Friday, July 31, 2015

Still No Consensus for Bjorn Lomborg, the Climate Change Refugee

Lomborg (AAP/Alan Porritt)
by David Holmes, Monash University, The Conversation:

With much-cited forecasts that the year 2050 will see 200 million climate change refugees around the world, climate inactivist Bjorn Lomborg may qualify as Australia’s first climate asylum seeker.

Yet it is not scorching temperatures or sea level rise he is seeking refuge from, but the political heat he attracts worldwide for his contrarian views on climate.

The second rejection of a Bjorn-again “Consensus Centre” by an Australian university this week raises questions as to whether any university would ever go near Lomborg, even if the federal government is putting up A$4 million to host him. These millions were allocated to Lomborg in the 2015 budget.

The University of Western Australia backflipped on a decision to host the centre in May. And now Flinders University has solidly refused to establish an Australia Consensus Centre for Lomborg.

Lomborg has been rendered virtually “stateless” as a political actor on climate since being defunded by the Danish government in 2012. He then sought refuge in the US. There, he was also unable to find a university to take his centre, but managed to attract considerable private funding for an operation known as the Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC), based in Massachusetts.

An image of the so-called centre, which was actually operating from a parcel service in Lowell, Massachusetts, was doing the rounds on Twitter last year as part of the campaign against Lomborg’s presence on US soil.

While the “centre” was operating out of Massachusetts, Lomborg was actually living in Prague and reportedly travelling up to 200 days per year. He drew on the US$775,000 the CCC paid him in 2012 and US$200,484 in 2013. But without a regular salary to back his globetrotting activities, Lomborg has been seeking to replicate his US funding here.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne pledged his determination to find a university home for Lomborg. This brought him back to his home town of Adelaide and negotiations with Flinders University.

Doubtless, there will be a new spike in outrage from conservative commenters over Lomborg’s homelessness. A campaign to give Lomborg’s centre university legitimacy has been hosted by the right-wing think tank Menzies House, which has sought to make it an “academic freedom” issue. It called on supporters in May to fund full-page newspaper advertisements, to:
… stand with Dr Lomborg.
“Academic censorship will NOT be tolerated,” Tim Andrews from Menzies House tells his readers. Pyne sought to characterise the Lomborg rejections as a freedom of speech issue. Former Institute of Public Affairs staffer and current Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, labelled it “soft-censorship” in an article in The Australian.

In defence of Lomborg, the original UWA proposal was to look at a centre that would concentrate primarily on spending programs for the developing world, and the charge is that he was ousted from the university for his views on climate change.

Even if this were true, however, how would conservatives defend the charge that the abolition of the Climate Commission, or the sacking of Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, were not simply forms of censorship of groups and individuals for their views and perspectives on climate change?

As noted previously, Lomborg’s policy ideas on climate change have had considerable influence on the Abbott government’s strategies for doing as little as possible to decarbonise the economy. Many of Lomborg’s arguments are familiar in the rhetoric of the Coalition’s pronouncements:
  • That renewables are not up to the job of providing baseload;
  • That renewables will supposedly lead to electricity price rises;
  • That there are much more important problems that Australia could fund than climate change; or
  • That exporting coal will help lift developing countries out of poverty.
The Coalition’s enthusiasm for Lomborg coincides with the decline of the intellectual right in Australia. The latter development is most lamentable for Australian politics. It has deprived Australia of the kinds of constructive debates that were once possible across the political spectrum.

Instead, what we now have is a Coalition captive to the mental life of a tabloid front page. Labor is trying to avoid the same front page, while at the same time failing to get its message out.

David Holmes is Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sustainable Oil From Algae: The Technology is Ready, But What About the Politics?

Worlds largest algae farm (Steve Back (used with permission)
by Bojan Tamburic, University of Technology, Sydney and Arunima Malik, University of Sydney, The Conversation:

Ultimately, all of the oil we use to power our modern lives comes from living creatures such as algae - albeit ones that lived 3.5 billion years ago, before gradually morphing into fossil fuel.

But when we talk about algae biofuel, we mean the green, renewable and sustainable version, rather than traditional fossil crude oil. The main requirements for making algae biofuel are: lots of sunlight, plenty of space, and easy access to the sea. Australia is an algae gardener’s paradise.

To scale up any new technology, we need to consider not just whether we can make it, but also whether it is worth doing. Unfortunately, this involves rather dry concepts like productivity, efficiency, energy balance, and supply chain dynamics. These are critical to the development of business models for new technologies, but sadly they don’t translate easily into language that politicians are interested in.

In the absence of a benevolent billionaire, the private sector is unlikely to take on the risks involved in bringing these emerging technologies to scale. This means that some form of government support is critical. With renewable energy investment growing ever more politically contentious, what are the incentives for spending scarce taxpayer dollars on something like this?

Growth industry?

In our recent study, we put algae biofuels under the cost-benefit microscope, to assess the viability of developing a full-scale algae biofuel industry in Australia.

We used a technique called hybrid life-cycle assessment (LCA), which aims to evaluate all of the effects throughout the myriad supply chains of an industry - even one as huge and complicated as the oil industry. The results are striking: a large-scale algae biofuel production facility would create almost 13,000 new jobs and A$4 billion worth of economic stimulus in Australia.

It would generate a total economic stimulus of 77 cents for every dollar invested, compared with just 13 cents in the dollar for traditional crude oil exploration and extraction (see table 1 in our paper). Commercial algae biofuel production is now a challenge of scale. The prize is phenomenal.

Algae ponds covering an area the size of Sydney could satisfy the entire crude oil demand of Australia, which would do wonders for both sustainability and security of supply - currently, 82% of crude oil is imported (see table 2 here).

We know that large-scale algae cultivation is achievable. The largest algae facility in the world is at Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia, where 740 hectares of algae ponds are used to produce the food supplement beta-carotene.

Meanwhile, the US federal government has been backing various large-scale algae projects, including Sapphire Energy’s expansion plans in New Mexico. However, the technological risks are significant, which is where hybrid LCA comes in.

Crunching the numbers

We used hybrid LCA to established a hypothetical case for assessing the viability of algae biofuel production in Australia. First, we identified a rural region in WA with the attributes needed to sustain an algae biofuel industry.

Next, we used cloud computing to develop a hybrid LCA model for this region. For the first time, we integrated multi-regional economic input-output data for Australia with engineering process data on algae biofuels.

This allowed us to quantify comprehensively the employment, economic stimulus, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of the algae biofuel supply chain, not just at the site itself, but throughout the supply chain.

