At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud: New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada. For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and [...]
Posts Tagged Canada
NZ Herald’s turn to offer propaganda as opinion – De Freitas’ links to cranks hidden from readers Sep 12Join the conversation at Hot Topic
The new “compact” NZ Herald has taken a downmarket tabloid approach to informing its readers by running an opinion piece about the recent courtroom defeat for NZ’s climate cranks by prominent climate sceptic and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas, without explaining de Freitas’ long history of association with the cranks he’s defending. In the article, de Freitas overstates the uncertainties associated with temperature records, even going so far as to imply that the warming trend over the last hundred years might be “indistinguishable from zero”1. He also overplays the importance of temperature series to policy-makers — a line straight out of crank litigant Barry Brill’s playbook, and self-evident nonsense.
Despite this transparent partiality, the opinion editors at the Herald credit him like this:
Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland.
But, as the Herald opinion team well know, de Freitas is much, much more than a mere associate professor in the School of Environment. He has a track record of activism against action on climate change that stretches back two decades. Here, for the poor misled readers of the new Herald‘s opinion pages is a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to de Freitas’ long history of climate denial activism.
- Chris de Freitas (CdF) was a “science adviser” to the NZ Climate Science Coalition when it launched, and continues to provide advice today.
- CdF is a “consultant science adviser” to NZ CSC spin-off the International Climate Science Coalition.
- CdF holds “advisory” positions with other right wing think tanks in North America, and in 2006 worked with the Competitive Enterprise Insitute on a submission to the US Supreme Court arguing against regulations on carbon emissions.
- Both the NZ CSC and ICSC received funding from the far-right US group the Heartland Institute while CdF was their science adviser.
- CdF is listed as a “Heartland climate expert”
- CdF has addressed Heartland climate sceptic networking “conferences” in the USA and Australia.
- CdF was a co-author on the infamous McLean et al (where al is Bob Carter) paper purporting to show that ENSO drove global warming2, and was happy to misrepresent the paper’s conclusions to the media.
- CdF resigned as an editor at Climate Research after providing years of “pal review” for prominent sceptics such as Patrick Michaels.
- The Herald‘s own investigation showed that de Freitas was teaching climate denial to first year students.
- A Hot Topic investigation showed that in that course he was using material sourced from US think tanks, blog sites and even graphs prepared by fringe UK political activists.
- CdF has a long history of climate denial activism in other countries, especially Canada.
This long list is far from complete — not least because it doesn’t include all the sceptic nonsense he’s presented as opinion at the NZ Herald and National Business Review over the years3, but it should serve to give a flavour of the man that Herald readers might think was a humble and respectable geographer at the University of Auckland.
The Herald has no excuse for failing to explain de Freitas’ interests in this issue, and should print a clarification as soon as possible. Carrying a good piece by Brian Rudman may “balance” CdF’s effort in some eyes, but the paper really needs to do better. What next? An opinion piece criticising the Labour party by prime minister John Key, where he is described as “a retired banker”?
[Updated 13/9 to add CEI link, and CdF's publication record.]
- “Temperature trends detected are small, usually just a few tenths of one degree Celsius over 100 years, a rate that is exceeded by the data’s standard error. Statistically this means the trend is indistinguishable from zero.”
- It didn’t.
- A rough count suggests that since 1990 he has published around 77 opinion
pieces about climate change – with 32 in NBR and 27 in the Herald – partial publication record here.
Coal controversy continues May 04Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Two North American pieces I’ve read this week appealed to me for their directness about the export of coal. One, via James Hansen, was a letter from a Canadian group to Warren Buffet, informing him of their intention this Saturday to prevent coal trains from his BNSF railway company from passing through White Rock, British Columbia to deliver their coal to coastal ports for export to Asia. May 5th is the chosen date because it has been designated an international day of action by 350.org.
We are a group of citizens in British Columbia, Canada who are deeply concerned about the risk of runaway climate change. There is a broad scientific consensus that we must begin to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. At the same time, governments and industry are eager to increase the production and export of fossil fuels, the very things that will ensure climate change gets worse.
These two things are irreconcilable, and since we can’t dispute the scientific findings or change the laws of nature, those of us who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels — especially coal.
Since we know what is at stake we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to help prevent this looming disaster. On Saturday May 5th that means stopping your coal trains from reaching our ports.
Our actions will be peaceful, non-violent, and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.
