Maybe It’s Time To Worry — Last Month Was the Hottest June on Record

Source: AlterNet

Author: AFP

Emphasis Mine

The planet just set another monthly climate record with the hottest June in 135 years, US government scientists said Monday. The first six months of the year also set a record for warmth, according to the monthly report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for June 2015 was the highest for the month of June since record keeping began in 1880,” said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

“The June average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.58 Fahrenheit (0.88 Celsius) above the 20th century average.” The previous high for the month of June was set in 2014, NOAA said. “The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.53 Fahrenheit (0.85 Celsius) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January-June in the 1880-2015 record,” said NOAA.For the first six months of the year, 2015 beat out 2010 for the hottest on record. The amount of Arctic sea ice was 350,000 square miles, or 7.7 percent below the 1981-2010 average. “This was the third smallest June extent since records began in 1979,” NOAA said.

See: http://www.alternet.org/maybe-its-time-worry-last-month-was-hottest-june-record?akid=13318.123424.OQVhzo&rd=1&src=newsletter1039669&t=3

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Ideology Subsumes Empiricism in Pope’s Climate Encyclical

Source: Scientific American

Author: Lawrence Krauss

Emphasis Mine

Religion and science are at best strange bedfellows, as the Catholic Church has found since the time of its unfortunate experience with Galileo. So it is significant that Pope Francis, who has shown great appetite for departing from some of the harsh rhetoric and methods of his predecessors, is issuing an encyclical on the environment at a time when the world’s leaders are once again considering a global approach to dealing with climate change.

Whenever religious figures enter into a debate on policy issues that have a strong scientific basis there is a slippery interplay between the desire to do good by addressing real problems, and the constraints that ideology and dogma impose upon the ability to do so objectively. Pope Francis’s encyclical follows this pattern.

Laden with detail, it is perhaps the most scientific document to come out of the Vatican since John Paul II discussed evolution in 1996. As a result, many in the environmental community have praised the encyclical, which affirms that human activity causes climate change and delineates many of the impacts, especially the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on the world’s poor. While calling on people of all religions to take action, however, the pope rejects, on a purely theological basis, some of the most propitious solutions on the table.

The evidence-based discussion of climate change in the encyclical resulted in part from prolonged interaction with the scientific community. The language in many places reads like a treatise from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Consider, for example, this excerpt:

There is a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are in the presence of a disturbing heating of the climate system. In recent decades, this warming was accompanied by the constant rising of the sea level, and it is also hard not to relate it with the rise in extreme weather events… It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, the changes in the orbit and the axis of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming in recent decades it is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) mainly emitted due to human activity. Their concentration in the atmosphere prevents the heat of the solar rays reflected from the Earth to be dispersed in space. This is especially enhanced by the model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the center of the global energy system. It is also affected by the increase of the practice of changing land use, mainly by deforestation for agricultural purposes.

The synopsis of the impacts of climate change is equally empirical:

… the heating has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious cycle which aggravates the situation even more and which will affect the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in the hottest areas, and will result in the extinction of a part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting of polar and high altitude ice threaten the leakage of methane gas which carries high risks, and the decomposition of frozen organic matter could further accentuate the emission of carbon dioxide. In turn, the loss of tropical forests makes things worse, since these help to mitigate the climate change. The pollution produced by carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the oceans and affects the marine food chain.

Perhaps of most importance to the Pope himself, who has always expressed solidarity with the poor, the document makes it clear that the impacts of climate change are disproportionate, with the poorest countries likely to bear the largest burden. It castigates climate-change deniers in wealthy nations who “seem to focus especially on masking the problems or hiding the symptoms”.

These are timely and welcome remarks by someone who is viewed as a spiritual guide by billions of Catholics. An encyclical wouldn’t be an encyclical without theology however, and that is where problems arise. In a chapter entitled “Gospel of Creation” Francis ruminates poetically on the nature of man, the mystery of the cosmos (my own area of study) and the special duty Christians have to respect nature, humanity and the environment. It’s beautifully presented and sounds good in principle. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources.

Here, ideology subsumes empiricism, and the inevitable conflict between science and religion comes to the fore. One can argue until one is blue in the face that God has a preordained plan for every zygote, but the simple fact is that if one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale population is a problem. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level in which all humans have adequate food, water, medicine and security. Moreover, as this pope should particularly appreciate, the environmental problems that overpopulation creates also disproportionately afflict those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. Ultimately, the surest road out of poverty is to empower women to control their own fertility. Doing so allows them to better provide for themselves and their children, improves access to education and healthcare and, eventually, creates incentives for environmental sustainability.The problem with basing a public policy framework on outmoded ideas that predate modern science and medicine is that one inevitably proposes bad policies.

No one can fault Pope Francis’s intentions, which are clearly praiseworthy, but his call for action on climate change is compromised by his adherence to doctrines that are based on revelation and not evidence. The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behavior until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress. In this sense, the latest encyclical took several steps forward, and then a leap back.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

See: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/ideology-subsumes-empiricism-in-pope-s-climate-encyclical/

Ice melting into our oceans

larsenIceShelf

Antarctic glacier from the melting Larsen B iceshelf.
Shutterstock

Source: Portside

Author:

Emphasis Mine

“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”
Natasha Geiling – Think Progress

An Antarctic ice shelf roughly half the size of Rhode Island will disintegrate completely within the next few years, according to a NASA study released Thursday.

In 2002, two-thirds of the Larsen B Ice Shelf — which had been intact for more than 10,000 years — broke up in less than six weeks. The remaining portion of the ice shelf covers about 625 square miles along the Antarctic Peninsula, extending toward the southern tip of South America.

Using data collected from airborne surveys and radar, a team led by Ala Khazendar at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, found that the remaining portion of Larsen B is weakening very quickly, which is causing the shelf to become increasingly fragmented. Two of its tributary glaciers are also flowing faster and thinning more rapidly, according to NASA.

This was the first study to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and its tributary glaciers, and analysis of the data puts the remnant shelf’s future in question. An increasingly widening rift will eventually split along the entire shelf, the study found, shattering the remnant sheet into hundreds of icebergs that will drift away from the continent’s edge. According to Khazendar, the Larsen B remnant will completely disintegrate by 2020, allowing Antarctic glaciers to flow unimpeded into the ocean.

“These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” Khazendar said in a statement to NASA. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”

Antarctica’s ice shelves are like cliffs of ice that extend from the shelf of the continent out into the ocean. Without ice shelves to impede their movement, Antarctic glaciers flow into the ocean at much faster rates, accelerating global sea level rise. Antarctica has several ice shelves of varying size that hang over the edge of the continent — the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the largest, is about the size of France.

The NASA study supports previous research suggesting that Antarctica’s ice shelves are melting at a rate much faster than previously anticipated. In March, research published in Science highlighted the accelerating loss of ice from most of Antarctica’s ice shelves. The melting was most pronounced in the West Antarctic, where losses increased by nearly 70 percent in the last decade. If all the ice that sits on the West Antarctic bedrock is allowed to flow into the ocean, global sea level could rise by nine feet — something that scientists don’t think is likely to happen, though they also aren’t sure how much grounded ice will eventually melt. That will be determined, they say, not only by how much the Earth warms, but by local conditions in Antarctica, including how wind patterns divert warm or cold water to various parts of the continent.

What is clear, however, is that changes to the Antarctic’s ice shelves are happening at an increasingly quick pace.

“What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place,” Khazendar said. “Change has been relentless.”

– See more at: http://portside.org/2015-05-16/massive-antarctic-ice-shelf-will-disappear-completely-few-years-according-nasa#sthash.M4YshuIo.dpuf

 

 

 

see: http://portside.org/2015-05-16/massive-antarctic-ice-shelf-will-disappear-completely-few-years-according-nasa

There Is Some Uncertainty in Climate Science — And That’s a Good Thing

Source: PortSide

Author: Tamsin Edwards

Emphasis Mine

Uncertainty is the engine of science, driving our quest to understand the universe. But today, the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of uncertainty in climate science is causing problems — problems that could potentially be solved if climate scientists and the public found a better way to communicate with each other.

