To Save the Planet, Save the Seas

There was a great guest op-ed in the NYT on December 27, 2009 about the importance of plant life in the oceans as carbon sinks or sponges for all the carbon (CO2) people are producing on the land.

See our related posts on this here, here and here.

And read lots more about this concept and the role of algae, seagrass, and phytoplankton as carbon stores at the Blue Carbon website here.

To Save the Planet, Save the Seas

By DAN LAFFOLEY

Peterborough, England

FOR the many disappointments of the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, there was at least one clear positive outcome, and that was the progress made on a program called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Under this program, key elements of which were agreed on at Copenhagen, developing countries would be compensated for preserving forests, peat soils, swamps and fields that are efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.

This approach, which takes advantage of the power of nature itself, is an economical way to store large amounts of carbon. But the program is limited in that it includes only those carbon sinks found on land. We now need to look for similar opportunities to curb climate change in the oceans.

Few people may realize it, but in addition to producing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean absorbs some 25 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Half the world’s carbon stocks are held in plankton, mangroves, salt marshes and other marine life. So it is at least as important to preserve this ocean life as it is to preserve forests, to secure its role in helping us adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Sea-grass meadows, for example, which flourish in shallow coastal waters, account for 15 percent of the ocean’s total carbon storage, and underwater forests of kelp store huge amounts of carbon, just as forests do on land. The most efficient natural carbon sink of all is not on land, but in the ocean, in the form of Posidonia oceanica, a species of sea grass that forms vast underwater meadows that wave in the currents just as fields of grass on land sway in the wind.

Worldwide, coastal habitats like these are being lost because of human activity. Extensive areas have been altered by land reclamation and fish farming, while coastal pollution and overfishing have further damaged habitats and reduced the variety of species. It is now clear that such degradation has not only affected the livelihoods and well-being of more than two billion people dependent on coastal ecosystems for food, it has also reduced the capacity of these ecosystems to store carbon.

The case for better management of oceans and coasts is twofold. These healthy plant habitats help meet the needs of people adapting to climate change, and they also reduce greenhouse gases by storing carbon dioxide. Countries should be encouraged to establish marine protected areas — that is, set aside parts of the coast and sea where nature is allowed to thrive without undue human interference — and do what they can to restore habitats like salt marshes, kelp forests and sea-grass meadows.

Managing these habitats is far less expensive than trying to shore up coastlines after the damage has been done. Maintaining healthy stands of mangroves in Asia through careful management, for example, has proved to cost only one-seventh of what it would cost to erect manmade coastal defenses against storms, waves and tidal surges.

The discussions in Copenhagen have opened the way for all countries to improve the management of oceans and coasts to harness their immense potential to mitigate climate change — especially over the next decade, while the world’s politicians, scientists and engineers develop longer-term strategies for stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

In their continuing negotiations on climate change, nations should now make it a priority to produce a single map of the world that documents all the different types of coastal carbon sinks, and identify the ones that are in most immediate need of preservation. New studies should be undertaken to better understand how best to manage these areas to increase carbon sequestration. Then, following the example of the forests program, it will be possible to establish formulas for compensating countries that preserve essential carbon sinks in the oceans.

We urgently need to bring the ocean into the agenda alongside forests so that, as soon as possible, we can help the oceans to help us.

Dan Laffoley is the marine vice chairman of the World Commission on Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the principal specialist for marine at Natural England.

Model to data temperature comparisons – how well did they do?

In the last few months, we’ve heard the comment “Notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man-made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped” pushed around with alarming regularity. We discussed this in a previous posting (‘Abbott’s climate change policy is “bullshit”‘) which included a great analysis by Tamino, who demonstrated pretty well that the temperature this decade did exactly as expected – it’s getting warmer (see also “WMO finds 2000–2009 the warmest decade; so much for that “global warming pause” meme“)

Another one of those re-occurring memes that’s been posted here on the comments section of Climate Shifts is that the “computer climate models (are) known to not be able to predict future climate very well” and “observational evidence does not match the models to date“. Considering that it’s almost the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it seems like a good time to be checking our predictions and future projections of climate change. Enter Gavin from Real Climate, who points out the vital importance of “updat(ing) all of the graphs of annual means with another single datapoint”:

Above is the annual mean anomalies from the IPCC AR4 models (black line) and their 95% envelope (grey shading) and the surface temperature records from HadCRUT3v (red line) and GISTEMP (blue lines). As Gavin points out:

As you can see, now that we have come out of the recent La Niña-induced slump, temperatures are back in the middle of the model estimates. If the current El Niño event continues into the spring, we can expect 2010 to be warmer still.

So far, the model predictions are looking solid. We can pretty much debunk the meme “observational evidence does not match the models to date“.

Next up, Gavin deals with a pretty key question: how does the oldest of all climate models hold up? Below are three scenarios from Hansen’s 1988 paper on climate projections:

How about that “computer climate models (are) known to not be able to predict future climate very well” meme? It seems like even the first GCM model did a pretty good job of predicting the increases in temperature pretty well, although the B & C scenarios are a little warm compared to the actual surface temperature records.  To conclude:

…despite the fact these are relatively crude metrics against which to judge the models, and there is a substantial degree of unforced variability, the matches to observations are still pretty good, and we are getting to the point where a better winnowing of models dependent on their skill may soon be possible. (Read more over @ Real Climate)

Ocean acidification turns up the volume

What was that? Can’t hear me? Don’t worry, ocean acidification will fix that.

