Category Archives: Climate Change

Biosphere destruction is being ignored but happening fast and time is running out.

In Dangerous Global Warming Closer Than You Think, Climate Scientists Say, Scientific American outlines two reports encouraging immediate and extensive action, before it’s too late.

The message of the reports is that climate volatility is already here, species extinction is close to a critical level, as are levels of toxic concentrates.  They are now talking in terms of only decades to repair the problems.

Sadly there remain climate deniers who resist the science, using the moderate language of scientific data interpretation to claim that inconclusiveness equates to fallacy.  These few climate deniers influence millions who support their claims, many doing so on religious grounds (which is doubly sad because no god would be pleased with the way the planet is polluted even by faithful climate deniers).

We are getting deeper in to a situation requiring radical change in behaviour, especially with respect to energy consumption and sources.  Everyone  has to change behaviour now.  Use less energy.  Eliminate combustion of fossil fuels.  Everyone.  Now.

PlosOne: Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change

National Academy of Sciences: Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises

Fossil fuel subsidies: over $ 500,000,000,000 a year.

That’s about $112 for each adult in the world.   It’s a lot of money for any industry.  It’s a huge commitment of resources for a sunset industry.  Subsidies must be eliminated.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report notes that “these subsidies outweigh the support provided to fast-start climate finance by a ratio of 7:1″.  That mismatch smacks of corruption, which shouldn’t surprise anyone but will, since we think of the big energy companies are at least legal, if not ethical.

It is sad that we continue to subsidise industrial development that promotes climate change and biosphere degradation when everyone, especially policy makers, knows that humanity needs and wants to clean up.

The ODI report recommends phasing out subsidies by 2025.  That is too late.

SocialFunds.com: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Average $112 per Adult

More climate change numbers are in, and they’re bad.

The World Meteorological Organization reports:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2012, continuing an upward and accelerating trend which is driving climate change and will shape the future of our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.

Between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 41%, methane by 160% and nitrous oxide by 20%.

Those are some of the highlights.  The WMO press release is here and copied below.  Also have a look at the BBC news item: Concentrations of warming gases breaks record.

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in Atmosphere Reach New Record

Geneva, 6 November 2013 – The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2012, continuing an upward and accelerating trend which is driving climate change and will shape the future of our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.

The World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80% of this increase. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than its average growth rate over the past ten years, according to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 41%, methane by 160% and nitrous oxide by 20%.
What is happening in the atmosphere is one part of a much wider picture. Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans.

“The observations from WMO’s extensive Global Atmosphere Watch network highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its recent 5th Assessment Report stressed that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” he said.

“As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” said Mr Jarraud.

“According to the IPCC, if we continue with ‘business as usual,’ global average temperatures may be 4.6 degrees higher by the end of the century than pre-industrial levels – and even higher in some parts of the world. This would have devastating consequences,” he said.

“Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said Mr Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation. According to WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, on the global scale, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 393.1 parts per million in 2012, or 141% of the pre-industrial level of 278 parts per million.
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increased 2.2 parts per million from 2011 to 2012, which is above the average 2.02 parts per million per year for the past 10 years, showing an accelerating trend.

Monthly observed concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded the symbolic 400 parts per million threshhold at several Global Atmosphere Watch stations in the Arctic during 2012.  During 2013 hourly and daily concentrations passed this threshold in other parts of the world, including at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the oldest continuous atmospheric measurement station in the world which is widely regarded as a benchmark site in the Global Atmosphere Watch. Concentrations of CO2 are subject to seasonal and regional fluctuations. At  the current rate of increase, the global annual average CO2  concentration is set to cross the 400 parts per million threshold in 2015 or 2016.

CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years and so will determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped immediately.

Methane (CH4)

Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas. Approximately 40% of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources (e.g., wetlands and termites), and about 60 % comes from human activities like cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.

Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012, or 260% of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources. Since 2007, atmospheric methane has been increasing again after a temporary period of levelling-off.
In a special section on methane, the bulletin said that there has not yet been a measurable increase in Arctic methane due to melting of the permafrost and hydrates. It said that the increase in global average methane levels was rather associated with increased emissions in the tropical and mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere. Attribution of this increase to anthropogenic (human-influenced) or natural sources requires better coverage and more sophisticated observations in the atmosphere which are currently not available.

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous oxide is emitted into the atmosphere from both natural (about 60%) and anthropogenic sources (approximately 40%), including oceans, soil, biomass burning, fertilizer use, and various industrial processes. Its atmospheric concentration in 2012 was about 325.1 parts per billion, which is 0.9 parts per billion above the previous year and 120% of the pre-industrial level.  Its impact on climate, over a 100-year period, is 298 times greater than equal emissions of carbon dioxide. It also plays an important role in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Other greenhouse gases

The total radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases in 2012 corresponds to equivalent CO2 concentration of 475.6 parts per million, compared to 473.0 parts per million in 2011. Other long-lived greenhouse gases include ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), as well as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are increasing at relatively rapid rates.

