24 December 2013

Reigniting the debate: Climate change is fundamentally a human story

A British group says people's interest in global warming has dwindled, and new ways of telling what is essentially a human story should include talking to those who may be sceptical about climate change.

By Kieran Cooke, via Climate News Network

George Marshall is a co founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), an organisation based in Oxford in the UK which specialises in climate change communication.

Whenever he can, Marshall tries to engage people in conversation about global warming: he finds it a tough task.

12 December 2013

Naomi Klein: Radical GHG emissions policies need radical social movements to back them

by Gabriel Levy, People and Nature

Naomi Klein
Policies to counter global warming effectively “will only advance if accompanied by radical social movements”, socialist writer and activist Naomi Klein has told the Radical [greenhouse gas] Emissions Reduction conference in London. “Transformative policies…  must be backed by transformative politics.”

Advocates of radical action have to face the fact that pro-market ideology is dominant in mainstream political fora and that “we are the marginal ones”, Klein said yesterday, on a web link from Toronto, Canada.

“It’s not that our ideas [about cutting greenhouse gas emissions] are not popular. But they are not powerful, not dominant. They are not winning.” The movement needs to “turn the popular into the powerful” by creating a “radical, enabling environment in which these policies can flourish”, she said.

10 December 2013

Crunch time for Victorian government on coal exports

Right now, the Victorian  Government is charging forward with plans to develop a major new brown coal export industry in the state.

If these plans go ahead, up to 13 billion tonnes of brown coal could be handed over to coal companies to be dug up, hauled across the state, and shipped to China and India for burning.

The devastating impact would stretch from fertile farmland in Gippsland where the coal is buried, to protected marine zones beside Wilsons Promontory or Philip Island where it would be shipped from major new ports.

03 December 2013

2 degrees hotter not an acceptable climate target but a disaster, say leading scientists

Countries round the world have pledged to try and limit the average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial figures. That’s way too high and would threaten major dislocations for civilization say a group of prominent scientists.
Lead author James Hansen

by Tim Radford, Climate News Network

Governments have set the wrong target to limit climate change. The goal at present – to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C higher than the average for most of human history – “would have consequences that can be described as disastrous”, say 18 scientists in a review paper in the journal PLOS One.

With a 2°C increase, “sea level rise of several meters could be expected,” they say.  Increased climate extremes, already apparent at 0.8°C warming, would be more severe. Coral reefs and associated species, already stressed with current conditions, would be decimated by increased acidification, temperature and sea level rise.

17 November 2013

Parts of Australia reaching threshold where it is impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat, says climate impacts researcher

Some parts of Australia, such as Darwin, and some farms and factories, are likely to be  unviable in a 4°C hotter world, according to climate impacts research by Dr. Liz Hanna, from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.
Paul Brown of Climate News Network reports from the UN climate talks in Warsaw.
UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London, was speaking at a conference here which also heard that some parts of the world were already in danger of becoming too hot for humans to inhabit.

15 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan and climate change: connecting the dots (updated)

UPDATED 15 November

NEW:  Super Typhoon Haiyan's Intensification and Unusually Warm Sub-Surface Waters
A remarkable warming of the sub-surface Pacific waters east of the Philippines in recent decades, due to a shift in atmospheric circulation patterns and ocean currents that began in the early 1990s, could be responsible for the rapid intensification of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Hurricanes are heat engines, which means they take heat energy out of the ocean, and convert it to kinetic energy in the form of wind. It's well-known that tropical cyclones need surface water temperatures of at least 26.5°C (80°F) to maintain themselves, and that the warmer the water, and the deeper the warm water is, the stronger the storm can get.

06 November 2013

The Abbott government: climate policy as culture war

by David Spratt, first published at ReNewEconomy

Overnight in London, former prime minister John Howard gave the climate-denialist Global Warming Policy Foundation's annual lecture, telling his audience:
I've always been agnostic about [climate change]… I don't completely dismiss the more dire warnings but I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated… I don't accept all of the alarmist conclusions… You can never be absolutely certain that all the science is in.
 Agnosticism masking denial has been Howard's trademark. In February 2007, he told Lateline that 4-to-6 degrees Celsius of climate warming "would be less comfortable for some than it is now".  Yes, really!

27 October 2013

Connecting the dots can turn the table on denialist prime minister

by David Spratt, first published at The Guardian and RenewEconomy

It's hard to imagine that one tweet from Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt could change the terms of the climate change policy debate in Australia. But it has.

View PDF of how the story evolved
On 17 October, as fierce, out-of-season bush fires erupted around Sydney and destroyed 200 houses after the hottest year on record in Australia, Bandt tweeted that Australia would experience more terrible climate impacts if newly-elected conservative prime minister Tony Abbott got his way and abandoned the carbon pricing and renewable energy legislation enacted by the Labor government in 2010.

