Tidal Warming, Ctd

A reader provides a much different take on oceans heating up:

I’ve been long bothered about how climate scientists and pundits have been stretching the truth a bit on the effects of global warming, and in trying to “win” the news cycle. The latest is the narrative about 2014 being the warmest on record. Now, I’m not going to harp about whether statistically speaking it’s the warmest or not, because to be honest, I think it’s somewhat irrelevant. Let me be clear: the Earth is warming. It is going to be a problem someday. We have good reasons to decarbonize our economy even if that weren’t the case.

However, some of the things being said just drive me nuts. First off, I should mention that I’m a meteorologist. I’m a weather forecaster. I’m not a climate scientist, so I’m not an expert on this. But I have been interested in the subject for over 15 years.

First, regarding that this is an El Niño neutral year. This is true. By a technicality. For NOAA to call an El Niño, it requires the temperature in a certain section (the Niño 3.4 region) of the tropical Pacific to be greater than 0.5 degrees Celsius more than average, for a period of 5 months. Here’s what we’ve had:

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You can see that the Niño 3.4 region was warm … nearly El Niño criteria for much of the first half of the year, and near or above the criteria over the last several months. But not quite breaking it. Further west, in the Niño 4 region, it was quite a bit warmer. So yes, technically not an El Nino year, but almost.

In addition, that assumes that we’re looking at classical El Niño. Recently there’s been research on a 2nd flavor of El Niño, called El Niño Modoki, which has the warm water focused on the central Pacific, rather than the “classical” eastern Pacific. The interesting thing is that El Niño Modoki has actually been the dominant type of El Niño since the early ’90s, and there’s research that indicates that global warming may be the reason for that. I don’t have access to a current El Niño Modoki index, but eyeballing it, plus given that the weather patterns we’re experiencing are typical of an El Niño Modoki, make me thing that we could be seeing one.

But my point here is that the narrative that the record-breaking temperature was not enhanced by an El Niño is wrong. It’s only because it just barely missed the criteria. Several people, including Phil Plait, have used this record to state that there is no pause in global warming. They’re wrong. But just because there is a pause doesn’t mean that global warming has stopped.

Now, many people like to use 1998 as the start of the pause. I don’t. Because it’s cherry picking, as has been pointed out before. It’s taking an unusual spike in temperatures and using that as a start point. If you pretend that 1998 didn’t happen, you can see that temperatures continued to rise for several years afterwards.

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However, “warmists” are completely discounting that there are natural variations in climate. The IPCC acknowledges the existence of the pause. There are climate patterns that have periods on the order of 30-60 years. One is called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which is a pattern of sea surface temperature anomalies in the North Pacific. Recent shifts in this oscillation occurred in 1946, 1977, and 2006.

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A second is the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), which is something similar but for the Atlantic Ocean:

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The interesting thing is how these patterns correspond to changes in global average temperature.

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Global average temperature has periods where there is rapid rise, and then a plateau. We have the first rise, from roughly 1910 to the mid 1940s. This corresponds to the time where the PDO was neutral for a good chunk of time, but it then turned to the “warm” phase near the end. The AMO bottomed out in the early 1910s and then rose until peaking around 1950.

Then we have a bit of a drop and then a plateau in temperatures in the mid ’40s until the late ’70s. During this period the PDO had flipped to the “cold” phase, and the AMO was dropping.

Then in the late ’70s we get the rapid rise until the mid 2000s. The PDO had flipped to the “warm” phase, and the AMO was rising.

Finally we get to the start of our pause. The PDO flipped to the “cold” phase in 2006, and the AMO hit a plateau. Some people are denying that we’re in a pause. All I can say to them is look at that graph above. Would you be happy if your 401K had a chart that looked like that if you started in 2000?

It’s as if the contributions to global average temperature are roughly half and half between long natural cycles and man-made global warming, such that during periods when the natural cycles are warming, we get quick, alarming warming. But then during periods when those natural cycles are cooling, it’s enough to pretty much balance out the warming from CO2.

Now, yes, it’s only been 10 years for my definition of the pause. But my definition is based on actual physical processes, and not by cherry-picking a year. It is completely consistent with previous pauses and sudden rises. And even if we’re going to continue warming, the warming isn’t going to be anywhere near what it was like in the 1977-2006 period.

So what does this mean going ahead? Here’s what I think is going to happen.

The AMO will start to decrease in the next five years, and will probably bottom out in about 20 years. The PDO isn’t expected to switch until sometime in the 2030s. So I think that the pause (which still may result in slight warming) will continue until then. This prediction will be considered falsified if the increase in global average temperature over the next 5 years is greater than 0.10 C per decade.

