Monday, December 11, 2017

We’re not even close to being prepared for the rising waters

Some of humanity’s most primordial stories involve flooding: The tales of Noah, and before that Gilgamesh, tell what happens when the water starts to rise and doesn’t stop. But for the 10,000 years of human civilization, we’ve been blessed with a relatively stable climate, and hence flooding has been an exceptional terror. As that blessing comes to an end with our reckless heating of the planet, the exceptional is becoming all too normal, as residents of Houston and South Florida and Puerto Rico found out already this fall.

The shoreline in Miami, a low-lying city threatened by rising sea levels.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria provide a dramatic backdrop for the story Jeff Goodell tells in “The Water Will Come”: If there was ever a moment when Americans might focus on drainage, this is it. But this fine volume (which expands on his reporting in Rolling Stone) concentrates on the slower and more relentless toll that water will take on our cities and our psyches in the years to come. Those who pay attention to global warming have long considered that its effects on hydrology — the way water moves around the planet — may be even more dramatic than the straightforward increases in temperature.
To review the basic physics: Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air does, which means you get more evaporation and hence drought in arid areas, and more rainfall and hence floods in wet ones. (Harvey, for example, was the greatest rainfall event in American history, the kind of deluge possible only in a warmer world.) Meanwhile, heat melts ice: Greenland and the Antarctic are vast stores of what would otherwise be ocean, and now they’re beginning to surrender that water back to the sea.

Read The Washington Post story by Bill McKibben - “We’re not even close to being prepared for the rising waters.”

Great Barrier Reef will be dead by 2100, says David Attenborough's Blue Planet II

London: Coral reefs – including Australia's Great Barrier Reef – will be dead by 2100 due to human "maltreatment of the oceans", David Attenborough's Blue Planet II has declared.

Sir David Attenborough - he says the Great Barrier Reef
will be dead by 2100 due to our maltreatment of the oceans.
Attenborough's follow-up documentary series, which took four years to film and produce, finished airing in Britain on Sunday night (local time). It ended with his grim warning about the state of our oceans, which Attenborough said were "under threat now as never before.”

He said climate change, plastic pollution and over-fishing were all contributing to the demise of coral reefs.

Blue Planet II has been Britain's most-watched show of 2017, with 14 million tuning into the first episode of the wildlife series. Nine will air the seven-part series on free-to-air television in Australia in 2018.

Read Latika Bourke’s story in today’s Melbourne Age - “Great Barrier Reef will be dead by 2100, says David Attenborough's Blue Planet II.”

The ‘utopian’ currency Bitcoin is a potentially catastrophic energy guzzler

The recent upsurge in the price of Bitcoin seems to have finally awakened the world to the massively destructive environmental consequences of this bubble.

These consequences were pointed out as long ago as 2013 by Australian sustainability analyst and entrepreneur Guy Lane, executive director of the Long Future Foundation. In recent months, the Bitcoin bubble has got massively bigger and the associated waste of energy is now much more widely recognised.

In essence, the creation of a new Bitcoin requires the performance of a complex calculation that has no value except to show that it has been done. The crucial feature, as is common in cryptography, is that the calculation in question is very hard to perform but easy to verify once it’s done.

Read the piece on The Conversation by Professor from the School of Economics at The University of Queensland, John Quiggin - "The ‘utopian’ currency Bitcoin is a potentially catastrophic energy guzzler.”

Global warming will weaken wind power, study predicts

Wind farms are key to tackling climate change but warming will significantly cut the power of the wind across northern mid-latitudes, including the US, the UK and the Mediterranean, according to new research. However, some places, including eastern Australia, will see winds pick up.
 In central US, the power of the wind could fall by nearly a fifth. 
The research is the first global study to project the impact of temperature rises on wind energy and found big changes by the end of the century in many of the places hosting large numbers of turbines.

Wind farms have grown more than fivefold in the last decade and plunging costs have made them a key way of reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning. But in the central US, for example, the power of the wind could fall by nearly a fifth.

