The data behind Bjørn Lomborg's false claim of falling sea level. Image courtesy of Greg Laden's blog. Graphic: Greg Laden

By Stefan Rahmstorf
31 August 2015

(RealClimate) – Bjørn Lomborg is a well-known media personality who argues that there are more important priorities than reducing emissions to limit global warming.

In a recent controversy centering on him, the Australian government (known for its contradictory position on climate change) offered the University of Western Australia (UWA) $4 million to make Lomborg professor – which UWA first accepted, but then after massive protest from its staff and students refused. The Australian government was quick to label it a “freedom of speech” issue that Lomborg should get a university position, and vowed to find another university that would host him. However, free speech doesn’t guarantee everyone a university position; there are also academic qualifications required.

Let us thus start by looking at Lomborg’s track record in the scientific literature. This is where original research results, i.e. new findings, are published. One can look this up in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science, the main data base of the scientific literature. According to this Lomborg only has published 20 papers, of which 15 have never been cited by anyone (Fig. 1). The number of citations shows whether any other researchers in the world have found the results interesting enough to discuss them in their own papers (whether critically or otherwise). Only one of Lomborg’s papers has a reasonable number of citations: 42. This is on a problem of game theory, apparently resulting from his PhD thesis. On closer inspection, the other articles appear to be merely opinion pieces that made it into the Thomson Reuters data base by appearing in periodicals that are indexed there, including Forbes, Foreign Affairs, or New Scientist.

That means that apart from one paper in 1996, Lomborg has never published anything in any field of science that was interesting or useful to other scientists, or even just worth the bother of contradicting in the scientific literature. PhD students at many universities are expected to publish two or three original research papers from their PhD, and without that, they are generally uncompetitive for a postdoc position. [more]

Bjørn Lomborg, just a scientist with a different opinion?

A boat with refugees sinks close to the cargo ship 'OOC Jaguar' in the Mediterranean sea on 12 April 2015. Many of the ships that the desperate refugees flee Africa aboard are very unseaworthy. Photo: EPA / Opielok Offshore Carriers

GENEVA, 4 September 2015 (UNHCR) – The head of the UN refugee agency António Guterres, emphasizing the European Union faced a "defining moment", has laid out a set of key guidelines which he says should underpin all efforts to resolve the current refugee and migration crisis facing Europe.

Guterres said the biggest influx of refugees into Europe for decades required a "massive common effort" and break with the current fragmented approach which has led Europe overall to fail to find an effective common response.

"Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach. No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part," he said in a statement issued ahead of a key round of EU meetings on the crisis. "Exceptional circumstances require an exceptional response. Business as usual will not solve the problem."

"More than 300,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year. Over 2,600 didn't survive the dangerous crossing, including three-year-old Aylan, whose photo has just stirred the hearts of the world public," Guterres said.

Guterres praised some exemplary and "truly inspiring" examples of generosity and moral leadership on the part of some countries and many private citizens, but reiterated his appeal for a collective strategy including a renewed drive to settle conflicts,

The image of the young Syrian boy, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach Greece, has stirred the hearts of millions worldwide and thrown a fresh spotlight on the human tragedies now regularly occurring in the Mediterranean.

"It (the EU) now has no other choice but to mobilize full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust," he said.

Calling for all states to respect international law and obligations, Guterres stressed that even those who do manage to arrive on Europe's shores and borders face dreadful hazards.

"After arriving on Europe's shores and borders, they continue their journey – facing chaos and suffering indignity, exploitation and danger at borders and along the way," he added.

Stressing that "no country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part",

Guterres laid out six fundamental principles he said should be borne in mind in all efforts to resolve the issue:

1) This is a primarily refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon. The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are simply running for their lives. All people on the move in these tragic circumstances deserve to see their human rights and dignity fully respected, independently of their legal status. But we cannot forget the particular responsibility all states have vis-à-vis refugees, in accordance with international law.

2) Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach. No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part. It is no surprise that, when a system is unbalanced and dysfunctional, everything gets blocked when the pressure mounts. This is a defining moment for the European Union, and it now has no other choice but to mobilize full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust.

3) Concretely, this means taking urgent and courageous measures to stabilize the situation and then finding a way to truly share responsibility in the mid to longer term. The EU must be ready, with the consent and in support of the concerned governments – mainly Greece and Hungary, but also Italy – to put in place immediate and adequate emergency reception, assistance and registration capacity. The European Commission should mobilize the EU asylum, migration and civil protection agencies and mechanisms for this purpose, including the resources of member states and with the support of UNHCR, IOM and civil society. From our side, UNHCR is fully committed to step up its efforts. It is essential that refugee families that disembark in Europe after having lost everything are welcomed into a safe and caring environment.

4) People who are found to have a valid protection claim in this initial screening must then benefit from a mass relocation programme, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states. A very preliminary estimate would indicate a potential need to increase relocation opportunities to as many as 200,000 places. This can only work if it goes hand in hand with adequate reception capacities, especially in Greece. Solidarity cannot be the responsibility of only a few EU member states.

5) Those who are found not to be in need of international protection and who cannot benefit from legal migration opportunities should be helped to return quickly to their home countries, in full respect of their human rights.

6) The only ones who benefit from the lack of a common European response are the smugglers and traffickers who are making profit from people's desperation to reach safety. More effective international cooperation is required to crack down on smugglers, including those operating inside the EU, but in ways that allow for the victims to be protected. But none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe and find safety upon arrival. Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. European countries – as well as governments in other regions – must make some fundamental changes to allow for larger resettlement and humanitarian admission quotas, expanded visa and sponsorship programmes, scholarships and other ways to enter Europe legally. Crucially, family reunification has to become a real, accessible option for many more people than is currently the case. If these mechanisms are expanded and made more efficient, we can reduce the number of those who are forced to risk their lives at sea for lack of alternative options.

Beyond the immediate response, it is clear that this situation will require us to reflect seriously about the future. This massive flow of people will not stop until the root causes of their plight are addressed. Much more must be done to prevent conflicts and stop the ongoing wars that are driving so many from their homes. The countries neighbouring war zones, which shelter 9 in 10 refugees worldwide, must be supported more strongly, along with the funding required. At the same time, it is also essential that development cooperation policies are reoriented with the objective of giving people the opportunity to have a future in their own countries.

Europe is facing a moment of truth. This is the time to reaffirm the values upon which it was built.

UNHCR chief issues key guidelines for dealing with Europe's refugee crisis

A 'green' straw from Starbucks is discarded on Topanga State Beach, California. Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle

By Lisa Kaas Boyle
3 September 2015

(Huffington Post) – Dear Starbucks, I am a real mermaid, not just a graphic on a plastic cup. As an ocean protection activist, environmental attorney and surf lover, I spend a lot of time at the beach and in the ocean. I want you to know that your "Green" Straws, plastic stirrers and mermaid cups are some of the most commonly found at the beach, contributing greatly to the plastic pollution crisis.

Last week I met up with a dear friend and Rutgers University marine biologist who was visiting my hometown. We met at Starbucks. Here is the vision that greeted us upon entering my local Starbucks.

Plastic straws and stirrers are the Number 7 most common item found on beaches worldwide on International Coastal Cleanup day, the single largest volunteer effort on the planet and source of valuable data for what ails our seas. Starbucks is undeniably one of the greatest sources of those straws and stirrers, along with plastic cups which come in at Number 5 most polluting and plastic lids at Number 3 most polluting. [more]

Open Letter to Starbucks: Your "Green" Straws Make Mermaids Cry

60,000 dead saigas dot the landscape in central Kazakhstan, in May 2015. Over a four period, the entire herd — about 60,000 saigas — died off. Workers struggled to keep up with the mass dying, quickly burying the dead animals in heaps. Photo: Sergei Khomenko / FAO

By Tia Ghose
2 September 2015

(Live Science) – It started in late May.

