Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Who will tell Trump we have just breached the 410 ppm threshold for CO2?

One day before the March for Science was held globally to mark Earth Day, Scientific American reported the world had just passed another round-numbered climate milestone just as had been predicted. 

The March for Science aimed to show the importance of evidence-based science to society and political decision-making and to protest against US President Donald Trump’s cuts to science funding and his denial of climate change.

The Mauna Loa Observatory last week recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (410.28 ppm if you want precision).  Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years.

This attests to the atmosphere trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate.

Carbon dioxide was measured at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm.

The latest readings were first reported in Climate Change and reproduced by Scientific American.

“Its pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told Climate Central last month. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.”

Earlier this year, UK Met Office scientists issued their first-ever carbon dioxide forecast. They projected carbon dioxide could reach 410 ppm in March and almost certainly would by April.

Carbon dioxide concentrations have skyrocketed over the past two years, in part due to natural factors like El Niño causing more of it to end up in the atmosphere. But it’s mostly driven by the record amounts of carbon dioxide humans are creating by burning fossil fuels, according to the Climate Central report.

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future, the article said.

The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

Trump Administration decision-makers, alas, probably won’t bother reading the article or its advice that the impacts will last longer and intensify even if carbon emissions were cut.

“But we face a choice of just how intense they become based on when we stop polluting the atmosphere.”

The grim portent is that we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.

Scientists will march for science tomorrow (regardless of whether Trump takes notice)

Marches for Science will take place in New Zealand and around the world tomorrow to mark Earth Day, which is celebrated every year on April 22 with festivals, parades and rallies in almost 200 countries to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

The organisers of the marches in New Zealand have written about their aims here and here.

Events in almost 200 countries are coordinated by the Earth Day Network, a Washington-based organisation with a mission “to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide”.

More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year.

The very first event for Earth Day, which was held in America nearly five decades ago following a devastating oil spill, is credited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

Since its launch, Earth Day has been supported by an array of famous faces, including Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson.

On Earth Day last year, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China and some 120 other countries.

This year the specific focus is on creating better environmental and climate literacy and educating people – both children and adults – on environmental issues.

Association of Scientists president, Dr Craig Stevens, told Mike Hosking protesters will also express their opposition to President Trump’s fundamental position against climate change.

“This march is an opportunity to show where the public of the world stand on science.”

But the marches have a much broader objective, he said.

“It’s also a celebration of science in New Zealand and showing that there’s a critical mass amongst the public of people who really value science.”

In Marlborough, National MP Stuart Smith, Green Party MP Kennedy Graham and Labour Party candidate Janette Walker will be at the province’s inaugural Earth Day Party. 

Each will be given a minute to outline their thoughts on a carbon-neutral future to the public before answering questions.

Victoria University geology professor emeritus Peter Barrett will also attend the event at Marlborough’s A&P Park where he will give a talk on global warming.

The Royal Society of New Zealand has provided information on other events:

Auckland | 1.30pm start at Queen Elizabeth Square

Palmerston North | 11am The Square, Palmerston North Central

Christchurch | 10am start at the Canterbury Museum

Wellington | 10am start at Civic Square

Queenstown | Details to be confirmed

Dunedin | 11am at Otago Museum Reserve

Details for all marches are also available on the March for Science NZ Facebook Page

The New Zealand Science Media Centre provides more information – Preparing to March for Science – In the News.

Kiwis are increasingly believing in climate change

New research from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland has found New Zealanders’ beliefs in climate change and that humans are causing it are increasing over time.

The study, carried out by Victoria’s Dr Taciano Milfont and Professor Marc Wilson, and Auckland’s Professor Chris Sibley, examined key climate change beliefs from 2009 to 2015.

The two beliefs investigated were whether people believe climate change is real, and whether they believe climate change is caused by humans, says Dr Milfont, who led the study.

“We found that the levels of agreement to both beliefs have steadily increased over the six-year period. This increase in belief has been most pronounced in more recent years, from about 2013 onwards.

“Overall, belief in the reality of climate change was higher at all times than agreement with the idea that climate change is caused by humans. But people who tended to increase their level of agreement in one climate change belief also tended to increase their agreement level in the other belief.”

The research used data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a national probability sample study that has been tracking New Zealanders’ social attitudes, personality and health outcomes since 2009.

