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The Brutally Dishonest Attacks On Showtime’s Landmark Series On Climate Change

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 21:45

Percent of Americans Who Believe the Effects of Global Warming Have Already Begun to Happen, by Political Ideology, from McCright and Dunlap

The good news is the video of episode one of Showtime’s climate series, “Years Of Living Dangerously,” has been getting great reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere.

The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth” polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009 (see chart above from “The Sociological Quarterly”).

As I said, “Years Of Living Dangerously” — the landmark 9-part Showtime docu-series produced by the legendary James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in the NY Times Monday:

a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue….

George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication,” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:

What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people…. it is still the best documentary I have seen.

The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of the Breakthrough Institute — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Senior Fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his fivethirtyeight piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a debunking piece by an MIT climate scientist.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two widely debunked eco-critics who run The Breakthrough Institute (TBI), begin by asserting “IF you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime.” But they never cite anything other than the trailer in making their case, dismissing the entire enterprise on the basis of 2 minutes of clips!

They base their entire argument on a misrepresentation of climate science and a misrepresentation of social science. They assert:

“But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science.”

I asked one of the country’s top climatologist, Michael Mann, to respond to that, and he replied:

The statement is disingenuous, very carefully worded to imply doubt where there is none. The term “the latest” is used as a sleight of hand. Of course, we don’t attribute individual meteorological events to climate change in a purely causal manner, because the link is statistical. It is like the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, or the link between a baseball player taking steroids and the number of home runs he hits in the season. We don’t talk about any one home run being caused by the steroids. Its the wrong question, the wrong framing. We know that statistically, the player hit more home runs because of the steroids. And, analogously, we know that we’re seeing more severe and prolonged heat waves and drought, extreme flooding, and more devastating hurricanes, because of human-caused climate change. Just the opposite of what the authors appear to want you to think.

We need good faith discussions of climate risks in leading media outlets like the New York Times. To quote Winston Churchill, we’re living in an age of consequences. There is no room for misleading screeds which seem intended at distracting and confusing the public about human-caused climate change at a time when it poses a critical threat to our planet.

In fact, the show isn’t about “the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane.” It does show the impact of some specific record-breaking extreme weather events that have been documented in the scientific literature to have been worsened by climate change (as I discuss here). These include the Hurricane Sandy storm surge, the record Texas drought and heat wave of 2011, and the drying out of the Mediterranean, particularly Syria.

TBI’s Nordhaus and Shellenberger assert of human-caused warming, “there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.” If that argument sounds both very familiar but wrong, that’s because it is. TBI Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr. made the same exact argument in his opening piece for Nate Silver’s website fivethirtyeight, which quickly became one of the most debunked posts of the year.

Climate scientists and others so thoroughly refuted the piece that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws bus and ran a response piece by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel eviscerating Pielke.

Why the NY Times would publish an article pushing such a widely debunked scientific thesis is truly inexplicable.

Then we have the article’s untenable social science. The authors assert that one reason we know that “Years Of Living Dangerously” will fail is:

Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division.

As an important aside, back in October 2007, the authors took a completely different view of the effect of Gore’s move: “Consider that despite extensive publicity, Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth,” had almost no impact on public opinion. Seriously.

TBI bases its claims on a few cherry-picked polling results, which appear to justify whatever conclusions they want to push. Unsurprisingly, the peer-reviewed social science literature concludes differently. The McCright and Dunlap study cited above makes crystal clear that the polarization jumped in 2009, long after Gore’s 2006 movie. If anything, that chart suggests polarization decreased after the movie.

I asked Prof. Robert Brulle, whom the NY Times has called “an expert on environmental communications,” about TBI’s assertion. He replied:

This editorial ignores the peer reviewed analysis of the impact of An Inconvenient Truth. This research clearly shows that polarization in Congress declined and concern about climate change increased during the period surrounding the release of this movie.

As evidence, Brulle directed me to his detailed 2012 study on the subject (discussed here), which aggregates data from 6 different polling organizations precisely to avoid the kinds of mistakes so commonly found in hand-waving op-eds.

The bottom line is that there just is no polling data or social science scholarship to support the charge that Al Gore’s movie began the polarization of the climate debate — and there is much polling data and scholarship to the contrary. I’ve asked many leading experts on social science and public opinion — including Stanford’s Jon Krosnick as well as McCright and Dunlap, authors of “The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010″ — and they all agree the data don’t support this myth. Can we kill it once and for all?

The rest of TBI’s analysis of what they call “a fear-based approach” to messaging is also flawed. They assert:

In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.

As I explained at the time, that study, if it proves anything, finds that the strongest possible science-based messaging is effective. Climate hawks should feel confident explaining to the public as clearly as possible the dire consequences if we fail to take action to reduce emissions together with the myriad cost-effective solutions available today that make averting catastrophe so cheap compared to the alternative.

TBI also cites a 2009 study in the journal Science Communication as making their case against the 9-part TV series they haven’t seen. Yet that study has this key finding:

The results demonstrate that communications approaches that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference (e.g., based on an understanding and appreciation of their values, attitudes, beliefs, local environment, and experiences) are more likely to meaningfully engage individuals with climate change.

I was not one of the producers of the show, but I have worked with them long enough to know that that sentence sums up their guiding philosophy. As George Marshall says, he thinks YEARS is the best climate documentary he’s seen in this regard.

I asked Revkin, who has generally been sympathetic to TBI, whether he stood by his positive review of the show. You can read his full response here. He sums up:

The bottom line? Episode 1 works. There’s more challenging terrain ahead in the series. I wish you all luck in navigating it and I see your effort as well worth trying.

The producers behind this series learned their craft at 60 Minutes and have 18 Emmys between them. They are the finest journalists I know, and they know how to tell stories “that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference.”

I hope that you will withhold judgment until they have had a chance to blow you away with what they have done, starting with Episode 1, which you can watch here.

The post The Brutally Dishonest Attacks On Showtime’s Landmark Series On Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Heeding Pressure From Students, Harvard Pledges To Take Climate Change More Seriously

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 20:05

Harvard University President Drew Faust speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on the Harvard campus in 2009 in Cambridge, Mass.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

After mounting pressure from both students and the public, Harvard on Monday announced that it will heed calls to take climate change more seriously.

In a release on its website, Harvard President Drew Faust said the prestigious Ivy League school would become the first American university to pledge, via a United Nations-backed program, to make more environmentally responsible and sustainable investments. The program, called the Principles for Responsible Investment, will guide the investment decisions of those who control Harvard’s $33 billion endowment.

Faust said Harvard would also become a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit that requires entities to disclose the risks that increased greenhouse gas emissions pose to their operations. The school will also establish a “sustainability committee” led by senior faculty “to shape the next generation of sustainability solutions and strategy on our campus,” and pledge to continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“In addition to our academic work and our greenhouse gas reduction efforts, Harvard has a role to play as a long-term investor,” Faust wrote.

The main activist group that had been pushing Harvard to up its climate change game applauded the announcement, but noted that it is a far cry from what they had really wanted: a commitment from their school to divest from climate-change-causing fossil fuels.

“Harvard’s decision to invest in climate solutions is an important step forward, but the truth is that we still have $32.6 million directly invested — and millions more indirectly invested — in the fossil fuel industry’s climate destruction, science denialism, and political obstruction,” Divest Harvard said in a statement. “We need to divest from the problem as we invest in new solutions.”

Divest Harvard is one of more than 300 campaigns at universities across the country that call for their schools to move away from fossil fuel use. The group has been pushing for the change since it was founded in August 2012.

The campaign became national news only recently, however, when Faust released a letter in October explaining why the university would not divest. In that letter, Faust made a number of points as to why the university would remain investors in fossil fuels, including that divestment would hurt Harvard’s bottom line; that fossil fuel companies wouldn’t be particularly harmed by the decision; and that the school’s endowment is not an instrument to impel social or political change.

The issue only grew from there when ClimateProgress obtained exclusive video of Faust offering additional defense of her decision not to divest, claiming that fossil fuel companies do not block clean energy companies from implementing their innovations. In fact, they do — fossil fuel companies fund policy groups that work in a numerous states to roll back existing clean energy standards, and have spent more than $2 billion lobbying Congress since 1999 for issues like anti-climate legislation.

The Nation then published an open letter from PhD student Benjamin Franta to Faust, debunking her reasons not to divest. The Nation’s Wes Stephenson called the letter “direct, personal, unsparing — and, I’ll add, principled and brave.”

Harvard has still not committed to divesting, but its announcement Monday did include signs that it would take on a greater role to combat climate change.

“Harvard has a vital leadership role to play in this work,” Faust wrote. “As a university, it has a special obligation and accountability to the future, to the long view needed to anticipate and alter the trajectory and impact of climate change.”

The message sounds encouraging for climate activists. But according to environmental group 350.org, the message does not come with many actual requirements. The Principles for Responsible Investment program, for example, is merely a pledge, and does not require Harvard to sell specific funds. And the Carbon Disclosure project, though novel, is “unlikely to convince fossil fuel companies to make the fundamental changes to their business plans necessary to avert catastrophic climate change,” the group said in a statement.

350.org has been leading the campaign for fossil fuel divestment since 2010. So far, nine colleges, 22 cities and a number of religious institutions and other groups have pledged to divest.

The divestment movement is also gaining traction with students from other colleges. At Washington University in St. Louis, students on Tuesday began an overnight sit-in protest outside their campus’ academic building, calling on the school to cut ties with Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal corporation. According to a Facebook post from the group WashU Students Against Peabody, the protest is ongoing as of Wednesday.