When geoecologist Steffen Zuther and his colleagues arrived in central Kazakhstan to monitor the calving of one herd of saigas, a critically endangered, steppe-dwelling antelope, veterinarians in the area had already reported dead animals on the ground.

"But since there happened to be die-offs of limited extent during the last years, at first we were not really alarmed," Zuther, the international coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, told Live Science.

But within four days, the entire herd — 60,000 saiga — had died. As veterinarians and conservationists tried to stem the die-off, they also got word of similar population crashes in other herds across Kazakhstan. By early June, the mass dying was over. [See Images of the Saiga Mass Die-Off]

Now, the researchers have found clues as to how more than half of the country's herd, counted at 257,000 as of 2014, died so rapidly. Bacteria clearly played a role in the saigas' demise. But exactly how these normally harmless microbes could take such a toll is still a mystery, Zuther said.

"The extent of this die-off, and the speed it had, by spreading throughout the whole calving herd and killing all the animals, this has not been observed for any other species," Zuther said. "It's really unheard of." […]

Mass burial of saigas in central Kazakhstan, in May 2015. Over a four period, the entire herd — about 60,000 saigas — died off. Workers struggled to keep up with the mass dying, quickly burying the dead animals in heaps. Photo: Sergei Khomenko / FAO

Tissue samples revealed that toxins, produced by Pasteurella and possibly Clostridia bacteria, caused extensive bleeding in most of the animals' organs. But Pasteurella is found normally in the bodies of ruminants like the saigas, and it usually doesn't cause harm unless the animals have weakened immune systems.

Genetic analysis so far has only deepened the mystery, as the bacteria found were the garden-variety, disease-causing type.

"There is nothing so special about it. The question is why it developed so rapidly and spread to all the animals," Zuther said.

A similar mass die-off of 400,000 saigas occurred in 1988, and veterinarians reported similar symptoms. But because that die-off occurred during Soviet times, researchers simply listed Pasteurellosis, the disease caused by Pasteurella, as the cause and performed no other investigation, Zuther added. [more]

60,000 Antelopes Died in 4 Days — And No One Knows Why

This image shows hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena (from west to east) on 30 August 2015. This natural-color image is also a mosaic, acquired with VIIRS between about 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time on August 30 (21:00 and 00:00 Universal Time on August 30-31). The bright areas are due the mirror-like reflection of sunglint. Photo: Jesse Allen

By Michael Muskal
31 August 2015

(Los Angeles Times) – For a time over the weekend, three powerful Category 4 hurricanes churned in the central and eastern Pacific basins at the same time, an event that is believed a meteorological first in the ocean region and another sign that the forces of El Niño are stirring up weather anomalies — and the jitters in Hawaii.

Even though the storms are forecast to miss Hawaii, officials have had to gear up emergency measures as a precaution. Stores have reported an increase in purchases of emergency supplies, declarations of warning have been issued by state leaders and emergency management officials and hundreds of volunteers have been put at the ready by groups such as the Red Cross.

“This hurricane season seems to be busier than normal,” said Krislyn Yano, communications manager for the state chapter of the Red Cross. “We don’t want residents to get fatigued by the close calls then think we’re invincible” when the storms pass. “We are always trying to be prepared, and we’re only half way through the season. Everyone should always be ready.”

According to Chevalier, a meteorologist for the Honolulu-based Central Pacific Hurricane Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the region averaged 16.6 named storms a year from 1981 to 2010. The largest number, 28, was recorded in 1992 and the fewest, eight, was in 1977 and 2010.

So far, there have been 14 named storms in the region, and the hurricane season, which runs from mid-May to the end of November, is only about half over, he said. The forecast had been for 15 to 22 storms this year, he said.