The previous day, Bandt had written in The Guardian that: "Faced with the biggest ever threat to Australia's way of life (bush fires), Tony Abbott is failing in the first duty of a prime minister which is to protect the Australian people." This struck a chord with many people and launched a long overdue, but until now suppressed, public discussion about the relationship between a hotter and more extreme climate and worsening disasters.

24 October 2013

Climate change and fire risk: what scientists say

Prime minister Tony Abbott says that "fire is a part of the Australian experience" and not linked to climate change. Here's what the peer-reviewed scientific research says.

Bushfire weather in SE Australia: Recent trends and projected climate change impacts

Lucas, C., K. Hennessy, G Mills and J. Bathols (2007), "Bushfire weather in SE Australia: Recent trends and projected climate change impacts", Bushfire CRC, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, Melbourne.

The number of ‘very high’ fire danger days generally increases 2-13% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 10-30% for the high scenarios (Table E1). By 2050, the range is much broader, generally 5-23% for the low scenarios and 20-100% for the high scenarios. The number of ‘extreme’ fire danger days generally increases 5-25% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios (Table E1). By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% for the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios.

22 October 2013

Fire and climate change: don't expect a smooth ride

By Roger Jones, Victoria University, via The Conversation

With fires still burning across New South Wales, it’s time to have a look at the role climate change might have played. Are the conditions we’re seeing natural variation, or part of a long term trend?

In fact, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Has bushfire risk increased due to climate change?

In research I did with colleagues earlier this year we looked at the Fire Danger Index calculated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and compared how it changed compared to temperature over time in Victoria.

19 October 2013

Is the Abbott government fiddling while NSW burns?

" …it is precisely during extreme weather events that journalists have the best opportunity to communicate the reality of climate change… As the events increase in number and scale, they will advance so far into the daily lives of Australians that social and psychological issues will emerge — that will touch us so personally and deeply — as to require narrative symbolisation. For even the most tabloid journalism to ignore these issues when people are desperately searching for an explanation will not be possible."

By David Holmes, Monash University, via The Conversation

Watch Adam Bandt on ABC News24
For the Abbott government, it has emerged that talking about climate change during a “natural” disaster is taboo. Of course, how “natural” the NSW fires actually are is the issue here, as we witness over 100 separate fires across NSW. These fires are the likes of which have never been seen in the month of October anywhere in Australia, let alone this close to population centres.

Yesterday Greens MP Adam Bandt posted the following on Twitter that drew several reactions from LNP politicians:
Tony Abbott’s plan means more bushfires for Australia and more pics like this of Sydney.

17 October 2013

Confused about the new IPCC's carbon budget?
So am I.

by David Spratt

When the IPCC's new report on the physical basis of climate change was released in late September, media attention focused on a conclusion from the Summary for Policymakers that the world had emitted just over half of the allowable emissions if global warming is to be kept to 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) of warming.

Unfortunately, because many people think if you have a budget you should spend every last dollar, the "carbon budget" message could be interpreted as saying there is plenty of budget left to spend. The respected climate researcher Ken Caldeira told Climate Progress that the carbon budget concept is dangerous for two reasons:
There are no such things as an “allowable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.” There are only “damaging CO2 emissions” or “dangerous CO2 emissions.” Every CO2 emission causes additional damage and creates additional risk. Causing additional damage and creating additional risk with our CO2 emissions should not be allowed.
If you look at how our politicians operate, if you tell them you have a budget of XYZ, they will spend XYZ. Politicians will reason: “If we’re not over budget, what’s to stop us to spending? Let the guys down the road deal with it when the budget has been exceeded.” The CO2 emissions budget framing is a recipe for delaying concrete action now.

30 September 2013

Climate battle line: Community mobilisation or Canberra lobby?

by David Spratt

Rally against carbon pricing, Canberra, 23 March 2011
How should climate activist and climate campaigning organisations respond to the new Abbott government, and its goal of knocking out most of Australia's climate programmes and trashing environmental regulation in the service of the fossil fuel and mining industries?
  • Should the methods utilised for the Labor and Labor–Greens coalition governments, of applying pressure and trying to negotiate better outcomes, be used?
  • Or should we set out to deliberately get the Abbott government out of office?
The Abbott Liberal–National Party government celebrated its victory by abolishing Australia's Climate Commission, the first baby steps in a culture war on climate programmes, the renewable energy industry and environmental regulation and protection.

