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Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Sure, "Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change" Sounds Nice…

You want to know what the biggest obstacle to dealing with climate change is? Simple: time. It will take decades before the carbon dioxide we emit now begins to have its full effect on the planet’s climate. And by the same token, it will take decades before we are able to enjoy the positive climate effects of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions now. (Even if we could stop emitting all CO? today, there’s already future warming that’s been baked into the system, thanks to past emission.)

That is the lead of Bryan Walsh‘s excellent Time article called “Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change.” It covers much of the ground we covered in SuperFreakonomics but probably does a better job in laying out the inherent conflicts of climate change — long-term problem vs. short-term incentives — without enraging people.

The Science May Be Settled, But the Economics Isn’t

The world’s scientists affirmed last week their increasing certainty—95% confidence—that humans are causing global warming by emitting greenhouse gases.

With human culpability all but certain and the potential for warming by 4.5°C in 100 years, economists can’t decide what should be done about it, or even whether any substantial effort should be undertaken to stop it.

In delivering a keynote address to a large group of economists this summer, Harvard’s Marty Weitzman described climate change as a hellish problem that is pushing the bounds of economics.

A year earlier, addressing an annual meeting of environmental economists, MIT professor Robert Pindyck suggested there was no strong economic argument for costly, stringent policies to halt expected warming. In contrast to the near certainty of climate science predictions, Pindyck said the economics of climate change is not well charted and that the case for aggressive climate policy relies on assumptions not supported by consensus.

Investing in a Warmer Future

Bloomberg Businessweek explores how firms are adapting to a future climate:

Investing in climate change used to mean putting money into efforts to stop global warming. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and other firms took stakes in wind farms and tidal-energy projects, and set up carbon-trading desks. The appeal of cleantech has dimmed as efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions have faltered: Venture capital and private equity investments fell 34 percent last year, to $5.8 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter. (The World Bank says the earth could warm by 4C by the end of the century.) Their strategies include buying water treatment companies, brokering deals for Australian farmland, and backing a startup that has engineered a mosquito to fight dengue, a disease that’s spreading as the mercury climbs.

Piet Dircke of the Dutch engineering and flood-prevention firm Arcadis says he was besieged with calls after Hurricane Sandy: “The climate is changing. Sea level is rising. That’s quite obvious. At the same time, the cities that are close to the waterline continue to grow and have more money and need for protection. It’s almost a natural growth market.”

The Case For Climate Engineering Research: A Guest Post By SPICE Researcher Matthew Watson

This is a guest post by Matthew Watson, a lecturer in geophysical natural hazards at the University of Bristol and the lead researcher for the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project (SPICE), whose experiments are currently on hold. He blogs at The Reluctant Geoengineer.

The Case For Climate Engineering Research
By Matthew Watson 

As project lead for the SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), I have been on quite a journey over the last eighteen months. SPICE is important, challenging, socio-politically charged, and high-profile: a heady mix for a youngish researcher like me. It looks to answer the question “Can we emulate the cooling observed after large volcanic eruptions to ameliorate the worst effects of global warming?” Despite playing to my apparent Messiah complex, the trials and tribulations of steering the project through rough seas has been more than enough to keep my feet on the ground. That is a challenge that faces all who research such grand things. 

The New Yorker Geoengineers Itself

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called “The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?”

Let me rephrase:

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called “The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?,” which is essentially a New Yorkerized version of Chapter 5 of SuperFreakonomics, all the way down to the Mount Pinatubo explosion and the reliance on scientists Ken Caldeira and Nathan Myhrvold.

Good Climate News: The "Methane Time Bomb" Apparently Isn't

“At least one nightmare scenario can be safely crossed off worst-case climate list,” Andy Revkin writes by e-mail. “Even with intense ocean warming through this millennium, thawing won’t reach the big subsea methane deposits. There were ample signs this was overblown but new work goes farther.”

He has the full story on his Dot Earth blog:

Given that methane, molecule for molecule, has at least 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, it’s important to get a handle on whether these are new releases, the first foretaste of some great outburst from thawing sea-bed stores of the gas, or simply a longstanding phenomenon newly observed.

If you read the Independent of Britain, you’d certainly be thinking the worst. The newspaper has led the charge in fomenting worry over the gas emissions, with portentous, and remarkably similar, stories in 2008 and this week.

If you read geophysical journals and survey scientists tracking past and future methane emissions, you get an entirely different picture. …:

[T]he authors found that roughly 1 meter of the subsurface permafrost thawed in the past 25 years, adding to the 25 meters of already thawed soil. Forecasting the expected future permafrost thaw, the authors found that even under the most extreme climatic scenario tested this thawed soil growth will not exceed 10 meters by 2100 or 50 meters by the turn of the next millennium. The authors note that the bulk of the methane stores in the east Siberian shelf are trapped roughly 200 meters below the seafloor… [Read the rest.]