“We found some substantial changes in wind energy,” said Kristopher Karnauskas at the University of Colorado Boulder, US. “But it does not mean we should not invest in wind power.” It does mean such changes need to be taken into account in planning future wind farms, he said, and also in assessing how much wind farms overall can cut global emissions.

Read The Guardian story by Damian Carrington - “Global warming will weaken wind power, study predicts.”

Melbourne weather: Summer's soggy start to make way for a one-day heatwave

After a soggy start to summer, Melburnians are set for a scorcher this week as the mercury climbs toward 40 degrees.
After a wet start to summer, Melbourne will have a one-day heatwave this week.
After a wet start to summer, Melbourne will have a one-day heatwave this week.
But those hoping to relegate their coats to the back of their wardrobes should know Victoria's weather is a fickle mistress, with the hot weather lasting for one day only.
Wednesday's temperature is forecast to reach a baking 36 degrees with the overnight minimum an equally oppressive 22 degrees before a cool change sweeps through.

"There will be a weak change on Wednesday evening followed by a cold front early Thursday morning so it's just the one hot day. I wouldn't call it a heatwave or anything," warned Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Rod Dickson.

Read the Melbourne Age story by Ebony Bowden - “Melbourne weather: Summer's soggy start to make way for a one-day heatwave.”

Business sustainability and climate change discussion for Shepparton

A woman with an acute understanding of business sustainability and climate change will speak in Shepparton later this month.

Dr Sarah Birrell Ivory.
Dr Sarah Birrell Ivory will be a guest at a lunch on Wednesday, December 20, hosted jointly by the Committee for Greater Shepparton and La Trobe University.

Dr Ivory is an Early Career Fellow in Climate Change and Business Strategy at the University of Edinburgh where she recently established the Global Challenge for Business compulsory first-year course for all undergraduate students.

She is a member of the Centre for Business and Climate Change which develops dedicated educational and research material relating to aspects of business and management that impact, or are impacted by, climate change issues.

She is also a member of the Sustainable Business Institute which advises and engages with the business and wider community on sustainability issues.

Dr Ivory also teaches Climate Change and Environmental Policy in the Master of Science Carbon Finance as a part of a team delivering the strategic leadership module in the flagship MBA program at the Edinburgh University. 

She worked in Singapore and Australia before moving into academia and attended St Brendan’s Primary School in Shepparton and then the Shepparton High School before moving to the Presbyterian Ladies College in Melbourne.

The hour-long lecture at the Shepparton campus of La Trobe University starts 12:15 pm following a light lunch at 11:45n am.

More information from Rebecca White at the Committee for Greater Shepparton, phone 5821 9177.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Real Politics of the Planetary Crisis

(This is part three of a work in progress. The series begins with The Last Decade and You, and continues with On Climate, Speed is Everything.

In the last two pieces, I pointed out how getting on the right emissions reduction curve for this era means taking bold action, now. We must peak global emissions by 2020. Then we must cut them in half by 2030 and then cut them in half again by 2040, and then again, by 2050 while restoring the natural world and spreading sustainable prosperity. 

Because the planetary crisis is steepening the longer we wait, the harder it becomes to solve the problems we face failing to get on the right curve will mean that we end up, very quickly, on an even steeper curve. Wait too long and the curves we face become essentially impossible to meet.

We can fail catastrophically on climate. We’ll know that failure when we have delayed action so long that we find ourselves confronting an insurmountable emissions reduction challenge coupled with rising and untenable losses a crisis where all humanity’s choices are bad ones. We will have then reached a point where a even drastic program of global carbon austerity even when combined with our wildest gambles on trying to pull CO2 out of the air and engineer the planet’s temperature will simply not be enough to avoid tragic, essentially permanent losses for all humanity.

Read the story by Alex Steffen - “The Real Politics of the Planetary Crisis.”