The post Heeding Pressure From Students, Harvard Pledges To Take Climate Change More Seriously appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Drought Is Driving Beef Prices To All-New Highs

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 17:49

CREDIT: Shutterstock

USDA choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 in February, according to the LA Times, and drought is the culprit.

Years of sometimes record-setting dry spells have punished the western and southern United States recently, cutting down crops like hay and corn that serve as cattle feed. That’s driven up the costs of raising and maintaining cattle herds, so ranchers spent the last few years selling off and slaughtering more cows than usual in order to keep their finances stable.

That’s driven the nation’s cattle population down to 87.7 million — the lowest its been since 1951, when herds hit a trough of 82.1 million. By contrast, the peak was in 1975, when the cattle population reached 132 million heads. (Though the LA Times noted that was when cows were less meaty and required more feed.)

With no attendant drop in demand, prices started going up as early as June 2013, and have just kept rising. The LA Times said restaurants and slaughterhouses around the country are raising prices to compensate, putting some of them in a precarious economic position. In Texas, the situation even forced the closure of entire beef plants.

It takes almost three years, starting at birth, for a cow to finally become ready for slaughter. So it will take a while for the herds to rebound. And that’s before the uncertainty brought on by the droughts and changing rainfall is factored in. Until they see the weather stabilize, ranchers are likely to hold off on replenishing their herds to avoid being caught again with two much cattle and not enough rain.

Ranchers also use breeding over time to improve the genetics of their cattle, improving the quality and amount of beef. So in an additional blow, the liquidation of many herds means a lot of those improved genetic lines have been lost, the LA Times reported.

Underlying the drought, the rising crop prices and the rising cattle prices is the reality of climate change: higher temperatures generally mean faster evaporation and drier conditions. So rainfall shifts to longer dry spells broken by heavier deluges. As a result, there’s less time for precipitation, when it does come, to add to snowpack or soak into the ground. Changes in oceanic temperatures and currents may also be redirecting major weather streams in ways that bring less rain to American west especially. All of that means reduced water supplies for people, crops and cattle.

Globally speaking, studies suggest climate change could drive up the prices of staple food crops like grains, wheat, fruit, vegetables and rice anywhere from 20 to 40 percent by 2050.

Ironically, cattle herding and the enormous demand for beef from both America and the world as a whole is itself a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emission. Cows, of course, emit a good deal of methane as part of their digestive process. The agriculture that goes into producing cattle feed — running the equipment and using the fertilizer — is also a source of carbon dioxide emissions.

All told, the livestock sector accounts for almost 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the cattle beef and milk industries contributing two-thirds of that slice.

The post Drought Is Driving Beef Prices To All-New Highs appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Senator Threatens To Block Nominee For Top Climate Post Because She Accepts Climate Science

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 16:00

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asks a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about immigrant women and immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air office will be getting at least one “no” vote from a lawmaker who on Monday said he can’t support someone who accepts that climate change can aggravate extreme weather events.

During Janet McCabe’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) cited research from two Singaporean scientists and a widely-disputed political scientist to claim that there is no connection between intensifying weather and climate change. McCabe, whose critical job would put her in charge of many climate-related regulations, attempted to refute the claims, but was repeatedly interrupted.

Sessions: You believe that we’ve had more storms, more hurricanes.

McCabe: I believe that the scientific record shows that, over a long period of time and over broad geographic areas, there have been changes in our climate that…

Sessions: You dispute, then, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]‘s recent finding, that “current data set indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cycles frequency over the last century.” That’s the international panel on climate change.

McCabe: I know that the IPCC has made many findings relative to the effects of climate change around the world.

Sessions: Well, I’m just going to tell you, I’m going to submit this is writing to you, and if you continue to insist that we’ve had more hurricanes in the last century and that they’ve increased as a result of global warming — climate change — I don’t see how i can support your nomination. I don’t see how I can support somebody who can advocate against plain fact. My time is up.

Video of the exchange, which is near the end of the two-hour hearing, can be found here.

Though the IPCC has indicated that it does not yet have strong evidence to suggest notable increases in the number of global tropical cyclones or hurricanes, the panel cited medium-to-high confidence that human-caused climate change is causing longer and more intense heatwaves and more intense rainfall, and high confidence that it is causing sea-level rise. These findings are all the more alarming because the panel tends to be conservative in its estimates, as it draws from the expertise of more than 800 scientists around the world.

In addition, the IPCC says it is “more likely than not” that global warming is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions. Drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfires, the IPCC says.

Apart from the conservative IPCC, many notable scientists have taken the extreme weather/climate change connection further. As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) noted after Session’s comments, the U.S Global Change Research Program — headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and backed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institute among others — confirm “more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity” due to climate change.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers have also recently found that climate change has the ability to worsen storms like the infamous Hurricane Sandy, saying “climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence as compared to 1950.”

As many scientists would also note, Sessions’ demand that McCabe confirm or deny increases in the number of storms misinterprets how climate change works. Increased carbon emissions bring increased moisture and heat into the atmosphere, which has an effect on the intensity of weather events — not necessarily the amount of weather events that occur.

“The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question,” Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, a distinguished senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has written. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

It is not particularly surprising that Sessions, along with other members of the Republican party who sat on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Hearing on Monday, attempted to challenge the science of man-made climate change. The politics of climate change is very different from the scientific reality.

Specifically, approximately 56 percent, or at least 130 members, of the current Republican caucus in the House of Representatives deny the basic tenets of climate science. Sixty-six percent, or at least 30 members, of the Senate Republican caucus also deny the reality of climate change. That is compared to the 97 percent consensus in peer-reviewed literature that humans are causing global warming.

“My colleagues can rant and rave about this all they want, they have every right to rant and rave. I rant and rave at them too, it’s fine,” Boxer said after Session’s comments. “But the facts are the facts, and the fact is that the leading voices in America are warning us.”

The post Senator Threatens To Block Nominee For Top Climate Post Because She Accepts Climate Science appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Carbon Dioxide Levels Just Hit Their Highest Point In 800,000 Years

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 15:51

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The concentration of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that drives climate change, hit 402 parts per million this week — the highest level recorded in at least 800,000 years.

The recordings came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which marked another ominous milestone last May when the 400 ppm threshold was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

CREDIT: NOAA

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels spike every spring but this year the threshold was crossed in March, two months earlier than last year. In fact, it’s happening “at faster rates virtually every decade,” according to James Butler, Director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, a trend that “is consistent with rising fossil fuel emissions.”

400 ppm was long considered a very serious measurement but it isn’t the end — it’s just a marker on the road to ever-increasing carbon pollution levels, Butler explained in an interview on NOAA’s website. “It is a milestone, marking the fact that humans have caused carbon dioxide concentrations to rise 120 ppm since pre-industrial times, with over 90 percent of that in the past century alone. We don’t know where the tipping points are.”

When asked if the 400 ppm will be reached even earlier next year, Butler responded simply, “Yes. Every year going forward for a long time.”

While atmospheric CO2 levels never approached 400 ppm in the 800,000 years of detailed records scientists have, there is evidence that the last time the Earth experienced such high concentrations was actually several million years ago. Writing about the 400 ppm recording last year, climatologist Peter Gleick pointed to UCLA research “that suggested we would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels approaching today’s levels” and another article in the journal Paleoceanography “on paleoclimatic records that suggest CO2 concentrations (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) may have been around 400 ppm between 2 and 4.6 million years ago.”

Never in the history of the planet have humans altered the atmosphere as radically as we are doing so now.

But whether it’s 800,000 years ago or 15 million years ago, Gleick emphasizes that “the more important point to remember is that never in the history of the planet have humans altered the atmosphere as radically as we are doing so now.”

And this uncharted territory is something humans will have to navigate for quite some time because once its emitted, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere. In fact, Andrew Freedman explains, “a single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain aloft for hundreds of years, which means that the effects of today’s industrial activities will be felt for the next several centuries, if not thousands of years.”

The post Carbon Dioxide Levels Just Hit Their Highest Point In 800,000 Years appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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One English Town’s Innovative Response To Sea Level Rise

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 14:34

Andrew Breiner contributed the graphics to this piece.

Vast stretches of the Somerset Levels, an expanse of coastal plains and wetlands in southwest England, have spent much of the winter underwater. At the peak of the crisis, some 11,500 hectares (28,420 acres) was submerged as violent storms brought “biblical” deluges week after week, for months on end. Along Britain’s scenic coastline, 80 mph gales and tidal surges have left cliffs crumbling into the rough sea, beaches and sand dunes eroded, sea defenses breached, and shorelines and harbors damaged beyond recognition.

The cliffs at Birling Gap on the East Sussex coast have suffered seven years of erosion in just two months, as over nine feet of the soft chalky cliffs fell into the sea. At Formby, on the Sefton coast, the sand dunes saw two years worth of erosion in just one epically stormy December afternoon. At South Milton Sands in Devon, sand dunes have been completely destabilized and fences and boardwalks washed away. And the list of destruction goes on and on.

All along the coast of the U.K. and in other coastal communities around the world, the threat of sea level rise and more violent storms is forcing towns and governments to make difficult choices — build higher, build stronger, or retreat. In the U.S., both strategies are being explored. Famous for its levy system, New Orleans is now also incorporating open spaces designed to flood into city planning, following designs pioneered by the Dutch. For its part, much of the New Jersey coast, devastated by Superstorm Sandy, is choosing to rely almost entirely on bigger artificial sand dunes to hold the ocean back as towns attempt to rebuild right where they were before the hurricane hit.

The U.K.’s Environment Agency is experimenting with a kind of coordinated retreat for the hardest to defend coastal areas, a tactic referred to as managed coastal realignment. It’s a controversial approach for a relatively small island nation. But the recent wild winter storms are starting to change attitudes — strategic surrender suddenly seems like it may be the smart, sustainable solution.

