hansenbeatsThe real debates on climate science are not whether its happening, or whether its human caused, but rather along the lines of “how soon, how hard, how hot?” – or in the case of sea level, “how high?”

Perfect example. This week retired Chief Atmospheric scientist from NASA, James Hansen, the “Father of Global Warming’, together with an impressive list of co-authors,  issued an as yet unreviewed paper with an urgent warning about the effects that may result from the 2 degree “safe” level of warming that international negotiators will be looking at in Paris this fall.


The new study, which includes nearly 300 references and is 66 pages long, argues that the 2°C target—hard-won as it might be politically—isn’t good enough, and is in fact “highly dangerous.” At that temperature, the study says, enough ice-sheet melting causes a positive feedback loop that leads to more melting and rising seas. Instead, Hansen and his co-authors say, a far better target would be to return to an atmosphere with 350 parts per million CO2. That number currently stands at about 400 parts per million.

The researchers make their case in part by describing paleoclimate data from the Eemian, an interglacial (warm) period that lasted from about 130,000 to 115,000 years ago. During that time, temperatures were less than 1°C warmer than they are today, but sea level stood about 5 to 9 meters higher due to large-scale ice sheet melt. The end of the period experienced powerful storms as well, according to sedimentary evidence the researchers cite.

Hansen told reporters that his goal was to bypass the lengthy peer-review process for fear that the paper wouldn’t be available to its intended audience in time—international negotiators at the Paris talks. Peer review, he said, would instead be a real-time process, occurring in full view of the public. “That’s the merit of a discussion-type journal,” he said.

Other scientists agree that having this discussion is critical. “Too often in debates about climate change risk, the starting point is a presumption that only global warming in excess of 2°C represents a threat to humanity,” says climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, College Park. “This new article makes a plausible case that even 2°C warming is extremely dangerous, too dangerous to allow.”

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John Cook of the fabulously useful Skepticalscience blog, and the “97 percent of Scientists Support AGW” paper,  has now written a great piece for CNN, “The 5 Telltale Techniques of Climate Denial”.
Predictably, the climate denial troll community has swooped in. So much so that John may be writing a follow up piece analyzing the denialist techniques used to attack his piece on denialist techniques.
A scrap here, but go read the piece on CNN and give John some support.


1. Fake Experts: We see this in online petitions such as the Global Warming Petition Project, which features more than 31,000 scientists claiming humans aren’t disrupting our climate. How can there be 97% consensus when 31,000 scientists disagree? It turns out 99.9% of the petition’s signatories aren’t climate scientists. They include computer scientists, mechanical engineers and medical scientists but few climate scientists. The Global Warming Petition Project is fake experts in bulk.

2. Logical Fallacies: The most common fallacious argument is that current climate change must be natural because climate has changed naturally in the past. This myth commits the logical fallacy of jumping to conclusions. It’s like finding a dead body with a knife sticking out of its back, and arguing that the person must have died of natural causes because humans have died of natural causes in the past. The premise does not lead to the conclusion.

I don’t want to spoil all the fun, so make sure you go check out the piece, and then see if you can spot each of the identified techniques in the spittle flecked comment thread that follows. You might even want to weigh in yourself, God help you.

July 7, Slate:

El Niño means the tropical Pacific is warmer than normal, which improves the chances that typhoons will form. This week, a series of typhoons on both sides of the equator are helping to reinforce a big burst of westerly winds along the equator. These westerly wind bursts are a hallmark of El Niño, and help push subsurface warm water toward the coast of South America. If enough warm water butts up against Peru, the normal cold water ocean current there can get shut off, exacerbating the pattern.

Exactly how this all gets kicked off is an area of active research, but it’s clear that big El Niños need deviant trade winds to maintain the feedback loop. During especially strong El Niños, like this year’s promises to be, the trade winds can sometimes reverse direction—and this week’s off-the-charts wind surge is at record-strength for so early in an El Niño event. Since all this takes place in the tropical Pacific Ocean—the planet’s biggest bathtub—a fully mature El Niño has the power to shift rainfall odds worldwide and boost global temperatures. That’s exactly what’s happening this year.