28 September 2013

IPCC summary report at a glance, in their own words

via Climate News Network
Observed changes in average surface temperature 1901-2012
Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report

A note from the Climate News Network editors: we have prepared this very abbreviated version of the first instalment of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) to serve as an objective guide to some of the headline issues it covers. It is in no sense an evaluation of what the Summary says: the wording is that of the IPCC authors themselves, except for a few cases where we have added headings. The AR5 uses a different basis as input to models from that used in its 2007 predecessor, AR4: instead of emissions scenarios, it speaks of RCPs, representative concentration pathways. So it is not possible everywhere to make a direct comparison between AR4 and AR5, though the text does so in some cases, and at the end we provide a very short list of the two reports' conclusions on several key issues. The language of science can be complex. What follows is the IPCC scientists' language. In the following days and weeks we will be reporting in more detail on some of their findings.

26 September 2013

Is climate change already dangerous (5): Climate safety and an unavoidably radical future

by David Spratt

Fifth and last in a series

Climate safety

The research evidence and expert elicitations demonstrate that climate conditions are “dangerous” now – according to the generally accepted “safe boundary”, “five concerns” and “tipping point” metrics.
  • The 350 ppm “safe boundary” for atmospheric CO2 has already been exceeded by 50 ppm.
  • In 2007, at around +0.76ºC warming (equivalent to ~335 ppm CO2 at equilibrium), Arctic sea-ice passed its tipping point. The Greenland Ice Sheet may not be far behind, as the Arctic moves to sea-ice-free conditions in summer, triggering further tipping elements.
  • Around +1.5ºC warming may be the tipping point for the Greenland Ice Sheet and for the large-scale release of Arctic carbon permafrost stores. At +1.5ºC, coral reefs would be reduced to remnant systems.
  • The paleo-climate record shows that the current level of atmospheric CO2 at 400 ppm is enough to produce sea-level rises of 20–40 metres; is around the tipping point for large-scale release of Arctic carbon permafrost; and is sufficient to trigger powerful amplifying polar feedbacks.

24 September 2013

Is climate change already dangerous? (4): Tipping points and climate modelling

by David Spratt

Fourth in a series

A tipping point may be understood as a step change, or passing of a critical threshold, in a major earth-climate system component, where a small perturbation (a small push or change) unleashes a bigger change in the component.  Potsdam Institute Director, Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, says that tipping points “identify the most vulnerable components (tipping elements) of the Earth System, the critical warming thresholds where the respective Earth System elements flip into a qualitatively new state”.  These elements include ecosystems, major ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, the polar ice sheets, and the land- and ocean-based carbon stores.

This process is often tied to positive feedbacks, where a change in a component leads to other changes that eventually “feed back” onto the original change to amplify it.  The classic case in global warming (or, in reverse, cooling) is the ice-albedo feedback, where decreases (increases) in the ice cover area change surface reflectivity (albedo), trapping more (less) heat and producing further ice loss (gain).

22 September 2013

Is climate change already dangerous? (3) Consequences from current greenhouse gas levels

by David Spratt

Third in a series

Danger from implied temperature increase

The current level of atmospheric CO2 only is sufficient to increase the global temperature at equilibrium by +1.5°C, based on the standard assumption of near-term climate sensitivity of 3°C for doubled CO2.

If all current greenhouse gases are taken into account, then:
The observed increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the pre-industrial era has most likely committed the world to a warming of 2.4°C (within a range of +1.4°C to +4.3°C) above the pre-industrial surface temperatures. (Ramanthan and Feng)
And the 2007 IPCC Synthesis report (Table 5.1 on emission scenarios) also shows that for levels of greenhouse gases that have already been achieved (CO2 in the range of 350–400 ppm, CO2e in the range 445–490 ppm) and peaking by 2015, the likely temperature rise is in the range of 2–2.4°C.

21 September 2013

Is global warming in a hiatus? Not if you measure global heat content

by Prof. Andy Pitman, via The Conversation

Prof. Andy Pitman, Univ. of NSW
On September 27 2013 the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be released.

One part of this report will address the so-called “warming hiatus”. This is the argument that warming has stopped, with the further assertion in some quarters that we therefore have nothing to worry about in the future.

It is a fact, based on observations of air temperature, that the rate of global warming measured as surface air temperature has slowed over the past 15 years. The last decade is still the warmest in the past 150 years.

19 September 2013

Is climate change already dangerous (2): The Arctic

by David Spratt

Second in a series

Arctic sea ice


Download full report
On 16 September 2012, Arctic sea-ice reached its minimum extent for the 2012 northern summer of 3.41 million square kilometres, the lowest seasonal minimum extent in the satellite record since 1979, and just half of the average area for the 1979–2000 period.  There was a loss of 11.83 million square kilometres of ice from the maximum extent on 20 March 2012.  This was the largest summer ice extent loss in the satellite record, more than one million square kilometres greater than in any previous year.

