8 charts that show how climate change is making the world more dangerous

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on July 15, 2014 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Disasters including storms, floods and heatwaves have increased fivefold since the 1970s, UN finds

By Suzanne Goldenberg

Forget the future. The world already is nearly five times as dangerous and disaster prone as it was in the 1970s, because of the increasing risks brought by climate change, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation.


The first decade of the 21st century saw 3,496 natural disasters from floods, storms, droughts and heat waves. That was nearly five times as many disasters as the 743 catastrophes reported during the 1970s – and all of those weather events are influenced by climate change.

Photo Alex Brandon/AP

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No False Choices: To Preserve A Livable Climate, We Need To Slash Both CO2 And Methane

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on July 12, 2014 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

by Joseph Romm


Natural gas can either leak out as methane, or be flared as CO2 before going to market. CREDIT: Shutterstock

he bad news is that humanity has dawdled for so long that our only realistic chance to avoid multiple, irreversible, catastrophic climate impacts is to slash both carbon dioxide and the “super pollutants” like methane sharply starting as soon as possible.


As Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Columbia’s Earth Institute, told MSNBC Tuesday:


We’ve been told the basic falsehood that somehow fracking is going to save us, which is basically the opposite of the truth.


What kind of good news can the world expect after ignoring near-unanimous expert advice for 25 years? Well, we can almost certainly avert the worst impacts for billions of people, but only by aggressively curtailing both CO2 (which lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years) and the super pollutants (which are much more potent at trapping heat in the short-term than CO2, but which have a much shorter atmospheric lifetime).


Some confusion has been generated on this issue by a Tuesday New York Times piece, “Picking Lesser of Two Climate Evils,” which frames our optimum climate strategy as a choice between targeting CO2 and targeting super pollutants like methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and black carbon, that together cause some 40% of the warming we’re experiencing now.


But that is a “false choice,” as longtime NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell explained to me. We have to do both to maximize lives saved and minimize the chances of dangerous warming. That’s a point Climate Progress has made consistently.


The New York Times piece builds off an analysis by climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert on “Short-Lived Climate Pollution” (SLCP). He concludes that an “implementation of SLCP mitigation that substitutes to any significant extent for carbon dioxide mitigation will lead to a climate irreversibly warmer than will a strategy with delayed SLCP mitigation. SLCP mitigation does not buy time for implementation of stringent controls on CO2 emissions.”


I think that conclusion is correct: Absent an effort to sharply reduce CO2 emissions ASAP, everything else is a sideshow if not an outright distraction.


But I think this assertion by Pierrehumbert is not tenable: “There is little to be gained by implementing SLCP mitigation before stringent carbon dioxide controls are in place and have caused annual emissions to approach zero.” That seems to me a false choice, suggesting that humanity is somehow incapable of reducing all greenhouse gases at the same time.


Also, it ignores the risk that we might cross irreversible warming thresholds in the coming decades that further accelerate warming — such as permafrost melt — before the impact of the CO2 reductions can be felt. And it ignores the very low cost of reducing SLCPs compared to the relatively higher cost of reducing CO2 as you approach zero (i.e. after you have exhausted all of the low-cost CO2-reduction strategies). The SLCPs account for much of current warming, and they must be dealt with.


The case where this matters most is natural gas, since natural gas is mostly methane, leaks at every point in the production and distribution process, but also releases CO2 when burned as a fuel. Methane is a whopping 86 times stronger at trapping heat than CO2 over a 20-year time scale, but “only” 34 times stronger over a 100-year time scale. And, as the IPCC wrote in its recent review of the science, “There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices. The choice of time horizon is a value judgement since it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.”


The key point is that using natural gas to replace coal poses risks in all time periods. And, when you do the math based on actual observations of methane leakage, it turns out, as I’ve discussed, “By The Time Natural Gas Has A Net Climate Benefit You’ll Likely Be Dead And The Climate Ruined.”


