R&D

March for Science! Today is the day to stand up for #Science 

Today is our chance to show support for science.

All over the planet people will be marching for universal values of science.

Find out where and when in your locality and join the scientists. 

Universal Literacy

A well-informed community is essential to a free and successful society. 

We support education to promote broad public knowledge and discussion of scientific work. 

As professionals, parents, and community-engaged volunteers, we enthusiastically contribute our time and expertise to helping children and students of all ages engage with the physical universe and biological world.

Open Communication

Publicly-funded scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research and public outreach and accessibility of scientific knowledge should be encouraged. 

Communication of scientific findings and their implications must not be suppressed.

Informed Policy

Public policy should be guided by peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus. 

Public policy must enable scientists to communicate their publicly-funded research results, and must support literacy in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Stable Investment

A long-term, strategic approach to investment in scientific research and development is essential for driving true innovation. 

Government commitment to stable science funding policy will deliver solutions to complex challenges, promoting prosperity for all.


Our acknowledgment

Science belongs to everyone. It should be pursued for the benefit of all people and for the health of the environment we depend upon.
At March for Science Australia we acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Australian continent, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and pay our respects to ancestors and Elders both past and present.
We recognise that science and scientific pursuits have been used in the past to disenfranchise many minority groups. We are committed to the promotion of science, now and in the future, as an endeavour which all persons have the right to pursue and enjoy the fruits of, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, political affiliation, or socioeconomic status.
Diversity has strengthened and enriched scientific inquiry, and the inclusion of all peoples and the promotion of equal opportunity and training within science should be a goal pursued by scientists and non-scientists alike.

Press link for more: March for Science Australia

The Crazy Climate Technofix #auspol 

by Mark White
Illustrations by Bren Luke 
Earth’s climate has been edging towards a scene usually reserved for a post-apocalyptic movie.

 Some posit geoengineering as a radical fix to climate change.

 Others say the risks are too high and its proponents mad. 

Welcome to the debate where science fiction meets climate science.

If you visit a block of land near the West Australian dairy town of Harvey in a few years’ time, you will see a few pipes sticking out of the ground, a solar panel and an aerial for communications devices. 

There may be a hut and some room for parking.
These will be the only visible signs of the South West Hub project, designed to test the feasibility of pumping megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the vast Wonnerup sandstone layer, a kilometre-and-a-half deep beneath the Jarrah-Marri trees on the surface.
The gas will be liquefied in a nearby compressor building – an anonymous farm shed – and transported to the injection site via underground pipes.
Wonnerup is an example of carbon capture and storage, one of a suite of technologies known as geoengineering, or climate engineering.
Geoengineering is a mixed bag, but the idea involves large-scale interventions at the level of the whole planet, with the goal of fixing the climate.

 It’s tricky, dangerous, and largely considered “fringe science”.
The proposals come in two main flavours. 

One is carbon dioxide removal, which strips the gas from the atmosphere and slowly restores atmospheric balance.

 A mix of techniques would be needed: hundreds of factories like Wonnerup, billions of new trees and plants, plus contentious technologies such as artificially encouraging the growth of plankton.
The second is solar radiation management, intended to cool the Earth by stopping the sun’s heat from reaching the planet’s surface. 

That can be achieved by pumping minute particles into the atmosphere, but carries the risk of killing billions of people.
Right now, we don’t have the tools or the knowledge to deploy these fixes. 

But some prominent climate scientists argue that as carbon emissions continue to rise, geoengineering will have to be employed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
 

Last December’s meeting of world leaders in Paris produced a voluntary agreement to try to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C over pre-industrial levels, and to not exceed 2C – the widely agreed level of devastating heat increase.

 But agreement and actual efforts didn’t seem to go hand in hand.

“The roar of devastating global storms has now drowned the false cheer from Paris,” a team of 11 climate scientists wrote in a January letter to The Independent, “and brutally brought into focus the extent of our failure to address climate change. 

The unfortunate truth is that things are going to get much worse.”
University of Cambridge Professor Peter Wadhams says: “Other things being equal, I’m not a great fan of geoengineering, but I think it absolutely necessary given the situation we’re in. 

It’s a sticking plaster solution. 

But you need it, because looking at the world, nobody’s instantly changing their pattern of life.”
Since then, temperatures have been soaring month after month, we’ve learned that the Great Barrier Reef is in extremely poor health and bleaching rapidly, while new quests continue to unearth more fossil fuels.
As we’re failing to keep the planet pleasant and habitable for future generations, could we instead fix the climate with technology? 
With geoengineering?
Debate about geoengineering in Australia is “almost being avoided”, according to Professor David Karoly, a noted atmospheric scientist at the University of Melbourne.

 He is a member of the Climate Change Authority, which advises the federal government, and was involved in preparing the 2007 IPCC report on global warming.
“There’s very little discussion on it in terms of government circles, there’s very little research on it, there’s very little discussion of it in what might be called mainstream science,” Professor Karoly says.

Policymakers are including geoengineering in their plans, but many technologies are still unproven and potentially dangerous.
“You’ll generally find among climate scientists that almost all are opposed to geoengineering,” says Professor Jim Falk, of the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute. 

“They’re already pretty concerned about what we’ve done to the climate and don’t want to start stuffing around doing other things we only half-understand on a grand scale.”
When the US National Academy of Science launched a report last year analysing geoengineering options, committee head Marcia McNutt, a geophysicist, was asked if any should be deployed. 

She replied “Gosh, I hope not”.
The report considered carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management so risky it used the term “climate intervention” instead of geoengineering, arguing the term “engineering” implied a level of control that doesn’t exist.
But the IPCC has considered scenarios where such engineering would be necessary: its 2014 assessment report mentions bio-energy carbon capture and storage (known as BECCS), where plant fuel is burned and the resulting carbon dioxide buried.
And the Paris Agreement noted there would be need for a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in 2050-2100.
“A few years ago, these exotic Dr Strangelove options were discussed only as last-ditch contingencies,” wrote Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, of the Paris talks in Nature magazine.
“Now they are Plan A.”
 

