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Monday, June 30, 2014

John Abraham: Global warming makes drought come on earlier, faster, and harder

A new study tries to separate natural and human influences on drought

by John Abraham, "Climate Consensus - The 97%," The Guardian, June 30, 2014

Yemenis walk through a drought-affected dam on the outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen.  Sana a city is running out of water and many relief agencies feel that it could become the first capital city in the world to run out of a viable water supply.
Yemenis walk through a drought-affected dam on the outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen. Sana a city is running out of water and many relief agencies feel that it could become the first capital city in the world to run out of a viable water supply. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
We all know that some climate change is natural, in fact, even without humans, the Earth’s climate changes. But, as we have added heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, we have seen human influence “emerge” from natural variability.
Droughts, one of the most intensely studied climate events, are a perfect example of an effect with both human and natural influences. Separating the relative strengths of the influences is a challenge for scientists. But, when we deal with drought, with its large social and economic costs, it is a challenge we must undertake.
very recent study tries to do just this. Published in the Journal of Climate, authors Richard Seager and Martin Hoerling cleverly used climate models forced by sea surface temperatures to separate how much of the past century’s North American droughts have been caused by ocean temperatures, natural variability, and humans. What they found was expected (all three of these influence drought), but it's the details that are exciting. Furthermore, the methodology can be applied to other climate phenomena at other locations around the globe.
The very beginning of their paper sets a great framework for the study,
“In a nation that has been reeling from one weather or climate disaster to another, with record tornado outbreaks, landfalling tropical storms and superstorms, record winter snowfalls, and severe droughts, persistent droughts appear almost prosaic. Droughts do not cause the mass loss of life and property destruction by floods and storms. They are instead slow-moving disasters whose beginnings and ends are even often hard to identify. However, while the social and financial costs of hurricane, tornado, and flood disasters are, of course, tremendous, droughts are one of the costliest of natural disasters in the United States.”
Droughts can be caused by a variety of isolated or interacting phenomena. At its root, drought results from lowered precipitation and sometimes higher temperatures (which increase evaporation rates). The onset of drought can often be linked to variations in ocean temperatures. For instance, La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean as well as elevated Atlantic Ocean temperatures have coincided with United States droughts.
In fact the authors state that the three mid-to-late 19th century droughts, the Dust Bowl, and the drought in the 1950s all depended on persistent La Niña conditions. Of course, other factors played roles as well and ocean temperatures simply don’t explain everything. Perhaps the best example of multiple drought factors is the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Then, cool Pacific temperatures were not by themselves sufficient. It is likely that land use changes associated with farmland erosion and natural atmospheric variability also played roles.
The authors, therefore, wanted to move beyond a simplistic association of La Niña episodes and warm Atlantic Ocean waters with the occurrence of drought. They asked what other causes might there be and how will things change in the coming years and decades?
Using precipitation data from the University of East Anglia and ocean temperatures from the Hadley Centre combined with climate models, the researchers were able to add or omit the oceanic temperatures and compare the two sets of results. They found that ocean temperature variations cause up to 40% of the changes to precipitation, depending on location. They also found that the oceans can “nudge” the atmosphere to create conditions that are amenable to drought, and that temperature increases associated with human-driven global warming also play a role. In fact,
“The warming leads to a simulated long-term reduction in soil moisture which, although of weak magnitude compared to soil moisture deficits induced by naturally occurring droughts in the southwest United States, would imply that drought conditions may be entered more quickly and alleviated more slowly owing to long-term warming … Radiative forcing of the climate system is another source of predictability, although not really a welcome one, and rising greenhouse gases will lead to a steady drying of southwest North America. However this is a change that is only now beginning to emerge and currently is exerting less influence on precipitation variability than ocean variability or internal variability.”
This conclusion agrees with other researchers who have shown that, while human-emitted greenhouse gas warming may not cause a particular drought, it can make drought come on earlier, faster, and harder than it otherwise would.
There are two issues that I will be watching closely. The first is that any extra damage caused by drought as a consequence of human emissions will not scale linearly with attribution. For instance, if human impacts are responsible for 10% of a drought’s severity, it does not mean that human impacts are responsible for 10% of the social or economic cost. 
A great example of this is Superstorm Sandy. While admittedly not a drought, the example will make the point. It has been estimated that human-caused increases to water temperatures caused perhaps 10% more rain to fall. This extra 10% rainfall caused more than 10% of the economic damages associated with rainfall. Similarly, the human-induced sea level rise of 1 foot was only about 10% of the storm surge. But, this extra foot caused a disproportionate amount of flood damage. With this in mind, I would really like to know how the social and financial costs will change in the future as droughts set in earlier, faster, and harder because of greenhouse gas warming.
Secondly, there may well be a human influence on these otherwise natural causes. For instance, scientists have argued that greenhouse gas warming may change the ocean temperature fluctuations, particularly in the Pacific. Similarly, there are many new studies linking increasing greenhouse gases with atmospheric circulation changes. Since both of these features affect drought, they appear, at least to me, to be potential indirect human influences.
We will have to wait to learn more, let’s hope the wait isn’t too long.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Who Founded Greenpeace? Not Patrick Moore.

by Greg Laden, Science Blogs, June 27, 2014

Who are the founders of Greenpeace? Not Patrick Moore.
Patrick Moore is a Hippie for Hire. He makes the claim that he co-founded Greenpeace, and charges a fee to show up at conferences or other venues, or sit on boards, to provide a story that anti-environmentalists, global warming deniers, and others, like to hear. The part where he takes your money to lie, as far as I can tell, is true. The part about how he co-founded Greenpeace is apparently not true.
Patrick Moore.  Did Patrick Moore found Greenpeace? Greenpeace says no.  They have evidence.  So no, he probably did not.
Patrick Moore. Did Patrick Moore found Greenpeace? Greenpeace says no. They have evidence. So no, he probably did not.

Patrick Moore, a paid spokesman for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and genetic engineering industry, frequently cites a long-ago affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy in the media. Media outlets often either state or imply that Mr. Moore still represents Greenpeace, or fail to mention that he is a paid lobbyist and not an independent source…
For more than 20 years, Mr. Moore has been a paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries, including the timber, mining, chemical and the aquaculture industries. Most of these industries hired Mr. Moore only after becoming the focus of a Greenpeace campaign to improve their environmental performance. Mr. Moore has now worked for polluters for far longer than he ever worked for Greenpeace.
Most importantly, given Patrick Moore’s insistence that he is a founder of Greenpeace, is this statement by the organization:
Patrick Moore Did Not Found Greenpeace
Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. Although Mr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace. Phil Cotes, Irving Stowe, and Jim Bohlen founded Greenpeace in 1970. Patrick Moore applied for a berth on the Phyllis Cormack in March, 1971 after the organization had already been in existence for a year.
Greenpeace even kept a copy of the letter Patrick Moore sent to them asking for a birth on a boat to engage in a nuclear protest, dated to long after the founding of Greenpeace. Here it is:
How could Patrick Moore have founded Greenpeace if he wrote this letter?
Media Matters addressed the question “Who is Patrick Moore?” and “Who Founded Greenpeace?” and “Did Patrick Moore Found Greenpeace?” here. In that piece they discuss Patrick Moore’s anti-science and anti-environment stand on climate change. They note:
Moore has repeatedly claimed that he left Greenpeace because their policies shifted to the radical left, saying for instance in his testimony, “I had to leave as Greenpeace took a sharp turn to the political left, and began to adopt policies that I could not accept from my scientific perspective.” But Greenpeace has a different view of the situation, saying “what Moore really saw was an opportunity for financial gain. Since then he has gone from defender of the planet to a paid representative of corporate polluters.” [U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 2/25/14; Greenpeace, 10/10/08]
This refers in part to the Greenpeace Statement on Patrick Moore:
Patrick Moore often misrepresents himself in the media as an environmental “expert” or even an “environmentalist,” while offering anti-environmental opinions on a wide range of issues and taking a distinctly anti-environmental stance. He also exploits long-gone ties with Greenpeace to sell himself as a speaker and pro-corporate spokesperson, usually taking positions that Greenpeace opposes.
While it is true that Patrick Moore was a member of Greenpeace in the 1970s, in 1986 he abruptly turned his back on the very issues he once passionately defended. He claims he “saw the light” but what Moore really saw was an opportunity for financial gain. Since then he has gone from defender of the planet to a paid representative of corporate polluters.
Patrick Moore promotes such anti-environmental positions as clearcut logging, nuclear power, farmed salmon, PVC (vinyl) production, genetically engineered crops, and mining. Clients for his consulting services are a veritable Who’s Who of companies that Greenpeace has exposed for environmental misdeeds, including Monsanto, Weyerhaeuser, and BHP Minerals.
And so on.
So, on answer to the question “Who Founded Greenpeace?” one accurate and truthful answer is “Not Patrick Moore.” In answer to the questions “Did Patrick Moore found Greenpeace?” or “Is Patrick Moore a co-founder of Greenpeace?” the answer is “no” to both.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Searching for climate-do-nothinger Bjorn Lomborg's millions

