09 May 2016

After record, mind-numbing coral bleaching, what would it take to "Save the Reef"?

Charlie Veron has identified a third of all known coral species
by David Spratt

Global warming impacts right now are beyond some of the worst scientific predictions, so what does that mean for aspirations to save the Great Barrier Reef?

On 6 July 2009, Australian Dr Charlie Veron — who has discovered, described and identified about a third of all known coral species — addressed the Royal Society in London and asked: "Is the Great Barrier Reef on death row?" His response: "The answer must be yes… a close look at this question from any rational perspective arrives at the same bottom line: the Great Barrier Reef can indeed be utterly destroyed, and this could easily happen in the lifetime of my children."

It is a devastating answer because corals have been around for almost 500 million years and have formed more fossils than any other species, they are home to one-quarter of marine fish species, and tens of millions of people depend on reef ecosystems for protein and other services. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is home to 600 different types of corals, and is more biodiverse that any other UNESCO World Heritage site.

03 May 2016

Arctic sea ice is falling off a cliff and it may not survive the summer

Note: Thanks to robertscribbler.com for this excellent post on the eye-popping circumstances of Arctic sea-ice this melt season.
Near zero sea ice by the end of melt season. The dreaded Blue Ocean Event. Something that appears more and more likely to happen during 2016 with each passing day.

These are the kinds of climate-wrecking phase changes in the Arctic people have been worrying about since sea ice extent, area, and volume achieved gut-wrenching plunges during 2007 and 2012. Plunges that were far faster than sea ice melt rates predicted by model runs and by the then scientific consensus on how the Arctic Ocean ice would respond to human-forced warming this Century. For back during the first decade of the the 21st Century the mainstream scientific view was that Arctic sea ice would be about in the range that it is today by around 2070 or 2080. And that we wouldn’t be contemplating the possibility of zero or near zero sea ice until the end of this Century.

16 March 2016

As planet burns hot, new report shows Paris a relic of historic failure

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Prof. Kevin Anderson of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change is fond of quoting the twentieth century Nobel laureate quantum physicist Richard P. Feynman: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

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We fool ourselves if we are not deeply alarmed by the recent news about the state of global warming. According to new data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations jumped by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 ppm.

14 March 2016

Mind-blowing February 2016 temperature spike a "climate emergency" says scientist, as extreme events hit Vietnam, Fiji and Zimbabwe

by David Spratt

Where do you start when climate data comes out that scientists simply call "jaw dropping", "alarming", an "ominous milestone", "true shocker" and "quite stunning ... it's completely unprecedented"?

The jaw dropper is the global average temperature for February 2016, released on 11 March by the US government agency NASA. (The raw data is available here.)

11 March 2016

Beware the "fat tail": Climate risk and scientific reticence

by David Spratt

How should we respond to climate change, avoid catastrophe and get back to safer conditions?  The question is often posed in "risk-management" terms, but what does than mean in assessing the risks associated with climate change, the possible impacts and the speed of action required?

We have historically tended to underestimate the rate of climate change impacts.

Too often policy is based on consensus scientific projections that downplay what Prof. Ross Garnaut called the “bad possibilities”, that is, the relatively low-probability outcomes that have very high impacts. These events may be more likely than is often assumed, as Prof. Michael E. Mann explained in reviewing Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet:

03 March 2016

Public ideas leadership on climate? The truth rarely sees the light of day.

by David Spratt

One of the most disturbing aspects of the public discussion of the climate change is its delusional character. The truth rarely sees the light of day.

Propositions that are entirely scientifically valid — such as there being no risk-averse carbon budget remaining for limiting warming to two degrees Celsius, or that the world has already passed a tipping point for a civilisation-threatening sea-level rise of several metres from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet at less than one degree of warming — are rare to non-existent in public discourse in Australia.

26 February 2016

International climate solidarity is more than plane fares and conferences

By Nic Maclellan

For much of the Australian climate movement, international solidarity has focused on travelling to the UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties (COPs), or financing delegates from indigenous communities and the Asia-Pacific region to participate in global summits.

I want to suggest that there are other practical ways that we can work with our counterparts in the Pacific islands region, without just focusing on the COPs.

With the Paris agreement creating the framework for action for the next decade, there will be increasing focus by Pacific Island Countries (PICs) on implementation, and on forcing OECD countries to meet their pledges. This will see increased pressure on Australia through the Pacific Islands Forum.

08 February 2016

Global warming linked to spread of zika virus

Countries Where The Zika Virus Is Spreading. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pan American Health Organization
Scientists believe that record average temperatures may be helping to create an environment that has led to big increases in the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

By Jan Rocha, Climate News Network

The Zika virus, transmitted by the same mosquito as dengue fever, has spread with alarming speed throughout South and Central America – and scientists in Brazil suspect that global warming is exacerbating the problem.

