There’s a very cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

day after tomorrow

Last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.

Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months:

What’s up with that?

images.washingtonpost.com

First of all, it’s no error. I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months…

And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”

Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.

At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation…

The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning. There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.

The short term variations will at some point also go the other way again, so I don’t expect the subpolar Atlantic to remain at record cold permanently. But I do expect the AMOC to decline further in the coming decades. The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will continue to contribute to this decline by diluting the ocean waters.

This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario). But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.

A good time to go back and watch at least the first portion of Day After Tomorrow. The movie does a good job of explaining the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation and what potentially can happen. There are climate scientists who agree – and some who disagree. A localized effect can become a regional effect and vice versa.

What is fairly likely is that if the circulation is interrupted by what has long been a predictable feature of global warming, folks in NW Europe and the UK who’ve been getting used to a generally warmer year-round batch of seasons better get out their woolies. The Gulf Stream circulation brings a fair chunk of warmth to what should feel like Poland or even Belarus. And may, soon.

China adopts emissions policy that won’t get through U.S. Congress


George HW Bush signing Clean Air Act legislation including cap-and-trade in 1990

Last Thursday night news broke of the impending announcement of a national cap-and-trade program for carbon in China, as part of a U.S.-China joint climate announcement. This market-based approach, pioneered in the U.S. with the sulfur dioxide trading program, has clearly come to be seen as an essential policy tool to combat climate change, increasingly embraced by countries, policymakers, and global business leaders of all political persuasions.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that established the Acid Rain program to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides was a milestone for market-based environmental policies. It led to the creation of the SO2 trading program, which has helped cut those emissions at a lower cost than many had envisioned at the start of the program. The experience with this program also provides critical lessons on the importance of good policy design that can help inform future policies. (For example, the need for updating emissions caps to reflect the latest science and declining technology costs.)

Since then, cap-and-trade systems have been successfully established in Europe (the EU ETS), California (via AB32), and the nine Northeast RGGI states, among other places. Many other places, including the Canadian province of British Columbia, have a carbon tax or plan to implement one…

Starting in 2013, China began to pilot carbon cap-and-trade programs at the sub-national level. The pilot programs now extend to six cities (Beijing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin) and two provinces (Guangdong and Hubei). The experiment has had some encouraging results, and (together with lessons from the EU ETS, California, RGGI, and other carbon trading regimes) provide the real-world experience needed to design a national system to limit emissions in a cost-effective way. China’s INDC announced earlier this year signaled the country’s intention to use carbon pricing to help meet its goal of peaking CO2 emissions by 2030, if not earlier…

Last week was a momentous one for climate action, book-ended by the Pope’s address to Congress and the joint climate announcement from Presidents Obama and Xi. The economist in me cannot help but wonder: If China can do it, why not the U.S.? It’s time for a national price on carbon in the country that invented the concept.

You needn’t be a cynic to understand why the United States will not keep its fair share of the bargain struck between Presidents Obama and Xi. Congress must be part of the equation funding efforts of this size. Between Flat Earth Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, nothing will be accomplished. That’s just a realistic view of what our national-level politicians have become.

China’s pilot programs have moved forward. Just as their experiments with individual cities becoming Free Trade Zones worked out, other cities are already in line waiting not-very-patiently to acquire the benefits of progressive reforms.

While this system can sort about half the polluting problems of excess carbon, the last-mile question also needs to be answered, as well. China needs to replace coal home fires for heating and cooking with natural gas. That process began a few years ago; but, in many ways, it is more demanding because it requires upgraded infrastructure — nationwide.

Nevertheless, both are on the way. Which is about two orders of magnitude more than we can say about the dungheap of backwardness that stretches from SCOTUS to Congress.

Christian imitation Boy Scouts ban gays – they ban Mormons and Jews, too


Ban Gays, Ban Mormons, Ban Jews – leaders in Christian ideology, they say!

The DC summit, organized by the conservative Family Research Council Action, is headlined by no fewer than seven GOP presidential candidates. For many years, the Boy Scouts have had a place of honor at the event, presenting the American flag as the color guard. This year, though, the Scouts are nowhere to be found. In their place are boys from Trail Life USA, the outdoor adventure and character development group created last year as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. Joining them were American Heritage Girls, the religious alternative to the Girl Scouts.

Trail Life was founded by a religious-right activist from Florida, associated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, who was active fighting the Boy Scout policy change. The group’s official policy on gays says:

We believe that homosexuality is sinful and immoral, as is any sexual activity outside of the sanctity of marriage between a Man and a Woman. Consistent with this belief, we have specific policies that address membership and sin in both youth and adult members.

Trail Life also excludes Mormons and Jews

The booting of the Boy Scouts from the event isn’t all that surprising. The Family Research Council, which sponsors the Values Voter Summit, has been an ardent opponent of the Boy Scouts’ acceptance of gays. Earlier this year, FRC head Tony Perkins lamented that the Boy Scouts were moving “away from their moral standard of being morally straight and clean and moving into open homosexuality.” He claimed that both the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts “are done” as organizations because of their acceptance of gays.

A regular speaker at the event, Mat Staver, with the legal group Liberty Counsel, said last month that the change in policy at the Boy Scouts meant that “you are going to have all kinds of sexual molestation. This is a playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust. This is insane, and we need to literally abandon the Scouts because the Scouts, unfortunately, have abandoned us.”

The proto-fascists who have assigned themselves the mantle of American Conservativism can rest assured they haven’t been abandoned by the political hacks who really count on their votes, their money, their support: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Lindsay Graham, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump all showed up. They don’t have a problem with groups banning religions in the name of religious liberty.

Blue skies in Paris — city center car-free


Click to enlarge — Champs Élysées in 1900

With the eight lanes of France’s most famous avenue cleared of all traffic on Paris’s first car-free day, the usual cacophony of car-revving and thundering motorbike engines had given way to the squeak of bicycle wheels, the clatter of skateboards, the laughter of children on rollerblades and even the gentle rustling of wind in the trees. It was, as one Parisian pensioner observed as she ambled up the centre of the road taking big gulps of air, “like a headache lifting”.

There were other weird and pleasant effects of this tiny glimpse of carless utopia. “Everyone seems to be smiling, and not as stressed,” marvelled Elisabeth Pagnac, a civil servant in her 50s, who had been emboldened to cycle in from the eastern edge of the city without a helmet. But strangest of all was the sky.

“I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.

Others agreed that looking up towards the Arc de Triomphe and to La Défense beyond, a view that was so often hazy and distorted by the city’s famous smog was suddenly crystal clear.

“What a joy to go down the middle of the road taking in the sights,” said Claude Noirault, a wheelchair-basketball coach, who had done 10km in his sports wheelchair and was planning 30km more.

When Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, launched the idea of the French capital’s first car-free day at the suggestion of the collective Paris Without Cars, pollution was top of the agenda

Hidalgo, launching the event with other mayors who have already pioneered car-free days, including the mayor of Brussels, said the initiative showed people “are not obliged to move around in a personal car, there are other ways to approach mobility in a city”.

It wasn’t a complete success. RTFA. The sophistry brigade will find plenty to whine about, Left or Right.

The core commitment to a day without fossil fuel pollution in the City of Light let in lots of sunlight. A fresh beginning.