Two-thirds of the loss of sea-ice extent has happened in the 12 years since 2000, and the process appears to be accelerating.  From 1979 to 1983 in the Arctic, the sea ice summer minimum covered an average of just over 51 per cent of the ocean.  It fell to just 24 per cent of the Arctic ocean surface in 2012.

17 September 2013

Climate case overwhelming, say scientists

Eleven days before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its latest report, a group of eminent scientists says there is massive evidence of human responsibility.

By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network, 16 September 2013, London

With the IPCC report not yet published, there is already heated debate about what it will say, and about the implications of its findings for human development.

The scientists' statement is unequivocal, and is not based on whatever the IPCC may publish. They  say: "The body of evidence indicating that our civilisation has already caused significant global warming is overwhelming."

The statement comes from 12 members of the recently established Earth League, which describes itself as "a voluntary alliance of leading scientists and institutions dealing with planetary processes and sustainability issues".

16 September 2013

Is climate change already dangerous? (1)

by David Spratt

First in a series
Download full report
… the (climate) disruption and its impacts are now growing much more rapidly than almost anybody expected even a few years ago. The result of that, in my view, is that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system’… The question now is whether we can avoid catastrophic human interference in the climate system.
— John Holdren, senior advisor to President Barack Obama 
on science and technology issues, 2008
The stated purpose of international climate negotiations is to avoid “dangerous” climate change or, more formally, to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Most of the climate action movement and most NGOs identify with this goal.

08 September 2013

"Model in crisis" of many big green groups, says Naomi Klein

Introduction: Australia has a new climate-change-denialist Liberal–National Party (LNP) government led by Tony Abbott, who says the science of climate change is "crap".  His government has a clear majority in Australia's lower house, and similarly will enjoy majority rule in the upper house (with the support of conservative,and often climate denialist, small parties) when new Senators take their places on 1 July 2014.
    The Senate results mean the LNP will very likely enjoy that majority for at least two terms (six years), and there is only one occasions in which an elected government in Australia has lasted only one term. So a government which for all practical purposes denies climate change and has the mission of destroying Australia's carbon price and most renewable energy initiatives will likely run the place for at least six years. For those large climate and environment NGOs who have made working inside the Canberra beltway a priority, their models faces a crisis.
     And in a different way so do we all, in working out the way to get the climate emergency approach, which does not downplay now grim scientific realities that global warming is already dangerous in favour of political convenience and incrementalism, onto the agenda.
     At this moment, with the triumph of climate-denialist politics in Australia, Naomi Klein's recent interview is particularly pertinent. – David

by Naomi Klein, interviewed by Jason Mark

First published  Earth Island Journal, 5 September 2013 (extracts)

JM: In the wake of Hurricane Sandy you wrote about the potential of a “people’s shock.” Do you see that it’s happening, a global grassroots response to some of the extreme weather we’re experiencing?

26 August 2013

The astounding global warming impact on our oceans that will reduce cloud cover and bring tears to your eyes

Ocean acidification will just not kill significant ocean ecosystems, but add even more to global warming

by David Spratt

Another significant global warming positive feedback that will add even more to future temperature rises has been identified by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. End result: Perhaps another half a degree of warming this century.

New research just published in Nature Climate by Katharine Six and her colleagues shows that as oceans become more acidic (by absorbing increasing volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid),  the amount of a compound called dimethylsulphide (DMS) in the ocean decreases.

30 July 2013

Record heat hits rapidly melting Arctic as boreal forest burns at an unprecedented rate

by David Spratt

This image from North Pole Environmental Observatory's live cam has gone viral. The meltwater lake started forming July 13, following two weeks of warm weather in the high Arctic.

It's one of many arresting images and disturbing reports tumbling out of a rapidly melting Arctic this northern summer as researchers warn that the region’s mighty boreal forests have been burning at rates unprecedented in the past 10,000 years, and that Greenland is at risk of more rapid disintegration, pushing a quicker sea level rise.

15 July 2013

Tony Abbott's hot air on soil carbon plan : reliance on soil carbon to "offset" greenhouse emissions "scientifically flawed"

by David Spratt

One-sided reliance on soil carbon policies –  which are at the heart of the Liberal-National Party's "direct action" climate plan to reducing Australia's greenhouse emissions – is "scientifically flawed" according to a group of seven Australian and UK climate researchers including Climate Commissioner Prof. Will Steffen, writing in Nature Climate Change.

The scientists say that while the land carbon buffer can provide "a valuable, cost-effective, short-term service in helping to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide", in the bigger picture – including the environmental limits to soil carbon and the huge quantity of new emissions each year – considering carbon storage on land "as a means to 'offset' CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels… is scientifically flawed."

11 July 2013

Arctic melt hits food security in bitter taste of life on a hotter planet

by David Spratt, first published in RenewEconomy

Arctic melt has pushed the Jet Stream into
a more meandering, S-shape pattern, dragging
down and stalling cold and wet conditions
over Europe
iIn the UK and Ireland,  wet summer and autumn followed by a cold winter and spring have hit wheat yields, potato production and cattle feed, a foretaste of how climate change can affect food security, even in the developed economies.

And the culprit in this drama is rapid Arctic melting, which has destabilised the Jet Stream and brought extreme weather – unusual cold, heavy snowfall, record rain and hot spells — to much of northern Europe and North America, and record heat to the Arctic. Following Superstorm Sandy’s battering of the US north-east coast in 2012, flooding in June across central Europe was the worst in 400 years.

Rapid Arctic melting – sea-ice volume in September 2012 was down by four-fifths compared to the summer average 30 years ago – has helped change the Jet Stream, the river of high altitude air that works to separates Arctic weather from that of northern Europe, Russia and Canada, and which governs much northern hemisphere weather.

10 July 2013

Pine Island glacier loss must force another look at sea-level forecasts as giant iceberg is spawned

A crack has opened across the full width of the
PIG ice shelf, spawning a new berg
Update 10 July 2013: Pine Island spawns giant new iceberg as fissure extends full width of glacier

BBC New reports that, as anticipated for two years (story below), "Pine Island Glacier (PIG), the longest and fastest flowing glacier in the Antarctic, has spawned a huge iceberg... The block measures about 720 square kilometres in area, roughly eight times the size of Manhattan Island in New York."
     Confirmation that a fissure had spread across the full width of the glacier was confirmed on 8 July with images obtained from the German TerraSAR-X satellite (pictured at right).  The fissure was first observed in October 2011 (image below).

09 July 2013

Tony Abbott's climate policy is a deniers' figleaf

Abbott's direct inaction policy would condemn Australia to even worse heatwaves, extreme floods and bushfires 

by Alexander White

Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott. Photograph: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
Tony Abbott is the alternative prime minister of Australia, and later this year he will face an election presenting a climate change policy that is frankly insulting and potentially dangerous.

The Coalition's climate change policy amounts to a bullet point in a pamphlet – the "Real Solutions for Australians" plan – number 10 of 12 such bullet points. It reads:
"We will take direct action to reduce carbon emissions inside Australia, not overseas – and also establish a 15,000-strong Green Army to clean up the environment."

04 July 2013

Stop tailoring global warming scenarios to make them “politically palatable” says leading climate scientist

Note from CCR: Readers of this blog will be familiar with the work of Prof. Kevin Anderson, one of the world's most forthright climate scientists, including in 4 degrees hotter: an adaptation trap?, Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous, and Scientists call for war on climate change, but who on earth is listening?  Anderson's approach is reflected in the framing of the forthcoming Radical Emission Reduction Conference in December 2013. The conference rationale sums up our dilemma neatly: "Today, in 2013, we face an unavoidably radical future. We either continue with rising emissions and reap the radical repercussions of severe climate change, or we acknowledge that we have a choice and pursue radical emission reductions: No longer is there a non-radical option (emphasis added). Moreover, low-carbon supply technologies cannot deliver the necessary rate of emission reductions – they need to be complemented with rapid, deep and early reductions in energy consumption – the rationale for this conference."  The following interview with Anderson was first published at People and Nature. 

ChimniesThe reality about the greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous global warming is obscured in UK government scenarios, according to Prof. Kevin Anderson. Anderson told a Campaign Against Climate Change conference in London on 8 June that the most important measurements, of total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, are pushed into the background and scientists are pressured to tailor their arguments to fit “politically palatable” scenarios.

09 April 2013

“Critical decade” or “lost decade”? (3)
Is the future unspeakable?

The Australian Labor government’s climate policy steps were slow in coming and incremental, when they needed to be transformative, and a likely Abbott government will be worse, so what’s important now?

by David Spratt | Third in a series | Part one | Part two

Published at ReNewEconomy on 10 April 2013 

Photo courtesy Greenpeace
As the federal Labor government and a significant period in climate policy-making in Australia very likely come to a close this year, there is an opportunity for the climate action and advocacy movement to reflect and plan together. One important chance is from 18-20 May in Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley of NSW, where community activists from around Australia will gather for three days of discussion under the banner Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: Beyond Coal and Gas.

