24 August 2014

Dangerous climate change: Myths and reality (3)

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

by David Spratt

Download report (16 pages)
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

Download report (16 pages)
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.


08 June 2014

Carbon budgets, climate sensitivity and the myth of "burnable carbon"

by David Spratt

Breakthrough National  Climate Restoration
Forum 21-22 June,  Melbourne
In my previous post explaining why there is no carbon budget left for burning fossil fuels for a 2-degree Celsius (°C) target, I explained that these carbon budget calculations are expressed in probabilities of not exceeding the target. This reflects a number of uncertainties in understanding, including climate sensitivity, ocean heat uptake inertia, the influences of non-carbon dioxide forcing agents, and because results vary somewhat among model ensembles.

Of these, climate sensitivity is the biggest issue, because of the possibilities that climate change might proceed more rapidly than currently estimated because of reinforcing feedbacks, thresholds or tipping points in the climate system, or less rapidly because of dampening feedbacks. 

22 May 2014

The real budgetary emergency and the myth of "burnable carbon"

by David Spratt

How fast and how profoundly we act to stop climate change caused by human actions, and work to return to a safe climate, is perhaps the greatest challenge our species has ever faced, but are we facing up to what really needs to be done?
LISTEN
Listen to David's carbon budget interview on Radio EcoShock
RELATED POST
Carbon budgets, climate sensitivity and the myth of "burnable carbon"
WATCH PRESENTATION
No carbon left to burn (audio + slides, 17 minutes)
We have to come to terms with two key facts:  practically speaking, there is no longer a "carbon budget" for burning fossil fuels while still achieving a two-degree Celsius (2°C) future; and the 2°C cap is now known to be dangerously too high.


No Carbon Budget Left - David Spratt from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

For the last two decades, climate policy-making has focused on 2°C of global warming impacts as being manageable, and a target achievable by binding international treaties and incremental, non-disruptive, adjustments to economic incentives and regulations (1).

14 April 2014

Climate change communication: Key psychological research findings (and why you haven't heard about them yet) (2)

Research has identified a number of psychological barriers that can prevent people from believing in or acting on messages about climate change. Luckily, it has also suggested strategies for overcoming these barriers. Second of a two-part report by Paul Connor.

Second of 2 parts | Part 1

5. Some messages can get through to conservatives! Sort of…

One of the most common analyses one hears about the social psychology of climate change is that the issue has become increasingly politicised over the last decade. More and more, it is said, people are making up their minds on the issue according to their political allegiance, and not by an objective assessment of the facts. And certainly, there has been an observable trend for opinions on the issue to increasingly diverge across political and ideological lines.

Climate change communication: Key psychological research findings (and why you haven't heard about them yet) (1)

Research has identified a number of psychological barriers that can prevent people from believing in or acting on messages about climate change. Luckily, it has also suggested strategies for overcoming these barriers. First of a two-part report by Paul Connor.

Part 1 of 2 parts | Part 2

1. Climate change activists are pretty decent social psychologists. Social psychologists are terrible activists.

Most climate change activists I know are at least to some degree also social psychologists. They constantly consider questions like ‘how can we change the way people think’, ‘how can we make people care more’, and ‘what is the sound bite that is going to be most effective for this campaign?’. Generally, they hold reasonable theories about human psychology and societies. And for the most part, they’re willing to revise these theories as experience dictates.

04 April 2014

Climate economic impact models meaningless, so key question is "what is survivable?" not "what is affordable?"

Forget the cost of mitigating climate change, say two researchers. It's impossible to work out how much it will be - and whatever it is, we should do it anyway.

By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network

Two researchers who tried to work out the economics of  reducing global climate change to a tolerable level have come up with a perhaps surprising answer: essentially, we do not and cannot know what it would cost.

