A discarded asthma inhaler that has washed up on a beach. mikecogh / flickr

By Sara Novak, Living / Health
15 September 2012

The far reaching implications of global warming are becoming clear, from mass extinctions to underwater islands, monstrous storms and everywhere in between, but what about the increasing effect on public health? It falls under the radar, but in actuality, the siren is getting louder each year. So much so in fact, that epidemiologist George Luber is spearheading the CDC’s public health sphere on global climate change.

“That's because emerging science shows that people respond more favorably to warnings about climate change when it's portrayed as a health issue, rather than an environmental problem.”

The most obvious global warming health issue is the heat itself. NRDC released a report projecting the deaths of 150,000 additional Americans by the end of this century due to killer heat waves. But hot air also causes more smog, which impacts those with asthma and other health issues. Deadly storms from hurricanes to tornadoes and flooding are undoubtedly threats, but then there are lesser known implications like the rise of infectious disease outbreaks when the temperature rises. […]

The Public Health Implications of Global Warming

Projected path of Typhoon Jelawat, 28 September 2012. AccuWeather

By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist
28 September 2012

Jelawat in the Western Pacific is forecast to curve across Okinawa and the Japan mainland, bringing flooding rain, monstrous seas, and damaging winds.

According to World Weather Expert Jason Nicholls, "It has turned northward as forecast and is projected to turn northeastward this weekend with direct, dangerous impacts on Japan."

As of Friday, Jelawat is no longer a super typhoon. Jelawat was cruising north-northeast of the island of Luzon in the Philippines Friday with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts to 160 mph. Estimated seas near and just northeast of the center of circulation were around 40 feet. The AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center has the latest statistics on Jelawat.

While not making a direct hit on Tawain, Jelawat has delivered over a foot of rain on some of the mountains in the islands as of Friday, 28 September 2012, midday EDT.

Jelawat will track through progressively cooler waters and drier air. Both will work to weaken Jelawat somewhat before reaching the Ryukyu Islands, but the system will remain quite strong over deep warm water into the end of the week. […]

"People and interests in the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, should be prepared for a direct hit with an accelerating tropical cyclone of typhoon or hurricane strength," Nichols said. "The islands can be subject to damaging winds in excess of 100 mph, dangerous surf and seas and torrential rain and flooding."

Impact will begin on the Ryukyu Islands early this weekend with building seas, increasing wind and squalls with the worst conditions Sunday, local time, and late Saturday EDT.

By the time the system reaches the latitude of mainland Japan early next week, it may be a tropical storm or transitioning to a non-tropical system.

"Despite the projected weakening before hitting mainland Japan, the terrain may squeeze one to two feet of rain in some areas, potentially leading to major flooding," Nicholls added.

Tropical storm conditions are possible in Tokyo Monday into Tuesday, local time. If Jelawat were to track northwest of Tokyo, the city could be hit by damaging wind. If the storm were to pass just to the southeast of the city, the metro area could be hammered by flash and urban flooding.

Regardless, much of mainland Japan is heavily populated and there is the potential for damage and loss of life with Jelawat. […]

Jelawat is the second storm to reach the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Western Pacific this season. Sanba was the first.

Typhoon Jelawat to Impact 100 Million People

Bonobos have less far territory to roam. Great apes, such as gorillas, chimps, and bonobos, are running out of places to live, says a 2012 study. Scientists have recorded a dramatic decline in the amount of habitat suitable for great apes, according to the first such survey across the African continent. BBC

By Matt Walker, Editor, BBC Nature
28 September 2012

Great apes, such as gorillas, chimps, and bonobos, are running out of places to live, say scientists.

They have recorded a dramatic decline in the amount of habitat suitable for great apes, according to the first such survey across the African continent.

Eastern gorillas, the largest living primate, have lost more than half their habitat since the early 1990s.

Cross River gorillas, chimps, and bonobos have also suffered significant losses, according to the study.

Details are published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

"Several studies either on a site or country level indicated already that African ape populations are under enormous pressure and in decline," said Hjalmar Kuehl, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who helped organise the research.

But a wider perspective was missing; so various organisations and scientists joined to conduct the first continent-wide survey of suitable great ape habitat.

"Many of the authors have spent years to collect the data used in this study under extremely difficult conditions with a lot of personal commitment," Dr Kuehl told BBC Nature.

"Nothing comparable exists."

The scientists conducted the survey in two stages.

First, they determined the exact location of more than 15,000 sites where the various species and subspecies of African great ape have been confirmed living during the past twenty years.

"We then evaluated the environmental conditions at these locations and at all other locations across tropical Africa where great ape presence was not confirmed. This assessment included for instance percentage forest cover, human population density or climatic conditions," said Dr Kuehl.

From that the researchers could calculate the environmental conditions required for great apes to live. Then, using a statistical model, they predicted the amount of such habitat surviving across Africa, first for the 1990s, then the 2000s.

The results are grim reading for conservationists.

Gorillas have been significantly affected. Cross River gorillas have seen 59% of their habitat disappear over the past two decades. Eastern gorillas, the largest gorilla and largest surviving primate, have lost 52% of their habitat, while western gorillas have lost 31%.

The various species and subspecies of chimp have also suffered.

Bonobos, once known as pygmy chimpanzees, have lost 29% of their habitat. Of the different subspecies of common chimpanzee, those living in central Africa have lost 17% and those in western Africa 11% of their habitat respectively.

"From several site and country level studies we knew that pressure on great apes is increasing enormously. But despite these expectations it is outrageous to see how our closest living relatives and their habitats are disappearing," said Dr Kuehl. […]

“The situation is very dramatic, many of the ape populations we still find today will disappear in the near future,” Dr Kuehl told BBC Nature. “In an increasingly crowding world with demand for space, wood, mineral resources, and meat, apes will continue to disappear.” […]

Great ape habitat in Africa has dramatically declined

Average annual spring-summer U.S. surface temperatures overlaid with number of fires on U.S. Forest Service land, 1970-2010. Average temperature has increased by 1.8F. Hotter years typically have more fires. climatecentral.org

When we compared the average annual spring and summer (March-August) temperatures to the number of large wildfires burning across all 11 Western states, we observed a relationship similar to that reported by Westerling, et al.; years with higher-than-average spring and summer temperatures also tended to be years with more large fires.