I also think we’ve seen the bottoming out of the Arctic ice loss. We’ve started to see a recovery and I think it will continue. I’m not completely sure on that because the AMO hasn’t started to drop yet though. So I will consider this prediction falsified if we have two or more new minimums in Arctic ice in the next five years.

And then watch out, because our temps are going to start to spike and I suspect at a greater rate than the 1977-2006 period.

The bottom line is this: just because some of us think that a pause is in place doesn’t mean we’re deniers. It doesn’t mean that we don’t think it’s a problem. I do think we need better climate models that can handle these natural variations, but I think that’s coming. The longer the pause goes, the more scientists are going to realize the need for taking these natural variations into account.

Regarding the reader’s claim that “we’ve started to see a recovery” in Arctic ice, here’s his foil, Phil Plait, last September:

This time, in Sunday’s Mail Online, [David Rose] writes that Arctic sea ice, which hit a major record low in 2012, “has expanded for the second year in succession.” This claim is a humdinger, and typical denial double-speak. It’s technically true, but also really wrong. It’s like examining someone who has a 106° fever and saying it’s really made their skin glow. But what do you expect from an article that has this breathless headline:

Myth of arctic meltdown: Stunning satellite images show summer ice cap is thicker and covers 1.7million square kilometres MORE than 2 years ago…despite Al Gore’s prediction it would be ICE-FREE by now

“Myth of arctic meltdown” is enough to tell you just how slanted and wrong the conclusions of this article will be … and the inclusion of Al Gore’s name brings it home. Mentioning Gore is at best a distraction, red meat to the deniers. Gore isn’t a climate scientist, and as we well know actual climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the world is warming. One of the outcomes of this is the decline of Arctic sea ice.

Briefly: Arctic sea ice reaches a minimum in late September every year. The overall trend for the amount of ice at that time is decreasing; in other words, there is less ice all the time. Some years there is more than others, some less. But the trend is down, down, down.

In 2012, a mix of unusual causes created conditions where the minimum reached a record low, far below normal. The next year, in 2013, the ice didn’t reach quite so low a minimum extent, and this year looks very much the same as 2013. But saying the ice is “recovering” is, to put it delicately, what comes out the south end of a north-facing bull. You can’t compare two years with a record low the year before that was due to unusual circumstances; you have to look at the average over time.

Of course, if you do, your claims that global warming isn’t real melt away. I’m happy to provide that information. Here’s the Arctic ice extent graphed by the National Snow and Ice Data Center:


The black line is the average for 1981–2010. The gray region shows the ±2 standard deviation extent for that average; statistically speaking it’s an expected range of extent (it’s actually more subtle than that, but that’s enough to understand what’s going on here). The dashed line shows the 2012 ice extent, and is clearly very low, well outside the expected range. The brown line is 2013, and the light green line is this year, 2014, up to late August. Notice 2014 follows the year before pretty closely.

Note also they are well below average, near the bottom of the expected range. If you look at any recent year’s ice it’s below average; you have to go back to 2001 to find an ice extent near the average.

So the claim that the ice is “recovering” is made based on the wrong comparison. Compare the past two years to the overall trend and they fit in pretty well with overall decline.

Republicans Refuse To Save The Planet

Beutler passes along the above video, a “supercut of Republicans citing China as an excuse to ignore climate change.” His takeaway after watching it:

[T]he problems that climate pollution causes are real, and even the least accountable governments in the world understand that they need to be addressedeven if not for the purest, most idealistic reasons. Once you accept the alarming implications of climate science, then trying to avert them becomes ineluctable. And the only way to explain away how wrong conservatives were here is to conclude that they had actually internalized the view that climate change isn’t a big deal, and might just be a big hoax.

Kate Galbraith looks at how Republicans might derail Obama’s climate agenda:

If a Republican takes the White House in 2016, he or she could reverse or revise the executive orders that form the core of Obama’s climate push. And it’s going to be a hard fight even before the election: Republicans in Congress, newly empowered after recapturing the Senate this month, are already vowing to undercut the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is already plotting a way out of the U.S.-China deal. He immediately described it as a “non-binding charade.” He also vowed to do “everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.” Inhofe has limited direct leverage over the EPA, but the Senate could withhold appropriations to the agency.

Rebecca Leber marvels at Inhofe’s grandstanding:

“Why would China ever agree unilaterally to reduce its emissions when that’s the only way that they can produce electricity?” he later asked. “Right nowand I have talked to them before, I’ve talked to people from China who kind of smile. They laugh at us and say, ‘Wait a minute, you say that you’re going to believe us that we’re going to reduce our emissions? We applaud the United States. We want the United States to reduce its emissions, because if they do that, as the manufacturing base has to leave the United States looking for energy, they come to China.’ So it’s to their advantage to continue with their increases in emissions.”

