Tagged: climate change

Global warming is humidifying the upper atmosphere

We have long suspected that greenhouse gases which cause the Earth to warm would lead to a wetter atmosphere. The latest research published by Eul-Seok Chung, Brian Soden, and colleagues provides new insight into what was thought to be an old problem. In doing so, they experimentally verified what climate models have been predicting. The models got it right… again.

To be clear, this paper does not prove that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. We have known that for years. Nevertheless, the paper make a very nice contribution. The authors show that the long-term increase in water vapor in the upper troposphere cannot have resulted from natural causes – it is clearly human caused. This conclusion is stated in the abstract,

Our analysis demonstrates that the upper-tropospheric moistening observed over the period 1979–2005 cannot be explained by natural causes and results principally from an anthropogenic warming of the climate. By attributing the observed increase directly to human activities, this study verifies the presence of the largest known feedback mechanism for amplifying anthropogenic climate change.

As stated earlier, climate models have predicted this moistening – before observations were available. In fact, the models predicted that the upper troposphere would moisten more than the lower atmospheric layers. As the authors state,

Given the importance of upper-tropospheric water vapor, a direct verification of its feedback is critical to establishing the credibility of model projections of anthropogenic climate change.

To complete the experiments, the authors used satellite measurements of radiant heat. The emissions have changed but it wasn’t clear why they have changed. Changes could be caused by increases in temperature or from increased water vapor. To separate the potential effects, the authors compared the first set of experiments with others made at a different wavelength. That comparison provided a direct measure of the separate effect of moistening.

Next, the authors used the world’s best climate models to test whether the observed trends could be caused by natural changes in the Earth’s climate or whether they require a human influence. Sure enough, only the calculations that included human-emitted greenhouse gases matched the observations. The authors conclude that,

Concerning the satellite-derived moistening trend in recent decades, the relations of trend and associated range among three experiments lead to the conclusion that an increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases is the main cause of increased moistening in the upper troposphere.

Another box ticked, another set of relevant questions answered. Now, real scientists will continue with their work – preparing answers for those nations and politicians ready to deal with serious ecological questions.

The rest…? I don’t know. Don’t waste too much time asking a Republican what they intend to do?

Thanks, Mike

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Tornado strength, frequency, linked to climate change

New research by a Florida State University geography professor shows that climate change may be playing a key role in the strength and frequency of tornadoes hitting the United States.

…Professor James Elsner writes that though tornadoes are forming fewer days per year, they are forming at a greater density and strength than ever before. So, for example, instead of one or two forming on a given day in an area, there might be three or four occurring…

Elsner, an expert in climate and weather trends, said in the past, many researchers dismissed the impact of climate change on tornadoes because there was no distinct pattern in the number of tornado days per year. In 1971, there were 187 tornado days, but in 2013 there were only 79 days with tornadoes.

But a deeper dive into the data showed more severity in the types of storms and that more were happening on a given day than in previous years…

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country, and despite advances in technology and warning systems, they still remain a hazard to residents in storm-prone areas. The 2011 tornado season, for example, had nearly 1,700 storms and killed more than 550 people…

One bright spot of news in the research, Elsner added, was that the geographic areas impacted most regularly by tornadoes do not appear to be growing.

Interesting work and especially relevant in this period of climate change. Too bad politicians and other scatterbrains find it easier to focus on ideology and elections than actually developing a response to the changes we’re still analyzing and understanding.

Kudos to people like Professor Elsner for maintaining dedication to research even when there are know-nothings in the Florida legislature who would rather defund work like this than confront change.

Thanks, Mike

Our pollution reached Antarctica before the great explorers


Lead pollution from Oz got there first

Lead pollution from Australia reached Antarctica in 1889 – long before the frozen continent’s golden age of exploration – and has remained there ever since, new research shows.

In our study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, my colleagues and I used ice core samples from West and East Antarctica to reveal the continent’s long and persistent history of heavy metal pollution.

The Antarctic remains the most remote and pristine place on Earth. Yet despite its isolation, our findings show that it has not escaped contamination from traces of industrial lead, a serious pollutant and neurotoxin. The levels of lead pollution found in the ice cores is too low to impact Antarctic ecosystems, but higher levels would be expected closer to sources…

The new study, led by Dr Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, used an array of Antarctic ice cores to reveal a detailed record of where and when pollution can be found.