Seasonal temperatures are a key determinant of annual wildfire risk. Long stretches of warm weather in the spring and summer dry trees and brush, making them both easier to ignite and more likely to burn. Additionally, warmer spring temperatures can cause mountain snowpack to melt earlier and, when followed by a hot summer that keeps moisture out of the ground, these higher temperatures create ideal conditions for big fires. Westerling, et al. primarily attributed the changes he observed in wildfires to warming spring and summer temperatures and earlier melting of snowpacks in Western mountain ranges.

Average annual temperatures across the contiguous U.S. have warmed about 1.3oF in the past 100 years, but warming has been even higher in the West, rising 1.8oF over that same time period. Increasing spring and summer temperatures across Western states since 1970 have been particularly dramatic (Figure 7). Spring has warmed approximately 1.9oF and summer has warmed about 1.6oF, with the Southwestern states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah seeing some of the fastest rising spring and summer temperature trends.

In recent years, researchers have begun to investigate how human-induced climate change has influenced wildfires. The warming across North America over the second half of the 20th century has been attributed, in part, to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

At the regional level, however, the precise degree to which human activity has influenced the increase in spring and summer temperatures is unknown. While Westerling and others have shown a strong correlation between these rising temperatures and increasing wildfire activity, there are other natural and human factors that likely play an important role in these observed changes in wildfires trends.

Report: The Age of Western Wildfires [pdf]

The black rectangle on this map shows the general region where Paull and his collaborators have been studying methane releases in the Beaufort Sea. The smaller red rectangle indicates the edge of the continental shelf and continental slope where they will conduct research during their current expedition. These areas are shown in greater detail in the maps below. Base image: Google MapsContact Kim Fulton-Bennett, kfb@mbari.org, (831) 775-1835
21 September 2012

Chasing gas bubbles in the Beaufort Sea

In the remote, ice-shrouded Beaufort Sea, methane (the main component of natural gas) has been bubbling out of the seafloor for thousands of years.

MBARI geologist Charlie Paull and his colleagues at the Geological Survey of Canada are trying to figure out where this gas is coming from, how fast it is bubbling out of the sediments, and how it affects the shape and stability of the seafloor. Although Paull has been studying this phenomenon for a decade, his research has taken on new urgency in recent years, as the area is being eyed for oil and gas exploration.

In late September 2012, Paull and his fellow researchers will spend two weeks in the Beaufort Sea on board the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfred Laurier, collecting seafloor sediment, mapping the seafloor using sonar, installing an instrument that will "listen" for undersea gas releases, and using a brand new undersea robot to observe seafloor features and collect gas samples.

This will be Paull's third Beaufort Sea expedition. As in previous expeditions, he will be working closely with Scott Dallimore of Natural Resources Canada's Geological Survey of Canada and Humfrey Melling of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Paull's work in the Arctic started in 2003, with an investigation into the enigmatic underwater hills called "pingo-like features" (PLFs) that rise out of the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea. (Pingos are isolated conical hills found on land in some parts of the Arctic and subarctic.)

Over time, the focus of the team's research has moved farther offshore, into deeper water. Their second expedition in 2010 looked at diffuse gas venting along the seaward edge of the continental shelf. The 2012 expedition will focus on three large gas-venting structures on the continental slope, at depths of 290 to 790 meters (950 to 2,600 feet).

Frozen gas—a relict of previous ice ages

The Beaufort Sea, north of Canada's Yukon and Northwest Territories, is a hostile environment by any definition of the term. It is covered with ice for much of the year. Historically, only from mid-July to October has a narrow strip of open water appeared within about 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles) of the coast. Even at this time of year, winds often howl at 40 knots and temperatures can drop well below freezing at night. Researchers must allow extra time for contingencies such dodging pack ice and having to shovel snow off the deck of the research vessel.

This idealized cross section of the continental shelf and continental slope in the Beaufort Sea shows zones in the seafloor where permafrost and methane hydrate are likely to exist, as well as hypothetical locations of methane seeps on the seafloor. Ocean depths not shown to scale. Image: © 2012 MBARAverage annual air temperatures along the coast of the Beaufort Sea are well below freezing. Thus deeper soils remain permanently frozen throughout the year, forming what is called permafrost. Around the Beaufort Sea, permafrost extends more than 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) below the ground.

Permafrost also exists in the sediments underlying the continental shelf of Beaufort Sea. This permafrost is a relict of the last ice age, when sea level was as much as 120 meters lower than today. At that time, areas that are now covered with seawater were exposed to the frigid Arctic air.

As sea-level rose over the last 10,000 years, it flooded the continental shelf with seawater. Although the water in the Beaufort Sea is cold—about minus 1.5 degrees Centigrade—it is still much warmer than the air, which averages minus 15 degrees C. Thus, as the ocean rose, it is gradually warmed up the permafrost beneath the continental shelf, causing it to melt.

Quite a bit of methane, the main component of "natural gas," is trapped within the permafrost. As the permafrost melts, it releases this methane, which may seep up through the sediments and into the overlying ocean water.

The deeper sediments of the Beaufort Sea also contain abundant layers of methane hydrate—an ice-like mixture of water and natural gas. As the seafloor has warmed, these hydrates have also begun to decompose, releasing additional methane gas into the surrounding sediment. […]

Although the researchers have begun to understand where the gas in the Beaufort Sea is coming from, many other questions remain. One of the big questions the researchers are trying to answer is whether the three gas chimney structures on the continental slope are related to the gas venting systems in shallower water, on the continental shelf. As Paull put it, "Are they independent gas-venting structures that just happen to be together, or are they all part of the same system?"

Another important question is how all this methane gas affects the stability of the seafloor. When methane hydrates warm up and release methane gas, the gas takes up much more space than the solid hydrate, putting pressure on the surrounding sediments. Similarly, the decomposition of either methane hydrate or permafrost can reduce the mechanical strength of the surrounding sediment. Either process could make the seafloor more susceptible to submarine landslides.

Undersea landslides are common along the continental slope of the Beaufort Sea, but researchers do not yet know when or how they form. However, decomposing methane hydrates are believed to have triggered major landslides in other deep-sea areas. Such landslides could potentially destabilize oil platforms, pipelines, or other equipment on the seafloor, and have the potential to generate tsunamis. […]

Expedition to study methane gas bubbling out of the Arctic seafloor

Cover of the Oceana report, 'Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World' by Matthew Huelsenbeck, September 2012. oceana.org

By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, www.guardian.co.uk
24 September 2012

The Persian Gulf, Libya, and Pakistan are at high risk of food insecurity in coming decades because climate change and ocean acidification are destroying fisheries, according to a report released on Monday [pdf].