They acknowledge Buffet has cancelled plans to have his utilities build coal fired power plants. They also acknowledge his recent call for the super-rich in the US to pay more tax.
But with all respect sir, when it comes to climate change it appears that other people are doing all the suffering while you profit from the very causes of the problem. That’s not fair, and we urge you to apply the same moral reasoning to the climate crisis as you have to the problem of economic inequality in your country.
You are in many ways an important figure of conscience in the world. We appeal to you to seize this opportunity and make a bold decision on coal. With your support we can ensure a healthy future for our children and people around the world.
The other piece of writing was a blog by KC Golden, policy director of Climate Solutions. In it he discusses the question of tactics in communicating the climate message and stresses the importance of not overdoing tactical manoeuvres to the point of avoiding the direct statements that the seriousness of climate change demands. In this context he says this about the export of coal from the US:
In the coal export battle, we often confront the question ’Somebody’s going ship the coal to Asia, so why shouldn’t we get the [purported] economic benefits?’ We can’t definitively promise that if we stop a particular coal export terminal, the same coal won’t be shipped from somewhere else. But we can and should make the case that the whole damned business is wrong — not just environmentally costly but unconscionable — no matter what anyone else does. And we can only make that case if we lean into the climate conversation. We can’t draw a credible moral line in the sand — let alone get more folks on the right side of it — if we avoid or minimize the climate implications.
These pieces of writing struck me as relevant to New Zealand. Raise the question of the export of fossil fuels with a Minister in this country and the reply you get is that we are responsible only for our own emissions, not for those of other countries. That’s an intolerable evasion of the central issue. If we are going to mine and export fossil fuels we should say that we accept full responsibility for the fact that they will be burned somewhere and will add to the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Then we know what we are talking about and what is to be debated.
There are complexities around the issue, of course. The exploitation of fossil fuels can’t be halted overnight. But it’s a far cry to claim that means we can count on our fossil fuel reserves for a good slice of our future prosperity. The Government must continually be challenged on the ethics of such a position.
Hansen’s righteous cause Apr 19Join the conversation at Hot Topic
The latest communication from James Hansen to his email list this week was a sharp reminder that the New Zealand Government’s commitment to the pursuit of unexploited fossil fuels is part of widespread malpractice.
The global stampede to find every possible fossil fuel is not being opposed by governments, no matter how dirty the fuels nor how senseless the energy strategy is from long-term economic and moral perspectives.
The specific case that Hansen focuses on is the Alberta tar sands. He has some chilling statistics.
Alberta tar sands are estimated to be 240 GtC (gigatons of carbon); see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) Working Group 3 report. That is about seven times greater than the cumulative historical CO2 emissions from oil use by the U.S. (36 GtC). U.S. oil use was 28% of global oil use for the cumulative amounts over the past 200 years. So Alberta tar sands contain about twice the total amount of carbon emitted by global oil use in history.
This is the resource that the Canadian government is bent on exploiting for its claimed benefit to the economy. It may be far larger than anything New Zealand’s exploration is likely to reveal, but the same economic justification is offered by the NZ government for its commitment to find and exploit every last bit of fossil fuel that can be tracked down. The same too is the silence about what the burning of the fuel will mean for the global climate.
Hansen finds some comfort in a letter sent this week by the Norwegian Grandparent’s Climate Campaign, supported by 27 other organisations, to the partially state-owned Norwegian company Statoil urging it to withdraw its substantial funding for the Alberta tar sands project. Statoil’s heavy involvement in the tar sands project is another example of a government which professes, and to some degree practices, engagement in emissions reduction but in contradiction allows its largely state-owned company to engage in the pursuit of unconventional oil.
A letter from a grandparents’ organisation seems unlikely to have much effect and Hansen acknowledges as much.
Given the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on governments worldwide and their effective campaigns to misinform the public, this may seem to be a small step.
But as a motivated grandparent himself he holds fast to the importance of continuing to assert the moral imperative to move away from fossil fuel energy:
But do not underestimate the potential of people dedicated to a righteous cause to initiate a broader public recognition and understanding of where the public’s interest lies.
Righteous cause has an old-fashioned ring to it. I can hear the snorts of realpolitik practitioners. But Hansen is right to see this as a fundamentally ethical issue. It is also not hopeless to advance it on that basis. Not all of society is heedless of morality.