As proof: An area of the central Pacific, straddling the equator, is now the warmest on record for this time of year, crushing the previous record. So far, the 2015 El Niño is strengthening at a rate equal to, if not slightly greater than some of the strongest El Niños since comprehensive ocean recordkeeping began in 1870.

elnino072115July 20, Washington Post:

The present El Niño event, on the cusp of attaining “strong” intensity, has a chance to become the most powerful on record.

The event — defined by the expanding, deepening pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific — has steadily grown stronger since the spring.

The presence of a strong El Niño almost ensures that 2015 will become the warmest on record for Earth and will have ripple effects on weather patterns all over the world.

A strong El Niño event would likely lead to enhanced rainfall in California this fall and winter, a quieter than normal Atlantic hurricane season, a warmer than normal winter over large parts of the U.S., and a very active hurricane and typhoon season in the Pacific.

Some of these El Niño-related effects have already manifested themselves and, over the U.S., will become particularly apparent by the fall and winter.

Frequent and persistent bursts of wind from the west, counter to the prevailing easterly direction, have helped this year’s El Niño sustain itself and grow. Warm water from the western Pacific has sloshed eastward, piling up in the central and eastern part of the basin.

It appears that the El Nino a lot of scientists were looking for last year is happening how. A year ago I interviewed experts Kevin Trenberth and Josh Willis on the issue – below is a video that has some more in depth explanation of the El Nino process.

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Even in Oil industry strongholds like Texas, Oklahoma, and Alberta – the effects of the drilling process known as fracking, on health, and on seismic activity, have awakened a growing pushback from local populations. A recent court ruling in Oklahoma, which has become the new Earthquake capital of the US, could be a game changer.

Climate Progress:

If you live in Oklahoma, and you’ve been injured by an earthquake that was possibly triggered by oil and gas operations, you can now sue the oil company for damages.

That’s the effect of a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which on Tuesday rejected efforts by the oil industry to prevent earthquake injury lawsuits from being heard in court. Instead of being decided by juries and judges, the industry was arguing that cases should be resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, a state regulatory agency.

The state’s high court rejected that argument.

“The Commission, although possessing many of the powers of a court of record, is without the authority to entertain a suit for damages,” the opinion reads. “Private tort actions, therefore, are exclusively within the jurisdiction of district courts.”

The ruling is a win for Sandra Ladra, the woman at the center of the lawsuit. Ladra claims that on Nov. 5, 2011, she was watching television with her family when a 5.6 magnitude intraplate earthquake struck, causing huge chunks of rock to fall from her fireplace and chimney. Some of the rocks fell onto Ladra’s legs and into her lap, causing what the lawsuit describes as “significant injury.”

Washington Post:

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts far more water from these underground oil-laden rocks than traditional drilling. Currently there is no way to treat, store and release the billions of gallons of wastewater at the surface. Instead, drillers pump the fluid back underground, below groundwater, into wells where it sometimes triggers earthquakes.

For instance, in Oklahoma, state records show that companies injected more than 1.1 billion barrels of wastewater into the ground in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. The following year, Oklahoma had more magnitude-3 earthquakes than California did. The quakes clustered around wastewater injection wells.

Oklahoma’s current earthquake rate is now 600 times higher than its pre-fracking rate, which was based on the state’s natural seismicity, the state geological survey said.

The Tyee:

New research and presentations by both provincial and federal scientists show that the shale gas industry, which the B.C. government hopes will eventually supply proposed liquefied natural gas terminals with fracked gas, has caused more than a thousand earthquakes in northeast B.C. since 2006 and changed the region’s seismicity.

The earthquakes, ranging in magnitude from 1.0 to 4.3, include six events higher than 4.0 and more than 20 events that shook buildings and moved furniture in places like Fort St. John. Several events caused casing damage to horizontal wells. Moreover, industry-caused tremors remain an ongoing geological revolution for the region. Read the rest of this entry »


Something climate deniers don’t want you to see, much less ponder. The earth as it is, with no borders or boundaries – so far as we know, the only home of life in the universe.
Danger: This image conjures subversive thoughts.

Smithsonian Air Space Museum blog:

As early as 1966, environmental activist Stewart Brand began a campaign for NASA to release an image of the whole Earth in space. Brand even made up buttons that asked, “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the Whole Earth yet?” He sold them on college campuses and mailed them to prominent scientists, futurists, and legislators. Not until the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, however, did “Whole Earth” become a reality.