Our analysis shows that algae biofuel facilities would create local rural jobs, while also activating sectors of the broader economy associated with equipment, trade and business services. Then there is the environmental benefit: our study shows that the combustion of 1 tonne of algae oil instead of traditional crude oil would prevent the emission of 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Investing in algae biofuel production is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and will provide a much-needed stimulus to the economy while creating much-needed quality jobs in rural areas. Surely every politician would be persuaded by at least something on this list.

Bojan Tamburic is Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Technology, Sydney.
Arunima Malik is PhD candidate at University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shorten Slams Coalition ‘Flat Earthers’ as Incumbents Bite Back

1437701903953by , Renew Economy:

Labor leader Bill Shorten appears to have rediscovered his and the party’s climate change mojo - promising an emissions trading scheme, a 50% renewable energy target, and slamming Tony Abbott’s society of “flat Earthers”.

Shorten, in his speech to the Labor national conference in Melbourne, described the attacks on wind energy by Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey as “grotesque”.

He said he wanted more solar panels on Australian rooftops - homes, schools, shops and businesses. He said these would help cut power bills for consumers and put electricity back into the grid. But he also wanted to help accelerate the deployment of battery storage.

“2014 was the warmest year in recorded history,” Shorten said. “The evidence is in, the science is settled. Climate change is not ‘absolute crap’, it is an inescapable fact. And if we take a do-nothing approach, there will be more extreme weather.”

To which he added later: “Climate change is an economic and environmental cancer - and it demands early intervention. Mark Butler is right, this is no longer a question of Australia leading the world - it is a matter of keeping up.

“If the world’s biggest capitalist nation, and the world’s biggest planned economy can agree climate change is a priority - it’s time Australia did so too. Mr Abbott’s society of flat-earthers talk a lot of nonsense about Labor policies - but they’re right about one thing. There is, absolutely, a clear-cut choice between Labor and the Liberals on renewable energy. Mr Abbott is a throwback to a world that never existed … out of his depth, and out of touch. Australians deserve better than a prime minister who wants to make them afraid of the future.”

Shorten appears to have polling on his side - numerous polls suggest that the Australian population is warming to the idea of more ambitious renewable energy policies, and although there is suggestion that an electricity price scare campaign could get traction, there is now the prospect that the two major parties will go to a poll with distinctive climate change and renewable energy policies; for the first time since 2007 when John Howard was forced to rapidly adopt similar policies in a failed attempt to stop the Kevin Rudd juggernaut.

Right now, it seems, the Abbott government is seeking to entrench its rearguard position - no carbon price, no increase in renewables, and a big scare campaign. Indeed, environment minister Greg Hunt, who is leading the price campaign, has said the Coalition’s renewables support will cease in 2020.

The scale of the resistance from vested interests has been highlighted by the response to Shorten’s 50% renewable energy plans from the energy industry, big business, and the Murdoch Media. All are fighting against the idea that coal-fired power stations should close early - at least without major handouts - or that networks should be written down to recognise the fact that ageing assets are being rapidly overtaken by newer, smarter, cheaper technologies.

The Energy Users Association, which represents manufacturers and retailers, said it doubted that Australia could effect such a change, and the policy “ignored the operations of our unique electricity market” which was built on “the back of inexpensive and available energy sources.”

It refused to entertain a write-down of network values, and said houses installing solar and battery storage were simply adding costs to other users. “These assets cannot be junked, cannot be quickly written off and are paid for by consumers and users still in the system,”  said EUA CEO Phil Barresi.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia, which represents networks and power generators, has also reacted fiercely against the proposed Labor platform, particularly the idea of encouraging more renewable energy.

The Murdoch media continued its assault on the policy, with some commentators again dismissing the science of climate change as a hoax, and The Australian‘s economics writer, Adam Creighton, suggesting that the current coal-heavy energy mix was entirely “satisfactory”.

In an extraordinary column, Creighton borrowed a glad-bag full of the Coalition’s talking points about the supposed costs and impacts of renewable energy, dismissed wind turbine manufacturers as “rent seekers” and described renewable energy as a “religion”. His proposal is to “spend nothing” on the energy market and leave coal generators untouched.

The question none of them answer is how Australia proposes to maintain its fleet of ageing coal-fired generation and keep a lid on costs of doing that, and address carbon emissions. Shorten, however, said that Labor would not be sidelined by such campaigns - as it clearly had been in 2010 when it dumped the carbon price and began a bitter and protracted leadership battle that saw two leaders fall.

“And if Mr Abbott wants to make the next election a contest about who has the best policy solution for climate change … I’ve got a three-word-slogan for him: Bring.It.On.”

Here is Shorten’s speech in full, or at least the bit on climate change and energy policy: 


“Creating the jobs of the future, guaranteeing long-term prosperity, ensuring Australia competes in the world must begin with tackling climate change. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have fallen in this century. 2014 was the warmest year in recorded history. The evidence is in, the science is settled.

Climate change is not ‘absolute crap’, it is an inescapable fact. And if we take a do-nothing approach, there will be more extreme weather. More severe storms, more aggressive fires, more dangerous floods, longer and more damaging droughts. Our farmers will face greater hardship. Our coastal homes will be invaded by rising seas. The infrastructure cost will be hundreds of billions of dollars.

Delegates, we can rebuild flooded cities once every century. We can rebuild fire-ravaged bushland every half-century. But we cannot do it every decade. This is not a price the next generation of Australians should have to pay because of this delinquent government.

Climate change is an economic and environmental cancer - and it demands early intervention. Mark Butler is right, this is no longer a question of Australia leading the world - it is a matter of keeping up. If the world’s biggest capitalist nation, and the world’s biggest planned economy can agree climate change is a priority - it’s time Australia did so too.

Mr Abbott’s society of flat-earthers talk a lot of nonsense about Labor policies - but they’re right about one thing. There is, absolutely, a clear-cut choice between Labor and the Liberals on renewable energy.

This Coalition government has done everything in their power to try and destroy Australia’s share in one of the world’s fastest growing industries. The Abbott-Hockey attacks on renewables are grotesque - and the consequences have been devastating.

Last year, around the world, investment in renewables rose by 16%. In China alone, up by 33%. In Australia, down by 88%. Only a Labor Government can save the renewable energy industry now. Only Labor can restore the confidence and certainty this government has smashed. This is why, in our platform we must set an ambitious new goal for renewable energy.

