Climate change 2007 – a year in review

A somewhat belated happy new years to everyone reading – welcome back after the Christmas break. Not only has 2007 been quite a year in the politics of climate change (more on this from me later), there have been quite a few climatic extremes – see the article below from the Associated Press. As skeptics have been all too eager to point out, there have been plenty of examples of cold weather in 2007 (and hence global warming must be false). However, as the article clearly states: “Individual weather extremes can’t be attributed to global warming, scientists always say. However, it’s the run of them and the different locations‘ that have the mark of man-made climate change, said top European climate expert Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in England.” After all, a single heatwave doesn’t prove global warming to be ‘true’.

2007 – A Year of Climate Surprises

Associated Press (1st January 2008)

When the calendar turned to 2007, the heat went on and the weather just got weirder.

January was the warmest first month on record worldwide — 1.53 degrees above normal. It was the first time since record-keeping began in 1880 that the globe’s average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year.

And as 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Australia and climate change

“Australians named worst emitters”

BBC News, 14th November 2007

A study of the world’s power stations has shown the extent to which developed countries produce more carbon dioxide per head than emerging economies. Australians were found to be the world’s worst polluters per capita, producing five times as much carbon from generating power as China. The US came second with eight tonnes of carbon per head – 16 times more than that produced by India.The US also produced the most carbon in total, followed by China.The Carbon Monitoring for Action (Carma) website is the first global inventory of emissions and looks at 50,000 power stations.Its data was compiled by the Center for Global Development, a US think-tank. (Read More)

“CSIRO scientist says sign Kyoto”The Age, 15th November 2007

The former head of CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit says Australia should sign the Kyoto Protocol or be left on the sidelines at the United Nations’ climate change talks in Bali next month.

Graeme Pearman, who is now a consultant in the private sector, said Australia will be ”sitting on the sidelines” while world leaders launch serious negotiations on comprehensive post-2012 Kyoto agreement on fighting climate change.

”Frankly, I think we should sign and I don’t say that lightly,” Mr Pearman told AAP after addressing a conference of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Sydney.

Dr Pearman said he was not a fan of the Kyoto Protocol at the start, as it was not a level playing field. ”I haven’t been a strong supporter, quite honestly, of Kyoto because Kyoto was not based on any level playing field – there are all sorts of political games (that were) being played when the rules were set up,” he said. ”Now is a time to join.”

(Read More)

More on CO2 emissions and reduction strategies

Two interesting news articles have come out of Harvard this week: firstly an excellent speech by John Holdren (a Professor of Enviromental Policy) hitting back at the global warming skeptics which is well worth reading: “Global warming is a misnomer… It implies something gradual, uniform, and benign. What we’re experiencing is none of these” (Link). Second, I came across this article (in Fox News of all places) discussing research by Harvard geoscientist Professor Kurt House that suggests de-acidifying oceans could combat climate change. Professor House’s approach seems slightly different than the age old suggestions of seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate phytoplankton blooms (thereby using photosynthesis to absorb CO2) – instead envisioning “treatment plants” that intake water from the oceans and remove naturally occuring hydrochloric acid. In theory, this would work: by making th oceans less acidic, it goes some way to reducing the problems of ocean acidification and increases the CO2 absorbing capacities of the ocean sinks. To quote the lead author of the study: Essentially, our technology dramatically accelerates a cleaning process that nature herself uses for greenhouse gas accumulation.”

Such methods may seem radical, but given the dramatic increases in CO2 emissions as i mentioned in my last post, such approaches may become inevitable. A colleague of mine, Dr Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institute, Stanford, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled “How to cool the globe” (link), proposing the seeding of small particles of sulfur into the stratosphere to counteract the effects of global warming. In essence, similar to the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1992, pouring a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere may just be enough to stop global warming for 50yrs. A quick browse of the literature suggests that the theory behind such a statement rings true enough (link). The best part of this plan? It is easy to achieve through current technology, relatively cheap, and sulfur particles naturally degrade in the environment over time. Although such geoengineering solutions sound like something from a science-fiction novel (I don’t think that our ever skeptic friend Michael Crichton will include one in his novels soon!) they may not be so far-fetched given the growing risk of catastrophe that appears to face us.

While it would be my preference not to interfere in the atmospheric and geological cycles of the planet, the fact that we are doing it anyway with disastrous results, means that we may have to rethink the ethics and begin to play ‘gardener’ to the planet. It may be our last chance given that we have may have kicked off the types of devastating runaway climate impacts that many climate experts are now talking about. Whether we like it or not, we now have to play earth’s gardener or face a very difficult and different future.

CO2 emissions rising faster than expected

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from an international team of scientists (headed by Josep Candell of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO) shows that the recent increases in CO2 are rising faster this decade than during the 1990’s (link to pdf). The authors blame rapid increases in a synergy of factors, primarily economic growth, fossil fuel usage and somewhat more worryingly a decline in the efficiency of natural sinks, such as ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere (read more). It looks like we may be reaching the upper end of the modeling predictions (the 500ppm tipping point) sooner than anyone thought: these findings are alarming, and strongly imply that the UN Climate Report may already be out of date.

Someone yesterday reminded me of a great analogy similar to that of the rise in CO2 emissions: for example, if you start driving from point A to point B, and half-way there realise that you are driving north instead of south (and hence that you are likely to arrive in point C rather than point B), the only way of getting to point B is to stop and turn around – slowing down isn’t going to help the situation. Given the evidence presented in this paper – It is too late to alleviate or ‘slow down’ fossil fuel usage. And with that, do we need a global revolution in what we do rather than pretending we can ease our way out of this problem with waterdowned commitments and wishy washy policy (remember the ‘aspirational’ non-existent targets of APEC?).

Climate change is a war that we must fight

An interesting article in The Age by Ian Dunlop (a former international oil, gas and coal industry executive), the deputy convener of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil. Of particular interest is Dunlop’s closing statement:

Australians must demand that all political candidates clearly set out their climate change policy. We need to know the detail now, not take it on trust until after the election; we have been let down too badly already and it cannot happen again.

In the event that real leadership does not emerge, we must place these issues outside the political sphere, to be handled independently on a quasi-war footing. It is that serious.

Full article below:

BEFORE casting their votes next month, Australians should reflect long and hard on the real priorities the nation faces. These are not tax cuts, industrial relations, the economy, interest rates or the stockmarket, but the very survival and sustainability of our society and the planet.

With the global population heading from 6.5 billion today towards 9 billion by 2050, we are already exceeding the ability of the planet to absorb the impact of human activity. The immediate sustainability priorities are water, climate change and the peaking of global oil supply. But our leaders, having supposedly crossed the threshold of accepting that sustainability, in particular climate change, is a serious issue, seem to believe it can be solved by minor tweaking of business as usual. That is demonstrably not the case.

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Nobel Peace Prize 2007

“Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.” (Read more)

Global warming and the Acroporid decline in the Caribbean

The Center for Science & Public Policy have released a document entitled Are U.S. Coral Reefs Endangered by Global Warming? , which is picking up a fair amount of controversy amongst all parties involved. I think this is a fairly important issue that needs to be resolved (debunking the pseudo-science): more from me on this shortly, along with analysis from coral researchers who have been examining this phenomenon for over three decades.


Let’s start with the basics of the Center for Science-Based Public Policy (in the efforts of transparency). It’s all to easy to allege that the Centre is a mere puppet-front for petroleum industry propaganda, considering has received a grand total of $793,575 in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998 (not too dissimilar to our very own Australian right-wing “think tanks”, also funded by ExxonMobil subsidiaries).
Amongst other people of notoriety associated with the Center for Science-Based Public Policy is Senator James Inhofe who was awarded the “Center Honoree” in 2004. For those of you who don’t know Sen Inhofe’s legendary reputation, he is not only as a renowned climate change skeptic, but also the author of such famous quotes as:

“I don’t have to tell you about reading the Scriptures, but one of mine that I’ve always enjoyed is Romans 1, 22 and 23. You quit worshipping God and start worshipping the creation — the creeping things, the four-legged beasts, the birds and all that. That’s their (the environmentalists’) god. That’s what they worship. If you read Romans 1:25, it says, ‘and they gave up their God and started worshipping the creation.’ That’s what we are looking at now, that’s what’s going on. And we can’t let it happen.”

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“THE HEAT IS ON – Global warming set to hit hard this summer”

“Global warming set to hit hard this summer” – or so predicts the front page of the Courier Mail newspaper this morning. To soon to tell? The Bureau of Meterology has already predicted a warmer spring in the Australian tropics, with 60-70% chance of exceeding the median minimum spring temperatures and a 55-70% chance of exceeding the median maximum spring temperatures.

Article from: The Courier-Mail

Kerrie Sinclair and Michael Madigan

September 18, 2007 12:00am

FOOD prices are about to soar, the national economy hit hard and even a day at the beach could be ruined by the effects of climate change.

Three new sets of research point to the far-reaching implications global warming is set to have on everyday life in Queensland – as early as this summer.

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Glaciers dominate eustatic sea-level rise in the 21st Century


Sheet ice dynamics and glacial meltwater have been somewhat of a contentious issue in the past (link, read more). Mark Meier and colleagues from the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado have made the headlines in the journal Science magazine recently:

Ice loss to the sea currently accounts for virtually all of the sea-level rise that is not attributable to ocean warming, and about 60% of the ice loss is from glaciers and ice caps rather than from the two ice sheets. The contribution of these smaller glaciers has accelerated over the past decade, in part due to marked thinning and retreat of marine-terminating glaciers associated with a dynamic instability that is generally not considered in mass-balance and climate modeling. This acceleration of glacier melt may cause 0.1 to 0.25 meter of additional sea-level rise by 2100. (link to full article)

As blogged on their website:

The team summarized satellite, aircraft and ground-based data from glaciers, ice caps, the Greenland ice sheet, the West Antarctic ice sheet and the East Antarctic ice sheet to calculate present and future rates of ice loss. They concluded that glaciers and ice caps are currently contributing about 60 percent of the ice delivered to the world’s oceans and the rate has been markedly accelerating in the past decade. The contribution is presently about 100 cubic miles of ice annually — a volume nearly equal to the water in Lake Erie — and is rising by about three cubic miles per year. The accelerating contribution of glaciers and ice caps is due in part to increased meltwater at the ice surface. Some glaciers are also experiencing increased meltwater at the base of the ice, which can lead to faster sliding of the glaciers against their beds.

This is especially the case for tidewater glaciers that discharge icebergs directly into the ocean, and their analogs, the outlet glaciers from the great ice sheets. Many tidewater glaciers are undergoing rapid thinning, stretching and retreat, which in turn causes them to speed up and deliver increased amounts of ice into the world’s oceans.