As Sachs told MSNBC, “We have to move decisively” to carbon-free energy sources, including renewables and even nuclear. “This is pretty basic stuff.”


Here are more of Dr. Shindell’s thoughts on the subject:


I would strongly argue that there are two distinct environmental problems, one is long-term climate change for which CO2 is the dominant driver, and one is the combination of near-term climate change and air quality, for which SLCPs dominate. I don’t believe society is only capable of considering one problem at a time so that putting effort into cutting SLCPs would undermine efforts to cut CO2 — we consider multiple problems all the time (e.g. promoting clean water does not undermine promoting clean air, and there are countless such examples).


Demanding that CO2 reductions be made first, as has been promoted by some of the anti-SLCP crowd, runs the danger of blocking any action on SLCPs for many many years given the dismal state of progress on CO2. That would lead to many premature deaths that could have been prevented, larger near-term climate change that is already affecting people around the world, etc. So there are dangers either way if solving one problem is stalled due to the other, and so it’s important to keep working on both in my opinion. If our leadership can’t manage two environmental problems at once, then rather than choosing one or the other I’d say we should choose new leadership.


SLCP reductions don’t buy time for CO2 reductions, but they do provide more time for adaptation and improve the chances of avoiding tipping points by delaying the time at which we reach them so that if CO2 reductions take place they’ll have more time to have their impact.


Since Prof. Bob Howarth of Cornell has been remarkably prescient in raising concerns about methane leakage, I asked him to comment on Pierrehumbert’s findings:


1) It is a false choice to say we must rely on coal or natural gas. When I conclude the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas is worse than that of coal on the decadal time scale, I am not arguing for coal. Rather, we should wean ourselves from all fossil fuels, and natural gas is not a bridge fuel towards doing so.


2) He ignores potential tipping points in the climate system which we increasingly run the risk of hitting if we do not reduce methane emissions. If the tipping points are hit, we will have runaway global warming that will be devastating. And we cannot avoid warming the planet to dangerously high temperatures (1.5 to 2 deg C) over the coming few decades by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We must reduce methane emissions to lower this rate of warming on this time scale.


3) And yes, he ignores the problems with global climate disruption over the coming few decades, apparently feeling any damage on this time scale is OK if we are address the long-term problem.


I think I have done a good job of summarizing these issues and arguments in my May 2014 paper (Howarth, R. W. 2014. A bridge to nowhere: Methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas.


UPDATE: Dr. Michael Tobis — climate blogger and modeler par excellence — points out that if we just reduce CO2 use sharply, then we would see a short-term boost in warming from the reduction in sulfate aerosols associated with the sharp coal reductions (see here). So that is yet another important reason we need to go after both coal and SLCPs.

U.S. Seen as Biggest Oil Producer After Overtaking Saudi Arabia

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on July 10, 2014 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (0)

By Grant Smith, Bloomberg News

The U.S. will remain the world’s biggest oil producer this year after overtaking Saudi Arabia andRussia as extraction of energy from shale rock spurs the nation’s economic recovery, Bank of America Corp. said.

U.S. production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed all other countries this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first quarter, the bank said in a report today. The country became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2010. TheInternational Energy Agency said in June that the U.S. was the biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.



U.S. oil output will surge to 13.1 million barrels a day in 2019 and plateau thereafter, according to the IEA, a Paris-based adviser to 29 nations. The country will lose its top-producer ranking at the start of the 2030s, the agency said in its World Energy Outlook in November.

State's top doctor says we should consider banning wood fire heaters

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on July 5, 2014 at 1:40 AM Comments comments (0)

by Heath Gilmore

The NSW government is considering banning wood fire heaters following a call from the state's top doctor.

NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant says the heaters are so detrimental to the health she supported banning and phasing out the heaters in built-up urban areas as an option to control wood smoke.

NSW Health has advocated the government give councils greater regulatory powers to impose controls in their area, taking into account topography, population density, socio-economic status and the availability of alternative heating options.

