Astraea.net/blog

blogging the big picture

November 15th, 2012

Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary)

It’s not often that you hear a conservative, traditional, esteemed financial guru advocating civil disobedience.  So it is fair to let you read why they advocate an energetic voice of change.  The summary is: Times are far more desperate than we think and we need to change the system to become sustainable with the utmost urgency.  He says teh climate problem is the crisis of our species’ existence.

Here’s the whole article by financier Jeremy Grantham published in Nature.

Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary)

I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it. I am a specialist in investment bubbles, not climate science. But the effects of climate change can only exacerbate the ecological trouble I see reflected in the financial markets — soaring commodity prices and impending shortages.

My firm warned of vastly inflated Japanese equities in 1989 — the grandmother of all bubbles — US growth stocks in 2000 and everything risky in late 2007. The usual mix of investor wishful thinking and dangerous and cynical encouragement from industrial vested interests made these bubbles possible. Prices of global raw materials are now rising fast. This does not constitute a bubble, however, but is a genuine paradigm shift, perhaps the most important economic change since the Industrial Revolution. Simply, we are running out.

The price index of 33 important commodities declined by 70% over the 100 years up to 2002 — an enormous help to industrialized countries in getting rich. Only one commodity, oil, had been flat until 1972 and then, with the advent of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, it began to rise. But since 2002, prices of almost all the other commodities, plus oil, tripled in six years; all without a world war and without much comment. Even if prices fell tomorrow by 20% they would still on average have doubled in 10 years, the equivalent of a 7% annual rise.

This price surge is a response to global population growth and the explosion of capital spending in China. Especially dangerous to social stability and human well-being are food prices and food costs. Growth in the productivity of grains has fallen to 1.2% a year, which is exactly equal to the global population growth rate. There is now no safety margin.

Then there is the impending shortage of two fertilizers: phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash). These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements. Former Soviet states and Canada have more than 70% of the potash. Morocco has 85% of all high-grade phosphates. It is the most important quasi-monopoly in economic history.

“It is crucial that scientists sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on global warming.”

What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried. There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20–40 years or we will begin to starve.

The world’s blind spot when it comes to the fertilizer problem is seen also in the shocking lack of awareness on the part of governments and the public of the increasing damage to agriculture by climate change; for example, runs of extreme weather that have slashed grain harvests in the past few years. Recognition of the facts is delayed by the frankly brilliant propaganda and obfuscation delivered by energy interests that virtually own the US Congress. (It is not unlike the part played by the financial industry when investment bubbles start to form … but that, at least, is only money.) We need oil producers to leave 80% of proven reserves untapped to achieve a stable climate. As a former oil analyst, I can easily calculate oil companies’ enthusiasm to leave 80% of their value in the ground — absolutely nil.

The damaging effects of climate change are accelerating. James Hansen of NASA has screamed warnings for 30 years. Although at first he was dismissed as a madman, almost all his early predictions, disturbingly, have proved conservative in relation to what has actually happened. In 2011, Hansen was arrested in Washington DC, alongside Gus Speth, the retired dean of Yale University’s environmental school; Bill McKibben, one of the earliest and most passionate environmentalists to warn about global warming; and my daughter-in-law, all for protesting over a pipeline planned to carry Canadian bitumen to refineries in the United States, bitumen so thick it needs masses of water even to move it. From his seat in jail, Speth said that he had held some important positions in Washington, but none more important than this one.

President Barack Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to get a climate bill passed, and his great environmental and energy scientists John Holdren and Steven Chu went missing in action. Scientists are understandably protective of the dignity of science and are horrified by publicity and overstatement. These fears, unfortunately, are not shared by their opponents, which makes for a rather painful one-sided battle. Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

October 17th, 2012

Antarctic sea ice grows … good news?

The Earth Observatory reports that Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Maximum Extent.  Yes, more rather than less.

A recent study suggests:

“The strong pattern of decreasing ice coverage in the Bellingshausen/Amundsen Seas region and increasing ice coverage in the Ross Sea region is suggestive of changes in atmospheric circulation,” they noted.

“The year 2012 continues a long-term contrast between the two hemispheres, with decreasing sea ice coverage in the Arctic and increasing sea ice coverage in the Antarctic,” Parkinson added. “Both hemispheres have considerable inter-annual variability, so that in either hemisphere, next year could have either more or less sea ice than this year. Still, the long-term trends are clear, but not equal: the magnitude of the ice losses in the Arctic considerably exceed the magnitude of the ice gains in the Antarctic.”

Well, I suppose change is happening, but it still doesn’t look good.

NASA Earth Observatory: Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Maximum Extent

September 5th, 2012

Arctic ice disappearing faster …

4 million square kilometres and falling.  That number doesn’t mean much, but when you  read that ten years ago it was 5.6 million or 40% more you realise that it’s about to disappear.    At a rate of 1.6 million square kilometres loss a decade it will be gone in 40 years.  And it hasn’t reached its minimum this year yet.

C’mon everyone, we’ve got to get it together and stop cooking the planet.  It’s no good grabbing more stuff and assuming the government or someone else is going to do the job.  We all have to change.  Now.

NASA Earth Observatory: Earth Indicator: 4 million

 

August 28th, 2012

Fire and Ice – sad news at both ends of the spectrum.