The term “geoengineering” raises the spectre of a James Bond villain cackling in his lair and planning to make volcanoes erupt at the push of a button. And that’s quite fitting, given that one approach to solar radiation management consists of mimicking the fallout from such giant explosions.
Treating the problem like an outlandish movie script may be the only way of comprehending the scale of the challenge. To reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by 1ppm – approaching the volume needed to stabilise global temperature – requires the withdrawal of 18 gigatonnes of gas, the equivalent of 18,000 South West Hub plants running for a year.
Tim Flannery, the former Australian of the Year who helped raise the profile of climate change, is vocal in supporting some geoengineering approaches. He prefers the less-toxic term “Third Way technologies”, based on the Earth’s natural processes.
Flannery says those which work at the gigatonne scale – the only ones which will dent the problem – may take decades to be developed.
“The only way you can get to a Paris-like outcome is by slamming hard on emissions,” he says, “reducing them as fast as humanly possible as well as investing now in these technologies that’ll give you these gigatonne gains in 20 or 30 years time.”
”The question for most of these technologies is – we don’t know if they work. But we need them to work.”
Flannery says solar-radiation management approaches should be treated with great caution, as they mask the problem: they will reduce the temperature, but not affect rising CO2 levels, leaving the oceans ever more acidic. That could see a catastrophic loss of reefs and oceanic life, devastating the aquatic food chain.
Ironically, one of the reasons the atmosphere isn’t already at a 2C warming mark, says Professor Karoly, is due to the aerosols already in the atmosphere – an unintentional form of solar radiation management.
He says the current best estimate of stabilising the temperature at that level, with a 50 per cent likelihood, is for a carbon equivalent reading of 420-480ppm. The current figure is 481ppm, and rising at 3ppm per year.
Solar radiation management – deliberate and large scale – might buy time in an emergency, says Flannery. “There’s a broad highway to hell that’s easy to go down and it’s really cheap, relatively. It’s instantly effective, nations can do it unilaterally and it gives you a lower temperature.
“But there’s a narrow, crooked, winding path to heaven which is the carbon reduction stuff. It’s at a very early stage, but that actually does solve the problem.”

Once we capture carbon, it can actually be used productively. American researchers have produced carbon nanofibres from atmospheric carbon dioxide – initially only 10g per hour, but they are convinced it could scale.
There could be vast baths of molten chemicals across large swathes of the Sahara Desert, powered by solar radiation, forming layers of a valuable building material on submerged electrodes.
A research project at a California university has gone further, manufacturing a building material dubbed CO2NCRETE from captured carbon dioxide. A pilot plant at Australia’s University of Newcastle is investigating whether a similar process, combining excess CO2 from an Orica plant with minerals to form building materials, has commercial potential.
Flannery is interested in desktop studies on carbon-sucking seaweed and algae, as well as research reporting that carbon dioxide can be made to fall as snow over the Antarctic.

Picture this: the temperature plummeting well below freezing until a blizzard of dry ice cascades onto the barren plains below, each cuboctahedral flake representing a miniscule improvement in carbon levels, to be stored safely – somehow – from warming into a gas and re-entering the air.
“We’re at very, very early days,” Flannery warns. “Various approaches have different favourable aspects to them, but I don’t think any of them are anything like a silver bullet.”
Flannery’s championing of unorthodox technologies – even as avenues for research – isn’t shared by many high-profile climate change campaigners. David Karoly calls Flannery’s interest “surprising”. He deems ideas such as dry ice snowfall in Antarctica as “rather technofix solutions”.
“How do you get sufficient CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it?” asks Professor Karoly. “It’s probably the most inhospitable environment in the world and he’s talking about – if you work out what this equates to, it’s a mountain higher than Everest, the size of a soccer field every year.”
The Paris target of a 1.5C rise is “virtually impossible” without new technologies, he says, which “have not been proved either commercially viable or without major harm”.
“My concern is, the cure might be substantially worse than the disease.”
Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, who wrote about geoengineering in his 2013 book Earthmasters, is more blunt.
“The schemes [Flannery] proposes are real pie-in-the-sky stuff, way out there,” he says. “He seems to have been sucked in by a kind of strange techno-promise that’ll get us out of this.”

Australian geoengineering research lags far behind the world leaders in the US, UK and Germany. It’s limited to a handful of scientists in Sydney and Hobart, and our major achievement is helping to halt commercial oceanic geoengineering.
The federal government, via its Direct Action policy, focuses on carbon sequestration without the crazy technofix label. Instead it backs land-use practices such as planting new forests, and prioritises soil enhancement, mangrove protection and rainforest recovery.
“There was an enormous groundswell of support for these activities in Paris,” a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment says. “Other actions [in the geoengineering field] would have an enormously high safety bar to cross and are a long way from proof.”
Meanwhile, CSIRO looks set to embark on an expansion of its geoengineering research program, both at land and sea. In a recent memo to staff announcing 350 job cuts at the organisation, CSIRO head Larry Marshall nominated “climate interventions (geo-engineering)” as one area in which it would seek a “step change” in knowledge.
“CSIRO is currently working through the detail of our future climate adaptation and mitigation research, and will include research relevant aspects of onshore and offshore geo-engineering. The scale and scope of this research is still to be determined,” a CSIRO spokesperson told SBS.

 
Jim Falk categorises geoengineering proposals along various lines, including how big a project needs to be for credible deployment, how big an impact it would have, whether it is reversible, what governance is required, how much it would cost, and the risks involved.
“Then you can say different proposals have different footprints,” Falk says, “and depending on the footprint you can suggest what sort of barriers you would want for their regulations before you would allow an experiment to take place.”
Unlike attempts to reduce global carbon emissions – where everyone must do their part for action to be effective – what scares scientists about solar radiation management is the relative ease of one person launching a planet-wide experiment.
Spraying sulphate particles into the atmosphere from aircraft or balloons is known to reduce temperatures. It mimics what happens when volcanic ash blankets the atmosphere.
There would be spectacular sunsets as solar rays interact with the particles, with brilliant red eddies splashing the evening sky, similar to those in Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.
And it has been costed at just $US10 billion a year.
One test in August 2008 was conducted on land 500km southeast of Moscow by Yuri Izrael, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s science advisor. He and his team rigged aerosol sprays on a helicopter and car chassis, measuring how solar radiation was retarded at heights up to 200 metres.
“China might decide to pump a load of sulphur into the atmosphere and not tell anyone about it,” says Rosemary Rayfuse, a Law professor at UNSW and a global authority on regulating geoengineering. “Or Australia could do it. Anybody could. That’s the other problem – it’s so easy to do.”
Billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson could step forward, says Anita Talberg, a PhD student in the governance of climate engineering at the University of Melbourne. Both support geoengineering and have funded research.
“They could just decide suddenly, ‘I could do enough benefit for the poor and vulnerable in the world, I could just do it and save them from the climate crisis.’”
Such a move could be catastrophic, most immediately due to the risk of drought in the tropics, devastating the food security of billions of people. Those colourful sunsets are projected to see lower rainfall.
The sky will bleach white during the day, while ozone depletes in the tropics – where most of the world’s population live. As the temperature falls, levels of UV radiation will rise, leading to an upsurge in skin cancers.

