Australia suffers not only the loss of coral reefs.

Research just in reveals that extreme events from climate change (2011-2017) have damaged 45% of Australia’s coastal habitats, including coral reefs, mangroves, kelp forests and seagrass.  These habitats provide food and shelter for a huge range of marine and estuarine species, including large fish, turtles and dugongs.  Vital for fisheries, these key habitats are also used and much loved by local and international visitors. 

The rate of their loss is extremely worrying, especially given that these changes have essentially occurred during an increase in global temperature of 1°C above the preindustrial era. As we go towards warming of 1.5oC, these serious impacts are more than likely to be amplified.

Extreme weather likely behind worst recorded mangrove dieback in northern Australia (Photo: Norm Duke)

Much of the damage has been driven by unusually long and hot underwater heat waves.  Other changes have been due to knock-on effects.  For example, large amounts of kelp forests have disappeared from the south-east coast of Australia due to the spread of sea urchins and tropical grazing fish species as higher latitudes warm.

The future is of concern.  The authors used ecosystem models to evaluate long-term outcomes from changing extreme events, which are predicted to become more frequent and intense with return times diminishing rapidly.  In the latter case, this means that many ecosystems are failing to recover in time prior to the next extreme event.

Check out the peer-reviewed study here.

Accuracy, balance and rigor on talk-back radio…in the week after hell freezes over?

A very interesting episode of Media Watch screened tonight which threw a spotlight on the waves of climate skepticism that are the norm across Australian talk back radio.

Apart from recently chastising the Prime Minister for being 10 minutes late to a interview, 2GB radio host Alan Jones has also been busy drumming up support for a rally against the proposed carbon tax,set to happen at Parliament House this Wednesday (where you could choose to sport a hand made Pinnochio-style Julia Gillard mask courtesy of the Climate Skeptic Party. Check the legal disclaimer -they’ve got all their bases covered on inexpert advice).

A couple of interesting snippets – the first is the not-so surprising bias towards giving air time to reknowned climate skeptics over practicing climate scientists:

Let’s ask Chris Smith. He’s certainly got no time for the people the Prime Minister listens to …

“She said she knew who she’d rather have on her side, not Alan Jones, not Piers Akerman, not Andrew Bolt, but the CSIRO, The Australian Academy of Science, the Bureau of Meteorology, NASA, the National Atmospheric Administration, and every reputable climate change scientist in the world. Did you hear that?

There was no mention of leading Australian scientists who question climate change including Professor Ian Plimer, Professor Bob Carter and Dr David Evans, among others. What, none of them are reputable now?”

— 2GB Sydney, The Chris Smith Afternoon Show, 17th March, 2011

In fact, the bias was greater than I expected:

Not one orthodox climate scientist – not one – has been interviewed by any of the climate sceptics on Fairfax stations.

Despite the skewed viewpoints that are constantly being broadcast over the airwaves, we’ve all become so used to it that it seems pointless to consider anything different on talk back radio. Radio broadcasters do have to adhere to a code of practice, but interestingly, so far no-one has made any complaints:

As we’ve seen, there are requirements for accuracy and diversity of view in Code of Practice No 2. The problem is, the regulator won’t or can’t enforce the Code unless someone complains it’s being flouted. And, says ACMA…

“The ACMA does not have any current code 2.2 or 2.3 complaints or investigations into these programs on their coverage of global warming science…

— Response from ACMA, 18th March, 2011

Time to write some letters?

Watch the episode in full here


Republicans announce new climate strategy: Abandon Earth

Unfortunately, no, this isn’t a piece from the Onion: GOP members want to scrap NASA’s climate research funding to instead invest in a new mission to outer space. Have they been talking to Stephen Hawking?

Reposted in full from the Wonk Room:

Republicans have a new idea: instead of wasting time protecting this planet, let’s figure out how to escape it.

