Human being and fish can coexist peacefully

… or at least that seems to be what Australia’s Opposition leader thinks would happen if he stopped the expansion of marine protected areas in Australian waters:

In a policy aimed at marginal Queensland seats, Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ”immediately suspend the marine protection process which is threatening the livelihoods of many people in the fishing industry and many people in the tourism industry”.

”All of us want to see appropriate environmental protection, but man and nature have to live together,” Mr Abbott said as he toured the seat of Dawson, in Mackay, which is held by Labor by 2.6 per cent.

Citing “Real action to protect our marine environments and fishing communities” , Mr Abbott wants to balance environmental protection with economic growth by first suspending the marine protected area process. But doesn’t tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park  generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy annually?

The GBRMP re-zoning that resulted in an increase in strict protection from 4.5% to over 30% was of course intiated under the previous Howard government, and undertaken through a comprehensive research and consultation process. According to Mr Abbott, things have  gone awry since then, although so far the details on this are scanty.

Coalition policy would require consideration of peer reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity before future decisions are made about marine park establishment:

“We would not be interested in just putting lines on maps. If there’s something out there that needs to be protected, if it’s iconic and needs protection, we’d want to see the science and that science would have to be peer-reviewed.”

Fortunately, there is already a lot out there to suggest that the marine environment is under threat, fishing kills fish and that marine parks have benefits for biodiversity and maintaining fish stocks. Conservation planning software used world wide, and developed in Queensland, is used to assist in the creation of marine parks  in a way that seeks to achieve protection for biodiversity while balancing socio-economic objectives.  The science is light years ahead of lines on maps (although, this can be helpful as part of the community consultation process).

It’s encouraging to see the high regard that Mr Abbott places upon peer reviewed science on this issue, so for someone who gets his ‘facts’ about climate change from Heaven + Earth, perhaps a bit of consistency wouldn’t go astray?

No quick fix for climate with geoengineering

It sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but the artificial manipulation of the Earth’s climate has been touted as a possible strategy to reduce the effects of unmitigated climate change. Thanks to the painfully slow progress that has been made towards reducing our carbon emissions, there has been some surprisingly serious discussion about the prospect of geoengineering the climate in order to suit the needs of humans.

Of the various forms that have been suggested (large machines to suck CO2 from the air, space-borne mirrors to reflect sunlight, iron filings in the ocean), the mostly widely discussed option is the injection of vast quantities of sulphur into the stratosphere. In theory, the airborne particles would have the effect of reflecting solar radiation, and thereby the reducing warming effects of climate change.

Of course, this would do nothing to actually reduce carbon pollution (which would continue to increase with human development), not least anything to reduce the effects of ocean acidification and a myriad of other impacts upon biodiversity, ecosystems and human health. Geoengineering is certainly a drastic option fraught with uncertainty, but advocates of the approach have been considering back-up plans for the worst possible case scenario, while others have been looking into what effects may come if geoengineering became a reality.

A new study published in Nature Geoscience[1] last week has examined the possible consequences of large scale geoengineering on the planet from the baseline year of 2005. The authors simulated a range of geoengineering scenarios by making use of thousands of home computers that were volunteered as part of a large scale climate forecasting experiment.

They found that although the injection of trogospheric sulphur aerosols did in fact reduce global average temperatures compared to the unmitigated climate change scenario, global net precipitation would decrease as a result. The disparity between temperature and precipitation anomalies became increasingly apparent the longer that geoengineering activities were maintained in the modelled scenarios – meaning that over time it would become more and more difficult to regulate temperature and precipitation within “20th century climate conditions” simultaneously.

On top of these effects, the results also indicate that the degree of climate engineering undertaken (i.e the amount of aerosols pumped into the air) would impact upon different parts of the world in different ways. This regional variation in the effects of geo-engineering would make it even more difficult to choose an “optimum” level of climate manipulation – for example, keeping China close to its baseline climate meant undesirable conditions for India, and vice versa.

Although some of these results may be model-specific (such as the specific regional effects), this new study gives a frightening glimpse into the risks and uncertainties of climate geoengineering. The fact that we’re even considering the idea of large scale climate manipulation seems to be  indicative of society’s desire to seek technological fixes to treat the symptoms of a problem, instead of addressing the root cause. Clive Hamilton[2] describes the penchant of wealthy Texans to enjoy a log fire despite living in a hot climate, and so likens geoengineering to “responding to overheating by turning up the air-conditioning while continuing to pile more logs onto the file”.