by Graham Readfearn, storify, June 26, 2014
  1. There are many puzzling things about Danish climate change contrarian Bjorn Lomborg - a guy often cited on lists of the world's leading influencers. 

    He admits burning fossil fuels causes global warming but says it's no big deal. 

    In fact, he claims that the economic costs of climate change will not turn negative for another 50 years. 

    He says the world should not waste billions on tackling rising greenhouse gas emissions, but should instead prioritise funding to beating poverty - like we can't do both? Energy poverty is a killer, he says, so the developing world should burn as much coal as they need.

    His critics - of which there are a great many - say Lomborg tends to cherry-pick certain chunks of data, ignore others and dismiss risk in order to make his arguments stick.  I took a look at some of his arguments on my Guardian blog Planet Oz back in December 2013.
  2. Bjorn is also a bit of a charmer and his love of the plain black t-shirt gives him an aura of practical pragmatist - the realist out there batting for the world's poor. 

    He is wildly popular and appears on major media outlets across the world, writes opinion columns in the most widely read newspapers on the planet and speaks with utter conviction. 

    But a question few people ever ask is - where does all the money come from for his Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank - and what even is that?  What are their offices in Copenhagen like?  Are they as plain and understated as Lomborg's t-shirts?

    I decided to take a look for DeSmogBlog.
  3. The think tank is actually based in the US where it registered in 2008.  My story for DeSmogBlog found his think tank has pulled in $4.3 million in funding since 2008, most of it in the last two years. Lomborg himself was paid $775,000 through the think tank for his work in 2012, which is the latest year where public records are available.  

    The majority of the income is not disclosed.

    The think tank's VP told me one reason for this was that "Donors routinely decide to be anonymous" and that one reason was that "given how some parts of the blogosphere vilify Dr. Lomborg and certain research from the Center" this kind of heat was "something donors can understandably live without". He said they most certainly don't take cash from "the fossil fuel industry" and donors have no influence on their research.

    But where is all that money coming from?  

    I discovered grants from three foundations - one in particular is strongly linked both ideologically and financially to the network of organisations controlled by the right-wing Koch brothers. Another also has ties. Following up my story, Joe Romm at Climate Progress put some flesh on those Koch links.
  4. DeSmogBlog also created a meme.
  5. New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin showed particular interest in Lomborg's hefty salary.

  6. Others wondered how many t-shirts Lomborg could buy with that kind of income.

  7. Some saw the irony of climate science denialists who love touting the conspiracy that climate scientists are only warning the world about global warming because there's a government grant cheque in it.

  8. For me, the whole story highlights two realities.  

  9. A think tank that publicly lobbies for policy positions that would hugely benefit the fossil fuel industry does not have to say where its money comes from. This applies in the US as it does in the UK and Australia and probably lots of other places too.

    When media outlets across the globe publish Lomborg's views as the "founder and president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center," readers are always left wondering.  What is that?  

The Nightmare, Tony Abbott, running Australia's government

Readers, I knew he was bad, but he looks even dumber than Rick Perry.  How long will Australians have him as prime minister?