The report from the campaign group Oceana warns of growing food insecurity, especially for poorer people, from the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, Eritrea, Guyana, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Singapore.

Some of the countries at highest risk were in oil-rich – and politically volatile – regions.

"The Persian Gulf is actually expected to be one of the hardest-hit regions. In terms of fish catch they are supposed to lose over 50% of their fisheries," said Matt Huelsenbeck, an Oceana marine scientist and author of the report.

The report put Iran, Libya, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates among the top 10 countries most at risk because of the decline in fish stocks due to climate change.

"There are definitely tens of thousands of artisanal fishermen operating in the Persian Gulf and they will be hardest hit by the impacts," he said.

America is expected to lose about 12% of its catch potential by mid-century, the report said.

The study used climate models created by the University of British Columbia to rank countries' exposure to degradation of the oceans due to climate change and ocean acidification.

Low-income countries, with high levels of malnutrition and rapid population growth, such as Pakistan, were viewed as high risk. So were small island states that depend heavily on coral reef fisheries and on conches, oysters, clams, and other shellfish.

About 1 billion people depend on seafood as their main source of protein. But some of those countries most dependent on fishing are expected to lose up to 40% of their fish catch by the middle of the century.

The changes in ocean chemistry, when sea water absorbs rising levels of carbon dioxide, have upset the balance of marine life. Coral reefs in the Caribbean are on the verge of collapse. Oysters and clams are unable to produce their hard protective shells.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures are driving fish species from the tropics towards deeper and colder waters.

The study looked at potential impacts in mid-century. But the first effects of climate change and the changing ocean chemistry are already evident, however, in Kenya where the loss of coral reefs is pushing down fish stocks and on the US Pacific coast which has seen a die-off of oyster beds in Oregon.

Report warns of global food insecurity as climate change destroys fisheries

The Uru-eu-Wau-Wau are one of the tribes who are affected by the Madeira River dams in Brazil. © Fiona Watson / survivalinternational.org

By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
25 September 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian government is planning to build at least 23 new hydroelectric dams in the country’s Amazon region, of which seven are set to be installed in the heart of the region, in previously untouched areas of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, O Globo newspaper reports. After the long-running dispute over the Belo Monte dam, environment activists have expressed incredulity at the plans.

Along with the six hydroelectric power stations already under construction, the government hopes these new dams will generate over 38,000 megawatts of power – half the nearly 78,900 megawatts currently generated by 201 operational power stations across Brazil.

Two plants are already in operation in the region: the Estreito plant on the Tocantins River, and the Santo Antônio plant on the Madeira River, the Amazon’s biggest tributary.

Funding for half the projects – around R$78 billion (US$38.5 billion) – is expected to come from the government’s Growth Acceleration Program or PAC (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento). Together, the existing and planned sites would increase Brazil’s energy capacity by 54 percent.

Yet opponents are concerned that seven of the new plants will be built in extremely sensitive parts of the Amazon, including a string of seven dams planned for the Aripuanã and Roosevelt Rivers that would directly affect land officially deemed to require “extremely high conservation protection.” 

The work would also come into contact with indigenous peoples’ land. If constructed, the reservoirs for the two largest new plants on the basin would flood an area of land the size of São Paulo city.

“We are planning with the greatest care and seeking to minimalize the impact [the building of the dams might cause],” reassured Energy Development Secretary Altino Ventura, who said the Amazon basin should account for around half of new energy sources by 2020. […]

The news comes as environmental campaigners, who had been celebrating that work on the controversial Belo Monte dam had been halted, were dealt a setback after builders were given the green light to restart.

Biologists have said that Brazil should be looking for alternatives now, rather than later regretting losses to the Amazon’s unique ecosystems. Christian Poirier, Brazil Campaigner at Amazon Watch, had stronger words over the government’s plans:

“The Brazilian government’s reckless quest to dam the Amazon’s wild rivers has demonstrated a disquieting level of authoritarianism, quashing human rights while stripping any semblance of environmental sustainability,” he said in an interview with The Rio Times.

“The Brazilian government’s overdependence on hydroelectric power is wreaking an incalculable human and environmental toll in the Amazon,” he concluded. […]

New Dams Planned for Heart of Amazon

This waterspout formed over Lake Erie on Sunday, 23 September 2012. The photo was taken looking east towards Cleveland, Ohio, from Lorain, Ohio. ICWR.ca observer via usnews.nbcnews.com

By Miguel Llanos, NBC News
24 September 2012

The Cleveland Browns football team hosted a special pregame show on Sunday: a waterspout seen from the lakeside stadium before sputtering out harmlessly. It was one of 13 waterspouts reported over Lake Erie on Sunday and part of what's already a record year for sightings on the Great Lakes.

"2012 has seen so far a total of 154 waterspouts," Wade Szilagyi, a meteorologist with Canada's weather service and director of the International Centre for Waterspout Research, told NBC News.

"This shatters the old record of 94 waterspouts reported in 2003," he said, noting that the season runs into fall so the number will go higher.

Great Lakes waterspout records go back to 1994 and this summer also saw a new single-day record: 30 waterspouts reported on Sept. 9.

Szilagyi suspects two factors are at work: "a hot summer resulting in very warm water," which helps create the waterspouts, and increased use of social media for reporting them.

"Technology is improving through Twitter, Facebook, cell phone pics, etc.," he noted. "In the past we had a limited number of sources such as Coast Guard, pilot reports, ship reports, weather observations."

"In the future, as our climate gets warmer, thus heating the lakes, and as social media use increases even more, I expect increasing numbers of reported waterspouts," he added. "However, just like the stock market, there will be dips because some summers will be cool, but this will be less and less frequent with time."

Sunday's activity was part of a weekend-long outbreak that started Friday on Lake Superior. Four waterspouts were sighted that day, followed by eight on Saturday as cold air from Canada moved down and across the warmer lakes. […]

Weekend waterspouts across Great Lakes are part of record year

Super typhoon Jelawat at 8 a.m. EDT, 26 September 2012. Navy Research Laboratory

By Jason Samenow
26 September 2012

Another monster typhoon has spun up in the western Pacific. Following super typhoon Sanba that ripped across Okinawa and then into South Korea, super typhoon Jelawat is also eyeing Okinawa before a possible encounter with Japan.

