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.

jzero650
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.

04 June 2015

Winning the carbon war: the Vatican talks

Jeremy Leggett
"The UN negotiations are totally unsuited to the climate emergency", and the process must change "otherwise the negotiators, who have been there for 15 or 20 years, will continue their folklore," declared French Environment Minster Ségolène Royal to Le Monde on 1 June 2014. If the form of negotiations does not change, "the negotiators, who have been there for 15 or 20 years, will continue their folklore. You will find hundreds of people at their computers, discussing a point of the bracketed text or playing crosswords!"

As the heat (if not the light) intensifies in the leadup to global climate talks in Paris in December, perhaps the most interesting development is the intervention of Pope Francis, who trained as a chemist and seems keenly aware of the urgency of the problem. A sense of where the Vatican may be headed is "Climate Change and the Common Good: A statement of the problem and the demand for transformative solutions" issued on 29 April by  The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, with signatories including leading climate figures  such as Dasgupta, Ramanathan, Archer, Crutzen, Sachs and Schellnhuber.

13 May 2015

The transformative power of climate truth

by Margaret Klein Salamon

The Climate Mobilization launched seven months ago, when we began spreading the Pledge to Mobilize at the People’s Climate March in New York City. Our mission is to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization that protects civilization and the natural world from climate catastrophe. Climate truth is central to this mission. We believe that the climate movement’s greatest and most underutilized strategic asset is the truth: That we are now in a planet-wide climate crisis that threatens civilization and requires an immediate, all-out emergency response.

05 May 2015

Hansen says "It's crazy to think that 2 degrees Celsius is safe limit"

by David Spratt

James Hansen
Two weeks ago, I started my blog on the Recount: It's time to 'Do the Math' again" report with a question: Have we gone mad and should contemporary climate change policy-making should be characterised as increasingly delusional?

Because I spend quite a lot of time following climate science closely and trying to understanding its political manifestations and representations, it's easy to feel that I am living in a parallel universe. There is the world of the scientific evidence, that climate change is already dangerous and 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) of warming would be an uncontrollable disaster.

22 April 2015

It's time to 'Do the math' again

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Have we gone mad? A new report released today explains why contemporary climate change policy-making should be characterised as increasingly delusional.

As the deadline approaches for submissions to the Australian government's climate targets process, there is a flurry of submissions and reports from advocacy groups and the Climate Change Authority.

Most of these reports are based on the twin propositions that two degrees Celsius (2°C) of global warming is an appropriate policy target, and that there is a significant carbon budget and an amount of "burnable carbon" for this target, and hence a scientifically-based escalating ladder of emission-reduction targets stretching to mid-century and beyond.

A survey of the relevant scientific literature by David Spratt, "Recount: It's time to 'Do the math' again", published today by Breakthrough concludes that the evidence does not support either of these propositions.

13 April 2015

Hazelwood: Australia's dirtiest power station in nation with the world's dirtiest power industry

This coming Thursday 16 April a 12.30pm lunchtime rally on the steps of Melbourne's parliament house will kick off a campaign to put the replacement of Australia's dirtiest coal-fired power station back on the political agenda.

Recently-elected Victorian Greens MP Ellen Sandell that afternoon will make a statement in Parliament, calling on the government to replace Hazelwood with clean energy and to support a community-led transition plan for mine rehabilitation and job creation.

Sandell says: "Labor promised to close Hazelwood in 2010 but now they are sitting on their hands. Not even the devastating mine fire last year has compelled them to act. No government can claim to have a credible climate change policy unless it has a plan to shut down coal-fired power."

In 2010, then Labor premier John Brumby, in explaining his policy for a phased close-down of Hazelwood, told ABC radio listeners:

06 February 2015

Two degrees of warming closer than you may think

by David Spratt

It's taken a hundred years of human-caused greenhouse emissions to push the global temperature up almost one degree Celsius (1C°), so another degree is still some time away. Right?  And there seems to have been a "pause" in warming over the last two decades, so getting to 2C° is going to take a good while, and we may have more time that we thought. Yes?

Wrong on both counts. 

The world could be 2C° warmer in as little as two decades, according to the leading US climate scientist and "hockey stick" author, Dr Michael E. Mann. Writing in Scientific American in March 2014 (with the maths explained here), Mann says that new calculations "indicate that if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, global warming will rise to 2C° by 2036" and to avoid that threshold "nations will have to keep carbon dioxide levels below 405 parts per million", a level we have just about reached already.  Mann says the notion of a warming "pause" is false.

Global temperature over the last 1000 years: the "hockey stick"

07 January 2015

2014 was the hottest year on record globally by far

by Joe Romm, Climate Progress
JMA2014

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record-keeping — by far. NOAA is expected to make a similar call in a couple of weeks and so is NASA.

21 November 2014

We are heading towards 2014 being hottest on instrumental record

We are heading towards 2014 being hottest on instrumental record, according to data from the leading US government climate agency for the first ten months of the year.

According to data and charts released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association through its National Climate Data Center, the first 10 months of this year are the warmest on the instrumental record, and it is projected to be the warmest year on the instrumental record based on five scenarios for November and December.

