Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sea Levels Have Risen Abruptly In The Past

I've said in the past that sea levels are likely to be the first real climate change event that gets everyone's attention. 

Old reefs hold the tale of past sea-level rise, and … it’s dramatic.

Toward the end of the last ice age, about 19,000 years ago, the sea rose in several large spurts, according to a new study of coral reefs that grew during this period.
This contradicts assumptions that sea level rises gradually. Instead, coral fossils show sudden inundations followed by quieter periods. This offers new information that supports the theory that glaciers and ice sheets have “tipping points” that cause their sudden collapse along with a sudden increase in sea level.
I've talked about sea levels before.  But this new study revises the opinions of scientists that this increase will likely be gradual.  But the historical analysis of coral reefs suggests that the sea level may rise abruptly.  And there are scientists who believe that Greenland may be at or past its tipping point.  We might see a dramatic increase in sea level in the next few years.  

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Climate Change Activists Being Let Off On Necessity Defense

This is basically Chapter Two in my novel, Diary of the Last Age, though the characters in my novel were doing something quite different, destroying oil fields by inoculating them with an oil-eating bacteria (which interestingly does exist but mainly to clean up oil spills).  What I describe in that novel about "alarmists" taking it to the oil companies is apparently happening, and their activities are being legally justified.

Judge Allows 'Necessity' Defense by Climate Activists in Oil Pipeline Protest

"What we are seeing in some courts is there is such frustration at the failure of the executive and legislative branches to act on climate change that some courts are becoming willing to step in,"
A Minnesota judge ruled that three activists charged with felonies can argue they had no legal alternative to protect citizens from climate change impacts. 

A judge in Minnesota has cleared the way for an unusual and potentially groundbreaking defense, allowing climate activists to use the "necessity" of confronting the climate crisis as justification for temporarily shutting down two crude oil pipelines last year.
Robert Tiffany, a district court judge in Clearwater County, Minnesota, ruled on Oct. 11 that three activists who were arrested and charged with felonies last year can argue that they violated the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming and that they had no legal alternative.   
 The ruling is the third recent case in which a judge in the United States has allowed for such a defense in a climate case in a jury trial. A case in Massachusetts in 2014 did not go to trial after the prosecutor dropped the charges. A judge allowed the necessity defense in a Washington State case in 2016 but then instructed jurors they could not acquit on necessity. There was also a recent non-jury case in which a county judge in Slate Hill, New York, allowed a necessity defense for climate activists charged with misdemeanor trespassing, but he issued a guilty verdict in June, stating the defense failed to prove "imminence", or immediate harm posed by climate change. 

Some are being given lighter sentences,

The ruling is the third recent case in which a judge in the United States has allowed for such a defense in a climate case in a jury trial. A case in Massachusetts in 2014 did not go to trial after the prosecutor dropped the charges. A judge allowed the necessity defense in a Washington State case in 2016 but then instructed jurors they could not acquit on necessity. There was also a recent non-jury case in which a county judge in Slate Hill, New York, allowed a necessity defense for climate activists charged with misdemeanor trespassing, but he issued a guilty verdict in June, stating the defense failed to prove "imminence", or immediate harm posed by climate change. 
Gerrard said the decision to allow a necessity defense may be part of a growing awareness in the courts of the risks of climate change, including recent rulings on coal leases and natural gas pipelines, that went in favor of closer scrutiny of environmental considerations.
 The younger generation whose lives are great risk from climate change, are "taking it to the streets".

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Four Degrees Celsius Would Be Catastrophic

Here's the basic picture,

•    350 ppm CO2 = 1°C warming (a warming we can live with, see
•    400 ppm CO2 = 1.5°C warming (things get worse for an increasing number of people)
•    445 ppm CO2 = 2°C warming (dangerous warming, but the best we can hope for)6

      2°C warming is a guardrail beyond which changes become catastrophic
•    560 ppm CO2 = 3°C warming (really bad: and positive feedbacks accelerate)
•    700 ppm CO2 = 4°C warming (To be avoided at all costs)7
6. (PDF download) Hansen et al. state that 2°C warming could be dangerous. 
7. (PDF download) Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. 