Jelawat is the equivalent of a category-4 hurricane, with peak sustained winds of 150 mph. Briefly Tuesday, it reached category-5 strength with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph becoming the second strongest storm on Earth in 2012, trailing only Sanba whose peak winds reached 178 mph.

Jelawat is currently positioned 570 miles south-southwest of Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa and is moving northwest at around 6 miles per hour. It is expected continue this motion for a couple more days, before turning more to the northeast.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) projects it will be in the vicinity of Okinawa Saturday. Then, Jelawat is forecast to continue northeastward - gaining speed - towards mainland Japan with a possible landfall south of Tokyo near Hamamatsu on Honshu’s south coast Sunday into Monday. Note, however, the JTWC cautions: “There remains low confidence in the extended forecast track.”

The storm has an impressive appearance on satellite right with now with a large, well-defined eye about 29 miles across. However, it is expected to gradually weaken due to increasing wind shear and decreasing water temperatures. It is predicted to be the equivalent of a category 1 or 2 storm when it’s near Okinawa and perhaps just a minimal hurricane or tropical storm when it affects mainland Japan.

Super typhoon Jelawat to threaten Okinawa then Japan

Idealized diversity trajectories of the calcareous and organic fossil lineages discussed in the text. Extinction and radiation suggest events of major environmental change throughout the past 300 My. Calcareous plankton is shown in black, calcareous benthos in blue, and organic fossils in green, and the line thickness indicates relative and smoothed species richness. Highlighted events (vertical red lines) have been associated with potential ocean acidification events. Hönisch, et al., 2012

26 September 2012 (University of Bristol) – Speaking at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World this week in Monterey, California, Dr Daniela Schmidt, a geologist from the University of Bristol, warned that current rates of ocean acidification are unparalleled in Earth history.

Dr Schmidt of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences said: "Ocean acidification has happened before sometimes with large consequences for marine ecosystems.  But within the last 300 million years, never has the rate of ocean acidification been comparable to the ongoing acidification.

She added that the most comparable event, most likely 10 times slower than the current acidification, was 55 million years ago.

"At that time, species responded to the warming, acidification, change in nutrient input and loss of oxygen – the  same processes that we now see in our oceans.  The geological record shows changes in species distribution, changes in species composition, changes in calcification and growth and in a few cases extinction," she said.

"Our current acidification rates are unparalleled in Earth history and lead most ecosystems into unknown territory."

That rate of change was echoed by Dr Claudine Hauri, an oceanographer from the University of Alaska Fairbanks: "The waters up and down the coast from our conference site here in Monterey Bay are particularly prone to the effects of ocean acidification.  The chemistry of these waters is changing at such a rapid pace that organisms now experience conditions that are different from what they have experienced in the past. And within about 20 or 30 years, the chemistry again will be different from that of even today."

Dr Schmidt and Dr Hauri were two of four scientists participating in the first press briefing during the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World.  Also participating were Dr Richard Feely of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who gave an overview of ocean acidification and Dr James Orr of the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et l'Environnement (LSCE) in France, who shared projections.

A paper by Dr Schmidt and colleagues on the geological record of ocean acidification was published in Science in March 2012.

Speed of ocean acidification concerns scientists

By Michael Getler
21 September 2012

It was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes. In my view, and that of hundreds, even thousands of others, the program stumbled badly. On the other hand, it was not the end of the world, so to speak.

A segment on climate change last Monday evening produced a storm of protest from critics who felt the program mislead viewers — by a faulty application of journalistic balance — about the very real threat of global warming and man's contribution to it, as well as a sprinkling of support from those who think that threat is overstated and that balance was just the right touch for the NewsHour.

[Above] is a video link to the segment so those that did not see it, or wish to see it again, can form their own opinions.

This may be the longest ombudsman column I've ever posted because the subject generates about as much thunder and heat as one of those storms many have experienced lately that at least seem to make us think more about climate change. It also is one of those lose-lose subjects for an ombudsman in which whatever one writes is certain not to satisfy a lot of people.

The segment — headlined "Climate Change Skeptic No Longer Doubts Human Role in Global Warming" — was conducted by veteran NewsHour Correspondent Spencer Michels. It started out focused on a perfectly relevant news angle. Physicist Richard Muller had long been among those who denied that climate change was happening, but he made big news last month when he broke with his allies and published an op-ed in the New York Times saying not only was he no longer a skeptic but that "I'm now going a step further. Humans are almost entirely the cause."

The segment went on from there, however, in a much more controversial direction, and I will come back to it. But almost from the moment it ended, email began pouring into my mailbox, hundreds of them. A representative sampling is posted below. Some are quite long. At the same time, several analytical and opinion pieces attacking or supporting the segment were posted online — almost certainly driving more email traffic — by liberal and conservative commentators, and man-made climate change supporters and critics here, here, and here.

Later in the week, a petition arrived listing 15,000 names associated with "Forecast The Facts," a group demanding an investigation into "how and why PBS NewsHour promoted falsehoods about climate change and slander against climate scientists." They focused on the broadcast segment and an accompanying blog post by Michels involving a more extended interview with another guest on the program, Anthony Watts, who the "Facts" group described as a "climate change denier and conspiracy theorist." I will come back to him as well.

We also have responses from Michels and NewsHour Executive Producer Linda Winslow to questions I raised.

My Thoughts

But first, I want to lay out my views. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a layman with no particular expertise in science or climate matters. My views and observations are formed mostly from the dreaded mainstream media and my own reading and observations. So I am engaged with the news and issues of our time but pretty much as an average citizen and viewer.

I think of myself as open-minded and believe strongly in hearing opposing views. But I do believe in the assessment by the vast majority of climate scientists and U.S. and international scientific organizations that the threat to our planet and future generations from global warming and the human contribution to it is real and needs to be addressed.