According to a new paper published in Nature Geoscience, as the oceans become more acidic through increased atmospheric CO2, the changes in seawater chemistry will result in fewer reactions and less acoustic used. This means that sound will travel further, and therefore be louder at a fixed distance than under less acidic conditions.

Sound absorption attenuation as a function of frequency and seawater pH (Ilyina et al 2010)

The authors predict that by 2100, sound absorption could fall by up to 60% high latitudes regions of the world. Most of the absorption of sound occurs at low frequencies (1,000 to 5,000 hertz) – the same range as propellor noises, ship sounds and military sonar. Marine noise is a huge issue in the oceans, and is already known to harm cetaceans (‘i’m beached as, bro‘) – and this is projected to get louder and louder:

Temporal evolution of seawater pH and sound absorption coefficient in acoustic hotspots (Ilyina et al 2010)

“We’re not saying that during the next 100 years all dolphins will be deafened,” Dr. Zeebe said. “But the background noise could essentially override or mask the sounds that they’re depending on.” (Read More)

Ilyina et al (2010) Future ocean increasingly transparent to low-frequency sound owing to carbon dioxide emissions Nature Geoscience (3)18-22

ENSO Wrap-Up

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has posted an updated report on the status of the current ENSO.  You can read the full report here.  Hightlights include:

Pacific Ocean temperatures remain at levels typical of a mature El Niño. Over the past fortnight, Trade winds have remained weak over the central tropical Pacific, resulting in further warming of the underlying ocean. As a result, central Pacific Ocean surface temperatures are now at their warmest level since the El Niño of 1997-98, exceeding temperatures observed in both the 2002-03 and 2006-07 events. During the past week, small regions which are more than 3°C above their average temperature have emerged along the equator.

Leading climate models continue to suggest tropical ocean temperatures are approaching their peak, and will remain above El Niño thresholds through the southern summer before starting to cool.

Over the past fortnight, the Southern Oscillation Index has fallen slightly, and remains at levels typical of an El Niño event. Similarly, cloudiness and rainfall near the equator remains enhanced, while eastern Austrailan rainfall remains low; all typical of a mature El Niño event. However, the influence of El Niño events on Australian rainfall typically declines by mid to late summer.

  • The tropical Pacific Ocean sea surface remains significantly warmer than the long-term average in central and eastern areas.
  • The sub-surface water of the tropical Pacific remains warmer than the long-term average.
  • The latest approximate 30-day SOI value is −10; the monthly value for November was −7. The SOI has remained relatively stable throughout December.
  • Trade winds are weaker than normal across the Pacific.
  • Cloudiness near the date-line has increased over the past fortnight.
  • All of the above are consistent with a moderately strong El Niño, which most leading international computer models surveyed by the Bureau predict will persist through the southern hemisphere summer, but decline thereafter.

Atlantic Coast sea level rises at faster pace

The buzz in North Carolina is how fast sea level (especially in the estuaries) seems to have increased in the last few years.  I haven’t seen any measurements confirming this, but anecdotal observations suggest somethings is happening. [I know, this may be a short term thing, unrelated to AGW]  I am on the outer banks near Cape Hatteras and the beachside erosion from fall storms has been amazing.  Sand dune constructed by the army core of engineers in the 40s are recently beginning to erode. And the sea level at soundside beach behind our house has been noticeably higher since 2008.  And this isn’t due to sand loss.  The water level is higher in the marsh at most high tides than it should be given the vegetation.

It could be rapid sea level rise.  One of my colleagues (a physical oceanographer who has also observed this) says his colleagues think something is going on with the NAO.  And a new paper (Engelhart et al. 2009) just published in Geology and covered at Futurity indicates that some of the observed increase in sea level here is due to glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA).  Simply put, the continent is still rebounding (sinking) from the prior release of the weight of the glaciers during the last ice age.

Correction: Fish, rightly commented that I was wrong about GIA and thus the implications of the paper.  I am sorry about the error.  The north American land masses are in general still rising or “rebounding” from the removal of the weight of glaciers during the last ice age.  Thus, as Fish correctly pointed out, such “glacial rebound” in effect works against the various factors casing sea level rise.  Although the main conclusion, from my perspective, still holds: the regional variability in GIA emphasizes the inaccuracies of simplistic “bathtub models” that use surface elevation to project future sea level rise (related to AGW).

Now that I am correctly interpreting the paper, I see the point the authors were making near the end of the Discussion.  They point out that the melting of glaciers on Greenland will increase glacial rebound, predominantly in the northern sections of NE north American, with diminishing rebound down the coast.  All things being equally, which is probably not the case, then sea level rise due to AGW would increase from Maine south towards the Carolinas and Georgia.  In the authors words:

