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10 December 2014 ( –

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Ten years of Realclimate: By the numbers

World banking crises, 1800-2012. Since the liberalization of capital flows and greater financial integration in the 1980s, the incidence of banking crises has soared. Graphic: UNDP

(UNDP) – Over the past few decades the world has suffered deeper and more frequent financial crises that have spread rapidly to other economic sectors, creating uncertainty, affecting livelihoods and threatening social stability. In the most recent crisis global unemployment increased by nearly 30 million between 2007 and 2009, while current unemployment estimates remain far above pre-crisis levels. Economic shocks can have long-term negative consequences, especially if they trigger a vicious cycle of low human development and conflict. Natural disasters and political shocks—such as droughts and coups d’état—usually have strong negative impacts on human development. But financial shocks—such as banking crises—are the most probable trigger of HDI downturns. The number of countries affected by banking crises appears to be higher in periods of high international capital mobility. Between 1950 and 1980, when capital controls were common, few countries had banking crises. But after capital flows were liberalized and financial markets further integrated, the incidence of banking crises soared (figure 2.9). The Nordic banking crisis in the early 1990s, the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the recent global financial crisis exemplify this growing instability.

Although the poorest countries were more insulated from the initial financial shock—due to their limited integration in global capital markets—they were extremely vulnerable to secondary transmission channels, such as declining external demand for their exports and lower foreign investment. Developing countries traditionally are less able to cope with large economic shocks and usually take longer to recover from crises. For instance, the volatility of GDP growth is often higher in the poorest countries—except in recent years— and the proportion of years spent in deep recession is also higher for them, due partly to their undiversified economic structures and limited policy space.

Economic crises often generate unemployment and hardship, but economic booms can enhance inequality—which may contribute to the next crisis. Indeed, inequality can be both a cause and a consequence of macroeconomic instability. A more equitable distribution of income can boost economic growth and promote greater social and political stability. Low income inequality has been associated with longer growth spells and thus greater economic sustainability.

Human Development Report 2014

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans. Top: Pieces of plastic debris by size, in pieces per square kilometer. Bottom: Weight of plastic debris by size, in grams per square kilometer. Graphic: Eriksen, et al., 2014

By Oliver Milman
10 December 2014

(The Guardian) – More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found.

Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm.

The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans.

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to humans.

This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment.

“We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants.

“Bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

The researchers collected small plastic fragments in nets, while larger pieces were observed from boats. The northern and southern sections of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were surveyed, as well as the Indian ocean, the coast of Australia and the Bay of Bengal.

The vast amount of plastic, weighing 268,940 tonnes, includes everything from plastic bags to fishing gear debris.

While spread out around the globe, much of this rubbish accumulates in five large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that churn up plastics in a set area. Each of the major oceans have plastic-filled gyres, including the well-known ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ that covers an area roughly equivalent to Texas.

Reisser said traversing the large rubbish-strewn gyres in a boat was like sailing through “plastic soup.”

“You put a net through it for half an hour and there’s more plastic than marine life there,” she said. “It’s hard to visualise the sheer amount, but the weight of it is more than the entire biomass of humans. It’s quite an alarming problem that’s likely to get worse.” [more]

Full scale of plastic in the world's oceans revealed for first time

ABSTRACT: Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world's oceans from 24 expeditions (2007–2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

Aerial view of an illegal logging camp located on the border of the Alto Purús National Park near the Sepahua River in Peru. Photo: Chris Fagan / Upper Amazon Conservancy (UAC)

10 December 2014 ( – Forest-dependent peoples face grave threats from deforestation and other depredations, warns a new report that urges greater recognition of traditional land use and support of community-led initiatives to fight forest loss.

The report, published Monday during climate talks in Lima, is based on research by dozens of indigenous and forest communities from Africa, Asia and Latin America, which convened this past March in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province. It documents a litany of transgressions against forest-dependent people, ranging from land invasions by corporations to denial of basic human rights by governments.

The report includes case studies from nine tropical countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, and Peru — all of which have an increasing share of deforestation and forest degradation driven by industrial actors like ranchers, loggers, miners, and plantation developers.