The NAP's Thoughts

As the National Academies Press, which encompasses reports from the National Academy of Sciences, put it in 2010: "scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming. There is also a multitude of evidence that this warming results primarily from human activities, especially burning fossil fuels and other activities that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. Projections of future climate change indicate that Earth will continue to warm … driving a multitude of related and interacting changes in the Earth system, including decreases in the amounts of ice stored in mountain glaciers and polar regions, increases in sea level, changes in ocean chemistry, and changes in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, precipitation events, and droughts. These changes in turn pose significant risks to both human and ecological systems. Although the details of how the future impacts of climate change will unfold are not as well understood as the basic causes and mechanisms of climate change, we can reasonably expect that the consequences of climate change will be more severe if actions are not taken to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts."

Back to the NewsHour Segment

The reason I wrote, at the top of this column that, although the segment was badly handled, it wasn't the end of the world, is as follows.

Michels, at the start, talked about "the world of climate change, where most scientists and a much smaller group of skeptics remain bitterly divided." He talked further in the interview about whether politicians "listen to the 97 percent of scientists who say that it is real or they pay attention to the vocal community of skeptics will determine to a large extent what regulations and what laws get passed."

Aside from interviewing Muller in the broadcast, he interviewed William Collins, senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who talked about the rapid changes in global warming and the human-enhancement of that change, and Jon Krosnick of Stanford University who pointed out that "the voices of skeptics on climate change are very loud in this country and particularly effective in Washington at the moment. But they are a very, very small group."

Michels also pointed out, usefully, that "neither presidential candidate is talking about climate change but, in Congress, it's a different story; 74 percent of Senate Republicans publicly question the science of global warming" and more than half in the House.

And physicist Muller got the last word: "We will be experiencing weather that's warmer than Homo sapiens ever experienced. And I tend to think that's going to be bad and we should do something about it and we can …"

Downside Dominates

But the missteps created by the program and committed on the air and online dominate the reasons why this segment is being most widely viewed as falling short of NewsHour standards. I feel that way as well. And the main factor was the choice and appearance of Anthony Watts as someone interviewed on the broadcast, and also interviewed at much greater length by Michels on the NewsHour's "Rundown" blog. My focus is only on the broadcast, which is what most people wrote and commented about to me. […]

Climate Change Creates a Storm

Tropical Cyclone Benilde in the Indian Ocean, December 2011. Image courtesy Goddard Space Flight CenterContact: Gisela Speidel, gspeidel@hawaii.edu, 808-956-9252, University of Hawaii ‑ SOEST
21 September 2012

The tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea during the pre-monsoon season (May – June) have intensified since 1997 compared to 1979 - 1997. This has been attributed to decreased vertical wind shear due to the dimming effects of increased anthropogenic black carbon and sulfate emissions in the region. The decrease in vertical wind shear, however, is not the result of these emissions, but due to a 15-day on average earlier occurrence of tropical cyclones, according to a study spearheaded by Bin Wang at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa and published in "Brief Communications Arising" in the 20 September 2012 issue of Nature.

"About 90% of the pre-monsoon tropical cyclones occur during a small widow in late spring. The mean date during which the cyclones with maximum intensity occur has advanced from June 8 in the earlier period to May 24 in the second period," explains Bin Wang. "This advance has been accompanied by a significant decrease in vertical wind shear, which leads to tropical cyclone intensification, because large vertical wind shear is most destructive to intensification."

"The ultimate reason for this earlier occurrence of storms and their intensification is the tendency we have noticed for the southwesterly monsoon to begin earlier in recent years," says Wang. "This earlier monsoon onset is related to the greater warming of the Asian landmass than the ocean and thus an increased temperature ocean–land contrast over the last years. This greater temperature difference may strengthen the monsoon and create more favorable conditions for the formation of tropical cyclones."

"All the changes that we see in the pre-monsoon storms and the earlier monsoon onset since the late 90s, can be the result either of natural variability, namely the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, or of warming effects due to greater greenhouse gas emissions, but not the effect of increased aerosols. Only time and more research will tell."

Tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea have intensified due to earlier monsoon onset

Tree mortality in Texas due to the 2011 drought. 301 million trees were killed as a result of the devastating 2011 drought. txforestservice.tamu.edu

Contact: Chris Edgar, Forest Resource Analyst, cedgar@tfs.tamu.edu, 979-458-6630
25 September 2012

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, 25 September 2012 – A Texas A&M Forest Service survey of hundreds of forested plots scattered across the state shows 301 million trees were killed as a result of the devastating 2011 drought.

The number was determined by a study of both on-the-ground tree health assessments collected during a three-month period earlier this year and satellite imagery from before and after the drought.

The findings fall right in the middle of original estimates gathered last fall that indicated roughly 100 million to 500 million trees had died as a result of the drought.

“The drought produced traumatic results, especially for individual landowners. But the good news is the forest is resilient. When a dead tree falls over, a young, new tree eventually will grow back in its place,” said Burl Carraway, department head for the Texas A&M Forest Service Sustainable Forestry department. “Tree death is a natural forest process. We just had more last year than previous years.”

The findings represent the number of trees in rural, forested areas that died as a direct result of the drought, as well as those that succumbed to insect infestation or disease because they were drought-stressed.

The figure does not include trees in cities and towns.  Another 5.6 million trees in urban areas — along streets and in yards and parks — also died as a result of the drought, according to a study done earlier this year by the Texas A&M Forest Service Urban Forestry program.

The drought assessment of rural, forested areas was done in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program and the Texas A&M University Ecosystem Science and Management Department.

As part of the analysis, the state was divided into 10 sections: Panhandle, Trans Pecos, North, Central, South, and the Brazos Valley, as well as four East Texas regions.

Some forested areas suffered worse than others. The Brazos Valley region was hit the hardest, losing almost 10 percent of its trees on forested land. North Texas and western Northeast Texas suffered similar fates, losing 8.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

Trees in far East Texas seemed to fare the best with just 1.3 percent of trees succumbing to the drought in eastern Southeast Texas and just 3.9 percent dying in eastern Northeast Texas.

“So what’s the fate of these trees? The vast majority are going to stand out there — until they eventually fall to the ground,” Texas A&M Forest Service Analyst Chris Edgar said, stressing that standing, dead trees located near homes or recreation areas should be removed.

Edgar estimated that an existing 272 million standing dead trees already littered the landscape before the drought. That number is expected to double now, which will produce both positive and negative effects.

The standing, dead trees will provide additional habitats for insects, birds, and wildlife. Fallen trees will do the same, while also adding structure to the forest floor which helps prevent soil erosion.