Getting Smart, Not Giving Up

Hostile and fearful, that’s how Adrian Thomas describes the mood in the room when West Sussex residents were told that the Medmerry sea wall in the south of England would no longer be defended.

“People thought we were giving up,” said Thomas who works as a project manager for the U.K.’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “People wanted to know why we couldn’t just build a bigger sea wall or make it out of concrete. After so many years of fighting this fight, no one wanted to hear that we just weren’t going to fight anymore.”

What the community was being presented with back in 2008 were plans for the largest ever managed realignment of the U.K. coast — effectively moving the coastline several kilometers inland. For decades, the Environment Agency, charged with managing flood defenses in the U.K., has maintained a one kilometer sea wall built out of shingle — a shingle bank — from the beach along the coast between the town of Selsey and Bracklesham on the Manhood Peninsula in southern England.

CREDIT: UK Environment Agency/Andrew Breiner

Since the 1990s, the probability of the shingle bank being breached in any given year, however, was one in one, necessitating that the Environment Agency haul a fleet of diggers out to the beach each winter and reconstruct what nature seemed so determined to destroy. The average price tag for this un-winnable war was around £200,000 ($332,000) annually. Were the bank not repaired, however, the likely inundation zone would include the only road to Selsey, 360 homes in Selsey, a water treatment plant serving 12,000 people and multiple seasonal vacation home developments with hundreds of rental cottages. The last time the wall was seriously compromised during winter storms was in 2008. The resultant flooding cost over £5 million ($8.3 million) in damages.

The controversial plan? Cut a 100 meter channel into the shingle bank and let the ocean reclaim 500 hectares of land, transforming three farms and the RSPB nature reserve into a saltwater marsh. Then behind the newly created inter-tidal zone, about two kilometers inland, build a new seven kilometer curved clay embankment — completely “realign” the coast. The price? £28 million ($46.5 million). The coastal realignment not only moves the sea wall further inland, it also creates a powerful buffer zone of marsh that can absorb storm energy. Interestingly, there is archeological evidence that the area was originally dominated by saltwater marsh hundreds of years ago.

“If you do the math, you can’t help but wonder how a scheme that cost £28 million ($46.5 million) can be justified if it only costs £0.2 million ($332,000) to maintain the sea wall each year,” said Thomas of RSPB which owned the 50 hectares of land adjacent to the old sea wall. “But of course, it’s £0.2 million ($332,000) based on current sea levels. If you factor in sea level rise due to climate change — about an extra meter in the next 100 years — and the fact that the south of England is still tipping into the sea after the last ice age, that’s just not going to be the price in the future. Never mind the financial side, it may simply not be technically feasible.”

Early Returns

The past winter was incredibly revealing. Andy Gilham, the Environment Agency’s Regional Flood Risk Manager, believes that because of the intensity and repetition of the brutal storms that pummeled much of the U.K. with hurricane force winds and relentless rain for months, the agency just would not have physically been able to maintain the shingle bank this year.

The mood music has definitely changed … From hostile and fearful to delighted and surprised.

Fortunately, the Medmerry Managed Realignment Project was completed in November after two years of construction work and just weeks before the first of the winter storms rolled in around Christmas. And the general sentiment among the project leaders and business owners and residents is that the very non-intuitive plan of punching a hole in a flood wall to reduce flooding, actually worked.

“The mood music has definitely changed,” said Thomas. “From hostile and fearful to delighted and surprised.”

Allan Chamberlain, the Estate Director at Medmerry Park Holiday Village, a development consisting of 308 vacation rental homes adjacent to the realignment scheme, will readily admit that he is shocked by how well the realigned coastline protected the area from this winter’s epic flooding.

“I think initially we had the impression we were giving up and just letting it flood,” said Chamberlain. “But when you look at it now, you can see that it is progress, not defeat. Not only were we not flooded by the sea, but the project also appears to have made the surface flooding from rain less severe. The rainwater drains into the new marsh beautifully.”

“It’s the first winter in years we haven’t had to deal with surface flooding,” he added. “We were all hoping the project just wouldn’t make it any worse, but it appears to actually be making it much better.”

Chamberlain is also thrilled about the new tourist attraction created by the expanded nature reserve. He has already noticed an increase in visitors to the park even though the season has barely begun and not all the trails around the reserve are finished. Before the realignment project there were just two short stretches of public foot paths around the small, 50 hectare RSPB reserve. Now there are 10 kilometers of foot paths and seven kilometers of new bike paths in an area completely dependent on tourism for the local economy. In addition to attracting more people, the project has also actually extended the tourism season in the area. Bunn Leisure in Selsey, the largest vacation home development in the area, once only allowed to be open for eight months because of the risk of flooding, can now extend its season for an additional two months. The vacation home park employs over 300 people.

Chamberlain is applying for a similar permit extension.

‘We Are Very Aware That We Live On An Island’

Not everyone shares Chamberlain’s enthusiasm. Ben Cooper, who owns an IT consulting company and is a member of the Selsey Town Council, still has his concerns. He would have liked to see the Environment Agency consider other alternatives such as constructing rock barriers out in the ocean in front of the coast to break wave energy.

“When you live on a small island like the U.K. it’s hard to see land go,” he said. “I think we gave up too easily and before the Environment Agency tries this somewhere else, I hope they wait and see how the project stands the test of time. Once you give land back to the sea, there’s no getting it back, so if this doesn’t work, we will have given up that land for nothing.”

One of the especially contentious issues at the beginning of the Medmerry project was the fact that in order to create the realignment project, three productive farms growing oilseed rape and winter wheat would have to be sacrificed to the sea.

“In the U.K. we are very aware that we live on an island,” said Thomas. “We know we’re not self-sufficient already, so the idea of letting go of perfectly good agricultural land struck many people as wasteful and short-sighted.”

Indeed, around the U.K. this winter, the fact that developed property is given priority for flood protection over agricultural land has led many people to question the sustainability of the Environment Agency’s approach.

I do feel resonance with the kind of gut human instinct that says we can win against nature … But there are different ways of winning.

The area won’t lose all of its food production value, however. The newly created estuary-like environment is expected to become an important fish nursery that will boost the local commercial fishing economy in Selsey. The salt marsh vegetation will also be farmed — not the waving wheat and barley people are accustomed to, but the land can be used for low intensity cattle grazing to produce salt marsh beef a premier meat product.

The people with the biggest reservations about the Medmerry project are actually not from the area at all.

“People in Somerset who have had to endure terrible flooding this winter are quite upset about the whole thing,” said Chamberlain. “They want to know why the Environment Agency is spending £28 million on a ‘bird park’ when they could desperately have used those funds to dredge rivers and mitigate flooding in their area.”

As it turns out, the only reason the Environment Agency was able to set aside the money for the Medmerry scheme was precisely because they were creating habitat for birds. As Andy Gilham explained, under the E.U. Habitats and Birds Directive, the U.K. is required to compensate for wildlife habitat being destroyed elsewhere along the coast by creating new habitat. In the south of England especially, areas designated as Special Areas of Conservation along the Solent strait between the Isle of Wight and the mainland are being lost through a process known as “coastal squeeze.” Coastal squeeze refers to the loss of coastal habitat as land on the seaward side of rigid coastal protection structures is eroded away. The Medmerry project created nearly 200 new hectares of wetlands with similar ecological functions as the areas being lost to the west.

While the Environment Agency has done smaller coastal realignment projects in the past, Medmerry is by far the largest and the only scheme that realigns open ocean coastline, as opposed to coastline along an inland estuary. Projects similar to Medmerry are already under development. In May 2012, the Environment Agency began construction work on a coastal realignment project on the Steart Peninsula in southwest England. The project will create a new 400 hectare and provide flood protection for Steart village.

“I do feel resonance with the kind of gut human instinct that says we can win against nature,” said Thomas. “Surely we have the technology and fortitude. But there are different ways of winning. And I feel we’ve done the big win at Medmerry.”

The post One English Town’s Innovative Response To Sea Level Rise appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Environmental Regulator Sides With Energy Company In Coal Ash Lawsuit

Feed Burner - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:28

Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, dips her hand into the coal ash spill in the Dan River.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Gerry Broome

North Carolina’s environmental regulatory agency has joined Duke Energy in appealing a ruling that the company must clean up groundwater pollution from its coal ash storage ponds, Bloomberg reports.

Duke Energy runs seven coal-fired power plants in the state, and keeps the coal ash — residue left after the coal is burned — in 33 ponds near its operating facilities. Many of the ponds are over 50 years old, and state environmental groups have long feared they were leaking chemicals into the North Carolina’s underground drinking water supplies. Several groups filed a suit demanding Duke take immediate action to clean up their operations back in 2013, and Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled in their favor on March 6 of this year. His decision also said the state’s Environmental Management Commission broke the law by failing to require Duke to move quickly to clean up the pollution.

Duke appealed the ruling on April 3, and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) — which includes the Environmental Management Commission — joined the appeal on Monday.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which is providing legal aid to several of those environmental groups, data collected over years shows the coal ash ponds have in fact fouled North Carolina’s groundwater. According to the Charlotte Observer, the federal Environmental Protection Agency also expressed concerns back in 2013 that the DENR was not responding rapidly or rigorously enough to the problems with Duke’s coal ash ponds. Monitoring of groundwater near Duke’s Asheville and Riverbend plants in particular showed levels of boron, manganese, and thallium in excess of regulatory limits.

