Sea Ice


Australian Govt. supports big polluters ignores #climate #science #auspol 

The running average of global temperatures throughout 2016 compared to recent years

This morning NASA and NOAA declared 2016 the hottest year on record. 

Sea ice is melting and the Arctic is warming at a rapid rate. 

Right now, the east coast of Australia is sweltering through heatwaves, and bushfires are blazing in NSW, Western Australia and South Australia.
The fact that we are in the midst of experiencing the impacts of dangerous global warming, made it all the more jarring when the Federal Government came out championing the big polluters that are driving global warming.

Over the last week, in an extraordinary display of cognitive dissonance, the Minister for Resources held a torch up for so called ‘clean coal,’ the Minister for the Environment spoke out in support of big gas corporations, and the Prime Minister of Australia espoused his support for coal.

The Minister for Environment kicked off the week by prosecuting the gas companies’ misleading war on supply constraints.

 He called – I believe recklessly – for states and territories to lift restrictions on polluting fossil fuels in response this confected gas supply crisis.
There is no supply problem. 

The ‘problem’ is that successive governments have built export terminals and supported big gas companies to send gas offshore – forcing Australian households to compete with China and Japan to buy gas – rather than helping households to invest in cheap renewable energy.
Yesterday, the Minister for Resources threw his weight behind so-called ‘clean coal,’ and championed clean coal as the solution to Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.
It is not possible burn your way to lower emissions. The only way that we will even come close to the ambition of the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, is to leave the coal in the ground and rapidly transition to a clean energy powered economy.
Minister Frydenberg is right about one thing, energy security is very important. But, he is wrong that we will achieve it by digging up more coal and gas and further destabilising our climate.
Not only is it absurd to suggest that our clean energy future will be powered by digging up more coal, but it is economically irresponsible. As the cost of solar and wind drops around the world, it makes no sense to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the outdated, and polluting, technologies of the past.
That’s why the ACT has decided that we cannot wait for the Turnbull Government to get its act together. All of our electricity will be powered by clean, renewable energy by 2020 and we have a plan to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.
And we’re on track. By the end of this year, almost 30% of our electricity will be powered by the sun and the wind. By 2018 that will have risen to 50%, we will be powering over three quarters of our electricity with clean, renewable energy by 2019, and 100% by 2025.
Minister Frydenberg’s calls for states and territories to lift restrictions on fossil fuels is a dangerous one, particularly when a lack of federal political leadership means it will largely fall to states and territories to take the next steps in shifting their economies towards our clean energy future.
The ACT is a great example of what subnational governments can achieve. We must not allow the federal government’s inaction to limit what we can achieve at a state and territory level, and state and territories.

Shane Rattenbury is the ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability.  

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Most talked about climate papers in 2016 #science #climatechange #auspol 

Every year, thousands of scientific journal papers are published by researchers across the world, but only a tiny proportion make it into the pages of the newspapers.
Using Altmetric, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 most talked-about climate papers of 2016. You can see the Top 10 in our infographic above (zoomable version here).
Altmetric scores academic papers based on how many times they’re mentioned in online news articles and on social media platforms. You can read more about how the Altmetric scoring system works in last year’s article.
Top of the table

The highest scoring article of the year, with an Altmetric tally of 2,716, is the Nature paper “Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise”, by Prof Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts and Dr David Pollard of Penn State University.
Published in March, the study found that Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

The paper had more coverage in the news than another other climate paper published in 2016. It was featured in 386 news stories and was covered by – among 271 outlets in total – the BBC, Guardian, MailOnline, Independent, Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post and the New Yorker.
The study made a particular splash in the US after further analysis, published in August by estate agent firm Zillow, highlighted that 1.8m of sea level rise by 2100 could put two million American homes underwater.

The paper – not the news stories – was also tweeted from 369 accounts and posted on 16 Facebook walls. Overall, the paper’s score puts it in the top 5% of all journal articles in the Altmetric database.

In second place is “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, by lead author Dr Marco Springmann from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford.
This paper was published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), which also landed a paper in second place in last year’s list.
The research found that a worldwide switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could reduce global mortality by up to 10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% by 2050.

