It’s Global Warming, Stupid: telling it like it is in post-Sandy USA

GlobalWarmingStupid

Sandy was an astonishing storm1. Bloomberg Businessweek has taken the opportunity to state the obvious and create one of the great magazine covers to sell the story2. It’s worth reading the magazine’s coverage3 because the usual suspects are out there trying to deny the undeniable. Sandy was a storm made worse by the fact of climate change. We all have to live with that.

While the US mops up, and reinsurers check their cash reserves, we can be sure of one thing. The worst is yet to come — and that’s not being alarmist, just pointing out the consequences of unavoidable future warming. That’s truly alarming.

  1. See Jeff Masters for some of the reasons why. []
  2. The ageing magazine editor in me doffs his hat. []
  3. Or the parsing of it at Climate Progress. []

Asking the hard questions

I watched TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday with dismay.  Phil Heatley, the Minister of Energy and Resources, was interviewed about the New Zealand government’s intention to increase oil, gas and coal exploration and mining. The emphasis of the interview was on the environmental issues, yet not a word was said about greenhouse gases or climate change. The environmental questions discussed were not unimportant, but they were easy for the Minister to swat away with talk of how Taranaki’s environment has not been seriously impacted by drilling, of how fracking is confined to suitable deep rock formations, of how careful the Government is to balance the interests of the environment against the economic gains to be had from the exploitation of our mineral resources, and so on.

What would the Minister have said if he was asked how the Government can justify pushing for increased fossil fuel exploitation in the light of the global warming to which the burning of these fuels will contribute?  I have a fair idea what he would have said, but he wasn’t asked. The fact that he wasn’t bothers me as much as his likely answer if he had been. Because it seems to indicate that the overwhelming question is either not perceived or deliberately avoided by journalists running a major current affairs programme.

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The Bast Effect: summertime in wintertime

Forget the Gore Effect1, Chicago — and much of the eastern half of the continental USA — is now experiencing the Bast Effect — a record March heatwave in the Heartland of climate denial. The figures for this heatwave are truly extraordinary. Here’s Jeff Masters:

For the third consecutive day, Chicago, Illinois hit their warmest temperature on record so early in the year, going back to 1872. The mercury hit 82°F, giving the city its third consecutive day of 80°+ temperatures, smashing the old record by a month. Previously, the earliest Chicago had ever seen three consecutive 80 degree days was back on April 14 – 16, 1976.

Masters quotes the National Weather Service:

Chicago and Rockford have both broken high temperature records 3 days in a row and will likely break record highs for 5 days in a row. There is even the potential they could tie or break record highs for 6 or 7 days in a row depending on how warm temperatures get on Monday and Tuesday. It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day. At the current pace… it is likely that Chicago and Rockford will not only break… but shatter their current record warmest Marches.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a very useful overview of the event, drawing heavily on the views of Masters and the Weather Channel’s Stu Ostro.

Even the most committed US denier can’t fail to notice midsummer weather happening in March, coming on top of a very mild winter. This is exactly the sort of extreme weather event that can drive public opinion in the direction of the need for action. It’s large, widespread and not too damaging (so far), yet undeniable. One can only hope that US politicians notice. And it might be a good idea to invite Bast to give a few talks outside Illinois…

[Badly Drawn Boy]

  1. The occurrence of cold weather in a place where Al Gore talks about global warming []

A mad deal in Durban

Let’s revisit that cold war phrase: mutually assured destruction. Fifty years ago, MAD meant that in the event of conflict the USA and USSR could and would ensure the total annihilation of the other, thus ensuring what Wikipedia rather tamely describes as “a tense but stable global peace”. Having lived through those years, the tension was notable, and in some cases inspirational.

The madness on display in Durban is of another kind, and of a different character. The destruction on offer will be (we can only hope) slower, but it is likely to be just as total — and is certainly being mutually assured. The governments of the world, by kicking the can down the road aways, have just ensured that the task of reducing emissions will be harder than it need be, and that the ultimate damage will be greater than it might have been. [Guardian]

Durban represents progress of a kind, as Climate Action Tracker’s analysis acknowledges:

As the climate talks in Durban concluded tonight with a groundbreaking establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015, scientists stated that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts, the Climate Action Tracker said today.

The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.

What is mind-boggling is that so many leaders, so many highly-skilled diplomats and negotiators, can accept the evidence being offered by our understanding of climate system, and yet so comprehensively fail to act.

History and human nature, combined with the dysfunctional nature of international relations have conspired to give us what looks like it might be the worst of all worlds: one where lip service is paid to taking action, but where the big players are excused responsibility, and any efforts made are weak and meaningless. Plus c’est la même chose.

And so as not to beg the obvious question: I am left agreeing with Joe Romm. It will take a series of undeniable climate disasters, sufficient to provide the equivalent of a wartime motivation for action, before our politicians feel empowered to take the necessary action — before the world will act appropriately. One can only hope that the damage is not costly in terms of human welfare and wellbeing, and that they happen before nature rips the reins from our hands and the Anthropocene comes to an end.

The promise of renewables

No sooner had I finished reviewing Fools Rule, which recounts the determination of many nations to carry on with the further discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels in blunt defiance of the warnings of science, than I read Fred Pearce’s article in Yale Environment 360 detailing how the world is in fact burning more and more coal. He pointed to the irony of the forthcoming UN negotiations in Durban, South Africa, where the talk of how to kick the coal habit will take place in a country with high CO2 emissions and a thriving export industry in power-station coal. Not that he was singling out South Africa – the trend is shared over many countries. As if in confirmation our Prime Minister on the same day, during the leaders’ debate, affirmed yet again his government’s commitment to expand mining and drilling operations – in an environmentally responsible way, of course. He offered Australia as an example of the prosperity to be obtained thereby.

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