In his speech, Inhofe called himself a “one-man truth squad”twice.

Chait is disheartened by the GOP response:

The Republican Party and its intellectual allies regard close analysis of Chinese internal motivations as a useless exercise. Conservatives oppose taxes or regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions, therefore they dismiss scientific conclusions that would justify such regulations, and therefore they also dismiss geopolitical analyses that would have the same effect. On the right, it is simply an a priori truth that nothing could persuade China to limit its emission. Obviously, the feasibility of a deal with China is far less certain than the scientific consensus undergirding anthropogenic global warming. What is parallel between the two is the certainty of conservative skepticism and imperviousness to contrary evidence. …

It would be nice to think that evidence like today’s pact would at least soften the GOP’s unyielding certainty about the absolute impossibility of a global climate accord. The near-total refusal of the right to reconsider its denial of the theory of anthropogenic global warming sadly suggests otherwise.

But Drum doesn’t think Republicans can stand in Obama’s way:

Unlike Obama’s threatened immigration rules, these are all things that have been in the pipeline for years. Obama doesn’t have to take any active steps to make them happen, and Republicans can’t pretend that any of them are a “poke in the eye,” or whatever the latest bit of post-election kvetching is. This stuff is as good as done, and second only to Obamacare, it’s right up there as one of the biggest legacies of Obama’s presidency.

Earlier Dish on the agreement here and here.

Our Climate Pact With China, Ctd

Jack Goldsmith calls the emissions reductions “aspirational”:

US China Emissions[T]he two sides do not promise to, or state that they will, reduce emissions by a certain amount. Rather, they state only that they intend to achieve emissions reductions and to make best efforts in so doing.  Whether and how the goals expressed in these intentions will be reached is left unaddressed, and one nation’s intention is not in any way tied to the other’s.  Nor would it be a violation of the “announcement” if either side’s best efforts fail to achieve the intended targets.  As we have seen with a lot with climate change aspirations, intentions are easy to state, and they change over time.  The key point is that this document in no way locks in the current intentions.  In fact it creates no obligations whatsoever, not even soft ones (except that, in a different place, both sides “commit” to “reaching an ambitious … agreement” next year, an empty commitment).  It is no accident that the document is called an “announcement” and not a treaty or pledge or even an agreement.

Tyler Cowen also provides a reality check:

First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.

This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word.  They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off.  They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not.  Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app.  A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers.  But they didn’t.  What does that say about what one might call…”the monitoring end”…of this new deal?

Chris Mooney is more upbeat:

[T]he experts underscore that this deal has a symbolic value that goes far beyond the literal emissions cuts (or caps) that have now been pledged, precisely because the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters have now both come to the table. If the agreement lays the groundwork for a broader global agreement — one that encompasses other major emitters like India, Japan, and Russia — then that is the real payoff. That agreement could happen in Paris in late 2015, when the nations of the world gather to try to achieve a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

What Michael Levi will be keeping an eye on:

I wouldn’t expect much more negotiation over either U.S. or Chinese targets, even though European leaders may want to have a discussion. Over the next year, rather than focus on any haggling over emissions numbers, it will be worth watching three things. What will the remaining details of the Chinese plan look like? How will the U.S. goals be received politically – and could they spook a Congress currently considering how much to try to interfere with pending EPA regulations? And, perhaps most important, could this display of pragmatic U.S.-China diplomatic cooperation be a sign of more to come in international climate change diplomacy – which will need to go well beyond target-setting – over the coming year?

Scott Moore reads the fine print:

Other areas covered by the agreement include new partnerships linking water scarcity and sustainable energy, a demonstration project for carbon capture and storage (CCS), and a sustainable cities initiative. Integrating energy and water issues promises to expand U.S. – China climate cooperation from an almost exclusive focus on emissions mitigation to one that also helps both countries adapt to climate change. Greater cooperation on CCS, meanwhile, will help develop a technology that is needed to help wean the world off fossil fuels by storing carbon dioxide deep underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.  The sustainable cities initiative, finally, builds on dynamic sub-national action on climate change in both the United States and China, with the leaders of places as diverse as New York and Jiangsu Province pledging to work together to reduce emissions.  Washington must devote serious resources to ensure that these initiatives fulfill their promise.

Max Fisher puts the announcement in context:

[I]t’s a very promising precedent of the two countries working together as global leaders on difficult issues. Over the next century, the US and China are going to face many, many more global issues on which they disagree, but on which they will both be better off if they cooperate. Indeed, the world as a whole is better served by Chinese and American cooperation and joint leadership. That’s why even Chinese state-run media is trumpeting the climate deal as “highlight[ing] a new type of major-country relations.”

But Alexa Olesen finds that China is downplaying the news at home:

Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on the Chinese environment at the University of California San Diego, told FP that Chinese leaders “tend not to enthuse,” so that may in part explain Xi’s reserve. But she also said that Beijing is under fire domestically for its unsuccessful efforts to curb local air pollution, noting that people were furious that authorities managed to clear the air for the visiting APEC dignitaries but can’t do it on a daily basis for their own citizens. ” There may be worries that focusing on climate change rather than air pollution doesn’t meet the public’s main concerns,” Seligsohn said via email.

And Michael Grunwald keeps focused on the role technology must play:

You don’t see the U.S. or China ditching oil yet, because when it comes to transportation, there’s nothing cost-competitive with oil yet. Electric vehicles are getting cheaper, and their sales are doubling every year, but internal combustion engines still rule. No international agreement will change that—and until there are viable alternatives to oil, international agreements that try to change that by fiat will end up being ignored. Ultimately, it’s unrealistic to expect developing countries or developed countries to ignore the short-term economic interests of their people, even when medium-term environmental disaster looms.

After all, the end of the Stone Age had nothing to do with stones at all. It ended when the world found stuff it liked better. It ended when better technology could do the same things more efficiently. Governments can do a lot to promote cheaper alternatives to fossil fuels, but the Fossil Fuel Age won’t end until they’re here.

Everything else is just words.

Earlier Dish on the agreement here.

(Chart from Philip Bump)

Our Climate Pact With China

Jeff Spross summarizes it:

CHINA-US-DIPLOMACYThe pledge commits the U.S. to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the current target of a 17 percent reduction below that baseline by 2020, and could actually double the pace of emission cuts set by that initial goal — from 1.2 percent a year to as high as 2.8 percent per year. The White House has actually been looking into the possibility of expanding beyond the 2020 target since 2013, and has been involved in occasional interagency meetings to that effect.

For its part, China is committing to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. China’s construction of renewable energy capacity is already proceeding at a furious pace, and this deal will require the country to deploy an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030. For comparison, 800 to 1,000 gigawatts is close to the amount of electricity the U.S. current generates from all sources combined.

Rebecca Leber questions whether China and the US will follow through:

The administration says this will be achievable under existing law. It assumes the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations to slash carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030 are in full swing. But there is also intense Republican opposition to the EPA’s plans, and to Obama’s. The new Congress is led by climate change deniers, who will obstruct the president’s plans. The next Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has suggested he will use must-pass appropriations bills as leverage to force Obama into delaying or weakening his own climate regulations.

Xi may not have to deal with Congress, but China has its own challenges ahead. The next step to watch for is specific regulations and goals that are outlined in China’s next five-year plan. It won’t be easy to meet these pledges: Non-fossil fuels made up 9.8 percent of China’s energy sources energy in 2013. To achieve 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels, China will need to add clean and nuclear energy at an enormous scale.

Sam Roggeveen is skeptical:

This deal is good news for all sorts of reasons, but it’s worth remembering that these are just targets (the UK set targets too, and is on track to miss them) which are not really enforceable. And given the long lead times (2025 for Washington to meet its new emissions targets; 2030 for Beijing’s emissions to peak), it’s going to be difficult to hold both countries to their commitments.

Plumer remarks that it’s “debatable whether either pledge is sufficient to avoid drastic levels of global warming — particularly if China lets its emissions keep rising until 2030”:

Some analyses have suggested that China’s emissions would need to peak in 2025 or earlier for the world to meet its goal of preventing more than 2°C (3.6°F) of global warming. (The White House said it thinks China can peak earlier, particularly if it meets that ambitious clean-energy target. But that’s not certain.) And more crucially, the deal only includes two countries. As climate modeler Chris Hope points out, this deal in isolation still puts the world on course for a likely 3.8°C (6.8°F) rise in temperatures. “These pledges are only the first step on a very long road,” he concludes.

Michael Levi analyzes China’s side of the deal:

The difference between a 26 and a 28 percent cut in U.S. emissions is on the order of 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That’s smaller than the EIA’s projected annual growth in Chinese energy emissions for each year between 2025 and 2030. Very loosely speaking, a mere one-year shift in the Chinese peaking year could matter at least as much to global emissions as the difference between the various U.S. targets that have now been announced.

And then there’s the matter not of when Chinese emissions peak but where they peak. Do they peak 25 percent above current levels? 15 percent? 10 percent? That makes an enormous difference for global emissions.

Fallows puts the announcement in context:

Many people thought, hoped, or dreamt that Xi Jinping would be some kind of reformer. Two years into his watch, his has been a time of cracking down rather than loosening up. Political enemies and advocates of civil society are in jail or in trouble. Reporters from the rest of the world have problems even getting into China, and reporters from China itself face even worse repression than before. The gratuitous recent showdown with Hong Kong exemplifies the new “No More Mr. Nice Guy” approach.

A nationalistic, spoiling-for-a-fight tone has spilled over into China’s “diplomatic” dealings too. So to have this leader of China making an important deal with an American president at this stage of his political fortune is the first news that even seems positive in a long while.

We’ll wait to see the details. But at face value, this is better news—about China, about China and America, and about the globe—than we’ve gotten for a while.

That progress gives Brian Merchant hope:

The two biggest polluters, who have never agreed on much of anything about climate change at all, are issuing a deal that seriously reflects the scope and depth of the problem. The agreement will have a profound effect on the international community, and it’s already sending cheers through the climate circles around the world. The two immobile pillars propping the up the bulk of the world’s fossil fuel infrastructure finally feel like they’ve budged.

The challenges in meeting the targets put forward—and pushing them further—will of course be myriad. But in the face of an unfolding planetary disaster that can seem immune to government action, this deal is, at the very least, a much-needed beacon of hope.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama (L) and China’s President Xi Jinping reach out to shake hands following a bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 12, 2014.By Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s Getting Hot In Here

That’s one unsurprising finding from the latest UN report on climate change (pdf). Brad Plumer digs deeper:

It notes that some amount of “irreversible” climate disruption is already locked in, but things can also get much, much worse. Additional global warming could wreak havoc across the globe, potentially leading to food shortages, the flooding of major cities, and mass extinctions.

Perhaps the most relevant sections are about how to avoid this fate, something the world’s nations will be discussing over the next year of UN climate talks. To avoid the worst outcomes, the world would need to act immediately and drastically, reducing emissions 41 to 72 percent below 2010 levels by mid-century. We’d then need to keep cutting and possibly be taking carbon-dioxide back out of the atmosphere by 2100. That won’t be easy. And the task gets all the harder if countries delay action or if they rule out certain controversial technologies, like nuclear power or carbon capture for coal plants.

He makes a grim observation:

[Y]early greenhouse-gas emissions have kept rising fast in recent decades. If this keeps up, we’re likely on pace for between 3.7°C and 4.8°C rise in average temperatures by the end of the century. The World Bank, for one, thinks that would be a disaster – because “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

And let us remember that “adaptation” refers to the human race. Our fellow species on planet earth are already dying out in vast numbers. But Allen McDuffee finds a nugget of hope in the analysis:

We already have technology, the report points out, that could play a major role in helping to end our dependence on fossil fuels. “It is technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy,” Youba Sokona, co-chair of one of the IPCC’s working groups, says. “But what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

And Elizabeth Shogren suggests the international political climate is gradually improving:

In six weeks, the negotiators will gather in Peru. That meeting is supposed to prepare the way for the conference in Paris in December 2015, which aims to reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto required developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by specific amounts. It was a legally binding treaty—except that it never bound the United States, then the largest emitter, which never ratified it. And it never bound China, now the largest emitter, because all developing countries were exempt.

The argument between developed and developing countries—about who should do how much to “mitigate” climate change through reduced emissions—has always been one of the main obstacles to an agreement that actually makes a difference. But the chasm is less deep than it used to be, said Laurence Tubiana, the French diplomat charged with organizing the Paris conference. “All countries, including less developed countries, are saying their contribution will have a mitigation part,” Tubiana said on a visit to Washington last month. “Even Mali will have emissions reductions. That’s really unprecedented.”

Meanwhile, Constantine Samaras wishes the report emphasized the need for greater investment in energy R&D:

Governments define their near-term and long-term priorities line item by line item on every fiscal year budget. In 2000, the U.S. Federal R&D budget for “activities to develop technologies to deter, prevent, or mitigate terrorist acts” was $511 million. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the R&D budget for counterterrorism grew to almost $2.7 billion in 2003. …

The impacts from climate change also pose risks to the United States, but policymakers are responding to these risks with much less seriousness than the response to terrorism. … U.S. energy technology and global change research R&D budgets have been relatively flat and completely unrepresentative of the challenge. We correctly reacted to counterterrorism with enhanced R&D after 2001, yet on energy and climate change we’re effectively just muddling through.

And Chris Mooney contends that global warming may be even worse than the IPCC makes it out to be:

According to a number of scientific critics, the scientific consensus represented by the IPCC is a very conservative consensus. IPCC’s reports, they say, often underestimate the severity of global warming, in a way that may actually confuse policymakers (or worse). The IPCC, one scientific group charged last year, has a tendency to “err on the side of least drama.” And now, in a new study just out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, another group of researchers echoes that point. In scientific parlance, they charge that the IPCC is focused on avoiding what are called “type 1” errors – claiming something is happening when it really is not (a “false positive”) – rather than on avoiding “type 2” errors – not claiming something is happening when it really is (a “false negative”). The consequence is that we do not always hear directly from the IPCC about how bad things could be.

Just as well that we had a thorough airing of these issues in the current Congressional campaign, isn’t it?

A Great Vanishing Sea

New satellite images from NASA show that the Aral Sea, a once-vast lake on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has almost completely dried up. At first glance, the sea looks like another victim of climate change, but in fact its depletion originated in ill-considered Soviet agricultural policies:

Actually a freshwater lake, the Aral Sea once had a surface area of 26,000 square miles (67,300 square kilometers). It had long been been ringed with prosperous towns and supported a lucrative muskrat pelt industry and thriving fishery, providing 40,000 jobs and supplying the Soviet Union with a sixth of its fish catch. The Aral Sea was fed by two of Central Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya.

But in the 1960s, Soviet engineers decided to make the vast steppes bloom. They built an enormous irrigation network, including 20,000 miles of canals, 45 dams, and more than 80 reservoirs, all to irrigate sprawling fields of cotton and wheat in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But the system was leaky and inefficient, and the rivers drained to a trickle. In the decades that followed, the Aral Sea was reduced to a handful of small lakes, with a combined volume that was one-tenth the original lake’s size and that had much higher salinity, due to all the evaporation.

Anna Nemtsova explains how the events of the past decade finished it off:

The final chapter began in 2005, when the World Bank gave Kazakhstan the first $68 million credit to build a 13-kilometer-long dam to split the Aral Sea into halves: the Northern Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the Southern Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The dam prevented water from Kazakhstan’s Syr Darya from flowing into Uzbekistan’s half of the sea.

By 2008, Kazakhstan had managed to complete take control over the Syr Darya water, reviving 68 percent of the northern sea, reducing the salinity by half, and once again developing the fishing industry. On the southern, Uzbek side, however, the sea dried up that much faster. Uzbekistan, largely dependent on cotton, the industry of white gold, could not afford to re-channel water to its half. Also, with the water vanishing, the Russian oil company Lukoil found a silver lining in the disaster, setting out in 2006 to explore for oil and gas on the bottom of the Aral Sea in the Uzbek sector.

While climate change is not primarily responsible for the shrinking sea, it’s making the problem worse:

Recent studies suggest only 14% of the shrinking of the Aral Sea since the 1960s was caused by climate change, with irrigation by far the biggest culprit. Researchers looking at what will happen to Aral Sea levels with global warming over the next few decades have combined several model predictions together and expect net water loss to increase as more evaporation leads to less river inflow. However, if irrigation of the rivers continues, then net water loss will be even greater as river flow into the Aral Sea will essentially cease.

From Vanuatu To Vancouver

Port Vila-Vanuatu-130pm

Christopher Flavelle makes the case for rich countries welcoming “climate migrants” from the developing world:

Why should developed countries care if people in Tuvalu are forced from their homes? Take my home country of Canada: If we had never emitted a single gram of carbon dioxide, sea levels would still be rising almost as quickly. Why should we have to bear the cost of settling people with the bad luck to live on a sinking island?

The rebuttal is that Canada’s wealth derives in great part from selling the fossil fuels that are causing Tuvalu to sink. Partly as a result, Canada became the only country in the world to legally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, and has shown no particular interest in creating a replacement. And Canada emits more carbon per person than any large industrialized country save for Australia and the U.S. So Canadians, who according to one account enjoy the richest middle class in the world, have made money from an activity that disproportionately hurts others, and stymied efforts to curb that activity. The country also has space, resources and a history of incorporating newcomers into its social and political fabric – and not least, an aging population that needs new workers. The same could be said, to varying degrees, for many other developed countries.

“If rich countries would rather not invite in climate migrants,” he adds, “they can start by contributing money to the Green Climate Fund, whose goals include protecting people from extreme weather.”

(Photo by a Dish reader: Port Vila, Vanuatu, 1.30 pm)

A Climate Summit With Some Hot Air

Philip Bump argues that yesterday’s UN summit amounts to something new under the sun:

For decades, the United Nations has tried to put together a binding commitment from its members aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions – particularly carbon dioxide. … What’s happening right now in New York, in the wake of the largest climate rally in history, is something different. Instead of parties coming together to develop a binding agreement, it’s an attempt to self-regulate, to encourage countries and companies to establish individual goals for reduction that, in the aggregate, will hopefully have a global effect. Mashable is tracking those commitments: a European Union pledge to reduce emissions up to 95 percent by 2050, financial commitments from France and Switzerland, Costa Rica’s switch to clean energy. All of these things could have an effect, and particularly that E.U. pledge. But none will have a huge impact in the absence of other efforts.

Indeed, Ben Adler suggests the conference confirmed all the worst stereotypes about the UN:

A procession of heads of state spoke – so many that they had to be split into three simultaneous sessions — but even the largest session, in the General Assembly Hall, was largely empty during most of the speeches. The few delegates there seemed distracted, mostly talking to each other. The speeches from heads of state and other representatives were billed grandly as “national action and ambition announcements.” Mostly, though, they consisted of familiar talking points, platitudes, and boasts about preexisting national energy policies. …  Speakers were eager to talk about the need for action and the general principles of energy conservation and renewable energy, but they avoided mention of specific emissions targets or even precise amounts of funding they want from rich countries for climate-mitigation efforts.

The focus was largely on the United States and China. Ronald Bailey was not impressed by their actions:

The world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, both held off on making any specific additional pledges regarding their future emissions. In 2012, humanity emitted 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, of which 10 billion came from China and 5.2 billion from the United States. Convened by General-Secretary Ban Ki Moon, the Summit is supposed to “catalyze action” in advance of the big U.N. climate change conference at Paris in 2015. At the Paris conference, the nations of the world are supposed to make pledges to cut their emissions sufficient to keep future warming below the internationally agreed upon threshold of 2 degrees Celsius. It is not at all clear that today’s Summit catalyzed much more than pious clichés.

Matt McGrath describes Obama’s speech to the General Assembly as “notable for the absence of big pledges and for its realistic tone”:

Every time the president used the word “carbon”, he tagged the word “pollution” on the end. His goal was to underline that carbon dioxide is damaging to humans in the same way as air pollution, and in the US it should be regulated by executive power rather than by through legislation in a very divided Congress. The president also acknowledged the scale of opposition to his attempts to cut carbon. The most substantial pledge he made was an announcement that early next year he would publish a post-2020 plan to cut emissions.

He appealed to China, saying that together with the US the two countries had a special responsibility to lead. But everyone had to contribute. “No one gets a pass,” he said. The president wants to bind in the Chinese with an ambitious, inclusive – and most critically – a flexible deal that he can sign without recourse to the Senate.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said the country expects emissions to peak “as soon as possible.” Andrew Freedman analyzes the announcement:

On the one hand, as far as environmentalists and the Obama administration are concerned, the mere mention of a peak in China’s carbon dioxide emissions was new and ambitious, considering how quickly the Chinese economy has grown in recent years and how fast emissions have risen as well. During the past decade, for example, China saw about 10% per year increases in carbon dioxide emissions, although that slowed in 2013, according to a report from the European Commission. China has a goal to reduce its carbon intensity, which is a way of measuring the carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product, by up to 45% by 2020. Zhang said that China will reveal its goals for reducing emissions post-2020 during the first quarter of 2015, as the United States also intends to do. …

On the other hand, China signaled its continued support for a long-running source of tension between industrialized countries and developing nations regarding the U.N. climate treaty process. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was negotiated in 1992, well before China’s emissions overtook U.S. emissions, mandates that developing countries and industrialized nations have “common but differentiated responsibilities” in addressing the problem. In 2009, for the first time, China and other developing countries committed to taking action to reduce their emissions along with industrialized countries, but it remains to be seen how far they are willing to go when the next treaty is negotiated in 2015. That treaty is due to go into effect by 2020.

Rebecca Leber argues that addressing climate change “will require steps Obama couldn’t promise on Tuesday – perhaps because, though he would happily support them, his political opposition would not”:

Consider what the President did announce – an executive order directing federal agencies to plan for climate change impacts in all of their investments and decisions on international development. The idea is to help make sure these investments are durable and effective in a world where it’s becoming impossible to consider funding parts of the world without considering impacts like extreme weather. The executive order is less about the climate negotiations process than a broader signal to the world that the U.S. takes climate change seriously (even if congressional Republicans don’t).

Obama also declined to pledge any money to the Green Climate Fund, which supports developing countries coping with the effects of climate change: France committed $1 billion, which Suzanne Goldenberg describes as “the first significant contribution since Germany threw in $1 billion last July.” She adds:

The Green Climate Fund was founded in 2010 to help poor countries cope with climate change. UN officials and developing country diplomats have said repeatedly it will not be possible to reach a climate deal in Paris without a significant fund for those countries which did the least to cause climate change but will bear the brunt.

South Korea and Switzerland went on to pledge $100 million each, Denmark pledged $70 million, Norway pledged $33 million and Mexico said it would give $10 million. But the total of $2.3 billion pledged for the Green Climate Fund so far fell short of the $10 billion to $15 billion that UN officials and developing country said was needed to show rich countries were committed to acting on climate change. It also was unclear whether Tuesday’s pledges represented new money.

Meanwhile, Justin Gillis notes that at the summit, “companies are playing a larger role than at any such gathering in the past.” Forty companies signed a pledge to stop tropical deforestation by 2030, and a further 400 voiced their support for putting a price on carbon. Gillis explains:

Several environmental groups said they were optimistic that at least some of these [promises] would be kept, but they warned that corporate action was not enough, and that climate change could not be solved without stronger steps by governments. The corporate promises are the culmination of a trend that has been building for years, with virtually every major company now feeling obliged to make commitments about environmental sustainability, and to report regularly on progress. The companies have found that pursuing such goals can often help them cut costs, particularly for energy.

The Climate Movement Marches On

Elizabeth Kolbert previews NYC’s climate march this Sunday:

For next year’s meeting in Paris to produce an agreement that’s meaningful, that agreement is going to have to somehow yield truly significant emissions reductions, and do so quickly. After twenty-two years of failed attempts, it’s hard to be optimistic about this prospect.

But for this very reason, you’ve got to give those who are planning to march on Sunday that much more credit for trying. (It seems that the Secretary-General himself will also attend the march.) There’s a lot of inertia in the climate system, and whatever we do to it now, our descendants are going to have to live with the results for a long, long time. Already, the effects of climate change are painfully apparent—in the shrinking Arctic ice cap, in the death of millions of acres of forest in the Western U.S., in more severe downpours and flooding in the Northeast, and, quite possibly, in the current California drought. As Governor Jay Inslee, of Washington, recently summed up the situation, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

Bill McKibben defended the march against naysayers during his guest-blogging stint:

I’ve come to believe a few basic things.

One, we have long known much that we need to do to start addressing the issue (job one is to put a serious price on carbon, and stop letting Exxon use the atmosphere as a free sewer). Two, we won’t do these things as long as the power of the fossil fuel companies remains so powerful – we will continue to move in the direction of renewable energy because it makes sense, but we will do so too slowly to make a dent in climate change. Three, the power of the fossil fuel companies is a function of their money, which buys more influence than their arguments deserve; in fact, scientists long ago won the argument on climate change, they’ve just lost the fight. Four, the only thing that can match the power of that money is the power of movements. They’re hard and slow work to build, but when they reach a certain point they can change the zeitgeist, and suddenly segregation is obviously disgusting, gay marriage is obviously common sense, and so on.

I’m not certain we’ll get to that point – movements don’t always work. But I am certainthat we won’t get there without one. And I’m certain too that even if we knew the odds were low we should march. Part of it is simply to bear witness, to say: when scientists issued their warnings, some portion of our species paid attention.

Let The End Times Roll

by Dish Staff

Bob Marshall warns that in Louisiana, “one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years”:

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees – most of Southeast Louisiana – would be underwater.

The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” – let the good times roll – is one of the nation’s economic linchpins. This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live. The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.

Brad Plumer notes that climate change is only one of the environmental problems facing the region:

The land in southeast Louisiana was built up over thousands of years from sediment washed down by the Mississippi River and anchored by plant life in the marshes and wetlands. Without this replenishing, the soil would simply sink into the Gulf of Mexico. And over the past century, various human activities have disrupted this ecosystem. After the Great Flood of 1927, the US Army Corps of Engineers built up a series of levees along the Mississippi that controlled springtime flooding but also blocked sediment from washing down the river and replenishing the delta.

At the same time, the Louisiana coast became a major source of oil and gas during the 20th century. That meant two things. Energy companies dredged thousands of miles of canals through the wetlands to transport equipment through – and those canals allowed shoreline to crumble and saltwater to seep in, killing off plants. Meanwhile, some scientists argue that the land itself has sunk after companies extracted oil and gas from underground wells.