The paper’s overall Altmetric score of 1,981 includes 203 new stories from 156 news outlets, as well as 660 tweets from 627 users. This paper scored highest for Facebook, with 115 wall posts from 109 people.
Part of the popularity of the paper stems from being referenced in a press release for the “Kickstart Your Health Rochester” programme in which doctors in New York encouraged local residents to adopt a vegan diet for three weeks in May to improve their health.
Third place

Coming in third is another PNAS paper, “Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era,” by lead author Dr Robert Kopp of Rutgers University.
The study compiled the first-ever estimate of global sea level change over the last 3,000 years. Their headline finding – that the speed of rising seas in the 20th century was faster than during any of the previous 27 centuries – generated headlines around the world, from the Boston Globe and Bangkok Post to Le Monde and the Hindu.
With a total score of 1,800, this paper appeared in 228 news stories from 186 outlets, was tweeted by 200 users, and posted on 21 Facebook walls.
Just missing out on the medals

In fourth place, published at the very beginning of 2016, is “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene” in Science.
This study presented evidence that the impact of humans on the Earth is so severe and so enduring that the geological time period since the mid-20th century should be declared the “Anthropocene”.
This paper was one of the most tweeted about in our Top 25, with 904 tweets from 853 users, reaching a potential of more than three million followers.
The Anthropocene was also the subject of a feature article in Carbon Brief in October, which explored the history of the idea and the debate among geologists on whether they will formally inscribe a new epoch into their books.

In fifth is a paper that sounds like it could be the plot of a James Bond film. “The abandoned ice sheet base at Camp Century, Greenland, in a warming climate”, published in Geophysical Research Letters, assessed the possible fate of a US military base built in 1959 beneath the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
This nuclear-powered “city under the ice” doubled as a top secret site to study the feasibility of deploying missiles from the Arctic. The base was abandoned in 1967, under the assumption that all its chemical, biological, and radioactive wastes would forever be preserved in ice. However, the study shows that ice sheet melt as a result of climate change could uncover these wastes by the end of the century.
Completing the Top 10

Elsewhere in the Top 10, coming sixth is “Climate change decouples drought from early wine grape harvests in France” in Nature Climate Change.
This research found that increasingly hot summers are pushing wine grapes in French vineyards to mature earlier in the year. While this could bring some good years for French wine in the near future, it doesn’t bode well for the longer term, the researchers told Carbon Brief when we covered the paper in March.
The study was the second-most covered in the news of our Top 25, presumably because the fate of wine is a subject close to the hearts of many.

The topic of the paper in ninth place is quite a hot potato in climate science. “Greening of the Earth and its drivers”, published in Nature Climate Change, showed that up to half of the Earth’s vegetation-covered land is now “greener” than it was 30 years ago – mostly caused by rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
But any benefits of “CO2 fertilisation” may be temporary and are outweighed by the negative consequences of climate change, one of the authors told Carbon Brief.
And while the general principles of CO2 fertilisation are known, there is still much to learn about how these processes will act in future as the world continues to warm, said Prof Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, in a guest post for Carbon Brief.
Completing the Top 10 is “Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change” in Nature Climate Change. The paper aimed to tackle the “misleading impression in the public arena” that human-caused climate change is merely a 21st century problem.
Projecting changes in temperature and sea levels for the next 10,000 years, the researchers find that greenhouse gas emissions could eventually lead to 7.5C of warming and global sea level rise of 25-52m. With such stark results, it’s no surprise that the paper caught people’s attention.
Final score

If you want a closer look at the final scores, we’ve compiled all the data for the Top 25 climate papers of 2016 here. And there’s just space for a few honourable mentions…
Just missing out on the Top 10 in 11th place is “Observed Arctic sea-ice loss directly follows anthropogenic CO2 emission” in Science. This novel study calculated that for every tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, summer sea ice cover in the Arctic shrinks by three square metres.