Is Climate Change Affecting When People Visit National Parks?

Last year, 281.3 million people visited America’s national parks, down 4.2 million from a year earlier. With parks such as Glacier likely to be glacier-less sometime around 2030, or sooner, authors Lauren B. Buckley and Madison S. Foushee (PDF here) track differences in attendance habits since 1979 to ask if climate change is affecting relatively mundane human activities such as park visitation:

Climate change has driven many organisms to shift their seasonal timing. Are humans also shifting their weather-related behaviors such as outdoor recreation? Here we show that peak attendance in U.S. national parks experiencing climate change has shifted 4 days earlier since 1979. Of the nine parks experiencing significant increases in mean spring temperatures, seven also exhibit shifts in the timing of peak attendance. Of the 18 parks without significant temperature changes, only 3 exhibit attendance shifts. Our analysis suggests that humans are among the organisms shifting behavior in response to climate change.

The Latest News on Global Warming; Weirdness Still Prevails

The U.N. is holding its big annual conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa. For those of you still paying attention to global-warming news, you may want to add a couple of links to your reading:

+ There’s been a second round of “ClimateGate” e-mails, (the first preceded the U.N.’s climate-change Copenhagen conference in 2009); the Times‘s Andy Revkin becomes a more prominent character this time around, for which he is attacked, and which attack he promptly defends.

+ A new study in Science argues with the accepted wisdom on climate sensitivity. From the website of Oregon State University, home to lead researcher Andreas Schmittner:

Agnostic Carnivores and Global Warming: Why Enviros Go After Coal and Not Cows

There’s not a single person who’s done more to fight climate change than Bill McKibben. Through thoughtful books, ubiquitous magazine contributions, and, most notably, the founding of (an international non-profit dedicated to fighting global warming), McKibben has committed his life to saving the planet. For all the passion fueling his efforts, though, there’s something weirdly amiss in his approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: neither he nor will actively promote a vegan diet.

Given the nature of our current discourse on climate change, this omission might not seem a problem. Vegans are still considered as sort of “out there,” a fringe group of animal rights activists with pasty skin and protein issues. However, as a recent report from the World Preservation Foundation confirms, ignoring veganism in the fight against climate change is sort of like ignoring fast food in the fight against obesity.

The Incomprehensible Jargon of Science

We blogged recently about the challenges of communicating scientific uncertainty to the public, especially when it comes to climate science. The October 2011 issue of Physics Today contains yet another article addressing the very same concept. From the article:

Scientists typically fail to craft simple, clear messages and repeat them often. They commonly overdo the level of detail, and people can have difficulty sorting out what is important. In short, the more you say, the less they hear. And scientists tend to speak in code. We encourage them to speak in plain language and choose their words with care. Many words that seem perfectly normal to scientists are incomprehensible jargon to the wider world. And there are usually simpler substitutes.

We particularly like the table provided at the end of the article, titled “Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public.” For example, the scientific term “uncertainty” translates to “ignorance” for the general public; the article suggests scientists use the word “range” instead. Error, which the general public reads as “mistake, wrong, incorrect,” might be better replaced by “difference from exact true number.”

The Downside of Research: How Small Uncertainties Can Lead to Big Differences

Contrary to popular perception, most research yields very few conclusions with 100 percent certainty. That’s why you’ll often hear economists state their conclusions with “95 percent certainty.” It means they’re pretty sure, but there’s still a small margin for error. The science of climate change is no different, and, according to a Washington Post blog post, scientists are currently struggling with how to explain that uncertainty to the public. “What do you do when there’s a small but real chance that global warming could lead to a catastrophe?” asks Brad Plumer. “How do you talk about that in a way that’s useful to policymakers?”

Study Shows Animals Starting to Move to Higher Latitudes, Elevations

A new study out of the University of York shows that animals are moving to higher latitudes and elevations as a result of global warming. The research, which is a meta-analysis of previous individual studies, finds that about 1,300 species are shifting habitat faster than had previously been assumed. But they’re not all moving toward cooler temperatures. The data are mostly skewed toward Europe and North America. Here’s the abstract:

The distributions of many terrestrial organisms are currently shifting in latitude or elevation in response to changing climate. Using a meta-analysis, we estimated that the distributions of species have recently shifted to higher elevations at a median rate of 11.0 meters per decade, and to higher latitudes at a median rate of 16.9 kilometers per decade. These rates are approximately two and three times faster than previously reported. The distances moved by species are greatest in studies showing the highest levels of warming, with average latitudinal shifts being generally sufficient to track temperature changes. However, individual species vary greatly in their rates of change, suggesting that the range shift of each species depends on multiple internal species traits and external drivers of change. Rapid average shifts derive from a wide diversity of responses by individual species.