The report also finds fault with efforts to curb abusive practices and deforestation, arguing that zero deforestation commitments and approaches like the UN REDD+ program for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation don't do enough to address the lack of sustainability inherent in current development models based on industrial commodity production.

Accordingly, the report argues for a rights-based approach to addressing deforestation. "When our peoples' rights are secured, then deforestation can be halted and even reversed," stated the Palangka Raya Declaration, issued by participants at the close of the March workshop. "We call for a change in policy to put rights and justice at the centre of deforestation efforts." [more]

Deforestation puts cultural survival of forest-dependent peoples at risk

A sign on a California farmhouse fence reads, 'Pray for rain - 1 Thess. 5:17'. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Michael Mann
8 December 2014

(Huffington Post) – Just a couple months ago, I critiqued a pair of studies that disputed any linkage between human-caused climate change and the exceptional 2014 California drought. Now comes yet another study ("Causes and Predictability of the 2011-14 California Drought") with the imprimatur of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced with great fanfare (a NOAA press conference), drawing yet again the same conclusion. My criticisms of the latest study are yet again basically the same, but for reasons I explain below, that conclusion is even more implausible now than it was just two months ago.

Let me start by noting that this latest report (unless I've missed something?) doesn't appear to be an actual peer-reviewed scientific article, but rather, an internal NOAA report. That causes me some concern, as the claims have not yet been submitted to the independent scrutiny of the larger scientific community in the manner it would have if it were published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

That having been said, my main concerns are far more fundamental. The methodology used in the current article, in my view, is deeply flawed because it doesn't properly account for a number of potentially important factors behind the record California drought. […]

Most inexplicable of all, though, is the fact that the authors pay only the slightest lip service to the role of surface temperature in drought, focusing almost entirely on precipitation alone. That neglects the fact that California experienced record heat over the past year, and this anomalous heat certainly contributed to the unprecedented nature of the current drought. Another article published just a week ago in one of the premier peer-reviewed journals in the field, Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), preemptively critiqued the present study, by stressing the importance of looking at the role of extremely high surface temperatures as well as precipitation in assessing the factors behind, e.g., the 2014 California drought:

And most ironic of all, just days ago, another article in GRL concluded that the record heat played a role in making the current California drought the worst such drought in at least 1200 years! (see also this discussion by Peter Gleick). [more]

Climate Change and the Record 2014 California Drought

Portraits of unarmed people of color killed by U.S. police, 1999-2014. After the announcement that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted for killing Eric Garner, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund Twitter posted a series of tweets naming 76 men and women who were killed in police custody since the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo in New York. Photo: Gawker

By Rich Juzwiak and Aleksander Chan
8 December 2014

(Gawker) – On Wednesday, after the announcement that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted for killing Eric Garner, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund Twitter posted a series of tweets naming 76 men and women who were killed in police custody since the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo in New York. Starting with the most recent death, what follows are more detailed accounts of many of those included in the Legal Defense Fund's tweets.

Rumain Brisbon, 34, Phoenix, Arizona — 2 December 2014

Rumain Brisbon, 34, of Phoenix, Arizona was an unarmed black father of four. He was shot to death on 2 December 2014 when a police officer apparently mistook his bottle of pills for a gun. Photo: NBC

Brisbon, an unarmed black father of four, was shot to death in when a police officer apparently mistook his bottle of pills for a gun. Aftermath: Pending. [more]

Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014

Wounded Iraqi children are treated at a hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. Bombers detonated explosives-rigged vehicles at a police station and a primary school in October 2013. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

By Debarati Guha-Sapir and Frederick M. Burkle Jr
2 June 2014

(Journal of Tropical Pediatrics) – With the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the USA and Coalition Forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld assured the removal of military forces within 60 days and, despite pleas from within and outside his own circle of advisors, rejected the possibility of any humanitarian or public health crisis [1]. What resulted became a country torn apart by sectarian violence, a shattered health system and an ongoing public health emergency defined primarily by preventable mortality and morbidity. A decade later, it is time to take stock of the impact the war has had on its most vulnerable population, the children.

In the 1980s, Iraq enjoyed a health care system of well-equipped hospitals, highly trained medical specialists and a comprehensive system of primary care clinics. In preparation for the impending 1991 war, the health budget was cut by 90%. Health conditions deteriorated, especially in the south where malnutrition and water-borne diseases were common, and the salaries of medical personnel decreased drastically. Adding insult to injury, the 2003 invasion destroyed 12% of hospitals and public health laboratories, and nearly two-third of its qualified medical personnel emigrated [2].

Today, it is difficult to reliably comment on the health status, as vital registration and health data requirements are not being met or are difficult to obtain. Notwithstanding the progress made by World Health Organization in improving population registrations and national surveillance, insights are possible through very few specialized health studies. Key indicator data of child health are fragmentary but provide a cautious, although alarming, view into health trends. What is known is that there is a steady increase in child mortality since the invasion [3]. In terms of child mortality data ratings in eight countries, Iraq slipped from a rank of 5 in 1990 to the bottom of the list by 2011. With continued civil violence and dysfunctional public health services the proportion of children with full immunization coverage dropped from 80% in 1990 to barely over 40% in 2011, well below 83–94% herd immunity levels, the worst of the region [4].

Routine maternal and newborn health services have declined without clear evidence of recovery. Ministry of Health (MOH) surveillance data confirmed a measles vaccine failure rate of 66.1%, with greater risk in Governorates where the war was fiercest [5]. United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) analyses from 2000 to 2011 indicate a fifth of newborns exposed to the war failed to receive neonatal polio immunization [6]. The current polio outbreak in Syria places Iraq at particular risk.

Although health budget cuts and global sanctions were blamed for the worsening malnutrition rates in the late 1990s, nation-wide surveys in 2011 have not shown improvement, leaving nearly a quarter of the children aged less than 5 years stunted. Hospital sanitary conditions are also an increasing concern. In two Tikrit hospitals, a third of children were diagnosed with nosocomial diarrhea directly linked to unsanitary practices by the medical staff, contaminated bed linens, food containers and unopened cans of infant formula [7]. Broader concerns include the etiology for the increased rates of cancer, especially those living in areas of intense combat operations. Significantly high rates of congenital abnormalities are found in Fallujah as well as a doubling of childhood leukemia rates in Basra, a possible link to the use of depleted or enriched uranium ammunition [8, 9]. Children with newly diagnosed cancer suffer ‘shortcomings in provision of health services including professional manpower, infrastructure, diagnostic and therapeutic facilities, and supportive and palliative care’ [10].

Civilians, especially children, continue to bear the brunt of war-related injuries. Evidence from combat support hospitals in Afghanistan and Iraq indicate that nearly half of the injured civilians were children, primarily injured by gunshots and explosives [11]. The overwhelming expatriation of qualified primary and pediatric specialty care physicians and nurses have considerably weakened the health system. Nearly a quarter of the physicians and 60% of specialists left the country by 2007 [12]. Rebuilding this expert pool is a major challenge requiring specific policies for the short and long term.

While Iraq has made some progress in the past decade, it has been unable to make up lost ground. The majority of the child deaths since the invasion are due to failed or dysfunctional public health protections rather than outright violence [12]. [more]

Health Trends in Iraq with a Focus on Children: No Cause for Optimism

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of haze in the Kashmir Valley on 5 December 2014. Much of the haze visible in the image likely had its origins in charcoal production or the burning of biomass. Charcoal is widely used to heat homes in the Kashmir Valley in the winter and emits several types of polluting gases and aerosol particles into the atmosphere. Photo: Jeff Schmaltz / LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

By Adam Voiland
10 December 2014

(NASA) – About 4.5 million years ago, the Kashmir Valley was at the bottom of a large lake, encircled by a ring of rugged mountains. Much of the lake’s water has long since drained away through an outlet channel on the valley’s west side. However, evidence of the lake remains in the bowl-like shape and the clay and sand deposits on the valley floor.

The mountains surrounding Kashmir Valley now trap air a bit like they once trapped water. The high ridges can set up airflow patterns that concentrate smoke and other airborne pollutants near the valley floor, causing outbreaks of haze. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of haze in the valley on December 5, 2014.

Haze is most likely to occur when warm, buoyant air moves over cooler, denser air—a situation meteorologists call a temperature inversion.Temperature inversions often develop on winter nights as the surface loses heat and chills the air immediately above. Mountain valleys often strengthen inversions because cold air from mountaintops tends to flow down slopes and push warmer air up from the floor in the process. Snow cover also increases the likelihood of an inversion because snow cools the air near the surface by reflecting much of the Sun’s energy rather than absorbing it. With a temperature inversion in place, air in the valley becomes stagnant; the warm air above it acts like a cap and prevents pollutants from dispersing.

Much of the haze visible in the image likely had its origins in charcoal production or the burning of biomass. Charcoal is widely used to heat homes in the Kashmir Valley in the winter and emits several types of polluting gases and aerosol particles into the atmosphere.

“You can tell this is pollution and not fog or mist by exploring the aerosol data available on Worldview,” explained Hiren Jethva, a NASA atmospheric scientist. “You can see that the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) picked up a clear aerosol signal over the valley on December 5, as it did on several days in November as well.”

Haze in the Kashmir Valley

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Deniers are not Skeptics. Those who deny the results of climate science are not scientific skeptics. Graphic: Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

5 December 2014 (CSI) – Public discussion of scientific topics such as global warming is confused by misuse of the term “skeptic.” The Nov 10, 2014, New York Times article “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline” referred to Sen. James Inhofe as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.” Two days later Scott Horsley of NPR’s Morning Edition called him “one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.” These are not equivalent statements.

As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media. Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.”

As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.

We are skeptics who have devoted much of our careers to practicing and promoting scientific skepticism. We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.

Mark Boslough, Physicist

David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, at the SETI Institute

Bill Nye, CEO the Planetary Society

Ann Druyan, Writer/producer;  CEO, Cosmos Studios

Ken Frazier, Editor, Skeptical Inquirer

Barry Karr, Exec Director, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Amardeo Sarma, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Executive Council, Chairman GWUP (Germany)

Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ronald A. Lindsay, President & CEO Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Center for Inquiry

Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University

Christopher C. French, Dept of Psychology, Goldsmiths University of London

Daniel C. Dennett, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University

Massimo Pigliucci,  Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College

Douglas Hofstadter, Director, The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, Indiana University

Stephen Barrett, Co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), and the webmaster of Quackwatch

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Professor, Department of Psychology, Emory University

Terence Hines, Dept of Psychology, Pace University

James Randi, President James Randi Educational Foundation

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer and Director of the Center for SETI Research

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Henri Broch, Physicist, Emeritus, University Nice Sophia Antipolis, France

Eugenie C. Scott, Chair, Advisory Council, National Center for Science Education

Edzard Ernst, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, University of Exeter, UK

Indre Viskontas, Cognitive Neuroscientist, Host Inquiring Minds Podcast

David J.  Helfand, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University

Mario Mendez-Acosta, Journalist, Science Writer, Mexico City

Cornelis de Jager, Astrophysicist,  Past President, International Council for Science

Sanal Edamaruku, President, Rationalist International

Loren Pankratz, Psychologist, Portland VA Medical Center, Retired

Sandra Blakeslee, Science Writer

Benjamin Radford, Deputy Editor of the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine

David Thomas, Physicist and Mathematician

Stuart D. Jordan, NASA Astrophysicist, Emeritus

David H. Gorski, Cancer Surgeon, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Anthony R. Pratkanis, Professor of Psychology, UC @Santa Cruz

Jan Willem Nienhuys, Mathematician, Waalre, The Netherlands

Susan Blackmore, Psychologist,  Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth

Ken Feder, Anthropology,  Central Connecticut State University

Jill Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair, SETI Institute

Richard Saunders, JREF Million Dollar Challenge Committee,  Producer - The Skeptic Zone Podcast

Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, Williams College

Lawrence M. Krauss, Director, The ASU Origins Project, Arizona State University

Barbara Forrest, Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana University

Kimball Atwood, Physician, Newton, MA

James Alcock, Psychologist, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada

Massimo Polidoro, Science writer, author, Executive Director CICAP, Italy

E.C. Krupp, Director, Griffith Observatory

Deniers are not Skeptics


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