Number 14 on the list is “Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record”, published in Nature, which used satellite data to gather evidence on how cloud patterns have changed in recent decades. The findings are another “brick in the wall” that “supports our confidence in the mainstream view of climate science,” a scientist not involved in the study told Carbon Brief.
Last month, scientists from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project released their annual stocktake of global CO2 emissions. Their paper, “Global Carbon Budget 2016”, published in Earth System Science Data, comes in 16th for 2016.
Their figures revealed that the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, gas flaring and cement production has held steady for three years in a row. But it’s too early to say whether this constitutes a peak in global emissions, one of the scientists told Carbon Brief.
Elsewhere in the Top 25 are “Millions projected to be at risk from sea-level rise in the continental United States” in Nature Climate Change (21st), and “Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems” in Science (25th). You can read more about both in our coverage here and here, respectively, when the papers were originally published.
Overall, the Top 25 is made up of six papers each from journals Science and Nature Climate Change, followed by three in Nature, two each in Environmental Research Letters and PNAS, and one in each of Earth System Science Data, Geophysical Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Progress in Human Geography, Science Advances, and The Lancet.
Top infographic by Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.
Press link for more: Carbon Brief


An open letter to Trump from another multi billionaire on #climatechange 

To the Honorable President-elect of the United States:
I am neither a politician nor a scientist. I am a businessman who had the great fortune of leading a $15 billion, 55,000-person international company for nearly seven years.
I made some good decisions and some not so good decisions, but, given that profits grew five-fold in six years, I think it is fair to say that I was successful in that role. It is in that vein — businessman to businessman — that I draft this letter.
First, congratulations on your election. Now, with your first day in office imminent, there is undoubtedly intense pressure to create immediate change. However, decisions affecting the long-term resilience of our economy and our planet justify great deliberation, not haste.
As President of the United States, your greatest responsibility will be to protect our country. This includes not just military challenges, but all threats. As a fellow business person who also understands the need to manage risk, I ask you to take the threat of climate change seriously. I urge you to consider the economic and scientific facts before pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
A hasty decision on this issue, will likely isolate our nation, cede technology, innovation and jobs to China, and limit market access for our exporters.
Before making such decisions, please take time to discuss it with a wide range of experts. The United States has many of the greatest research and academic institutions in the history of the world — Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford to name just a few. Ask some of these great institutions to send their leading experts in the area of climate change and economics to meet with you for one hour.
Discuss with them the science of climate change, why they believe it is man-induced, and its likely consequences to the United States. Ask them whether the climate is changing at the rate predicted by their models and how much time we have for the global community to get it right.
Then, ask them to address the economic consequences of ignoring climate change as well as the economic opportunity for America if we were to take the lead in advancing clean energy.
A decision to stay the course on climate and institute policies harnessing American ingenuity to create truly efficient clean energy technology — akin to the effort behind the Manhattan Project — will help drive both jobs and our economy for decades to come.

Clean energy industries currently provide over 2.5 million Americans with well-paying jobs, and China is poised to create over 13 million such jobs. America also stands to become a net exporter of clean energy technology, and over 630 leading businesses have publicly urged their support for a low carbon economy.
Right now America has the opportunity to be a global leader for clean energy, or to surrender that leadership position to Europe and China which currently outspend us on that technology. Because of both the urgency and long-term economic and other broad-ranging consequences of climate change, your decision on this issue is likely to determine your legacy.
Moreover, respectfully, you owe it to your electorate, not to mention your grandchildren, to meet with the leading scientists and economists in the country before making such a consequential decision.
Gary A. Garfield retired as chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas, Inc.

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We’re blowing the carbon budget! 

As of now—by one calculation—the world has one year to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere if we want to stop climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the aim of the Paris climate agreement.

A carbon countdown clock from researchers at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change does the math, estimating the time left at current emission levels. Even with a higher limit of two degrees of warming and the most optimistic projections, we still only have about 23 years to fully transition to a carbon-free economy.

“Once we have exhausted the carbon budget, every ton of CO2 that is released by cars, buildings, or industrial plants would need to be compensated during the 21st century by removing the CO2 from the atmosphere again,” says Fabian Löhe, a spokesperson for the Mercator researchers. “Generating such ‘negative emissions’ is even more challenging, and we do not know today at which scale we might be able to do that. Hence, the clock shows that time is running out: It is not enough to act sometime in the future, but it is necessary to implement more ambitious climate policies already in the very short-term.”

Moving to a clean economy obviously requires massive change. Despite the massive growth of renewable energy, most energy still comes from fossil fuels. China, which is moving aggressively to shut down coal plants and spending an unprecedented $361 billion on renewable energy over the next few years, will still get half of its power from nonrenewable sources in 2020. Most heat is fossil-powered. Most transportation runs on gas. Building the infrastructure needed to change that in a year (or a little over four years, if you look at the optimistic projections for staying under 1.5 degrees) would take a level of action that isn’t happening now.