Conversely, they’ll also begin to release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere and could become potential hazards during times of high winds and dangerous fire conditions.

Texas A&M Forest Service survey shows 301 million trees killed by drought

Temperatures and Wildfire Numbers in the U.S. West, 1970-2010. Across the U.S. West, the annual number of large wildfires has increased over the past 42 years, to varying degrees. climatecentral.org

Among the Western States, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana have seen the most dramatic increases in wildfires since 1970. According to our analysis, the average annual number of large fires has nearly quadrupled in Arizona and Idaho, and at least doubled in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. On the other hand, the frequency of fires in Washington has remained steady.

Report: The Age of Western Wildfires [pdf]

Insurance losses from U.S. extreme weather disasters, 2011-2012. Worsening weather in a warming world poses a growing risk to the financial stability of insurance companies and has broad ramifications for the economy and society. Ceres.org

Contact: Peyton Fleming, fleming@ceres.org, 617-247-0700 x 120, 617-733-6660
20 September 2012

Worsening weather in a warming world poses a growing risk to the financial stability of insurance companies and has broad ramifications for the economy and society, according to a new report.

Stormy Future for U.S. Property and Casualty Insurers: The Growing Costs and Risks of Extreme Weather Events, a new report from Ceres, outlines a proactive approach insurers, regulators and investors can take to address climate change risks. Scientific evidence shows that climate change is contributing to stronger, more frequent heat waves, drought, and extreme precipitation events.

"The report makes clear that extreme weather losses are escalating and pose enormous challenges for U.S. insurers that they should pay far more attention to,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a nonprofit group advocating for sustainability leadership from businesses and investors. “A small number of insurers have stepped to the plate in mobilizing a response to this global threat, but far broader engagement and action from the industry is needed.”

“Insurance is the first line of defense against extreme weather losses, but climate change is a game-changer for the models that insurers have long relied on,” said Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who wrote the report foreword and endorsed its key recommendations. “Companies will need to adapt if insurance is to remain available and affordable.”

Insurance commissioners in Washington, California and New York already require major insurers to disclose their potential exposure and strategies for dealing with climate change risks. Such mandatory disclosure is among a dozen recommendations in the report for insurance companies, insurance regulators and investors.

This summer’s devastating drought and record high temperatures are the latest reminders of the impacts that climate change and extreme weather events pose to U.S. property and casualty insurers. Last year’s spate of extreme weather, including damaging floods, heat waves, hailstorms and tornadoes across much of the interior U.S., contributed to net underwriting losses of $34 billion and the most credit downgrades in a single year since 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

While 2012 private insured losses so far are lower, total economic losses due to extreme weather have been no less troubling this year. The drought alone is expected to cost insurers roughly $20 billion, with most of those costs being borne by the federal crop insurance program. However, more than $5 billion will also be paid by private insurers.

While the insurance industry has begun to recognize the potential impacts of climate change and to evaluate its likely effects on their business, significant challenges remain. Some leading insurers and reinsurers are promoting new products and policies that will help reduce carbon pollution, which is driving climate change. Others are focused on building stronger resiliency to climate impacts, especially sea level rise, stronger storms and extreme precipitation events.

“Just as the insurance industry asserted leadership to minimize building fire and earthquake risks in the 20th century, the industry has a huge opportunity today to lead in tackling climate change risks,” Lubber said.

“Extreme weather events will grow in number and/or severity because of climate change,” said Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a report reviewer. “U.S. average temperatures have risen over the past 50 years, and this year alone there have been more than 25,000 new record highs set.”

Ceres’ analysis is based on a careful review of U.S. property/casualty insurance industry financial results as reported by A.M. Best Company earlier this year.

The report recommends that insurance companies do a better job evaluating and pricing changing weather risks in their underwriting. This means developing and using more robust research and new catastrophe models that better reflect the latest science on extreme weather. And if insurance companies want to keep markets viable and affordable, they must exert more influence on where and how buildings and infrastructure are built in order to reduce vulnerability to growing weather extremes.

In the long term, the report says, the insurance industry should advocate for government policies that will accelerate cleaner energy while reducing carbon emissions.

State regulators have a role to play as well. Ceres recommends state insurance commissioners strengthen mandatory climate risk disclosure by expanding the number of states participating, and by clarifying disclosure expectations. State regulators should also build climate risk considerations into the financial oversight process.

Ceres recommends that investors and rating agencies encourage insurers to improve disclosure of climate change risks, opportunities and response strategies, in a manner consistent with disclosure mandates already in place in New York, Washington and California.

“As a long-term investor, CalSTRS is dedicated to making sure climate change is factored into the regular risk management practices of our portfolio companies, especially those in the insurance industry,” said Jack Ehnes, chief executive officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), a leading U.S. investor who spoke at today’s news conference. “By integrating climate change risk management into their practices, insurance companies greatly improve their abilities to offer sustained shareholder value.”

U.S. Insurance Companies Vulnerable to Extreme Weather, Changing Climate

Left: Misleading vs. accurate coverage of climate science on Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal, February to July 2012. Right: Accurate vs. misleading coverage of climate science in the Wall Street Journal opinion section, August 2011 to July 2012. Graphic by Grist with data from the Union of Concerned Scientists

NEW YORK, 21 September 2012 – The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is calling on News Corporation to improve the representation of climate science on two of its prominent media holdings, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section, after an analysis showed both heavily distort the facts on the issue.

In letters to News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Channel head Roger Ailes, and Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, UCS board chair and former American Association Advance for Science President Jim McCarthy said the science on human-induced climate change is clear.

“We should all be able to accept these basic facts regardless of whether or not we support or oppose personal, business or societal actions related to climate change,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, public and policymaker opinion regarding the reality of human-induced climate change has been for far too long polarized and based on ideology rather than facts.”

UCS examined representations of climate science from both Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. In its analysis, UCS found:

  • Over a recent six-month period, Fox News Channel representations of climate science were misleading 93 percent of the time (37 out of 40 citations).
  • Over the past year, the Wall Street Journal opinion section’s representations of climate science were misleading 81 percent of the time (39 out of 48 citations).

“It’s like they’re talking and writing about a parallel universe,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at UCS. “Their viewers and readers simply aren’t getting an accurate story on climate science.”