Duke Energy and the DENR previously tried to settle the case with an agreement that would’ve required Duke to pay a $99,100 fine, with no cleanup requirements. Environmental watchdog groups denounced the arrangement as a “remarkable sweetheart deal,” and EPA officials privately told the DENR that the amount “seems low considering the number of years these facilities are alleged to have been out of compliance.” The EPA also said more testing and monitoring for pollution should be required.

That settlement deal was ultimately scuttled after a new spill from one of Duke’s ponds dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash slurry into North Carolina’s Dan River. The incident also sparked an ongoing federal criminal investigation into whether the DENR was inappropriately lax in regulating Duke Energy.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press in March suggest DENR staff members were coordinating legal strategy with Duke officials during the suit.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory — who, as head of the state’s executive branch, is ultimately in charge of the DENR — also worked for Duke Energy for 28 years, and received substantial financial support form the company during his campaign. Since the latest spill, McCrory’s relationship with Duke has come under increased public scrutiny.

The post Environmental Regulator Sides With Energy Company In Coal Ash Lawsuit appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Global Mining Giant Drops Its Share In Alaska’s Controversial Pebble Mine

Feed Burner - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 19:36

Exploratory drilling at the proposed Pebble Mine site.

CREDIT: A.P. Images

London-based Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining companies in the world, announced Monday that it is abandoning its 19.1 percent stake in the embattled Pebble Mine proposed for Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay area.

Rather than selling its shares, Rio Tinto will equally divide them between two Alaskan charities: the Alaska Community Foundation to fund educational and vocational training and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation, which supports educational and cultural programmes in the region.

“Rio Tinto has long and historic ties to Alaska and we continue to see Alaska as an attractive location for potential future investment. By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble’s future development and that any economic benefit supports Alaska’s ability to attract investment that creates jobs,” wrote Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques on the company’s website.

If allowed to go forward, Pebble Mine could be the largest copper and gold mine in North America. The mine’s proposed location in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery — the most productive wild salmon fishery in the world — has sparked local and national opposition including Tiffany & Co. as well as 50 other major jewelers who have committed not to source gold from the mine.

Rio Tinto first indicated it was considering getting out of the project last December after two trustees for large pension funds that are major shareholders in the company — California State Controller John Chiang and New York City Comptroller John Liu — put pressure on the company to divest from the environmentally irresponsible project.

Rio Tinto’s decision to walk away from its interest in the mine is just the latest significant setback to the project. In 2011, Mitsubishi Corporation sold its interest, and in 2013, Anglo American withdrew from its 50 percent partnership in the project. That move made Northern Dynasty Minerals, a small Canadian company the sole owner of the controversial proposed mine.

“Between Anglo American’s decision last year and Rio Tinto’s announcement this week, about two-thirds of the mine’s overall investment has now been withdrawn,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Rio Tinto was the biggest player still left in.”

“Their decision is like pulling the dying project off life support.”

On February 28, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its intention to use a little known provision under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. The provision, section 404©, allows the agency to “prohibit, restrict, deny, or withdraw” an area at risk of “unacceptable adverse effects” on water, fisheries, wildlife, or recreation resources. EPA has used the process just 13 times in the 40 years of the Clean Water Act.

EPA’s decision to begin this process comes after its three-year comprehensive scientific study of the effects of proposed mining operations in the area, concluded in January that Pebble Mine would have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the watershed and its legendary salmon runs worth $1.5 billion annually to commercial fisheries and supporting 14,000 jobs.

The post Global Mining Giant Drops Its Share In Alaska’s Controversial Pebble Mine appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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World’s Largest Cement Companies Merge, Creating Carbon Behemoth

Feed Burner - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 14:10

CREDIT: shutterstock

It’s not surprising that water is the most consumed substance on Earth by volume. It is surprising that concrete is the second most. It is also one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Concrete is composed of 10 to 15 percent cement, the production of which generates a lot of carbon dioxide — the cement industry accounts for up to a full eight percent of annual global carbon dioxide emissions.

Concrete is a fundamental building block for much of the infrastructure on the planet today, and its prominence continues to grow. Global cement production increased by 54 percent from 2000 to 2006, and in the developing world it continues to skyrocket. In 2012, China accounted for just under 60 percent of the world’s 3.6 billion tons of cement production, an increase of about 10 percent from the year before. The Fourth IPCC Report in 2007 found that global cement consumption is growing at about 2.5 percent a year, with India and the U.S. leading the way after China.

Over the weekend the immensity of the cement business — and the potential for large-scale mitigation efforts — came into full view when the world’s two largest cement makers, France’s Lafarge and Switzerland’s Holcim, agreed to a merger to create a company worth a $55 billion with a presence in more than 90 countries. According to a statement released by the companies, it will create “the most advanced group in the building materials industry:”

Both companies have pioneered sustainability and climate change mitigation in the industry and are committed to take it to the next level. LafargeHolcim would have an enhanced presence in the global building materials sector with a number one position globally across cement, concrete and aggregates and new opportunities to optimize production and commercial networks.

The deal, clearly in the interest of the companies looking to reduce risk and streamline operations, still needs approval from antitrust authorities in Europe, the U.S., and other regions around the world as the merger places them in a very dominant position in many markets. Both companies have made previous efforts to reduce carbon emissions related to cement production, and if the merger goes through they would have an even more influential platform from which to address infrastructure sustainability issues.

The production of cement releases greenhouse gases both directly and indirectly. The production of clinker, the primary component of cement, emits carbon dioxide through the calcination of limestone. When limestone, which is made of calcium carbonate, is heated, it breaks down into calcium oxide and CO2. This accounts for about half the emissions attributable to cement production. The bulk of the other half comes from the energy-intensive process of grinding the raw materials and processing them into cement. The electricity used for this often comes from coal-fired power plants, which are heavy greenhouse gas emitters. Transportation of materials and operation of machinery accounts for about five to ten percent of the industry’s emissions.

As developing countries become more environmentally conscious and research into sustainable practices and renewable energy proceeds, there is great potential for continued and more substantial mitigation efforts from the cement sector. One area of opportunity is replacing clinker with other mineral components. Holcim has been working to incorporate fly ash, a waste material from coal-fired power plants, and slag, a waste by-product of steel manufacturing, into its product portfolio as composite cements. Lafarge is also making efforts to improve efficiency across production, replace dirty fossil fuels with more sustainable energy forms such as biomass, and promote sustainable construction initiatives.

“A lot of the cement and concrete industries’ significance to greenhouse gas emissions is just due to the sheer amount that is sold,” said Jeremy Gregory, an engineer who studies the economic and environmental implications of materials and executive director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub.

Gregory told ClimateProgress that while a lot of effort is going into trying to reduce the emissions from the production process itself, it’s also important to consider the environmental footprint over the course of the lifecyle of the structure. For instance, most of the emissions from a concrete building come during the in-use phase and not the construction phase, so design elements that reduce energy intensity can be especially effective at reducing GHG emissions.

“It’s not going to be one thing that will solve the problem,” said Gregory. “By taking the lifecycle perspective, we are trying to emphasize that before you push one option you need to really consider the impacts of the lifecycle.”

For instance, fly ash can work like cement in gluing the rocks together in concrete. This is great because fly ash has already been used for something else and is being recycled. But if using it makes a structure that’s less durable than pure cement and the building collapses in half the time as it would have otherwise, then nobody wants that.

A recent article in Wired Magazine proposes that carbon capture and storage (CCS) may be one of the long-term options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the cement sector, where alternative power sources to fossil fuels are not yet viable. “In theory, coal could be replaced,” Barry Jones, a general manager of the Global CCS Institute, told Wired. “But that would involve rebuilding every cement plant in the world.”

With these considerations in mind, the European Cement Association estimates that a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions could be achieved by the cement industry by 2050. This is far below the 80 percent reduction suggested by the European Commission, and the organization is relying on breakthrough technologies, such as CCS, to close the gap. “According to the calculations, 81Mt of CO2 will still need to be eliminated,” the organization states. “It has therefore been assumed that 85 percent of total clinker production (equivalent to 59 percent of cement plants) will need to be equipped with, for example, carbon capture and storage technology.”

Concrete is typically made with cement, water, sand and gravel. Water is the most consumed substance on Earth, but sand is also in limited supply as infrastructure demands for it continue to grow. According to the U.N., annual use of sand and gravel combined is between 25.9 and 29.6 billion tons, enough to build a concrete wall 27 meters high and 27 meters wide around the equator. As easily accessible, inland deposits of sand are depleted, mining and dredging is occurring in ecologically fragile areas, leaving lasting environmental scars. The concrete industry has a long way to go to both limit its global impact on climate change through greenhouse gas mitigation and minimize local impacts associated with resource extraction and air pollution related to energy use.

The post World’s Largest Cement Companies Merge, Creating Carbon Behemoth appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Why Scientists Are Making A Map Of The World’s Lobsters

Feed Burner - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 13:42

CREDIT: A.P. Images

Scientists in Maine are competing for a share of $11 million of NASA grant money in hopes of creating a real-time lobster distribution monitoring system. The proposed project is a joint collaboration between the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science.

For years, fishery managers have had to rely on historical catch data to plan for the upcoming season. But thanks to climate change, conditions in the Gulf of Maine are diverging from past patterns. Over the past decade the pace of the warming in the Gulf has increased ten-fold, from 0.026ºC each year to 0.26ºC per year. For now, that means that the lobster catch is exploding, but it could also be a signal of trouble to come. Even in good years, a sudden boom in lobster numbers, if not well managed, can be devastating for the fishermen who end up with such a glut of lobsters that prices plummet.

“We’re encountering conditions that really we’ve never seen before,” Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute told the Morning Sentinel.