Click graph to enlarge

02 November 2014

9 significant scientific findings too recent to be included in the new IPCC report

by C. Forbes Tompkins and Kelly Levin via World Resources Institute

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its landmark synthesis report today. The report—which summarizes findings released in Assessment Reports over the past year—underscores three major facts about climate change: It’s happening now, it’s already affecting communities and ecosystems around the world, and the most dangerous impacts can still be avoided if we act now.

28 October 2014

"Myths and reality" now in French: Réchauffement climatique dangereux - Mythes et réalité

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L'objectif explicite des négociations internationales sur le climat est d'éviter un changement climatique «dangereux» ou, plus expressément, d'écarter le danger d'une «ingérence anthropogénique dangereuse dans le système climatique». Si cependant les conditions actuelles sont déjà suffisantes sans nouvelles émissions pour pousser un plus grand nombre d'éléments du système climatique au delà de leur point de bascule et pour créer des ruptures «catastrophiques», quel est donc notre but et qu'avons-nous à dire ?
Ce rapport explore la littérature scientifique récente afin d'examiner sept mythes du paradigme dominant qui guident l'élaboration des politiques climatiques: 

23 September 2014

The coming climate revolt

by Chris Hedges, first published at TruthDig

New York climate march, 21 September 2014
Author and columnist Chris Hedges made these remarks on Saturday 20 September 2014 at a panel discussion in New York City titled “The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out?” The other panelists were Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Kshama Sawant and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The event, moderated by Brian Lehrer, occurred on the eve of the People’s Climate March in New York City. For a video of some of what the panelists said, click here.

24 August 2014

Dangerous climate change: Myths and reality (3)

Third in a 3-part series | Part 1 | Part 2

by David Spratt

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Myth 6: Long-term feedbacks are not materially relevant for carbon budgeting

Some elements of the climate system respond quickly to temperature change, including the amount of water vapour in the air and hence level of cloud cover, sea-level changes due to ocean temperature change, and the extent of sea-ice that floats on the ocean in the polar regions. These changes amplify (increase) the temperature change and are known as short-term or “fast” feedbacks.

There are also long-term or “slow” feedbacks, which generally take much longer (centuries to thousands of years) to occur. These include changes in large, polar, land-based ice sheets, changes in the carbon cycle (changed efficiency of carbon sinks such as permafrost and methane clathrate stores, as well as biosphere stores such as peat lands and forests), and changes in vegetation coverage and reflectivity (albedo).

23 August 2014

Dangerous climate change: Myths and reality (2)

Second in a 3-part series | Part 1 | Part 3

by David Spratt

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Myth 3: Big tipping points are unlikely before 2°C

Tipping points, often an expression of non-linear events, are difficult to project. But if it is sometimes hard to see tipping points coming, it is also too late to be wise after the fact. Estimated tipping points around or below ~1.5ºC include: 
  • West Antarctic Ice Sheet: Current conditions affecting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are sufficient to drive between 1.2 and 4 metres of sea rise, and these glaciers are now in "unstoppable" meltdown at global average warming of just 0.8ºC (NASA, 2014A; Rignot, Mouginot et al., 2014; Joughin, Smith et al., 2014). 

22 August 2014

Dangerous climate change: Myths and reality (1)

First in a 3-part series | Part 2 | Part 3

by David Spratt

Download report (16 pages)
Few would disagree that the world should avoid "dangerous" (or unsafe) climate warming, but what does that term mean? What does climate safety mean? Is climate change already dangerous? Are greenhouse gas levels already too high? This report surveys some recent developments in climate science knowledge as a way of discerning the gaps between myth and reality in climate policy-making.

Scientific and political reticence

Amongst advocates for substantial action on climate warming, there is a presumption of agreement on the core climate science knowledge that underlies policy-making, even though differences exist in campaign strategy.

But the boundaries between science and politics have become blurred in framing both the problem and the solutions. Amongst advocates, advisors and policy-makers there are very different levels of understandings of the core climate science knowledge, how it is changing, what constitutes "danger", what needs to be done, and at what pace.

11 July 2014

Is a 2014 El Niño still on the way?

by Rob Painting, via Skeptical Science  

Main points
  • Development of El Niño in 2014 continues to edge closer with sea surface temperature in the key indicator equatorial regionapproaching El Niño thresholds.
  • The discharge of ocean heat to the atmosphere associated with the build-up of the El Niño phenomenon has predictably seen a rise in global surface temperatures, resulting in May 2014 being the warmest May ever recorded.
  • Despite the strong initial build-up of a large warm water volume anomaly (WWV) in the equatorial subsurface ocean earlier in the year, the atmosphere has so far not provided sufficient reinforcement to maintain this large pool of warmer-than-average water and a substantial portion has been eroded.
  • The last half-century of observations, however, still favour the development of an extreme El Niño event, but the substantial reduction of the warm water volume anomaly (thankfully) diminishes the odds of a powerful event rivaling that of 1997-1998 from taking hold.

15 June 2014

Big trouble in the Antarctic has been brewing for a long time

by David Spratt

"A game changer" is how climate scientist Dr Malte Meinshausen describes newly published research that West Antarctic glaciers have passed a tipping point much earlier than expected and their disintegration is now "unstoppable" at just the current level of global warming. The research findings have shocked the scientific community. "This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like," ran a headline in Mother Jones magazine.