August 30, 2016
New conversation about exactly when the Anthropocene – a new geological age in which Man has been the primary driver of planetary conditions.
Current discussion is around the idea that a “golden spike”, or marker, will be the agreed upon event that future generations will fix as the new age’s beginning. Will that marker be radioactive isotopes from the nuclear age? or bits of indestructible plastic in sedimentary rock?
A growing group of scientists maintain that the real impacts of human civilization on climate go back even much further, to the beginning of agriculture, as Steve Vavrus outlines above.
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.
The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.
The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.
Below, John Cook and I interviewed Bill Ruddiman himself on the issue:
August 30, 2016
Two politicians: one right-wing, and one left wing, made stunningly ignorant statements about climate change in the past two weeks.
A U.S. Senator from Wisconsin (Ron Johnson) claimed the globe is not warming and actually is cooling, while Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President claimed we will see “yards of sea level rise” in 50 years.
First let’s talk about the sea level rise. This is a serious issue, and the last IPCC report indicated that we are likely to see somewhere around a 1 meter rise by 2100. Dr. Michael Mann at Penn. State Univ. tipped me to a Nature paper earlier this year that shows it might be as much as 2 meters, or around 2 yards by 2100. This will change the face of the world’s coastlines, and cause billions to mitigate. If you are going to run for President, you should be science literate, and Ms. Stein fails the test here.
Next, the myth that the planet has stopped warming. This claim has been shown (over and over) to be nothing but silly propaganda. I’ll let some graphics below show you why.
August 29, 2016
Natural gas has been neck and neck with wind power for largest source of new electrical production in the US. Could this be the year renewables pull away?
Natural gas is predominately composed of methane. When methane is burned to produce electricity or heat, it releases carbon dioxide and water vapor.
But not all natural gas produced is burned. Some of it is leaked at gas wells, in compressor stations, from pipelines, or in storage. Methane is a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas. While it is in the atmosphere, it is around 120 times more powerful than carbon dioxide per ton, but it quickly decomposes through chemical reactions and only about 20 percent of the methane emitted today will remain after 20 years.
Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. About half of the carbon dioxide emitted today will be around in 100 years (and virtually none of the methane will be), and about 15 percent of today’s carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere in 10,000 years.
This difference in longevity makes a comparison between the two tricky. Essentially, how much methane emissions today matter for the climate depends largely on the timeframe you are considering. If you care about avoiding warming later in the century (as the United Nations does with its 2°C warming by 2100 target), there is relatively little problem with short-term methane emissions, as long as they are phased out in the next few decades. If you care about short-term changes, however, methane is a much bigger deal.
How much methane leaks from the natural gas system is very much an open question. For a long time official Environmental Protection Agency numbers suggested the emissions were small and falling fast, only amounting to around 1.5 percent of total production.
But dozens of independent academics doing research using aircraft, satellite data, and other instruments have consistently found higher emissions than officially reported.
Adam Brandt at Stanford University published a high-profile paper in the journal Science in 2014 summarizing all the research to date. He found that overall emissions were likely between 25 and 75 percent higher than reported by EPA, suggesting that actual natural gas leakage rates are probably somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of gas production. (Some researchers have found leakage as high as 10 percent for individual fields, but there isn’t evidence that those findings are characteristic of the sector as a whole.)
August 29, 2016
“This was retail politics and oil lost,” was how Adrienne Alvord of Union of Concerned Scientists summed up the stunning environmental victory Tuesday in the California legislature, a victory which cemented the state’s commitment to a 40 percent reduction in climate pollution by 2030.
Only a few weeks ago there was a strong consensus that the oil industry, by spending millions of dollars on behalf of a cadre of moderate Democrats in the Assembly, had blocked just such a doubling down on the state’s existing 2020 goals. For the oil industry, victory was an existential necessity. Only by holding future climate commitments hostage could the industry hope to get Gov. Brown to abandon the state’s existing mandate that by 2020 the carbon content of fuels be cut by 10 percent. As a practical matter, the requirement means roughly 20 percent of California’s more vehicles will be driving on something other than oil—electricity, natural gas or biofuels.
And oil knows it cannot withstand a competitive transportation fuels market. Once California creates such a market and builds businesses that can produce low carbon fuels at scale, fuels competition will go global and oil’s empire will wither. But it looked like oil had survived to fight another day. Gov. Brown had signaled his next move by forming a ballot committee for a (high-risk) initiative for the fall of 2018. But a small group of climate and environmental justice advocates refused to let the Assembly moderates off the hook. Demanding a vote, they re-energized their broad coalition of main-line businesses, EJ advocates, labor, climate greens, the faith community, clean tech and clean fuels businesses, local government and public health advocates.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told them he would give them a vote once they had the votes—and on Tuesday he pulled the trigger, giving the oil industry, which thought it had won, only 24 hours to regroup. It wasn’t enough and the Assembly passed SB32 by 47 votes, a six vote margin over the 41 needed. The California Nurses Association was heard from, but so was Ebay. Gov. Brown and the White House weighed in, but a lone Republican, Assemblywoman Catherine Baker joined them in supporting progress. Wednesday the Senate concurred and the bill, linked to an environmental justice focused companion bill, went to the governor for his signature.