Professor Andy Pitman, of the Climate Change Research Centre in Sydney, is a member of the World Climate Research Program.
The only role he sees for sulphate injection is alongside steep cuts in carbon emissions. “If people are talking about it as a substitute for that, the technical term you’d use is ‘cloud cuckoo land’.”
But he hopes it’s never necessary.
“God, I hope not. We have a well-studied problem called global warming – we’re not sure of every detail – that would breach every ethics experiment on the planet if you proposed it as an experiment.
“All those problems relate to solar radiation management and I’d suggest any country that tried it at any significant level would find itself in every court in the world.”
There are smaller-scale approaches, he says, without the “ethical problems”. One is painting roofs white to reflect sun, a backyard approach anyone can try, and which would help cool interiors during hot summer days.
Another is genetically modified crops with a higher reflectivity, with variations as simple as leaves that are hairier or have a waxier coating.
Harvard University’s Professor David Keith is leading more research into solar radiation management, arguing in a 2015 paper that the technique could be used in a “temporary, moderate and responsive scenario”.
“Even if we make deep emissions cuts, it might be that the benefits of solar geoengineering outweigh the risks,” he tells SBS. “Or maybe not. To know, we have to decide to learn more.”
 

The belief in a technical solution – that because we have to find something, we will – has psychological roots in an effect known as ‘optimism bias’, says Melbourne psychologist Dr Susie Burke, who has expertise on issues relating to the environment, climate change and natural disasters.
“It’s intrinsic to humans to be optimistically biased,” she says, “and it’s great because it gets us out of bed in the morning and gives us a healthy motivation. But with respect to climate change, it means we end up minimising our personal risk and even risks that pertain to us – and believing the worst problems will happen to other people, somewhere else or into the future.”
She adds, “With the general population who are struggling to make significant changes to their lifestyle, deep down there is a belief that someone, somewhere will come up with something to solve the problem.”
Even talking about geoengineering carries the risk of “moral hazard”, that a solution to rocketing carbon emissions means they can continue unabated. That scenario troubles many.
“There’s a moral hazard in not discussing these things as well,” says Tim Flannery, “because we know we’re going to need them.”
The worst-case scenario – international agreements fail to stop emissions from rising – would force the use of extreme measures. Clive Hamilton thinks sulphate injection is the most likely use of geoengineering, though not yet.
“If we have a series of years where there are catastrophic droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes which cause massive impacts in several countries – also tipping points, so permafrost is now irreversibly melting – what kind of political and geostrategic environment are we going to be facing?” he asks.
“I think in that kind of scenario – which is not just possible but fairly likely – certain scientists promising they can rapidly reduce the earth’s temperature within a year or two are going to start looking increasingly attractive to some nations.”
Andy Pitman says that could lead to war: “You can imagine a situation – and it’s not too far-fetched – where country X starts a major campaign around sulphur injections into the atmosphere, country Y’s rainfall dramatically declines and is going into serious long-term famine, and that instigated a military response.”
And if carbon emissions continued to rise, the sulphate injection would have to be continuous. Otherwise, the particles would drop out of the atmosphere, leading to a sudden, highly disruptive jump in temperature.
If a war, say, or a pandemic was responsible for the break in sulphate injection, the compounding effects could be existential. 

Talking of human extinction in such a scenario is not too far-fetched.

 
The possibilities are less apocalyptic for some form of carbon capture and storage. 

Clive Hamilton identifies land being used by the likes of BECCS – bio-energy carbon capture and storage – to capture carbon as one of the main changes in geoengineering in the last few years.
Plants and trees would be grown for fuel, and the resulting carbon emissions from power generation would be stored away. There’s an example of this in Illinois at an ethanol production plant.
But there are questions over BECCS, not least that “no such economic process [is] available at this point and there may never be”, says Jim Falk.
The sheer amount of land needed is staggering, too. 

In a February 2016 paper in Nature,environmental scientist Philip Williamson estimated that one-third of the world’s arable land (430-580 million hectares of crops) would need planting for BECCS use to limit the temperature rise to 2C by 2100.

This would accelerate deforestation and, given “not unrealistic” assumptions, see carbon emissions actually increase.
Oliver Munnion, of the UK-based BioFuelwatch website, argues that BECCS is more dangerous than solar radiation management.

 “It’s the most outrageous,” he says. “It’s also the favoured approach amongst policy-makers, scientists and industry.
“The idea that we’d harm proven carbon sinks – forests and soils – to create an unproven and untested carbon sink underground is the antithesis of what climate policy should be geared towards.”
The problem facing geoengineering advocates is that most dangerous schemes are possible, but need to be used as a last resort, while the most promising schemes aren’t possible at scale. 

Even if they were, the numbers quickly turn ugly.
In the Nature article, Philip Williamson estimated that growing seaweed as a carbon pool would use nine per cent of the world’s oceans, with unknown environmental impacts.
Utilising the simple solar-radiation management tool of laying a reflective rock on the ground to reduce carbon levels by 12 per cent would need 1-5 kg/sqm of rock to be applied to 15-45 per cent of the earth’s surface, at a total cost of US$60-600 trillion.

That means an area of land at least the size of the old Soviet Union would have to be set aside and the global economy bankrupted.
The further you look, the more improbable geoengineering concepts become. A presentation to the 2016 American Meteorological Conference on Atmospheric Science called for lasers in the sky to microwave and neutralise methane clouds (another greenhouse gas).
UNSW Law professor Rosemary Rayfuse recalls one UK project looking at increasing the reflectivity of the oceans by making white foam, which had to persist for at least three months: “They were proposing to cover the oceans in meringue, which I thought was rather funny!”
David Karoly calls the idea of hanging mirrors in space to reflect sunlight “just stupid”, calculating the need for one million square kilometres of alfoil. Flannery agrees: “Anything that masks the problem, and lets people think they’ve solved it, is a danger.”
Cutting carbon emissions drastically, and now, would start to solve the problem. But that isn’t happening. Campaigners such as Tim Flannery are crossing their fingers that carbon-scrubbing technology we need to take us on “the narrow winding path to heaven” is developed in time.
If neither happens, we’ll be heading down the “broad highway to hell” of having to rely on solar radiation management, where the devil we don’t know is better than a climate gone rogue.
The effects of pumping simulated volcanic fallout into the atmosphere could dwarf the biggest eruptions in history. Start preparing for vivid red sunsets – and an uncertain future

Press link for more: SBS.COM.AU

Renewable Energy with or without #ClimateChange #auspol 

Renewable Energy With or Without Climate Change

By Steven Cohen

Executive Director, Columbia University’s Earth Institute

The new administration in Washington is dominated by fossil fuel interests and has resumed the mantra of “Drill, baby, drill!.” 

Deep sea drilling, mining in protected and sometimes fragile environments, mountaintop removal, fracking, and massive pipeline projects are all back on the table.

 It’s America first, fast, and fossil-fueled. 

Meanwhile, Germany goes solar, China is investing major resources in renewable energy, and homeowners all over America are saving big money with rooftop solar arrays.


Burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment.

 Extracting it, shipping it, and burning it all damage the planet. 

Since almost all human activity damages the planet though, the question is, how much?

 How irreversible? 

And can we achieve the same ends with less damage? 

This last question is one of the arguments for renewable energy.

 Our economic life is built on energy. 

It has made human labor less important, human brainpower more important, and made it possible for us to live lives our great-grandparents could not have imagined. 

The energy use is not going away; most people like the way they live.