“It’s the first longitudinal study indicating that climate change belief is increasing over time,” says Dr Milfont.

“Past research has relied on a snapshot of data from one-off public opinion polls. But data from opinion polls are based on distinct individuals. We are the first to examine whether climate change beliefs held by the same group of individuals, in this case, more than 10,000 New Zealanders, are changing or not.”

 Dr Milfont says the observed increase in climate change beliefs could be attributed to a number of factors.

Some studies suggest climate change beliefs and concerns may change after exposure to extreme weather events as well as mainstream media and awareness campaigns.

Other studies suggest political affiliation and political ideology are the main predictors of climate change belief . They suggest the observed increase in climate change beliefs is greater among politically liberal individuals.

“We expect that levels of climate change beliefs will fluctuate over time. With the ongoing nature of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, in the future we will be able to pinpoint whether particular socio-economic circumstances directly result in fluctuations on climate change beliefs.”

This research, recently published in the international journal PLOS ONE, was supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant to Professor Sibley and a Marsden Fast-Start grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Milfont.

Research jointly co-ordinated by Dr Milfont in 2015 found that if people from 24 countries believe that addressing climate change will result in a more caring and moral community, they are more likely to take action.

Because  climate change beliefs and concerns are key predictors of climate change action, the findings indicate that a combination of targeted communications endeavours may successfully convey the urgency of the issue, says Dr Milfont.

Climate change – new research findings and more funding for five projects

Research published this week shows regional climate variability caused an “unusual” period in which some of New Zealand’s glaciers grew bigger, while glaciers worldwide were shrinking.

News of these findings came just a few days after the Deep South National Science Challenge announced funding of about $2 million for five new research projects to help New Zealanders better understand their future climate.

The funding is part of the Deep South National Science Challenge which is tasked with enabling New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate.

This funding round is focused on the potential impacts and implications of climate change for New Zealand to support planning and decision-making around extreme weather events, drought, changes in typical weather patterns and sea level rise.

Central to the challenge is strengthening the links and interactions with the New Zealand Earth System Model. This numerical model will simulate current climate and make projections of future climates with different scenarios of future global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately the Deep South Challenge will help advance understanding of Southern Hemisphere influences on the global climate and give New Zealanders a greater level of certainty in the face of a changing climate.

The new projects include incorporating climate change impacts in land-use suitability.

Continue reading

What a Donald Trump presidency might mean for science

As the world braces for a Trump presidency in the USA, experts have been trying to work out what this could mean for science, especially health and climate change.

The Science Media Centre in Wellington has done us a favour by distilling some of the resultant observations in an item which it has posted on its website:

During his campaign, Donald Trump said he would repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and reinforced his stance as a climate sceptic.

The Washington Post reported that the surprise election hurled international climate change negotiations into doubt, as the Marrakech climate summit – COP22 – continues.

Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs Michael Oppenheimer told The Washington Post that if Trump doesn’t honour the Paris Agreement’s commitments, “that virtually guarantees that the international process will fall into disarray”.

Writing on The Conversation, University of Michigan Energy Institute director Mark Barteau suggested a prime target for Trump would be the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its regulation of greenhouse gases through the Clean Power Plan. Trump has already appointed a prominent climate sceptic – Myron Ebell – to lead his transition teal at EPA.

One possibility is that the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry up to 730,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada’s oil sands to the US, could be put back on the table after being turned down by President Obama in 2015. The Washington Post has speculated that a move back to fossil fuels could set back Tesla and the electric car industry.

The Science Media Centre guides us to these aspects of Trump’s election and what it could mean for science as covered by US media:

Scientific American: What Trump’s Surprise Victory Could Mean for Science
The Washington Post: Obamacare’s future in critical condition with Trump’s victory
ABC News: Trump Win Raises Questions About US Pledge in Climate Deal
The Conversation: What President Trump means for the future of energy and climate
Nature: Donald Trump’s US election win stuns scientists
The Washington Post: Trump’s victory shocks international climate negotiations
Newsweek: Trump: The most anti-science president ever?
Scientific American: No Plan B at Climate Talks, Given Trump Win
The Washington Post: Trump victory reverses U.S. energy and environmental priorities
Science: The U.S. election is over. Who will hold key science leadership jobs?
Scientific American: How Quickly Could Obamacare Be Erased?
Nature: How scientists reacted to the US election results
The Washington Post: What will President Trump mean for science?
Science: What Trump can—and can’t—do all by himself on climate
National Geographic: The Global Dangers of Trump’s Climate Denial
The Atlantic: What President Trump Will Mean for Earth’s Climate
The Washington Post: Now that Trump has won, TransCanada wants to give Keystone XL pipeline another try
New Scientist: President Trump means we can’t escape a dangerously warmer world
The Washington Post: Trump’s sweep could be a big setback to Tesla and Elon Musk