By 2030, our aim is for renewable energy to generate 50% of Australia’s electricity. This is how we transform our electricity system, build a new industrial landscape and deliver a clean energy future. I want to see more solar panels on Australian rooftops. On our homes, our schools, our shops and businesses … cutting power bills for consumers and putting electricity back into the national grid.

I want us to develop and apply battery technology, so power from solar panels can be stored in our homes, more efficiently. I want more Aussie farmers, earning more money, by putting wind turbines on their land. I want more investors to have the confidence to create more jobs. And I want Australia to get our fair share of the $2.5 trillion in investment expected in Asia-Pacific renewables to 2030.

A Labor Government will work with businesses and unions to look after workers affected by modernisation … helping with re-training and re-skilling for new opportunities in new industries, as Australians find new ways to live.

Friends, boosting renewable energy is at the heart of Labor’s plan to cut pollution. And instead of giving big polluters fistfuls of taxpayer dollars to keep polluting … Labor will cut pollution with a market solution. A billion people, and more than 40% of the world’s economy have already embraced the opportunities of emissions trading schemes. We must give Australian businesses the opportunity to engage with this global market.

This is the promise I offer our nation, today. A Shorten Labor Government will build an Emissions Trading Scheme for Australia. And we will not be intimidated by the ignorant, ridiculous scare campaigns that will come. We will win this fight.

Let me say this to our opponents, in words of one syllable: An E.T.S is not a tax. And if Mr Abbott wants to make the next election a contest about who has the best policy solution for climate change … I’ve got a three-word-slogan for him: Bring.It.On.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Study - When Human Consumption Slows, Planet Earth Can Heal: New Research Debunks Myth of Climate-Friendly Fracking Revolution

A banner at the 2014 People's Climate March in New York City, during which protesters connected the greed of endless growth with the growing climate crisis. (Photo: UM Women/cc/flickr)
People's Climate March, New York (UM Women/cc/flickr)
Despite the oft-repeated claim that the recent decline in U.S. carbon emissions was due to the so-called 'fracking boom,' new research published Tuesday shows that it was the dramatic fall in consumption during the Great Recession that deserves credit for this drop.

As nations grapple with the best strategy for decreasing carbon emissions ahead of the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Paris, the report, published in the journal Nature Communications, underscores the need for communities to transition away from an economy based on endless growth and towards a more renewable energy system to stem the growing climate crisis.

Between 2007 and 2013, the United States - second only to China for the title of world's top polluter - saw carbon emissions fall roughly 11%. As the researchers with the University of Maryland and the University of California at Irvine note, "This decline has been widely attributed to a shift from the use of coal to natural gas in U.S. electricity production. However, the factors driving the decline have not been quantitatively evaluated."

The study analyzed six possible sources for the change in fossil fuel emissions: population growth, consumption volume, the types of goods consumed, the labor and materials used to produce goods and services, the type of fuel used, and how much energy is used.

What the researchers found was that 71% of the rise in carbon emissions from 1997 to 2007 was due to "economic growth." Alternately, "83% of the decrease during 2007-2009 was due to decreased consumption and changes in the production structure of the U.S. economy," with just 17% related to changes in the type of fuels used.

Further, during the period of economic recovery from 2009 to 2013, there was a much smaller decrease in emissions of only about 1%. "We conclude that substitution of gas for coal has had a relatively minor role in the ... reduction of U.S. CO2 emissions since 2007," the researchers state.

"Commentators in the scientific community and media have linked the two trends, celebrating the climate benefits of the gas boom," the paper notes, which in turn has driven recent changes in U.S. energy policy and investment.

However, in reality, the change was due to economic decline, study co-author Klaus Hubacek of University of Maryland told AFP.  "We show clearly that changes in consumption levels, and thus the recession, are mainly responsible," he said.

The study's findings echo other recent arguments linking the rise of overall consumption and the growth economy with the decline in the Earth's ecosystems. "Climate change," wrote Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein in her recent book, This Changes Everything, "pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustains itself."

The researchers hope the study will help influence public policy and help assess the "efficacy of different forces to reduce U.S. emissions in the future."

The paper cites a number of reasons why further increases in the use of natural gas will not help alleviate current warming conditions, including: stymied investment in emission-free technologies such as solar and wind, increased emissions attributed to methane leaked from new natural gas infrastructure, increased overseas emissions due to the export of U.S. coal, and lastly, decreased gas prices driving consumers to spend money on other "carbon- and energy-intensive goods."

"For all these reasons," the paper states, "further increases in the use of natural gas in the United States may not have a large effect on global greenhouse gas emissions and warming."

The research concludes, "Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the U.S. economy as well as radical decarbonization of the energy sector," meaning "very large changes in the fuel mix of the energy sector away from fossil fuels and toward renewables."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Denmark Blows Away Wind Energy Records, While Australia Says Turbines Are Too Ugly: Europe, the U.S., and China are Ramping Up Renewable Energy, But Other Countries are Doubling Down on Coal

Wind turbines (Photo: MyLoupe/Getty Images)
by Taylor Hill, Take Part: 

Taylor Hill is TakePart's associate environment and wildlife editor, Bio

An unusually windy day in Denmark earlier this month gave the Scandinavian country more power than it needed, so it sold the excess to neighboring nations.

Denmark’s array of onshore and offshore wind farms met 116% of its national electricity demand on July 9, according to the energy tracking website The next morning, after demand had peaked, the figure rose to 140%. Germany, Norway, and Sweden took the power surplus off Denmark’s hands, storing excess electricity in hydropower systems for later use.

It’s a new record for Denmark, where wind farms met 39% of the country’s electricity needs in 2014, putting the nation of 5 million in the company of Scotland, Germany, and other countries that are producing more than a quarter of their power from renewable sources.

In the United States, wind power accounts for about 4% of overall electricity production but supplies significant amounts of power in various states and regions. For instance, in May, the Pacific Northwest’s Bonneville Power Administration generated more than 40% of its electricity for its 13 million residents from wind energy alone.

In Texas, record wind output in March met about 40 percent of the demand for most of the state’s electric grid.

“It shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy,” Oliver Joy, a spokesperson for the European Wind Energy Association, told The Guardian. “Wind energy and renewables can be a solution to decarbonization - and also security of supply at times of high demand.”

But it also shows the divide between countries like the U.S. and China - which are ramping up renewable energy - and countries like Australia, whose conservative government has slashed subsidies for renewable energy.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called the country’s wind farms “visually awful” and recently ordered the country’s Clean Energy Financing Corporation to stop investing in wind power - Australia’s second-leading renewable energy source behind hydropower. The country, however, also is one of the world’s biggest exporters of coal.