“This year, we have had a very active hurricane season and the main reason is El Niño,” he explained. The El Niño effect occurs when sea water has a warmer than average temperature. […]

“I would say it’s very rare, extremely rare,” he said. “I don’t think it has ever happened before.” [more]

Three powerful Pacific hurricanes churning at the same time make weather history


Satellite view of three Category 4 hurricanes in the Pacific, on 30 August 2015: Kilo (left), Ignacio (center) and Jimena (right). Photo: NASA

30 August 2015 (weather.com) – A very rare meteorological event occurred Saturday evening into early Sunday morning when three Category 4 hurricanes were ongoing simultaneously in the Pacific Ocean.

At 11 p.m. EDT Saturday, Huricane Kilo (135 mph) was located well southwest of the Hawaiian Islands followed by Hurricane Ignacio (140 mph) to the east of Hawaii and Hurricane Jimena (140 mph) in the eastern Pacific. Kilo was the last of the trio to reach Category 4 status, doing so on Saturday evening. For reference, hurricanes with maximum sustained winds of 130-156 mph are classified as Category 4, which is the second highest category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

However, by 5 p.m. EDT Sunday both Kilo and Ignacio had begun to weaken and were classified as Category 3 hurricanes, while Jimena maintained its Category 4 status.

This is the first recorded occurrence of three Category 4 hurricanes in the central and eastern Pacific basins at the same time. In addition, it's also the first time with three major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger) in those basins simultaneously, according to hurricane specialist Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center.

This satellite image shows the three Category 4 hurricanes in the Pacific Sunday morning (Kilo - left, Ignacio - center, Jimena - right).

Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University and blogger for wunderground.com said in a tweet on Saturday that this was also the first time the central Pacific, bounded by the International Date Line and 140 degrees west longitude, has had two major hurricanes (Kilo and Ignacio) ongoing at the same time. This piles on to what has already been a record hurricane season in the central Pacific basin.

Blake said on Aug. 21 that Loke was the record fifth named storm to form in the central Pacific basin this season. The others were Ela, Halola, Iune and Kilo. In addition, three eastern Pacific storms have tracked through the basin, including Guillermo, Hilda and Ignacio. [more]

Three Category 4 Hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean: How Rare Is That?

Relative elevation of Gulf Coast counties. Areas below 30 m elevation displayed in orange. Graphic: Potter, et al., 2008

14 August 2015 (NCDP) – Researchers at Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) and the University of Washington have published a new study focused on the public health implications of climate change. The article explores climate change impacts on human health in the U.S. Gulf Coast and has implications for this and other coastal regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The study appears in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (August 11, 2015). The Open Access article is available here: http://bit.ly/1gAVqVe

This new review of available data comes on the heels of President Obama's announcement of the requirement for reduced carbon emissions by the power industry as part of the Clean Power Plan. The Obama administration has fully acknowledged the human health impacts of the country's fossil fuel energy production and the immediate need to mitigate and adapt the nation's energy policies.

Climate variability and change present substantial threats to physical and mental health, and may also create social instability, potentially leading to increased conflict, violence, and widespread migration away from areas that can no longer provide sufficient food, water, and shelter for the current populations. Coastal areas, where a large proportion of U.S. residents live, are particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change due to hazards such as changing water use patterns, shoreline erosion, sea level rise and storm surge.

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute, "The science of climate change and the threat to human and population health is irrefutable - and the threat is evolving quickly." Dr. Redlener, also a professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, added, "Unfortunately, we are now at a point where simply slowing climate change, while critical, is not enough. We need to simultaneously develop and deploy ways of mitigating the impact and adapting to the consequences of this environmental disaster."

Public health impacts in the U.S. Gulf Coast may be severe as the region is expected to experience increases in extreme temperatures, sea level rise, and possibly fewer but more intense hurricanes. Through myriad pathways, climate change is likely to make the Gulf Coast less hospitable and more dangerous for its residents, and may prompt substantial migration from and into the region. Public health impacts may be further exacerbated by the concentration of vulnerable people and infrastructure, as well as the region's coastal geography.