The effects of Greenland mass loss on the U.S. Atlantic coast would result in a north to south increase in sea-level rise… Rignot et al. (2008) suggested that Greenland is currently losing mass at the equivalent sea-level rise rate of ~0.6 mm a–1. Steric effects may also play an important role in 20th century sea-level change (Miller and Douglas, 2004; Wake et al., 2006; Church et al., 2008). Church et al. (2008) proposed significant spatial variation in ocean thermal expansion for the upper 700 m along the U.S. Atlantic coast with areas possessing negative and positive thermal contributions to sea-level rise over the period 1993–2003. Wake et al. (2006) analyzed hydrographic data sets of the Atlantic coast and identified a large steric effect for the southernportion of the coastline that would influence 20th century RSLR, but Miller and Douglas (2006, 2007) concluded that there were only minor steric contributions to sealevel rise during the 20th century, north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The paper reports land “subsidence rates of <0.8 mm a–1 in Maine, increasing to rates of 1.7 mm a–1 in Delaware, and a return to rates <0.9 mm a–1 in the Carolinas.” This subsidence is part of observed sea level rise.  The other two main contributions (particularly in the future) to sea level rise are increases in the volume of the seas from glacial and ice cap melting and from the thermal expansion of sea water.  The authors also estimate  “a mean 20th century sea-level rise rate for the U.S. Atlantic coast of 1.8 ± 0.2 mm a–1, similar to the global average”.

The regional variability in GIA (subsidence) also emphasizes the inaccuracies of simplistic “bathtub models” that use surface elevation to project future sea level rise (related to AGW).

U. PENN—Sea level along the Atlantic Coast is rising faster now than at any time in the past 4,000 years.

Coastal subsidence enhances sea-level rise, which leads to shoreline erosion and loss of wetlands and threatens coastal populations.

Further, the researchers find that the mid-Atlantic coastlines of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland are subsiding twice as much as areas to the north and south. The study results were published in a recent issue of the journal Geology.

This is the first demonstrated evidence of this phenomenon from observational data alone. Researchers believe this may be related to the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and ocean thermal expansion.

“There is universal agreement that sea level will rise as a result of global warming but by how much, when and where it will have the most effect is unclear,” says Ben Horton, assistant professor of earth and environmental science.

“Such information is vital to governments, commerce and the general public. An essential prerequisite for accurate prediction is understanding how sea level has responded to past climate changes and how these were influenced by geological events such as land movements.”

The study provides the first accurate dataset for sea-level rise for the U.S. Atlantic coast, identifying regional differences that arise from variations in subsidence and demonstrate the possible effects of ice-sheet melting and thermal expansion for sea level rise.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Thouron Family, and the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers from the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, the University of Toronto, and the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University contributed to the study.

Figure 1 Rate of late Holocene relative sea-level rise with 2 errors for 19 locations along U.S. Atlantic coast. Inset plots are examples of locations with sea-level index points plotted as calibrated age before A.D. 1900 versus change in relative sea level (RSL) relative to mean sea level (MSL) in A.D. 1900 (m). Red line is linear regression for each site. Rates and errors shown to 1 decimal place. MA—Massachusetts; ME—Maine; NY—New York; DE—Delaware; NC—North Carolina.


Abstract: Accurate estimates of global sea-level rise in the pre-satellite era provide a context for 21st century sea-level predictions, but the use of tide-gauge records is complicated by the contributions from changes in land level due to glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA). We have constructed a rigorous quality-controlled database of late Holocene sea-level indices from the U.S. Atlantic coast, exhibiting subsidence rates of <0.8 mm a−1 in Maine, increasing to rates of 1.7 mm a−1 in Delaware, and a return to rates <0.9 mm a−1in the Carolinas. This pattern can be attributed to ongoing GIA due to the demise of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Our data allow us to define the geometry of the associated collapsing proglacial forebulge with a level of resolution unmatched by any other currently available method. The corresponding rates of relative sea-level rise serve as background rates on which future sea-level rise must be superimposed. We further employ the geological data to remove the GIA component from tide-gauge records to estimate a mean 20th century sea-level rise rate for the U.S. Atlantic coast of 1.8 ± 0.2 mm a−1, similar to the global average. However, we find a distinct spatial trend in the rate of 20thcentury sea-level rise, increasing from Maine to South Carolina. This is the first evidence of this phenomenon from observational data alone. We suggest this may be related to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and/or ocean steric effects.

Reference:  Engelhart, Simon E., Horton, Benjamin P., Douglas, Bruce C., Peltier, W. Richard, Tornqvist, Torbjorn E. Spatial variability of late Holocene and 20th century sea-level rise along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Geology 2009 37: 1115-1118

Climate Change Minister for Queensland spins ‘destruction of Great Barrier Reef’

Kate Jones, the Climate Change Minister for the Australian State of Queensland, recently stated “Queenslanders are by per capita the highest emitters of carbon in the world.” and said the Queensland Government was “committed to world action on climate change.”

Spoken at the Copenhagen climate talks on December 15, they illuminate the greenwashing, spin and hypocrisy that our politicians are engaging in, especially in this case in regards to saving the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Bradley Smith from Friends of the Earth Brisbane comented “If the Queensland government were serious about protecting the Great Barrier reef, they wouldn’t be expanding the coal industry. Without deep and urgent emissions reductions, reducing runoff to the Great Barrier Reef is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Read more over @ IndyBay.

Climate Crock Sacks Hack Attack – Part 2

This is a new video by Peter Sinclair following up on his first video on the CRU email hack fiasco.

Also see our posts on this matter hereherehere and here

sinclair

Also see an interview with Peter Sinclair here

By Matthew Cimitile, cimitile@msu.edu
Great Lakes Echo May 5, 2009

What can a prehistoric family, a scarecrow and Stephen Colbert tell us about climate change? For Peter Sinclair,  clips from The FlintstonesThe Wizard of Oz and The Colbert Report are one way to grab your attention while delivering the science behind climate change.

Sinclair is one of thousands of volunteers personally trained by former Vice President Al Gore to educate the public about climate change. These presentations raise awareness about the climate crisis and potential solutions.

The 55-year-old nurse and graphic designer from Midland, Mich. has been involved with environmental issues since he was young. His desire to do something about climate change led him to Nashville for a week long intensive climate change seminar with Gore.

He has given hundreds of presentations on the causes, effects and solutions of climate change. He eventually condensed his presentations into YouTube mini-documentaries called the “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” where he attempts to debunk some of the most popular arguments made by climate change skeptics.

They generate a lot of heated discussion. Some have more than 4,000 views and many of the viewers cheer Sinclair for his work. Many others claim he presents biased arguments based on flimsy facts and attacks people simply because they are skeptical of climate change.

MC: Explain how the Climate Denial Crock of the Week started

PS: I had developed a whole elaborate part of my presentation that responds to [climate change] skeptics’ talking points. While giving one of my presentations at a small local venue, it was videotaped and put on the local channel where many more people were able to see it than could have possibly seen it at the conference… From then on I began recording my presentations and chopping them up in 10 minute chunks to put on YouTube. But I realized that wasn’t fitting the format, you really need a short video that has a beginning, an end and a point. So I started using snippets of old movies, cartoons and whatever I could think of to keep people’s attention while delivering information that most people would not seek out, then make it appetizing enough to stick with it for 5 minutes.

MC: What do you hope people take from it

PS: That this is the actual science as it is understood at the top level. Most of this information comes from peer-reviewed sources like NASA and the National Academy of Sciences. My goal is to take the actual documents and show people what they say and string them together in a fast enough moving narrative with graphics and visuals so that it is easy to follow and swallow. So far I’m getting feedback from all over the planet – from college professors who want to use them in their courses to other people like myself who give educational talks.

MC: With an issue that has become so politicized like climate change, do you think most people have already made up their mind on the issue regardless of any new information?

PS: I think there is still an awful lot of room for convincing people. There is a hardcore group of people that you are never going to get to but there is a large number of people in the middle… There are people out there who are still on the fence because they may not understand the issue that well but these presentations can clarify the situation to where people leave feeling more confident about what is really happening. And even for people who already get climate change, there is value in preaching to the choir because many times these climate denial talking points are crafted so elaborately that even somebody who gets climate change can be sold by one of these arguments.

“Heroes of the Environment” gang up on Bill McKibben

A herd of climate change blogosphere heavyweights (Time Mag. “Heros of the environment” all) are pounding on Bill McKibben over his views on the outcome of Copenhagen, in particular, the role of the UN and small island nations in developing global climate policies. And this comes just weeks after a mild flogging by Andrew Revkin at the NYT and Gavin  Schmidt at Real Climate.

McKibben has been a highly influencial activists for decades.  His contributions include a series of acclaimed (and awesome) books including “The end of nature” and “Deep Economy“.  More recently Bill founded and leads the 350.org movement (see our posts on the importance of getting back to 350 ppm here and here).

McKibben just penned the following comments on Grist:

The President of the United States did several things with his agreement today with China, India, and South Africa:

  • He blew up the United Nations. The idea that there’s a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is, you poor nations can spout off all you want on questions like human rights or the role of women or fighting polio or handling refugees. But when you get too close to the center of things that count—the fossil fuel that’s at the center of our economy—you can forget about it. We’re not interested. You’re a bother, and when you sink beneath the waves, we don’t want to hear much about it. The dearest hope of the American right for 50 years was essentially realized because in the end coal is at the center of America’s economy. We already did this with war and peace, and now we’ve done it with global warming. What exactly is the point of the U.N. now?
  • He formed a league of super-polluters, and would-be super-polluters. China, the U.S., and India don’t want anyone controlling their use of coal in any meaningful way. It is a coalition of foxes who will together govern the henhouse. It is no accident that the targets are weak to nonexistent. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with targets, he said. Indeed. And now imagine what this agreement will look like with the next Republican president
  • He demonstrated the kind of firmness and resolve that Americans like to see. It will play well politically at home and that will be the worst part of the deal. Having spurned Europe and the poor countries of the world, he will reap domestic political benefit. George Bush couldn’t have done this—the reaction would have been too great. Obama has taken the mandate that progressives worked their hearts out to give him, and used it to gut the ideas that progressives have held most dear. The ice caps won’t be the only things we lose with this deal.

Joe Romm of ClimteProgress disagrees and is bashing poor Bill:

I have not been fond of how the United Nations has been running all things climate.   Both CAP’s Andrew Light and I have argued before, “we don’t need 192 nations to come to an agreement on mitigating carbon emissions in order to get the job done. We only need those countries responsible for 85% of emissions to move forward on the pathways identified by the IPCC with a promise to the world to do so in a responsible manner.”

That’s why much of what 350.0rg founder (and occasional CP guest blogger) Bill McKibben doesn’t like about the Copenhagen Accord is exactly what I like about it.  McKibben complains of Obama’s successful effort to prevent a complete failure at Copenhagen:

  • He blew up the United Nations….
  • He formed a league of super-polluters, and would-be super-polluters….