“Many experts see a growing dissonance between the increasing ambitions of climate policy and the lack of success in achieving sustained emission reductions today,” says Löhe. “So far, there is no track record for reducing emissions globally. Instead, greenhouse gas emissions have been rising at a faster pace during the last decade than previously—despite growing awareness and political action across the globe.”
Researchers have found that the commitments that countries made in the Paris agreement don’t go far enough to keep warming under 1.5 degrees—or even under 2 degrees.
“While countries were able to agree upon adequate long-term climate policy targets, they have not been able to match these long-term ambitions with appropriate short-term actions,” says Löhe. “In fact, short-term emission reduction commitments by countries so far—the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—will only slow the growth in global greenhouse gas emissions rather than starting an era of substantial and sustained emission reductions.”
That half-degree makes a difference; the flooding and droughts and other extreme weather that are already becoming more common will get worse at 1.5 degrees, and likely far worse at 2 degrees. It’s possible that Arctic sea ice might survive with “only” 1.5 degrees of warming. Some parts of the Persian Gulf that would be uninhabitable after 2 degrees of warming might still be tolerable at 1.5 degrees.
The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN group that produces comprehensive reports on climate change, won’t publish its report on 1.5 degrees of warming—and how to avoid it—until 2018, likely after the carbon budget has been blown. Even to stay under 2 degrees of warming, the world needs to act much more quickly.
“It is crucial that countries jointly raise the short-term ambition of climate policy by ratcheting up their respective [commitments made in Paris] through concrete policies and credible implementation plans for additional emission reductions,” Löhe says. “To successfully manage the transition toward a carbon neutral world economy, it is crucial to steer investments in the right direction. This will at some point require a price on carbon, either through a tax or a functioning emissions trading system.”

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Short lived Greenhouse Gases can drive sea level rise for centuries. #auspol 

Climate Change: Even Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases Can Drive Sea-Level Rise For Centuries

Over the past 100 years, the global average sea level has risen by roughly 7 inches. This rise has been fuelled by two key factors — the added water from melting land ice, and the expansion in volume of seawater as it absorbs heat from the atmosphere.
If we examine the trend over the past 20 years alone, world’s oceans have warmed at a rate of 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade — a continuation of the trend that began in the last half of the 20th century, when humans began pumping massive quantities of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In such a scenario, there is a question climate activists have often asked — what, if anything, can be done to prevent sea levels from rising to an extent that poses an existential threat to low-lying island nations such as Fiji, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands?
The answer, going by the findings of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is not much.
This is because oceans, once they have absorbed a certain amount of heat, take hundreds of years to cool down — a phenomenon the authors of the study called “ocean inertia.”
“As the heat goes into the ocean, it goes deeper and deeper, giving you continued thermal expansion,” study co-author Susan Solomon, a professor of climate science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement. “Then it has to get transferred back to the atmosphere and emitted back into space to cool off, and that’s a very slow process of hundreds of years.”

In order to reach their conclusions, the researchers used a climate model to simulate three scenarios —global greenhouse gas emissions ending in 2050, 2100, and 2150. Even in the most optimistic scenario, wherein anthropogenic emissions of all heat-trapping gases ceased altogether in 2050, up to 50 percent of carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for over 750 years. And, even after carbon dioxide emissions cease, sea levels will continue to rise, measuring twice the level of 2050 estimates for 100 years, and four times that value for another 500 years.
Even methane — a gas that has an atmospheric lifespan of just 10 years — would continue to contribute to sea level rise for centuries after it has cleared up from the atmosphere.

Effectively, this means that even if humans were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases right now, thermal expansion and the ensuing rise of ocean levels would continue for centuries to come — quite possibly inundating several island nations and low-lying coastal areas in cities across the world.
“If you think of countries like Tuvalu, which are barely above sea level, the question that is looming is how much we can emit before they are doomed. Are they already slated to go under, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow?” Solomon said. “It’s all the more reason why it’s important to understand how long climate changes will last, and how much more sea-level rise is already locked in.”

