Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On not taking climate change seriously

Back in the 1980s, I had a friend who was working for a Mpls. / St. Paul network-owned TV station as its weather producer.  Because so much of Minnesota industry is science-based and because weather forecasting was the nearest most TV stations came to doing real science, we had the brainstorm that for sweeps weeks, his department should produce some locally-themed science programming.  His first ten-part series would set the tone—it was about the different strategies wildlife employed to make it through our brutally cold winters.  From there the programs rotated through subjects of local interest such as the water quality of Minnesota's famous 10,000 lakes, soil erosion on the corn belt prairies, how to manage energy in an energy-poor region of the world, etc.

Finally it came time to tackle the subject of atmospheric sciences.  This was after James Hansen's blockbusting testimony in 1988 so of course, we assumed that the main effort should be directed at the emerging science of climate change.  Suddenly, after nine series of critically acclaimed science programming, the on-air weatherman / narrator began to object to the scripts.  I will not speak for my friend but I was absolutely shocked.  After all, our science research was just as careful as before.  We soon discovered that in the world of on-air weathermen, the word had spread that talking about climate change was not a career-enhancer.  Our on-air talent was a Mormon with like nine kids.  He had a nice reliable job that he in no way wanted to jeopardize.

It didn't take long before climate change denial became the default position of most practicing weatherfolk. Weather forecasting, the one area where climate change could have been discussed on a daily basis, became a haven where scientists (who should clearly know better) would sell their souls for a good make-up artist.  And my friend, the guy who made science a fascinating ratings winner for a network owned and operated station, was reorganized out the front door.

Only just now are weatherfolk talking about climate change—more than 25 years after Hansen.

See Transcript after the break

One of the truly discouraging things about the climate change debate it that there are so many people who seem truly convinced that climate change is a problem—only NOT for them.  So Al Gore flies around in a Gulfstream, somber climate change conferences are held in remote places where everyone has to fly in, and leading climate scold, Bill McKibben, actually encourages people to travel to Washington to protest all the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere.

Here we see that in a world where we should be cutting the flying around at 10,000 meters to its bare minimum, there is an explosion of low-cost airlines whose principle beneficiaries are people looking for a cheap holiday.  Climate change might be a problem, such people argue, but it's not so severe that I should forego my vacation in Jamaica or my scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef (after all, coral reefs are dying so I should see them now.)

Rise in flights will outweigh carbon cuts

By Alex Kirby

Researchers warn that the cost of airline tickets will need to rise steadily to decrease demand and counteract the effects of aviation’s growing carbon emissions.

LONDON, 8 August, 2014 − The aviation industry insists that it is making only a tiny contribution to global warming, with just 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions coming from its aircraft.

The problem is the speed at which aviation itself is growing. One aircraft builder believes the number of planes in service in 2011 will have doubled by 2031.

Whatever the industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions, they will be outweighed by the growth in air traffic, even if the most contentious mitigation measures come into force, according to researchers in the UK.

Cut substantially

More aircraft, more flights and more passengers mean more fuel will be burnt and more CO2emitted − so much more that air traffic growth is likely to prevail over emissions cuts, unless demand for flights is cut substantially.

The researchers, from the University of Southampton, have published their report in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“There is little doubt that increasing demand for air travel will continue for the foreseeable future,” says co-author and travel expert Professor John Preston. “As a result, civil aviation is going to become an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

The authors have calculated that the ticket price increase needed to drive down demand would value CO2 emissions at up to 100 times the amount of current valuations.

“This would translate to a yearly 1.4% increase on ticket prices, breaking the trend of increasing lower airfares,” says co-author Matt Grote. “The price of domestic tickets has dropped by 1.3% a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5% per annum between 1990 and 2012.”

However, because any move to suppress demand is likely to be resisted by the airline industry and by governments, the researchers say that a global regulator “with teeth” is urgently needed to enforce CO2 emission cuts.

“Some mitigation measures can be left to the aviation sector to resolve,” says Professor Ian Williams, the head of the Centre for Environmental Science at the university, “For example, the industry will continue to seek improvements to fuel efficiency as this will reduce costs.

“However, other essential measures, such as securing international agreements, setting action plans, regulations and carbon standards, will require political leadership at a global level.”

The literature review conducted by the researchers suggests that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) “lacks the legal authority to force compliance, and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary co-operation and piecemeal agreements”.

Fuel efficiency

Current targets, set at the most recent ICAO Assembly session in October 2013, include a global average fuel-efficiency improvement of 2% a year (up to 2050), and keeping global net CO2emissions for international aviation at the same level from 2020.

Global market-based measures have yet to be agreed, while the US plane maker Boeing predicts that the number of aircraft in service in 2011 will have doubled by 2031.

And the aircraft are only one part of aviation’s contribution to warming the planet. Airports themselves are huge emitters of greenhouse gases.

Making flying more expensive will have immense economic and social consequences − if it can be achieved.