Conservationists and renewable backers fear for the future of a $2 billion wind and solar power plant project - a 1,200-megawatt facility in Queensland that would be one of the world’s 10 largest clean energy plants. Without the government’s backing, private financing would be hard to come by, according to project backers.

Abbott isn’t just pulling money from wind farms in the name of aesthetics. He told reporters in Darwin that there was no reason for the government to be financing existing wind farms. “What we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies,” Abbott said. Australia’s government also halted funding for small solar power projects, forcing some companies out of business.

Richard de Bruin, owner of R&R Solar Installations in Queensland, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the move was ideology-driven. “It's a stupid idea to reduce investment in an area where it has the effect of saving our environment," he said. “Their sales model is to sell coal and to sell coal is to move away from the renewables, because there seems to be a conflict of interest."

While renewable energy cuts continue, Abbott - a vocal climate change denier - has approved a $1.2 billion coal mine in the state of New South Wales. If all Australia’s planned mines are green-lit, they will collectively become the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany.

Annual emissions from the coal produced by just one mine approved by the Abbott government last year will exceed the emissions of 52 nations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Smashing All Previous Records, 2015 on Track to Be Hottest Year Yet ... and 2016 May Likely be Even Hotter, Scientists Warn

A potent El Niño "combined with the long-term warming of the planet due to human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, makes it likely that 2015 will be Earth's second consecutive warmest year on record," says Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters. (Image: OpticShape/cc/flickr)
(Image: OpticShape/cc/flickr)
by Lauren McCauley, staff writer, Common Dreams:

The planet Earth, with mankind's help, is leap-frogging into sweltering new territory.

With the monthly update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) out Monday, three of the world's official climate reporting agencies agree that June 2015 was the hottest on record, and that this year is shaping up to be the hottest year yet.

What's more, scientists say this trend is likely to continue and that 2016 could very well surpass 2015's record-breaking temperatures.

According to NOAA, "The June globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.27°F (1.26°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for June in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2012 by 0.11°F (0.06°C)."

This followed reports from NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency last week which found similar results. According to both NASA and NOAA, the year-to-date period (January-June) was also the warmest such period on record, with four of the six warmest months in recorded history occurring so far in 2015, putting us on the path to breaking 2014's record as the hottest documented year.

As journalist Andrew Freeman notes, "the heat in 2015 isn't just breaking records, it's smashing them." Scientists attribute this heat to human-induced global warming coupled with a particularly potent El Niño event, which meterologist Dr. Jeff Masters says "continues to intensify."

"This extra bump in temperature, when combined with the long-term warming of the planet due to human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, makes it likely that 2015 will be Earth's second consecutive warmest year on record," Masters wrote on his Wunderground blog on Monday.

Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), explained recently how climate change interacts with an El Niño weather pattern to drive overall temperature increases.

"Climate change is a long-term driver, so that’s like standing on an escalator as it goes up," Arndt said during a press conference call last month. Alternately, El Niño, "is like jumping up and down while you’re on that escalator."

"So, the longer that we go into history, we’re riding up the escalator. And now that we're getting an El Niño event, we happen to be jumping up at the same time, and so they play together to produce outcomes like what is likely to be the warmest year on record,” Arndt said.

Further, citing data from the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate & Society, ThinkProgress notes that there is a more than 85 percent chance that this current El Niño may last until May 2016, with the strongest period being December through February.

"If this pattern plays out, then 2016 would likely top whatever temperature record 2015 sets - again, possibly by a wide margin," ThinkProgress reports.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Not Out of Hot Water Yet: What the World Thinks About the Great Barrier Reef

by Jon C. Day, James Cook University, The Conversation:

You might be forgiven for thinking that Australia can now breathe a sigh of relief, after the World Heritage Committee decided earlier this month not to add the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to the World Heritage in Danger list. But make no mistake - more than ever, the eyes of the world remain on the GBR.

In a blog post, the Committee summarised its decision like this:
In an intensive debate on the threats to the Australian Great Barrier Reef, the Committee decided not to add the site to the World Heritage in Danger List but to observe further developments in the coral reef off the Australian coast closely. Australia has been requested to submit a progress report to the planned protective measures within 18 months.
Most committee members acknowledged the global significance of the GBR. This is not surprising, given that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) wrote in 1981: “If any coral reef in the world were to be chosen for the World Heritage List, the Great Barrier Reef is the site to be chosen”.

During the discussion, numerous nations pointed out the global importance of the GBR, including Jamaica, Algeria, the Philippines, and South Korea, who said that “the symbolic importance of the [GBR] as World Heritage is of utmost importance to the entire world. We must not lose this heritage for our future generation and the global ecosystem”.

However, many committee members went beyond such accolades and expressed their ongoing concerns strongly during the discussion.

Recognising the challenges

In their introductory comments leading into the GBR discussion, both the World Heritage Secretariat and IUCN acknowledged that “the scale of major challenges facing the [GBR] is substantial”.

Finland said: “We strongly encourage [Australia] to address the cumulative impacts of climate change, threats in upstream sediments and nutrients as well as increasing ship traffic that have impact on the Outstanding Universal Value [of the GBR]”.

Germany expressed concern about the “continued dumping of maintenance dredge spoil”, noting that “the overall outlook of the [GBR] is poor, and major threats and their cumulative impacts present considerable challenges to the present and future management of the Reef”, whereas Poland said “we are well aware of the vulnerability of the [GBR] and the need for constant monitoring”.

The Philippines noted that “the problem of scale adds to the complexity of the situation and undoubtedly there are knowledge gaps which [Australia] still needs to address”. Poland, Jamaica, Croatia, Turkey and Korea also referred to the long-term challenges facing the GBR in their comments.

Climate change still dominates

Various speakers acknowledged that climate change remains the major threat facing the GBR. Japan, for instance, said “it is essential to improve the health of the Reef’s ecosystem and to enhance the resilience of the Reef”, while Colombia called for a permanent budget to mitigate the effect of climate change.

The closing comments from Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad pledged “to address the impacts of climate change which remains the most significant long-term threat to the survival of the Reef”. However, the Australian government’s 2050 Reef plan regrettably does little to address climate change, a concern raised by the Australian Academy of Science.

Concerns for the declining World Heritage values

Countries all over the world raised concerns about the Reef’s declining values and the consequent need for greater protection. Finland said that it shares “the concerns that many people and organisations around the world have expressed over the poor condition and the foreseen negative trend of many biodiversity values in the [GBR]”.