Note: The picture at the head of this post was supplied to Hansen by one of the grandparents, with the accompanying note:
I am enclosing a photo from today’s presentation by Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign – GCC to Statoil main office in Oslo of letter signed by 28 organizations and political parties demanding that Statoil withdraw from Canadian tar sand. Grandparent Bente Bakke was joined by Anne Dalberg, chair of the Sami Church Council. Norway’s First Nation – the Sami – showing solidarity with Canadian First Nations. Money may rule, but morals may be stronger!
Early Warming Jan 05Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Nancy Lord is a writer who has spent her adult life in Alaska. In her new book, Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North, she tells the stories of people and places and natural environments on whom climate change is impacting in her part of the world. She is climate science savvy, understanding why ’in the north we live with disappearing sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, drying wetlands, dying trees and changing landscapes, unusual animal sightings, and strange weather events’.
The science is woven into a narrative of her visits to people living in the midst of the change, some of them tracking the changes, some facing the challenge of re-shaping their lives to adapt to what is happening. Always the landscape figures strongly as the writer communicates a lively sense of place, whether in the wild or in the crumbling coastal villages where the people wonder what the uncertain future holds for their communities.
In her own region of the Kenai Peninsula a crucial question is what the rising temperatures in the streams mean for the survival of the salmon which are such an important part of the local economy. Salmon are adaptive, but the changes to both freshwater and marine conditions are happening so rapidly and on such scale that the possibility of fishery collapse looms. Lord spends time with a stream ecologist measuring rises in stream temperatures and incidentally noticing the vast damage done to spruce forests by the spruce bark beetles which have flourished under the warming temperatures. Kenai wetlands generally are drying. Areas once dominated by herbaceous plants have been converting to shrub land, an invasion unique in the last eighteen thousand years and accelerating.
Lord travels into the remote Mackenzie Mountains of Canada’s Northwest Territories to look at the boreal forest region, that massive wilderness storehouse of carbon that circles the Northern Hemisphere. A ten day raft and canoe trip down the Mountain River led her party to the Mackenzie River Valley. Some promising conservation efforts are slowly moving ahead, but the development with which it is being ’balanced’, particularly in the form of an eight-hundred-mile-long pipeline to carry natural gas from Arctic gas fields to Alberta, moves more quickly. The irony of such a balance, which reminded me of the New Zealand government’s rhetoric, is difficult to miss. However the indigenous population who are urging conservation first seemingly also hope to share in the profits which will accrue from the pipeline. In this section of the book Lord focuses as well on the permafrost and the huge amount, including that in the Mackenzie River Valley, which is now within two degrees Fahrenheit of thawing, with all the potential release of carbon that represents.
’O Canada, I thought with trepidation. Can your few people stand up to the power of corporations and the lure of economic development?’
Sea ice and the bears whose habitat it provides is the subject of another section of the book, when Lord spends a week with teacher friends in Kaktovik village on Barter Island in the Beaufort Sea. It was winter, but there was sufficient light for a three hour walk along the beach before early afternoon dusk. The coastal erosion was obvious. It’s always a factor along this coast, but Lord points out how the warming climate exacerbates it in two ways: thawing permafrost loosens the earth and the loss of sea ice leaves coastline open to sea action, especially storms. She dwells on the frightening implications of the acceleration of sea ice summer melt, remarking that white sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun’s heat whereas blue water absorbs about 90 percent. She patiently explains the effects on the polar bear population for which the village is famous. The 300 Inupiat who inhabit the village are threatened by the washing away of the land. Lord reflects on the young people of the school she had spoken with:
’They may see within their lifetimes physical changes that, in earlier eras, took place over thousands of years. All of them will have to decide how, and where, and for what, they’ll live.’
The Alaskan village most famous as a victim of climate change is Shishmaref, and Lord records a visit during which she was taken to Tin Creek, the preferred mainland location for a new site for the island village under severe siege from the sea. But possible relocation is a long tedious business, and the conclusion is by no means assured. The cost is great and the impediments many. And Shishmaref is only one of six villages on the ’immediate action’ list. For that matter the vast majority of the 213 villages in Alaska are seriously affected by erosion and flooding. It’s not hard to believe the US will avoid the issue and simply wait for the villagers to finally disperse when the anxieties and strains become too great, surrendering their community bonds and culture. Lord records that she was often asked direct questions when she met villagers, such as ’What do you think of us?’ She interprets them as in part an expression of pride but also in part a show of insecurity: Do we matter? Are we important enough to save? Is anyone going to help?
