The Climate Show #34: four Hiroshima bombs a second

It’s been almost half a year since Glenn, Gareth and John last met over the intertubes to discuss climate news — but we’re 97% sure we’re back, catching up on all the recent climate news. John discusses the recent Cook et al (where al is the Skeptical Science team) paper on the 97% consensus on climate science and the accompanying Consensus Project web site, “sticky” facts like using Hiroshima bombs as a unit of warming. Plus all the news on recent weather extremes — flooding in India, Canada, and Europe, climate impacts on the wine business, and Gareth’s recent interview with Bill McKibben. Show notes below the fold…

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I think it’s going to rain today (when it’s wet, it’s very very wet)

I took Rosie the truffle machine for a walk around the farm just before dark yesterday. We were both a bit stir-crazy after four days of cold, cold rain and a couple of days of screaming southerlies that brought snow to our hills. The ground passed field capacity at the beginning of last week, when an atmospheric river brought torrential downpours and flooding to much of the South Island. Now the soil is sodden, quivering with water and oozing mud at every footstep. Every drop of extra rain is taking that mud and sluicing it down to the river. A stream runs through my black truffle plantation. I spent this afternoon digging a drainage trench. Truffles don’t enjoy sitting in water. My crop might rot. The Waipara is roaring along at the bottom of our cliff at about 50 cumecs1, an impressive sight for a river that normally dribbles down to the sea at under a cumec. It peaked last week at about 110 cumecs. The riverbed will have been reshaped. But we got off lightly.

Over the last couple of days the New Zealand news has been dominated by extreme weather. The southerly storm that soaked us also battered Wellington and brought deep snow2 to much of the South Island. It made for compelling pictures. But what’s going on elsewhere in the world is even more dramatic:

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  1. Cubic metres per second. []
  2. The Mt Hutt ski field got 2.8 meters of snow — just over 9 feet in the old money — a record start to the season. Take a look at the green line on their snow graph to get some sense of the context. []

The truth is molten

Extreme weather events are where the climate change rubber hits the road, and if events over the last month are anything to go by, global warming is currently doing doughnuts and burnouts on tarmac right round the globe. Kevin Trenberth put it rather nicely in an interview with PBS Newshour in the US: “This is a view of the future, so watch out.” John Vidal in The Guardian sums up the situation rather well:

…how much more extreme weather does it take for governments and individuals to act, or for the oil companies to withdraw from the Arctic, or the media to link global warming with the events now being witnessed around the world? Must the sea boil, the Seine run dry, New York flood and the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into taking concerted action?

Damn good question.

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Climate Change and Migration

It’s all too easy for wealthy America and Europe to treat climate-induced migration as a border security issue. Gregory White, Professor of Government at Smith College in Massachusetts, argues in his recent book Climate Change and Migration: Security and Borders in a Warming World that a security-minded response to the phenomenon is both inappropriate and unethical. It’s not a judgment the book rushes to; White provides ample and thoughtfully-presented material in its support.

The dynamics of globalisation have brought with them an increasing preoccupation with border security, particularly in the countries of the North Atlantic. Immigration is a hot electoral issue and the spectre of climate-induced migration adds to the already fraught subject. White writes of how easily deep fears can be aroused and of media-savvy politicians all to ready to play on them, along with the “media’s panic entrepreneurs”.

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Liveblog: Durban down to the wire

3.20 am Sunday morning

The South African Minister took key people into a “huddle” for 10 mins.

“Can the world be saved in a tea break?”  tweeted @FionaHarvey from The Guardian.

Tea Break over… so. They have agreed “to launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties….” to be negotiated through to 2015 and be implemented from 2020.

Meanwhile, over in the Kyoto Protocol, the EU slipped back and agreed an eight-year commitment period, which would also take that through to 2020.   It’s up to governments to decide whether they want to submit pledges under that process by May next year.

So with the atmosphere in mind, and the steady march to 3.5ºC of warming, there’s nothing much here, yet, to slow that march.  The definition of the “legal” bit of this decision could mean anything – and I can see lawyers around me in plenary already working that out.   Will it be enough to bring the big emitters on board?

Will that be enough for New Zealand to make its pledge unconditional and continue with Kyoto? Or will our government continue to point fingers at the big guys? Given the work that Tim Groser did in watering down the text overnight, I doubt it.

But right now, I’m too tired to puzzle it all out. It’s certainly nothing like the strong climate action we need.

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