Over a hundred years ago, scientists started warning that the unconstrained burning of fossil fuels could make planet Earth uninhabitable for human civilization. Since then, we have spewed billions of tons of greenhouse pollution into the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans, devastating ecosystems, and intensifying catastrophic weather. Fortunately, scientists have also found that the strategy of reducing pollution would unleash an economic revolution with clean energy and keep our planet friendly to the human race. Many of these scientists work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA), which has a billion-dollar budget for studying the “natural and man-made changes in our environment” that “affect the habitability of our planet.”

However, Republicans in Congress find the clean energy pathway unreasonable, arguing the costs of reducing our toxic dependence on coal and oil would be too great. Perhaps stung by accusations that they are simply the Party of No, a group of House Republicans have now put forward an alternate strategy to avoiding disastrous global warming: the first step being to scrap NASA’s world-leading climate science research funding, and direct it instead into sending people into unpolluted outer space:

Global warming funding presents an opportunity to reduce spending without unduly impacting NASA’s core human spaceflight mission. With your help, we can reorient NASA’s mission back toward human spaceflight by reducing funding for climate change research and reallocating those funds to NASA’s human spaceflight accounts, all while moving overall discretionary spending toward 2008 levels.

The signatories of this Abandon Earth letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) are Reps. Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Pete Olson (R-TX) and Bill Posey (R-FL), all from districts that play a role in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) manned spaceflight program. As they are currently on planet Earth, they are also all from districts threatened by the effects of global warming.

Although the signatories don’t explicitly state that the goal of shifting funding from climate research into manned spaceflight is to find a new home for the 350 million people of the United States, one can only assume that they support that goal. Signatory Mo Brooks (R-AL), the new subcommittee chair for the House science committee’s panel on basic research and education, told ScienceInsider that “I haven’t seen anything that convinces me” that greenhouse emissions should be reduced, and will hold hearings about cutting as much of the U.S. climate research budget as possible.

As they are responsible politicians who worry about “[f]uture generations of Americans,” they surely don’t intend to stick our children with catastrophic sea level rise, summer-long heat waves of over 100 degrees, superfueled storms and floods, intense droughts, desertification, and mass species extinction without offering them a Planet B:

Space is the ultimate high ground and nations such as China, Russia, and India are anxious to seize the mantle of space supremacy should we decide to cede it. We must not put ourselves in the position of watching Chinese astronauts planting their flag on the moon while we sit earthbound by our own shortsightedness. Future generations of Americans deserve better.

The Planet-B Republicans rightfully recognize that the moon — without an atmosphere or liquid water — would lead to serious resource competition between the 6 billion people now on this planet, perhaps with China the greatest threat to our post-Earth plans. Although China does have a growing space program, its government is primarily investing in the “save this planet first” strategy, spending twice as much as the United States on clean technology, establishing mandatory standards for renewable energy production, mandatory energy efficiency standards, and mandatory fuel economy standards.

Some people might say that ramping up interplanetary travel from the 12 men who walked on the moon to millions or billions of people, while figuring out how to terraform lifeless planets when we’re failing to keep our own climate stable, in a few decades is a higher risk, more costly endeavor than increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy by one or two percentage points a year. Although those people would be technically correct, they would also be failing to appreciate the total awesomeness of the Abandon Earth plan.

Who’s to blame for blocking progress on global warming?

Wonder no longer – Rolling Stone has made a list: 12 Politicians and Execs Blocking Progress on Global Warming.

It’s far from exhaustive, but gives a pretty representative sample of the main players in the US, as well as some more familiar faces.

Rupert Murdoch takes the (coveted?) #1 spot, thanks to the continued efforts of The Australian and Fox News to obscure debate and promote doubt in climate science (but it’s always important to consult the experts when reporting on serious matters).

The Koch brothers’ bankrolling of last year’s Proposition 23 (later defeated by a a 23% margin) in California prompted then-Governer Schwarzenegger to aggressively defend the state’s climate legislation, prompting this response to the oil companies’ claims they were trying to protect jobs:

“This is like Eva Braun selling a kosher cookbook. It’s not about jobs at all. It’s about their ability to pollute and protect their profits,” he said.

Bjørn Lomborg now seems to think that climate change is a problem, but just don’t ask how his new film fared.

And then there’s Sarah Palin.

Who would make it onto an Australian-flavoured list? I have a few ideas.