Stewart Brand put the photograph on the cover of his Whole Earth Catalog. This image, and the other stunning photographs of the Earth taken from space, inspired a reconsideration of our place in the universe.  It became the rallying cry of environmental activists, politicians, and scientists during the annual Earth Day celebrations. They used it as an object lesson of the Earth as a small, vulnerable, lonely, and fragile body teeming with life in a dull, black, lifeless void. While self-regulating and ancient, humanity proved a threat to this place. According to Brand and other ecologists, the Earth required human protection and the Whole Earth disk signaled its fragility.


One night in February 1998, Vice President Al Gore awoke with a start.

He had dreamed of a satellite. It would sit far out in space, beyond the reach of more conventional orbiters, so distant it could capture all of planet Earth in one camera lens. It would then beam this view—the whole planetary disk, a la The Blue Marbledown to the planet below. The video would be live streamed on the Internet.

He couldn’t shake the idea. It had as much to do with sharing that vantage point—Earth as a single planet, home to all of the life we know in the universe—as it did with the technology required to make it happen.

“We all live on the same planet,” Gore told me in an interview on Monday. “We all face the same dangers and opportunities, we share the same responsibility for charting our course into the future.”

Soon after his dream, the vice president met with the director of NASA, who said that the agency could pull it off for less than $100 million. The project went forward. It was nicknamed “Goresat.”

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Washington Post:

James Hansen has often been out ahead of his scientific colleagues.

With his 1988 congressional testimony, the then-NASA scientist is credited with putting the global warming issue on the map by saying that a warming trend had already begun. “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” Hansen famously testified.

Now Hansen — who retired in 2013 from his NASA post, and is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute — is publishing what he says may be his most important paper. Along with 16 other researchers — including leading experts on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets — he has authored a lengthy study outlining an scenario of potentially rapid sea level rise combined with more intense storm systems.

It’s an alarming picture of where the planet could be headed — and hard to ignore, given its author. But it may also meet with considerable skepticism in the broader scientific community, given that its scenarios of sea level rise occur more rapidly than those ratified by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest assessment of the state of climate science, published in 2013.

In the new study, Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the “doubling time” for ice loss from West Antarctica — the time period over which the amount of loss could double — could be as short as 10 years. In other words, a non-linear process could be at work, triggering major sea level rise in a time frame of 50 to 200 years. By contrast, Hansen and colleagues note, the IPCC assumed more of a linear process, suggesting only around 1 meter of sea level rise, at most, by 2100.

Here, a clip from our extended interview with Eric Rignot in December of 2014.  Rignot is one of the co-authors of the new study.


The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

The science of ice melt rates is advancing so fast, scientists have generally been reluctant to put a number to what is essentially an unpredictable, non-linear response of ice sheets to a steadily warming ocean. With Hansen’s new study, that changes in a dramatic way. One of the study’s co-authors is Eric Rignot, whose own study last year found that glacial melt from West Antarctica now appears to be “unstoppable.” Chris Mooney, writing for Mother Jones, called that study a “holy shit” moment for the climate.

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rollercoasterWhen Amory Lovins puts out a new essay, it’s usually worth a read.

Amory Lovins for Rocky Mountain Institute:

Oil prices tend to rise with instability in major exporters — Persian Gulf, Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia — though diversified supplies, suppliers, and delivery routes have made markets more placid. Strong economic growth also tends to raise prices — until they get high enough to dampen or reverse the economic growth. Conversely, oil prices fall when major exporters do what John D. Rockefeller used to do regularly: “sweat the market” with oversupply to bankrupt high-cost producers and thus raise one’s own monopoly rents.

Instability and surplus are both occurring today, but surplus is proving more important. The world market is glutted with several million extra barrels per day (Mbbl/d), mainly from fracked U.S. oil and Canadian tar sands. The U.S. is now the world’s largest oil producer, with output at a 31-year high.

Late last year, the Saudis and allies announced they wouldn’t cut output to rebalance the market as they had in the past. Why should they? They’d simply give up market share to higher-cost producers. And the Saudis didn’t cause the imbalance; North Americans and other non-OPEC members did.