Notes for Editors

The WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme (www.wmo.int/gaw) coordinates systematic observations and analysis of greenhouse gases and other trace species. Fifty countries contributed data for the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Measurement data are reported by participating countries and archived and distributed by the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Additional resources: Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change 5th Assessment Report
(The Physical Science Basis) http://www.climatechange2013.org/
WMO: The Global Climate 2001-2010:
A Decade of Climate Extremes http://library.wmo.int/pmb_ged/wmo_1119_en.pdf

Note to journalists:  For more information, please see www.ipcc.ch, www.wmo.int or www.unep.org, or contact: Clare Nullis at WMO on +41-79-709-1397 or cnullis@wmo.int

 

Biochar: The Original Soil Amendment to Mitigate Climate Change

Below is an article from CSR Wire summarising the use of charcoal as a soil improver.  It’s benefits have been known for centuries as it was a principal technique used by aboriginal American peoples.  Adding charcoal to soil helps it maintain its vitality and catalyses the decomposition of plant and animal matter and its transformation in to plant food.  (Don’t use treated or manufactured charcoal which contains petroleum derivatives and toxins.)

(Previous blog on biochar here: Black is the new green)

Biochar: The Original Soil Amendment to Mitigate Climate Change

By Stefan Jirka

The man heaves another shovelful of dirt out of the 2-meter deep pit. The sun blazes overhead, an eerie stillness blanketing the midday jungle. The two dozen people gathered around peer eagerly over the edge. Along the vertical face of the soil pit, pottery shards intermingled with blackened bits of charred material are clearly visible. The crowd murmurs a small gasp as the man passes up a handful of soil. Someone swats at a mosquito buzzing incessantly as a machete is unsheathed and used to separate a bit of pottery from the blackish clumps in the dirt.

Black Earth of The Amazon

This may sound like a scene from the latest Indiana Jones movie, but in fact, it was a recent excursion of researchers, environmentalists, and journalists to investigate the phenomenon known as terra preta do indio­­—Portuguese for “black earth of the Indian”—in the Brazilian Amazon.

Terra preta soils, found across vast areas of the Amazon Basin, are charcoal-enhanced soils associated with pottery shards, bones, and other signs of human habitation, and are thousands of years old. Compared to the acidic, nutrient-poor, red clay soils from which they’re derived, terra preta are dark (from the carbonized remains of plant and animal material) and, crucially, highly fertile. They can contain as much as 70% more organic carbon than theTerraPreta(DSCN2235)_PhotoCredit_StefanJirka surrounding soils.

Archaeologists have known about these anthropogenic soils for decades but only in recent years have soil scientists and others begun to dig deeper. In doing so they’ve opened exploration of a new field of research around the sustainability benefits of “biochar”—defined by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) as a solid material obtained from the carbonization of biomass that may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions. IBI is the leading global non-profit organization supporting research and commercialization for sustainable biochar production and use.

The questions researchers are finding answers to include:

  • Can the process of enhancing soil fertility via the addition of biochar be re-created?
  • What are the specific properties and mechanisms that biochar confers to the native soil matrix?
  • Can biochar be used to significantly draw down atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations?

Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation

Biochar is obtained when biomass feedstocks such as wood- or crop-residues are heated in low- or no-oxygen conditions. In a thermochemical conversion process called pyrolysis, the cellulose, lignin, and other organic carbon compounds present in raw feedstock are physically and chemically changed to highly stable forms of carbon resistant to degradation. In biochar, organic carbon—typically consumed voraciously by soil microbes—is thereby locked away from rapid degradation. This explains in large part the persistence of charred materials—and fertility—in ancient terra preta soils.

Debbie Reed, IBI’s Policy Director explains:

The conversion of degradable carbon to carbon that is orders of magnitude more stable than its feedstock carbon is what makes biochar a particularly appealing climate change mitigation technology. The ability to turn waste biomass that will otherwise degrade into a stable, beneficial soil amendment with incredible co-benefits is compelling in its own right, but also why so many researchers and governments the world over are further investigating its potential to create large carbon sinks while helping to impart multiple benefits to the global soil resource.

Biochar is produced from biomass residues that would otherwise have released their carbon into the atmosphere via the carbon burning(3)_PhotoCredit_StefanJirkacycle. For example, residues such as straw or corn stalks are often burnt or left in fields to rot. Instead these residues are pyrolyzed into biochar and then placed in the soil where the stable carbon can remain for thousands of years or more. In this way, biochar is a “carbon negative” GHG mitigation strategy; it pulls carbon out of the biogeochemical carbon cycle and places it into long-term soil carbon pools.