A couple of headlines today caught my attention.  Unimportant news to most of us, which probably won’t even make the TV version.  In the heat of Tibetan politics, two teenagers self-immolated in protest against repression, while in the chill of the Arctic there is less ice than ever before.

The stories might get some play because they offer good graphics and tragedy, but they appear to be so far from our lives that they do not affect us.  They should.  They are signs that we should change our behaviour – to love our fellow humans more and to stop burning the planet.

BBC:  Two Tibetan teenagers die in self-immolations

BBC: Arctic sea ice reaches record low, Nasa says

August 9th, 2012

Climate change is here — and worse than we thought

Climate change is here — and worse than we thought

By James E. Hansen, Published: August 4 The Washington Post

When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988 , I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.

But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.

But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.

Our new peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, makes clear that while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate (up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century), the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide.

When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe.

The change is so dramatic that one face of the die must now represent extreme weather to illustrate the greater frequency of extremely hot weather events.

Such events used to be exceedingly rare. Extremely hot temperatures covered about 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of the globe in the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. In the last three decades, while the average temperature has slowly risen, the extremes have soared and now cover about 10?percent of the globe.

This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it — the world that caused the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data show, will become even more frequent and more severe.

There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100?percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.

The future is now. And it is hot.

March 28th, 2012

Climate volatility brings summer in winter!

It’s not just about climate change or global warming – trends whihc can not be confirmed or denied till it’s too late – it’s also about climate volatility.  This is already empirically demonstrated.  There are high fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, wind and cloud cover.

Sometimes it’s wonderful for us because we can enjoy warm sunny days in March.  But it makes it difficult to plan.   It is so unusual that even plants are challenged to reproduce and grow and the consequence is lower food productivity.

Check out this image from the Earth Observatory showing plus and minus 15 degree variations in March:

The unseasonable warmth broke temperature records in more than 1,054 locations between March 13–19, as well daily lows in 627 locations, according to Hamweather. Cities as geographically diverse as Chicago, Des Moines, Traverse City (Michigan), Myrtle Beach, Madison (Wisconsin), Atlantic City, New York City, and Duluth, (Minnesota) all broke records for high temperatures in recent days.

April 8th, 2011

The arctic ice is gone.

Well, nearly.

The latest models indicate ice-free summers in the arctic this decade.  We won’t have to wait 100 years for the effects of climate volatility.  They are here now.

BBC: New warning on arctic ice melt

May 29th, 2010

A cold winter snap, but not long enough.

Another sign of climate change and weather volatility.  Although winter was very cold, the dip in temperatures was brief and not long enough for ice and snow cover to accumulate.

From Earth Observatory:

Winter 2009-2010 was much colder than normal for the United States, and it delivered a string of record-breaking snowstorms that began on the winter solstice.

The snow and cold didn’t linger far into the spring, however. By the end of April, North American snow cover had retreated to the lowest extent in the 1967–2010 record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s April 2010 State of the Climate Report. This map shows percent snow cover across North America in April 2010 based on observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Percent snow cover ranges from just above zero (light blue) to 100 percent (white). Land areas with no detectable snow cover during the month are gray.

According to NOAA, “Across North America, snow cover for April 2010 was 2.2 million square kilometers below average—the lowest April snow cover extent since satellite records began in 1967 and the largest negative anomaly to occur in the 521 months that satellite measurements are available.” Unusual warmth descended on North America in April, leading to both low snowfall amounts and rapid melt of existing snow.

The Earth Observatory’s Global Maps section provides an animation of monthly, global snow cover from February 2000 to the present.

March 31st, 2010

Climate volatility is a problem.

There’s probably global warming going on as a result of fossil fuel burning over the past couple of centuries.  Even if you choose to dispute that, you probably notice something strange about the weather, call it climate change or climate volatility (or risk).  If you’re an armchair weather watcher, like most of us in Ireland, you’ve probably realised its difficult to predict the weather nowadays.  If you’re a farmer or gardener, you’re probably pretty frustrated because time is wasted and crops are lost.

Below are some images from NASA illustrating the recent volatility – the divergence from normal climate is up to 12 oC – that’s huge.

Temperature Anomalies, Winter 2009-2010

December 2009

Temperature Anomalies, Winter 2009-2010

download large December 2009 image (2 MB, JPEG) acquired December 1 – 31, 2009
January 2010

Temperature Anomalies, Winter 2009-2010

download large January 2010 image (2 MB, JPEG) acquired January 1 – 31, 2010
February 2010

Temperature Anomalies, Winter 2009-2010

Color bar for Temperature Anomalies, Winter 2009-2010

download large February 2010 image (2 MB, JPEG)

January 27th, 2010

2009 Ends Warmest Decade on Record

Except for a leveling off between the 1940s (WW2) and 1970s (oil embargo), Earth’s surface temperatures have increased since 1880. 1885 is the year the first automobile went into general production. Mmmmmmmm … is there a connection?

The last decade has brought temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded, and the last year of the decade (2009) was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record.  Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade, due to strong cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to near-record global temperatures, despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America, Europe, and Asia. The year was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007 1998 and 2007—as the second warmest year since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.

Earth Observatory: 2009 Ends Warmest Decade on Record

Earth Observatory: 2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade