Archive | April 2015

Climate Change: Are We Doing Enough?

Was the Titanic Unsinkable? Earth Day 2015 has come and gone. There was no reason to post anything to celebrate ittitanic-sinking_00249551.

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Children Crying Out for a Planet in Peril

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Children in Wisconsin and elsewhere are getting wise to what’s happening to the planet. They’re beginning to speak out, and they will not accept the willful ignorance of the subject that so many Republicans are espousing.

This month, Home Box Office (HBO) in collaboration with New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, will air a new documentary called “Saving My Tomorrow”. The voices of children are heard crying out for universal action to prevent them from inheriting what they believe is a dying planet in desperate need of healing.

While Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has not yet announced he is running for the president of the United States, gallivants to Europe and elsewhere with a number of others interested in promoting trade oversees, not realizing that flying is said to be the paramount sin against global warming and the environment, children are crying out that adults everywhere clearly are not doing enough to stop climate catastrophe from occurring in their lifetime to our planet, Earth.

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State of Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands Bans Staff from Discussing Global Warming and Climate Change

Gaylord-Nelson3Former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson at Gaylord Nelson State Park in Madison in 2001. Photo: Tom Lynn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

According to a report published in the Wisconsin State Journal April 9, 2015, Wisconsin’s 3-member Board of Commissioners of Public Lands passed a measure Tuesday, April 7th, by a 2-1 margin, that bans the staff of from “on-the-job discussion or work related to climate change”.

Reference to climate change had already been removed from agency’s website in response to previous complaints from one board member, state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, according to the report. Adamczyk is a Wisconsin Republican who recently sought to dismiss the commission’s executive secretary, Tia Nelson, who is the daughter of former Wisconsin United States Senator and Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson, after he learned she served as a co-chairwomen on former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force in 2007 and 2008.

The other board member who voted yes to the ban — Attorney General Brad D. Schimel – said he voted with Adamczyk to ban the staff from further work on climate change because he views it as “political activity”, and not connected to the board’s duties. The report said Adamczyk stated that he is bothered by Nelson’s service on the task force because it had “nothing to do with the board’s business”, which is to manage forest land and help maintain certain state-owned forest land and help finance local government. Tia Nelson, who directs the commission’s eight member staff, declined to comment saying she didn’t want to say anything that would inflame the situation, according to the report.

The third member of the board, Wisconsin’s Secretary of State Douglas La Follette, said Adamczyk “is a “climate denier” who is out to get Nelson”, the Journal report stated.

Gaylord Nelson (June 4, 1916 – July 3, 2005) was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, and served several terms as a United States senator and two terms as governor. He is best known as the founder of Earth Day, which launched a new wave of environmental activism in the U.S. and abroad. He would not have been pleased with this action, which has occurred by a state committee under Governor Scott Walker’s watch.

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Scientists: Long-Awaited “Jump” in Global Temperatures Now Appears “Imminent”

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s leading climatologist Kevin Trenberth said this week that he believes “a jump [in global temperatures] is imminent”, according to article posted April 2 on Climate Progress.

New research from a major national lab projects that the rate of climate change, which has risen sharply in recent decades, will soar by the 2020s, with the Arctic warming by 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade.

The speed with which temperatures change will continue to increase over the next several decades, intensifying the impacts of climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

New research documents evidence that global warming causes more global warming and that, as Earth warms, the warmer temperatures correspond with an increase in greenhouse gases, which means the earth warms the earth even more. “We discovered that not only does thickening the blanket of heat-trapping gases around our planet cause it to get warmer, but also, crucially, when it gets warmer this increases thickens the blanket of heat-trapping gases,” scientist Tim Lenton said.

While previous studies have suggested a correlation between warming temperatures and an increase in greenhouse gas, Lenton’s team is the first to prove the relationship using direct evidence, taken from ice cores nearly one million years old. The team — comprised of scientists from the University of Exeter, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands — analyzed Antarctic ice core data from the end of ice age cycles 400,000 and 800,000 years ago. That ancient ice is important, because it offers an extremely large amount of historical global temperature and greenhouse gas concentration data, which the scientists were able to analyze to figure out how the two interact.

The findings provide even more support to the overwhelming evidence that humans are causing global warming by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The surprise, Lenton explained, is that the findings also show that increasing temperature eventually increases greenhouse gases.
“It implies that we should expect the ‘Earth system’ to respond to anthropogenic global warming by amplifying it with the release of additional greenhouse gases,” Lenton said.

The Washington Post: “The Arctic climate threat that nobody’s even talking about yet.”