There are certainly plenty of things climate scientists are certain about: Humans are tipping the earth’s energy balance, so the world is warming and sea level is rising. The earth will continue to warm, rainfall will become heavier in many places (such as wet tropical regions), and sea level will continue to rise.

Big picture predictions like these are based in fundamental science involving observations and physical understanding that date back up to 200 years. But the details of our predictions — like how quickly temperatures and sea levels will rise — must come from computer models since we don’t have a miniature earth with which to play. (It’s not just climate science that has this difficulty; if you want to study the evolution of galaxies, it’s easier to write computer code than to create 100 billion stars.) At the heart of climate models are basic laws of physics, like Newton’s laws of motion, augmented by even more physics, chemistry, biology, and geology.

But a model is by definition a simplified representation of reality, which means it can never be perfect. “All models are wrong,” said statistician George Box, “but some are useful.” In addition, their predictions partly depend on the numbers scientists plug in. And sometimes we can’t know for certain what those numbers should be.

We’re studying an enormously complex planet. For example, over the past 17 years or so there has been a slowdown — even a pause — in the rate of warming of the atmosphere. We’re confident the climate is still changing, because the oceans are still warming, land is losing ice, and sea level is rising. We predict the atmosphere will start to warm again after this temporary blip, and we think there are several contributing factors to the pause, including a change in movement of heat around the planet, a dip in the brightness of the sun, and reflection of the sun by pollution and volcanic eruptions — but we don’t yet know the exact contributions of each.

The very definition of climate has uncertainty at its heart. While weather is the physical state of the atmosphere — temperatures, rainfall, and pressures that we can measure — climate can be thought of as the probability of different types of weather occurring. A probability is, of course, a statement of uncertainty: “We predict the weather will most often be X, sometimes be Y, and occasionally be Z.”

But this kind of uncertainty is not an indication that we don’t know what we’re talking about. It only means there are limits to our understanding, which we redefine with each new result. Scientists in any area of cutting-edge research will disagree with each other as they search for the right path. But because climate science is politicized, these disagreements are often sold as proof of unreliable science. For example, some scientists predict global average sea level rise in the highest greenhouse gas emissions scenario will likely be 20 to 30 inches by the end of the century. Others predict it will very likely be more than 35 inches and could be over six feet.

The two groups look at the problem in very different ways — the first method is based in physics, the second in statistics. And that’s interesting, because it shows the evolving process of science.

Unfortunately, inherent scientific uncertainty allows people to spin researchers’ results. Last year, we held a press conference for a project I worked on called ice2sea, which made projections of future sea level using methods based in physics. Some headlines indicated “Sea level rise to be less severe than feared” because the stories compared our findings to statistics-based studies. Others indicated “Risk from rising sea levels worse than feared” because the stories compared our findings to a previous report that also used physics but didn’t tally every possible part of sea level rise. One website wrote, “The end of London as we know it.”

In short, each media outlet told the story it wanted to tell.

Complexity and uncertainty create extra difficulty for experts in explaining their results, and for non-experts in understanding them. Climate science is not sound bite science.

And climate scientists haven’t helped. We haven’t sold the idea of uncertainty as not only an inevitability, but as a positive thing because of how it drives scientists to understand the unknown. The pause in warming of the atmosphere surprised the media and public, but scientists expected it could happen in the short-term. Why didn’t we make that clear? In part because we sometimes oversimplify the way we communicate to the public.

We’ve also done a bad job at being available — how many climate scientists can you name? We’ve mostly kept our heads below the parapet for fear of attracting fire by communicating complex science in a politicized atmosphere. We need to be braver.

There are hundreds of climate scientists on Twitter, and the small number of us who blog is growing. But we’re mostly engaging with people who are already passionate, whether they’re environmentalists or dissenters. We want to talk to more people from the middle ground — the fence-sitters and the understandably confused.

That’s why I’m curating a Twitter list of climate scientists, active researchers who are studying climate change and its effects on life. If you’re a climate scientist, or know one, tweet me to be added to the list. To ask a climate scientist a question, feel free to direct it toward scientists on the list.

