.

Bravo! The US Women’s team proved their worth, demonstrated that a nation that still hasn’t grown to full participation in the world’s most popular sport can grow through school programs and amateur leagues to play at the best professional level.

Apple personalizes photography — iPhone users win Cannes Gold Lions

Ahmed fiesta pic
Ahmed’s pic from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has shown up around the world

Apple’s World Gallery, part of the “Shot on iPhone 6″ media blitz, was honored at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity with five Gold Lions and a Grand Prix award in the outdoor category.

…Jury president Juan Carlos Ortiz, creative chairman ad agency DDB Americas, heaped praise on the idea of sourcing media from the public sphere. The strategy flies in the face of traditional media strategies which rely on art contracted from professional photographers.

“It’s not just a great idea, it’s a game changer,” Ortiz said. “It’s really opening a new way of doing things and changing behavior.”

World Gallery first showed up online in March as a collection of images taken by iPhone 6 users. While some images were captured by professionals in the photography field, many were shot by pro-am or amateur users. Earlier this month, Apple added a video section to the minisite, again featuring footage borrowed from iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners.

I started noticing the video adverts showing up on TV in the last couple of weeks. Not only impressive work in most instances, I’m especially happy to see mostly amateurs receiving recognition.

There was a time, decades ago, that Kodak brought similar capabilities to hobbyist photographers. I’m delighted to see it happening again.

What’s Really Warming the World? NASA data provides proof

what's warming the world
Click through to a dynamic set of infographics

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has done a knockout series of infographics based on decades of data and study. They deserve all the credit in the world for maintaining real science in the face of superstition, myth and the new American disease – self-deception.