Hurray!

Most of the coverage and analysis on the Copenhagen Accord has been dreadful and devoid of important context, as I’ve said, and that includes McKibben’s analysis, which is, I believe, 100% backwards.

Ironically, for those who want to achieve a 2°C (3.6°F) target or better — as McKibben does — it was, arguably, China who was a bigger obstacle than America in the final days at Copenhagen. Still clinging to the Kyoto approach where developing countries don’t have to commit to anything for most of the two weeks…

A point I totally agree with.

Moreover, what happens after 2020 is probably even more important, and here the U.S. is on the verge of making a true leadership commitment, if the Senate passes the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill, as I expect they will.  And if we do, then I expect that should be enough to get China and the other big emitters to formalize a binding deal over the next year.

Ultimately, the point is not the friggin’ process, but the outcome, and if the UN could demonstrate its process could lead to a better outcome, I’d be all for it.  But I doubt it.

I think Obama showed the process that can work to get the best possible outcome:  High-level negotiations by the senior leaders of the big emitters.

The Breakthrough Institute (of “The death of environmentalism” fame) has joined the fray and published “Open Letter to Bill McKibben: Blaming Obama for Copenhagen Is Wrong” on the Breakthrough blog (excerpted below):

Dear Bill,

Yesterday, in response to the end of the Copenhagen negotiations, you issued a press release with 350.org titled “The President has wrecked the UN (and the planet),” in which you wrote: “The president has wrecked the U.N. and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it’s at the expense of everything progressives have held dear.”

Afterward, you published an article on the Grist homepage titled “With climate agreement, Obama guts progressive values,” in which you wrote: “He blew up the United Nations. The idea that there’s a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is… when you sink beneath the waves we don’t want to hear much about it.” This followed a recent post by your organization accusing Obama of “corruption” and “conspiracy” for his climate negotiations with Ethiopia.

Bill, as one of the most prominent leaders of the global environmental movement, your words matter. Several of my friends, family, and colleagues – especially young climate leaders – have looked to you for guidance in this movement, placing faith in your judgment and passionately supporting your 350 campaign. As one young commenter remarked to me yesterday, “Bill McKibben is certainly one of the most respected voices on this issue around, and if he says that Obama failed to deliver, I believe it.”

That is why I was shocked and disappointed when you so harshly blamed President Obama for the outcome of Copenhagen and accused him of undermining efforts to achieve a meaningful international climate treaty. Your accusations are false. I understand the disappointment of you and many around the world, but the Obama administration has done more to promote climate change solutions than any U.S. administration in history, and it has demonstrated a clear commitment to advancing international negotiations.

We need to understand the heart of the problem in order to overcome it. So let us be clear: the failure at Copenhagen is not the Obama administration’s fault, nor that of any single leader or country. Rather it is primarily the result of a flawed UNFCCC framework, which relies on outdated distinctions between “developed” and “developing” countries and fails to focus on negotiations between major polluters. Most problematic, it depends on the establishment of abstract and “legally-binding” emissions reduction targets, instead of the immediate government investments we need to develop and deploy low-carbon energy and efficiency technologies.

Bill, I still believe you are capable of offering the leadership we need, and I welcome your response to this letter. I still believe in our president and our country’s ability to lead the world on this challenge. And I believe that with a new way forward, we can achieve the clean energy revolution we need.

Sincerely,
Teryn Norris

Director, Americans for Energy Leadership
Founder, Breakthrough Generation

McKibben responds to BI here:

Somehow I doubt the president is waiting for an apology from me. Our job, as part of a global movement, is to push every player in the process to do much more than they are doing. That’s why 350.org organized in 181 countries, pushing all their leaders to do more. Obama is my president, I was one of the first leaders to join Environmentalists for Obama (back in the primaries when most were waiting to see which way the wind blew), and I worked hard for his election. That’s why I will try to keep pushing him to do much more than the small amount he’s done. He needs to work the Congress as hard as he can, or else we’ll end up with the climate equivalent of the current healthcare bill: a very modest advance if any. In healthcare maybe you can argue for that–his successor gets to come along in ten years and strengthen it. The physics of climate change makes me think that analysis won’t work for climate change.

Your organization has attacked me a good deal in the last little while, Teryn, and in increasingly personal terms. That’s your right, that’s how politics work. I’ve been wrong before, doubtless I’ll be wrong again. But I think I’m going to keep saying what I’ve been saying for a good long time now: 350 is where science tells us we have to go. Technology will help, and so will a “mitigation framework,” whatever that means. I’d call it cutting carbon.

But whatever. I’m an old guy at 49, and I feel older this week. No doubt younger generations will figure it all out, and good for you all. My only advice to young activists in general would be to not let yourselves get too marginalized as young. My colleagues at 350.org are all young, as it happens, but I don’t work with them because they’re young. I work with them because they’re the best in the world at what they do. Onwards

Ouch!

and via a comment on Climate Progress:
It’s all part of my secret campaign to get everyone working together–in the last 24 hours I’ve managed to get both the Breakthrough Institute and CP going after me for pretty much the same thing. You have to admit, that’s an accomplishment.