If you’re uncertain about uncertainty, come and find us. We’d love to talk.

Dr. Tamsin Edwards is a climate scientist at the University of Bristol studying uncertainty in climate models. Follow her on Twitter: @flimsin

Greenhouse Gases Higher Than Worst Case Scenario

public domain picture of carbon emissions

By Associated Press

he global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,” said John Reilly, the co-director of MIT‘s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564m more tons (512m metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6%. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries, China, the US and India, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gases.

It is a “monster” increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate department of energy figures in the past.

Extra pollution in China and the US account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.

“It’s a big jump,” said Tom Boden, the director of the energy department’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. “From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.”

Boden said that in 2010 people were travelling, and manufacturing was back up worldwide, spurring the use of fossil fuels, the chief contributor of man-made climate change.

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8% in 2010.

“The good news is that these economies are growing rapidly so everyone ought to be for that, right?” Reilly said. “Broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to people. Doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world.”

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution. Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4-6.4 Celsius) by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees (4 Celsius).

Even though global warming sceptics have criticised the climate change panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Reilly said. He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood, and what would happen. The IPCC’s worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC’s working groups, said the panel’s emissions scenarios are intended to be more accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel’s worst case scenario “or something more extreme”.

“Really dismaying,” Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. “We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren.”

But Reilly and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8% below 1990 levels. The US did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60% of the world’s greenhouse gases, now it’s probably less than 50%, Reilly said.

“We really need to get the developing world because if we don’t, the problem is going to be running away from us,” Weaver said. “And the problem is pretty close from running away from us.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/8243-focus-greenhouse-gases-higher-than-worst-case-scenario

Has American-Style Conservatism Become a Religion?

From AlterNet, by Joshua Holland

N.B.: Separation of Church and State is more important than ever!

“As the American right lurches from traditional conservatism – a go-slow approach to governing that stresses the importance of continuity and social stability – to a far more reactionary brand typified by acolytes of Ayn Rand and Tea Party extremists waving misspelled signs decrying Democrats’ “socialism,” the time has come to ask whether modern “backlash” conservatism has become a religious faith rather than a pedestrian political ideology.

Ideology is grounded in the real world. It offers us a philosophical lens through which we can efficiently process what’s happening in the world around us. Religion is different. It’s a fixed belief system, based on faith, and it is immune to – or at least highly resistant to – challenges mounted by objective reality. Which better describes the belief system of a typical Rush Limbaugh fan or Tea Party activist?

Like religious faiths, the hard-right reveres an original text – the Constitution – and, like all religious fundamentalists, conservatives claim to adhere to a literalist interpretation of it while actually picking and choosing from among its tenets. Just as the vast majority of Christian fundamentalists don’t actually stone their daughters to death when they’re obnoxious to their fathers, the Tea Partiers conveniently ignore more or less the entirety of Article 3. Also like other fundamentalist sects, most conservatives actually have a poor understanding of what the text they revere actually means.

Like the Manicheans – adherents of one of the world’s great religions at one point in history – they tend to see a world defined by a conflict between the forces of light and darkness. The forces of good are decent, conservative, “real” Americans – mostly white, married Christians, but with exceptions made for others who keep the faith. They stand opposed to a wide array of diabolical figures: liberals, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Mexicans, socialists and other foreigners, especially the French.

And like adherents of other religious faiths, they hold a special enmity for apostates. When stalwart conservatives like David Frum started talking about “epistemic closure” – “conservatives’ tendency to operate in an information bubble” – they were pilloried by their fellow travelers, accused of the worst offense: liberal heresy. Not only are moderate conservatives like Kathleen Parker or Christine Todd Whitman ripe targets, but so are red-meat Republicans who stray from the party line to any degree. Even people like former Utah Senator Bob Bennett can be painted as RINOS (Republicans in name only) if they stray from church doctrine even slightly.