The first trace of lead pollution arrived in Antarctica around 1889, 22 years before the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to the South Pole.

We also discovered that lead pollution in the Antarctic peaked twice, and that in both cases Australia was the primary source.

After an initial peak in the late 1920s, lead levels dropped in sync with the Great Depression and Second World War. The pollution peaked again in about 1975.

Today, although levels are lower than at the 1975 peak, they remain at roughly three times the pre-industrial level…

More analysis will help us unlock more of Antarctica’s secrets. If you’ll excuse the pun, our latest results are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to information stored in the Antarctic ice sheet.

For example, fires in the Southern Hemisphere have left traces in the ice and a history of climate. The history of persistent organic pollutants and mercury in the remote south are still poorly known. Colleagues at CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation are using ice cores to understand the past variability of greenhouse gases and the Sun. Combined with records from tree rings, sediments and caves, ice cores help to recreate a large-scale reconstruction of past sea level pressure.

Meanwhile, Antarctica continues to serve as a sentinel for unintended consequences of human activities – in this case, the pollution of a pristine frozen wasteland by an Australian mining product.

Today’s abusers of the word “conservative” will continue on their plastic primrose path to the destruction of Earth’s biosphere given any opportunity at all. Unlike their predecessors – for whom conservative also meant conservator of the Earth – prattle about denial is all they have to offer their children and grandchildren when they grow old enough to accuse them of rejecting human responsibility for polluting limited resources. Including the transformation of our climate at a radical pace.

When science points out the corruption of our planet, the response of these cowards is simply to deny science.

World Council of Churches calls for fossil fuel divestment


The altar where the Koch Bros worship

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches which represent some 590 million people in 150 countries, endorsed fossil fuel divestment this week, agreeing to phase out its own holdings and encourage its members to do the same. The WCC Central Committee is made up of dozens of influential religious leaders from around the world, meaning the decision could resonate far and wide.

“The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves–and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a global climate campaign that is supporting the divestment effort. “This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further…’”

The endorsement is a major victory for the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has seen a surge of momentum amongst religious institutions over the last few months. In recent weeks, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in the United States committed to divest, the University of Dayton in Ohio became the first Catholic institution to join the campaign, and the Church of Sweden have come out in favour of divestment.

Overdue.

Thanks, Mike

Who do idjits elect? Worse idjits!

Kentucky politician learned science from black-and-white sci-fi movies

Kentucky’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment met today to discuss the new EPA rules to fight climate change by limiting greenhouse gases from power plants. The committee is chaired by Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, a proud climate change denier who has suggested in the past that Kentucky secede from the union in order to avoid federal environmental regulations. Yes, he chairs the committee, because it’s Kentucky.

I don’t even know where to start on sharing some of the wisdom that was expressed by our state legislators during this hearing. No, actually I do. I give you the honorable Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard:

“As you (Energy & Environment Cabinet official) sit there in your chair with your data, we sit up here in ours with our data and our constituents and stuff behind us. I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change, but I will simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There are no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”

First of all, I did not make up that quote, it’s quite real.

Secondly, while the average temperature on Earth is roughly 58 degrees Fahrenheit, the average temperature on Mars is approximately -80 degrees Fahrenheit. In Sen. Smith’s defense, he’s only off by about 138 degrees or so, which happens sometimes…

Thirdly, note that when Smith refers to those in academia, he uses the word “we.” Because he’s obviously one of those academic types. He has “his” data, and the 98 percent of climate scientists who believe in climate change have “theirs.” Nobody will dispute that.

Fourthly, while Mars doesn’t burn any coal — smashing claims that climate change on Earth is due to this, since we have the same temperature* — Smith can’t be sure that they don’t have any factories giving off greenhouse gases. We’ll have to check with the data of the Martian scientists before we can confirm this claim.

Lastly, Smith is an actual elected official in Kentucky’s state Senate, who has been elected to this position twice by real Kentucky voters, and served four terms in the House before that.

There were plenty of other amazing and “insightful” quotes in this hearing from members of both parties that I’ll share later — where the people who say Mars is the same temperature as Earth allege that climate scientists don’t know what they’re talking about — but right now I think I need to lay in the fetal position for a couple of hours.

I needn’t add anything to this blog – do I?

If you ever care to wander through the realm of sound peer-reviewed science, I suggest a couple of the sites I link to over on the right side of this page. I especially enjoy RealClimate.