Although the virus, named after the Ugandan forest where it was first identified, usually causes only mild symptoms and often passes undetected, it has been associated with a surge in the number of cases of babies born with microcephaly, which can cause brain damage.

04 February 2016

Building common cause for social movement events

By David Spratt and David McKnight

Mass rallies, marches and protests have been and are a vital feature of social, liberation and democratic movements around the world: campaigning against injustice, exploitation and destruction and for fairness, democracy and conservation. The mass events organised by social movements are a public expression of common purpose and people power, helping to foster alliances, tell the stories of struggle, and demand change at important moments.

They are not just an event in time, but an expression of the political and organisation unity so far achieved, and a vehicle for extending that work. Coalition building is central to building powerful movements. Alliances between unions, religious and community groups, health and other professionals as well as environmental and climate groups are vital.

27 January 2016

Climate and renewables strategy In Victoria will not work without a plan to retire coal

by David Spratt

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews says he wants to be a leader on climate change, but he has no plan to retire dirty coal generators.

Coal generation over-supply is squeezing out significant expansion of renewable energy, so a renewable policy without a coal policy won't guarantee a fall in Victoria's emissions.

And now Alcoa's push for new fossil fuel subsidy would keep brown-coal generators open at expense of investment in renewable energy.

20 December 2015

Climate plans outdated in wake of Paris talks

By Margaret Klein Salamon and Ezra Silk, The Climate Mobilisation

For years, advocates of action on climate change have debated the merits of renewables versus nuclear energy and emissions trading schemes versus carbon taxes. Yet the pace of the transition to zero emissions — which will ultimately determine the amount of climate devastation we suffer and the economic approach we take — has rarely been a subject of interest. In the wake of the Paris Agreement, that is fortunately beginning to change.

UK Met Office says 2015 (provisionally) will be 0.1C warmer than record set in 2014, and 1C warmer than 1850-1900 baseline. 2016 is forecast to be more than 0.1C warmer than 2015. Read more.
Bill McKibben, for one, emphasized the need for speed in The Guardian Sunday, following the conclusion of the Paris talks: “Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate...Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast.”

14 December 2015

A Paris view from the global South

by Joseph Purugganan, Focus on the Global South

The Paris climate deal is out and as expected it is being hailed by proponents as a huge success. On the other hand, around 10,000 people joined the red line action at Arc de Triomphe and later at the Eiffel Tower protesting against corporate capture of the climate talks and the failure of governments to deliver a deal that addresses the root causes of climate change.

The #D12 protests, the first demonstrations in Paris since the November 13 attacks also sent a strong message to governments that the people are ready to act to push for real solutions to climate change; and for systems change.

We expect the battle of competing narratives to continue in the coming days.  Was Paris a success or a failure? Was the deal forged a good or a bad deal for people and planet? Should Paris be a starting point or a turning point?  Amid the celebratory mood, its important to take stock of what the red lines were:

22 November 2015

How 2015's record-breaking El Niño emerged on a warming planet

by Climate Nexus

Between the official arrival of El Niño in March and NOAA’s November update, the scope of the long-awaited global phenomenon is becoming clear: the 2015 El Niño is already setting records and is on track to becoming the strongest event ever recorded.The official classification will wait for three months of data, but model estimates suggest the 2015 event will grow even stronger and could top the high mark set by the 1997-98 event.

During the week of November 8 through 14, El Niño set a new record high for sea surface temperature in the central eastern Pacific, the most closely tracked indicator for measuring the strength of El Niño/La Niña events. At 5.4°F (3.0˚C), the weekly anomaly was 7 percent higher than the 5.0°F (2.8˚C) anomaly for the week prior, a reading that in turn had tied the high mark set by the 1997 El Niño.

08 November 2015

Misleading UN report confuses Paris climate talks outcome of 3.5C by 2100

by Joe Romm, Climate Progress

Memo to media: If countries go no further than their current global climate pledges, the earth will warm a total of 3.5°C by 2100.

A very misleading news release from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — coupled with an opaque UNFCCC report on those pledges, which are called intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) — has, understandably, left the global media thinking the climate talks in Paris get us much closer to 2°C than they actually do.

Indeed, the news release contains this too-cleverly worded paragraph quoting UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary:
The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” said Ms. Figueres.

19 September 2015

Atlantic Ocean excited to move into beautiful beachfront mansion soon

This article first appeared in The Onion, and it's too good not to repost.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL—Admitting it has had its eye on the property for quite some time, the Atlantic Ocean confirmed Monday that it was looking forward to moving into a beautiful beachfront mansion in the near future.

“For the longest time it seemed like this place was completely out of reach for me, but I’ve come a long way in the past few years, and now it’s looking more and more like a real possibility,” said the body of water, which confided that, after having admired the building’s impressive exterior and grounds for so long, it was thrilled at the prospect of finally going inside and exploring all eight bedrooms and 7,500 square feet of living area.