Climate change will require land-use change to keep up with global food demand, study finds

A study led by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that much of the land now used to grow wheat, maize and rice is vulnerable to the effects of climate team.

Without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the main growing areas and production will be forced to move to new areas.

The world population is projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years. The amount of food produced globally to feed them must double.

The study says the effects of climate change could lead to a major drop in productivity in the main growing areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously-unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of global food production.

Published this month in Nature Communications, the study uses a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.

The results show:

  • Nearly half of all maize produced in the world (43%), and a third of all wheat and rice (33% and 37% respectively), is grown in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  • Croplands in tropical areas, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Eastern US, are likely to experience the most drastic reductions in their potential to grow these crops
  • Croplands in temperate areas, including western and central Russia and central Canada, are likely to experience an increase in yield potential, leading to many new opportunities for agriculture

While the effects of climate change are usually expected to be greatest in the world’s poorest areas, this study suggests that developed countries may be equally affected.

Efforts to increase food production usually focus on closing the yield gap, which means minimising the difference between what could potentially be grown on a given area of land and what is actually harvested. Highly developed countries already have a very small yield gap, so the negative effects of climate change on potential yield are likely to be felt more acutely in these areas.

“Our model shows that on many areas of land currently used to grow crops, the potential to improve yields is greatly decreased as a result of the effects of climate change,” says lead researcher and University of Birmingham academic Dr Tom Pugh.

“But it raises an interesting opportunity for some countries in temperate areas, where the suitability of climate to grow these major crops is likely to increase over the same time period.”

The political, social and cultural effects of these major changes to the distribution of global cropland would be profound, as currently productive regions become net importers and vice versa.

But climate is just one factor when looking at the future of global agricultural practices, Pugh said.

Local factors such as soil quality and water availability also have a significant effect on crop yields in real terms.

Production of the world’s three major cereal crops nevertheless must keep up with demand. If this can’t be done  by making existing land more efficient, the only other option is to increase the amount of land that is used.

Climate change scientist raises concerns about models of future warming

Dr David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme, has questioned whether models of future warming have failed to predict the high temperatures recorded this year because they are under-estimating how hot the world will get.

He was responding to news that the planet’s record-breaking temperatures every month of this year has taken scientists by surprise.

The first six months of this year averaged 1.3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, compared to the ambition agreed at the Paris climate summit in December to limit warming to as close to 1.5C as possible.

This news and Dr Carlson’s concerns were reported here by The Independent.

“What concerns me most is that we didn’t anticipate these temperature jumps,” Dr Carlson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We predicted moderate warmth for 2016, but nothing like the temperature rises we’ve seen.

“Massive temperature hikes, but also extreme events like floodings, have become the new normal.”

The WCRP was set up by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organisation in 1980.

As The Independent reports, scientists have expressed concerns at a number of tipping points that could dramatically increase the rate of warming.

For example, the melting of ice at the poles reduces the amount of sunlight that is reflected with the darker water or land absorbing more of the sun’s energy and increasing the temperature.

Experts have warned the warming in the Arctic – far higher than the global average – could have a “possibly catastrophic” effect on the number of dangerous storms in the northern hemisphere.

Vast amounts of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – that has been frozen for thousands of years in the tundra of Siberia has also started to be released as it melts. Methane has also been seen bubbling to the surface in the ocean off the northern coast of Russia following dramatic reductions in sea ice cover.

Dr Carlson said the question is shifting from ‘has the climate changed?’ to ‘by how much?’

“Statistically we need to get better at predicting not only how frequent and intense these events will be – but how long they will last.”

But world leaders making serious commitments to tackle climate change “are currently few and far between.”

In Britain, within days of taking office Prime Minister Theresa May decided to scrap the post of Energy and Climate Change Secretary from the Cabinet and the associated government department.

Climate change is now the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Business Secretary Greg Clark.