In May 2013, the website Air Traffic Management reported that the number of seats offered by low-cost carriers in Europe has increased by an average of 14% per year over the last decade, according to OAG, a leading provider of aviation information and analytical services

This compares with an average annual rise of only 1% in capacity among “legacy carriers” – a term derived from the major airlines that existed before the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act in the US.

Thanks largely to the low-cost airlines, flying for leisure is now seen as an unquestioned right, and the national economies of many travellers’ destinations depend, at least in part, on traffic growing, not slackening. − Climate News Network more

Video transcript
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Extreme weather events seem to be happening more and more often, from hurricanes like Iselle raging in Hawaii to consecutive summers of drought in California. But can these events be linked to climate change?

Now joining us from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to discuss whether there's a relationship between extreme weather and climate change is our guest, Jeff Masters. He's a meteorologist and the director of meteorology for the website WeatherUnderground.com.

Thanks for joining us, Jeff.


DESVARIEUX: So, Jeff, as we speak, tropical storm Iselle has made landfall on Hawaii's big island, and according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report, California is now experiencing its worst drought ever. Can these extreme weather events be linked to climate change? Or are they a part of sort of this, quote, natural variability, which is how a NASA scientist described this? Is this natural variability?

MASTERS: We have to understand that the climate is composed of two parts. One is kind of the base state, the large-scale atmospheric temperatures and moisture levels and amount of solar energy coming in. And then there's this range of variation, the ups and downs of the weather, the day-to-day variation. That's never going to go away.

But if you change the base state of the climate by warming it, now you've put more energy into the system. You put more moisture into the system, because you're going to evaporate more water vapor off the oceans. So that has to change weather events.

And in particular, things like hurricanes hitting Hawaii, well, that's probably going to get more common, because it's difficult to get a hurricane in Hawaii, because the ocean temperatures aren't warm enough. Once you cross a certain critical threshold, then you can start to get hurricanes in Hawaii. And the ocean temperatures for this particular storm were just above that critical threshold, about a degree Fahrenheit above average.

So the answer to your question is: there could be natural variations accounting for these, but if you look at the long-term statistics, then you can start figuring out, ahaare we starting to see a rise in extreme weather events? And in some situations, yes, we can say we are.

DESVARIEUX: But, Jeff, in the past it seems that scientists have been so hesitant to make these connections. Why do you think scientists like yourself are coming forward now and trying to make this connection?

MASTERS: There is a lot of natural variability in the system, and it takes a long time period of data records to be able to say with some degree of certainty that, yeah, we're seeing some changes. And in some cases we are starting to see that now. And also, starting in about 2010, the atmosphere just got so crazy that a lot of meteorologists, it was a wake-up call for them. They said, hey, something's up. And even a common person, I mean, if you've been alive, you know, 30, 40 years or more, you have to realize that the weather patterns you've seen in the last few years are like nothing else before in your history.

DESVARIEUX: What are some of your biggest concerns in terms of the short-term effects of climate change on our environment? Can you speak to specifics? And which people are going to be the most vulnerable?

MASTERS: My biggest concern is drought, because that affects the two things we need to live: food and water. And we saw a case in 2010 where in Russia they had a huge drought--killed over 55,000 people because of the heatwave that accompanied the drought--and global grain prices took a huge spike that helped cause the so-called Arab Spring, where you had unrest in all these countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Now imagine if you had a Russian drought at the same time you had a drought in one of the other major grain producing areas of the world, say the U.S. or Australia. Now you can imagine a situation where you've got extreme levels of unrest globally, possibly famine. So that's the biggest concern with climate change.

Two other big concerns are stronger storms. When you put more heat energy into the atmosphere, now you can have stronger hurricanes. And as those stronger hurricanes make landfall, now they're riding up on top of higher sea levels, so you cause more inundation along the coast, like we saw with Hurricane Sandy.

And the third concern to have is when you put more energy in the atmosphere, that heat energy evaporates more water off of the oceans. And now there are heavier downpours as a result, so you can get more extreme inland flooding. All these types of disasters are going to affect the poor the most, because the poor tend to live in the areas where nobody else wants to live, in the floodplains or in the areas for natural disasters.

DESVARIEUX: And, Jeff, I mean, you're not alone in these calls in terms of alerting the public in terms of the potential risks that we are going to be facing--and, I mean, some people can even make the argument that we have already been facing with climate change. But at the end of the day, politicians haven't really made moves. Congress hasn't made a move to really address this issue. Why do you think this hasn't become a bigger issue in Congress? And what is it going to take for us to kind of turn that corner and actually get some policies that can make a difference in combating climate change?

MASTERS: We have to realize that the richest and most powerful corporations in world history, the oil companies, are fighting a huge battle against any sort of actions being taken. They have a lot of political power, and their PR wings are very adept at trying to disguise the severity of the problem. They spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to throw dirt on scientists, trying to make it sound like it's not as big a problem as scientists are saying, trying to say that it's too late to do any action, or if we do any action, it won't do any good. So a lot of maneuvering going around with a lot of big money. That's really slowing things down, and that's been the biggest impediment towards action that I can see.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Jeff Masters, joining us from Ann Arbor, Michigan, thank you so much for being with us.

MASTERS: You're welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. more

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