Germany recalled a decision last year in which the committee urged Australia to ensure “that developments inside port areas do not impact individually or cumulatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property”. Japan noted that “the overall outlook [has] worsened since 2009”, while Kazakhstan expressed hope that Australia “will make efforts for reducing negative impacts of development”.

Support for the role of civil society and NGOs

It is clear that civil society, including non-government organisations (NGOs) and independent scientists, has played a significant role in focusing attention on the threats to the GBR in recent years. Certainly the publicity around the Gladstone and Abbot Point developments has contributed prominently, along with the efforts of key NGOs.

Poland, India, Jamaica, Korea, Peru and Japan all provided supporting comments about the role of civil society in the GBR, and Finland stated “the discussions on the GBR provides an excellent example of how civil society can contribute with their expertise and support the protection and conservation of world heritage”.

Committee Chair Maria Böhmer’s closing comments included:
I am also very grateful for the commitment of civil society, represented by Greenpeace and WWF today … they also stand for the many people who with great commitment advocated for the iconic Great Barrier Reef”.
Contrast that with the reception some of these NGOs have received in the Australian media.

Proving the progress

Also in the Australian media have been claims that the GBR has “returned to the normal five yearly reporting cycle”. But this is incorrect: the Committee’s final decision requires Australia to demonstrate within the next 18 months how it will implement the long-term plan designed to restore the values of the GBR World Heritage Area, and then report again in 2019.

The Chair summarised the Committee’s view immediately following the decision:
… we all know, and this has been very clearly stated here, that the decision that has been taken today does not end the debate. It means entering into a new phase … for now it all comes to the implementation and further steps …
There is now a continuing expectation that Australia will deliver on its commitments, especially as this globally iconic site remains under threat.

The Australian government has 18 months to show that the Reef 2050 Plan is making progress and receiving adequate funding, and it also has until December 2019 to demonstrate that the plan is delivering on its goal of “effective and sustained protection”.

After the decision, the Queensland Minister Steven Miles said: “Now we need to deliver, we need to implement (the plan) and that’s what they’ll be watching in coming years. It’s no doubt going to be tough to achieve what we need to achieve, but it’s doable”.

Given Australia is a rich country and previously had a reputation for being a global leader in marine conservation, it is doable. But it is going to take some hard decisions to fulfil our global responsibility.

Jon C. Day is PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, July 17, 2015

We Might Avert Climate Catastrophe With This One Radical Choice: Leaving Most of the World’s Remaining Fossil Fuels in the Ground Could Prevent Worst-Case Warming

(Photo: Balazs Koranyi/Reuters)
by Emily J. Gertz, Take Part: 

Emily J. Gertz is TakePart's associate editor for environment and wildlife - Bio.

We have about a 50% chance of keeping global temperatures from rising dangerously higher than those of pre-industrial times - if we leave most of the world’s remaining supply of oil, gas, and coal unearthed and unburned between now and 2050, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature.

Globally, about one-third of oil deposits must enter the no-burning zone, along with 88% of known and mineable coal supplies and about half the world’s unused natural gas. It adds up to about $6 trillion worth of fossil fuels, suggesting a revolutionary shake-up of the global financial and energy economies.

Among them, about $3 trillion in global investments - including enormous funds like the California state pension fund - could find themselves busted by “stranded assets,” as the fuel reserves that energy companies calculate into their net worth would need to stay unused to avert the worst of climate change.

But which and how much of the world’s fossil energy deposits should remain buried? How about all the untapped fossil fuel deposits above the Arctic Circle, 75% of Canada’s tar sands, and more than 90% of Australian and U.S. coal.

The paper is a signal to countries with massive energy reserves that they must reconsider plans to extract those reserves if they want to fight climate change, said Mia Bennett, a Ph.D. student in geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, who manages the Cryopolitics blog.

“They think it represents a huge sum of money in the ground that they can drill up at will, but these reserves really represent a kind of carbon bubble,” Bennett said. “The assets could be rendered more or less worthless, given future developments on the energy market,” as well as in climate change policies and laws.

If reliable methods of capturing carbon emissions and keeping them out of the atmosphere come on line by 2025, we could help ourselves to a few more percentage points of coal, gas, and oil, the researchers determined. But there’s still a need to slash worldwide demand for fossil energy.

“Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius,” the study’s authors state. Slowing down fossil fuel development also renders moot projects that would spend big dollars on fossil fuel exploration and extraction, such as the Keystone pipeline.

The study took estimates for how much and what kinds of oil, gas, and coal supplies are left among the different fossil-fuel producing nations and geographic regions. If we keep burning fossil fuels over the next 40 years, previous studies have shown that we would pump about three times more heat-trapping greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than the world can withstand - if we hope to avoid dangerous temperature increases.

Among the measures to keep catastrophic warming at bay, researchers came up with the following solutions:
• Middle Eastern nations need to keep almost 40% of their oil resources unburned; the U.S. must leave 9% of its oil unburned; and Russia, 19%.
• But when it comes to coal, the U.S. and Australia need to leave 95% of remaining reserves in the ground; Africa, 90%; and Russia, 97%.
• Canada needs to wind down its tar sands industry almost immediately, leaving 75% of its oil supply in peace.

“This paper is looking ahead 30 years. No one’s going to read it and say, ‘We have to lock up the drills tomorrow,’ ” Bennett said. “But the main takeaway is that we have to start reinvesting and reprioritizing away from fossil fuels, possibly a lot faster than some people would like.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Solar and Battery Storage Already Cheaper Than Grid Power in Australia

English: Photovoltaic System, "Country-ho...
Photovoltaic System, "Country-home" style (Wikipedia)
by , Renew Economy:

Australian consumers can already install significant amounts of rooftop solar and battery storage at a cost that is cheaper than electricity from the grid, and the uptake of these two technologies is likely to be “unstoppable.”

This forecast came from Kobad Bhavnagri, the head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia, while outlining the reasons for the groups bullish forecasts, which predict 33GWh of battery storage and 37GW of solar PV in Australia by 2040.

“Solar and battery storage is simply unstoppable,” Bhavnagri said. He used this graph below to illustrate why.

bnef storage prices

Retail prices will continue to grow, but even if they remain flat, rooftop solar PV can already provide power to consumers in homes at well below the price of electricity.

Adding one kilowatt-hour of battery storage raises that cost slightly, but is still well below the cost of the grid-sourced power. Even 5kWh of battery storage can be installed and still costs are below that of the grid (these examples are taken in Queensland, with a 4kW rooftop solar system. A different  version of this graph, showing the costs in payback terms, is included in this story on how battery storage prices are already falling in Australia).