Why the victory? Quite simply, retail politics. Clean energy now provides far more stimulus and creates far more jobs than fossil fuels. Clean power is seen by the public as the linch-pin of the state’s economic future. Jobs on the ground trump oil industry ads on the screen. It’s not accidental that states providing climate leadership are the states with the biggest clean energy sectors—California, Washington, Nevada, Oregon—and Iowa, with its nation leading wind sector and a public utility, Mid-America, that is planning to shortly hit 85 percent renewables and go on to 100 percent.
This has been the planet’s hottest summer in recorded history, so it’s nice to know Elon Musk has commenced his grand scheme to transform the energy business so profoundly that there’s a chance Iceland won’t become the new Jamaica after all.
One small step in Musk’s plan involves merging Tesla, his electric car company, with SolarCity, his cousin’s solar panel maker. That deal—announced in August—has been getting all sorts of blowback from short-term-thinking Wall Street nincompoops, who groan that both companies are losing money and the merger won’t help. Such doubts about Musk are like asking the Wright brothers in 1899 why they were fiddling with bicycle parts.
August 28, 2016
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist, interviewed in Austin, June 2016.
August 28, 2016
Useful 2014 Lecture above, reposting some info on this below.
PETM, the Paleocene – Eocene Thermal Maximum.
That’s the last time in earth history that things changed in a way similar to the way they are changing now. It was 55 million years ago, give or take a millenium.
Scientific American (sub required – you can also buy single issues) has an article by one of the real experts, Lee Kump, comparing the pace at which the earth changed during the most recent Great Warming event. As the sobering graph shows, the current CO2 buildup is prodeeding at a blistering pace compared to the ancient past. Current rates of change are thousands of times faster than normal, and even 10 times faster than one of the most spectacular geological changes in the record.
The PETM bears some striking resemblances to the human-caused climate change unfolding today. Most notably, the culprit
behind it was a massive injection of heat-trapping greenhousegases into the atmosphere and oceans, comparable in volume to
what our persistent burning of fossil fuels could deliver in coming centuries….. New answers provide sobering clarity. They suggest the consequences of the planet’s last great globalwarming paled in comparison to what lies ahead, and they add new support for predictions thathumanity will suffer if our course remains unaltered.
August 27, 2016
Another in my series of interviews with researchers from the Black and Bloom team, a very well funded multi-year project, which was on the ice this past summer looking at some of the same kinds of ice and albedo changes that Dark Snow Project has researched in past years.
I spoke to members of the team on and off the ice, which I’ll continue to post in coming weeks and months.
The £3-million (US$4-million) Black and Bloom project aims to measure how algae are changing how much sunlight Greenland’s ice sheet bounces back into space. “We want to get a handle on just how much of the darkness is due to microbes and how much to other physical factors”, such as soot or mineral dust, says Martyn Tranter, a biogeochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, and the project’s principal investigator.
Team scientists arrived near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, this week for 6 weeks of observations. The work will continue for two more summers, exploring different parts of the ice sheet. Ultimately, the scientists hope to develop the first deep understanding of how biological processes affect Greenland’s reflectivity.
For decades, most studies on Greenland microbiology focused on cryoconite holes, small pits on the surface of the ice sheet that are filled with dark organic matter and ice-adapted algae. But enormous blooms of photosynthetic algae also cover the snow-strewn ice sheet every summer1. Some, such as Chlamydomonas nivalis, spread first as greenish blooms as they begin to photosynthesize, and then turn a reddish colour as they produce carotenoid pigments to protect themselves from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
“They’re extremely lazy algae — they sleep for nine months and then wake up and have a party,” says team member Liane Benning, a biogeochemist at the University of Leeds, UK, and the GeoForschungsZentrum research centre in Potsdam, Germany.
The algae creates vast, colourful fields of what is popularly known as ‘watermelon snow’. Last month in Nature Communications, Benning and her team reported sampling watermelon snow at glaciers across the Arctic2. They found 6 types of algae living at 40 red-snow sites in Norway, Sweden, Greenland and Iceland. By comparing the optical properties of red snow to clean snow, they estimated that algal blooms could reduce reflectivity by 13% over the melting season. “Wherever we look, the impact is quite dramatic,” Benning says.
After the snow cover melts for the season, other species of alga take over. These ice-adapted algae are typically brownish-grey, less visibly dramatic than the red and green blooms but just as important for darkening the ice sheet. Only in the past few years have scientists begun to realize that some of the dark particles on the ice sheet are in fact these ice algae and not soot, Benning says.