Carbon Taxes in Canada, Solar Shutdown in Massachusetts: Climate Lessons For California

Recent news delivered two different verdicts on two different climate policy experiments, both of which carry lessons for California and its delayed carbon reduction plan. The first, a revenue-neutral carbon tax in British Columbia is “a winner.” So says The Economist. But the second, the Massachusetts front of President Obama’s green jobs initiative, is a failure. What else to conclude from this week’s bankruptcy filing by Evergreen Solar, a recipient of millions in federal stimulus dollars and state subsidies?
There are lessons in both stories for lawmakers in the U.S., especially our environmental policy frontiersmen in California, who in 2013 will impose the only carbon policy outside Europe to rival that of our northern neighbor in its seriousness and aggressiveness.

Surprise, Surprise: The Future Remains Hard to Predict

“There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts.”
In what realm do you think this “huge discrepancy” exists? The financial markets? Politics? Pharmaceutical research?
Given how bad humans are at predicting the future, this discrepancy could exist just about anywhere. But the above quote, from the University of Alabama-Huntsville climate scientist Roy Spencer, is talking about computer models that predict global warming:

Scientific Literacy Does Not Increase Concern Over Climate Change; Now Go Shout About It

A new study by the Cultural Cognition Project, a team headed up by Yale law professor Dan Kahan, shows that people who are more science- and math-literate tend to be more skeptical about the consequences of climate change. Increased scientific literacy also leads to higher polarization on climate-change issues:

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

Cholera: More Complicated Than You Think?

Cholera, long considered “a disease of filth carried in sewage,” is a little more complicated than that, writes the science journalist Sonia Shah. “[R]esearch on cholera’s natural habitat and links to the climate have revealed a revolutionary new understanding of the disease as one shaped just as much by environment, hydrology, and weather patterns as by poor sanitation,” writes Shah. “And as temperatures continue to rise this century, cholera outbreaks may become increasingly common, with the bacteria growing more rapidly in warmer waters.”

Is Climate-Change Hysteria Bad for the Environment?

A new study called “Apocalypse Soon?” by the psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) finds that, for people who implicitly believe the world is fair, dire warnings about climate change may make them more skeptical about the concept.

The Biggest Bang for the Climate-Change Buck?

The world is full of efforts and estimates toward reducing carbon emissions. A new paper by David Wheeler and Dan Hammer argues that the best bang for the climate change buck may lie in family planning and girls’ education: $1 million spent could save 250,000 tons of CO2.

Explosive Climate-Change Video a Bit Too Explosive

The British environmental group 10:10, devoted to cutting carbon emissions 10 percent each year, created a message video that was a bit too explosive for its own good. The gist: any poor sap who fails to go along with the 10 percent cut, be it a schoolchild or a soccer star, is blown to smithereens.

Geoengineering: "The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come"?

In Washington, D.C., this morning, the New America Foundation (in partnership with Arizona State University and Slate) is holding a “Future Tense Event” called “Geoengineering: The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come?”

From Cap and Trade to Carbon Farming

There’s really no need to panic over the prospect of EPA dominance. Instead, industry should take the hint that’s it high time to push hard for climate-change legislation. Sure, the move by the EPA to exercise regulatory authority over carbon — a power granted to it by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling — was designed to give President Obama moral leverage in Denmark. But it also serves as a presidential prod to Congress to pass a climate-change law. No matter how you feel about global warming, greenhouse-gas emissions are not going to go unregulated. I suspect Obama ultimately nudged the EPA because he wants the U.S. Congress to do the regulating. Industry should support him on this.

Pay Now to Save the World Later?

Planet Money recently interviewed Elinor Ostrom, this year’s Nobel prize winner and an expert in the tragedy of the commons about global warming. Ostrom believes the solution to climate change will come not from government initiatives but from people in communities around the world. “I think we are stupid to sit around and wait and wait and wait,” she says.

ClimateGate: The Very Ugly Side of Climate Science

When we think about “scientists,” most of us probably envision people toiling away in the lab or the field, accumulating and analyzing data in order to test theories, leaving their personal biases at home, scrupulously considering any confounding data or theories and willfully distancing themselves from the political implications of their research.
How quaint.

Are Solar Panels Really Black? And What Does That Have to Do With the Climate Debate?

It seems inevitable that discussions of climate science would degenerate to being deeply politicized and polarized. Depending on which views are adopted, individuals, industries, and countries will gain or lose, which provides ample motive. Once people with a strong political or ideological bent latch onto an issue, it becomes hard to have a reasonable discussion; once you’re in a political mode, the focus in the discussion changes. Everything becomes an attempt to protect territory. Evidence and logic becomes secondary, used when advantageous and discarded when expedient. What should be a rational debate becomes a personal and venal brawl. Rational, scientific debate that could advance the common good gets usurped by personal attacks and counterattacks.