The new paper provides an overview of potential public health impacts of climate variability and change on the Gulf Coast, with a focus on the region's unique vulnerabilities, and outlines recommendations for improving the region's ability to minimize the impacts of climate-sensitive hazards.

"Climate change may amplify existing public health impacts, such as heat-related morbidity and mortality, malnutrition resulting from droughts, and injury and deaths following exposure to floods," said Dr. Elisa Petkova of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. "Although future trends are difficult to project, climate change may also facilitate the re-introduction of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to the Gulf Coast and other vulnerable coastal regions."

Based on this research NCDP's key recommendations include:

  • The Federal government should establish a multi-agency permanent task force on the human and population impacts of climate change, charged with identifying innovative adaptation strategies. This task force should include relevant government agencies, as well as relevant private sector stakeholders.
  • Funds should be made available for the simultaneous implementation of adaptation strategies to improve individual, public health system, and infrastructure resilience.
  • Adaptation efforts should follow a course set by the Federal taskforce and should attempt to integrate hazard-specific adaptation measures into city, state and regional level emergency management plans, particularly in high-risk regions.
  • Further explore the linkage between weather events and infectious disease with an aim to enhance surveillance and intervention efforts.

Study shows how climate change threatens health


ABSTRACT: The impacts of climate change on human health have been documented globally and in the United States. Numerous studies project greater morbidity and mortality as a result of extreme weather events and other climate-sensitive hazards. Public health impacts on the U.S. Gulf Coast may be severe as the region is expected to experience increases in extreme temperatures, sea level rise, and possibly fewer but more intense hurricanes. Through myriad pathways, climate change is likely to make the Gulf Coast less hospitable and more dangerous for its residents, and may prompt substantial migration from and into the region. Public health impacts may be further exacerbated by the concentration of people and infrastructure, as well as the region’s coastal geography. Vulnerable populations, including the very young, elderly, and socioeconomically disadvantaged may face particularly high threats to their health and well-being. This paper provides an overview of potential public health impacts of climate variability and change on the Gulf Coast, with a focus on the region’s unique vulnerabilities, and outlines recommendations for improving the region’s ability to minimize the impacts of climate-sensitive hazards. Public health adaptation aimed at improving individual, public health system, and infrastructure resilience is urgently needed to meet the challenges climate change may pose to the Gulf Coast in the coming decades.

Climate Change and Health on the U.S. Gulf Coast: Public Health Adaptation is Needed to Address Future Risks

By Hal Bernton
28 August 2015

(Seattle Times) – A lack of oxygen in southern Hood Canal is killing fish, crab and other marine life, according to Seth Book, a biologist with the Skokomish Tribe who has been monitoring the marine waterway.

Through the month of August, Book and other Skokomish staff have observed dead English sole and thousands of dead and dying eel pouts on the beaches. They also have found masses of dead cockles and butter clams, and on Friday, Book said he saw hundreds of crab along the beaches that were trying to get to the surface to breath.

“It’s a dead zone anywhere east of Sister’s Point to Belfair, Mason County. There’s very low oxygen at depth,” Book said.

A live eelpout attempts to to breath out of water at Potlatch State Park, 31 August 2015. A lack of oxygen in southern Hood Canal is killing fish, crab and other marine life, according to Seth Book, a biologist with the Skokomish Tribe who has been monitoring the marine waterway. Photo: Seth Book / Skokomish DNR

In another area, off Hoodsport, upwelling had pushed the deep water to the surface, and a University of Washington buoy on Friday detected almost no oxygen in surface waters.

Over the years, Hood Canal has repeatedly had low-oxygen summers that resulted in die-offs, and this year is shaping up to be one of the worst. The long, narrow body of water has limited circulation that leads to the low oxygen levels known as hypoxia. [more]

Lack of oxygen killing marine life in Hood Canal waters

Viewed from West Seattle, this sunset is obscured by smoke from forest fires on 8 July 2015. Photo: Jamie Kinney

By Scott Sistek
31 August 2015

(KOMO 4 News) – This might be the ultimate statistic to show just how hot a summer it's been in Seattle this year:

In typical summers, Seattle gets a handful of 80 degree days a year (25 to be exact -- OK, so they're big hands).