 But our use of energy needs to be made more efficient and less destructive.
Even without environmental destruction such as ecosystem damage and climate change, renewable energy is clearly the next phase of human technological evolution. 

Just as we went from human-pulled carts to animal labor and from animals to fossil fuels, the next step is electric vehicles powered by renewable energy stored in high-tech batteries. 


Part of the argument for renewables is price. 

Even without damaging the environment, and even though the technology of fossil fuel extraction is advancing rapidly, fossil fuels are finite. 

That means over time they become less plentiful. 

That time may or may not come soon, but it will come. 

Demand will continue to rise but at some point supply will drop and prices will soar.

 The technology of extracting and storing energy from the sun will become cheaper over time. We have already seen this with computers and cell phones. The price of energy from the sun remains zero, and human ingenuity and the advance of technology is inevitable. 


Someone soon is going to solve the problem of generating and storing renewable energy. 

If done correctly, the leader of that effort will be the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of the next generation.
The nation that develops renewable energy that is cheaper than and as reliable as fossil fuels will dominate the world economy. 

Reducing climate change and air pollution is a beneficial byproduct of this technology, but cheaper and more reliable energy is the main outcome. 


In the past century, America’s research universities and national laboratories, funded by the federal government and often by the military, have been an engine of technological innovation: transistors, semi-conductors, satellite communications, mini computers, GPS, the internet… The list is virtually endless.
America’s scientific research dominates because it is competitive but collaborative, creative, free, peer-reviewed, and because our immigration policy and quality of life has always allowed us to recruit the best scientists from all over the world. 

Every top science department in this country is global by birth. 

We need to maintain this research capability for our own sake and for the world’s. 

Other nations may have education systems that test better, but American education and lifestyles promote creativity and innovation. 

Today, some of our best minds are working on energy: nanotechnology applied to solar cells and batteries, wind energy, geothermal, carbon capture and storage, and innovations hard to explain to nonscientists like me.

 This research is largely funded by the federal government and its defunding would be an act of national economic suicide. 


It also requires recruitment and collaboration from nations all over the world. 

An “America First” approach is self-defeating here. 

The benefits of these new technologies will not be “shared” or given away, but sold by companies like Apple, Microsoft and Tesla—or at least the next decade’s versions of these companies.
It is unfortunate, outdated, and a little idiotic to allow energy policy to be dominated by the fossil fuel industry.

 It’s an industry with a fabulous present and a declining future.

 It’s not going away anytime soon, but then again, Kodak thought that people would always want to print all their photos; AT&T used to run the telegraphs; IBM stopped making laptop computers. 

Technology marches on, and companies, even great ones, are often bought, sold, transformed or destroyed.
Climate change requires renewable energy. 

But so do does an expanding economy highly dependent on inexpensive, reliable energy. 

Technological innovation and globalization has allowed America’s economy to grow while pollution is reduced. 

The damage from fossil fuels is global and so the urgency of its replacement should be apparent. 

But since it is clearly not apparent in our congress, there remains a good argument for making our energy system renewable, decentralized, computer-controlled, and updated for the 21st century. 


We need energy too much to leave it in the hands of companies that are more concerned with protecting their sunk costs than in updating our outmoded energy system.
To update our energy system we need to fund more basic and applied energy research. 

This is a difficult time for America’s research universities, as scientists fear that the federal grant support they compete for will either shrink or disappear. 

Science spending is a tiny proportion of the federal budget, but it has enormous multiplier effects throughout the economy. 

Students are trained to conduct research. 

Knowledge is developed that in many cases will eventually be commercialized. 

The benefits dramatically outweigh the costs. 

And the federal role cannot be replaced by companies focused on quick results or even private philanthropy. Even the largest private foundations in the world cannot reach the funding scale of the U.S. federal government. 

Better knowledge of the causes of climate change, better understanding of climate impacts and adaptation strategies, and the basic science that will lead to renewable energy breakthroughs all require federal funding.
In a political world where facts themselves have become open to dispute, peer-reviewed, competitive science holds out the hope of retaining and advancing the scientific base for economic development. 

Virtually all of the economic growth America has enjoyed over the past two centuries has been the direct result of technological innovation. 

Much of that innovation takes place in businesses that find ways to monetize the new knowledge and technologies that are developed in government-funded laboratories. The relationship between university and national lab basic research and commercial innovation is well known. 

Cutting that funding would be foolish.
If America sacrifices its scientific leadership and institutions because of the political views of scientists or out of an anti-intellectual bias, our ability to compete in the technological, global, brain-based economy will be impaired. 

Coupled with limits on immigration, defunding science will virtually guarantee that some other nation or nations will fill the vacuum we will leave behind. An America without well-funded, well-functioning research universities is a nation in decline.
Climate change is a test of the vibrancy of that science establishment. 

Will we continue to learn more about climate impacts and methods of adaptation built on risk assessments and impact models? 

Will we develop and implement the technologies needed to maintain economic growth while reducing greenhouse gases? In the past, we were able to take on these grand challenges, from polio and cancer treatment to building a global communications network.
While renewable energy will go a long way to addressing the climate change issue, its development does not require a concern for climate change. 

The argument for renewable energy is that it is the logical next phase of technological development.

 It is being held back in this country by fossil fuel subsidies, propaganda, and politics. That appears to have accelerated under our new president. 

But looking back to old industries and old energy technologies for economic growth is a losing strategy. Looking forward to a new, cleaner, and sustainable energy system is a much better idea, no matter what you think about climate models and climate science.
Follow Steven Cohen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/StevenACohen

Press Link for more:Huffington Post

Fossil Fuels just don’t make sense any more. #auspol 

Danish energy giant commits to phasing out coal by 2023
Earlier today, I reported that Deutsche Bank is going to stop financing new coal mines and power stations, and reduce its exposure to existing coal-dependent assets too.

 Obviously, this move has benefits in terms of the bank’s corporate responsibility commitments, but there’s another important aspect to this tale: It just doesn’t make sense financially anymore.
No sooner do I write this than I get another confirmation of the way the wind is blowing: Danish energy giant DONG (yes, snickering is allowed) has committed to phasing out coal from its energy mix by 2023. 


This move probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

As the graphic above shows, DONG has already reduced its coal dependence by 73% since 2006. 

But the fact that they are announcing a complete phase out is still encouraging: coal’s decline isn’t likely to plateau out with a reduced market share. 


It’s going to go the way of whale oil and steam trains.


Sorry Malcolm Turnbull but it’s not just Trump who is going to bring tears to your eyes.
The reason for this shift is pretty simple—companies like DONG are making more money from gigawatt-sized wind farms, and they are shattering cost reduction goals in the process. 



The fact that this shift means a significant drop in emissions, cleaner air for all of us, and significant progress toward a lower carbon economy is just icing on the cake.
It’s worth noting that DONG has previously voiced ambitions to disrupt the transportation sector too by betting big on electric vehicles. 

I suspect those early efforts may not have quite come to pass, as they were loosely modeled on the now defunct Project Better Place—which centered around the idea of battery switching.

 Still, if DONG can keep up the pace on decarbonizing the electricity grids of this world, there are plenty of other players making sure that electrified transportation and non-car ownership become an actual thing. 


Then we may see echoes of coal’s collapse for Big Oil too…

Press link for more: xTree Hugger.com

Scientists embark on their own Trump resistance #standupforscience #auspol

Scientists embark on their own Trump resistance

By Samatha Page

The Trump administration has frozen EPA grants, barred USDA scientists from publishing research (a policy that was reversed), and taken down a slew of climate information on the White House website — all in its first week. The president himself has repeatedly questioned climate change and said he will defund clean energy research.
Scientists have withstood years of climate denial from politicians, but the threats posed by the Trump administration appear so severe that the scientific community has been galvanized into its own resistance movement.
Since late last year, scientists have been at the forefront of an ongoing effort to archive government climate data considered at risk from the new administration. A new effort to encourage scientists to run for elected office has emerged, and a march on Washington in the name of evidence-based science is in the works.
“It’s clear that the new administration’s attacks on the independence of government scientists have struck a nerve,” Michael Halperin, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “Scientists know that reliance on ‘alternative facts’ harms public health and the environment, and are mobilized and energized to ensure that government policy is based on real information.”
The work scientists do has a direct impact on human health. In fact, that group of society may be the best-positioned to know exactly how important research is. Stopping or ignoring science has serious repercussions.
“Scientists increasingly see the immediate connection between their research and policies that protect our environment and save lives, and are willing to speak up against attempts to undermine their work,” he said. “Since the election, they have signed statements, called Congress, organized events, and even prepared to run for office. Given the threats from the Trump administration on the scientific enterprise, it’s not surprising that they’re ready to take to the streets.”
They seem to have a lot of supporters, as well.
The Twitter account @ScienceMarchDC has exploded since it launched Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the account had 30,000 followers. More than 180,000 people have joined a Facebook event for the march, even though a date has not yet been set. Organizers say they are waiting until they have finalized more details to speak with the media.
“The march is non-partisan, but it is absolutely intended to have an impact on policy makers,” according to the group’s FAQ page. Anyone is welcome to march who supports empirical science.
“An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world,” the site says.
In fact, Congress — and now the White House — is dramatically less accepting of science than the American public at large. Most Americans, some 65 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted last year, accept the scientific consensus that global warming is real and human caused.
On the other hand, most of the country is represented by someone in Congress who does not accept that fact.
Climate denial has been a point of contention between politicians and scientists for years. The chair of the House Science, Technology, and Space Committee, for instance, is an avowed climate denier. But it seems that politicians — led by President Trump — have gone too far. Scientific American’s editors wrote back in September that his policies were “authoritarian” and that his campaign “takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.” The reality since he took office has not deviated from that pattern.
And Americans don’t want an antiscience president, it seems.
“The overwhelming interest in a scientist march shows that facts still matter to people, and that efforts to erode the role of science in our democracy will be met with direct resistance,” Halperin said.
Resistance works. Earlier this month, the House attempted to roll back ethics rules; representatives’ offices were flooded with calls, and lawmakers called off the plan.
Then, Tuesday, it was reported that the Environmental Protection Agency — which is already under a gag order — has been directed to remove any climate information from its website. That action, too, prompted a massive outcry, and the administration has reportedly changed course, at least delaying the information blackout. A spokesman for the EPA transition said that they were only planning on “scrubbing it a little bit.”
Doug Ericksen, a Republican state senator in Washington, told The Hill, “We’re looking at scrubbing it up a bit, putting a little freshener on it, and getting it back up to the public.”
It’s worth reiterating here that this information is critically important. Climate change poses one of the greatest risks to human health in the history of mankind. Military advisers say it is a massive security risk. Doctors worry about the rise and spread of disease. Farmers are facing uncertain crop futures, and coastal cities are dealing with encroaching seawater.
These issues all need to be faced head on, by policymakers. So at the Women’s March last Saturday, when organizers called for more people to run for office, some scientists took that call to heart.
“A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” Shaughnessy Naughton, founder of 314 Action, a recently formed group that supports scientists running for office, told The Atlantic,.
“We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table,” she said.

Press link for more: Think Progress

Will we miss our last chance to save the world from climate change? #auspol

In the late 1980s, James Hansen became the first scientist to offer unassailable evidence that burning fossil fuels is heating up the planet. In the decades since, as the world has warmed, the ice has melted and the wildfires have spread, he has published papers on everything from the risks of rapid sea-level rise to the role of soot in global temperature changes – all of it highlighting, methodically and verifiably, that our fossil-fuel-powered civilization is a suicide machine. And unlike some scientists, Hansen was never content to hide in his office at NASA, where he was head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York for nearly 35 years. 

  He has testified before Congress, marched in rallies and participated in protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline and Big Coal (he went so far as to call coal trains “death trains”). When I ran into him at an anti-coal rally in Washington, D.C., in 2009, he was wearing a trench coat and a floppy boater hat. I asked him, “Are you ready to get arrested?” He looked a bit uneasy, but then smiled and said, “If that’s what it takes.”
  The enormity of Hansen’s insights, and the need to take immediate action, have never been clearer. In November, temperatures in the Arctic, where ice coverage is already at historic lows, hit 36 degrees above average – a spike that freaked out even the most jaded climate scientists. At the same time, alarming new evidence suggests the giant ice sheets of West Antarctica are growing increasingly unstable, elevating the risk of rapid sea-level rise that could have catastrophic consequences for cities around the world. 


Not to mention that in September, average measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record 400 parts per million. And of course, at precisely this crucial moment – a moment when the leaders of the world’s biggest economies had just signed a new treaty to cut carbon pollution in the coming decades – the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet elected a president who thinks climate change is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese.


Hansen, 75, retired from NASA in 2013, but he remains as active and outspoken as ever. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, he argues, sweeping changes in energy and politics are needed, including investments in new nuclear technology, a carbon tax on fossil fuels, and perhaps a new political party that is free of corporate interests.
  He is also deeply involved in a lawsuit against the federal government, brought by 21 kids under the age of 21 (including Hansen’s granddaughter), which argues that politicians knowingly allowed big polluters to wreck the Earth’s atmosphere and imperil the future well-being of young people in America. A few weeks ago, a federal district judge in Oregon delivered an opinion that found a stable climate is indeed a fundamental right, clearing the way for the case to go to trial in 2017. Hansen, who believes that the American political system is too corrupt to deal with climate change through traditional legislation, was hopeful. “It could be as important for climate as the Civil Rights Act was for discrimination,” he told me.
  Last fall, I visited Hansen at his old stone farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It sits on 10 acres, with a tennis court and a row of carefully trimmed apple trees lining the walk to the front door. We talked in his office, a big room connected to a stone barn outfitted with solar panels. He had the cool, cerebral manner of a man whose mind is always processing complex algorithms. 