But with the stifling of action on climate change both at home and abroad, is geoengineering a reality we are rapidly moving towards?

[1] Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G. & Allen, M. R. Nature Geosci. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo915

[2] Clive Hamilton. 2010. Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change

Page photograph from Nature News article “Geoengineering can’t please everyone”  doi:10.1038/news.2010.357

Breaking news: Stanford climate scientist Steve Schneider passes away at age 65

“No one, and I mean no one, had a broader and deeper understanding of the climate issue than Stephen,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “More than anyone else, he helped shape the way the public and experts thought about this problem — from the basic physics of the problem, to the impact of human beings on nature’s ecosystems, to developing policy.”

World renowned climate scientist Steve Schneider, Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University died unexpectedly today of a heart attack whilst returning from a meeting in Sweden. For those that don’t know of him, it’s a huge loss to climate science: Real Climate weights in with eulogy. See Schneider’s work via his lab website here.

Our Future World: CSIRO research of megatrends, megashocks & future scenarios

Dr Stefan Hajkowicz gave an interesting presentation on 12 July 2010 in Brisbane, Australia, on recent CSIRO research of megatrends, megashocks and future scenarios.

Stefan is the co-author of Our Future World: an analysis of global trends, shocks and scenarios, released by CSIRO in April 2010. The report is being used to guide CSIRO’s research investment strategy.

The report defined a “megatrend” as “a collection of trends, patterns of economic, social or environmental activity that will change the way people live and the science and technology products they demand.”

The five interrelated megatrends identified in the report are:

  1. More from less. This relates to the world’s depleting natural resources and increasing demand for those resources through economic and population growth. Coming decades will see a focus on resource use efficiency.
  2. A personal touch. Growth of the services sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at tailoring and targeting services.
  3. Divergent demographics. The populations of OECD countries are ageing and experiencing lifestyle and diet related health problems. At the same time there are high fertility rates and problems of not enough food for millions in poor countries.
  4. On the move. People are changing jobs and careers more often, moving house more often, commuting further to work and travelling around the world more often.
  5. i World. Everything in the natural world will have a digital counterpart. Computing power and memory storage are improving rapidly. Many more devices are getting connected to the internet.

I attended the presentation interested to think outside my normal (environmental law) box and to hear how future scenarios could incorporate climate change impacts. Ove was also there to listen in.

While the Stefan’s presentation did include a significant component on “TRIAGE” for the Murray-Darling and coral reefs due to over-allocation of water and climate change respectively, I came away fairly disappointed with the scientific validity of the analysis that was presented.

The major failing of the analysis is that it treats climate change as only as seemingly minor component within megatrend 1 and there was no reference at all to ocean acidification.

In fact, climate change is only mentioned in megatrend 1 tangentially through reference to “growth in the global carbon market”.

The only direct reference to climate change in the report is in the megashock section of the report through identification of “extreme climate change related weather.”

Incidentally, the full list of environment-related global risks identified in the report are:

  • Extreme climate change related weather
  • Droughts and desertification
  • Loss of freshwater
  • Cyclone
  • Earthquake
  • Inland flooding
  • Coastal flooding
  • Air pollution
  • Biodiversity loss

Ocean acidification, the “evil twin” of climate change, is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

It is hard to reconcile the failure in the report to recognise climate change and ocean acidification as a megatrend in their own right with the peer-reviewed literature or numerous synthesis reports of leading scientific bodies, including but far from limited to IPCC 2007.

Just read the abstract of one of the many recent review articles on climate change and ocean acidification to understand the dystopia that current science foresees in the near-term future for the world’s oceans based on current and likely future trends in carbon dioxide emissions (Hoegh-Guldberg et al 2007):

“Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2°C by 2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved. Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems. The result will be less diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be maintained. Climate change also exacerbates local stresses from declining water quality and overexploitation of key species, driving reefs increasingly toward the tipping point for functional collapse. This review presents future scenarios for coral reefs that predict increasingly serious consequences for reef-associated fisheries, tourism, coastal protection, and people. As the International Year of the Reef 2008 begins, scaled-up management intervention and decisive action on global emissions are required if the loss of coral-dominated ecosystems is to be avoided.”

Stefan wondered during his presentation into the climate change thicket when discussing the rapidly rising middle-class in India and said “we must fix poverty before we fix climate change.”

To me that sounded a lot like Bjørn Lomborg’s misguided argument that climate change should be given a low priority because increasing the world’s riches will solve climate change in the future without costly interventions or unpopular behavioural change now. Understandably Lomborg is thin on the details of how this magic transition will occur.

Like Lomborg’s work, the analysis reflects an economist’s rosy confidence in market forces and humanity’s technological capacity to solve all problems. Also like Lomborg’s work, more attention to the physics and chemistry of the world’s atmosphere and oceans would improve its usefulness as a guide to the future.

Overall, it was a thought-provoking presentation and a report that is well worth a look at but there is a serious discrepancy between the analysis and the world that climate science suggests is our most likely future.

Unlike their treatment in this analysis, climate change and ocean acidification should be regarded as a megatrend in their own right as they are fundamentally altering the world we live in on a massive scale and they will continue to impact on all aspects of life in the future.

Page photo: “Dystopia” by Moebius (Hat-tip to Climate Progress)

Monckton responds to Abraham in the predictable way

Update 19/7/10: The Support John Abraham page now has over 900 signatories, and a Facebook group has also been set up.  John Abraham has the full support of his university – contrast with the tone of response that Christopher Monckton appears to favour and it is becomes very hard to see how someone could take Monckton’s arguments seriously.


John Abraham from St Thomas University recently presented an extraordinarily detailed rebuttal of a sample of Christopher Monckton’s arguments.  After his initial response a few weeks ago, Monckton has not only asked Prof. Abraham to answer 446 questions about his presentation, but has now appealed to readers of Watts Up With That to pressure his university for the removal of the presentation, and to “instigate a disciplinary inquiry into the Professor’s unprofessional conduct”.

A page has been created where you can show your support for John Abraham by commenting in the thread. More details over at Skeptical Science and Deltoid.

A climate storm for investors

By Paul Gilding | July 12th, 2010 | Category: Cockatoo Chronicles

Beware the coming climate storm. A moment is approaching when science and markets will collide, but then merge, with chilling consequences for investors who miss the moment, and great excitement for those who are well prepared.

The signs are all around us now. Signs that a storm of climate action will soon rage through the economy, sweeping away denial and, along with it, those companies, politicians, investors and industries that aren’t ready.

Signs like our past two Prime Ministers and opposition leaders  in Australia being removed with climate change a central issue in their downfalls. Signs like 2008 being the first year when the money invested globally in new renewable energy generation projects was greater than that invested in new fossil fuel energy generation. Signs like the last decade being the hottest on record, as of course each decade has been since 1980. Signs like the first new car company IPO in the USA for half a century being a disruptive electric car company.

There is great investment and excitement now in renewables, with over $100 billion invested in 2008 and the same in 2009, despite the uncertain financial climate. Yet we see growth in coalmines, new coal export facilities and a lack of action in politics in Australia and the US. What is an investor to do with such confusing signals?

Simple. Observe the science, because the science drives everything else.

The facts are now very straightforward on the problem and its causes, as stated by the peak US science body The National Academies of Sciences. They said last month the science of climate change is in the category of those theories that had “been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts.”

So this is not a philosophy or a political viewpoint. These are facts. Smart investors deal in rational analysis, not ideological perspectives or wishful thinking. As US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

So if you believe in facts, you will be understand that science will, in the end, overcome resistance and denial, as argued by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Western Australia: “The laws of physics will relentlessly assert themselves, unswayed by public opinion, political shenanigans, or elections. Ultimately, the laws of physics will speak so loudly that no amount of wishful thinking can prevent them from being heard.”

The reason we can be so confident that this storm, when it hits, will be ferocious and effective at driving change, is by considering what happens when science meets markets. The science dictates that when we act it will now have to be dramatic action.

We know that to avoid catastrophic risk we must keep warming below two degrees and, as a result, this is the target agreed to by governments from US, to China, to India to Australia. If you don’t like political metrics then consider that this is also the target endorsed by hundreds of global corporations from GE to Rio to HSBC.

Acting as late as we are, achieving this target will require us to virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from coal oil and gas within a few decades. This means eliminating whole industries and replacing them, which is where the science meets the market.

Markets are particularly good at challenges like this, using what Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter called “creative destruction”. Markets are unconcerned about collateral damage and friendly fire. They won’t deliver the change steadily or calmly. Markets don’t play politics and will have no regard for sunk capital or prior commitments.

When we act on climate this will be creative destruction on steroids, with the resulting economic storm wreaking havoc and wiping out companies and whole sectors, while creating tomorrow’s new economy and corporate giants. It will be volatile, chaotic and exciting for investors, with fortunes made and lost based on the quality of judgements.

It’s hard to look at today’s politics and investment strategies and accept this analysis. It’s hard to imagine so many people being so wrong. It was also hard to imagine, in 2007, that the world’s governments would nationalise banks and car companies and spend trillions bailing out the financial system. It was hard to imagine, in the USA in 1940, that the coming four years would see military spending go from 1.6 per cent to 37 per cent of GDP and that government would take over and direct the economy, with actions like banning the production of private vehicles. In hindsight, though, such things are always obvious. And with the benefit of hindsight in 10 years time, the coming climate storm will have been obvious as well.

There is only question you have to ask yourself when you see the signals that are now flashing in bright neon lights, screaming “warning, warning, everything is about to change”. Am I ready?

It’s not climate change, it’s ocean change!

Ove and I just published an op-ed in the News and Observer here titled “In the oceans, the heat is really on”.  The graphic that really says it all:

Redrawn by John Cook with data from Murphy, D. M., S. Solomon, R. W. Portmann, K. H. Rosenlof, P. M. Forster, and T. Wong. 2009. An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950. J. Geophys. Res. 114:D17107. doi:10.1029/2009JD012105

The oceans are choking on greenhouse gases. Our emissions are changing ocean temperature, pH and circulation with wide-ranging effects on biological productivity and ecosystem health. These are among the conclusions of five review articles published in a special feature on the oceans in a recent issue of Science magazine.

The world is saturated by coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the impacts of this tragedy are localized, short-term and trivial compared to the broader effects of climate change.

The oil spill has damaged the lives and businesses of many innocent people. Remarkably, however, every day we are releasing several thousand times as much carbon as the Gulf spill by driving, flying and consuming and by heating and cooling our energy-inefficient houses. Hundreds of years from now, when BP is forgotten and the gulf wetlands have healed, ocean life will still be affected by the fossil fuels we are burning today.

Nearly all of the debate – or at least what is depicted in the media as a debate – about global warming has focused on land surface temperatures. However, over 85 percent of the extra energy trapped by soaring greenhouse gases has gone into the ocean.

We all call this man-made catastrophe “global warming” or “climate change,” but “ocean warming” and “ocean change” are really more descriptive of what is happening.

One value of the Gulf spill is that it has highlighted how tightly coupled the health of ecosystems and human economic well-being really are. In retrospect, the costs of preventing the spill by installing more reliable safety systems are paltry in comparison to the economic losses in the tourism and fisheries sectors. The same is true for mitigating climate change. Responses that cost less than 1 percent of GDP growth over the next few decades are matched against massive impacts on people and industry, especially in coastal areas of the world.

Greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly changing the physical properties and key biological process in the ocean. For example, declining primary productivity is affecting ocean food webs, fisheries and the ability of the ocean to naturally absorb and store greenhouse gases.

Other ominous signs loom. Deepwater dead zones have expanded, probably due to both local nutrient pollution as well as climate change. The melting of Arctic sea ice will allow thousands of species from the north Pacific to colonize the Atlantic. This will be the first mixing of the distinct biota of these regions in nearly a million years. Similar changes are expected in Antarctica, where warming is enabling marine predators to invade shallow-water ecosystems for which the freezing temperatures have been an effective barrier for 40 million years.

To avoid these uncertain worlds, a growing number of scientists from a range of fields have advocated that we keep the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide below 450 ppm (parts per million). To achieve this, we need to cut global emissions by 5 percent per annum starting right now.

A tall order. However, we have no other alternative given the extremely high costs of inaction.

The good news is that there are plenty of solutions at hand, including investment in renewable energy systems or avoiding deforestation. National support for creating competitive renewable energy supplies would cause the required changes to ripple through global economies. Halting deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia would eliminate nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting and restoring coastal vegetation, including mangroves, salt marsh and sea grasses – dubbed “blue carbon” – would maintain or increase the ability of marine ecosystems to capture and permanently store carbon dioxide. Furthermore, all of these solutions have huge benefits for people and biodiversity.

The world’s scientists are calling for society and policymakers to wake up to the perils of our current greenhouse gas emission pathway. This is not merely the consensus of scientists; it is a consensus of evidence. Inaction might be justified if the impacts were trivial or there was nothing we could do to avoid these catastrophic futures. However, with so many affordable solutions in front of the world’s nations, continued inaction is no longer an excuse.

Poor journalism plagues The Australian front page yet again.

UPDATE:  See the facts and figures about The Australian’s war on Science over at Deltoid.

No doubt you will remember The Australian’s infamous front page story that was exposed on Media Watch by Jonathan Holmes.  Well, it seems that the poor journalism continues at The Australian.  In a front page article entitled “U.N.’s climate report ‘one-sided‘, Ben Webster tries to claim that the Dutch study has revealed serious errors in the IPCC fourth assessment report.

Well, it seems that Ben and The Australian got it all backwards yet again.

The Dutch study actually concludes the complete opposite – that statements within the “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” section of the IPCC AR4 report were “well founded and none were found to contain any significant errors”. The Dutch study recommended a number of ways to strengthen upcoming reports and eliminate a number of small errors which cropped up.

Was Ben off reading right-wing fossil fuel funded blogs again?  Or was it a case of the ‘ole let’s make up the news when it gets to be all too boring?

What is truly remarkable is that The Australian tries to imply that the report also concluded that the evidence concerning the extreme risk of climate change to Great Barrier Reef was “alarmist”.  A careful reading of the report reveals that the study did not conclude that evidence or the conclusions were alarmist.  Rather, it pointed to a couple of slightly inaccurate references to the peer-reviewed literature.  In fact, it concludes after doing so that “We consider this to be a minor comment”.

Talking to the experts, you find that few have problems with the IPCC statement that “60 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef was projected to suffer regular bleaching by 2020 “. You see, we already are. We have had bleaching since 1979 (and none before) with significant recent events in 1998, 2002 and 2006.  Sounds regular to me!  In several of these events (1998, 2002), more than 50% of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected.

Of course, Australia’s Andrew Bolt has responded with his mirror of this misinformation. Helpful fellow that he is.

Where has Ben Webster and the Australian been? The real shame here is the erosion of trust that we can place in one of our leading papers. With a repeated offences like this like this, why would you read The Australian?  Certainly, not if you wanted to get the facts on any particular issue!

To really understand what the Dutch report says, we recommend readers go to the original report or a rational report such as that in the leading international science magazine, Nature.  Here is what Reuters had to say:

Few fishy facts found in climate report

Dutch investigation supports key warnings from the IPCC’s most recent assessment.

Quirin Schiermeier

05 Jul 2010 14:22:00 GMT

Written by: Laurie Goering

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has defended his science body’s work, saying any errors in its reports were minor. A new Dutch report agrees with that assessment. REUTERS/Bob Strong

In the latest of a series of reports backing the validity of work by leading climate scientists, the Dutch government said Monday that a review of a key report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had found no significant errors.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency took a look at the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, a 2007 study considered the basis for understanding climate change science, following criticism that the report had in several instances exaggerated climate impacts.

IPCC officials admitted one important mistake – an exaggeration of the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers – but noted that the error shouldn’t be used to invalidate the rest of the 3,000-page report.

The Netherlands government agreed with that conclusion in its study of the “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” section of the report, which looks at regional impacts of climate change.

Reviewers found that statements in the section are “well founded and none were found to contain any significant errors,” though some minor errors cropped up. They issued a set of recommendations on how to strengthen upcoming reports, with a view to eradicating such mistakes.

Representatives of the thousands of leading international climate scientists who volunteer their time to produce the reports called the Dutch study a validation of their work, which won a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The review is explicit in its finding that the key conclusions of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report are accurate, correct and supported entirely by the leading science in the field,” said Martin Parry, co-chair of the team that produced the “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” section of the 2007 report.

Climate scientists, under broad attack by sceptics of climate change science, have in recent weeks enjoyed a welcome series of victories. Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist embroiled in a high-profile stolen email scandal at the University of East Anglia, was exonerated of charges of research misconduct and ethical lapses last week after a review by his university.

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