Until recently, only the Saudis (and to a lesser extent their Gulf allies) had big surplus production capacity, and at the world’s lowest cost. Saudi oil costs about one-tenth as much to extract as fracked U.S. oil or Alberta tar sands need to break even. Now an added reality is roiling markets: only the Saudis have enough cash to weather a prolonged price drop. While Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Russia, and Nigeria are financially stressed, the Saudis claim 2.5 Mbbl/d spare oil capacity and $0.7–0.9 trillion of monetary reserves — enough to sustain several years of $50 oil and keep funding their $40-billion renewable-power program (meant to save oil for export).

Here, Michael Liebrich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance discusses the cheapest solar energy in the world.

Lovins continues:

Against that backdrop, competitors are fish in a barrel. The biggest oil companies’ capital expenditures quintupled since 2000 but their production barely budged. That’s a seriously diminishing return per barrel at any price, let alone lower prices that undermine profitability. When oil prices suddenly fell nearly 60 percent in seven months, firms frantically cut costs and axed massive Arctic, deepwater, and other high-cost projects. In what analysts Wood Mackenzie call “the biggest threat to oil and gas industry earnings and financial solidity since the financial crash of 2008,” investments may fall by $200+ billion this year.

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noaa2015globaljanjuneClimate Progress:

NOAA’s latest monthly climate report confirms that 2015 will crush previous global temperature records.

That’s especially true up here in the northern hemisphere, where the first half of 2015 is a remarkable 0.36°F warmer than the first half of any year since records started being kept 135 years ago.

Here are some of the other records for “combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces” in the dataset for the month of June from the years 1880 to 2015:

  • Hottest first half of any year (January-June) at “1.53°F (0.85°C) above the 20th century average … surpassing the previous record of 2010 by 0.16°F (0.09°C).”
  • Hottest June at “1.58°F (0.88°C) above the 20th century average … surpassing the previous record set last year in 2014 by 0.22°F (0.12°C).”

Here is the Northern Hemisphere plot of historical temperatures for January through June showing the huge jump this year:

Below, John Abraham has helpfully provided a graph of what global temp trends will look like at the end of the year if present conditions continue. Read the rest of this entry »

ipooThe Energy “net zero” building movement continues to gain steam, but mere energy production may not be the only wrinkle added to sustainable housing..

Christian Science Monitor:

Imagine opening your monthly utility statement to find a check instead of a bill.

That dream may become a reality as more architects design buildings that generate more energy than they use. In Britain, the first low-cost version of just such a home is opening Thursday, marking the country’s initial forays into an emerging global market for so-called energy-positive or net-positive housing – solar-powered homes so efficient, they can generate more power than they consume. It’s the gold standard for green homes, and a concept that has begun to take off around the world.

“As more buildings incorporate energy efficiency and renewables to generate as much energy as they consume over the course of a year, net zero is becoming sort of passé,” energy reporter Molly Miller wrote in 2014 for technology and sustainability news site GreenBiz. “Now it’s time for a newer, sexier, more optimistic buzz phrase in sustainable design. Get ready for ‘net positive.’”

“About five years ago, there was an epiphany,” she says in a phone interview. “Not for all buildings, not for all climate zones – but energy-positive became technically feasible.”

In 2013, Boston-based design firm Urbanica, Inc. unveiled the first energy-positive housing development in the city, featuring three-story, three-bedroom townhouses equipped with 37 photovoltaic solar panels, triple-glazed windows, rainwater harvesting equipment, and airtight walls, Boston.com reported.


Have you heard the phrase “net zero” enough? As more buildings incorporate energy efficiency and renewables to generate as much energy as they consume over the course of a year, net zero is becoming sort of passé.

Now it’s time for a newer, sexier, more optimistic buzz phrase in sustainable design. Get ready for “net positive,” and add water.

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If nothing else, a nice map to show Americans where the heck Greenland is.

National Snow and Ice Data Center:

Despite getting off to a slow start this summer, after an unusually cold period (3 degrees Celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit below the 1981 to 2010 average for west Greenland), sunny and sharply warmer conditions during the second half of June favored extensive melting along the western coast of Greenland, pushing the melt day count well above the 1981 to 2010 average by the end of the month. As of the end of June, both the north and southeast ice sheet areas still had significant areas where the number of melt days was below average; however, these areas saw intense melt for several days during the first half of July.


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