Blog Archive

Sunday, November 9, 2014

rjs: Climate, renewables, environmental news, November 9, 2014

How to Mend the Conservation Divide - A SCHISM has recently divided those who love nature. “New conservationists” have been shaking up the field, proposing new approaches that break old taboos — moving species to new ranges in advance of climate change, intervening in designated wilderness areas, using nonnative species as functional stand-ins for those that have become extinct, and embracing novel ecosystems that spring up in humanized landscapes. Some “old conservationists” have reacted angrily to this, preferring to keep the focus on protecting wilderness and performing classical restoration that keeps ecosystems as they were hundreds of years ago. Editorials, essays and books have been lobbed back and forth, feathers have been ruffled and conservation groups and government officials have felt pressure from both sides. The truth is, despite the disagreements, both groups love nature and want to protect it. These seemingly competing alternatives are really complementary parts of the smartest strategy: We should try everything. Conservation used to seem pretty straightforward: set aside tracts of nature and they will take care of themselves. It is not so simple anymore. Nature left unmanaged is changing in surprising ways because of the great and accelerating human influences of what is being called the Anthropocene — the new epoch of climate change, species movements and global-scale land-use change. Today, keeping nature functioning the way it did before the Industrial Revolution requires increasingly hard and expensive work.

Unapproved GMO wheat grows mistrust in USDA - An unapproved variety of GMO wheat was found in Montana, proving once again that little to no regulation is actually being enforced against Big Ag and biotech companies. It’s no secret that the USDA consistently turns its head while GMO-related rules and regulations are repeatedly broken. According to an article on USA Today, the U.S. is the leader in GMO crops, particularly in Iowa, where 95 percent of the corn planted this past year came from genetically modified seeds. 

GMO wheat mishaps foster skepticism of USDA: In September, the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees biotech crops, said it found the Monsanto wheat two months earlier on a research field at Montana State University, more than a decade after the crop was legally tested there between 2000 and 2003.The finding came as the USDA concluded a nearly yearlong probe into a similar wheat discovery in Oregon in May 2013. In that case, the government was unable to determine how the modified seeds developed by Monsanto appeared eight years after testing ended for the biotech variety. Neither wheat strain has been approved for sale or consumption. Each year, hundreds of tests are conducted around the United States, mostly on corn, soybeans and alfalfa by seed giants including Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service authorized the planting of more than 500 crops that could be tested on as many as 11,300 sites across the nation.

The Browbeat and Baffle Political Battle  -- It never ceases to disgust, horrify and amaze how people are hoodwinked by marketing, media and advertizing.  A textbook case is election 2014.  States have measures on the ballot, and Oregon has one that big business in particular doesn't like.  As a result the campaign to defeat it has become the costliest in Oregon history as big business pounds the airwaves with their deep pocket funded misleading and manipulative ads.   A nearly half-million dollar contribution from soft-drink giant Coca-Cola appears to have put Oregon's mandatory GMO-labeling measure over the top as the costliest ballot measure in state history. Coca-Cola, while donating large sums of money in helping defeat similar labeling measures in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013, had sat out the fight over Measure 92.  Measure 92 was polled last June as 77% of Oregonians voting for it.  Now, it is about to go down in defeat.  This change is the result of pure pounding the airwaves with false political ads, one every commercial break, about every two minutes.  Big food and big chemical have put their big thumb on the political scale:  The Oregonian has been keeping tabs on how Yes on Measure 92 is being outspent and by whom.  The special interests have poured so much money into defeating this measure, the money is currently $20 million to a $6.8 million, almost 3 to 1.  That is one measure in one state.  The contribution donor list is also very depressing.  A woman who owns a coastal fishery gives $200 to label GMO foods, a public defender offers $400 to pass measure 92.  Compare that to the $4.5 million poured in by Dupont as Monsanto contributes half a million there, 2.5 million over there, all to stop Oregonians from knowing what is in their food.