Representations featured broad dismissals of the reality of human-induced climate change, disparagement of scientists, mockery of climate science as a body of knowledge, and the cherry-picking of facts and studies to cast doubt on established climate science. The analysis further found that both media outlets framed acceptance of climate science in ideological rather than fact-based terms. The analysis did not examine the Wall Street Journal’s news section, which is run by a separate set of editors.

News Corporation says it is committed to engaging its audiences on sustainability issues through its Global Energy Initiative. Murdoch himself has said he accepts the reality of human-induced climate change, but the misrepresentations revealed in the analysis undercut these claims.

The analysis recommends the media giant conduct a review of its climate science content and develop standards and practices for communicating climate science to its audiences. It further suggests that both Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal opinion section could do more to highlight the views of people who accept the reality of human-caused climate change.

After the panel discussion, McCarthy along with UCS supporters and staff delivered more than 20,000 postcards from members and supporters to News Corporation’s New York offices—including some more than 1,000 from the organization’s scientist members—calling upon the company to improve the accuracy of its climate science content.

The analysis and recommendations draw upon a growing body of social science research that finds a correlation between viewing Fox News Channel and dismissing the evidence for human-caused climate change. Furthermore, social scientists find that people’s beliefs about the role of government can deeply affect how they view the credibility of scientific expertise on a variety of issues, from mandatory vaccinations to nuclear waste and climate change.

Click here to view the full report.

Science Group Calls on News Corp. to Improve Climate Science Content

The 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the United States. USDA

By JOANNA M. FOSTER
14 September 2012

For gardeners sad to see the summer drawing to a close, there’s some comfort to be drawn from the fall planting season for perennials, trees and shrubs, which is just around the corner. What’s more, there’s the novelty of this year’s updated Plant Hardiness Zone Map, released early this year.

The previous version of the map was issued in 2003, but the agency fielded so much criticism over the ways in which it incorporated climate change into the equation — too little and too much — that the map was withdrawn, and professional and amateur planters were left with guidelines dating back to 1990.

The 2012 version shows that planting zones have been shifting northward as winters become more mild. But a researcher contends that this long-awaited map is already outdated.

Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering at the Grove School of Engineering at City College of New York, has overhauled the U.S.D.A.’s hardiness map to better account for recent temperature changes. Unlike the U.S.D.A., which came up with its planting zones by using average annual minimum temperatures from 1975 to 2005, Mr. Krakauer looked at long-term temperature trends, including recent data that shows that winter temperatures are increasing more rapidly than summer temperatures. His results were published this week in Advances in Meteorology.

According to his calculations, about one-third of the country has already shifted half-zones by comparison with the map, and more than one-fifth has shifted a full zone. (Each zone has a minimum temperature range of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and half zones have a 5-degree range.)

Dr. Krakauer has also created an online calculator where anyone can plug in a longitude and latitude and see the adjusted temperature change. In New York City, for example, his calculator shows that the minimum winter temperature is 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer) than suggested by the hardiness map.

“It’s difficult to give specific examples of plants you can grow somewhere that you couldn’t before, because plant varieties are also changing so much,” Mr. Krakauer said, “But generally speaking, you can now grow varieties 100 miles further north than you could about 30 years ago.”

“I’m a gardener, so my results interest me on a personal level, but I was also really struck by just how much temperatures have changed,” he said.

“We talk about dangerous climate change as being two degrees centigrade [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial values,” Dr. Krakauer explained. “Over all, we are only at about 0.8 degrees warmer today, but these results show that U.S. winter temperatures, at least, have already reached that ominous two-degree mark.”

Rethinking the New Plant Hardiness Zone Map

A girl floats her brother across flood waters while salvaging valuables from their flood ravaged home on 7 August 2010 in the village of Bux Seelro near Sukkur, Pakistan. Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Islamabad, 22 September 2012 (The International News) – Increasing threats due to negative impacts of climate change are the cause of major survival concerns for Pakistan, particularly in terms of its water security, food security, and energy security considerations.

An official of Climate Change Ministry said the government has taken short- and long-term measures that would hopefully help avoid adverse impacts of climate change. Dr. Qamaruz Zaman, a lead author of National Climate Change Policy, highlighted various threats related to climate change and also proposed measures to cope with the emerging situation in the policy.

It is pertinent to mention here that considerable increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events coupled with erratic monsoon rains has been causing frequent and intense floods and droughts in the country. It was stated in the policy that projected recession of Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalayan (HKH) glaciers is threatening water inflows into Indus River System (IRS).

Increased temperature has also resulted in enhanced heat- and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, leading to reduced agriculture productivity.

Expert highlights survival concerns for Pakistan

Karakoram's Hunza and Lady Finger peaks. Unlike the rest of the Himalayas, which are losing mass, the Karakoram glaciers seem to be holding steady or even gaining ice, finds a new study. Takayuki Hayato / Shutterstock

By Becky Oskin, LiveScience Contributor
12 September 2012

Many politically unstable areas of South Asia are "water-stressed," meaning the areas are facing water scarcity due to poor infrastructure or simply lacking enough water to meet demand.
 
The potential impacts of climate change on water scarcity could further inflame political tensions, finds a new report, Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security, released today (Sept. 12) by the National Research Council (NRC). Funding was provided by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The report examines how changes to Himalayan glaciers could affect the area's river systems, water supplies and population. The region's glaciers cross eight countries and are the source of drinking water, irrigation and hydroelectric power for roughly 1.5 billion people.

Water will become an even more precious commodity in regions that are already water-stressed from both social changes and environmental factors. Climate change could exacerbate this stress in the future, writes the committee who prepared the report. Therefore, changes in water supplies could play an increasing role in political tensions, especially if existing water-management institutions do not evolve to take better account of the region's social, economic and ecological complexities, the committee said.

The Himalayas span 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers). The largest glaciers are in the west (northern Pakistan and India); they are fed by winter snow and exhibit different characteristics than glaciers in the central (Nepal) and eastern Himalayas (Bhutan), said Bodo Bookhagen, an expert on Himalayan glaciers and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the latter regions, the glaciers grow via monsoon-fed snows during the summer. That's why increasing temperatures that shift precipitation from snow to rain may shrink these ice fields. [High and Dry: Images of the Himalayas]

Glaciers in the eastern and central part of Himalayas are retreating at rates similar to those in other parts of the world, scientists summarize in the NRC report. The good news is this region gets most of its water through monsoonal rainfall, not glacial runoff. As such, melting glaciers are unlikely to cause significant changes in water availability for people living at lower elevations, the committee said. Shortages are more likely to come from overuse of groundwater resources, population growth and shifts in water-use patterns, the report concludes.