Finally the book turns to the oceanic realm, specifically the Bering Sea. It sketches a complex picture. Fishing management in the face of pressure to allow bottom trawling is demanding enough but it assumes added complexity from the changes in sea ice cover and the movement of species as the region warms and a primarily cold Arctic ecosystem changes rapidly to sub-Arctic conditions. Lord movingly records a gathering of tribal elders to share their perspectives and local knowledge with field scientists. She also reminds readers that the climate change threats becoming apparent in the Bering Sea’s rich ecosystem extend in a variety of ways to the oceans which cover three quarters of the earth and house 90 percent of the planet’s biomass. The effects of ocean acidification, on track by the century’s end to be at a level last seen more than 20 million years ago, are highlighted in her descriptions of the work of scientists measuring the pH of Alaskan seawater, ’already low enough to be corrosive to shell building’. One of the scientists declares:
’Alaska will be ground zero for ocean acidification, just as it is for climate change.’
There is no hype in Lord’s book. The many human stories which it touches on are respectful of the capacity of the people involved to respond to the challenges that face them. The threats to whole eco-systems are described in restrained terms. The book takes pleasure in the landscapes and peoples of the north. But there is no mistaking the magnitude of the changes that are upon them, or the ever-growing threat from the fossil fuels that continue to be tapped even in a region so gravely threatened by their exploitation. Alaska’s congressional representative dismisses global warming as a myth and champions the production of fossil fuels.
Against the bluster of denial, Nancy Lord’s sane, educated and humane writing chronicles the reality that is already upon us in a key region of the planet.
Canadian investigative journalist William Marsden doesn’t hide his anguish or his anger as he reports the maddening incapacity of political leaders and negotiators to come to terms with climate change. Nor should he. It’s a sorry story he has to tell in his new book Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change. Marsden’s book treats three sobering realities. One is the science. He writes of the utter desperation of scientists ’as they pile proof upon proof only to see it disappear into the smoke of denial or crash against the excuse of political and economic expediency’. He fully grasps the scientific picture and the mounting threats it points to. Regarding the work of glaciologists as fundamental to understanding climate change, he has buttressed his acquaintance with the science by spending time with working scientists in the Canadian Arctic. Last year glaciologist Martin Sharp agreed to Marsden tagging along with his team working on the Devon Island ice cap. Consequently the book includes a lively narrative of the conditions under which those scientists work when on the ice. He leaves the reader in no doubt that the science is ’overwhelming and frightening’.
The second reality is that the nations of the world in a position to profit financially from continuing development of fossil fuels seem determined to carry on doing so, in spite of any lip service they pay to combating climate change. Indeed, if the enticements look right they’ll back away from tackling climate change in any meaningful way as Marsden’s own country Canada has done under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Marsden is scathing of Harper’s retreat from what once looked like a promising start to the transformation of the energy grid to clean technology under the Liberals.
Nowhere is the determination to carry on with the exploitation of fossil fuel resources more apparent than in the deliberations of the Arctic Five — Canada, Russia, the US, Norway and Denmark — over the possibilities opened up by a warmer Arctic. Marsden points out that they could pledge to chart a new course for the world that steers away from further polluting the atmospheric space. But there is no sign that such a possibility has even entered their heads. They remain consumed by ’the cosmic wheel of materialistic self-interest, personal wealth accumulation, and economic competition. They feel these are forces they cannot stop even if they wanted to’. These nations are not alone in looking to the continued exploitation of fossil fuel resources. Australia plans to double coal exports at the same time as undertaking a modest reduction of emissions by 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Marsden doesn’t cover New Zealand, but our government, similarly modest in its emission reduction targets, loudly proclaims its intention to prospect for and develop fossil fuel sources as a means of increasing our national prosperity.
Marsden doesn’t exempt China or India from responsibility in this matter. ’The point is, there are no good guys in this story. We all ultimately have to be held accountable. No country gets a pass.’ But he immediately acknowledges that this doesn’t absolve us of a moral responsibility to look to the welfare of poorer countries.