15 March 2014

14 things we learned — and the Abbott government didn’t

by Giles Parkinson, via RenewEconomy

It has been a busy few weeks. All sorts of things have become apparent: Climate change is real, and it man-made, Australia’s policies are a joke, renewable energy investment is leaving Australia, wind and solar do not add costs to the grid, they don’t need new back-up, and they have been reducing prices. And the world is changing while Australia stands still. So, what’s the problem? Clarke and Dawe have the answer.

Source: Climate Council
The planet is warming, and so is Australia
The latest survey compiled by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology – two institutions that the Abbott government has yet to remove or successfully muzzle – shows that Australia is almost a degree warmer, on average, than it was a century ago. And that is roughly in line with global rates of atmospheric warming. And, it is set to continue warming at a rate that depends on how fast greenhouse emissions can be reduced.
The report says seven of Australia’s 10 warmest years have happened since 1998; over the past 15 years, very warm months have occurred at five times the long-term average, while very cool months have declined by a third; and by 2070, temperatures will be anywhere between 1C and 5C warmer than the 1980-1999 average, depending on future emissions cuts. Note the link between rising temperatures and emissions.

05 March 2014

Too hot to handle: life in a four-degree world

by Gabrille Kuiper, first published in Overland

Four Degrees of Global Warming:
Australia in a hot world

Peter Christoff (ed),
Earthscan/Routledge, 2013
The book Four Degrees or More? Australia in a hot world, edited by political scientist Peter Christoff, is a timely overview of what we know currently about both global and local predicted impacts of climate change.

As Christoff notes, ‘this four-degree world is one of almost unimaginable social, economic and ecological consequences and catastrophes’ but, given current international and Australian energy and climate policies, it is "an impending reality". The book contains contributions by Australia’s leading scientists and economists, including Ross Garnaut, David Karoly and Will Steffen, setting out a four-degree future across the ecological, social and economic impacts, and the adaptation that will be required.

26 February 2014

Connecting the dots to win on climate

by David Spratt

On 20 March I spoke, together with Adam Bandt MP, at a forum in Melbourne on Global warming, Tony Abbott and the need for climate action.

The second half of my presentation was on how to turn the tide, looking at the "middle third" in recent polling and Tony Abbott's and his government's vulnerability on climate, and what they are desperate to not talk about:
  • More and more intense extreme weather events (exemplified by their silence on the spring 2013 fires, and record January 2014 heat);  
  • A public conversation that "connects the dots" between extreme events and climate change, and which gives immediacy to the perception of climate impacts;   
  • Constructing a climate narrative about human climate impacts, rather than electricity prices and taxes;
  • Public focus on the responsibility of political leaders to "protect the people" from climate change; and
  • Close attention being paid to the efficacy of their "direct action" climate plan.

23 February 2014

Arctic sea-ice loss adds 25% to carbon dioxide warming over last 30 years

First posted at robertscribler

What’s the difference between a majestic layer of white sea ice and an ominous dark blue open ocean?

For the Arctic, it means about a 30 to 50 per cent loss in reflectivity (or albedo). And when seasonal sea-ice states are between 30 and 80 per cent below 1979 measures (depending on the method used to gauge remaining sea ice and relative time of year), that means very, very concerning additional heating impacts to an already dangerous human-caused warming.

Arctic Ocean September 1, 2012
A dark and mostly ice-free Arctic Ocean beneath a
tempestuous swirl of clouds on September 1, 2012,
a time when sea ice coverage had declined to an
area roughly equal to the land mass of Greenland.
Image source: Lance-Modis/NASA AQUA.
How concerning, however, remained somewhat unclear until recently.

In the past, idealized climate simulations and physical model runs had produced about a two per cent overall loss in Arctic albedo based on observed sea ice losses. This decline, though minor sounding, was enough, on its own, to add a little more than a 10 per cent amplifying feedback to the already powerful human atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) forcing during recent years. Such an addition was already cause for serious concern and with sea ice totals continuing to fall rapidly, speculation abounded that just this single mechanism could severely tip the scales toward a more rapid warming.