Genetically modified escalation -- Vandana Shiva, despite her exceptional public speaking skills, is not without her critics. Several articles over the past year, among them one in the New Yorker and another in Grist, attack various facts upon which she bases her anti-GMO platform. As best I can tell these pieces had no discernible impact on her popular support, nor did they shift the greater debate over the regulation and labeling of GM foods.  This frightens me. In the GMO debate, the rift between the two opposing sides grows wider by the day and shows no sign of narrowing. Opponents in the debate can’t even agree on the most basic facts relevant to their issue. Do genetically modified crop varieties deliver higher yields? Do they contribute to negative health effects in people and livestock? Do they lead to negative environmental consequences? There are studies that take opposing sides on all of these issues and, sadly enough, their findings are often predictable given their funding sources and the ideological predilections of the researchers involved.The greater debate around the regulation and labeling of GMOs is caught in a trap of escalation. Both sides in the debate – the anti-GMO activists like Vandana Shiva on one side and the biotech firms and their pro-GMO allies on the other – take turns contorting facts and twisting statistics in their favor, coming up with ever more extreme arguments to bolster their respective cases. They appeal to emotion, to fear, to belief, to tradition; they mount character attacks and smear campaigns, demonize each other, and attempt to use political clout to force people out of their jobs and win underhanded legal battles. As their rhetoric grows ever more fierce and wanders further from reality, it becomes nearly impossible to ground their debate in fact and find the common ground needed to end the conflict. Every day the stakes get higher, and higher, and higher…

Landmark 20-Year Study Finds Pesticides Cause Depression In Farmers - Earlier this fall, researchers from the National Institute of Health finished up a landmark 20-year study, a study that hasn’t received the amount of coverage it deserves. About 84,000 farmers and spouses of farmers were interviewed since the mid-1990s to investigate the connection between pesticides and depression, a connection that had been suggested through anecdotal evidence for far longer. We called up Dr. Freya Kamel, the lead researcher on the study, to find out what the team learned and what it all means. Spoiler: nothing good. Because the data is so excessive, the researchers have mined it three times so far, the most recent time in a study published just this fall. The first one was concerned with suicide, the second with depression amongst the spouses of farmers (Kamel says “pesticide applicators,” but most of the people applying pesticides are farmers), and the most recent with depression amongst the farmers themselves. There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.

Salt's poisonous effect is growing threat to crop yields− Salt is poisoning around 2,000 hectares of irrigated farm land every day – and has been doing so for the last 20 years, according to new research. Think of an area about the size of 3,000 football fields that can no longer be used to produce food each day. And then remember that the global population actually grows by around 200,000 people every day. Manzoor Qadir, senior research fellow at the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and colleagues report in the journal Natural Resources Forum that an area of farmland the size of France – 62 million hectares – has been affected by the build-up of salts in irrigated soil. This is one-fifth of all irrigated land. “To feed the world’s anticipated nine billion people by 2050, and with little new productive land available, it’s a case of all lands needed on deck,” says Dr Qadir. “We can’t afford not to restore the productivity of salt-affected lands.” Salts degradation is an ancient hazard in arid and semi-arid lands, where groundwater is pumped from aquifers below the bedrock and used to grow crops. Evaporation and transpiration leave precipitated salts around the roots of each crop and – since there is no fresh rainwater to wash away the salts − sooner or later the levels build up to intolerable scales, and the land becomes increasingly unproductive.

Europe sees big declines in common bird species - Using data from 25 countries, scientists estimate that European bird populations have declined by more than 420 million over 3 decades, with some of the biggest losses coming from common species such as house sparrows, skylarks, and starlings. The Guardian reports that some rarer birds have seen their numbers increase thanks to conservation efforts, but the more robust species have not received the same attention and have suffered for it. Scientists say the declines are largely caused by habitat loss and that broader, more comprehensive approaches will be required to target these common species because of their widespread distribution and abundance.
Climate change is disrupting flower pollination, research shows: Sexual deceit, pressed flowers and Victorian bee collectors are combined in new scientific research which demonstrates for the first time that climate change threatens flower pollination, which underpins much of the world’s food production. The work used museum records stretching back to 1848 to show that the early spider orchid and the miner bee on which it depends for reproduction have become increasingly out of sync as spring temperatures rise due to global warming. The orchid resembles a female miner bee and exudes the same sex pheromone to seduce the male bee into “pseudocopulation” with the flower, an act which also achieves pollination. The orchids have evolved to flower at the same time as the bee emerges. But while rising temperatures cause both the orchid and the bee to flower or fly earlier in the spring, the bees are affected much more, which leads to a mismatch. “We have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change and that warming will widen the timeline between bees and flowers emerging,” said Dr Karen Robbirt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the University of East Anglia (UEA). “If replicated in less specific systems, this could have severe implications for crop productivity.” She said the research, published in Current Biology on Thursday, is “the first clear example, supported by long-term data, of the potential for climate change to disrupt critical [pollination] relationships between species.”

TED Talk by Nina Fedoroff on Global Food Production - K. McDonald -  This 18-minute talk is by noted food system expert Nina Fedoroff, Pennsylvania State Professor and scientist. It begins with a discussion of the drivers behind affordability and food price swings. She discusses whether there are limits to feeding growing populations during climate change, and with depleting aquifers. In the last eight minutes of the talk, she discusses how we will be growing food in the future, a future in which she supports genetic modification as a tool to making food production more secure.

NASA Bombshell: Global Groundwater Crisis Threatens Our Food Supplies and Our Security - An alarming satellite-based analysis from NASA finds that the world is depleting groundwater — the water stored unground in soil and aquifers — at an unprecedented rate. A new Nature Climate Change piece, “The global groundwater crisis,” by James Famiglietti, a leading hydrologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warns that “most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid zones, that is, in the dry parts of the world that rely most heavily on groundwater, are experiencing rapid rates of groundwater depletion.”   The groundwater at some of the world’s largest aquifers — in the U.S. High Plains, California’s Central Valley, China, India, and elsewhere — is being pumped out “at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished.” The most worrisome fact: “nearly all of these underlie the world’s great agricultural regions and are primarily responsible for their high productivity.”And this is doubly concerning in our age of unrestricted carbon pollution because it is precisely these semiarid regions that are projected to see drops in precipitation and/or soil moisture, which will sharply boost the chances of civilization-threatening megadroughts and Dust-Bowlification. As these increasingly drought-prone global bread-baskets lose their easily accessible ground-water too, we end up with a death spiral: “Moreover, because the natural human response to drought is to pump more groundwater continued groundwater depletion will very likely accelerate mid-latitude drying, a problem that will be exacerbated by significant population growth in the same regions.”

Biggest Brazil Metro Area Desperate for Water -  Brazil is approaching the December start of its summer rainy season with its water supply nearly bare. More than 10 million people across Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous and the nation's economic engine, have been forced to cut water use over the past six months. A reservoir used by Itu has fallen to 2 percent of capacity and, because its system relies on rain and groundwater rather than rivers, the city is suffering more than others. In Itu, desperation is taking hold. Police escort water trucks to keep them from being hijacked by armed men. Residents demanding restoration of tap water have staged violent protests. Restaurants and bars are using disposable cups to avoid washing dishes, and agribusinesses are transporting soybeans and other crops by road rather than by boat in areas where rivers have dried up. "We are entering unknown territory," said Renato Tagnin, an expert in water resources at the environmental group Coletivo Curupira. "If this continues, we will run out of water. We have no more mechanisms and no water stored in the closet." The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total — only 9 inches (23 centimeters) over three months. Showers in October totaled just 1 inch (25 millimeters), one-fifth of normal. Only consistent, steady summer rains will bring immediate relief, experts say.

These Maps of California's Water Shortage Are Terrifying - Just how bad is California's water shortage? Really, really bad, according to these new maps, which represent groundwater withdrawals in California during the first three years of the state's ongoing and epochal drought: The maps come from anew paper in Nature Climate Change by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti. "California's Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011," he writes. That's "more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley." Famiglietti uses satellite data to measure how much water people are sucking out of the globe's aquifers, and summarized his research in his new paper. More than 2 billion people rely on water pumped from aquifers as their primary water source, Famiglietti writes. Known as groundwater (as opposed to surface water, the stuff that settles in lakes and flows in streams and rivers), it's also the source of at least half the irrigation water we rely on to grow our food. When drought hits, of course, farmers rely on groundwater even more, because less rain and snow means less water flowing above ground.  The lesson Famiglietti draws from satellite data is chilling: "Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned."

There’s A 99 Percent Chance 2014 Will Be The Hottest Year California Has Ever Seen -- California is on course to have its hottest year ever, Climate Central reported on Wednesday.  The state has been buffeted by recurring heat waves for several years, and has been in a near ceaseless state of drought since 2011 — with every inch of the state in at least “moderate” drought, and most of it in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought, as recently as September. But things worsened in 2014, as the recurring heat waves shifted into one continuous bake of high temperatures that hasn’t let up. California set another record this year for the hottest first six months ever recorded, Los Angeles endured a record-breaking heat wave in October that forced a number of school closures, and the city faces another bout of extreme heat this week. “It’s just been very consistently warm throughout the year,” With 2014 almost concluded, the chances now top 99 percent that it will beat out 1934 as the hottest year ever recorded in California, according to records going back to 1895. At this point, to fall short of the mark, the state “would have to have a December that’s basically colder than anything we’ve had in California,” Iniguez continued. “Which isn’t going to happen.”

Election Divides GOP On Whether To Seize And Sell America’s Public Lands - In the run-up to Tuesday’s elections, each week seemed to bring a new Republican candidate for federal and state office advocating for America’s national forests, wildlife areas and other public lands to be seized by the states or auctioned off to the highest bidder. Even the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution endorsing these extreme proposals earlier this year. Not all western state Republicans stood by their party’s platform in this election cycle, however. High-profile candidates who won competitive races in the West deliberately distanced themselves from their party’s platform, or avoided taking a stance on the issue altogether during their campaigns. At the same time, a number of western Republicans in competitive races who chose to embrace their party’s extreme stance came up short on Election Night. Proposals to seize and sell federal land are not only fundamentally unconstitutional, but also would cost state taxpayers millions of dollars, and in many cases, force the sale of public lands to the highest bidder.  Land grabs are also deeply unpopular among voters. Recent public opinion research, conducted by a bipartisan polling team, found that the majority of Western voters firmly oppose proposals to transfer America’s national forests and public lands to state ownership.

Why Sand Is Disappearing -  TO those of us who visit beaches only in summer, they seem as permanent a part of our natural heritage as the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes. But shore dwellers know differently. Beaches are the most transitory of landscapes, and sand beaches the most vulnerable of all. During big storms, especially in winter, they can simply vanish, only to magically reappear in time for the summer season.  It could be said that “a beach is a place where sand stops to rest for a moment before resuming its journey to somewhere else,”  Sand moved along the shore and from beach to sea bottom and back again, forming shorelines and barrier islands that until recently were able to repair themselves on a regular basis, producing the illusion of permanence. Today, however, 75 to 90 percent of the world’s natural sand beaches are disappearing, due partly to rising sea levels and increased storm action, but also to massive erosion caused by the human development of shores. Many low-lying barrier islands are already submerged. Yet the extent of this global crisis is obscured because so-called beach nourishment projects attempt to hold sand in place and repair the damage by the time summer people return, creating the illusion of an eternal shore.Before next summer, endless lines of dump trucks will have filled in bare spots and restored dunes. Virginia Beach alone has been restored more than 50 times. In recent decades, East Coast barrier islands have used 23 million loads of sand, much of it mined inland and the rest dredged from coastal waters — a practice that disturbs the sea bottom, creating turbidity that kills coral beds and damages spawning grounds, which hurts inshore fisheries.

Reinert Interview: Overfishing - K. Mcdonald - K.M.: You have some thoughts about overfishing. Please share them with us. Reinert: This subject really scares me.  I did some work for ten or more years down in the Galápagos Islands and part of what I saw down there was how the overfishing supply chain works. First, the artisanal fisherman, who rents his boat and his motor from importers in mainland Ecuador and Peru, pays his lease back with fish. It’s so horrible, because these boat owners put pressure on the small fisherman for bigger catches, all season catches, shark fins, sea bass, sea cucumbers, and the like. Big fishing boats from China, Korea, and Japan come sit just outside the protected limits and the artisanal fishermen bring them their catches.  Longer ago, these big Asian fishing boats would actually come into the protected waters of the Galápagos National Park, and I’ve seen them caught and put in jail for it, and you just know that for every incident in the Galápagos, there must be a thousand incidents elsewhere.  It is all so cold blooded. Money flows from brokers in the Far East into Ecuador, Peru, and Latin America to the intermediaries of these fishing operations.  To complete the picture, I’ve seen the unimaginably large fish markets in Tokyo and the enormous volumes of fish that come in and out of there every day. So I’ve seen this thing in operation from the little guy in Ecuador who’s illegally harvesting the sea cucumbers to that cucumber in the market in Tokyo and it makes me realize how huge and unstoppable it is and what an insatiable appetite there is in this world for fish.

New research quantifies what's causing sea level to rise - There have been a number of studies that have come out recently on ocean warming and sea-level rise. Collectively, they are helping scientists coalesce around an emerging understanding of climate change and its impact on the Earth. Most recently, a study by scientists Sarah Purkey, Gregory Johnson, and Don Chambers was published. This team was responsible for a 2010 paper that was groundbreaking in that it quantified very deep (abyssal) sea warming. This latest paper is, in some respects, a continuation of that work. The researchers recognized that changes to the sea levels are mainly caused by thermal expansion of ocean waters as they heat, changes to the saltiness of water, and by an increase in ocean waters as ice melts and flows into the sea. The total annual sea level rise is about 3 mm per year – the question is, how much of that is from expansion and how much is from melting? The researchers used a few tools to answer this question. One tool was ocean bottom pressure measurements. If you can measure changes to ocean pressure, you can deduce how much water is in the ocean. Another tool is through an inventory approach. This inventory method quantifies how much glaciers retreat, polar ice melts, and changes to water storage on land. The paper reports that both methods agree with each other. They conclude that increased water in the oceans is causing about 1.5–1.8 mm per year of sea level rise. The actual value depends, in part, on which years are under consideration. The authors don’t just consider the ocean as a whole. They break the ocean regions into seven different sections. The reason for this subdivision is that the change to ocean levels is not uniform. In some reasons, waters are rising quickly, in other regions, the rise is much slower or zero. One region for regional variability is that the Earth’s gravity is changing.

When thawing glaciers release pollutants: As glaciers increasingly melt in the wake of climate change, it is not only the landscape that is affected. Thawing glaciers also release many industrial pollutants stored in the ice into the environment. Now, within the scope of a Swiss National Science Foundation project, researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Empa, ETH Zurich and the University of Berne have measured the concentrations of a class of these pollutants – polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) – in the ice of an Alpine glacier accurately for the first time. The measurements reveal that the PCB levels in the atmosphere have decreased since the 1970s thanks to the meanwhile global ban on PCBs. Through the progressive melting of the glaciers, however, this residual waste risks being released back into the atmosphere. Climate change has altered the glacier landscape of the Alps dramatically in recent decades. Where long glacier snouts once extended, there are often only scattered ice fields now and mountain lakes are forming in their place. Furthermore the glaciers have melted away in low-lying areas. Not only does this change the face of the Alps; it also influences the water balance as glaciers are a major freshwater source in the Alpine region. Moreover, the thawing glaciers release pollutants that have been stored inside them for considerable periods of time.

The Economist explains: Why scientists are (almost) certain that climate change is man-made | The Economist --On November 2nd the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which represents mainstream scientific opinion, said that it was extremely likely that climate change is the product of human activity. Extremely likely in IPCC speak means having a probability of over 95%. The claim forms part of its fifth assessment on the state of the global climate. In its first assessment, in 1990, the IPCC had said that "the observed increase [in air temperatures] could be largely due to natural variability." Why have climate scientists become so much more certain that climate change is man-made, not natural? Many factors influence the climate but perhaps the single most important is carbon dioxide (CO₂). CO₂ absorbs infra-red heat at a constant rate and at a higher rate than nitrogen and oxygen—the main constituent parts of the atmosphere—so the more CO₂ in the air, the more the atmosphere will tend to warm up. Scientists attribute climate change to human activity mainly because people have been responsible for large increases in CO₂. At the start of the industrial revolution, in about 1800, there were 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO₂ in the atmosphere. That had been the level for most of human history. This year, however, concentrations exceeded 400 ppm, the first time it had reached that level for a million years. Most of the increase has been caused by people burning fossil fuels. In the United States, for example, 38% of the CO₂ produced in 2012 came from generating electricity and 32% came from vehicle emissions (the rest came from industrial processes, buildings and other smaller CO₂ production). People also produce CO₂ when they cut down forests for farmland and pasture. But the rate at which CO₂ absorbs heat—which has been established accurately in laboratories—does not explain all the increase in global temperatures.  If CO2 concentrations were to double from 1800 levels, global temperatures would rise by roughly 1 °C. But there are many other influences upon the climate.

U.N. Panel Warns of Dire Effects From Lack of Action Over Global Warming - A core finding of the new report is that climate change is no longer a distant, future threat, but is being felt all over the world already. The group cited mass die-offs of forests, including those in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people. The report contained the group’s sharpest warning yet about the food supply, saying that climate change had already become a small drag on overall global production, and could become a far larger one if emissions continue unchecked. The reported noted that in recent years the world’s food system had shown signs of instability, with sudden price increases leading to riots and, in a few cases, the collapse of governments. Another central finding of the report is that climate change poses serious risks to basic human progress, in areas such as alleviating poverty. Under the worst-case scenarios, factors like high food prices and intensified weather disasters would most likely leave poor people worse off. In fact, the report said, that has already happened in some places.

World’s Scientists Warn: We Have ‘High Confidence’ In The ‘Irreversible Impacts’ Of Climate Inaction -- The world’s top scientists and governments have issued their bluntest plea yet to the world: Slash carbon pollution now (at a very low cost) or risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Scientists have “high confidence” these devastating impacts occur “even with adaptation” — if we keep doing little or nothing.On Sunday, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the “synthesis” report of their fifth full scientific climate assessment since 1990. More than 100 governments have signed off line by line on this review of more than 30,000 studies on climate science, impacts, and solutions. Like every recent IPCC report, it is cautious to a fault — as you would expect from “its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree,” as one climatologist explained to the New York Times. And that “lowest common denominator” is brought to an even blander and lower level in the summary reports since they need to end up with language that satisfies every member government.The authors clearly understand this is the last time they have a serious shot at influencing the world’s major governments while we still have a plausible chance of stabilizing at non-catastrophic levels. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said this report will “provide the roadmap by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change.” That global agreement is supposed to be achieved over the next year and finalized at the December 2015 international climate talks in Paris.

U.N. talks of tough global climate targets, vague on national action: (Reuters) - A draft U.N. guide for slowing climate change says world greenhouse gas emissions may have to fall to a net zero this century but is vague about what each nation should do now. About 500 delegates, including scientists and government experts, are meeting in Copenhagen to edit the report, which is meant to guide policymakers in setting national goals for a global climate deal at a U.N. summit in Paris in late 2015. The draft synthesis report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says rising world emissions will have to peak soon and then fall fast to limit risks of what could be "irreversible" damage. "Somewhere after the middle of this century human-caused emissions will have to come down to a net zero," Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme, told Reuters. "That in essence is going to design the arithmetic of national actions," he said of efforts to limit rising temperatures to avert desertification, mudslides, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels. Net zero means that any emissions, for instance from burning fossil fuels, would be balanced by other measures such as extracting carbon dioxide from the air and burying it. The report indicates that net zero emissions would give a strong chance of achieving a U.N. goal of limiting a rise in average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above the temperatures in pre-industrial times.

Bill McKibben: IPCC Report Says Climate Change Is 'Severe, Widespread and Irreversible' » At this point, the scientists who run the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) must feel like it’s time to trade their satellites, their carefully calibrated thermometers and spectrometers, their finely tuned computer models—all of them for a thesaurus. Surely, somewhere, there must be words that will prompt the world’s leaders to act.  This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, they are trying the words “severe, widespread and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change—which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. It’s hard to imagine how they will up the language in time for the next big global confab in Paris. But even with all that, this new document—actually a synthesis of three big working group reports released over the last year—almost certainly underestimates the actual severity of the situation. As the Washington Post pointed out this week, past reports have always tried to err on the side of understatement; it’s a particular problem with sea level rise, since the current IPCC document does not even include the finding in May that the great Antarctic ice sheets have begun to melt. (The studies were published after the IPCC’s cutoff date). But when you get right down to it, who cares? The scientists have done their job; no sentient person, including Republican Senate candidates, can any longer believe in their heart of hearts that there’s not a problem here. The scientific method has triumphed: over a quarter of a century, researchers have reached astonishing consensus on a basic problem in chemistry and physics.

'All We Need Is the Will to Change' -- A new report from the United Nation's panel of climate scientists offers little in the way of surprises: Climate change, it says, is almost entirely man-made; it will be irreversible if nothing is done soon; and reducing greenhouse gases to zero this century may be necessary to reverse its effects. This isn't surprising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's final volume, dubbed the "Synthesis Report," echoes the previous three reports that relied on the findings of more than 800 scientists released over the previous 13 months. "Science has spoken," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared at the launch of the report in Copenhagen. "There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side." The report makes it clear that scientists are more certain than ever before that human activity is responsible for climate change. "Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history," the report says. To keep the the global temperature rise from reaching what the panel views as a dangerous level, emissions from fossil fuels may need to drop to zero by the end of the century. The report cites increasingly frequent and severe heat waves, melting glaciers, and dramatically changing sea levels as indicators of the accelerating rate of climate change.  Although the report by and large has a bleak outlook, it also strikes a hopeful tone, saying that educating the general public about climate change is the key to reversal.

Arctic Methane Emissions ‘Certain to Trigger Warming’ -- As climate change melts Arctic permafrost and releases large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, it is creating a feedback loop that is "certain to trigger additional warming," according to the lead scientist of a new study investigating Arctic methane emissions.   The study released this week examined 71 wetlands across the globe and found that melting permafrost is creating wetlands known as fens, which are unexpectedly emitting large quantities of methane. Over a 100-year timeframe, methane is about 35 times as potent as a climate change-driving greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and over 20 years, it's 84 times more potent.   Methane emissions come from agriculture, fossil fuel production and microbes in wetland soils, among other sources. The study says scientists have assumed that methane emissions from wetlands are high in the tropics, but not necessarily in the Arctic because of the cold temperatures there.  But a spike in global methane concentrations in the atmosphere seen since 2007 can be partly traced back to the formation of fens in areas where permafrost once existed, according to the study, led by University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) biology professor Merritt Turetsky. The methane emissions stemming from melting permafrost could be critical to determining how fast the climate will change in the future.

Snowden documents reveal British climate espionage – Copenhagen climate summit targeted Against the backdrop of UN delegates gathering at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting this week in Copenhagen, Dagbladet Information today documents systematic intelligence operations against international climate negotiations by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Among others, the intelligence service targeted the most recent major UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the COP15, held in December 2009.  As reported earlier by Dagbladet Information, NSA, the US intelligence service, carried out intelligence operations against the COP15. The new documents, however, provide an insight into climate espionage of a more systematic and far-reaching nature than what is currently known about the operations of the NSA.  The climate espionage is a fresh example that modern intelligence services such as GCHQ and NSA are deployed with the purpose of securing advantages for their governments in international negotiations through the collection of intelligence on the confidential negotiation strategies of other countries. Among a number of other examples is the espionage carried out by GCHQ against participants in the economically decisive G20 summit in London in the spring of 2009, which has been uncovered by the British newspaper the Guardian.

Scotland’s Wind Energy Production In October Enough To Power Every Home - According to new numbers published by WWF Scotland this week, wind turbines generated enough electricity in October to power 3,045,000 homes in the U.K. — more than enough for all the homes in Scotland.  Referring to it as a “bumper month” for renewable energy, WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said in a statement that “while nuclear power plants were being forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland’s wind and sunshine were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country.” Based on figures provided by WeatherEnergy, part of the European EnergizAIR project, the data also showed that for those homes fitted with solar panels, there was enough sunshine to meet around 40 percent of the electricity needs of an average home. Wind energy has been thriving in the U.K. in recent months. In August the U.K set a new record for wind power generation, with wind accounting for seventeen percent of national demand. This came around the time that EDF Energy announced it was temporarily shutting down four of its U.K. reactors, or around a quarter of its total nuclear generating capacity, due to longevity issues. The four EDF reactors under investigation were commissioned in 1983 and are officially scheduled to be taken out of service in 2019.

G20: Australia makes token concession on climate change after US lobbying -- Australia has reluctantly conceded that climate change can be included in a single brief paragraph of the G20 leaders’ communique after heavy lobbying by the US and European nations. The government had resisted any discussion of climate at the Brisbane meeting on the grounds that the G20 is primarily an economic forum, but other nations argued leaders’ agreements at meetings like the G20 are crucial to build momentum towards a successful international deal at the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris next year. The final wording of the leaders’ statement after the meeting is still being finalised but it is believed to simply recommit to addressing climate change through UN processes. The outcome – and Australia’s resistance – have been attacked by the leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, who has written for Guardian Australia that the latest “synthesis” report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be “high on the agenda” for the G20 meeting.“The G20 is the most effective forum for the discussion of the growth story of the future, the transition to the low-carbon economy. Yet the local politics of a country of less than 25 million is being allowed to prevent essential strategic discussions of an issue that is of fundamental importance to the prosperity and well-being of the world’s population of 7 billion people,” he writes. Australia has agreed the G20 should discuss climate-related issues as part of its deliberations on energy efficiency, but this also appears to be wrapped up in a general commitment that countries consider taking action in the future on some of a long list of areas where energy efficiency improvements might be made.

Poor Countries Tap Renewables at Twice the Pace of Rich - - Emerging markets are installing renewable energy projects at almost twice the rate of developed nations, a report concluded. A study of 55 nations -- including China, Brazil, South Africa, Uruguay and Kenya -- found that they’ve installed a combined 142 gigawatts from 2008 to 2013. The 143 percent growth in renewables in those markets compares with an 84 percent rate in wealthier nations, which installed 213 megawatts, according to a report released today by Climatescope. The boom in renewables is often made for economic reasons, Ethan Zindler, a Washington-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst, said in an interview. An island nation like Jamaica, where wholesale power costs about $300 a megawatt-hour, could generate electricity from solar panels for about half as much. Similarly, wind power in Nicaragua may be half as expensive as traditional energy. “Clean energy is the low-cost option in a lot of these countries,” Zindler said by telephone. “The technologies are cost-competitive right now. Not in the future, but right now.”

How Global Fossil Fuel Dependence Hasn’t Changed In 20 Years -- Whilst enjoying the good natured exchanges on this blog concerning the pros and cons of new renewable energy sources I decided to dig deeper into the success of Green energy policies to date. Roger Andrews produced this chart the other day and the low carbon energy trends caught my eye. It is important to recall that well over $1,700,000,000,000 ($1.7 trillion) has been spent on installing wind and solar devices in recent years with the sole objective of reducing global CO2 emissions. It transpires that since 1995 low carbon energy sources (nuclear, hydro and other renewables) share of global energy consumption has not changed at all (Figure 1). New renewables have not even replaced lost nuclear generating capacity since 1999 (Figure 2). ZERO CO2 has been abated and the world has done zilch to prepare itself for the expected declines (escalating costs) of fossil fuels in the decades ahead. If this is not total policy failure, what is?

Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC: The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050. If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. The UN said inaction would cost "much more" than taking the necessary action. The IPCC's Synthesis Report was published on Sunday in Copenhagen, after a week of intense debate between scientists and government officials. It is intended to inform politicians engaged in attempts to deliver a new global treaty on climate by the end of 2015. The report says that reducing emissions is crucial if global warming is to be limited to 2C - a target acknowledged in 2009 as the threshold of dangerous climate change. The report suggests renewables will have to grow from their current 30% share to 80% of the power sector by 2050. In the longer term, the report states that fossil fuel power generation without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would need to be "phased out almost entirely by 2100".

Coal is the future, insists Tony Abbott as UN calls for action on climate change --The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, has stood by his defence of coal, saying it is the foundation of Australia’s foreseeable future, just days after a United Nations climate report called for an urgent reduction in carbon emissions. “For the foreseeable future coal is the foundation of our prosperity. Coal is the foundation of the way we live because you can’t have a modern lifestyle without energy,” the prime minister said on Tuesday. “You can’t have a modern economy without energy and for now and for the foreseeable future, the foundation of Australia’s energy needs will be coal. The foundation of the world’s energy needs will be coal.” Abbott said coal increased the prosperity of people in developing countries. “If we are serious about raising people’s living standards in less-developed countries, if we are serious about maintaining and improving living standards in countries like Australia we have to be serious about making the best use of coal.” Last month at the opening of a coalmine in central Queensland, the prime minister warned against the “demonisation” of fossil fuel. “Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world,” he said. 

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