In the light of the widespread intention to continue in the discovery and use of fossil fuels it’s not surprising that the third reality Marsden highlights is that international negotiations are going nowhere. The science is not totally ignored by the nations of the world. Indeed by the most threatened among them it is all too apparent that its warnings are already being realised. But they are not big players on the international negotiating scene and can be bullied into the appearance of acquiescence in agreements which take little account of their plight. International negotiations are presented as a response to the science of climate change, but as Marsden has seen in his attendance at international meetings since 2009 many participants are so absorbed in the protection of what they see as their national economic interests that it seems almost impossible that anything can come of all the talk.
When you are at the table and you are negotiating a bit more tons, or a bit less, it’s insignificant compared with what you would need to do if you believe all these scientists
Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh was quite explicit: ’I went to Copenhagen not to save the world. I went to Copenhagen to protect India’s national interest… India’s right to foster economic growth.’ Marsden reports US negotiator Jonathan Pershing’s obsessive focus on what he regards as the politically possible, never mind that climate change is, in Marsden’s words, ’a rising sea, a tsunami, an earthquake, a hurricane, a flood, a drought that sweeps away society’s backup plans’. The gap between what is required and what is regarded as possible is very wide. A former Canadian environment minister said to Marsden ’When you are at the table and you are negotiating a bit more tons, or a bit less, it’s insignificant compared with what you would need to do if you believe all these scientists’.
Marsden was at Copenhagen and CancÃºn and some of the in-between meetings. He exposes the Copenhagen Accord for the face-saving expedient it was and concludes of CancÃºn: ’In a world smothered in lies, CancÃºn bamboozled with the best.’ His reportage of the details of the conferences builds an ample foundation for such judgements. It’s a sad chronicle of avoidance and delay in the face of inexorably advancing climate change, and it is the powerful countries which are most responsible. American intransigence is highlighted, ’leading everyone in a race to the bottom’, partly because they know they could never get a climate change treaty through the Senate.
The domestic scenes in the US and Canada receive special attention in the course of the book. The failure of the American climate bill to proceed in the Senate showed that oil, coal and gas companies were the masters of the senate. For a time it also looked as if they would succeed in their support of Proposition 23 in California which would have effectively put a stop to California’s legislative attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Marsden tells the story of their campaign, with their failure one of the few bright spots in the generally grim picture his book paints. In Canada fossil fuel interests have successfully thwarted effective emission reduction regulations with unrelenting lobby pressure. The massive tar sands projects has led the government to make the unproven technology of carbon capture and storage a cornerstone of its carbon reduction strategy in a country with ideal resources for renewable energy.
Climate change ’is poised to roll over our capitalist world with a furious vengeance’
The three contradictory realities surrounding climate change cannot continue to co-exist. Marsden in conclusion points out that climate change ’is poised to roll over our capitalist world with a furious vengeance’. We have so far met it with a monumental political failure. We have allowed our political system to be ’hijacked by corporations and run by liars and propagandists’. It may be a lame hope to imagine the same politicians awarding legitimacy to scientific and technical experts and framing a new world vision accordingly. But it’s the only hope we have, and our brains do have an amazing ability to chart new courses, if we will use them.
If an appeal to human intelligence is all we have left Marsden is certainly a worthy advocate. His book is a thorough journalistic exposure of the denial which currently undermines our political negotiations and an affirmation of the primacy of the science which points to inescapable climate change.
In a rational world the notion that Canadian tar sands oil is ‘ethical’ by comparison with oil from many other sources would be laughable. But I wrote earlier this year that the Canadian Conservation Minister Peter Kent used the term with some emphasis in his defence of the tar sands operation. This week I read that it’s now being vigorously promoted through a website EthicalOil.org launched by Alykhan Velshi, a neocon lawyer who until recently was the communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. He was also an important part of the Conservative Party election campaign operation.
Leo Hickman in the Guardian article which drew my attention to the website remarked that considering his tender age (he’s 27) Velshi seems to be remarkably well-versed in the dark arts of spin and misdirection. As Hickman describes, the website divides oil producing countries into goodies and baddies.
’Countries that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians. Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries. Some Conflict Oil regimes even support terrorism.’
The same logic is applied to the environmental concerns surrounding tar sands oil:
’In an ethical country like Canada, we obviously take the environment a lot more seriously than the Chinese regime does: it’s why we hear so much concern about the oil sands carbon footprint from NGOs, politicians and in the media. You won’t hear nearly as much criticism in China, or Venezuela, for that matter. The fact that Canadians care so much about the planet – and that we have the freedom to express our concerns – is one of the many reasons that we know Canada is a more ethically minded country than most.’