It is important to note here that whereas dedicated “biochar crops” could be used to make biochar, IBI and other serious proponents of biochar strictly advocate the use of biomass residues deemed to be waste, i.e., residues from existing land management activities that have little or no economic value and that present waste management challenges. Numerous analyses have demonstrated that many gigatonnes of such residues are produced worldwide annually.

The American Carbon Registry’s Methodology for Biochar Projects 

Recognizing biochar’s potential as a climate change mitigation strategy, a team of organizations including The Climate Trust, The Prasino Group, IBI and Carbon Consulting came together to develop a methodology to quantify biochar’s GHG sequestration potential with the intent to both enhance the economics of biochar projects and further increase knowledge and understanding of the climate mitigation potential of biochar. The result is the recently drafted Methodology for Biochar Projects­, currently posted for public comment at the American Carbon Registry—a leading voluntary carbon offset registry that is a division of Winrock International.

The methodology quantifies two components of biochar’s carbon offsetting potential: 1) enhanced soil carbon sequestration via the addition of biochar to soil, and 2) avoided GHG emissions from decomposition or combustion of feedstock biomass.

In order to measure soil carbon sequestration, it was necessary to estimate the longevity (stability) of the stable carbon component of biochar. To this end, an expert panel of leading biochar researchers developed a Biochar Carbon Stability Test Method designed to quantify “BC+100”—defined as the stable carbon in biochar expected to remain 100 years after its addition to soil—using data from published laboratory and field experiments and a review of sophisticated analytical TerraPreta(2)_PhotoCredit_JulieMajor-BrunoGlasertechniques.

For the avoided emissions component of the methodology, the baseline scenario assumes biochar feedstocks will be burned or decompose, thereby releasing CO2 and/or CH4. The project scenario entails the pyrolytic conversion of that feedstock into biochar and subsequent addition to the soil, thereby avoiding combustion or decomposition.

One Wedge of the Climate Change Mitigation Pie

Revenues from participation in carbon markets can enhance biochar project development and hasten scale-up of technology and production. Biochar could then join other GHG reduction measures as an important wedge of the climate change mitigation pie.

Parties interested to review and submit feedback on the Methodology for Biochar Projects are invited to do so until November 8, 2013 here.

More information on biochar is available at the IBI website.

 

We need more trees. Many more.

Interpretation of empirical data connecting weather patterns with forests has been met with scepticism and been largely ignored by meteorologists, climate change scientists and the media, but we ought to consider the proposal.

Dr Anastassia Makarieva and Professor Victor Gorshkov of the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute have proposed that it is not temperature differences which are the primary drivers of wind patterns, but instead evaporation and condensation are much larger contributors to wind generation than anyone has previously recognised.

They proposed a year ago that when water condenses out of the air it lowers the atmospheric pressure, causing air to sweep in from surrounding locations – ie wind. Moreover, most of the water vapour in the atmosphere sits fairly close to the ground and condenses as it rises into cooler air so winds sweep in to replace the condensing water vapour. This airflow encourages further evaporation, followed by more condensation in the air column above, creating a positive feedback loop.

Most of the backlash to this idea is understandable since it challenges current thinking.  However, the idea is not that far fetched and doesn’t suggest that temperature is immaterial.  However, it raises the impact of forest cover to the dynamics of weather patterns, because forests offer a much greater surface area for evaporation and condensation than grassland or even ocean.   This new understanding increases the need to preserve forests and rebuild them.

Stephen Luntz points out that:

The physics aside, the primary implications of this theory are:

1) The Earth is a delicate system and we mess with it at our peril.

2) Forests matter, and are worth much more standing than as paper.

3) Intact ecosystems do their jobs much better than the crude imitations we like to put in their place after was have destroyed them.

C’mon everyone, let’s smarten up!

 

Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats:   The Word For World Really Might Be Forest

Mongabay.com:Controversial research outlines physics behind how forests may bring rain

New Scientist: Keep rainforests – they drive the planet’s winds

Yes, the world IS melting.

Melting of polar ice sheets has added 11mm to global sea levels over the past two decades, according to the most definitive assessment so far.  More than 20 polar research teams combined forces to produce estimates of the state of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica in a paper in Science.

The study’s headline conclusion is that the polar ice sheets have overall contributed 11.1mm to sea level rise but with a “give or take” uncertainty of 3.8mm – meaning the contribution could be as little as 7.3mm or as much as 14.9mm.

 

BBC: Sea-level rise finally quantified

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.

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

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