Thanks, Mike

Dark Money is fueling the nutballs who deny climate change


Some folks can’t get enough Big Oil green air conditioning

This spring, new research out of Canada’s McGill University that reviewed historical temperature records and geological data (ice cores, tree rings and lake sediments) concluded with 99% certainty that our current climate change predicament cannot be ascribed to natural cycles.

But many are still dubious that man-made climate change is real. What’s more, some skeptics even claim climate change is a money-making scam. In reality, you can follow the “dark money” to see how targeted funding is perpetuating these misconceptions — even as climate change awareness and research groups lose funding.

Canadian and American governments spend a pittance on climate research and conservative pressures inside both work hard at cutting it down further. But, let’s look at the private side of climate politics.

A study released out of Drexel University at the end of last year found that 140 foundations had directed $558 million between 2003 and 2010 to approximately 100 organizations, which in turn devoted those funds to climate misinformation campaigns.

The study, which was conducted by environmental sociologist Robert Brulle and published in the peer-reviewed journal Climactic Change in late December, found that much of this “dark money” is funneled through third-party foundations like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital. In particular, DonorsTrust was found to account for 25% of all traceable foundation money used by organizations to promote climate skepticism. Other groups found to be significant funders of climate skeptic material were the Searle Freedom Trust, the John Williams Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

To come to his findings, Brulle developed a list of 118 influential climate denial organizations in the United States. After that, he coded data on philanthropic funding for each organization, referring to the Foundation Center’s global philanthropy database and financial data records submitted to the Internal Revenue Service…

Forbes has also experienced a recent uptick in climate skeptic content, especially from regular columnist James Taylor, an attorney and Senior Fellow of the Heartland Institute, which came under fire in 2012 for featuring a billboard in Illinois equating those who believe in global warming to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. The publicity stunt caused Heartland to lose funding support from two dozen insurance companies, including State Farm.

According to transcripts leaked to and posted on DeSmog Blog, the Charles G. Koch Foundation donated $200,000 to Heartland in 2011, as reported by a 2012 Heartland memo on climate strategy. Heartland documents also referred to an “anonymous donor” with an interest in climate skepticism who contributed $1,664,150 in 2010 to $979,000 in 2011 to the group — comprising approximately 20% of the group’s annual revenue…

However, the tide seems to be turning as more investors are becoming wary of funding organizations that advocate for climate skepticism or that plan to perpetuate a carbon-intensive economy in light of the uncertainties posed by climate change.

Last month, Stanford became the first major U.S. university to divest its shares in coal-mining companies worth $18.7 billion from its endowment funds. And back in March, shareholders of Apple voted down a resolution by the National Center for Public Policy Research a proponent of climate skepticism that would have forced the corporate behemoth to disclose the money it has invested in tackling climate change.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook even explicitly called on climate denialists to ditch their Apple stocks if they did not support company’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions…

And that is more than a little ray of sunshine. Though many of the greedy bastards dedicated to fossil fuel profits couldn’t care less about the future of a less polluted life on this planet – there are a number of investors who really would like their kids and grandkids have a life worth living.

A survey released last year by the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change, which examined the investment behaviors of asset managers and owners whose collective assets exceeded $14 trillion, found that more than half (53%) referred to climate change as a motivation when investing in or divesting from certain stocks.

“There’s a lot of question about who is funding what and where,” says Gretchen Goldman, a lead analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, where she has recently researched the influence of trade associations on climate policy in the U.S. “More and more shareholders are concerned about this and want to make sure their companies don’t deny science or interfere with any sort of action that can be taken on climate change.”

Many more examples inside the body of this 3-page article. Worth reading, worth remembering.

Climate change can ruin your beer

Water is beer’s primary ingredient, and brewers are worried about having enough.

In 2011, it took brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev 3.5 barrels of water to produce 1 barrel of beer. Due to concerns over drought and shrinking water supplies, the world’s largest brewer set a goal to drop that number to 3.25 barrels by 2012. It met that goal, and this week, Pete Kraemer, the company’s vice president for supply said that they had shrunk that number down to 3.15 barrels, with plans to drop it still further. For context, their plant in Houston alone produces 12 million barrels of beer each year…

Most of the water used to make beer does not make it into beer bottles — it ends up as wastewater, which in turn requires energy to treat. Matt Silver was a NASA researcher who decided to use his knowledge of life-support systems in space to create a water treatment system that turns industrial wastewater into electricity. The water that comes out of a brewery, for example, contains too much in the way of organic compounds to be dumped down the drain — but those compounds can feed microbes that turn it into methane, which can be used to heat and power a factory. His company, Cambrian Innovations, received seed money from the EPA, NASA, and the Pentagon and has been selling systems that do this to breweries like Lagunitas in drought-parched California…

Large brewers are also concerned about barley, the second ingredient of beer.

In recent years, heavy rains in Australia and drought in England have damaged barely crops. That pattern of heavier downpours and drier droughts is likely to accelerate as greenhouse gases trap heat and warm the planet, according to the National Climate Assessment. Anheuser-Busch Inbev receives a lot of their barley from Idaho. Howard Neibling, a professor in the University of Idaho’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, told the Houston Chronicle that farmers see less water coming as snowpacks decline, and have tried to become more efficient with their water usage.

The third ingredient of beer is hops, which is also facing pressures from a warming world.

A study from 2009 suggested that the quality of Saaz hops from the Czech Republic has been falling since 1954 due to warmer temperatures. This is true for hops-growing regions across Europe. “If you drink beer now, the issue of climate change is impacting you right now,” Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company sustainability director Jenn Orgolini said in 2011. “Craft brewers — the emphasis there is on craft. We make something, and it’s a deeply agricultural product.”

Beyond adapting to the impacts of climate change, however, some breweries are directly trying to lower their carbon emissions that help fuel climate change. Many are finding it’s also saving them money…

New Belgium Brewing Company last year was recognized by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council for putting in place systems that allow it to divert 99.8 percent of its waste from the landfill.

More examples in the article. And these are examples that can be repeated in industry after industry. Maybe it takes federal and local pressure to encourage corporate managers. Maybe it takes incentives. Either road, it’s our lives ultimately affected by turning our industries Green.

Thanks, Mike

Interests, ideology and climate


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism…

Once upon a time King Coal was indeed a major employer: At the end of the 1970s there were more than 250,000 coal miners in America. Since then, however, coal employment has fallen by two-thirds, not because output is down — it’s up, substantially — but because most coal now comes from strip mines that require very few workers. At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.

Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost…

Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

While the general point of my personal blog is commentary upon well-done journalism, my reaction to issues and answers – there is little or no need for that following one of Paul Krugman’s excellent Op-Ed pieces.

Study projects how climate change will affect wheat-eating bugs

A couple of ordinary-looking refrigerator-type chambers at the University of Idaho may soon reveal what farmers might expect as the planet warms and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere go up.

The chambers, which are being monitored this summer by Seth Davis and Nate Foote of the U of I, are used to measure the effect of normal and higher rates of carbon dioxide on the cereal leaf beetle – an insect that can be devastating to wheat crops. The experiment is part of a national project aimed at helping scientists understand what could happen to the ecosystem as global warming continues throughout the 21st century.

“Everyone should be happy that our projections are saying that in this region, in the near term, (effects from global warming) are not significantly damaging,” said U of I entomologist Sanford Eigenbrode. “In the long term the uncertainty is greater but unless there is some reversal of the process it’s going to get very hard to grow wheat here ultimately. The idea is to be ready…”

Eigenbrode’s team participated in the National Assessment of Climate Change released recently by the Obama administration, warning of the potential consequences of continued global warming.

It may seem trivial to study the effects of higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures on a bug, but the experiment is a bellwether for some of the challenges farmers would face in a changing environment.

The cereal leaf beetle was introduced into the Palouse in the late 1990s but has since been successfully controlled by a parasite wasp that feeds on the beetle and reduces its effect.

Eigenbrode said there are indications, however, the beetle and the wasp would adapt differently in a warmer climate with higher carbon dioxide levels.

The parasite is likely not to be as effective at controlling the beetle, thus increasing the potential for damage to wheat and other cereal grain crops…

“There are parts of the world that used to produce crops that don’t anymore,” Eigenbrode said. “We really don’t want to be one of those places.”

Agribusiness is one of those rare niches in capitalism where participants tend to peer out into the future – preparing for the good and the bad. Unlike the rest of the investing class who barely contain themselves through monthly portions of quarterly cycles.

And Congress which, as we well know, only plans for the next election.

Thanks, Mike