There is, however, one silver lining. As part of their study, the researchers also examined what impact the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which eliminated the use of the ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, had had on stemming the rise of ocean levels. They found that if the deal had never been ratified, and if countries had continued to emit CFCs, the world would have experienced up to an additional 6 inches of sea-level rise by 2050.
“Half a foot is pretty significant,” Solomon said. “It’s yet another tremendous reason why the Montreal Protocol has been a pretty good thing for the planet.”

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Say goodbye to polar bears #auspol 

More than two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be killed off by 2050 — the species completely gone from Alaska — because of thinning sea ice from global warming in the Arctic, government scientists forecast. (Subhankar Banerjee/Associated Press)
   As the Arctic warms faster than any other place on the planet and sea ice declines, there is only one sure way to save polar bears from extinction, the government announced Monday: decisive action on climate change.
In a final plan to save an animal that greatly depends on ice to catch prey and survive, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the rapid decline of sea ice as “the primary threat to polar bears” and said “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming” driven by the human emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice,” the agency’s plan said, “it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”

[The Arctic keeps warming, and polar bears are feeling the heat]
That determination puts the plan itself on thin ice. Global climate change, of course, is completely out of the control of Fish and Wildlife, a division of the Interior Department. An international effort to address the issue was signed about a year ago in Paris, but President-elect Donald Trump has questioned U.S. participation in a treaty that nearly 190 governments signed.

Trump has waffled in his perspective on climate change. When asked about the human link to climate change following his election, he said, “I think there is some connectivity. . . . It depends on how much.” He also said he would keep an open mind about the international climate accord and whether his administration will withdraw from it.
But the president-elect has also openly doubted the findings of more than 95 percent of climate scientists who say climate change is driven by human activity. In 2012, he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created for and by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Fish and Wildlife officials declined to speculate on whether the next president will follow the guidance of its new plan. But the scientists had doubts about the survival of bears before Trump’s election.
“Even when we started the planning process, that was the discussion we were having … are we wasting our time here,” said Jenifer Kohout, deputy assistant director for Fish and Wildlife’s Alaska region, and a co-chair of the group that wrote the plan.

The extent of sea ice in September 2014 was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. (Courtesy of Kathy Crane/NOAA)

“We wanted this plan to partially tell that story,” she said, but to also show that there were other steps that could save bears, such as adjusting the number that can be harvested by Alaska’s native people depending on the rise and fall of the animal’s population. Indigenous people and state officials participated in forming the plan. Another step was to find ways to deter hungry bears drawn to human garbage, so that fewer of them are destroyed.
Polar bears were listed as threatened by Fish and Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act in 2008, which automatically qualified it as a depleted species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Under both acts, Fish and Wildlife is required to develop a plan for their recovery with an analysis of why their threatened, the cost of restoring their populations and the time it will take to do it.

For eight years, federal scientists have tried to figure that all out. Monday’s recovery plan reflects earlier science that foresaw the extinction of polar bears in a warming world. Fish and Wildlife took the further step of establishing a Polar Bear Recovery Team of representatives from federal agencies, Alaska, the North Slope Borough, Alaska Native organizations, industry, non-profit organizations and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Together they are showing Alaskans how starving polar bears are attracted to their garbage, which brings them closer to humans, which leads to their slaughter, hastening their decline. With Native organizations that rely on bear meat for nutrition, they came up with a system where the numbers of bears that can be hunted rises and falls depending on the population.
For many observers, the concern about polar bears is odd because more of the animals exist now than 40 years ago, when protections against hunting were minimal. Scientists say about 19 populations make up an estimated 25,000 to 31,000 bears, including a subpopulation of about 3,000 that roam Alaska. Estimates of their increases and declines go up and down depending on which population is being counted.
But researchers say 80 percent of the populations will almost certainly collapse if sea ice continues to decline. Air temperatures at the top of the world are rising twice as fast as temperatures in lower latitudes, resulting in significant ice melt, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[The Arctic is showing stunning winter warmth, and these scientists think they know why]
Under the effects of global warming, Alaska recorded temperatures nearly 20 degrees higher than the January average as warm air flowed north, NOAA said in an Arctic Report Card.
“We’re quite confident that absent action to address climate change, there would be very significant reduction in the range of polar bears,” said Michael Runge, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist who served as the plan’s other co-chairman. 
But even if the vast majority of bears die, the species can be saved if the ice stabilizes decades into the future, so that they can hunt, find mates and find dens that allow them to survive, Runge said. Polar bears, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, could be delisted if an improved climate and stronger ice increase their likelihood of survival.