1. Rupert MurdochCEO, News Corporation

2. Charles and David Koch CEO and Executive VP, Koch Industries

3. Sarah PalinRetired half-term governor, Alaska

4. Gregory Boyce – CEO, Peabody Energy

5. Tom Donahue – President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

6. Rex Tillerson – CEO, ExxonMobil

7. Tim Phillips – President, Americans for Prosperity

8. Ken Cuccinelli – Attorney general, Virginia

9.  Sen. Jay Rockefeller – Democrat, West Virginia

10. Rep. Darrell Issa – Republican, California

11. Bjørn Lomborg – Author, “Cool It”

12. Rep. Fred Upton – Republican, Michigan

In Cancun, everyone’s talking about Blue Carbon

The term Blue Carbon seems to be gaining traction outside of the world of science and environmental economics. Or – at the very least – its gaining traction in Cancun.

Numerous groups have strategically launched new reports regarding the capture, conservation, and capitalization of carbon on our coasts. Just in time for the climate menagerie in Mexico: COP16.

World Bank, ICUN, the Nicholas Institute at Duke University, and a new Blue Climate Coalition are laying material on the table — and the web. You can access the new Blue Carbon policy brief from Duke and read about the Blue Climate Coalition here. The World Bank  and IUCN put our their own report on building mitigation and adaptation for carbon-rich coasts. If  you were able to read Dan Laffoly’s  (IUCN) eloquent New York Times Op-Ed last January, this report provides some great follow-up and  substance.

The World Bank, together with IUCN and ESA PWA, announces the release of a brief for decision-makers entitled, “Capturing and Conserving Natural Coastal Carbon – Building mitigation, advancing adaptation.” This information brief highlights the crucial importance of carbon sequestered in coastal wetlands and submerged vegetated habitats like seagrass beds for climate change mitigation.

Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves, tidal flats and salt marshes, along with seagrass beds sequester large amounts of carbon within their plants and especially in the soil. However, degradation of these habitats–as a result of drainage, conversion and reclamation–can result in substantial and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, these natural carbon sinks and the emissions resulting from their degradation and loss remain largely unaccounted for within the UNFCCC. Restoring degraded wetlands–in particular deltas which are subsiding as a result of natural geomorphology, human disturbance to the hydrological cycle, and sea level rise–can reverse the loss of these sinks and reverse the release of GHGs to the atmosphere. Protecting these natural carbon stores in the first place prevents the rapid loss of carbon that immediately follows disturbance, as well and preserving has substantial co-benefits for adaptation to climate change in terms of reducing the physical vulnerability of shorelines and increasing the social and economic resilience of coastal communities through positive impacts on livelihoods and food security.

Recognizing the role and value of coastal wetlands and seagrass beds under the Climate Convention will contribute to a global approach to natural carbon management.

The brief is based on the findings of a larger report by Crooks et al, which will be presented at a side event at the UNFCCC COP-16 in Cancun on Wednesday, December 1, 11:30—1:00pm, Cancun Messe, Jaguar. This side-event, organized by Conservation International and IUCN, is entitled ‘Blue Carbon: Valuing CO2 Mitigation by Coastal Marine Systems. Sequestration of Carbon Along Our Coasts: Are We Missing Major Sinks and Sources?’.

Climate change sceptic Bob Carter continues to ply his trade

Here’s a piece in the the Guardian by Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Bob Ward was interviewed by Robyn Williams on The Science Show earlier this year, which was also covered by Deltoid.


Like many deniers of man-made global warming, Prof Carter’s views may say more about his politics than scientific evidence

Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation is this afternoon hosting a public lecture from Prof Bob Carter on “An alternative view of climate hazard – a basis for policy?”.

Carter, a geologist at James Cook University, is one of the world’s most prominent voices of climate change denial and one of the very few who has published his views in academic journals. Two years ago, he had a paper called “Knock knock: where is the evidence for dangerous human-caused global warming?” published in Economic Analysis and Policy, the official journal of the Queensland branch of the Economic Society of Australia.