Lobster landings in the Gulf of Maine have hit record highs in recent years, but scientists warn that this may be the boom before the bust. While current warmer water temperatures have put the fishery right at the temperature sweet spot for lobsters, anything above 20º C is extremely stressful for lobsters and can cause a deadly outbreak of shell disease. In 1999, lobstering in Long Island Sound collapsed without warning after a record-breaking hot year unleashed a shell disease epidemic.

The researchers want to use satellite data and observations from fishermen and researchers to create an online map showing where and when lobsters and other key marine species can be found.

Lobsters make up 80 percent of the value of Maine’s fisheries, and support not only the fishermen, but also the boat builders, mechanics, bait sellers and local tourist industry. The economies of the northernmost counties in Maine are 90 percent dependent on lobstering.

The Maine mapping project has applied for $750,000 over three years from NASA. The final price tag is expected to be around $1 million.

The post Why Scientists Are Making A Map Of The World’s Lobsters appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Shell, Adidas, And 70 Other Companies Call On Governments To Cap Carbon At 1 Trillion Tons

Feed Burner - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 13:39

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Royal Dutch Shell, Adidas, Unilever, and some 70 other companies released a communiqué urging world governments to keep carbon emissions since the industrial revolution to a cumulative of 1 trillion metric tons. This is the emissions cap needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which for the first time calls for a trillion ton cap. We have already surpassed the halfway mark and are somewhere around 578,935,750,000 tonnes of carbon at the moment. If the current rate of emissions keeps up, the limit will be passed within three decades.

The statement was released by the Prince Charles’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, a group of companies brought together by the heir to the British throne and managed by the University of Cambridge. The statement is asking for a timeline to reduce emissions to net zero by 2100. It also states that “we will have to reformulate our relationship with energy and completely transform our energy system, including energy used in transport and heavy industrial processes.”

They cite President Obama’s call to end U.S. public financing for new coal-fired power plants overseas and the World Bank and the European Investment Bank similar announcements as evidence of a growing international effort to limit emissions.

This recent communiqué is the seventh from the group, with the first coming at the U.N. climate negotiations in Bali in 2007. In 2012, they called for a clear, global carbon price. Over 1,000 companies from more than 60 countries have signed up to at least one of the communiqués, with 2014 seeing the launch of the Trillion Tonne Communiqué.

Coalitions such as this one or the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) represent powerful voices from influential emitters, but their ability to enact actual change comes far less from words and more from actions. Shell is also a member of the USCAP, which calls for emission reduction targets for total U.S. emissions of 80 percent — 86 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. According to Shell’s website, they reduced direct GHG emissions from facilities they operate by just under three percent from 2011 to 2012, to 72 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent — which is approximately the total carbon emissions of Chile in 2010.

A study last year found that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution. These companies, which include Shell, Chevron, Exxon, and other oil and gas companies have the power to do more than endorse government action, but in many cases they fail to do so — continuing to pursue the most profitable path forward. Last week Exxon became the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. In the report the company acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses, but determined that it was unlikely that governments would adopt low-carbon rules and regulations that would impact their bottom line in the coming decades.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and influential climate activist, saw this as a dare for government action, writing an op-ed in the Guardian accusing Exxon of saying “We plan on overheating the planet, we think we have the political muscle to keep doing it, and we dare you to stop it.”

The post Shell, Adidas, And 70 Other Companies Call On Governments To Cap Carbon At 1 Trillion Tons appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Shindell: On constraining the Transient Climate Response

Real Climate - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 12:25

Guest commentary from Drew Shindell

There has been a lot of discussion of my recent paper in Nature Climate Change (Shindell, 2014). That study addressed a puzzle, namely that recent studies using the observed changes in Earth’s surface temperature suggested climate sensitivity is likely towards the lower end of the estimated range. However, studies evaluating model performance on key observed processes and paleoclimate evidence suggest that the higher end of sensitivity is more likely, partially conflicting with the studies based on the recent transient observed warming. The new study shows that climate sensitivity to historical changes in the abundance of aerosol particles in the atmosphere is larger than the sensitivity to CO2, primarily because the aerosols are largely located near industrialized areas in the Northern Hemisphere middle and high latitudes where they trigger more rapid land responses and strong snow & ice feedbacks. Therefore studies based on observed warming have underestimated climate sensitivity as they did not account for the greater response to aerosol forcing, and multiple lines of evidence are now consistent in showing that climate sensitivity is in fact very unlikely to be at the low end of the range in recent estimates.

In particular, a criticism of the paper written by Nic Lewis has gotten some attention. Lewis makes a couple of potentially interesting points, chief of which concern the magnitude and uncertainty in the aerosol forcing I used and the time period over which the calculation is done, and I address these issues here. There are also a number of less substantive points in his piece that I will not bother with.

Lewis states that “The extensive adjustments made by Shindell to the data he uses are a source of concern. One of those adjustments is to add +0.3 W/m² to the figures used for model aerosol forcing to bring the estimated model aerosol forcing into line with the AR5 best estimate of -0.9 W/m².” Indeed the estimate of aerosol forcing used in the calculation of transient climate response (TCR) in the paper does not come directly from climate models, but instead incorporates an adjustment to those models so that the forcing better matches the assessed estimates from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). An adjustment is necessary because as climate models are continually evaluated against observations evidence has become emerged that the strength of their aerosol-cloud interactions are too strong (i.e. the models’ ‘aerosol indirect effect’ is larger than inferred from observations). There have been numerous papers on this topic and this issue was thoroughly assessed in IPCC AR5 chapter 7. The assessed best estimate was that the historical negative aerosol forcing (radiation and cloud effects, but not black carbon on snow/ice) was too strong by about 0.3 Wm-2 in the models that included that effect, a conclusion very much in line with a prior publication on climate sensitivity by Otto et al. (2013). Given numerous scientific studies on this topic, there is ample support for the conclusion that models overestimate the magnitude of aerosol forcing, though the uncertainty in aerosol forcing (which is incorporated into the analysis in the paper) is large, especially in comparison with CO2 forcing which can be better constrained by observations.

The second substantive point Lewis raised relates to the time period over which the TCR is evaluated. The IPCC emphasizes forcing estimates relative to 1750 since most of the important anthropogenic impacts are thought to have been small at that time (biomass burning may be an exception, but appears to have a relatively small net forcing). Surface temperature observations become sparser going back further in time, however, and the most widely used datasets only go back to 1880 or 1850. Radiative forcing, especially that due to aerosols, is highly uncertain for the period 1750-1850 as there is little modeling and even less data to constrain those models. The AR5 gives a value for 1850 aerosol forcing (relative to 1750) (Annex II, Table AII.1.2) of -0.178 W/m² for direct+indirect (radiation+clouds). There is also a BC snow forcing of 0.014 W/m², for a total of -0.164 W/m². While these estimates are small, they are nonetheless very poorly constrained.

Hence there are two logical choices for an analysis of TCR. One could assume that there was minimal global mean surface temperature change between 1750 and 1850, as some datasets suggest, and compare the 1850-2000 temperature change with the full 1750-2000 forcing estimate, as in my paper and Otto et al. In this case, aerosol forcing over 1750-2000 is used.

Alternatively, one could assume we can estimate forcing during this early period realistically enough to remove if from the longer 1750-2000 estimates, and so compare forcing and response over 1850-2000. In this case, this must be done for all forcings, not just for the aerosols. The well-mixed greenhouse gas forcing in 1850 is 0.213 W/m². Including well-mixed solar and stratospheric water that becomes 0.215 W/m². LU and ozone almost exactly cancel one another. So to adjust from 1750-2000 to 1850-2000 forcings, one must remove 0.215 W/m² and also remove the -0.164 W/m² aerosol forcing, multiplying the latter by it’s impact relative to that of well-mixed greenhouse gases (~1.5) that gives about -0.25 W/m².

If this is done consistently, the denominator of the climate sensitivity calculation containing total forcing barely changes and hence the TCR results are essentially the same (a change of only 0.03°C). Lewis’ claim that the my TCR results are mistaken because they did not account for 1750-1850 aerosol forcing is incorrect because he fails to use consistent time periods for all forcing agents. The results are in fact quite robust to either analysis option provided they are done consistently.

Lewis also discusses the uncertainty in aerosol forcing and in the degree to which the response to aerosols are enhanced relative to the response to CO2. Much of this discussion follows a common pattern of looking through the peer-reviewed paper to find all the caveats and discussion points, and then repeating them back as if they undermine the paper’s conclusions rather than reflecting that they are uncertainties that were already taken into account. It is important to realize that the results presented in the paper include both the uncertainty in the aerosol forcing and the uncertainty in the enhancement of the response to aerosol forcing, as explicitly stated. Hence any statement that the uncertainty is underestimated in the results presented in the paper, due to the fact that (included) uncertainty in these two components is large, is groundless.

In fact, this is an important issue to keep in mind as Lewis also argues that the climate models do not provide good enough information to determine the value of the enhanced aerosol response (the parameter I call E in the paper, where E is the ratio of the global mean temperature response to aerosol forcing versus the response to the same global mean magnitude of CO2 forcing, so that E=1.5 would be a 50% stronger response to aerosols). While the models indeed are imperfect and have uncertainties, they provide the best available method we have to determine the value of E as this cannot be isolated from observations directly. Furthermore, basic physical understanding supports the modeled value of E being substantially greater than 1, as deep oceans clearly take longer to respond than the land surface, so the Northern Hemisphere, with most of the world’s land, will respond more rapidly than the Southern Hemisphere with more ocean. Quantifying the value of E accurately is difficult, and the variation across the models is substantial, primarily reflecting our incomplete knowledge of aerosol forcing. This leads to a range of E quoted in the paper of 1.18 to 2.43. I used this range, assuming a lognormal distribution, along with the mean value of 1.53, in the calculation for the TCR.