This summer? It was the average high temperature.

In about as big a surprise as Kanye West doing something zany at the MTV Video Music Awards, Seattle has officially notched its hottest summer on record. (Yes, technically there are still three weeks in summer by our calendar, what with that whole autumnal equinox and all, but "meteorological summer" runs June 1-Aug. 31. Meteorological fall is Sept. 1-Nov. 30; winter is Dec. 1-Feb. 28, spring is March 1-May 31).

And by all measures, it wasn't even close.

It is indeed the first summer ever here that averaged a high temperature over 80 degrees, checking in at 80.2. (The fact that 47 of the 92 days this summer were above 80 might have had something to do with it*.) Second place on the hottest average high temperature? WAY down the chart at 77.6 degrees, set both in 1961 and 1958.

Our average summer high is 73.4.

Beating a statistic averaged over three months by over 2 1/2 degrees is like winning the Super Bowl over the AFC champion by 36 points (wink).

What about by average overall temperature? Smashed that record too. The average temperature (high+low divided by 2) was 69.2 degrees, breaking the previous record of 67.4 degrees set way back in … 2013 (by nearly two degrees!)

In fact, the top three hottest summers at Sea-Tac Airport by average temperature are now the last three summers. 2014's summer was 66.8 degrees. 2009 is in sixth place. The average for summer is 63.6. [more]

With average high of 80, it's officially Seattle's hottest summer on record

Top: Forest fire in Alaska Photo: La'ona DeWilde / University of Alaska Fairbanks. Bottom: Spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) attack on white spruce forest (Picea glauca) of northern British Columbia Photo: Troy Lockhart / British Columbia Ministry of Forests

By Bob Weber
21 August 2015

(The Canadian Press) – Climate change is forcing the boreal forest that covers much of northern Canada to a tipping point, concludes a newly published study.

"The changes could be very dramatic and very fast," said Dmitry Schepaschenko of Austria's Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Schepaschenko was one of three authors who collaborated on a detailed review of current research on the boreal forest. Their conclusions were released Thursday in a special edition of the journal Science.

One of the authors is from Natural Resources Canada, but was unable to speak on the record because of restrictions placed on public servants during the federal election.

The boreal forest is one of the largest ecological zones on the planet. It covers much of northern Canada and extends into Scandinavia and northern Russia.

Although it remains largely intact, it faces the most severe expected temperature increases anywhere on Earth. Schepaschenko said some parts of Siberia are likely to eventually become 11 C warmer.

That will bring greater precipitation, but not enough to compensate for the dryness caused by hotter weather. A drier boreal will suffer new diseases, insect infestations and vast wildfires.

Nor will the forest simply be able to shift north as warmer temperatures creep up from the south, said Schepaschenko.

"The forests can't go so far to the north. The speed at which forests can move forward is very slow, like 100 metres a decade."

The result, the study concludes, is that the forest is likely to transform from an unbroken canopy of green to a mixed landscape with groves of trees separated by open grasslands.

"This forest will convert to a type of savannah." [more]

Boreal forest being driven to tipping point by climate change, study finds


ABSTRACT: The boreal forest, one of the largest biomes on Earth, provides ecosystem services that benefit society at levels ranging from local to global. Currently, about two-thirds of the area covered by this biome is under some form of management, mostly for wood production. Services such as climate regulation are also provided by both the unmanaged and managed boreal forests. Although most of the boreal forests have retained the resilience to cope with current disturbances, projected environmental changes of unprecedented speed and amplitude pose a substantial threat to their health. Management options to reduce these threats are available and could be implemented, but economic incentives and a greater focus on the boreal biome in international fora are needed to support further adaptation and mitigation actions.

Boreal forest health and global change

 

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