12 February 2014

Oceans warmed at a rate of 12 Hiroshima bombs per second in 2013 as temperatures spiked

by Lindsay Abrams, via Salon.com 

Think global climate change hasn’t been very noticeable from where you’re standing? Down in the oceans (which is to say, over the majority of Earth’s surface), temperatures spiked last year, as warming proceeding at an incredibly rapid pace.
Skeptical Science calls attention to the oceans’ temperature rise for the final quarter of 2013, which literally was almost off-the-charts:
(via the National Oceanic Data Center)

07 February 2014

The why and how of radical emissions reductions (2): Corinne Le Quere

Second in a series | Part 1
On 10-11 December 2013, a Radical Emissions Reduction Conference was held at the Royal Society, London under the auspices of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. In this blog, we look at a presentation by Professor Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia on "The scientific case for radical emissions reductions".
Le Quere framed "radical emission reductions" as reductions consistent with a two-in-three chance of keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C), saying that there is no surety that 2°C is a safe threshold, but according to the geological record, there have been periods of up to 2°C warming during the past 800,000 years that did not trigger any "nasty or unexpected" feedbacks, though sea-levels were 5–10 metres higher than today.

06 February 2014

No warming "pause" says World Meteorological Organization head

The head of the World Meteorological Organization says there is no standstill in global warming, which is on course to continue for generations to come.
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network

The planet is continuing to warm, with implications for generations ahead, and temperatures are set to rise far into the future, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports.

Global surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980. The Niño index is based on sea surface temperature in the Niño 3.4 area (5N-5S, 120-170W) in the eastern tropical Pacific for 1951-1980 base period. Green triangles mark times of volcanic eruptions that produced an extensive stratospheric aerosol layer.
It says 2013 was among the ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, equalling 2007 as the sixth warmest year, with a global land and ocean surface temperature 0.50°C above the 1961–1990 average and 0.03°C higher than the most recent 2001–2010 average.

02 February 2014

As Tony Abbott launches all-out war on climate action, what's the plan?

[ Updated 2 February 2014]
NOTE: This blog was originally drafted as notes for a small group discussion in Melbourne. It is in part a situational analysis, covering the need to engage with conservative voters, the fragmentation of our efforts, and the growing gap between what is scientifically necessary and what is considered politically possible, resulting in a cognitive dissonance which is structurally embedded in the climate discourse. At first, I was reluctant to publish these notes because they are pretty blunt, but a number of people thought they were worth an airing, especially because the Abbott government is waging an all-out "shock and awe" war to destroy climate and environment public policy, for which much of our side appears ill-prepared.
by David Spratt
“Honesty about this challenge is essential, otherwise we will never develop realistic solutions. We face nothing less than a global emergency, which must be addressed with a global emergency response, akin to national mobilisations pre-WWII or the Marshall Plan… This is not extremist nonsense, but a call echoed by an increasing numbers of world leaders as the science becomes better understood… In the face of catastrophic risk, emission reduction targets should be based on the latest, considered, science, not on a political view of the art-of-the-possible.”
— Ian Dunlop, formerly senior oil, gas and coal industry executive and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors,  "Global warming is a global emergency", Crikey, 25 February 2009
Australia's climate action movement is diverse: from large, professional national organisations to local volunteer community groups; from issue-specific campaigns focussing on coal, coal seam gas (CSG) and renewables to sector-specific groups; from organisations focused on policy-makers to activists directly confronting the fossil fuel industry. The election of the Abbott government has created a moment of crisis and a chance to review.

Code Red's most popular climate posts

Here's the pick of the crop: our most popular posts over the last three years, starting with the most read.

The state of the Australian climate movement as Labor falters and the conservatives gain ascendancy in mid-2012, some harsh realities and ways forward.

Arctic sea-ice melt record more than broken, it’s being smashed
The extraordinary events of the 2012 northern summer and their consequences.

Brightsiding is a bad strategy (5 parts)
Why all “good news” and no “bad news” is a bad climate action and communications strategy?

What would 3 degrees mean?  
The astounding global impacts of 2, 3 and 4 degrees of warming.