Lewis then argues that the large uncertainty ranges in E and in aerosol forcing make it the TCR estimates “worthless”. While “worthless” is a little strong, it is important to fully assess uncertainties in trying to constrain any properties in the real world. It’s worthwhile to note that Lewis co-authored a recent report claiming that TCR could in fact be constrained to be low. That report relies on studies that include the large aerosol forcing uncertainty, so criticizing my paper for that would be inconsistent. However, Lewis’ study assumed that all forcings induce the same response in global mean temperature as CO2. This is equivalent to assuming that E is exactly 1.0 with NO uncertainty whatsoever. This is a reasonable first guess in the absence of evidence to the contrary, but as my paper recently showed, there is evidence to indicate that assumption is biased.

But while Lewis argues that the uncertainty in E is large and climate models do not give the value as accurately as we’d like, that does not justify ignoring that uncertainty entirely. Instead, we need to characterize that uncertainty as best we can and propagate that through the calculation (as can be seen in the figure below). The real question is not whether climate models provide us perfect information (they do not), but rather whether they provide better information than some naïve prior assumption. In this case, it is clear that they do.



Figure shows representative probability distribution functions for TCR using the numbers from Shindell (2014) in a Monte Carlo calculation (Gaussian for Fghg and dTobs, lognormal fits for the skewed distributions for Faerosol+ozone+LU and E). The green line is if you assume exactly no difference between the effects of aerosols and GHGs; Red is if you estimate that difference using climate models; Dashed red is the small difference made by using a different start date (1850 instead of 1750).

This highlights the critical distinction in our reasoning: I fully support the basic methods used in prior work such as Otto et al and have simply quantified an additional physical factor in the existing methodology. I am however confused that Lewis, on one hand, appears to now object to the basic method used in prior work in which the authors first adjusted aerosol forcing, second included it’s uncertainty, and then finally quantified estimates of TCR, Yet on the other hand, he not only co-authored the Otto et al paper but released a report praising that study just three days before the publication of my paper.

For completeness, I should acknowledge that Lewis correctly identified a typo in the last row of the first column of Table S2, which has been corrected in the version posted where there is also access to the computer codes used in the calculations. The climate model output itself is already publicly available at the CMIP5 website (also linked at that page).

Finally, I note that the conclusions of the paper send a sobering message. It would be nice if sensitivity was indeed quite low and society could get away with smaller emission cuts to stabilize climate. Unfortunately, several lines of independent evidence now agree that this is not the case.

References
  1. D.T. Shindell, "Inhomogeneous forcing and transient climate sensitivity", Nature Climate change, vol. 4, pp. 274-277, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2136
  2. A. Otto, F.E.L. Otto, O. Boucher, J. Church, G. Hegerl, P.M. Forster, N.P. Gillett, J. Gregory, G.C. Johnson, R. Knutti, N. Lewis, U. Lohmann, J. Marotzke, G. Myhre, D. Shindell, B. Stevens, and M.R. Allen, "Energy budget constraints on climate response", Nature Geosci, vol. 6, pp. 415-416, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1836
Categories: Blogtastic

Loved to Death

George Monbiot Blog - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 07:00

By embracing their critics and colonising governments, corporations engineer a world of conformity and consumerism.


By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th April 2014

How do you engineer a bland, depoliticised world, a consensus built around consumption and endless growth, a dreamworld of materialism and debt and atomisation, in which all relations can be prefixed with a dollar sign, in which we cease to fight for change? You delegate your powers to companies whose profits depend on this model.

Power is shifting: to places in which we have no voice or vote. Domestic policies are forged by special advisers and spin doctors, by panels and advisory committees stuffed with lobbyists. The self-hating state withdraws its own authority to regulate and direct. Simultaneously, the democratic vacuum at the heart of global governance is being filled – without anything resembling consent – by international bureaucrats and corporate executives. The NGOs permitted, often as an afterthought, to join them intelligibly represent neither civil society nor electorates. (And please spare me that guff about consumer democracy or shareholder democracy: in both cases some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to press for change).

To me, the giant consumer goods company Unilever, with which I clashed over the issue of palm oil a few days ago(1), symbolises these shifting relationships. I can think of no entity that has done more to blur the lines between the role of the private sector and the role of the public sector. If you blotted out its name while reading its web pages, you could mistake it for an agency of the United Nations.

It seems to have representation almost everywhere. Its people inhabit (to name a few) the British government’s Ecosystem Markets Taskforce and Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the G8′s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the World Food Programme, the Global Green Growth Forum, the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition programme, its Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Global Compact and High Level Panel on global development.

Sometimes Unilever uses this power well. Its efforts to reduce its own use of energy and water and its production of waste, and to project these changes beyond its own walls, look credible and impressive(2). Sometimes its initiatives look to me like self-serving bullshit.

Its “Dove self-esteem project”, for example, claims to be “helping millions of young people to improve their self-esteem through educational programmes”(3). One of its educational videos maintains that beauty “couldn’t be more critical to your happiness”(4), which is surely the belief that trashes young people’s self-esteem in the first place. But of course you can recover it by plastering yourself with Dove-branded gloop: Unilever reports that 82% of women in Canada who are aware of its project “would be more likely to purchase Dove.”(5)

Sometimes it seems to play both ends of the game. For example, it says it is reducing the amount of salt and fat and sugar in its processed foods. But it also hosted and chaired, before the last election, the Conservative Party’s public health commission, which was seen by health campaigners as an excuse for avoiding effective action on obesity, poor diets and alcohol abuse(6). This body helped to purge government policy of such threats as further advertising restrictions and the compulsory traffic light labelling of sugar, salt and fat.

The commission then produced a “responsibility deal”, between government and business, on the board of which Unilever still sits(7). Under this deal, the usual relationship between lobbyists and government is reversed. The corporations draft government policy, which is then sent to civil servants for comment(8). Regulation is replaced by voluntarism. The Guardian has named Unilever as one of the companies that refused to sign the deal’s voluntary pledge on calorie reduction(9).

This is not to suggest that everything these panels and alliances and boards and forums propose is damaging. But as the development writer Lou Pingeot points out, their analysis of the world’s problems is partial and self-serving, casting corporations as the saviours of the world’s people, but never mentioning their role in causing many of the problems (financial crisis, land grabbing, tax loss, obesity, malnutrition, climate change, habitat destruction, poverty, insecurity) they claim to address(10). Most of their proposed solutions either require passivity from governments (poverty will be solved by wealth trickling down through a growing economy) or the creation of a more friendly environment for business.

At their best, these corporate-dominated panels are mostly useless: preening sessions in which chief executives exercise their messiah complexes. At their worst, they are a means by which global companies reshape politics in their own interests, universalising – in the name of conquering want and exploitation – their exploitative business practices.

Almost every political agent – including some of the NGOs which once opposed them – is in danger of being loved to death by these companies. In February the Guardian signed a seven-figure deal with Unilever, which, the paper claimed, is “centred on the shared values of sustainable living and open storytelling”(11). The deal launched an initiative called Guardian Labs, which will help brands find “more engaging ways to tell their story”(12). The Guardian points out that it applies guidelines to such sponsorship deals to ensure editorial independence(13).

I recognise and regret the fact that all newspapers depend for their survival on corporate money (advertising and sponsorship probably now account, in most cases, for 70% of their income). But this, to me, looks like another step down the primrose path. As the environmental campaigner Peter Gerhardt puts it, companies like Unilever “try to stakeholderise every conflict”(14). By this, I think, he means that they embrace their critics, involving them in a dialogue that is open in the sense that a lobster pot is open, breaking down critical distance and identity until no one knows who they are any more.

Yes, I would prefer that companies were like Unilever, rather than like Goldman Sachs or Cargill or Exxon, in that it seems to have a keen sense of what a responsible company should do, even if it doesn’t always do it. But it would be better still if governments and global bodies stopped delegating their powers to corporations. They do not represent us and they have no right to run our lives.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. https://twitter.com/Unilever/status/449209083833630721

2. Unilever, April 2013. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Progress Report 2012. http://www.unilever.com/images/USLP-Progress-Report-2012-FI_tcm13-352007.pdf

3. As above.

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk

5. Unilever, April 2013. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Progress Report 2012. http://www.unilever.com/images/USLP-Progress-Report-2012-FI_tcm13-352007.pdf

6. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/12/government-health-deal-business

7. https://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/plenary-group-members/

8. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/12/government-health-deal-business

9. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/mar/18/obesity-health-and-food-industry-andrew-lansley

10. Lou Pingeot, January 2014. Corporate influence in the Post-2015 process. Bischöfliches Hilfswerk Misereor; Brot für die Welt and Global Policy Forum. http://www.globalpolicy.org/images/pdfs/GPFEurope/Corporate_influence_in_the_Post-2015_process_web.pdf

11. http://www.theguardian.com/gnm-press-office/guardian-launches-guardian-labs-with-unilever-partnership

12. http://www.theguardian.com/gnm-press-office/guardian-launches-guardian-labs-with-unilever-partnership

13. http://www.theguardian.com/sponsored-content

14. By email.

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PHOTOS: Southeast Hit By Heavy Rains, Major Flooding

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 21:43

Firefighters rescue a family from their home, surrounded by floodwaters, in a mobile home park in Pelham, Ala., on Monday, April 6, 2014. Overnight storms dumped torrential rains in central Alabama, causing flooding across a wide area.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jay Reeves

The Southeast was hit by heavy rains late Sunday and into Monday, causing major flooding in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and leading to the death of two people.