08 April 2013

“Critical decade” or “lost decade”? (2)
Inside the beltway

With a victory for Tony Abbott and the Liberal–National Party coalition at Australia's federal election in September, and conservative domination of Australian parliamentary politics for the remainder of this decade both likely, what will the major parties do on climate action?

by David Spratt | Second in a series | Part one | Part three

Published at ReNewEconomy on 9 April 2013

Increasing heat content in the oceans (blue) show the
claims that global warmed has "stopped" to be fallacious.
Courtesy Skeptical Science.
LIBERAL–NATIONAL PARTY COALITION (LNP): The federal LNP’s plans are clear: up to $70 billion cuts in government spending, public sectors austerity and up to 35,000 public sector job losses. Think David Cameron in the UK or Campbell Newman in Queensland. Big business will get a free run, the mining profits tax will go, and wealth will be transferred to the top end of town. All in the name of reducing the size of government and reducing regulation to expand the private sector because more, bigger and more profitable markets are our saviour.

07 April 2013

“Critical decade” or “lost decade”? (1)
The conservative tide

Political parties which vacillate between denial and delay on climate action are set to dominate Australian politics for the remainder of this decade, so how should we respond?

by David Spratt | First in a series | Part two | Part three

Published at ReNewEconomy on 8 April 2013 

The global average temperature is now higher than
at any time during the Holocene, the period of
human civilisation
Australian Climate Commission reports in recent months (here and here) emphasise that this is “the critical decade”. Yet the bookies say there is an 85-90% probability that the Gillard Labor government will lose this year’s federal election – and by a big margin – heralding an era of conservative domination of Australian politics at national and State levels.

Just before Easter, ALP stalwart and former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty wrote that: "The politics of the next few months is no longer about the result of the next election" (emphasis added). Everybody knows Labor is lost, baring Kevin Rudd rising from the dead and at least giving the conservatives a shake.

30 March 2013

Doubling down on our Faustian bargain

Intro note: NASA's James Hansen and colleagues Pushker Kharecha and Makiko Sato have a new paper, "Climate forcing growth rates: doubling down on our Faustian bargain," in the current issue of Environmental Research Letters. They have also summarised their findings in an overview out today, and reproduced below. Main points include:
  • Associated with human greenhouse gas production is the release of fine particle known as aerosols which have a temporary cooling effect (they last in the atmosphere less than a week).
  • Aerosol cooling probably reduced global warming "by about half over the past century". In the paper Hansen et al estimate the temporary cooling "aerosol forcing -1.6 ± 0.3 watts per sq. m.". This is around 1.2 degrees Celsius. That is, without the aerosols associated with burning fossil fuels, the planetary would be more than a degree warmer!
  • The amount is uncertain because global aerosols and their effect on clouds are not measured accurately. Overcoming this gap in knowledge is urgent.
  • To prevent catastrophic global warming human greenhouse gas emission must cease, but this will also end the aerosol cooling effect and the full heating effect of our "Faustian bargain" will be revealed.

13 March 2013

Ending the stupid technology innovation vs. deployment fight once and for all

Human beings are pretty damn clever. We have adapted and invented our way out of some extremely grim situations. And we can do the same in the face of climate change! The ideas and innovations necessary to ensure our security, and the security of future generations, are within our power. What’s needed is a smooth, effective conveyor belt to carry those ideas and innovations from our heads, into the world, and up to sufficient scale.

Unfortunately, as things now stand, that conveyor belt is rusty and full of gaps. Clever ideas get stuck in our heads, or fail to make it across the “valley of death” between labs and markets, or fail to take hold and grow in those markets. We call these gaps “market failures,” but that is a misleadingly passive construction. The conveyor belt is not something that exists in Platonic market space, a priori, that we merely need to uncover. It is something we must build, consciously, using markets among other tools.

07 March 2013

Putting carbon back into the ground – the way nature does it

by Adam D. Sacks
Global climate change and land degradation have to be put on a war footing internationally - meaning that all nations need to pull together and treat this threat as we would a war. . . . Only through uniting and diverting all the resources required to deal with climate change and land degradation can we avert unimaginable tragedy. We have all the money we need.  All we cannot buy is time. – Allan Savory
I've been a climate activist since the millennium turned, twelve long years ago.  Like so many others I've rallied, marched, petitioned, organized, lectured, blogged, fumed, despaired, studied, argued and hoped.  Now, sadly, it seems that we have to come to terms with a painful reality: Our fight against global warming has not worked

25 February 2013

Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

By Joe Romm, via Climate Progress

The two greatest myths about global warming communications are
1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and
2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!

These myths are so deeply ingrained in the environmental and progressive political community that when we finally had a serious shot at a climate bill, the powers that be — led by team Obama! — decided not to focus on the threat posed by climate change in any serious fashion in their $200 million communications effort (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“).