I very much hope you’re all correct. Since the outcome at Copenhagen was entirely unthreatening, it may indeed make it easier to get a bill through the Senate–and then of course the question will be whether that bill will be a big help in the fight to get us where we need to go, which is 350 parts per million.

But right now I’m actually too tired to really figure it all out. So I’m going to take my absurd self off to bed. It’s been an interesting year at 350.org–the part I’ve enjoyed most is working with people in precisely those nations that everyone seems to think are annoying obstructionists. Their demand that their survival be considered doesn’t strike me as analogous to the idea that each senator should be able to appease his favorite campaign contributor.

I don’t yet understand this new world order, but my guess is its first order of business will not be rapid, powerful cuts in carbon emissions. But I’m pleased by Joe’s confidence. Onward we go.

Who is right?  I am curious what you all think.

My first reactions is: for the love of god, can we quickly end the friendly fire!

Second, some background info may be in order.  One of Breakthrough Institutes major platforms is that the UNFCCC framework is flawed.

E.g., read the post here that argues:

If you were looking for a fitting illustration of why the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was doomed to fail you could have hardly asked for a better demonstration than the show put on by Tuvalu in Copenhagen last week.

For two days the tiny island nation of 12,000 successfully halted negotiations and demanded atmospheric carbon levels be kept to lower levels (350 parts per million) than what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recommended (450 ppm).

That Tuvalu has the same power as China to shape global climate negotiations is a pretty good sign that whatever else happens in Copenhagen, the UNFCCC is unlikely to have much impact on the future of climate.

Two nations, the U.S. and China, create over 40 percent of the world’s emissions. Twenty nations collectively comprise over 80 percent of total global carbon emissions, 85 percent of global GDP, 80 percentage of world trade, and two-thirds of world population. Whatever progress we may make toward addressing climate change will be determined by these very few nations, representing the vast majority of humanity, not the cacophony of voices at the UNFCCC representing virtually no one.

And yet, animated by a lofty, early-20th Century idealism, the United Nations General Assembly — which is effectively what the UNFCCC has recreated to negotiate a global climate treaty — remains for many liberals in the West a powerful symbol of humankind’s shared global destiny. In reality, the General Assembly has become a kind of lobbying association for development, not a place of significant weight. Great questions of war and peace are, under the best of circumstances, negotiated by the Security Council, while the shape and trajectory of the global economy are negotiated by the G20, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Ill blog about this issue soon…

But third, I agree completely with Bill Mckibben that President Obama has earned plenty of criticism and even scorn from the environmental community and liberals/progressives in general.  Personally, I am disappointed in his performance and many of his policies.  He has let us down on so many key issues: gay rights (he doesn’t even support gay marriage), other human rights issues (think China-Tibet), Afghanistan (i.e., war), torture, Guantanamo, financial regulatory reform, health care reform, and on and on.  I guess we should have believed him when he painted himself as a centrist during the campaign.

I think Obama is in for a drubbing in 2012.  Dissipointing his base on so many issues is going to cost him.  At this point I think it is likely he will be a one-termer and we will soon say hello to president Romney or Palin.

Final Text of the Copenhagen Accord

In pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention as stated in its Article 2, Being guided by the principles and provisions of the Convention, Noting the results of work done by the two Ad hoc Working Groups, Endorsing decision x/CP.15 on the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action and decision x/CMP.5 that requests the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments of Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol to continue its work, Have agreed on this Copenhagen Accord which is operational immediately.

1. We underline that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We emphasise our strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. To achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, on the basis ofequity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change. We recognize the critical impacts of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures on countries particularly vulnerable to its adverse effects and stress the need to establish a comprehensive adaptation programme including international support.

2. We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science, and as documented by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity. We should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.

3. Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures is a challenge faced by all countries. Enhanced action and international cooperation on adaptation is urgently required to ensure the implementation of the Convention by enabling and supporting the implementation of adaptation actions aimed at reducing vulnerability and building resilience in developing countries, especially in those that are particularly vulnerable, especially least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa. We agree that developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries.

4. Annex I Parties commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020, to be submitted in the format given in Appendix I by Annex I Parties to the secretariat by 31 January 2010 for compilation in an INF document. Annex I Parties that are Party to the Kyoto Protocol will thereby further strengthen the emissions reductions initiated by the Kyoto Protocol. Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent.

5. Non-Annex I Parties to the Convention will implement mitigation actions, including those to be submitted to the secretariat by non-Annex I Parties in the format given in Appendix II by 31 January 2010, for compilation in an INF document, consistent with Article 4.1 and Article 4.7 and in the context of sustainable development. Least developed countries and small island developing States may undertake actions voluntarily and on the basis of support. Mitigation actions subsequently taken and envisaged by Non-Annex I Parties, including national inventory reports, shall be communicated through national communications consistent with Article 12.1(b) every two years on the basis of guidelines to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties. Those mitigation actions in national communications or otherwise communicated to the Secretariat will be added to the list in appendix II. Mitigation actions taken by Non-Annex I Parties will be subject to their domestic measurement, reporting and verification the result of which will be reported through their national communications every two years. Non-Annex I Parties will communicate information on the implementation of their actions through National Communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected. Nationally appropriate mitigation actions seeking international support will be recorded in a registry along with relevant technology, finance and capacity building support. Those actions supported will be added to the list in appendix II. These supported nationally appropriate mitigation actions will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties.

6. We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.

7. We decide to pursue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote mitigation actions. Developing countries, especially those with low emitting economies should be provided incentives to continue to develop on a low emission pathway.

8. Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding as well as improved access shall be provided to developing countries, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation, including substantial finance to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus), adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity-building, for enhanced implementation of the Convention. The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 . 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa. In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. New multilateral funding for adaptation will be delivered through effective and efficient fund arrangements, with a governance structure providing for equal representation of developed and developing countries. A significant portion of such funding should flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

9. To this end, a High Level Panel will be established under the guidance of and accountable to the Conference of the Parties to study the contribution of the potential sources of revenue, including alternative sources of finance, towards meeting this goal.

10. We decide that the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund shall be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity-building, technology development and transfer.

11. In order to enhance action on development and transfer of technology we decide to establish a Technology Mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be guided by a country-driven approach and be based on national circumstances and priorities.

12. We call for an assessment of the implementation of this Accord to be completed by 2015, including in light of the Convention.s ultimate objective. This would include consideration of strengthening the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A message from James Hansen

James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has penned an essay/article titled “The Temperature of Science” in which he gives his perspectives on the politicization of climate science and describes his groups temperature monitoring program and products.  I excerpt highlights below, but you can download the entire file here.

The Temperature of Science by James Hansen

Background: My experience with global temperature data over 30 years provides insight about how the science and its public perception have changed. In the late 1970s I became curious about well- known analyses of global temperature change published by climatologist J. Murray Mitchell: why were his estimates for large-scale temperature change restricted to northern latitudes? As a planetary scientist, it seemed to me there were enough data points in the Southern Hemisphere to allow useful estimates both for that hemisphere and for the global average. So I requested a tape of meteorological station data from Roy Jenne of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who obtained the data from records of the World Meteorological Organization, and I made my own analysis.

Fast forward to December 2009, when I gave a talk at the Progressive Forum in Houston Texas. The organizers there felt it necessary that I have a police escort between my hotel and the forum where I spoke. Days earlier bloggers reported that I was probably the hacker who broke into East Anglia computers and stole e-mails. Their rationale: I was not implicated in any of the pirated e-mails, so I must have eliminated incriminating messages before releasing the hacked e- mails. The next day another popular blog concluded that I deserved capital punishment. Web chatter on this topic, including indignation that I was coming to Texas, led to a police escort.

Fig. 1. (a) GISS analysis of global surface temperature change. Open square for 2009 is 11- month temperature anomaly. Green vertical bar is 95 percent confidence range. (b) Hemispheric temperature change in GISS analysis.

GISS data updates: Each month we receive, electronically, data from three sources: weather data for several thousand meteorological stations, satellite observations of sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research station measurements. These three data sets are the input for a program that produces a global map of temperature anomalies relative to the mean for that month during the period of climatology, 1951-1980.The analysis method works in terms of temperature anomalies, rather than absolute temperature, because anomalies present a smoother geographical field than temperature itself. For example, when New York City has an unusually cold winter, it is likely that Philadelphia is also colder than normal. The distance over which temperature anomalies are highly correlated is of the order of 1000 kilometers at middle and high latitudes, as we illustrated in our 1987 paper.

Although the three input data streams that we use are publicly available from the organizations that produce them, we began preserving the complete input data sets each month in April 2008. These data sets, which cover the full period of our analysis, 1880-present, are available to parties interested in performing their own analysis or checking our analysis. The computer program that performs our analysis is published on the GISS web site.

Note, the GISS updates can be viewed, data can be downloaded, etc here.

The different hemispheric records in the mid-twentieth century have never been convincingly explained. The most likely explanation is atmospheric aerosols, fine particles in the air, produced by fossil fuel burning. Aerosol atmospheric lifetime is only several days, so fossil fuel aerosols were confined mainly to the Northern Hemisphere, where most fossil fuels were burned. Aerosols have a cooling effect that still today is estimated to counteract about half of the warming effect of human-made greenhouse gases. For the few decades after World War II, until the oil embargo in the 1970s, fossil fuel use expanded exponentially at more than 4%/year, likely causing the growth of aerosol climate forcing to exceed that of greenhouse gases in the Northern Hemisphere. However, there are no aerosol measurements to confirm that interpretation. If there were adequate understanding of the relation between fossil fuel burning and aerosol properties it would be possible to infer the aerosol properties in the past century. But such understanding requires global measurements of aerosols with sufficient detail to define their properties and their effect on clouds, a task that remains elusive…

Fig. 2. Global (a) and U.S. (b) analyzed temperature change before and after correction of computer program flaw. Results are indistinguishable except for the U.S. beginning in year 2000

Flaws in temperature analysis. Figure 2 illustrates an error that developed in the GISS analysis when we introduced, in our 2001 paper, an improvement in the United States temperature record. The change consisted of using the newest USHCN (United States Historical Climatology Network) analysis for those U.S. stations that are part of the USHCN network. This improvement, developed by NOAA researchers, adjusted station records that included station moves or other discontinuities. Unfortunately, I made an error by failing to recognize that the station records we obtained electronically from NOAA each month, for these same stations, did not contain the adjustments. Thus there was a discontinuity in 2000 in the records of those stations, as the prior years contained the adjustment while later years did not.