We passed 400 ppm CO2 last year. 
At current emission rates that are increasing CO2 at a rate of 2 ppm/year, we will blow past the budget for staying below 2°C warming within 20 years.  The only possibility for avoiding 2°C warming is for humans to alter their behavior and reduce energy use while we bring low-carbon energy sources online. The Paris Accord is one attempt to motivate governments to move in this direction, but individuals should also move on their own to reduce personal carbon emissions. There simply is no time to waste in waiting for governments to motivate action.
 For those who see a 2°C target as too ambitious, and prefer a longer-term approach of focusing on 3°C as a more attainable target, it is important to note that we may not have an option to stop the warming at 3°C. By that point positive feedbacks may drive the temperature higher, no matter what we do. There are large uncertainties about how the climate will respond as global temperatures increase, but natural feedbacks will certainly increase with increasing warming, making our emissions reductions less effective at controlling global warming as the planet continues to warm. 
That is it exactly.   A 3°C world doesn't only mean a drastically bad world to live in, it also means that we are unlikely to stop there no matter what we do.  2°C will be bad enough, but 3°C presages a much, much worse world.
This is why there is an urgency to meeting a 2°C target. A carbon budget for staying below 2°C is the last carbon budget for which there is a consensus among scientists that we have a reasonable expectation of controlling our own destiny. Beyond that warming, in addition to escalating negative effects, it is unclear how much control we will have over the climate.
And a 4°C means the end of civilization, and very likely the end of the human race.

But don't lose all hope.
There is a growing realization that holding warming to 2°C warming may not be possible (see Glen Peter's excellent summary on this topic). Does this mean it’s too late and we should just give up? If you are driving a car and you suddenly realize you are going to run into a brick wall, no matter what you do, at what point is it “too late” to put on the brakes? At the point you put on the brakes you will avoid something worse. So even if it is too late to stop the warming at 2°C, remember that these are just numbers, there is uncertainty about the effects associated with these numbers, and that we will always avoid something worse later, by taking action now.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Trump Is An Environmental Catastrophe

Trump’s plan to bail out failing fossil fuels with taxpayer subsidies is perverse 

Trump claims to be a conservative, but calling for a bailout of the coal companies violates everything conservatives believe in, free markets.

The conservative philosophy of allowing an unregulated free market to operate unfettered often seems to fall by the wayside when the Republican Party’s industry allies are failing to compete in the marketplace. Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently provided a stark example of this philosophical flexibility when he proposed to effectively pull the failing coal industry out of the marketplace and instead prop it up with taxpayer-funded subsidies.
However, Perry also made the mistake of referencing the 2014 Polar Vortex to try and support this argument. The cold temperatures associated with that weather pattern caused electricity demand to spike, but as experts have noted, while wind energy produced above expectations during the Polar Vortex, coal power failed 
 Perry’s argument is so ludicrous that it bears repeating. He claims that we need to subsidize huge coal piles to ensure grid resiliency to extreme events like the Polar Vortex. But during the Polar Vortex, coal plants were shut down because they couldn’t operate at such low temperatures, and because their big coal piles were frozen. And this isn’t the only example of grid resiliency without coal – during Hurricane Harvey, coal piles were too wet to be transported to power plant boilers. During record heat waves this summer, California’s grid proved reliable as a result of factors like renewables and energy storage, not coal.

Big Oil is also dependent on taxpayer subsidies
Along similar lines, a new study published in Nature Energy found that at current oil prices of $50 per barrel, about half of not-yet-developed oil fields are only profitable if the industry receives subsidies to pay for them. Worse yet, the oil industry pockets most taxpayer subsidy dollars in the form of profits:
At the price of US$50 per barrel, we find that a bit more than half (53%) of subsidy value (in net present value terms) goes to projects that would have proceeded anyway. That fraction rises to nearly all (98%) of subsidy value at US$100 per barrel. As others have found, regardless of the oil price, the majority of taxpayer resources provided to the industry end up as company profits.
Republicans and conservatives complained bitterly about Obama bailing out General Motors.  They complained because a chapter 11 bankruptcy would have protected the stockholders while allowing GM to lay off workers without their pensions.  Obama saved workers with the bailout.  The bailout Trump wants is bailing out coal and oil company stockholders.  Certainly not coal workers who aren't needed anymore because coal is now mined by simply plowing down mountains. 