Future holds more days of higher humidity and heat, unsuitable for human (or pets) outdoor activity

by Sharon Begley, Reuters, June 24, 2014

(Reuters) - The old adage, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," will come into play more often and in more places because of climate change, with life-altering results in southern U.S. cities from Miami to Atlanta to Washington and even northern ones such as New York, Chicago and Seattle.
"As temperatures rise, toward the end of the century, less than an hour of activity outdoors in the shade could cause a moderately fit individual to suffer heat stroke," said climatologist Robert Kopp of Rutgers University, lead scientific author of the report. "That's something that doesn't exist anywhere in the world today."
That result emerges from the heat-and-humidity analysis in "Risky Business," the report on the economic consequences of climate change released on Tuesday. The analysis goes beyond other studies, which have focused on rising temperatures, to incorporate growing medical understanding of the physiological effects of heat and humidity, as well as research on how and where humidity levels will likely rise as the climate changes.
The body's capacity to cool down in hot weather depends on the evaporation of sweat. That keeps skin temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius). Above that, core temperature rises past 98.6 F. But if humidity is also high, sweat cannot evaporate, and core temperature can increase until the person collapses from heat stroke.
"If it's humid you can't sweat, and if you can't sweat you can't maintain core body temperature in the heat, and you die," said Dr Al Sommer, dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and author of a chapter on health effects in the new report.
The highest heat-plus-humidity reading in the United States was in 1995 in Appleton, Wisconsin, when the outside temperature was 101 F. While the Upper Midwest is not known for tropical conditions, climate research shows that it will experience more warming than lower latitudes as well as more humidity.
As a result, the deadliest heat-and-humidity combinations are expected to center around that region, with threads reaching to the Eastern Seaboard and islands of dangerous conditions along the northwest Pacific coast.
If climate change continues on its current trajectory, the report concluded, Midwesterners could see deadly heat-and-humidity pairings (which meteorologists call "wet-bulb temperature") two days every year by later this century. [This is pie in the sky -- we are already having this kind of weather in southern Illinois.]
"It will be functionally impossible to be outside, including for things like construction work and farming, as well as recreation," said climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University.
Even without killer humidity, heat waves are expected to take a larger and larger toll.
The Southeast is expected to be hit with an additional 17-52 extremely hot days per year by mid-century and an additional 48-130 days by 2100. That could prove deadly for thousands: "Risky Business" projects an additional 15-21 deaths per 100,000 people every year from the heat, or 11,000-36,000 additional deaths at current population levels.

(Editing by Douglas Royalty)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

University of Dayton Becomes First U.S. Catholic College to Divest From Fossil Fuels

by Brandon Baker, EcoWatch, June 24, 2014
Monday marked a historic day for the University of Dayton and colleges throughout the country.
The University of Dayton announced that it would divest its $670 million investment pool of fossil fuel companies. Monday’s announcement made Dayton the first Catholic university to make such a decision.
The University of Dayton have announced a plan to divest $670 million from fossil fuel holdings and companies. Photo credit: University of Dayton/Facebook
The University of Dayton has announced a plan to divest $670 million from fossil fuel holdings and companies. Photo credit: University of Dayton/Facebook
“This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campus-wide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said in a statement. “We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet.”
The divestment will take place in phases, beginning with the removal of holdings from its domestic equity accounts. Next, the university will develop plans to eliminate fossil fuels from its international holdings to coincide with investments in green and sustainable technologies or holdings. The university will also  restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds whose investments support fossil fuel or significant carbon-producing holdings.
Bill McKibben, co-founder of, is thankful for the timing of the university’s announcement, given Pope Francis’ recent declaration that “if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”
“It’s very good news to see Catholic institutions starting to put his wisdom into effective practice, and stand up to the powers that are trying to profit at the expense of all who depend on the proper working of this good earth,” McKibben said.
Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, was glad Dayton could set an example for other institutions.
“We applaud the University of Dayton for taking this step as perhaps the first U.S. Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels,” Galligan-Stierle said in a statement on Common Dreams. “This is a complex issue, but Catholic, higher education was founded to examine culture and find ways to advance the common good. Here is one way to lead as a good steward of God’s creation.”
The University of Dayton is the largest private university in Ohio.