“Storage technologies as well as PV will be able to provide costumers with electricity at a cheaper cost than the grid,” Bhavnagri says. “And as storage gets cheaper even larger amounts of storage will be able to supply consumers at a cheaper cost to the grid. On economic fundamentals this technology is unstoppable.”

Bhavnagri and many others, including Hazelwood coal generator owner Engie and a study by the CSIRO, believe that 50% of all electricity demand will be supplied “behind the meter” by 2040.

Not that Bhavnagri is urging consumers to quit the grid altogether. He says this would not be rational. “We will still need the grid for different purposes,” he said, including for  back up capacity, support services, for the “Google operated” systems of appliances. “Grid and other companies have role in providing those services.”

But it will put huge pressure on networks to adapt their business models, and the way they operate the grid, and will almost inevitably result in a write-down of the grid’s value, which has been inflated by over-investment in recent years.

“The business model of the networks has to change. They have got to sell services instead of kilowatt-hours,” Bhavnagri said. “Much of what they built is redundant, resulting in excess capacity, and networks are overcharging and not delivering a commodity or service that is valuable to consumers.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How Trade Activism and Divestment Go Hand-in-Hand

(Photo: Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program)
by Sidni Frederick, Common Dreams:

Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of climate activists are engaged in a fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade deal being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries around the Pacific Rim.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel divestment activists are pushing institutions to pull investments from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies and reinvest in climate change solutions, highlighting that they have more on reserve than we’ll ever safely be able to burn.

Both movements are critical in the fight for a stable climate, and climate activists dedicated to the fight for a clean energy economy can amplify efforts by engaging in both.

Trade and climate activists oppose TPP provisions that mandate the Department of Energy’s automatic approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to TPP countries. This policy would pave the way for more fracking and more climate-disrupting emissions.

They also oppose “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) - part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would empower corporations to sue governments in private tribunals over policies that they claim reduce their expected profits.

Shocking investor-state cases in places like Quebec show that the fossil fuel industry uses ISDS to keep business as usual. Trade activists directly challenge these policies, and the damage that companies like Shell and ExxonMobil can bring to our climate, by fighting  free trade agreements like the TPP.

These kinds of infractions against our chance for a livable climate are what the fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to bring to the forefront of political conversations on climate disruption.

They constitute the industry’s business model, and fossil fuel divestment activists are demanding that their institutions reject this business model by revoking the most powerful endorsement of a business model they have - their choice to invest.

This public rejection serves as a motivator for citizens and government officials alike to focus their attention and action on the fossil fuel industry as the root cause of the climate crisis.

The campaigns for fair trade and fossil fuel divestment are both critical components of a common movement to keep carbon in the ground and prevent companies from profiting off of the destruction of our planet.

Both have dragged the actions of industry into the light and demanded public debate, making political space for our leaders to say no to fossil fuel industry influence and put us on track for a clean energy economy.

We see shreds of evidence that this kind of leadership is coming in statements issued by people like U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and even the Pope - calling for new economic paradigms that are more sustainable and more just.

While recent developments in divestment and trade activism are already shaping political and economic conversations about climate disruption, we’ll find even greater opportunities for growth and success when the members of both movements recognize their common stake in moving our economy beyond fossil fuels. With divestment activists and advocates for responsible trade actively engaged in both fights, our movements will only grow stronger from here.

Sidni Frederick is an intern with the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Giant Wind and Solar Complex to Challenge Abbott’s Coal Plans

kennedy wind mapby , Renew Economy:

A world-leading 1,200MW wind and solar project proposed for north Queensland is competing head to head with a new coal power station proposal favoured by Tony Abbott, who is in favour of giving the taxpayer loans to the coal generator, but not the wind facility.

The Canberra-based renewable energy development company Windlab is proposing a world-leading mega wind and solar project for north Queensland, in a proposal that could directly rival a Coalition push to build a new coal-fired generator in the same area.

Roger Price, the CEO of Windlab, told RenewEconomy on Tuesday that the company was proposing a 600MW wind farm combined with a 600MW solar PV farm in what it is calling the Kennedy Energy Park.

The facility, to be located near Hughenden, around 300km inland for Townsville, would deliver up to 80% of local electricity demand - and at a capacity factor of around 70% - at rates cheaper than a new coal plant.

“This is an absolutely world class resource,” Price said. “We believe we can deliver nearly baseload power for a price of around $100/MWh. You are not going to build a new coal-fired generator for that sort of price.”

But a coal-fired generator - such as the 800MW example proposed in one recent study - is exactly what is favoured by some local business people, local LNP politicians and even, more importantly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott. But because the price of new coal generation is so high, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates it at about $130/MWh, it would require hefty subsidies from the government.

The decisions to be made in Townsville and the region highlight the crossroad that Australia finds itself at, and the debate around the future of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The Abbott government would like to entrench the position of the fossil fuel industry, and wants to cut the deployment of renewables and demolish the CEFC. Others say Australia should be a world leader in the adoption of wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies, and the CEFC is key to this.

Abbott, in a recent interview with the Townsville Bulletin, said the coal project could qualify for loans from the new north Australia infrastructure fund created by his government. The $5 billion facility has been dubbed the “Dirty Energy Finance Corporation.”

“I’d be very surprised if we did not have, coming forward as a potential project under the Northern Australia fund, a power station,” Abbott told the newspaper. The irony would not be lost on the renewable energy industry, given Abbott’s decision to tell the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to not fund large wind projects, or rooftop solar.

Windlab’s Price says that such a world-leading wind-solar project - while cost competitive - would need the involvement of the CEFC, because it would act as a catalyst for finance for banks, who are notoriously reluctant to stump up money for first-of-its kind facilities such as the one proposed.

This, Price says, highlights the contradiction of the Abbott government’s directive to the CEFC to stop lending money to wind energy developments, at the same time as proposing a similar fund for fossil fuel technology in the north.

“It would need the CEFC because it is a first-of-its-kind project,” Price said. “That is one of fallacies of the current situation. Wind farms are not all vanilla projects, every one of them has distinctive characteristics and by ruling out an assets class, it means they are not prepared to back the cheapest technology and not prepared to back innovation for this sort of technology.”

Windlab has been trying to develop the Kennedy wind farm for several years. This, and a 300MW solar farm, were to be built if the Queensland government approved the CopperString transmission line linking Mt Isa to the east coast, potentially opening up a new province of renewable projects in north Queensland.