On Friday night, Environment Minister Rob Stokes said he would consider all options to reduce the impact of wood smoke emissions.

Dr Chant said the use of of wood burning heaters inside homes should be avoided.



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Wood fire heaters: the hidden killer

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on June 27, 2014 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Heath Gilmore, 27 June 2014

The air pollution from wood fire heaters now poses a bigger immediate health danger to Sydneysiders than cars or cigarettes.

Health experts say the growth in wood fire heaters and the resulting smoke accounts for more than 60 per cent of Sydney's winter air pollution, triggering complications among asthmatics, emphysema and chronic bronchitis sufferers.

In July, an estimated 83,000 heaters are responsible for up to 75 per cent of fine particle pollution in Sydney's basin, according to the NSW EPA. Known as the new asbestos, fine particulate matter is a key component of smog, which can penetrate deep into the lungs.

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Australia's Electricity Sector: Ageing, Inefficient and Unprepared

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on June 18, 2014 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Climate Council Report

Internationally, the energy sector accounts for the largest proportion of greenhouse gas (gHg) emissions, which are the main drivers of climate change. Limiting temperature rise to a global average of 2 °C, the internationally agreed level that may avoid dangerous climate change, requires large scale changes in the electricity sector and a tripling of low-carbon energy by 2050.


Yet, australia’s electricity is largely generated by ageing, inefficient coal-fired power plants and there are currently no plans, nor a national discussion on the future of the electricity sector and options to significantly reduce its emissions. Delaying the shift to a low carbon future increases the likely risks and costs of transition to a low carbon future in the electricity sector, where it typically takes a decade or more to plan, permit, finance and build major new power infrastructure.

For the full report, click here

For 3 minute video summary

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IMF head says world must come to grips with climate change costs

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on June 17, 2014 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

CBC news, 10 June.

Christine Lagarde says don't wait for new targets, start carbon tax or other measures now.


"While Stephen Harper was congratulating Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday for ending a carbon tax, the head of the IMF was in Montreal urging energy powerhouses like Canada to come to grips with the economics of climate change.


International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde urged economists and central bankers from around the world not to wait for the next round of climate change talks to take action to protect the environment.


All countries need to put mechanisms in place – whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade system – to pay for the effects of pollution, she said at the conference of the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal. She urged countries not to wait for a new round of talks on global warming, but to start building these costs into their economic systems now."

Read More - http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/imf-head-says-world-must-come-to-grips-with-climate-change-costs-1.2670936

Obama unveils historic rules to reduce coal pollution by 30%

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on June 2, 2014 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (0)

• New EPA rules spur prospects for deal to end climate change

• Climate groups welcome 'momentous development'

• Coal lobbyists say plans will create new US energy crisis

by Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian, 2nd June 2014

The new rules represent the first time Obama has moved to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. Photograph: Matt Brown/AP

The Obama administration unveiled historic environment rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 30% on Monday, spurring prospects for a global deal to end climate change but setting up an epic battle over the environment in this year's mid-term elections.

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Fracking's Methane Trail: A Detective Story

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 29, 2014 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (0)

by Elizabeth Shogren, 2012, NPR

Gaby Petron didn't set out to challenge industry and government assumptions about how much pollution comes from natural gas drilling.


She was just doing what she always does as an air pollution data sleuth for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


"I look for a story in the data," says Petron. "You give me a data set, I will study it back and forth and left and right for weeks, and I will find something to tell about it."


Petron saw high levels of methane in readings from a NOAA observation tower north of Denver. And through painstaking, on-the-ground detective work, she tied that pollution to the sprawling oil and gas fields in northeastern Colorado.


The story she stumbled into suggests that government may be far underestimating air pollution from natural gas production. Her measurements, which were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking at at least twice the rate reported by the industry.

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It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 27, 2014 at 11:40 PM Comments comments (0)

by George Monbiot, Guardian

It's the great taboo of our age – and the inability to discuss the pursuit of perpetual growth will prove humanity's undoing

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.


Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It's 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.


To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

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