“I’m not quite ready yet, but in a couple years or so, I can definitely see myself in there, making the place completely my own. And the little beachside community that the house is located in is just so cute, too—I can’t wait to go through and visit all the shops and restaurants.”

 The ocean noted, however, that it might make a few cosmetic changes to the mansion once it moves in, including gutting the lower floor and taking out a few walls.

08 September 2015

Why we need a politics of the far future

By Richard Eckersley, first published at On Line Opinion on 4 September 2015

If you were to assess various personal life paths and their risks and opportunities, would you choose one that had a 1 in 2 chance of wrecking your life, or even ending it? In most circumstances, no-one would; the risks are just too high.

Yet a new study suggests that many people think that we are taking risks of this magnitude with our future as a civilisation or a species. The study found most Australians (53%) believe there is a 50% or greater chance our way of life will end within the next 100 years, and a quarter (24%) that humans will be wiped out. These are surprisingly high estimates; no person or organization would accept or choose this level of risk, given the stakes.

When asked about different responses to these threats, 75% of the Australians surveyed agreed 'we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world' (an 'activist' response); 44% agreed that 'the world's future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love' (nihilism); and 33% agreed that 'we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world' (fundamentalism).

24 August 2015

As 2015 smashes temperature records, it's hotter than you think

by David Spratt


There is an El Nino in full swing which helps push average global temperatures higher, and records are being broken, but just how hot is it? For several years, we have heard that global warming has pushed temperatures higher by around 0.8 to 0.85 degrees Celsius (°C).

But in 2015, that number is not even close.

Even before this year's strong El Nino developed, 2015 was a hot year. The first few months of the year broken records for the hottest corresponding period in previous years all the way back to the start of the instrumental record in 1880. Each month, new records fell.

13 July 2015

After the encyclical, lessons for climate activism?

by David Spratt
Note: This blog is based on and extends a short presentation at a Lighter Footprints climate action group monthly meeting in Melbourne on 24 June.
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When I first heard early this year about the forthcoming papal encyclical on nature and climate change, my first reaction was that this could be one of the biggest moments so far in climate politics but, like many scientific "tipping points", that can only be judged well after the fact. That Pope Francis will be addressing the UN General Assembly and the US Congress on consecutive days in September 2015, the drawing of his title from Francis of Assisi (patron saint of nature), and his training as a chemist all suggest that this issue is a core concern and his advocacy is far from over.

Laudato si, on the care of our common home was issued on 18 June and described by an editorial in The Guardian as "the most astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years…[it] sets out a programme for change that is rooted in human needs but it makes the radical claim that these needs are not primarily greedy and selfish ones".  Some key points:

02 July 2015

Our zero emissions imperative: existential crisis demands emergency action

by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr and Tom Weis via Ecowatch

Last year, we wrote an article explaining why zero has become the most important number for humanity. Since that time, zero emissions has been embraced as an idea that’s time has come by nearly 120 countries, leading European companies, high-profile CEOs, two Pontifical Academies, climate visionaries like Al Goremainstream media outlets and, if you can believe it, even the leaders of the G7. We now address the critical issue of timelines.

The time for timid visions and baby steps is over.
The time for our generational mission is at hand.
Zero emissions: because the first step to making things
better is to stop making things worse.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Currently, the two target dates most commonly cited for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions are 2050 and 2100. Given the extreme weather weirding we are witnessing at current levels of pollution, we shudder to think what 35 years—let alone 85 years—of continued emissions will bring. Everyone can see that the climate is already on steroids and wreaking havoc.

The urgency of our planetary emergency requires that we transition from fossil fuels to renewables not in decades, but in years. We must move beyond what conventional wisdom views as politically feasible to what this existential crisis truly demands: an all hands on deck societal mobilization at wartime speed.

17 June 2015

Replacing Hazelwood is urgent, but who pays for the jobs transition?

by David Spratt

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Replacing Hazelwood coal power station is a must: it is old, unsafe and dirty. Based on emissions intensity, it is the third-dirtiest coal power station in the world and the dirtiest in Australia, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, almost three per cent of total Australian greenhouse emissions. 

The Hazelwood majority owner, Engie owns the third-most polluting coal-power station fleet in the world. The full – health and carbon pollution – social costs of Hazelwood totalling $900 million per year  are borne by the community, rather than the plant’s owners.

Expanding renewable energy requires coal-generating capacity to be removed from the market because oversupply is crowding out and preventing new investment. The Australian energy market operator says there are about eight gigawatts of surplus generating capacity across the national market, equivalent to five Hazelwood power stations.  This includes up to 2.2 gigawatts of brown coal generation that is no longer required in Victoria in 2015, which is greater than Hazelwood’s capacity.