In Mississippi, where the storms started, 7 inches of rain has fallen over the last two days, and authorities say a 9-year-old girl died after being swept away by a flash flood. The storms moved east across Mississippi and into Alabama and Georgia Sunday night and into Monday, with about 4.4 inches of rain falling at the Birmingham airport in 24 hours. The rain also forced evacuations in Alabama, with about 24 residents being rescued from a neighborhood with nearly chest-high floodwaters. As of mid-afternoon, about 8,000 Alabama Power customers remained without power in the state.

An abandoned vehicle sits submerged by floodwaters on a road in a mobile home park in Pelham, Ala., on Monday, April 6, 2014. Storms dumped torrential rains in central Alabama overnight, causing flooding across the region.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jay Reeves

In Georgia, a flooded river in Gwinnett County swept away a car, killing its driver. Local media outlets documented some of the most extreme flooding in the state:


RT @EricaByfieldWSB This picture says it all. Woodward Way is closed. North West Atl flooding. #StormWatchOn2 #wsbtv pic.twitter.com/y3R7vKzJvL

— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) April 7, 2014


Yikes! @DuffieDixon just caught this pic of SUV almost submerged on Woodward Way! #weather http://t.co/IGgv7atz4e pic.twitter.com/nucVGU5tCo

— 11Alive News (@11AliveNews) April 7, 2014


Woodward Way in Atlanta flooded, closed. #weather #11Alive pic.twitter.com/kAtZlgXeer

— Julie Wolfe 11Alive (@JulieWolfe) April 7, 2014


It's our high water benchmark. When homes in Vinings are surrounded by the Chattahoochee. #wsbtv pic.twitter.com/jlvUiHmlHe

— Ross Cavitt | WSB-TV (@RossCavittWSB) April 7, 2014

The rain also forced the Augusta National Golf Club to cancel the first day of the Masters tournament, just a few hours after practice began. It was the first time in 11 years that the first day was cancelled due to rain.

Spectators walk off the course after play was suspended because of severe weather during the first day of practice for the Masters golf tournament Monday, April 7, 2014, in Augusta, Ga.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Parts of the Southeast also experienced a record-breaking summer of rainfall, with several Southeast cities experiencing their wettest Julys on record. Atlanta surpassed the city’s average yearly rainfall in August, and the heavy rain took a major toll on southern produce.

Science has shown that extreme rainfall events are happening more frequently in the U.S. and are likely to become even more frequent as the climate warms.

The post PHOTOS: Southeast Hit By Heavy Rains, Major Flooding appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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How Climate Change Can Make Food Less Nutritious

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 20:05

CREDIT: Shutterstock

A new field test by researchers in California appears to confirm that humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions could decrease the nutritional value of crops, further threatening future food security.

Over the last two decades, agricultural research facilities in the United States and around the world have been running experiments in which a set up of pipes in a crop field pumps out carbon dioxide. The goal is to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air immediately around the crops, thus simulating atmospheric conditions if humanity keeps burning fossil fuels and releasing large amounts of CO2.

The new study — done by researchers out of the University of California at Davis — took preserved wheat samples from those experiments and ran chemical tests on them that weren’t available at the time. It showed that the protein content of the wheat grown with increased atmospheric CO2 was lower than that of wheat grown under normal conditions. Protein, in turn, is a crucial part of a food crop’s nutritional value to humans. Wheat alone provides one-fourth of all the protein consumed in the global human diet.

In other words, if we were all living off crops grown under the higher CO2 levels, we’d have to eat more of them to get the same nutritional value we’re getting now.

“When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 percent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades,” said Arnold Bloom, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, and the study’s lead author.

Previous laboratory experiments, many also conducted by Bloom and his team, gave the same result. But the new test is the first one carried on on crops actually grown in the field.

To explain the drop in protein and nutritional value: plants grow by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then combining it with the nutrients they take in from the soil to create the building material for new growth. Oxygen is leftover by the process, and plants then release it back into the atmosphere. It’s a process called photosynthesis, and it’s led to claims that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would actually benefit plantlife and crop production by boosting growth.

Historical records show humanity’s emissions have already driven atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations up by about 40 percent — and on their current path they could add another 40 to 140 percent by the end of this century. Meanwhile, the tests by Bloom and others did show a boost in plant growth of about 13 percent.

The catch is that the higher levels of carbon dioxide also changed the plants’ chemical processes. Assimilating more CO2 left less room for nitrogen, a key component in protein formation. Growth rates went up, but nutritional value went down.

Global warming and the resulting climate change already threaten global crops, thanks to changes in rainfall patterns, more droughts, more heatwaves, and stronger storms. So add changing plant metabolism to yet another way humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions could upend our food supplies over the course of this century.

Bloom said increased use of heavy nitrogen fertilizer could counteract the lack of nitrogen intake. But that solution comes with its own problems. It makes crop production more expensive, it can contaminate underground freshwater supplies, the nitrous oxide produced by the decay of excess fertilizer is a potent greenhouse gas in its own right, and fertilizer runoff causes other forms of environmental damage like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The post How Climate Change Can Make Food Less Nutritious appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Group Says Keystone XL Would Disproportionately Harm Latinos

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 19:28

Thousands of protestors gather at the National Mall in Washington calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, as well as act to limit carbon pollution from power plants and “move beyond” coal and natural gas, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

If President Obama gives the green light to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Hispanics will be the ones who suffer, a leading Latino political organizing group said Thursday.

The 300,000-member group, Presente.org, is calling on President Obama to reject the pipeline, which would bring Canadian tar sands oil down to refineries in nearby Texas and Louisiana cities. According to Presente executive director Arturo Carmona, the communities that surround those refineries are largely Latino, meaning any accident involving the heavy crude oil would disproportionately impact Hispanic families.

Carmona also said Keystone XL’s potential contribution to climate change would harm Latinos, as those communities tend to be heavily concentrated in coastal and drought-stricken areas of the United States that are more susceptible to damage from climate-related events.

“It’s very important to us that Latinos and Latino voices are involved and critical of these decisions, particularly around Keystone XL” Carmona told ThinkProgress. “Our communities are most threatened by rising sea levels and other issues raised by climate change.”

Potential Keystone XL refineries.

CREDIT: Priceofoil.org

If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would have the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. Those include refineries located in both Houston and Baytown, Texas. Those cities are in Harris County, which has a Hispanic population of 1.73 million — the second largest Hispanic population in the United States.

The other cities that house potential Keystone XL refineries — Port Arthur and Nederland, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana — have smaller, but still significant Latino populations. According to 2010 Census information, Latinos in Port Arthur make up 29.58 of the population, and Nederland has a Hispanic population of 10.66 percent. Lake Charles is only 2.87 percent Latino.

Carmona says that his group — the largest online Latino organizing group in the country — announced its opposition to the pipeline to try and get a response from the Obama administration. The President has generally received high approval ratings from Hispanic voters, but according to March stastics from the Pew Research Center, support has been slipping in recent months.

“One of the things that we’re concerned about [is] that we have not seen, insofar as I’ve been able to analyze, the administration make a concerted effort to address these concerns,” Carmona said.

Climate change and environmental issues are huge for Latino voters. Recent polling from the National Resources Defense Council found that the issues were almost as important as immigration, with 9 out of 10 respondents favoring taking action on climate change.

Out of more than 800 Latino voters surveyed, 92 percent supported calling for more use of renewable energy and 87 percent agreed that there should be limits on power plant pollution. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said that it was “extremely to very important” for the government to tackle air pollution, and 75 percent said it was “extremely to very important” for the government to take action on climate change.

Latinos have good reason to care about the health effects of pollution. About half the nation’s Latino population lives in regions that often violate clean air rules, and Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups, according to the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Poor Latinos are particularly at risk. According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, nearly one in four low-income Hispanic or Puerto-Rican children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with asthma, compared to about one in 13 middle-class or wealthy white children.

The post Group Says Keystone XL Would Disproportionately Harm Latinos appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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PHOTOS: Flash Floods Devastate Solomon Islands

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 16:38

CREDIT: A.P. Images

At least 19 people are dead and another 40 remain missing after devastating flash floods struck the Solomon Islands late last week. Another 49,000 people have been left homeless by the rising waters and over a dozen bridges have been washed out.

The floods were caused by a slow moving low pressure weather system that dumped rain on the islands on Thursday, causing major rivers in cities to burst their banks and inundate surrounding areas. The Mataniko River, which runs through the heart of the capital city, Honiara, pulled dozens of houses into the floodwaters and brought down a bridge as it overflowed its banks.

A bridge is seen collapsed after flooding in west Guadalcanal Solomon Islands.

CREDIT: A.P. Images

That weather system has since been upgraded to tropical cyclone Ita and could bring severe weather to parts of the Philippines still rebuilding after Hurricane Haiyan.

To add to the misery of islanders and the difficulty of the recovery effort a 6.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the region late Friday.

“This is unprecedented, and I’ve seen earthquakes and tsunamis and other very bad flooding incidents,” Katie Greenwood, country director of Oxfam told the Guardian.“But this flash flooding is unlike anything that I’ve seen previously here in the country.”

Buildings are surrounded by mud and flood waters on the Guadalcanal Plains, Solomon Islands.

CREDIT: A.P. Images

Aid workers have described watching children swept away by the flood waters.

On Saturday Australia pledged $250,000 to the Solomon government to help with relief efforts. Australia had already promised $50,000 in aid. New Zealand has also donated $300,000.

As cleanup and rescue efforts continue in the days and weeks to come, international aid organizations are warning of a potential public health crisis.

