Amid higher global temperatures, sea ice at record lows at both poles

CNN reports: For what appears to be the first time since scientists began keeping track, sea ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic are at record lows this time of year.

“It looks like, since the beginning of October, that for the first time we are seeing both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice running at record low levels,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist with the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who has tracked sea ice data going back to 1979.

While record low sea ice is nothing new in the Arctic, this is a surprising turn of events for the Antarctic. Even as sea ice in the Arctic has seen a rapid and consistent decline over the past decade, its counterpart in the Southern Hemisphere has seen its extent increasing.

In fact, each year from 2012 through 2014 reached a record high for Antarctic sea ice extent. Skeptics have long pointed to ice gain in the Southern Hemisphere as evidence climate change wasn’t occurring, but scientists warned that it was caused by natural variations and circulations in the atmosphere.

While it is too early to know if the recent, rapid decline in Antarctic sea ice is going to be a regular occurrence like in the Arctic, it “certainly puts the kibosh on everyone saying that Antarctica’s ice is just going up and up,” Meier said. [Continue reading…]

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NASA’s indispensable role in climate research

Adam Frank writes: On April 1, 1960, the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration heaved a 270-pound box of electronics into Earth orbit. In those days, getting anything into space was a major achievement. But the real significance of that early satellite, Tiros-1, was not its survival, but its mission: Its sensors were not pointed outward toward deep space, but downward, at the Earth.

Tiros-1 was the first world’s first weather satellite. After its launch, Americans would never again be caught without warning as storms approached.

This small piece of history says a lot about the call by Bob Walker, an adviser to President-elect Donald J. Trump who worked with his campaign on space policy, to defund NASA’s earth science efforts, moving those functions to other agencies and letting it focus on deep-space research. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission,” he told The Guardian.

NASA critics have long wanted to shut the agency out of research related to climate change. The problem is, not only is earth science a long-running part of NASA’s “prime mission,” but it is uniquely positioned to do it. Without NASA, climate research worldwide would be hobbled. [Continue reading…]

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Eyes in the sky: Cutting NASA Earth observations would be a costly mistake

By David Titley, Pennsylvania State University

Donald Trump’s election is generating much speculation about how his administration may or may not reshape the federal government. On space issues, a senior Trump advisor, former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Walker, has called for ending NASA earth science research, including work related to climate change. Walker contends that NASA’s proper role is deep-space research and exploration, not “politically correct environmental monitoring.”

This proposal has caused deep concern for many in the climate science community, including people who work directly for NASA and others who rely heavily on NASA-produced data for their research. Elections have consequences, and it is an executive branch prerogative to set priorities and propose budgets for federal agencies. However, President-elect Trump and his team should think very carefully before they recommend canceling or defunding any of NASA’s current Earth-observing missions.

We can measure the Earth as an entire system only from space. It’s not perfect – you often need to look through clouds and the atmosphere – but there is no substitute for monitoring the planet from pole to pole over land and water. These data are vital to maintaining our economy, ensuring our safety both at home and abroad, and quite literally being an “eye in the sky” that gives us early warning of changes to come. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, there’s no free lunch. If NASA is not funded to support these missions, additional dollars will need to flow into NOAA and other agencies to fill the gap.

[Read more…]

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Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it

George Monbiot writes: Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.

Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.

I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.

Among those I clashed with was Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI calls itself a thinktank, but looks to me like a corporate lobbying group. It is not transparent about its funding, but we now know it has received $2m from ExxonMobil, more than $4m from a group called the Donors Trust (which represents various corporations and billionaires), $800,000 from groups set up by the tycoons Charles and David Koch, and substantial sums from coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. [Continue reading…]

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Arctic ice melt could trigger uncontrollable climate change at global level

The Guardian reports: Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate denial is just one of the forces that point towards war

George Monbiot writes: Wave the magic wand and the problem goes away. Those pesky pollution laws, carbon caps and clean-power plans: swish them away and the golden age of blue-collar employment will return. This is Donald Trump’s promise, in his video message on Monday, in which the US president-elect claimed that unleashing coal and fracking would create “many millions of high-paid jobs”. He will tear down everything to make it come true.

But it won’t come true. Even if we ripped the world to pieces in the search for full employment, leaving no mountain unturned, we would not find it. Instead, we would merely jeopardise the prosperity – and the lives – of people everywhere. However slavishly governments grovel to corporate Luddism, they will not bring the smog economy back.

No one can deny the problem Trump claims to be addressing. The old mining and industrial areas are in crisis throughout the rich world. And we have seen nothing yet. I have just reread the study published by the Oxford Martin School in 2013 on the impacts of computerisation. What jumps out, to put it crudely, is that jobs in the rust belts and rural towns that voted for Trump are at high risk of automation, while the professions of many Hillary Clinton supporters are at low risk.

The jobs most likely to be destroyed are in mining, raw materials, manufacturing, transport and logistics, cargo handling, warehousing and retailing, construction (prefabricated buildings will be assembled by robots in factories), office support, administration and telemarketing. So what, in the areas that voted for Trump, will be left?

Farm jobs have mostly gone already. Service and care work, where hope for some appeared to lie, will be threatened by a further wave of automation, as service robots – commercial and domestic – take over.

Yes, there will be jobs in the green economy: more and better than any that could be revived in the fossil economy. But they won’t be enough to fill the gaps, and many will be in the wrong places for those losing their professions. [Continue reading…]

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Five reasons why cutting NASA’s climate research would be a colossal mistake

By James Dyke, University of Southampton

Will President Trump really slash funding of NASA’s “politicised” climate change science?

It certainly has been politicised, but not by the scientists conducting it. Blame instead the fossil fuel industry-funded lobby groups and politicians that have for more than a generation tried using doubt, obfuscation or straightforward untruths to argue that humans are not in fact causing significant changes to the climate.

That is what must irk Trump’s team of sceptics. NASA’s organisations such as the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have made seminal contributions to our understanding of how humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All funded by the US taxpayer.

De-funding NASA’s climate change science is effectively sticking your fingers in your ears and whistling Dixie. The Earth’s climate is indifferent to politics and will continue to respond to human emissions of greenhouse gases. All that would happen is US leadership in this area would end, with the risk that not just America but humanity would be the loser.

Specifically, here are five reasons why de-funding (aka wilfully destroying) NASA’s climate change research would be colossally stupid.

[Read more…]

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Why China and Europe should form the world’s most powerful ‘climate bloc’

Christian Downie, UNSW Australia

It seems almost certain that US President-elect Donald Trump will walk away from the Paris climate agreement next year. In the absence of US leadership, the question is: who will step up?

Sadly this is not a new question, and history offers some important lessons. In 2001 the world faced a similar dilemma. After former vice-president Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush, the newly inaugurated president walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, the previous global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That sent shockwaves around the world, and left nations facing a choice about what to do in the United States’ absence – something they may face again next year. The choice was made more difficult because the US withdrawal made it less likely that the Kyoto Protocol would ever come into force as a legally binding agreement.

However, Europe quickly picked up the baton. Faced with a US president who had abdicated all responsibility to lead or even participate in the global emissions-reduction effort, the European Union led a remarkable diplomatic bid to save Kyoto.

To the surprise of many people, especially in the United States, this diplomatic push brought enough countries on board to save the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in 2005 following Russia’s ratification.

[Read more…]

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Trump to scrap NASA climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.

This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is a threat to the Paris agreement. Can states like California defend it?

Adam McGibbon writes: There’s no point hiding from it – Donald Trump’s election should give us all concern for our future and the future of our children.

The chances of successfully mitigating climate change and holding global temperature increases to below a manageable 1.5 degree rise has nosedived. Trump, a man who believes that climate change is a “hoax”, wants to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. Even if that ends up taking time, he can decimate US federal agencies engaged in efforts to move to a greener society. He will probably cancel Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and slash federal funding for renewable energy.

It’s not for nothing that Noam Chomsky has said that the Republican party is now “the most dangerous organization in world history.” Their commitment to collaborating in climate change denial – and therefore, the destruction of our futures – is absolute, and they will now control the White House, Congress and the supreme court. [Continue reading…]

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The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends

The Washington Post reports: Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic.

It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

But in fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia. [Continue reading…]

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We can fix climate change, but only if we refuse to abandon hope

Zoe Williams writes: When it looked like the news couldn’t get any worse, it did: worse in a way that dwarfed our petty elections and clueless, pendulum analyses, worse in a way that dusted the present with the irrelevance of history. In the journal Science Advances, five of the world’s most eminent climatologists warned of the possibility that warming may be significantly worse than we thought. Previous consensus was that the Earth’s average temperature would go up by between 2.6C – life-altering but manageable – and 4.8C – cataclysmic. Now, the range suggested by one projection goes up to 7.4C, which is “game over” by the 22nd century.

It relates to the US because their incoming president has promised actively, determinedly to bring about the worst-case scenario, acting on the now familiar, pre-enlightenment logic that because it’s beyond the limits of his intellect to comprehend it, climate change doesn’t exist. But it relates to, or rather clarifies, things on a deeper level.

Rational American citizens are, post-Trump, going through the same grief trajectory as many of us did after Brexit: the debate is all fierce conjecture about how they lost, whom they failed to listen to, whose anger had been ignored and by which people for how many decades. But underneath that is a profound crisis of civic engagement – a deep, agonising question: what is the point? If reason doesn’t matter, if truth doesn’t, if solidarity is for wimps, if experts are charlatans, what’s the point of getting involved in this circus?

Paul Krugman identifies it as a creed of quietism, conceding: “It’s definitely tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell, but that there’s nothing you can do about it, so why not just make your own garden grow?” Ultimately, he chooses engagement to save the soul: “I don’t see how you can hang on to your own self-respect unless you’re willing to stand up for the truth.” The American journalist Nancy LeTourneau took it one step further and tried to find a positive in the powerlessness, via Gandhi: “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it.” [Continue reading…]

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