The question of the emissions level of the operation is virtually dismissed by the claim that emissions associated with the extraction of the oil total just over one-hundredth of one percent of all the greenhouse gases going up into the atmosphere.
There’s no specific climate change denial involved. The site speaks often of the need to reduce carbon footprint, and claims that the extraction methods being developed on the tar sands do exactly that. But there’s also no questioning of oil mining per se. It appears to be taken for granted that mining and burning oil can go on unhindered by concerns about what the burning of that oil will mean for greenhouse gas concentrations. Not that Velshi is out of line in such a view, which seems to be shared by many of the world’s governments. Few of them seem prepared to eschew oil exploration and mining. Gross though the promotion of the Alberta oil sands is on this website, it’s hardly out on a limb in the broad scheme of oil exploitation.
I hold no brief for Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record the website attacks. But the real issue is not where oil is produced but whether we should be pursuing it to the last drop before we turn away from using it at all. Common sense tells us to stop as soon as we possibly can. The advocates of tar sand extraction and deep sea drilling tell us there’s no hurry, and the companies involved make ever greater profits while we delay.
It’s absurd to describe any oil as ethical. We may have to go on using it for a while yet but we should do so with reluctance and with determination to replace it with renewable energy sources as quickly as we can. The more of it we can leave in the ground the better. Perhaps that’s the one kind of oil that could legitimately be called ethical.
Generation Us Jun 12Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Andrew Weaver is a notable Canadian climate scientist. He’s recently written a short book for the general reader to give an easily understandable account of the science of human-caused climate change, to explain its impacts and to suggest solutions. The book is published as one of the Rapid Reads series by Raven Books. It’s titled Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming — and if you’re wondering what the title means, it’s a contrast with Generation Me and signifies the moral dimension of tackling climate change.
His account of the science is straightforward. He explains the natural volcanic sources of carbon dioxide and points out that human activities are emitting between 100 and 200 times the amount released by volcanoes and at a very rapid rate. Tens of millions of years of storage of carbon dioxide in coal, oil and natural gas is being returned to the atmosphere in a few decades.
Weaver is a climate modeller, and he includes an illuminating brief account of the ways climate models work, imagining a scaled replica of Earth, its ocean and its atmosphere, made from Lego bricks, with the exchanges between the adjoining bricks represented by millions of equations. He stresses the importance of testing models against observed twentieth-century climate, and explains how they show that natural variability is incapable of explaining the late twentieth-century warming.
Current warming, warming still in the pipeline, sea level rise, changing patterns of precipitation and the likelihood of mass ecological extinctions are carefully described as consequences of the rise in greenhouse gases. Species extinction is high on the list of his concerns and he spells out the percentages relative to the temperature rise we allow.
Moving on to the question Why Should I Care? Weaver suggests that it boils down to the extent to which we feel responsibility for future generations. In speaking of the consequences as future he seems to be addressing a mainly North American audience for whom the questions can still seem abstract, though he does mention African and Alaskan and Island populations which are already experiencing the results of warming. He acknowledges the difficulty for politicians elected for short terms in facing a problem for the solution of which there is no immediate benefit, and applies the theme of the tragedy of the commons. However he quietly but firmly sets out the scale of the dangers ahead, including tipping points which lead to irreversible change.
Assuming we agree that we have responsibility for the well-being of future generations Weaver moves to the question of what we can do about it, which includes at least a measure of adaptation. Technological solutions are readily available, but they are costly. Hence the supreme importance of putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the new energy technologies to compete and to drive down their prices as they become commonplace. He discusses the relative merits of caps and taxes.
How can we meet the 2 degree threshold of warming which the Copenhagen Accord affirmed? If we want a 90 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees we can now put only a further 249 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That allows less than 7 years at current levels of emissions before reducing to zero. Clearly that isn’t going to happen so he suggests accepting a 66 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees. That gives us more wiggle room in that we could add a further 1790 billion tonnes, or 49 years at current rates followed by zero. If we immediately started slowly reducing current rates of emissions we could allow ourselves around 98 years before the final step to zero.
Behavioural solutions begin with voting. Declining voter turnouts in Canada and the US don’t bode well, especially as they reflect a very low level of youth voting. He comments pointedly that the generation which is going to see the clearer manifestation of global warming is not showing up at the ballot box. Get out and vote, he says, and then mobilize support for the measures you want your elected representatives to take. And look at your own behaviour. Ask yourselves how your individual actions are affecting the livelihood of others. Embrace change creatively.