But at times he seemed downright cranky, as if he were losing patience with the world’s collective failure to deal with the looming catastrophe that he has articulated for the past 30 years. “It’s getting really more and more urgent,” 

 Hansen told me. “Our Founding Fathers believed you need a revolution every now and then to shake things up – we have certainly reached that time.”
  You’ve arguably done more than anyone to raise awareness of the risks of climate change – what does Trump’s election say about the progress of the climate fight?

Well, this is not a whole lot different than it was during the second Bush administration, where we had basically two oil men running the country. And President Bush largely delegated the energy and climate issue to Vice President Cheney, who was particularly in favor of expanding by hundreds the number of coal-fired power plants.

  Over the course of that administration, the reaction to their proposals was so strong, and from so many different angles – even the vice president’s own energy and climate task force – that the direction did not go as badly as it could have.
In fact, if you make a graph of emissions, including a graph of how the GDP has changed, there’s really not much difference between Democratic and Republican administrations. The curve has stayed the same, and now under Obama it has started down modestly. In fact, if we can put pressure on this government via the courts and otherwise, it’s plausible that Trump would be receptive to a rising carbon fee or carbon tax. In some ways it’s more plausible under a conservative government [when Republicans might be less intent on obstructing legislation] than under a liberal government.

Trump’s Cabinet nominees are virtually all climate deniers, including the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Are Trump’s appointments a sign that climate denialism has gone mainstream?

Climate denialism never died. My climate program at NASA was zeroed out in 1981 when the administration appointed a hatchet man to manage the program at Department of Energy. 

   Denialism was still very strong in 2005-2006 when the White House ordered NASA to curtail my speaking. When I objected to this censorship, using the first line of the NASA Mission Statement [“to understand and protect our home planet”], the NASA administrator, who was an adamant climate denier, eliminated that line from the NASA Mission Statement. Denialism is no more mainstream today than it was in those years.
   How much damage can a guy like Pruitt do to our chances of solving the climate crisis?

The EPA is not the issue. They have been attacked several times by an incoming administration since I got into this business – but they always survive without much damage. EPA cannot solve the climate problem, which is a political issue.
If President-elect Trump called you and asked for advice on climate policy, what would you tell him?

What we need is a policy that honestly addresses the fundamentals.

 We must make the price of fossil fuels honest by including a carbon fee – that is, a straightforward tax on fossil fuels when they come out of the ground, and which is returned directly to people as a kind of yearly dividend or payment. 

Perhaps someone will explain to President-elect Trump that a carbon fee brings back jobs to the U.S. much more effectively than jawboning manufacturers – it will also drive the U.S. to become a leader in clean-energy technology, which also helps our exports. The rest of the world believes in climate change, even if the Trump administration doesn’t.
You know, he said exactly what was necessary to get the support of the people that he needed to win the election. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily will adopt the implied policies. So he wants to save the jobs of coal miners and fossil-fuel workers and make the U.S. energy-independent, but he also wants to invest in infrastructure, which will make the U.S. economically strong in the long run, and you can easily prove that investing in coal and tar-sands pipelines is exactly the wrong thing to do.
I would also tell him to think of what the energy sources of the future are going to be and to consider nuclear power.

 China and India, most of their energy is coming from coal-burning. And you’re not going to replace that with solar panels. 

As you can see from the panels on my barn, I’m all for solar power. Here on the farm, we generate more energy than we use. Because we have a lot of solar panels. It cost me $75,000. That’s good, but it’s not enough. 

The world needs energy. We’ve got to develop a new generation of nuclear-power plants, which use thorium-fueled molten salt reactors [an alternative nuclear technology] that fundamentally cannot have a meltdown. 

These types of reactors also reduce nuclear waste to a very small fraction of what it is now. If we don’t think about nuclear power, then we will leave a more dangerous world for young people.
If the Trump administration pushes fossil fuels for the next four years, what are the climate implications?

Well, it has enormous implications, especially if it results in the building of infrastructure like the Keystone Pipeline, which then opens up more unconventional fossil fuels, which are particularly heavy in their carbon footprint because of the energy that it takes to get them out of the ground and process them. 

But I don’t think that could happen quickly, and there’s going to be tremendous resistance by environmentalists, both on the ground and through the courts. Also, the fossil-fuel industry has made a huge investment in fracking over the past 20 years or so, and they now have created enough of a bubble in gas that it really makes no economic sense to reopen coal-fired power plants when gas is so much cheaper. So I don’t think Trump can easily reverse the trend away from coal on the time scale of four years.
    How would you judge President Obama’s legacy on climate change?

I would give him a D. You know, he’s saying the right words, but he had a golden opportunity. When he had control of both houses of Congress and a 70 percent approval rating, he could have done something strong on climate in the first term – but he would have had to be a different personality than he is. He would have to have taken the FDR approach of explaining things to the American public with his “fireside chats,” and he would have had to work with Congress, which he didn’t do.
You know, the liberal approach of subsidizing solar panels and windmills gets you a few percent of the energy, but it doesn’t phase you off fossil fuels, and it never will. No matter how much you subsidize them, intermittent renewables are not sufficient to replace fossil fuels. So he did a few things that were useful, but it’s not the fundamental approach that’s needed.


Climate change hardly came up during the election, except when Al Gore campaigned with Hillary Clinton. Do you think Gore has been an effective climate advocate?

I’m sorely distressed by his most recent TED talk [which was optimistic in outlook], where Gore made it sound like we solved the climate problem. Bullshit. We are at the point now where if you want to stabilize the Earth’s energy balance, which is nominally what you would need to do to stabilize climate, you would need to reduce emissions several percent a year, and you would need to suck 170 gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, which is more than you could get from reforestation and improved agricultural practices. So either you have to suck CO2 out of the air with some method that is more effective than the quasi-natural improved forestry and agricultural practices, or you leave the planet out of balance, which increases the threat that some things will go unstable, like ice sheets.
You’ve described the impacts of climate change as “young people’s burden.” What do you mean by that?

Well, we know from the Earth’s history that the climate system’s response to today’s CO2 levels will include changes that are really unacceptable. Several meters of sea-level rise would mean most coastal cities – including Miami and Norfolk and Boston – would be dysfunctional, even if parts of them were still sticking out of the water. It’s just an issue of how long that would take.


Right now, the Earth’s temperature is already well into the range that existed during the Eemian period, 120,000 years ago, which was the last time the Earth was warmer than it is now. And that was a time when sea level was 20 to 30 feet higher than it is now. So that’s what we could expect if we just leave things the way they are. And we’ve got more warming in the pipeline, so we’re going to the top of and even outside of the Eemian range if we don’t do something. And that something is that we have to move to clean energy as quickly as possible. If we burn all the fossil fuels, then we will melt all the ice on the planet eventually, and that would raise the seas by about 250 feet. So we can’t do that. But if we just stay on this path, then it’s the CO2 that we’re putting up there that is a burden for young people because they’re going to have to figure out how to get it out of the atmosphere. Or figure out how to live on a radically different planet.
 Trump has talked about pulling out of the Paris Agreement. How do you feel about what was achieved in Paris?