Backlash conservatives also have their prophets and their saints. Just listen to Republicans talking about the Founders – a groups of liberals, moderates and conservatives of their day who agreed on very little but are assumed by the flock to have been staunch right-wingers. The faithful conveniently ignore the real-world foibles of their Holy Men. Yes, Ronald Reagan offered amnesty to undocumented immigrants, raised taxes 11 times and ran roughshod over the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, but to the believers, he remains as pure as the Virgin Mary is to Catholics. (Reagan would be polling right there at the bottom with Jon Huntsman if he were running for the GOP nomination today.)

Perhaps the easiest parallel to draw between conservatism and religion is the right’s vilification of climate scientists98 percent of whom agree that human activities are changing our world with dangerous consequences. The attacks are reminiscent of the Catholic Church’s running battle with “Copernicans” who believed that the Earth revolved around the sun; a theory that flew in the face of church doctrine. In that sense, Michael Mann of “climate-gate” fame is like a modern Galileo (only Mann has been completely vindicated while Galileo was handed over for trial by the Roman Inquisition and lived out the rest of his life under house arrest).

But I think another belief may be more telling; that cutting taxes always brings in more revenues to the government’s coffers. There are two reasons this claim is more a manifestation of religious dogma than just the usual spin. First, it represents a perfect article of faith – universally held among the brethren but without any discernible basis in reality (see here for more explanation).

In 2007, Time magazine reporter Justin Fox surveyed conservatives on whether they believed the myth. He found a perfect split: all conservative politicians, pundits and operatives bought into it while conservative economists or budget experts — people who have to remain somewhat grounded in evidence — didn’t hesitate to call it out for the nonsense it is, and that included “virtually every economics Ph.D. who has worked in a prominent role in the Bush administration.”

It’s also a relatively new tenet, popularized in the 1970s, when it offered a temporal benefit to church leaders. This is how religions tend to deal with changing circumstances. It was only revealed to the Mormons that blacks should be eligible for the priesthood in the wake of the civil rights movement when college basketball teams were refusing to play Brigham Young University. Conservative Judaism decided that electricity wasn’t really the same as fire after all when people realized how nice it was to run fans on hot Sabbath days. Religious dogma is flexible, changing with the times. The Anglican Communion didn’t split from Rome over some fundamental clash of beliefs, but in order for King Henry VIII to ditch his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. That Rome’s English holdings came under the crown’s control in the process was a bonus.

Although the idea that cutting taxes increases revenues wasn’t new, it was really embraced after the traditional states’ rights argument for “limited government” began to be equated with opponents of civil rights legislation and lost its luster. In the 1950s and 1960s, political scientists had also amassed a pile of research showing that while Americans were quite responsive to non-specific messages about fighting “big government,” they also had very favorable views of most of the specific public services the government performs and didn’t want to see them eliminated.

Conservative politicians had a dilemma: they were on solid ground running on cutting people’s taxes, but faced serious political peril saying they’d offset those tax cuts by slashing popular social safety net programs, education funding, budgets for cops and firemen and the list goes on. And then this new core belief that cutting taxes led to greater cash-flow became part of church doctrine, a tenet that allowed them to go on the stump and promise to cut people’s taxes without cutting the services those taxes financed.

Some articles of faith produce wonderful things. Many believe that Jesus said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven,” and that belief has led to countless charitable efforts. But other religious beliefs have disastrous real-world consequences – untold millions have died in conflicts justified by faith.”

(N.B.: When Community Chest (United Way) was established in Cleveland in 1919, the founders had to turn to Jewish leaders in the community for ideas, as that tradition had a much more charitable tradition than Christianity).

“When you look around at the aging state of our once-great public infrastructure, know that it is deteriorating, in part, because of an article of religious faith. When you ponder the fallout from the Tea Party’s “austerity recession,” remember that it is as bad as it looks because of a theology passing itself off as a set of ideological preferences. And as those extreme weather events come at us faster and harder, keep in mind that the true believers who saw the world as a contest between good and evil consigned our entire scientific community to the latter category, and fought like hell for years to prevent us from doing anything about it.

This country needs a lot of things, and maybe first and foremost among them is for our brand of conservatism to return to earth as a responsible, evidence-based, secular ideology.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/152434/has_american-style_conservatism_become_a_religion_?page=entire