Weaver’s writing is restrained. There is not a trace of overstatement. His book is an appeal to the intelligence, and the ethical imperative which underlies it is offered, not demanded. Reasonable man though he is he has nevertheless in recent years come in for his share of savage attack from deniers. He has famously come out fighting in defence of his science and his integrity. The story of his suit against the National Post newspaper can be followed on DeSmogBlog, as can the more recent suit against Canadian climate change denier Tim Ball.
His engagement with the public is not confined to writing books. This lively presentation in a short Greenpeace video sounds some of the leading themes of the book.
The 2010 ice melt season on the Greenland ice sheet (see video) set new records, according to Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory at the City University of New York. The melt season was “exceptional”, Tedesco said. Melting in some areas lasted as much as 50 days longer than average, starting very early at the end of April and ending later than usual in mid-September. During the summer, temperatures over large parts of Greenland were as much as 3ºC above average, snowfall was below average, and the capital, Nuuk, had its warmest spring and summer since records began in 1873.
Tedesco is lead author of a paper published today, The role of albedo and accumulation in the 2010 melting record in Greenland(*), which integrates weather, satellite and ground data with modelling to build a detailed picture of the melt season. Here’s the abstract:
Analyses of remote sensing data, surface observations and output from a regional atmosphere model point to new records in 2010 for surface melt and albedo, runoff, the number of days when bare ice is exposed and surface mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet, especially over its west and southwest regions. Early melt onset in spring, triggered by above-normal near-surface air temperatures, contributed to accelerate snowpack metamorphism and premature bare ice exposure, rapidly reducing the surface albedo. Warm conditions persisted through summer, with the positive albedo feedback mechanism being a major contributor to large negative surface mass balance anomalies. Summer snowfall was below average. This helped to maintain low albedo through the 2010 melting season, which also lasted longer than usual.
Jason Box will be posting more on the extraordinary warmth of last summer in Greenland at his meltfactor.org blog soon.
Meanwhile, the summer warmth seems to be persisting through the depths of winter — even become more extreme — as this temperature anomaly map for the last month from an excellent article by Bob Henson of UCAR discusses. Those positive anomalies (in red) are as much as 21ºC above average for the time of year:
[...]Let’s take a look at Coral Harbour, located at the northwest corner of Hudson Bay in the province of Nunavut. On a typical mid-January day, the town drops to a low of —34°C (—29.2°F) and reaches a high of just -26°C (—14.8°F). Compare that to what Coral Harbour actually experienced in the first twelve days of January 2011, as reported by Environment Canada [...].
After New Year’s Day, the town went 11 days without getting down to its average daily high.
On the 6th of the month, the low temperature was —3.7°C (25.3°F). That’s a remarkable 30°C (54°F) above average.
On both the 5th and 6th, Coral Harbor inched above the freezing mark. Before this year, temperatures above 0°C (32°F) had never been recorded in the entire three months of January, February, and March.
The unseasonal warmth is associated with what Henson describes as ” a vast bubble of high pressure” which formed near Greenland in mid-December. The high was associated with record-breaking 500mb heights, a measure of the “thickness” of the atmosphere and associated with warmth below. This high helped to direct the atmospheric flows that brought Europe’s December cold spell.
With the delayed freeze-up in Hudson Bay and a warm winter on the fringes of the Greenland ice sheet, it may that 2010′s record for ice melt will not last long. And that’s not good news.
(*)Marco Tedesco, X Fettweis, MR van den Broeke, RSW van de Wal, CJPP Smeets, WJ van de Berg, MC Serreze, and Jason Box, The role of albedo and accumulation in the 2010 melting record in Greenland, Environmental Research Letters DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/1/014005. My thanks to Jason Box for the details.
Moving the earth for oil Jan 11Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Ethical oil. That’s what Canada is producing from its massive tar sands operation, according to the newly appointed Environment Minister Peter Kent. I admit to having missed that dimension in what I have read of the oil extraction from tar sands. I understood that when the CO2 emissions from its production is added to the CO2 from its combustion it emits between 10 and 45 percent more than conventional crude. I also understood that the environmental effects of the mining and extraction process are appalling, that restoration undertakings are more promised than real and that First Nation communities are gravely affected. Most telling of all I understood that according to James Hansen if the world wants to have a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change it must not only rapidly phase out coal emissions but also leave unconventional fossil fuels such as oil from tar sands in the ground.