Carter’s paper contains a stunning array of errors, the most serious of which I itemised in an analysis for the same journal. Some of the inaccuracies are laughable. For instance, Carter cites a palaeotemperature reconstruction as evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the late 20th century, even though it only provides temperature data up to 1935. Elsewhere he suggests wrongly that atmospheric carbon dioxide only produces a small warming effect, basing his assertion solely on erroneous calculations posted on a website about “Plant Fossils of West Virginia”. And he attributes the warming in the late 20th century to solar activity, but refers to a paper that used inaccurate data about sunspot activity, and which when corrected show no correlation with the recent global average temperature record.

I concluded that Carter’s paper was “possibly the most inaccurate and misleading article about climate change that has ever been published by a journal”. In his response, rather than explaining or justifying the many flaws in his paper, Carter merely stated that the issues I raised were “weary ones, and have been put to bed by qualified, independent scientists many times”.

However, Carter did at least admit that a quotation that he claimed to have taken from a book by Sir John Houghton, the former chair of the science working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was never said: “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.” This “quote” was first used by a columnist in a rightwing Australian newspaper four years ago, and has been repeated by self-proclaimed climate change “sceptics” many times since. But in February, Sir John wrote to the Observer to point out: “The quote from me is without foundation. I have never said it or written it.”

However, even in acknowledging the mistake, Carter has still not been able to come completely clean. His grudging erratum in the journal claimed that the quotation he “had in mind to reflect Dr Houghton’s views, but failed to identify accurately” was from an article in the Sunday Telegraph in September 1995: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Carter’s new book, Climate: The Counter Consensus, continues to propagate the mythical quotation, in a Prefatory Essay apparently written in March 2010 by the publisher Tom Stacey. It states that Sir John “had purportedly been overheard passing the word around, ‘Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen’, and were he to have uttered those words (for he has energetically denied it) they were surely listened to assiduously”.

Apart from inserting the disputed quote, Stacey has added some other interesting features to Carter’s book which might catch out the unwary reader. The inside front cover claims that Carter “dispassionately assesses whether politicians and campaigners are right to believe the dire warnings of the global warming lobby”, but the inside back cover neglects to list among his affiliations a role as “senior policy adviser” at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian free market lobby group which promotes “the free flow of capital” and “a limited and efficient government“.

Carter will no doubt continue to be feted by climate change sceptics because of his academic credentials, but as with many of the other voices of denial, it appears that his views may say more about his politics than the scientific evidence.

The end of cheap coal?

As coal reserves are depleted, busy coal-train facilities, such as this one in Norfolk, Virginia, will become a thing of the past. C. DAVIDSON/CORBIS. Nature article: doi: 10.1038/nature08017

An article released in Nature today has challenged the commonly held view that the world has cheap and plentiful coal supplies that will fuel the world for decades to come.

Richard Heinberg and David Fridley argue that coal prices are likely to rapidly increase in the near future, due to a combination of rapid growth in the demand for coal, and recent findings which suggest useful coal reserves are less abundant than what has previously been assumed.

In China, proven recoverable reserves of coal (that is, those that are technically and economically feasible to mine) have been estimated at a total 187 billion tonnes, which is expected to last another 62 years – assuming the rate of consumption of coal remains at 2009 levels.

But this estimate is likely to be too optimistic, since consumption of coal in China is accelerating rapidly. Applying the same techniques used to estimate the future expected peak production of oil , researchers have found that coal production in China could peak as early as 2025.

There are of course coal supplies to be found elsewhere (including Australia), but at current rates of import growth, China alone could absorb all current Asia-Pacific exports with just three years – ultimately increasing competition (particularly with other rapidly developing nations such as India) and driving up the cost of coal.

What does this mean for climate change? Well, apart from the fact that we simply can’t afford to burn all of the Earth’s available fossil fuels if we want to maintain a stable climate, Heinberg and Fridley suggest that coal supply limits also have implications for the development of clean-coal technology. If coal prices do increase as recent studies suggest, then it makes little economic sense to continue building new coal plants — whether they be conventional or retrofitted with CCS technology (which still hasn’t been proven on a commerical scale).

Seems like it may be time to invest heavily in energy efficiency and alternative energy.


Listen to Richard Heinberg on ABC radio from this morning.

Youtube: Richard Heinberg: The Inconvenient Truth on Clean Coal



Heinberg, R. and D. Fridley (2010). “The end of cheap coal.” Nature 468(7322): 367-369. doi: 10.1038/468367a

Meinshausen, M., N. Meinshausen, et al. (2009). “Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2ºC.” Nature 458(7242): 1158-1162. doi: 10.1038/nature08017

Tao, Z. and M. Li (2007). “What is the limit of Chinese coal supplies–A STELLA model of Hubbert Peak.” Energy Policy 35(6): 3145-3154. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2006.11.011

Report: Global Warming Issue From 2 Or 3 Years Ago May Still Be Problem

Climate change – something that is possibly worth some consideration?

WASHINGTON—According to a report released this week by the Center for Global Development, climate change, the popular mid-2000s issue that raised awareness of the fact that the earth’s continuous rise in temperature will have catastrophic ecological effects, has apparently not been resolved, and may still be a problem.

While several years have passed since global warming was considered the most pressing issue facing mankind, recent studies from the Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and basically any scientific report available on the issue confirmed that it is not only still happening, but might also be worth stopping.

“Global warming, if you remember correctly, was the single greatest problem of our lifetime back in 2007 and the early part of 2008,” CGD president Nancy Birdsall said. “But then the debates over Social Security reform and the World Trade Center mosque came up, and the government had to shift its focus away from the dramatic rise in sea levels, the rapid spread of deadly infectious diseases, and the imminent destruction of our entire planet.”

“Last year’s federal budget included more than $200 million in funding for the Office of Personnel Management,” Birdsall said. “Since nobody really knows what that is, we suggest that money perhaps be spent making sure the oceans don’t turn into acid.”

I’ll let you read the rest of the article over the Onion (of course).

Naomi Oreskes and the Merchants of Doubt

Naomi Oreskes will be in Brisbane next Tuesday the 16th November at the University of Queensland to give a free public lecture about her new book, ‘Merchants of Doubt – How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming’

Here’s the official blurb:

Famous for her research on the historical development and understanding scientific knowledge and dissent, Naomi Oreskes will  roll back the rug on the dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

The renowned professor from the University of California San Diego will discuss her latest book “Merchants of Doubt”, which tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades.

Make sure to RSVP to ensure your seat.

How health is a climate change issue

Climate change certainly appears to a topic that both leaders would prefer not to discuss in much detail during the current election campaign.  Ignoring for a moment that the policies put forth are expected to lead to an increase in Australia’s emissions (according to the Climate Institute’s Pollute O Meter), Tony Abbott has this week barely concealed his skepticism of human induced climate change, and Julia Gillard devoted just 0.2% of her campaign launch speech to the topic.

While climate change seems to be the elephant in the room being ignored (but who just won’t go away), health has been a major topic of discussion for our political leaders in the past few weeks. The state of public health is obviously an issue that touches everyone, and has far more tangiable and immediate impacts on the nation that outweigh thoughts on what may be occurring in the Pacific Islands, the Arctic or in Australia more than 3 years into the future.

What our leaders have so far failed to recognise is the ever greater prominance of climate change as  a significant human health issue.  Last month, the Australian Medical Association called on the federal government to set up a national climate change and health strategy, given the expected impacts of unabated climate change upon public health.

Eugenie Kayak from Doctors for the Environment Australia has said:

As a modern society we have often failed to recognise, or conveniently forgotten, the absolute dependence of human health on stable, productive, healthy, natural environments. Nearly all the adverse environmental effects of climate change threaten human health and humanity possibly to catastrophic levels and probably sooner than many realise.

These are not extreme views but rather follow what has been expressed by respected international health journals and organisations concerning the relationship between climate change and human health. For example, in 2009, leading international medical journal, the Lancet, published that, “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan stated that, “The real bottom-line of climate change is its risk to human health and quality of life”.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress” and “it is a true existential threat to the planet”.

Make sure to the rest of the article on ABC News.