An estimated 35,000 walrus gather on shore north of Point Lay, Alaska. A decline in sea ice in the Arctic region of the Chukchi Sea is forcing female walruses and their young to “haul out” to land. (NOAA via Agence France-Presse)

The plan said the outlook is grim for bears only if international governments do absolutely nothing to address climate change, said David Douglas, another USGS researcher. But if they limit some greenhouse gases, even if Trump withdraws the United States from the Paris climate agreement, polar bears will have a slightly better chance of survival.
“There are two ends of a spectrum. One is not hopeless,” he said.
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Without an aggressive call to address climate change, the plan is toothless, said Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Allowing for massive reductions in polar populations, including the possible extinction of bears in Alaska, Wolf said, is unacceptable.
“This recovery plan is too risky for the polar bear. Recovery plans work, but only if they truly address the threats to the species,” she said. “Sadly, that simply isn’t the case with this polar bear plan.”

Press link for more: Washington Post


Antarctica is melting. #auspol 

About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again. An international team of scientists with the participation of the University of Bonn is now reporting its findings in the magazine Scientific Reports.
University of Bonn’s climate researcher Michael E. Weber is a member of the study group. He says, “The changes that are currently taking place in a disturbing manner resemble those 14,700 years ago.” At that time, changes in atmospheric-oceanic circulation led to a stratification in the ocean with a cold layer at the surface and a warm layer below. Under such conditions, ice sheets melt more strongly than when the surrounding ocean is thoroughly mixed. This is exactly what is presently happening around the Antarctic.
The main author of the study, the Australian climate researcher Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney, explains the process as follows: “The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface. At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.” It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.
To investigate the climate changes of the past, the scientists are studying drill cores from the eternal ice. Layer by layer, this frozen “climate archive” reveals its secrets to the experts. In previous studies, the scientists had found evidence of eight massive melting events in deep sea sediments around the Antarctic, which occurred at the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. Co-author Dr. Weber from the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn says: “The largest melt occurred 14,700 years ago. During this time the Antarctic contributed to a sea level rise of at least three meters within a few centuries.”
The present discovery is the first direct evidence from the Antarctic continent which confirms the assumed models. The research team used isotopic analyzes of ice cores from the Weddell Sea region, which now flows into the ocean about a quarter of the Antarctic melt.
Through a combination with ice sheet and climate modeling, the isotopic data show that the waters around the Antarctic were heavily layered at the time of the melting events, so that the ice sheets melted at a faster rate. “The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,700 years ago,” says co-author Nick Golledge from the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand.

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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.

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Climate costs bolt upward. #auspol #science

President-elect Donald Trump stops taking climate change into account when making federal energy policy, he’ll do so just as a leading projection of climate-related costs bolts upward. 

William Nordhaus of Yale University is a central figure in the study of climate change and economics. In the early 1990s he developed what became the leading computer model for studying the effects of warming on the global economy. The Dynamic Integrated model of Climate & the Economy (DICE) has long given resource economists, students, and policymakers an opportunity to test how different scenarios might lead to quite different future climates.
Nordhaus recently updated DICE. He published results of an early test-drive of it this week in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, titled “Projections and Uncertainties About Climate Change in an Era of Minimal Climate Policies.”
Readers of recent headlines might be forgiven for assuming the “era of minimal climate policies” referred to is about the next four years. In fact, Nordhaus suggests, the “minimal policy” era is the one we’re currently in. (Nordhaus couldn’t be reached for comment.)
The paper’s findings “pertain primarily to a world without climate policies, which is reasonably accurate for virtually the entire globe today,” he writes. “The results show rapidly rising accumulation of CO2, temperature changes, and damages.”

Even after adjusting for uncertainty, he writes, there is “virtually no chance” that nations will prevent the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), the upper bound for avoiding cascading catastrophes. With revisions to methods and data in the model, he estimates that the price associated with each ton of carbon dioxide emitted should be about 50 percent higher than the previous version of DICE.