But I didn’t understand that tar sand oil was ethical. What makes it so? The Minister explains:
’It is a regulated product in an energy superpower democracy. The profits from this oil are not used in undemocratic or unethical ways. The proceeds are used to better society in the great Canadian democracy. The wealth generated is shared with Canadians, with investors.’
He added in a subsequent interview that the Obama administration needs to be reminded that, unlike the energy it buys from other foreign suppliers, oil-sands petroleum ’is the product of a natural resource whose revenues don’t go to fund terrorism.’
So the oil is ethical because Canada is a democracy. He doesn’t actually name the countries which produce less than ethical oil, but his characterisation presumably draws on a recent book Ethical Oil by Canadian author Ezra Levant which instances Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and Sudan as much less desirable sources.
As the Globe and Mail sees it, Kent’s pitch is ’an attempt to beat back efforts by U.S. politicians and activists who want a boycott of Canada’s oil sands owing to its greenhouse-gas-heavy extraction methods and ensuing environmental damage’.
Kent complains that the product has been demonised, but in its support falls back on the sort of argument we’ve heard a lot of in New Zealand. He calls it ’relevant measurements’.
’Oil-sands production accounts, I think, for 5 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and barely 1 per cent of the equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions by American coal-fired power generators.’
Citing the tentative economic recovery, Kent said the Harper government will not impose any greenhouse-gas reductions on the oil patch that would discourage investment across the sector.
’Our focus for the next several years is going to continue to be on maintaining the economic recovery and we will do nothing in the short term which would unnecessarily compromise or threaten to compromise that recovery. It is not our intention to discourage development of one of our great natural resources. We know it can be developed responsibly.’
The Canadian government does have some intentions for emissions reductions — 17 percent down from 2005 levels by 2020. But the rules when they come will be drawn up ’with a sensitivity to maintaining a competitive situation’.
It is clear that the Canadian Government has not faced up to the fact that we can’t both successfully tackle the threat of climate change and also pursue fossil fuels to depletion. That’s the plain fact of the matter, and no amount of bluster about developing natural resources or economic recovery or maintaining competitiveness can alter it.
It’s a fact which many Governments must face, not only Canada’s. Indeed while reading the Globe and Mail report I was struck by the similarities to the position of the New Zealand government. Our Minister of Energy and Economic Development is defending the exploitation of what he describes as our natural resources with equal robustness. He paints a rosy economic future from deep sea oil drilling and lignite coal development. It will, of course, be undertaken with due regard for the environment. In fact, he went so far as to say in his opening address to the NZ Petroleum Conference last September that the development is needed to enable us to care for our environment.
’I would strongly argue that it is only through a strong economy that New Zealand can afford the expenditure required to look after and improve our environment. A strong economy allows the government to spend money on biodiversity, on improving water quality, on insulating our houses, on protecting our endangered species and preserving our heritage. All those things cost money. None of them are free. A strong economy allows expenditure on them…
’So rather than stop ourselves from using our natural wealth, this government has made it clear we want to develop our natural resources in an environmentally responsible way.’
The doublethink is staggering. The only honest way of putting what both Ministers are saying is that anything we do towards emissions reduction will be token at best, because we are dead set on developing our fossil fuel resources. Why don’t they just put it baldly so that we all know where our Governments stand? Why the weasel words about environmental protection? Why talk of reducing emissions when they plan fuelling their increase on a large scale?
We work as rapidly and purposefully as we can to reduce emissions or we make the future climate changes even worse than they already will be.
No doubt I’ll be accused of being simplistic in pressing such questions when the issue is one of great complexity. Well, there may be complexities to be worked through, but the underlying picture is starkly simple. We work as rapidly and purposefully as we can to reduce emissions or we make the future climate changes even worse than they already will be. It was a group of Canadian scientists who have just published a widely reported paper in Nature Geoscience which predicts climate change resulting from even the present level of CO2 will be persisting for centuries. I wonder what Canadian Ministers make of that.
Another newly published Canadian paper was reported on TV3 news last night because of the major shrinkage it predicted in New Zealand glaciers during this century. I wonder if that registered with New Zealand Ministers. All the wealth of the South Island lignite fields or of oil discovered in deep sea drilling won’t suffice to put the ice back in the glaciers.