However, the then Labor government outsourced the decision on the line to Mt Isa operator Xstrata, who chose a gas-fired generator instead, pumping gas from reserves thousands of kilometers to the south.

wind farm windlab
Price says that Windlab now estimates a combined 600MW wind farm and a 600MW solar farm could solve the region’s growing energy needs, and save costs.

That’s because the installation of local generation would reduce transmission losses (most electricity is sourced from further south), and could also reduce the hefty cost of the Community Service Obligation, which subsidises the delivery of fossil fuel energy to regional Queensland, to the tune of around $600 million.

North Queensland is one of the most promising areas for renewable energy, not just because of its excellent wind and solar resources, but also because it is the one area in Australia with growing demand, and where extra capacity will be required.

That puts renewable energy in direct competition with new-build fossil fuels - a contest it is winning in other countries in similar situations, such as Chile and the Middle East, and South Africa.

Windlab last week began construction of what will be the lowest-cost wind farm in Australia to date, the 20MW Coonooer Bridge project which will be paid a flat rate of $81.70/MWh over 20 years by the ACT government. It also built the 207MW Collgar wind farm, the biggest in Western Australia, with an estimated capacity factor of nearly 50%.

Windlab says the first phase of the Kennedy wind and solar project could be for up to 100MW of wind and solar energy, connecting to the existing electricity grid.

This, it says, will provide more than enough electricity to power the whole of the region stretching from Julia Creek through to Charters Towers and provide excess energy to Townsville and beyond. To boost capacity to 600MW of wind and 600MW of solar would require a new transmission line to connect to the main grid. But previous studies have indicated the economic benefits of the project.

Because of the combined benefits of wind and solar, Price says its studies show that the facility could provide 600MW of capacity - the equivalent of 80% of the region’s needs - at a capacity factor of 70%.

That capacity would presumably be supplemented by other local generation, including rooftop solar, small utility-scale solar projects and local biomasss. FRV is also considering a 150MW solar plant in the region, and Genex has proposed a 330MW pumped hydro facility that could also provide dispatchable power when needed, and store excess generation at times of high wind and solar output.

Such projects would rapidly turn Queensland, hitherto a laggard in large-scale renewables with just 12MW of wind and a much delayed solar “booster” at the Kogan Creek power station, into a leader in new technology. Or it could follow the Abbott route and try to build another coal-fired generator.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This is What Global Warming Looks Like

"Beautiful British Columbia," the tourist brochures call it
by Agathena, Daily Kos:

This is due to very hot weather and months without rain, in our rainforests. And higher temperatures than ever before, all part of a warming planet. This is an example of what we risk when we do not do ENOUGH to mitigate climate change. Will you hear me in Paris?

We have an air quality advisory in BC that we must stay in our homes especially the very young and the very old. The air is heavy, it burns to breath it in. Breathing as an issue trumps everything.


The West Coast rainforests are at risk.
Rainforest Fire in Washington May Be Ominous Sign
The Queets rainforest in Washington state’s Olympic National Park is the American jungle - one of the last remnants of the primeval temperate rain forests that once stretched from southern Oregon to southeast Alaska. But now, that precious ecosystem may be endangered by fires, due to climate change and a punishing drought that has affected even the normally moist Pacific Northwest. Fires have burned holes into some of the trunks of the centuries-old Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees, causing the massive trees - some of them up to 250 feet tall - to come crashing to the ground, the Seattle Times reports.

Interior Alaska fires still growing; more hot, dry weather on the way
The seven named fires grew to a total of 235,783 acres, although heavy smoke made it difficult for fire crews to map exactly where and how much some of the fires moved. In particular, the Hay Slough, Harper Bend, Bering Creek and Blind River fires all made significant runs. Crews are working to protect cabins in the area, and all miners and other landowners have been advised to leave the area. The Tozitna fire jumped fire lines near Site Road, but was still 2 miles north and 1 mile west of the closest inhabited structure. With temperatures expected to hover near 90 degrees through Monday, officials expect fire activity to increase in the Interior. A voluntary evacuation notice is still in place for Tanana, with dense smoke creating sometimes hazardous conditions in the area. As of Saturday, 299 fires were burning in Alaska, 36 of which are staffed.
West Coast temperatures
We've seen numerous daily record highs the last few days, and more are expected the next several days in Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho. Here are some of the recent daily records that have been set: - Seattle tied or set daily record highs Thursday (93 degrees), Friday (92 degrees), Saturday (92 degrees) and Sunday (91 degrees).
- Portland, Oregon, set a daily record high Sunday (96 degrees) and has seen 95-degree-plus heat the first five days of July.
- The Dalles, Oregon, tied a daily record high Sunday (103 degrees).
- Hope, British Columbia set a daily record Sunday, reaching 37.6 degrees Celsius (99.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Nineteen locations in B.C. set daily records Sunday.
The culprit in this hot setup is a blocking pattern aloft, known as a "Rex block" that is keeping cooler Pacific air from pushing much farther inland from the typically cooler areas near the immediate Northwest coast.
Some relief for the Pacific Northwest ahead - at the end of this week. One forecast predicts rain by Monday. I am going to walk in that rain, no umbrella, and get soaking wet. Let's hope it is not a dry thunderstorm where the rain does not hit the ground.

It's interesting to observe how people around me are coping, first with the heat and then with the smoke. I had never seen "SMOKE" in a weather forecast before yesterday. The record breaking heat before that was unrelenting. Almost everyone was seeking shade and cool places. I can speak for my family and friends and how they reacted.

Following the heat, the heavy polluted air made us feel tired and listless but at the same time the smoky skies provided relief from the burning sun. Under apocalyptic skies, we continued with our routines and plans as much as possible. With the feeling of utter helplessness against these conditions, it seemed the natural thing to do. We are ALL dreaming of rain on Monday.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The 97% Scientific Consensus on Climate Change is Wrong - It’s Even Higher: The Debate on Global Warming is Over. Way Over

(Photo: Cheoh Wee Keat/Getty Images)
by Taylor Hill, Take Part: 

Taylor Hill is TakePart's associate environment and wildlife editor. Bio

In May, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver attempted to visually demonstrate what a true debate on climate change should look like.

Instead of bringing out one expert on either side of the issue, Oliver brought on set 97 scientists who support evidence that humans are causing global warming to argue with three climate skeptics - “a statistically representative climate change debate,” he said.

The sketch was based on the “climate consensus,” the notion that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that humans are part of the problem.