"Societal changes will be at least as important as changes in glacial flows," said Henry Vaux, committee chair and professor emeritus of resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley. […]

Melting Himalayas May Magnify Water Scarcity

This image shows the different distribution of ice extent at the time of the September 2012 minimum, compared to the September 2007 minimum. Dark gray indicates where ice extent was present only in 2007; white indicates where ice extent was present only in 2012; and light gray shows where ice extent was present in both 2007 and 2012. National Snow and Ice Data Center

19 September 2012 (NSIDC) – On 16 September 2012, sea ice extent dropped to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year. In response to the setting sun and falling temperatures, ice extent will now climb through autumn and winter. However, a shift in wind patterns or a period of late season melt could still push the ice extent lower. The minimum extent was reached three days later than the 1979 to 2000 average minimum date of September 13.

This year’s minimum was 760,000 square kilometers (293,000 square miles) below the previous record minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred on September 18, 2007.  This is an area about the size of the state of Texas. The September 2012 minimum was in turn 3.29 million square kilometers (1.27 million square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average minimum, representing an area nearly twice the size of the state of Alaska. This year’s minimum is 18% below 2007 and 49% below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Overall there was a loss of 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) of ice since the maximum extent occurred on March 20, 2012, which is the largest summer ice extent loss in the satellite record, more than one million square kilometers greater than in any previous year.

The six lowest seasonal minimum ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the last six years (2007 to 2012). In contrast to 2007, when climatic conditions (winds, clouds, air temperatures) favored summer ice loss, this year’s conditions were not as extreme. Summer temperatures across the Arctic were warmer than average, but cooler than in 2007. The most notable event was a very strong storm centered over the central Arctic Ocean in early August. It is likely that the primary reason for the large loss of ice this summer is that the ice cover has continued to thin and become more dominated by seasonal ice. This thinner ice was more prone to be broken up and melted by weather events, such as the strong low pressure system just mentioned. The storm sped up the loss of the thin ice that appears to have been already on the verge of melting completely.

The spatial pattern of ice extent at this year’s seasonal minimum is different than that observed for 2007. This year the ice is more extensive in some parts of the central Arctic Ocean. However, the ice is less extensive this year compared to 2007 in the Beaufort Sea, the western Laptev Sea, the East Greenland Sea, and parts of the Canadian Archipelago. As mentioned in our previous post, the Northern Sea Route opened around mid August this year, compared to 2007 when a tongue of ice extended to the coast, blocking the route throughout the summer.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Modelled price impacts of extreme weather event scenarios in 2030. Extreme weather events in a single year could bring about price spikes of comparable magnitude to two decades of projected long-run price increases. Oxfam, 2012

By Jaya Ramachandran, Arab News
16 September 2012

(SRPC) – While there are hardly any signs of substantive and forward-looking agreements being reached at the UN climate change conference from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, in Doha, latest research cautions that impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated.

“By the end of the most recent round of climate talks in Bangkok (Aug. 30 to Sept. 5), there was no movement from developed countries to increase the level of their ambition with regard to emissions reductions — the low pledges, subject to many conditions, made in Durban, South Africa, last December remain unchanged,” wrote Chee Yoke Ling and Hilary Chiew of the Third World Network (TWN) in an article for the South-North Development Monitor website.

“Even as scientific evidence mounts on worsening climate change, developed countries are not willing to meet their legal obligations to make deep greenhouse gases cuts under the Kyoto Protocol,” they concluded.

Representatives of civil society organizations reacted angrily at the end of the UN climate talks in Bangkok, and said it is apparent that the 8th annual session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to be held in Doha will not approve further action on climate change this decade.

“The United States government is opposed to a top-down structure under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period,” said Meena Raman, legal adviser to the TWN. “The US wants a voluntary pledging system to cut emissions that is not based on science nor based on equity.”

She added: “The United States and its allies want the UN to ‘be silent’ on issues where they haven’t yet reached agreement. To be clear that means they want the UN to be silent on solving climate change. The US is taking a wrecking ball to the climate convention and any hope of stopping run away climate catastrophe.”

The conference in Bangkok has been “marred by ongoing clashes between rich and poor nations, atbodyts to reopen talks on the controversial topic of measuring, reporting and verifying different countries’ emission reductions and the future of the Long-term Cooperative Action working group, which is focused on climate funding, adaptation and technology transfer mechanisms,” explained journalist Kevin Wafula in a report published by Africa Science News.

“Undermining a key alleged achievement of the Durban summit last year, agreement to undertake an effective second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was slowed as the EU refused to take on deep emission cuts and others like Australia dragged their feet on fulfilling the promises made in Durban,” he added.

The meetings in Bangkok were held after the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that its Food Price Index climbed 6 percent in July, driven by heat waves and droughts in the United States and extreme weather conditions in India, Australia, Russia and other countries. The price spike wakes up the ghost of a global crisis like the one that badly hurt the poor and vulnerable groups among the world population in 2007-2008, experts warn.

The same day the meetings in Thailand ended, Oxfam issued a report titled Extreme weather, extreme prices [pdf], managed by German economist Dirk Willenbockel (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK). The study forecasts that “food price spikes will get worse as extreme weather caused by climate change devastates food production.” By using a global dynamic multi-region computable general equilibrium model of the world economy, the paper goes beyond the gradual impact of climate change patterns and shows “how extreme weather events in a single year could bring about price spikes of comparable magnitude to two decades of long-run price rises,” and “signals the urgent need for a full stress-testing of the global food system in a warming world.”

“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events on future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate. The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction,” said Tim Gore, Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Adviser.

In the scenarios traced by Willenbockel, “the average price of staple foods could more than double in the next 20 years compared with 2010 trend prices — with up to half of the increase caused by climate change (changing mean body temperatures and rainfall patterns).”

“Climate change is already threatening the livelihoods and food security of the poor and vulnerable. The industrial model of agricultural production threatens the viability of ecosystems and contributes massively to climate change. Nothing less than a system change is needed in the face of climate change,” the organizations warned.

Climate change severely impacting food prices

 

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