20 February 2013

New study reveals Labor will hand $2.3–5.4 billion profit bonanza to Australia's dirtiest power stations from carbon price compensation

by David Spratt

The warnings were clear and now its happened: bending over backwards with carbon tax compensation to appease Australia's dirtiest electricity generators, the Gillard government has handed big coal billions in windfall profits, whilst consumers are effectively paying twice for the carbon price.

Anybody with any sense — from Professor Ross Garnaut to The Greens — warned two years ago that Labor's carbon tax package was far too generous in compensating Australia's dirtiest, brown-coal-fired power stations in Victoria and that, rather than providing reasons for them to be phased out, the package would perversely provides financial incentives to keep generating dirty power even longer.

And now the damning evidence is in.

19 February 2013

To fear or not to fear...

.. as Australia’s contribution to climate change on track to double in next decade or so thanks to fossil fuel exports

Note: As a followup to the post of my contribution to this year's Melbourne Sustainability Festival Great Debate, here is the contribution by Guy Pearse. – David
by Guy Pearse

OK, some personal questions to start… Who’s got a BMI of over 30? What about a tattoo completely covering just one arm – come on I know you’re out there... People are a bit shy... Let’s try an easier one… Who’s got a Facebook account, or has tweeted or felt the need to follow someone who does. Congratulations – you’re part of rapid social change. Not so long ago, very few of us would have answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions. Now, maybe you signed up to Facebook hoping to stalk your high school sweetheart; or got that tattoo fearing you might not fit in without it at the nursing home later in life. But, I’m guessing fear and optimism played little role. Yet, here we are debating which is the stronger driver of rapid social change.

16 February 2013

Fear, optimism and activism: What drives change?

It's  a fair bet that my Brightsiding series in 2012 was responsible for the topic at this year's Melbourne Sustainability Festival Great Debate held last Friday: "Fear is stronger than optimism in creating rapid social change".
      So six of us lined up, not in teams, but with clear instructions to take one side or the other and not fence-sit (more of this later). The participants were Bob Brown, Jon Dee, Fiona Sharkie, David Spratt, Guy Pearse and Tanya Ha, and the debate host was ABC TV's Bernie Hobbs.
      Given the brightsiding that still dominates the poor performance of the government and many of the big environment groups on climate action, I felt obliged to bend the stick in the opposite direction, even though the question was poorly framed. Ten minutes is hardly time to canvas the meaning of life, so this was my contribution:

11 February 2013

Effective climate communication: 140 characters at a time

Jeff Nesbitt (@jeffnesbit), the Executive Director of Climate Nexus, shows how powerful a tool Twitter can be in communicating the global warming story.
     Here's how it started. Nesbitt had tweeted:
Record snow in a warming world? The climate science is clear.bit.ly/WXOLUB
Nesbitt was challenged by a leading Christian pastor and popular southern California radio talk show, David Housholder (@LibertyHous):
@jeffnesbit Dude. Weather is complex. Climate has never been stable. Can you name a more random set of data? davidhousholder.com

10 February 2013

Do we need a Plan B for the fossil fuel industry?

by Graeme Taylor

Is their any future for the oil and coal industries without doing what they do now: burning the stuff? In Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, Bill McKibben argues that:
We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

07 February 2013

Renewable energy now cheaper than new fossil fuels in Australia

Note: This wonderful story from Bloomberg New Energy Finance today can be summed up in it final para: “New wind is cheaper than building new coal and gas, but cannot compete with old assets that have already been paid off... For that reason policy support is still needed to put megawatts in the ground today and build up the skills and experience to de-carbonise the energy system in the long-term.”
As Giles Parkinson notes today in RenewEconomy: "The analysis by BNEF is significant. Australia relies more on coal than nearly any other industrialised country, but it also has some of the world’s best renewables resources, which it has been slow to exploit. But is this likely to prompt a review of the Coalition’s energy policies – which are based on the premise that renewable energy is expensive and unreliable? Don’t bet on it."

Australia wind beats new coal in the world’s second-largest coal exporter

[Bloomberg, 7 February 2013]: Sydney, 7 February 2013 – Unsubsidised renewable energy is now cheaper than electricity from new-build coal- and gas-fired power stations in Australia, according to new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 

05 February 2013

Dependence on coal a bad strategy with shift to renewables unstoppable

By Richard Denniss, via The Conversation

Last week, Greenpeace released a report calling for a halt to Australia’s burgeoning coal exports and pointing to the catastrophic climate impacts they would cause.
      In response, Mitch Hooke, chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, took a standard industry line: “the proposal to stop Australian coal exports won’t stop global coal use – it will just send Australian jobs offshore and deprive state and federal governments of billions in revenue”.
     Arguments that the strength of the Australian economy is heavily dependent on digging up and shipping out as much coal as possible, as quickly as possible, are common. Of course, they also imply that economic arguments trump any concerns about contributions to climate change.