People with rainwear and umbrellas cross a bridge over the flooded Mataniko River in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

CREDIT: A.P. Images

“Thousands of people are living in schools and other cramped conditions with poor sanitation and relying on rainwater for drinking,” Save the Children’s emergencies manager Graham Kenna told the AFP. “We expect an outbreak of dengue fever in two weeks.”

Diarrhea and eye infections are already becoming a problem in crowded relief shelters.

The main international airport reopened on Sunday after debris and the two houses that had washed up on the runway were finally cleared away.

In the latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Solomon Islands were highlighted along with other Pacific islands as areas at particular risk from climate change and sea level rise. In 2008, massive floods displaced 63,000 people in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Over half a million people call the Solomon Islands home.

The post PHOTOS: Flash Floods Devastate Solomon Islands appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Fox News Was Accurate On Climate Science Just 28 Percent Of The Time In 2013

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 16:01

None of the three major cable news networks have a perfect record on portraying climate science, but Fox News was the most inaccurate of all in 2013, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked at segments on the cable networks’ prominent evening and weekend programs that mentioned “global warming” or “climate change” in 2013. Researchers found that segments on MSNBC were the most accurate, with just 8 percent of the segments containing misleading statements about the science behind climate change. CNN was next in terms of accuracy, with 30 percent of segments containing misleading statements, and Fox was last, with 72 percent of segments containing misinformation or misrepresentations of climate science.

CREDIT: Union of Concerned Scientists

The nature of the misleading statements differed from station to station, with CNN’s inaccuracy growing from debate guests who doubted certain aspects of climate science, such as the relationship between climate change and extreme weather. Fox hosts and guests, on the other hand, would more often accuse climate scientists of hiding or misrepresenting data, and were also more likely to state outright that climate change was not occurring. Accurate coverage of climate science on Fox came primarily from Special Report with Bret Baier and The O’Reilly Factor, and despite being the least-accurate of the three networks according to the report, Fox’s 28 percent accuracy rating is an increase from a 2012 UCS report, which found that Fox was accurate just 7 percent of the time.

MSNBC contained misleading coverage from the opposite side of the spectrum, with hosts sometimes overstating how fast sea levels are rising or making links between things that aren’t yet scientifically known, such as climate change’s effects on tornadoes.

Aaron Huertas, science communications officer at UCS, told ThinkProgress that the differences in accuracy among the networks were largely a result of sourcing. When CNN did have accurate coverage, they relied on federal and academic scientists, with their misleading coverage coming mostly from debates that featured ideological guests.

“For CNN, I was surprised to see so many segments in which people were still arguing about whether or not climate science is valid,” Huertas said in an email. “The basic science on climate change is as clear as the science linking smoking to lung disease; there’s no reason to have debates about whether or not that science is valid, even if there are still some people who reject the science for ideological reasons.”

The report focused on accuracy of coverage, but it also uncovered another discrepancy among the cable networks: MSNBC covered climate change more often than CNN or Fox did. The report noted 132 MSNBC evening and weekend segments that mentioned climate science in 2013, while Fox had 50 segments mentioning climate science and CNN had 43. Huertas said that Chris Hayes’s two shows on MSNBC had nearly as many segments that discussed climate science as all the CNN shows looked at by the report. But Huertas said ultimately he was more interested in whether the networks got climate science right when they did mention it than how much they covered it in total. When a network covers climate science but does so inaccurately, it can be just as unhelpful as not covering it at all — a point illustrated by the news of last week’s IPCC report, which Fox covered for more than 5 minutes (compared to CNN’s one minute, eight seconds) but which it called a waste of time.

“We can disagree — heartily — on how to respond to the facts, but reality is reality,” Huertas said. “CNN could host more debates about policy and drop debates on established science. Fox News could do more to differentiate between political opposition to climate policy and rejection of climate science. MSNBC has proven it can cover nuanced science accurately, so it could do more to curtail the occasional segments in which hosts or guests overstate the effects of climate change.”

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment in time for publication.

The post Fox News Was Accurate On Climate Science Just 28 Percent Of The Time In 2013 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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U.K.’s Leading Political Party To Pledge Ban On New Onshore Wind Farms

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 15:47

Wind Farm on Ovenden moor in Yorkshire, UK

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The United Kingdom’s largest political party will soon promise to indefinitely ban new onshore wind farms after the year 2020, according to a report in the Guardian.

The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, will pledge to halt approvals of new onshore wind farms in exchange for a larger focus on more solar power and offshore wind, the Guardian reported. The positions will be released in the party’s official manifesto, a document which lays out key issues and views of the party’s leader.

The main argument against onshore wind — held by some, but not all members of the Conservative party — is that they are unsightly, a “blot” in an otherwise pristine countryside. Opponents also argue that government subsidies for onshore wind farms increase household bills.

Increased support for solar power and offshore wind investments will reportedly be included in the manifesto as well, as “an attempt to show that David Cameron is not abandoning the green agenda,” the Guardian reported.

“We are not going to allow the Lib Dems to characterize us as anti-clean-energy just because we want to control the number of onshore windfarms,” a senior Conservative party member told the site. “If anything we are mindful that uncontrolled expansion of onshore wind is alienating people from the whole clean energy debate. We think it is self-defeating.”

The U.K. has, as of recently, been a confusing place in the world of combating climate change through clean energy investments. When he took office, Cameron promised “the greenest government ever” — though his subsequent actions have caused critics to dispute this claim.

Skepticism brewed, for example, when Cameron last year appointed known climate denier Owen Paterson as his Environment Secretary. In addition, Cameron’s government in December announced generous tax breaks to the hydraulic fracturing industry, just one day after touting a green energy investment strategy that it said would bring $65 billion in renewable energy investment to the country. Treasury Chancellor George Osborne, who announced the fracking tax breaks, has for more than a year said the U.K. shouldn’t lead the world in reducing pollution from fossil fuels.

And in November, the Sun reported that Cameron had ordered his aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills in an attempt to bring down costs. Cameron has denied the claim.

The Conservative Party’s anticipated pledge to increase solar power will also likely come with a condition — that they do not become as ugly as opponents say onshore wind farms are. Cameron’s energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, also a Conservative, on Friday announced separately that solar farms must not “spread unrestricted across the countryside,” according to a Guardian report.

Panels, Barker said, should instead be installed on top of homes, businesses, and other buildings.

“I do not want solar farms to become the new onshore wind,” Barker told the Guardian. “Solar power enjoys huge popularity, so we have to be careful. I do not want to see unrestricted growth of solar farms in the British countryside.”

The U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has already taken steps to restrict growth of both solar and onshore wind, in December announcing that it would cut government aid to both industries. That same announcement, though, included a plan to increase subsidies for companies that invest in offshore wind, hydro, and geothermal power. With those subsidies, the DECC said it expects an extra 2 gigawatts of wind capacity by 2020.

The government’s carbon budget mandates Britain to cut greenhouse gases 34 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.

The post U.K.’s Leading Political Party To Pledge Ban On New Onshore Wind Farms appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Butterfly Becomes Fastest Of Its Kind To Adapt To Climate Change

Feed Burner - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 13:28

The quino checkerspot butterfly

CREDIT: William Ostheimer/USFWS

One butterfly species has come back from the brink of extinction and is beginning to quickly adapt to warmer weather, new research has found.

The research, outlined in the Guardian and presented at the Butterfly Conservation’s international symposium, found that the quino checkerspot butterfly has both shifted its range to higher, cooler altitudes and has chosen an entirely new plant on which to lay its eggs. The butterfly, which lives in Mexico and California, was once prevalent, but habitat loss did a number on some colonies and climate change reduced a staple plant of the caterpillars’ diet, leading to more dropoff in butterfly numbers. Six years ago, scientists wondered whether the butterfly should be moved by humans to cooler climates, but the quino ended up not needing human help to adapt to climate change.

“Every butterfly biologist who knew anything about the quino in the mid-1990s thought it would be extinct by now, including me,” Camille Parmesan, professor at the Marine Sciences Institute at Plymouth University, told the Guardian.

Parmesan said that while the butterfly’s movement is encouraging to scientists who are trying to figure out how to save species from a warming climate, it also points to the need for habitat protection. If the butterflies — and potentially other species — adapt quickly enough to move to higher altitudes, it’s essential that healthy environments exist in those altitudes in which the butterflies can settle. It’s also essential that these species have corridors by which to move to higher altitudes, so that they can avoid getting killed by roads or long stretches of developed land.

“We have to give these species the space to adapt,” Parmesan said. “In the early days of climate change people worried that nature reserves would be no longer useful because the species they protected would move out. Now we know that new species move in, and so they are more important than ever.”

Scientists believe the quino checkerspot is the first butterfly species to change habitat and diet so quickly, but it’s not the only species to be forced to adapt to climate change. A 2013 study found that, while trees aren’t moving northward as quickly as scientists expected, they’re instead speeding up their lifecycles, causing younger trees to replace older trees at a higher rate. Certain desert plants, on the other hand, have migrated surprisingly far upslope in response to warmer, drier temperatures, with some moving more than 800 feet from their 1963 lowermost boundaries. One 2011 study found that on average, plants and animals have shifted their habitats uphill at a rate of 36 feet per decade and moved to higher latitudes at a rate of 10 miles per decade.

Other species aren’t adapting so quickly, however. The migration patterns of many butterfly species are being altered by earlier and warmer springs — something that’s happening to some bird species as well. This altered migration timing could lead to mismatches in food and weather conditions for the migrating species, with food sources that were traditionally available at a migration end point hatching or blooming too early for the birds or butterflies to consume. Falcon chicks and penguin chicks are also struggling to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, including heavy rains and storms and warmer-than-usual weather.

The post Butterfly Becomes Fastest Of Its Kind To Adapt To Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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