As the Guardian reports, this is perverse.  The survival of our civilization requires the opposite of a subsidy, a carbon tax, about which I've posted numerous times.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

We must not idly let climate change wreak its damage

Gardening for Climate Change

As more birds alter their ranges to cope with a warming climate, you can take steps in your yard to help the animals survive 

Changing climate already is affecting bird distribution in much of the country. The National Audubon Society’s 2009 Birds and Climate Change report found that, based on data from the yearly Christmas Bird Count, more than 70 percent of backyard bird species have shifted their ranges north during the past four decades. The average range shift is about 35 miles, but the change is not uniform. During cold months, some species are now observed more than 100 miles north of their former winter ranges, including backyard regulars such as the American goldfinch, pine siskin, boreal chickadee and pygmy nuthatch.
Planting an "Ecological Insurance Policy" 
Experts can’t predict with certainty which plants will thrive in our yards in the future or which birds will be there to benefit from what we plant. But we can take steps to prepare our land for future changes. “You can be ‘climate ready’ for whatever shows up,” says Tom Gardali, a California biologist who leads riparian restoration projects for Point Blue Conservation Science. Gardali already has made changes to the way his teams conduct their stream bank restoration work. “We’re choosing a mix of species based on what the climate might do rather than what it is right now,” he says. “We’re intentionally planting for climate change.”
NWF Priority: Helping Wildlife Cope with Climate Change 
Now in its 41st year, NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® program provides all of the information you need about native plants and natural gardening techniques to provide birds and other wildlife with safe havens around your property in the face of global warming. To learn more and find out how you can certify your yard, see the insert in the middle of this issue or visit

Scientists are also working to restore the damage climate change is inflicting on the coral reefs.

A section of healthy coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and an area where the coral has died. Credit Left, Jodie Rummer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; right, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, via Associated Press        

The Great Barrier Coral Reef is dying as climate change heats up the oceans. But all is not lost.

ON THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, off Australia — After a plunge beneath the crystal-clear water to inspect a coral reef, Neal Cantin pulled off his mask and shook his head.
“All dead,” he said.
Yet even as he and his dive team of international scientists lamented the devastation that human recklessness has inflicted on the world’s greatest system of reefs, they also found cause for hope. 
As they spent days working through a stretch of ocean off the Australian state of Queensland, Dr. Cantin and his colleagues surfaced with sample after sample of living coral that had somehow dodged a recent die-off: hardy survivors, clinging to life in a graveyard.
There finding survivors and their plan is to grow them in the lab and replant them.  They may be able to replace the reef with an evolved version that can tolerate the hot oceans. 

“We’re trying to find the super corals, the ones that survived the worst heat stress of their lives,” said Dr. Cantin, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville.

Friday, September 29, 2017

California Cities Sue Oil Companies

I've posted before, a lothere and here, that a carbon tax must happen if we are to stop the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere and our oceans.  Now there's a new strategy that might be successful, suing the oil companies.  San Francisco has started it, and Oakland and other California cities are joining in.
The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland city attorney Barbara J. Parker filed separate lawsuits on Tuesday in the superior courts of San Francisco and Alameda County on behalf of their respective cities. 
They seek to hold the companies responsible “for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect San Francisco and Oakland from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise caused by the companies' production of massive amounts of fossil fuels,” according to a joint announcement from the attorneys.

Herrera accused the fossil fuel companies of copying a page from the Big Tobacco playbook by launching a “multi-million dollar disinformation campaign to deny and discredit what was clear even to their own scientists: global warming is real, and their product is a huge part of the problem.” 
“Now, the bill has come due,” Herrera said. “It's time for these companies to take responsibility for the harms they have caused and are continuing to cause.
“These companies knew fossil fuel-driven climate change was real, they knew it was caused by their products and they lied to cover up that knowledge to protect their astronomical profits. The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse. The law is clear that the defendants are responsible for the consequences of their reckless and disastrous actions,” she concluded.
A carbon tax would be more effective, but this helps.

 [T]he California city attorneys they want the courts to “hold the defendants jointly and severally liable for creating, contributing to and/or maintaining a public nuisance and to create an abatement fund for each city to be paid for by defendants to fund infrastructure projects necessary for San Francisco and Oakland to adapt to global warming and sea level rise.” 
“The total amount needed for the abatement funds is not known at this time but is expected to be in the billions of dollars,” they said.
If they can get the courts to cooperate, this would certainly get the attention of the oil companies.