31 January 2013

Australia’s sea-level risk assessment out of date as US authorities say possible  2-metre rise by 2100

by David Spratt

In assessing risks, it’s pretty basic that you assess the full range of possible future events, and the costs and benefits associated with each outcome. The more extreme outcomes at the edges of the range of possibilities may be considered less likely, but are often associated with very high costs and – in the case of climate change – catastrophic outcomes.
    On rising sea levels and coastal inundation due to global warming, that’s precisely what the Australian government is NOT doing.  While the science has for years projected sea-level rises in the range of 0.8 to 2 metres by 2100, the Australian government plods along spending tens of millions of dollars on consultants and adaptation research on the assumption that the rise will not exceed 1.1. metres.

24 January 2013

Rebuilding optimism of will for effective climate activism

Many climate activists have experienced depression, exhaustion, and alienation as the time-frame for acting to avoid climate disruption shrinks. So whilst pessimism of the intellect is growing sharper, how do we “right the balance” and grow optimism of the will?

By Trent Hawkins

Che Guevara said that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love”. But not just any love, the love of humanity that transcends the day to day love of individuals (our family for example)  In a way its a shame that the actual content of this paragraph from Che has been bastardised to be about some nebulous love that drives revolutionaries. Instead what Che was talking about was a very real dilemma. How to keep ourselves motivated, heading towards the goal, when we have so little time for our real “loved ones”, so little time for ourselves, and to develop our personal lives.

22 January 2013

Connecting the dots to local climate impacts is a key to community engagement

by Graeme Taylor

Notwithstanding Australia’s record-smashing heatwave, the impacts of climate change are often perceived to be distant in time and space.
     Most Australians do not yet understand the scale and urgency of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the climate emergency—the most serious threat facing humanity. The reasons are many, including the poor performance of much of the media, and the complacency of political and business leaders. The most broadly disseminated view is that climate change is a distant and very long-term problem; an international problem (and therefore too big and complex for you or me to influence); and something that can and will be eventually managed with adaptation and new technologies.

17 January 2013

The Australian admits it misinterpreted research on sea level rise linked to climate change

  • The Australia runs false story about sea-level rises
  • Forced to apologise, story is deleted from The Australian's website
  • It fits a long-term pattern of deceit and denial by Murdoch media on climate
 by Graham Readfearn

A few days ago The Australian newspaper ran a story on its front page with the headline “Sea rise ‘not linked to warming’” which was supposedly based on the findings of research published in a peer-reviewed journal late last year.
     The problem with the story, written by the newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd was that, as I showed a couple of days ago, the scientific paper published in the Journal of Climate made no such claim and came to no such finding.
The paper discussed at length the role of humans in rising sea levels. In short, Lloyd had the arse of the story where the face should have been.

15 January 2013

Climate change and the myth of human progress

Illustration by Mr. Fish, TruthDig
Note: On present climate policy settings, the world is headed to 4 degrees C of warming by 2100, perhaps as early as 2060. We've known that for at least the last five years, but in the last year its become almost polite to recognise the fact, with the World Bank chiming in, amongst many others. There is even  a conversation about adapting to 4 degrees.
      Last week, Climate Commission scientist Prof. David Karoly told ABC News: "We are expecting in the next 50 years for two to three degrees more warming", and that is on top of the almost 1 degree C that the world has warmed since the industrial revolution.That's up to 4 degrees C of warming by 2060.
     In the same week Paul and Anne Erlich asked, "Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?", in a new, well-referenced, peer-reviewed paper: "Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, over-consumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.

12 January 2013

If we need a war footing to rebuild the physical economy, why can't we talk about it?

by Philip Sutton, Manager, RSTI

A 2009 WWF report says
"a 'war footing' may be the only
option" to re-industrialising
at the necessary speed
At the end of last year a very useful discussion was opened up by a number of climate scientists in different parts of the world calling for climate change action to be put onto a war footing.
    John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, questioned the desirability of pursuing this approach. But how valid was John's critique? And is there a better response to the call from the climate scientists to go onto a war footing?

This is what John said in the Climate Institute's 13 December 2012 newsletter (emphasis added):
If you are not scared or getting scared, you are not paying attention. Yet another rollercoaster year for climate policy and investment is ending as a remarkable chorus of conservative voices from the World Bank, the World Meteorological Organisation, the International Energy Agency and others state that climate change is happening and on track to get much worse in terms of danger and expense. These are realities, not just risks.