The error was readily corrected, once it was recognized. Figure 2 shows the global and U.S. temperatures with and without the error. The error averaged 0.15°C over the contiguous 48 states, but these states cover only 11⁄2 percent of the globe, making the global error negligible.

However, the story was embellished and distributed to news outlets throughout the country. Resulting headline: NASA had cooked the temperature books – and once the error was corrected 1998 was no longer the warmest year in the record, instead being supplanted by 1934.

This was nonsense, of course. The small error in global temperature had no effect on the ranking of different years. The warmest year in our global temperature analysis was still 2005. Conceivably confusion between global and U.S. temperatures in these stories was inadvertent. But the estimate for the warmest year in the U.S. had not changed either. 1934 and 1998 were tied as the warmest year (Figure 2b) with any difference (~0.01°C) at least an order of magnitude smaller than the uncertainty in comparing temperatures in the 1930s with those in the 1990s.

The obvious misinformation in these stories, and the absence of any effort to correct the stories after we pointed out the misinformation, suggests that the aim may have been to create distrust or confusion in the minds of the public, rather than to transmit accurate information…

Is it possible to totally eliminate data flaws and disinformation? Of course not. The fact that the absence of incriminating statements in pirated e-mails is taken as evidence of wrong- doing provides a measure of what would be required to quell all criticism. I believe that the steps that we now take to assure data integrity are as much as is reasonable from the standpoint of the use of our time and resources.

Fig. 3. (a) Monthly global land-ocean temperature anomaly, global sea surface temperature, and El Nino index. (b) 5-year and 11-year running means of the global temperature index.

Temperature data – examples of continuing interest. Figure 3(a) is a graph that we use to help provide insight into recent climate fluctuations. It shows monthly global temperature anomalies and monthly sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies. The red-blue Nino3.4 index at the bottom is a measure of the Southern Oscillation, with red and blue showing the warm (El Nino) and cool (La Nina) phases of sea surface temperature oscillations for a small region in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Strong correlation of global SST with the Nino index is obvious. Global land-ocean temperature is noisier than the SST, but correlation with the Nino index is also apparent for global temperature. On average, global temperature lags the Nino index by about 3 months.

During 2008 and 2009 I received many messages, sometimes several per day informing me that the Earth is headed into its next ice age. Some messages include graphs extrapolating cooling trends into the future. Some messages use foul language and demand my resignation. Of the messages that include any science, almost invariably the claim is made that the sun controls Earth’s climate, the sun is entering a long period of diminishing energy output, and the sun is the cause of the cooling trend.

Indeed, it is likely that the sun is an important factor in climate variability. Figure 4 shows data on solar irradiance for the period of satellite measurements. We are presently in the deepest most prolonged solar minimum in the period of satellite data. It is uncertain whether the solar irradiance will rebound soon into a more-or-less normal solar cycle – or whether it might remain at a low level for decades, analogous to the Maunder Minimum, a period of few sunspots that may have been a principal cause of the Little Ice Age.

The direct climate forcing due to measured solar variability, about 0.2 W/m2, is comparable to the increase in carbon dioxide forcing that occurs in about seven years, using recent CO2 growth rates. Although there is a possibility that the solar forcing could be amplified by indirect effects, such as changes of atmospheric ozone, present understanding suggests only a small amplification, as discussed elsewhere (Hansen 2009). The global temperature record (Figure 1) has positive correlation with solar irradiance, with the amplitude of temperature variation being approximately consistent with the direct solar forcing. This topic will become clearer as the records become longer, but for that purpose it is important that the temperature record be as precise as possible.

Frequently heard fallacies are that “global warming stopped in 1998” or “the world has been getting cooler over the past decade”. These statements appear to be wishful thinking – it would be nice if true, but that is not what the data show. True, the 1998 global temperature jumped far above the previous warmest year in the instrumental record, largely because 1998 was affected by the strongest El Nino of the century. Thus for the following several years the global temperature was lower than in 1998, as expected.

However, the 5-year and 11-year running mean global temperatures (Figure 3b) have continued to increase at nearly the same rate as in the past three decades. There is a slight downward tick at the end of the record, but even that may disappear if 2010 is a warm year. Indeed, given the continued growth of greenhouse gases and the underlying global warming trend (Figure 3b) there is a high likelihood, I would say greater than 50 percent, that 2010 will be the warmest year in the period of instrumental data. This prediction depends in part upon the continuation of the present moderate El Nino for at least several months, but that is likely.

Furthermore, the assertion that 1998 was the warmest year is based on the East Anglia – British Met Office temperature analysis. As shown in Figure 1, the GISS analysis has 2005 as the warmest year. As discussed by Hansen et al. (2006) the main difference between these analyses is probably due to the fact that British analysis excludes large areas in the Arctic and Antarctic where observations are sparse. The GISS analysis, which extrapolates temperature anomalies as far as 1200 km, has more complete coverage of the polar areas. The extrapolation introduces uncertainty, but there is independent information, including satellite infrared measurements and reduced Arctic sea ice cover, which supports the existence of substantial positive temperature anomalies in those regions.

In any case, issues such as these differences between our analyses provide a reason for having more than one global analysis. When the complete data sets are compared for the different analyses it should be possible to isolate the exact locations of differences and likely gain further insights.