His simulations echo findings of analyses such as the Climate Action Tracker project, which suggest current policies might lead to average warming of 3.6 Celsius. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the world needs to slash emissions about 25 percent below what’s projected in 2030.
Here’s why the research is so consequential. DICE is one of three major “integrated assessment models” used by governments and the private sector to estimate the cost, in today’s dollars, of the damage climate change will cause. The Obama administration relied on these models to produce the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) at the heart of dozens of energy-related federal rules. The measure is expressed in dollars per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The current U.S. estimate is about $40. 
The SCC, paradoxically, has become semi-famous just by being so obscure. It has always drawn attention within the climate policy world because it’s so influential and complicated. Different assumptions entered into the models can yield dramatically different results. The measure has popped up at least twice since the 2016 election. Once, in a questionnaire that a Trump transition official sent to the Department of Energy (the document was later disavowed by the transition team). It also appeared on a post-election energy-policy wish list of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a nonprofit, which said the estimates should no longer be used. IER’s president, Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, became head of the Trump Energy Department transition last month.

The National Academies has undertaken a major study of how best to update the SCC, with the final report due early next year. The current process was approved by a federal court as recently as August.

Tea-leaf-reading aside, the new administration’s actual intentions and priorities will become clear only after Jan. 20. The planet, meanwhile, seems to have intentions and priorities of its own, judging by the unprecedented warm Christmas near the top of the world. 

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America’s youth are suing the government over climate change #auspol

At a time when humanity must reverse course before plunging over a climate cliff, the American public has elected a president who seems to have both feet on the fossil fuel accelerator.

 If there is a mechanism to force the Trump administration to put the brakes on dirty energy policy, a lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the Obama administration may hold the key.
 Two days after the presidential election, on Nov. 10, a federal district court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth – indeed, all citizens – hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system.
 The youth, aged 9 to 20 years old, seek a court-supervised plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions at a rate set by a science-based prescription. The judicial role is analogous to court-supervised remedies protecting equal opportunity for students after Brown v. Board of Education.
 The Juliana v. U.S. decision could be a legal game-changer, as it challenges the entire fossil-fuel policy of the United States.
  Cruel irony
 Environmental lawsuits typically rely on statutes or regulations. But Juliana is a human rights case that bores down to legal bedrock by asserting constitutional rights to inherit a stable climate system.
 The court, which ruled the suit can proceed to trial, rightly described the case as a “civil rights action” – an action “of a different order than the typical environmental case” – because it alleges that government actions “have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

  The litigation, variously called “a ”ray of hope,“ a legal ”long shot“ and a ”Hail Mary pass,“ yielded its groundbreaking decision not a moment too soon.

2016 is the hottest on record, Arctic sea ice has hit its lowest recorded level. Heated ocean waters threaten coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

To have any hope of reversing or stalling these effects of climate change, the world must restrict fossil fuel production and ultimately switch to safe renewable energy. Even continued production solely from currently operating oil and gas fields will push the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures, beyond the aspirational limit set by the global Paris Agreement on climate change.
President-elect Trump, who notoriously claimed that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, has said he plans to immediately approve the highly contentious Keystone Pipeline, open public land to drilling, rescind Obama’s Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA’s climate research, and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He intends to spur production of US$50 trillion worth of shale, oil, coal and natural gas.

The 70-year-old president-elect will not live long enough to witness the worst consequences of rapidly expanding fossil fuel development. The cruel irony for young people is that actions taken during Trump’s time in office will lock in a future of severe disruptions within their projected lifetimes – and sea level rise that could make coastal cities uninhabitable. James Hansen, formerly the nation’s chief climate scientist at NASA, has warned, “Failure to act with all deliberate speed…functionally becomes a decision to eliminate the option of preserving a habitable climate system.”

Constitutional argument

For decades, the political branches have promoted fossil fuel consumption despite longstanding knowledge about the climate danger. President Obama ignored warnings when he charted a disastrous course of increased fossil fuel production early in office. In a last moment of opportunity to avert climate tipping points, Americans should recall an elementary school civics lesson: The United States has three, not two, branches of government. 

The founders wisely vested an independent judiciary with the responsibility of upholding the fundamental liberties of citizens against infringement by the other branches.
As the president-elect promises to ramp up fossil fuel production and dismantle Obama’s recent climate measures, and with no obvious statutory law to prevent him from doing so, only a fundamental rights approach carries any hope of trumping Trump.

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