But if Oliver really wanted to be up-to-date on his stats, he would have put 99.99 scientists on one side of the desk. That’s according to James L. Powell, director of the National Physical Sciences Consortium, who reviewed more than 24,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on climate change published between 2013 and 2014.

Powell identified 69,406 authors named in the articles, four of whom rejected climate change as being caused by human emissions. That’s one in every 17,352 scientists. Oliver would need a much bigger studio to statistically represent that disparity.

(Data compiled from
“The 97% is wrong, period,” Powell said. “Look at it this way: If someone says that 97% of publishing climate scientists accept anthropogenic [human-caused] global warming, your natural inference is that 3% reject it. But I found only 0.006% who reject it. That is a difference of 500 times.”

To obtain his figures, Powell - a member of the National Science Board under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush - reviewed the abstracts of nearly 70,000 papers, searching for key words such as “global warming,” “global climate change,” and “climate change.”

He spent nine months reading titles and abstracts, finding only five articles (two from the same author) that clearly reject human-caused global warming or give another explanation for the rising temperatures. The paper isn’t in the public domain yet, but Powell has sent it in to a peer-reviewed journal for publication this summer.

So, Why Should You Care?

Powell said correcting the commonly held climate consensus number of 97% to 99.99% is just one more step in the process of ending the climate debate. “Publishing scientists are virtually unanimous: Anthropogenic global warming is true,” Powell said. The quicker we understand that, he said, the quicker we can agree on the importance of cutting carbon emissions, which influence global temperatures, sea-level rise, long-term health, and the world’s food supply.

But try telling that to large portions of Americans - a third of whom believe that global warming will either never happen (16%) or will not happen in their lifetime (17%), according to a March 2015 Gallup poll.

Read the Pew Research Center’s January survey, and the divide between the scientific community and the general public on climate change appears even wider. The survey asked members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the general public if they believed the Earth was getting warmer owing to human activity.

While 87% of the AAAS community agreed that the Earth was getting warmer thanks to humans, only 50% of regular Joes agreed, and nearly half responded either that the Earth was getting warmer on its own or that there was no evidence of climate change at all.

(Data compiled from
Powell said he wasn’t surprised to find the large disparity between those who reject and accept climate change in the scientific publishing world. He knew that in 2004 Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, had reviewed 928 abstracts of articles on global warming, finding none that rejected it.

“Scientists have done so much more work since then,” Oreskes told MSNBC. “For me, as a historian of science, it really feels like overkill. One starts to think, how many more times do we need to say this before we really get it and start to act on it?”

Oreskes co-authored the book Merchants of Doubt, which looks at how industry interest groups have placed “science experts” in different fields to deceive the public on issues such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and climate change.

Her 2004 research was the first to find a consensus on climate change. Powell’s work is just the latest to strengthen that argument (disclosure: the documentary Merchants of Doubt, which is based on Oreskes’ book, was produced by Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company).

“Many people evidently feel that they can accept the findings of science that they agree with and reject those that they find offensive or inconvenient,” Powell said. “But it doesn’t work that way. Science is of a piece, all fitting together like a beautiful tapestry. To say that climate scientists are wrong is to say that all these fields are wrong and therefore science itself is wrong. But if it were, nothing would work. People can’t have it both ways.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Welcome to an Extreme, Warming World

Fire in British Columbia, 2015 (Photo: BC Wildfire Service)
by David Suzuki, Common Dreams:

My hometown, Vancouver, is in a rainforest, so we celebrate sunny days.

People I talk to are enjoying the recent warm, dry weather, but they invariably add "this isn't normal" - especially with all the smoke from nearby forest fires.

With no mountain snowpack and almost no spring rain, rivers, creeks and reservoirs are at levels typically not seen until fall. Parks are brown. Blueberries, strawberries and other crops have arrived weeks earlier than usual. Wildfires are burning here and throughout Western Canada.

Meanwhile, normally dry Kamloops has had record flooding, as has Toronto. Manitoba has been hit with several tornadoes and golf-ball-sized hail.

Unusual weather is everywhere. California is in its fourth year of severe drought. Temperatures in Spain, Portugal, India and Pakistan have reached record levels, sparking wildfires and causing thousands of deaths and heat-related ailments. Heavy rains, flooding and an unusually high number of tornadoes have caused extensive damage and loss of life in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico.

The likely causes are complex: a stuck jet stream, the Pacific El Niño, natural variation and climate change. Even though it's difficult to link all events directly to global warming, climate scientists have warned for years that we can expect these kinds of extremes to continue and worsen as the world warms.

Some hypothesize that the strange behaviours of this year's jet stream and El Niño are related to climate change, with shrinking Arctic sea ice affecting the former.

Several recent studies indicate a clear connection between increasing extreme weather and climate change. One, by climatologists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, looked at rising global atmospheric and sea-surface temperatures, which have increased water vapour in the atmosphere by about 5% since the 1950s.

According to the paper, published in Nature Climate Change, "This has fuelled larger storms, and in the case of hurricanes and typhoons, ones that ride atop oceans that are 19 centimetres higher than they were in the early 1900s. That sea-level rise increases the height of waves and tidal surges as storms make landfall."

A Stanford University study found, "accumulation of heat in the atmosphere can account for much of the increase in extreme high temperatures, as well as an average decrease in cold extremes, across parts of North America, Europe and Asia," but also concluded the influence of human activity on atmospheric circulation, another factor in climate change, is not well understood.

Earth is clearly experiencing more frequent extreme weather than in the past, and we can expect it to get worse as we burn more coal, oil and gas and pump more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This can have profound and costly impacts on everything from agriculture to infrastructure, not to mention human health and life.

As Pope Francis pointed out, climate change and social justice are intricately connected: "The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation."

That's why so many people from Canada and around the world are calling for action as government leaders prepare for December's UN climate summit in Paris: religious leaders including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama; global organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Energy Agency and World Health Organization; businesses from Microsoft to Ikea to General Motors; and millions of people like those who marched for "Jobs, Justice and the Climate" in Toronto on July 5. All know the future of humanity depends on rapidly shifting the way we obtain and use energy.

Even though many world leaders recognize the problem, the recent G7 agreement to decarbonize our energy by the end of the century is a horrifying joke. None of today's politicians making the commitment will be alive to bear the responsibility for achieving the target, and the time frame doesn't address the urgent need to begin huge reductions in fossil fuel use immediately.

Governments at the provincial, state and municipal levels have led the way in finding solutions. Now it's time for national leaders to finally demonstrate real courage and foresight as they gear up for the Paris summit later this year.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

David Suzuki is a well-known Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist.