Leaked papers show UK government will backtrack on tar sands extraction being classified as highly polluting0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 17, 2013
By Lorna Howarth
17 May 2013
(The Ecologist) – The UK government has come under fire this week from both NGOs and scientists for rejecting an EU proposal to classify tar sands under the European Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) as ‘highly polluting’ – despite the fact research has shown that oil produced from the Canadian tar sands emits 3-4 times more greenhouse gases than does conventional oil.
It follows the week’s visit of high profile Canadian Ministers Joe Oliver and Peter Kent who flew to London as part of a pan-European mission to promote the Canadian tar sands industry and lobby against the FQD.
Kent, who is the Canadian Environment Minister, is on record as saying “Climate change is a very real and present danger and we need to address it.”
Extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands – the biggest industrial project on earth – is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and indeed, is the primary reason why Canada will fail to meet its own greenhouse gas reduction targets.
So it must be disconcerting for Canadians to see this major disconnect in their Environment Minister’s thinking. Likewise, it is equally disconcerting for UK citizens to see their own Under Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker, displaying the same inability to connect the dots.
As Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network points out: “Norman Baker says he supports a Fuel Quality Directive that takes emissions from tar sands into account. But if this is the case, why does the recently-leaked document clearly state that the UK government says it 'prefers' to lump tar sands in with all other sources of oil? At the moment it looks like Baker is toeing the oil industry line on this matter.”
The leaked document referred to by Jess Worth was published on the Greenpeace ‘EnergyDesk’ website earlier this week. It showed that the UK government is set to change its position and push the EU to allow the import of carbon-intensive oils from the Tar Sands despite it being 23% more polluting than conventional fuels, thus making a mockery of the EU FQD. There will be another vote on the FQD later in 2013. [more]
Obama tweet gives Australia climate researcher 31 million reasons to celebrate – ‘Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made, and dangerous’2 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 17, 2013
By Peter Hannam, Carbon economy editor
17 May 2013
(Sydney Morning Herald) – It's the social media equivalent of hitting the jackpot: having your study tweeted by US President Barack Obama.
Australian researcher John Cook, an expert in climate change communication, was inundated with requests for interviews by US media outlets after Obama took to Twitter to endorse his project's final report.
“It was pretty cool news,” said Mr Cook, a fellow at the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute and founder of the website skepticalscience.com. “It was out of our expectations.”
A survey of scientific papers by a team led by Mr Cook and published by Fairfax Media this week found more than 97 per cent of researchers endorsed the view that humans are to blame for global warming. The peer-reviewed outcome flies in the face of public perception in countries such as the US or Australia that scientists are divided on the issue.
"One of the highest predictors of how important people think climate change is, is cues from political leaders,” Mr Cook said. “So if the leaders don't seem to care, people don't care either.
“A cue from Obama is a big step,” he said. “The fact it goes to more than 31 million followers, it just raises the awareness of consensus.”
That's 31,541,507 followers, to be precise. Retweets recently stood at 1,746 with Twitter carrying a long stream of comments.
The peer-reviewed report also sparked international media interest, with CNN among the news outlets chasing Mr Cook.
“It went crazy,” he said. “I've never experienced that before.”
Mr Cook's timing was fortuitous. The Obama administration is battling Republicans in Senate who are opposed to the president's nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the country's Environmental Protection Agency.
Without sufficient Congressional support for a price on carbon, Mr Obama has used the EPA as his main tool for trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for warming the planet.
Mr Cook said reports on the scientific consensus linking humans to climate change “tend to bounce around the echo chamber”.
“Something like what Obama did really helps in getting that information out into the general public,” he said. [more]
With rising seas, America’s birthplace could disappear – ‘We were thinking it’s another 100 years, another 150 years. You know, it could be much closer.’0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 17, 2013
By Christopher Joyce
14 May 2013
(NPR) – By the end of the century, the birthplace of America may be underwater.
The first successful English colony in America was at Jamestown, Va., a swampy island in the Chesapeake Bay. The colony endured for almost a century, and remnants of the place still exist. You can go there and see the ruins. You can walk where Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas walked. But Jamestown is now threatened by rising sea levels that scientists say could submerge the island by century's end.
You wouldn't know that by looking. In springtime, Jamestown is a carpet of bright new grass. There's oak and loblolly pine, and the James River lies on every horizon. There's a museum and a visitor center and a restored 17th century church.
It's also an archaeological site, one that comes with costumed "interpreters." Beneath a towering stone monument, a young woman in a woolen smock and peasant blouse greets a gaggle of tourists. […]
Climate scientists say that by 2100, oceans could rise worldwide by at least 2 or 3 feet, on average. Coastal flooding will increase, and eventually, without human intervention, Jamestown could go under.
So here's what archaeologists are wondering: Can they save the island as a real place where people can step back through time and see where it all started?
The National Park Service owns part of Jamestown. I meet the Park Service's Dorothy Geyer at the new visitor center (Hurricane Isabel flooded the old one in 2003). Geyer says the Park Service has been thinking about flooding for a long time. "We always knew that the island was at some point going to be in danger of being covered over, but we were thinking it's another 100 years, another 150 years. You know, it could be much — closer," she says, pausing as though she's not quite comfortable with the reality.
Most of Jamestown is just above sea level, maybe 3 feet in most places. Along the shore, you can see the river already invading through the tall grass. Storm surge reaches farther inland now than it used to. But something else unusual is going on here. As the levels of the sea and the James River rise, says hydrologist Gary Speiran of the U.S. Geological Survey, river water pushes through the soil, then underneath the island.
It gets underneath the freshwater aquifer, Speiran says, and pushes it up, closer to the surface. How often and how much is still a mystery; he has monitoring wells around the island to find out.
So water is invading Jamestown from above and below. And archaeologists know that the ground is riddled with things the colonists and Native Americans left behind. Water could ruin these artifacts. [more]
Climate change brings disease threat for polar bears – ‘There are a number of diseases now observed in Arctic animals that were not previously seen’0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 17, 2013
By Shaoni Bhattacharya
15 May 2013
(New Scientist) – With its habitats shrinking and food supplies dwindling, the fate of the polar bear looks grim in the face of climate change. Now comes news that the iconic Arctic mammal may face another potentially devastating threat: it may be particularly vulnerable to new pathogens moving northwards as a result of warming.
Diana Weber, who works at both the New College of Florida, Sarasota, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, led a team that sequenced DNA from 98 polar bears in Canada. They looked specifically for genes coding the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) – a molecule found on the surface of cells that acts as a crucial component of the immune systems of most vertebrates.
The MHC molecules register the presence of pathogens by binding to them. This alerts the body's immune cells to recognise the foreign invaders and mobilise. Because the MHC molecule's binding site is coded for by highly variable genes, it is able to detect a wide range of pathogens.
Not in the polar bear, though. Weber and colleagues found the polar bears had especially low diversity in their MHC genes. The researchers suggest it may be an adaptation to life in the Arctic, which is relatively free of bugs compared with lower latitudes. Previous work in Atlantic salmon has shown that the diversity of genes coding for the MHC binding site is lower in animals that typically live in lower temperature conditions.
If adaptation for survival in the Arctic environment has led to a less versatile immune system, then Arctic species such as the polar bear may be at risk from an influx of pathogens as global temperatures rise, the researchers warn.
"There are a number of diseases now observed in Arctic animals [that were] not previously seen or not as prevalent," says Weber. "Low diversity, especially in the immune system, should be a concern."
"We know that regional shifts in the Arctic's climate might – directly or indirectly – change host-pathogen relationships as well as impact the efficiency of host immune responses," says Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, who works at the Autonomous University of Queretaro, Mexico, and the Institute of Zoology in London. [more]
Germany can’t stop euro zone from sinking into longest recession – ‘Any recovery is going to be excruciatingly slow’0 comments Posted by Jim at Wednesday, May 15, 2013
By Robin Emmott, Sarah Marsh, and Mike Peacock, with additional reporting by Gavin Jones in Berlin and Ingrid Melander in Paris; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt
15 May 2013
BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany's economy crept back into growth at the start of the year but not by enough to stop the euro zone from contracting for a sixth straight quarter, and France slid into recession.
Falling output across the bloc meant the 17-nation economy is in its longest recession since records began in 1995.
It shrank 0.2 percent in the January to March period, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday, worse than the 0.1 percent contraction forecast by a Reuters poll.
"The misery continues," said Carsten Brzeski, a senior economist at ING in Brussels. "Almost all core countries bar Germany are in recession and so far nothing has helped in stopping this downward spiral.
As well as France, the economy shrank for the quarter in Finland, Cyprus, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Greece. Data last month showed Spain's economy contracted for a seventh consecutive quarter.
Germany, which generates almost a third of the euro zone's economy, grew by a weaker than expected 0.1 percent, skirting the recession that France succumbed to, but highlighting the devastating impact of the euro zone's debt and banking crisis that has driven unemployment to a record 19 million people.
France's downturn was its first in four years, after contracting by 0.2 percent in the first three months of the year, as it did in the last quarter of 2012.
Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, reported its seventh consecutive quarter of decline, the longest since records began in 1970.
The euro zone's recession is now longer than the five quarters of contraction that followed the global financial crisis in 2008/2009, although it is not as deep.
The euro fell to a six-week low against a buoyant dollar, hurt by the anemic figures which kept alive chances of more monetary easing by the European Central Bank.
The ECB cut rates to a record low earlier this month and its head, Mario Draghi, said it was ready to act again if the economy worsened.
Some EU leaders, who meet for a summit in Brussels next week/ are also trying to shift away from the budget cuts that have dominated the response to the debt crisis since 2009.
But it will be tough for another rate cut and a softening of austerity - even if either happens - to break a cycle in which governments are cutting spending, companies are laying off staff, Europeans are buying less and young people have little hope of finding a job.
"Any recovery is going to be excruciatingly slow," said Nick Kounis, head of macroeconomic research at ABN AMRO. [more]
By Brenda Ekwurzel
15 May 2013
(UCS) – November, President Obama suggested that we needed a wide-ranging national discussion about climate change. But where to have that conversation? There are so many stories from communities that are on the front lines of climate change, grappling with ways to cope and looking for options. Here are ten places especially deserving of a visit from the President because they are dealing with consequences of climate change that affect many other parts of the country, indeed the world.
Mauna Loa, Hawaii
On May 9, as my colleague Melanie Fitzpatrick put it, Mauna Loa, Hawaii passed a sobering threshold. Namely the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide measured there — a whopping 400 parts per million. This mountain, loaded with scientific instruments, is like a nose stuck high in the atmosphere that sniffs the carbon dioxide gas that is ever increasing. Carbon dioxide was first measured here a few years before the President was born in Hawaii. The story of how scientists established the longest record of the iconic evidence for a major cause of climate change can be found on Mauna Loa — the longest continuous record of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has been measured there since 1958.
Elliott Key, Florida
As part of the third-largest coral reef in the world, Elliott Key is particularly vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures and souring of the oceans (becoming more acidic). That’s a major concern for fisheries and tourism.
Coral bleaching events have become more intense and severe over the past 30 years, causing around a third of the world’s corals to suffer death or severe damage.
New York, New York
Rates of sea level rise for New York City region are among the highest in the world exposing this megacity to increased and costly flood risk. If Hurricane Sandy hit over a century ago, it would have occurred during a time when global average sea level was around 8 inches lower. The New York City region, like most coastal regions have many factors affecting local elevation of the land in relation to the sea. Scientists expect such vertical motion to continue, such that a future two-foot (61.0 cm) rise in global sea level is likely to result in a relative sea-level rise at New York City of 2.3 feet (70.1cm).
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Red trees are a telltale sign of the pest known as the mountain pine beetle that has multiple life cycles per year as warmer winters don’t keep the pest in check as much as before. In just one year, 2009 to 2010, mountain pine beetle activity on the Front Range — mountains at the foot of the Rockies — increased more than 10-fold and infested 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares). The beetle has killed millions of trees setting the stage for a tinderbox if a lightning strike sparks a wildfire during dry and hot times.
Thawing ground that used to be frozen year round is wreaking havoc with infrastructure, including increased costs to maintain the Alaska pipeline. Infrastructure in cold regions was designed to take advantage of places where soil or rock remains at or below freezing for over two years. About 85 percent of Alaska is either discontinuous or nearly continuous permafrost. Winters have warmed on average by 6.3° F (3.5° C) in Alaska over the past 50 years, undermining the foundations of infrastructure anchored in formerly “solid” ground that is now melting. [more]
Graph of the Day: Continental scale reconstructions of surface temperature for the past two millennia0 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Darrell Kaufman
21 April 2013
(RealClimate) – In a major step forward in proxy data synthesis, the PAst Global Changes (PAGES) 2k Consortium has just published a suite of continental scale reconstructions of temperature for the past two millennia in Nature Geoscience. More information about the study and its implications are available at the FAQ on the PAGES website and the datasets themselves are available at NOAA Paleoclimate.
The main conclusion of the study is that the most coherent feature in nearly all of the regional temperature reconstructions is a long-term cooling trend, which ended late in the 19th century, and which was followed by a warming trend in the 20th C. The 20th century in the reconstructions ranks as the warmest or nearly the warmest century in all regions except Antarctica. During the last 30-year period in the reconstructions (1971-2000 CE), the average reconstructed temperature among all of the regions was likely higher than anytime in at least ~1400 years. Interestingly, temperatures did not fluctuate uniformly among all regions at multi-decadal to centennial scales. For example, there were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age. Cool 30-year periods between the years 830 and 1910 CE were particularly pronounced during times of weak solar activity and strong tropical volcanic eruptions and especially if both phenomena often occurred simultaneously. [more]
America’s first climate refugees: Alaska native villages threatened with coastal erosion – ‘It’s real, global warming, it’s real’1 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Suzanne Goldenberg in Newtok, Alaska
13 May 2013
(Guardian) – Sabrina Warner keeps having the same nightmare: a huge wave rearing up out of the water and crashing over her home, forcing her to swim for her life with her toddler son.
"I dream about the water coming in," she said. The landscape in winter on the Bering Sea coast seems peaceful, the tidal wave of Warner's nightmare trapped by snow and several feet of ice. But the calm is deceptive. Spring break-up will soon restore the Ninglick River to its full violent force.
In the dream, Warner climbs on to the roof of her small house. As the waters rise, she swims for higher ground: the village school which sits on 20-foot pilings.
Even that isn't high enough. By the time Warner wakes, she is clinging to the roof of the school, desperate to be saved.
Warner's vision is not far removed from a reality written by climate change. The people of Newtok, on the west coast of Alaska and about 400 miles south of the Bering Strait that separates the state from Russia, are living a slow-motion disaster that will end, very possibly within the next five years, with the entire village being washed away.
The Ninglick River coils around Newtok on three sides before emptying into the Bering Sea. It has steadily been eating away at the land, carrying off 100ft or more some years, in a process moving at unusual speed because of climate change. Eventually all of the villagers will have to leave, becoming America's first climate change refugees.
It is not a label or a future embraced by people living in Newtok. Yup'ik Eskimo have been fishing and hunting by the shores of the Bering Sea for centuries and the villagers reject the notion they will now be forced to run in chaos from ancestral lands.
But exile is undeniable. A report by the US Army Corps of Engineers predicted that the highest point in the village – the school of Warner's nightmare – could be underwater by 2017. There was no possible way to protect the village in place, the report concluded.
If Newtok can not move its people to the new site in time, the village will disappear. A community of 350 people, nearly all related to some degree and all intimately connected to the land, will cease to exist, its inhabitants scattered to the villages and towns of western Alaska, Anchorage and beyond.
It's a choice confronting more than 180 native communities in Alaska, which are flooding and losing land because of the ice melt that is part of the changing climate.
The Arctic Council, the group of countries that governs the polar regions, are gathering in Sweden today. But climate change refugees are not high on their agenda, and Obama administration officials told reporters on Friday there would be no additional money to help communities in the firing line. […]
It became clear by the 1990s that Newtok – like dozens of other remote communities in Alaska – was losing land at a dangerous rate. Almost all native Alaskan villages are located along rivers and sea coasts, and almost all are facing similar peril.
A federal government report found more than 180 other native Alaskan villages – or 86% of all native communities – were at risk because of climate change. In the case of Newtok, those effects were potentially life threatening.
A study by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the effects of climate change on native Alaskan villages, the one that predicted the school would be underwater by 2017, found no remedies for the loss of land in Newtok.
The land was too fragile and low-lying to support sea walls or other structures that could keep the water out, the report said, adding that if the village did not move, the land would eventually be overrun with water. People could die.
It was a staggering verdict for Newtok. Some of the village elders remember the upheaval of that earlier move. The villagers were adamant that they take charge of the move this time and remain an intact community – not scatter to other towns.
And so after years of poring over reports, the entire community voted to relocate to higher ground across the river. The decision was endorsed by the state authorities. In December 2007, the village held the first public meeting to plan the move.
The proposed new site for Newtok, voted on by the villagers and approved by government planners, lies only nine miles away, atop a high ridge of dark volcanic rock across the river on Nelson Island. On a good day in winter, it's a half-hour bone-shaking journey across the frozen Ninglick river by snowmobile.
But the cost of the move could run as high as $130m, according to government estimates. For the villagers of Newtok, finding the cash, and finding their way through the government bureaucracy, is proving the challenge of their lives.
Five years on from that first public meeting, Newtok remains stuck where it was, the peeling tiles and the broken-down office furniture in the council office grown even shabbier, the dilapidated water treatment plant now shut down as a health hazard, an entire village tethered to a dangerous location by bureaucratic obstacles and lack of funds. […]
The state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country over the past 60 years. Freeze-up occurs later, snow is wetter and heavier. Wildfires erupt on the tundra in the summer. Rivers rush out to the sea. Moose migrate north into caribou country. Grizzlies mate with polar bear as their ranges overlap.
Even people in their 20s, like Warner and her partner Nathan Tom, can track the changes in their own lifetimes. Tom said the seasons have changed. "The snow comes in a different timing now. The snow disappears way late. That is making the geese come at the wrong time. Now they are starting to lay their eggs when there is still snow and ice and we can't go and pick them," Tom said. "It's changing a lot. It's real, global warming, it's real." [more]
Scientists find extensive glacial retreat in Mount Everest region – Glaciers have shrunk by 13 percent in the last 50 years and the snowline has shifted upward by 180 meters0 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By: Sudeep Thakuri, Graduate School of Earth, Environment and Biodiversity, University of Milan, Milan, MB, Italy, and Water Research Institute, National Research Council , Brugherio, MB, Italy and colleagues
Contact: Sarah Charley, +1 (202) 777-7516
13 May 2013
Cancún, Mexico (AGU) – Researchers taking a new look at the snow and ice covering Mount Everest and the national park that surrounds it are finding abundant evidence that the world’s tallest peak is shedding its frozen cloak. The scientists have also been studying temperature and precipitation trends in the area and found that the Everest region has been warming while snowfall has been declining since the early 1990s.
Members of the team conducting these studies will present their findings on May 14 at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico – a scientific conference organized and co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union.
Glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last 50 years and the snowline has shifted upward by 180 meters (590 feet), according to Sudeep Thakuri, who is leading the research as part of his PhD graduate studies at the University of Milan in Italy.
Glaciers smaller than one square kilometer are disappearing the fastest and have experienced a 43 percent decrease in surface area since the 1960s. Because the glaciers are melting faster than they are replenished by ice and snow, they are revealing rocks and debris that were previously hidden deep under the ice. These debris-covered sections of the glaciers have increased by about 17 percent since the 1960s, according to Thakuri. The ends of the glaciers have also retreated by an average of 400 meters since 1962, his team found.
The researchers suspect that the decline of snow and ice in the Everest region is from human-generated greenhouse gases altering global climate. However, they have not yet established a firm connection between the mountains’ changes and climate change, Thakuri said.
He and his team determined the extent of glacial change on Everest and the surrounding 1,148 square kilometer (713 square mile) Sagarmatha National Park by compiling satellite imagery and topographic maps and reconstructing the glacial history. Their statistical analysis shows that the majority of the glaciers in the national park are retreating at an increasing rate, Thakuri said.
To evaluate the temperature and precipitation patterns in the area, Thakuri and his colleagues have been analyzing hydro-meteorological data from the Nepal Climate Observatory stations and Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. The researchers found that the Everest region has undergone a 0.6 degree Celsius (1.08 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in temperature and 100 millimeter (3.9 inches) decrease in precipitation during the pre-monsoon and winter months since 1992.
In subsequent research, Thakuri plans on exploring the climate-glacier relationship further with the aim of integrating the glaciological, hydrological and climatic data to understand the behavior of the hydrological cycle and future water availability.
“The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season,” said Thakuri. “Downstream populations are dependent on the melt water for agriculture, drinking, and power production.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Water Research Institute-Italian National Research Council are funding this research. [more]