You know, the fundamental idea that we have a climate problem and we’re gonna need to limit global warming to avoid dangerous changes was agreed in 1992 [at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. 

This new agreement doesn’t really change anything. It just reaffirms that. 

That’s not to say there’s nothing useful accomplished in Paris. The most useful thing is probably the encouragement of investment into carbon-free energies. But it’s not really there yet. I mean, the U.S. should double or triple its investment in energy. The investment in research and development on clean energies is actually very small. There are these big, undefined subsidies, like renewable portfolio standards, that states place on their electricity generation, which can help them get 20 or 30 percent of their power from renewables. But we’re not actually making the investments in advanced energy systems, which we should be doing. There were agreements to do that in Paris. They have to be implemented – somebody’s gotta actually provide the money.
I think that our government has become sufficiently cumbersome in its support of R&D that I’d place more hope in the private sector. But in order to spur the private sector, you’ve got to provide the incentive. And that’s why I’m a big supporter of a carbon fee.
Is the target of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius, which is the centerpiece of the Paris Agreement, still achievable?

It’s possible, but barely. If global emissions rates fell at a rate of even two or three percent a year, you could achieve the two-degree target. People say we’re already past that, because they’re just assuming we won’t be able to reduce missions that quickly. What I argue, however, is that two degrees is dangerous. Two degrees is a little warmer than the period when sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher. So it’s not a good target. It never had a good scientific basis.
In Paris, negotiators settled in an “aspirational” target of 1.5C.

Yes. But that would require a six-percent-a-year reduction in emissions, which may be implausible without a large amount of negative emissions – that is, developing some technology to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Let’s talk more about policy. You’re a big believer in a revenue-neutral carbon fee. Explain how that would work, and why you’re such a big supporter of it.

It’s very simple. You collect it at the small number of sources, the domestic mines and the ports of entry, from fossil-fuel companies. And you can distribute it back to people. The simplest way to distribute it and encourage the actions that are needed to move us to clean energy is to just give an equal amount to all legal residents. So the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money. And it doesn’t really require you to calculate carbon footprint – for instance, the price of food will change as sources that use more fossil fuel, like food imported from New Zealand, become more expensive. And so you are encouraged to buy something from the nearby farm.
So this would provide the incentive for entrepreneurs and businesses to develop carbon-free products and carbon-free energies. And those countries that are early adopters would benefit because they would tend to develop the products that the rest of the world would need also, so it makes sense to do it. But it’s just not the way our politics tend to work; they tend to favor special interests. And even the environmentalists will decide what they want to favor and say, “Oh, we should subsidize this.” I don’t think we should subsidize anything. We should let the market decide.

Press link for more: rollingstone.com

Accelerated level of climate change impacting ecological processes #auspol 

Every aspect of life on Earth has already been impacted by global changes in temperature from human-induced climate change according to a new international study involving researchers from The University of Queensland.

The study found more than 80 per cent of ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems are already showing signs of distress and response to climate change.
UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management Associate Professor James Watson said researchers were shocked by what they found.
“We are simply astonished at the level of change we observed which many of us in the scientific community did not expect to see for decades,” Dr Watson said.
“It is no longer sensible to consider this as a concern for the future – if we don’t act quickly to curb emissions it is likely that every ecosystem across Earth will fundamentally change in our lifetimes.”
The study lead author Dr Brett Scheffers of the University of Florida said there is now clear evidence with only around 1C of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt.
“Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are rapidly moving to keep track of suitable climate space, and there are now signs of entire ecosystems under stress.”
UQ’s School of Biological Sciences Professor John Pandolfi said major impacts were already being felt in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.
“In marine systems, physiological responses to both climate warming and changing ocean conditions are widespread,” Dr Pandolfi said.
“People depend on intact, functioning ecosystems for a range of goods and services including those associated with climate adaptation.
“Understanding the extent to which these goods and services have been impacted allows humans to plan and adapt to changing ecosystem conditions.”
The study also points to hope as many of the responses observed in nature could be applied by people to address the mounting issues faced under changing climate conditions.
Improved understanding of the adaptive capacity in wildlife could be applied to crops, livestock and fisheries. This could be seen in crops such as wheat and barley, where domesticated crops could be crossed with wild varieties to maintain the evolutionary potential of varieties under climate change.
The study has been published in Science.

Press link for more: uq.edu.au

Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations #Auspol

Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations

Processes of Creative Self-Destruction
AUTHORS:Christopher Wright, University of SydneyDaniel Nyberg, University of Newcastle, New South Wales
DATE PUBLISHED: September 2015: Available FORMAT: PaperbackISBN: 9781107435131

Foreword

In his 2006 landmark report on how we should respond to the climate crisis, Nicholas Stern characterised global warming as an ‘external- ity’, a damage to others due to market activity whose cost is not met by those who cause it.

Indeed, Stern characterised climate change as ‘the largest ever market failure’.

 In other words, the problem of global warming arises because the market system is not working well enough, and if we could find a way to correct the fault then the problem would be solved.

It was a geophysicist, Brad Werner, who in 2012 argued precisely the opposite case – that we are in this mess not because the market system is not working well enough but because it is working too well. 

Werner’s startling presentation to the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union was titled ‘Is the Earth F**ked?’

He posed in public the question climate scientists and others who follow their work had been asking in private.

 His answer was bleak, or just possibly inspirational. 

Building on the fact that humans now constitute a force of nature so powerful that we have caused the Earth to enter a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, Werner approaches the question of the sustainability of humankind through a dynamic model known as a global, coupled human-environmental system. 

The activities of humans are captured in a module called ‘the dominant global culture’, which essentially describes the globally integrated market system of resource use and waste generation driven by the relentless need to grow. 

He also included a representation of the political institutions that facilitate the smooth operation of the system. 

The essential problem, Werner argued, is that there is a mismatch between the short timescales of markets, and the political systems tied to them, and the much longer timescales that the Earth system needs to accommodate human activity, including soaking up our carbon dioxide and other wastes.

A must read! 

In Greenland, another major glacier comes undone#Auspol #EarthToParis #COP21

It’s big. It’s cold. And it’s melting into the world’s ocean.

It’s Zachariae Isstrom, the latest in a string of Greenland glaciers to undergo rapid change in our warming world. A new NASA-funded study published today in the journal Science finds that Zachariae Isstrom broke loose from a glaciologically stable position in 2012 and entered a phase of accelerated retreat. Theconsequences will be felt for decades to come.

The reason? Zachariae Isstrom is big. It drains ice from an area of 35,440 square miles (91,780 square kilometers). That’s about 5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. All by itself, it holds enough water to raise global sea level by more than 18 inches (46 centimeters) if it were to melt completely. And now it’s on a crash diet, losing 5 billion tons of mass every year. All that ice is crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.

North Greenland glaciers are changing rapidly,” said lead author Jeremie Mouginot, an assistant researcher in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. “The shape and dynamics of Zachariae Isstrom have changed dramatically over the last few years. The glacier is now breaking up and calving high volumes of icebergs into the ocean, which will result in rising sea levels for decades to come.”

Mouginot and his colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; and the University of Kansas, Lawrence, set out to study the changes taking place at Zachariae Isstrom.

The team used data from aerial surveys conducted by NASA’s Operation IceBridge and satellite-based observations acquired by multiple international space agencies (NASA, ESA, CSA, DLR, JAXA and ASI) coordinated by the Polar Space Task Group. The NASA satellite data used are from the joint NASA/USGS Landsat program. The various tools used — including a highly sensitive radar sounder, gravimeter and laser profiling systems, coupled with radar and optical images from space — monitor and record changes in the shape, size and position of glacial ice over long time periods, providing precise data on the state of Earth’s polar regions.

The scientists determined the bottom of Zachariae Isstrom is being rapidly eroded by warmer ocean water mixed with growing amounts of meltwater from the ice sheet surface. “Ocean warming has likely played a major role in triggering [the glacier’s] retreat,” Mouginot said, “but we need more oceanographic observations in this critical sector of Greenland to determine its future.”
“Zachariae Isstrom is being hit from above and below,” said the study’s senior author Eric Rignot, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science at UCI, and Joint Faculty Appointee at JPL. “The top of the glacier is melting away as a result of decades of steadily increasing air temperatures, while its underside is compromised by currents carrying warmer ocean water, and the glacier is now breaking away into bits and pieces and retreating into deeper ground.”
Adjacent to Zachariae Isstrom is another large glacier, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, which is also melting rapidly but is receding at a slower rate because it’s protected by an inland hill. The two glaciers make up 12 percent of the Greenland ice sheet and would boost global sea levels by more than 39 inches (99 centimeters) if they fully collapsed.
The sector where these two glaciers reside is one of three major marine-based basins in Greenland, along with Jakobshavn Isbrae in central west Greenland and the Petermann-Humboldt sector in central north Greenland. The latter two sectors hold enough water to raise global sea level by 2 feet (0.6 meters) each, and both are also undergoing significant changes at present. The authors conclude it is likely that Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden and Petermann-Humboldt glaciers will lose their ice shelves in coming years, further increasing Greenland’s future contributions to global sea level rise.
“Not long ago, we wondered about the effect on sea levels if Earth’s major glaciers in the polar regions were to start retreating,” Rignot noted. “We no longer need to wonder; for a couple of decades now, we’ve been able to directly observe the results of climate warming on polar glaciers. The changes are staggering and are now affecting the four corners of Greenland.”
In 2015, NASA kicked off a new six-year field campaign, Oceans Melting Greenland, which will examine ocean conditions around Greenland affecting the Ice Sheet. For more information on OMG, visit https://omg.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/.
Ongoing research into the health of ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is supported by funding from NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program.
For more information on the study, visit http://news.uci.edu/research/massive-northeast-greenland-glacier-is-rapidly-melting-uci-led-team-finds/.

Press link for more: climate.nasa.gov

Nothing can compete with renewable energy, says top climate scientist #Auspol

Prof John Schellnhuber says that if countries implement their pledges made for Paris climate summit it will give huge boost to wind, tidal and solar power.

Catastrophic global warming can be avoided with a deal at a crunch UN climate change summit in Paris this December because “ultimately nothing can compete with renewables”, according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.
Most countries have already made voluntary pledges to roll out clean energy and cut carbon emissions, and Prof John Schellnhuber said the best hope of making nations keep their promises was moral pressure.
Schellnhuber is a key member of the German delegation attending the Paris summit and has advised Angela Merkel and Pope Francis on climate change.
He said there was reason for optimism about the Paris talks, where at least 80 heads of state are expected. “That is a very telling thing – a sign of hope – because people at the top level do not want to be tainted by failure,” he said.
If a critical mass of big countries implement their pledges, he said in an interview with the Guardian, the move towards a global low-carbon economy would gain unstoppable momentum.

“If some countries really honour their pledges, including China, Brazil, South Africa, US and Europe, I think we will get a dynamic that will transform the development of the century. This is not sheer optimism – it is based on analysis of how incumbent systems implode.”
In July, Schellnhuber told a science conference in Paris that the world needed “an induced implosion of the carbon economy over the next 20-30 years. Otherwise we have no chance of avoiding dangerous, perhaps disastrous, climate change.”

The avalanche will start because ultimately nothing can compete with renewables,” he told the Guardian. “If you invest at [large] scale, inevitably we will end up with much cheaper, much more reliable, much safer technologies in the energy system: wind, solar, biomass, tidal, hydropower. It is really a no-brainer, if you take away all the ideological debris and lobbying.”
India, for example, aims to deliver 350GW of renewable energy in the next 10 years, the equivalent to 300 nuclear power stations, he said. “That is mind boggling and would be the final nail in the coffin of coal-fired power stations,” Schellnhuber said. “If India delivers on that pledge, it will be a tipping point for that country.”
He said the approach taken for the Paris talks, asking each nation to put forward a pledge, had resulted in half the emissions cuts needed to avoid more than 2C in warming, the level widely considered as dangerous. “These are pledges only, but nevertheless this bottom-up approach is driving change, and that is amazing as it is the weakest approach,” Schellnhuber said.
The key, he said, was that these pledges are honoured and future reviews deliver the rest of the cuts needed. But he warned there will be no international force to check and enforce carbon cuts, as nations would not allow such a challenge to their sovereignty.

“The verification will not be delivered by an international scheme,” he said. “You will not send in emissions inspectors like people wanted to send to Iran [for nuclear technology inspections].” Instead, he said: “It is prestige, it is image, it is a moral issue, it is how you appear to the world. If the Chinese, for example, make a pledge, they want to keep it. They do not want to lose face.”

Public pressure is “really holding the key to this”, said Schellnhuber, who has attended most of the 20 previous UN climate summits. “The last, best hope we have is moral argument.” He said that Germany’s aim to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 was a tall order, because dealing with its lignite coal-fired power stations will be “very expensive and difficult”. But he said: “Merkel will do everything to achieve this or it will be seen as a national failure.”
The biggest danger for the Paris summit, he said, was the $100bn a year from 2020 promised by rich nations help poorer countries cope with climate change, which has yet to be delivered. He said the sum was “peanuts” in the context of global investment flows, but that a failure to deliver would “make countries in the global south very angry”.
“We can afford $100bn across the world, but it seems the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are still very reluctant,” Schellnhuber said. “It will divert attention from the serious work – making sure the pledges are honoured.”

Press link for more: Damian Carrington | theguardian.com