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When we think about the Arctic in a warming world, we tend to think about sharp declines in sea ice and — that powerful symbol — the polar bear. But that’s far from the only problem that a melting Arctic brings.

In the past decade, scientists have been training more attention on another deeply troubling consequence. Rapid Arctic warming is expected to lead to the thawing of a great deal of frozen soil or permafrost, which, as it thaws, will begin to emit carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. And if this occurs in the amounts that some scientists are predicting, it could significantly undermine efforts to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, scientists have discovered a simple statistic that underscores the scale of the potential problem: There may be more than twice as much carbon contained in northern permafrost as there is in the atmosphere itself. That’s a staggering thought.

Permafrost is simply defined as ground that stays frozen all year round. There’s a lot of it – it covers 24 percent of the surface of the northern hemisphere land masses, according to the International Permafrost Association. But more and more of it is thawing as the Arctic warms, and these frozen soils contain a vast amount of organic material — largely dead plant life — in a kind of suspended animation.

“It’s built up over thousand and thousands of years,” says Robert Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It’s all stored away in a freezer, and as we’re warming the Earth, and warming the Arctic, it’s starting to thaw.”

As permafrost thaws, microbes start to chow down on the organic material that it contains, and as that material decomposes, it emits either carbon dioxide or methane. Experts think most of the release will take the form of carbon dioxide — the chief greenhouse gas driving global warming — but even a small fraction released as methane can have major consequences. Although it doesn’t last nearly as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, methane has a short-term warming effect that is many times more powerful.

Among the potential mega-problems brought on by climate change, including melting ice caps to the slowdown of the ocean conveyor system, permafrost emissions are unique. For it’s not merely about sea level rise or weather changes — it’s about amplifying the root problem behind it all, atmospheric carbon levels.

The emission of carbon from thawing permafrost is what scientists call a “positive feedback.” More global warming could cause more thawing of Arctic permafrost, leading to more emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to more warming and more thawing of Arctic permafrost — this does not end in a good place.

Moreover, in a year in which the world will train its attention on Paris and the hope for a new global climate agreement, permafrost emissions could potentially undermine global climate policies. Even as the world starts to cut back on emissions, the planet itself might start replacing our emissions cuts with brand new carbon outputs.

All of this, and the Arctic permafrost problem hasn’t received much attention — yet. “The concept is actually relatively new,” says Kevin Schaefer of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “It was first proposed in 2005. And the first estimates came out in 2011.” Indeed, the problem is so new that it has not yet made its way into major climate projections, Schaefer says.

“None of the climate projections in the last IPCC report account for permafrost,” says Schaefer. “So all of them underestimate, or are biased low.”

To understand why northern soils contain so much carbon it helps to understand why southern or tropical soils don’t. It all comes down to temperature, and how that affects how quickly microorganisms break down dead organic material (plant and animal life), causing it to release its carbon back into the atmosphere.

In temperate latitudes, it’s simple: Plants grow and pull carbon dioxide from the air — then they die, decompose and emit it back again. “In warmer temperatures, microbial activity will go on over all of the year,” says Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost researcher at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “So even if productivity in warmer climates [is] larger, there’s not much sequestration of carbon in the soil.”

But in permafrost regions, it’s very different. Plants grow much more slowly, and there are fewer of them — but their decomposition is also much slower, explains Romanovsky. So a large amount of organic material gets stored in the frozen ground. And this has been happening, in some cases, over tens of thousands of years since the last ice age, leading to a truly vast carbon store that is stuck in place — or, at least, it used to be.

“As long as the carbon stays frozen in permafrost, it’s stable,” says Schaefer. “It’s kind of like broccoli in your freezer. But if you take that out, it eventually thaws out and goes bad.”

The problem, in this case, is the size of the freezer. Just consider some basic numbers. According to a 2013 report from the National Academy of Sciences, northern permafrost contains 1,700 to 1,850 gigatons of carbon — a gigaton is a billion metric tons — which is more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere (730 gigatons, says the NAS). And over 1,000 of those gigatons are thought to be stored in the top three meters of permafrost soil.

Nobody’s saying all of that is going to come out — certainly not immediately, and maybe not ever. However, as the Arctic continues to warm over the course of the century, emissions from permafrost could ramp up, and they could eventually reach a scale that could begin to offset climate gains. “It’s certainly not much of a stretch of the imagination to think that over the coming decades, we could lose a couple of gigatons per year from thawing permafrost,” says Holmes.

So far, permafrost emissions, if any, are pretty small. But by 2100, the “mean” estimate for total emissions from permafrost right now is 120 gigatons, says Schaefer. That’s no small matter, considering that according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences (see above), the world can only emit about 1000 total gigatons of carbon if we want to have a good chance of limiting the temperature rise to less 2 degrees Celsius of warming since 1860-1880.

According to the IPCC, the world had already emitted 515 gigatons by 2011, leaving a pretty tight remaining carbon “budget.” Permafrost emissions, if they’re big enough, could lead to busting the budget a lot quicker.

“The further south you go, the warmer it is, so the more vulnerable the permafrost is to thawing,” says Schaefer. “So all the emissions will be dominated by the southern margins, southern Alaska, Hudson Bay.”

Later this month — on April 24 — the United States takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a group of eight nations with Arctic territories that helps to coordinate policy for the region. The State Department has specifically indicated that one of the focuses of the two-year chairmanship will be the issue of climate change. So, will permafrost emissions enter into policy considerations?

“This is a dangerous feedback loop as Arctic warming drives permafrost thaw, and the permafrost releases more GHGs into the atmosphere, accelerating change,” said a State Department official. “However, many questions remain about the processes by and time scales over which such emissions could be released into the atmosphere.”

The official said that through the Arctic Council, the United States will emphasize better monitoring and observation systems to detect emissions from permafrost. But the officials also underscored the importance of “an ambitious international climate agreement in Paris – this is where we need action to slow climate change.”

The concern is whether such an agreement will arrive soon enough to stop or at least blunt the permafrost problem. It’s “a true climatic tipping point, because it’s completely irreversible,” says Schaefer. “Once you thaw the permafrost, there’s no way to refreeze it.”

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post: “The Arctic climate threat that nobody’s even talking about yet”, April 1, 2015.

Preserve Our Climate Petition to Protect U.S. Citizenry from Runaway Greenhouse Effect

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Petition requesting the U.S. Congress members and President Barack Obama to adopt the proposal called “Conserve, NOW” which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the United States and create jobs in the areas of adding to and reconstructing infrastructure in cities and counties of the U.S. to accommodate and encourage less fossil fuel burning in transportation and fossil fuel derived energy presently used in homes.

U.S. Officially Submits Its Target 2025 Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions to the United Nations, as Called for by the Framework Convention on Climate Change

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WASHINGTON – The United States officially submitted its emissions-cutting target to the United Nations on Tuesday morning, formalizing its commitment to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The Obama administration had previously announced the goal in its work with China on a bilateral climate agreement. The Tuesday submission makes the pledge official.

“With today’s submission of the U.S. target, countries accounting for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have submitted or announced what they will do in the post-2020 period to combat climate change,” wrote Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, in a blog post Tuesday morning.

Under a system established through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, individual countries are putting forward their own emissions commitments, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. Countries are supposed to submit their INDCs to the U.N. by March 31. The submissions will be the basis for an international climate agreement, which leaders expect to reach at the upcoming negotiation session in Paris at the end of 2015.

The U.S. described its target as “fair and ambitious” in the U.N. document, and said that the country has already undertaken “substantial policy action to reduce its emissions.” The submission says that the U.S. is already on a path to reach its previously submitted goal of cutting emissions 17 percent by 2020, and the new commitment will require the country to speed up its rate of emissions reduction.

The European Union, Norway and Mexico submitted their commitments last week.

The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which includes 34 Democratic senators and 83 Democratic House members, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday praising the commitment. “One of the three pillars of the Climate Action Plan is to lead international efforts to address global climate change. As a nation that has contributed more than a quarter of all global carbon pollution, it is our responsibility to lead,” they wrote. “As a nation already feeling the effects and costs of climate change, it is also in our national interest to do so.”

Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, called the U.S. target “a serious and achievable commitment” in a statement. Based on WRI’s research, the U.S. can meet the goal by using existing federal authority, and make even further reductions as technology advances, Morgan said.

Other environmental groups were more critical of the submission, arguing that the U.S. could make a more ambitious commitment. Greenpeace legislative representative Kyle Ash said in a statement that the pledge “begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding.” “As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy,” said Ash.

The Obama administration is expected to face staunch opposition from the Republican-led Congress to any sort of international climate agreement. It remains unclear at this point whether the international agreement will be finalized as a treaty, which would require Senate approval, or take some other legal form that does not require approval. The Obama administration has long sought an alternative format to try to avoid a battle with the Senate.

By: kate.sheppard@huffingtonpost.com