Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sink Failure

There's an intense debate going on right now about something called "sink failure" in the climate models that are being used to determine a true upper limit to the "safe" carbon levels in the atmosphere to avoid runaway climate change. The "sink" is the carbon absorption of forests, undeveloped land areas and the ocean. The ability of these sinks to act as a "carbon sink" has been in decline as the carbon in the atmosphere has increased, thus making the reliance upon the earth's ability to absorb released carbon a less reliable factor in these models.

Back in 2008, the Global Commons Institute issued a paper that reviewed this issue, and it stated:

GCI is committed to on-going research into climate risk assessment.When the IPCC published its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007, it included for the first time ‘coupled’ modelling for emissions control scenarios alongside the uncoupled modelling that has been shown in its Assessment Reports since 1994.

Coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) used by the UK’s Hadley Centre are the most complex climate models in use, consisting of an Atmosphere General Circulation Model (AGCM) coupled to an Ocean General Circulation Model (OGCM). Some recent models include the biosphere, carbon cycle and atmospheric chemistry as well. AOGCM modelling introduces the effects of positive feedbacks from carbon sinks and can be used for the prediction and rate of change of future climate.

Following detailed investigation of the modelling results in IPCC AR4, GCI was able to confirm with IPCC and Hadley that the new evidence points to the need for zero emissions globally by about 2050 to keep below 450ppmv atmospheric CO2 concentration. This level is the most frequently cited maximum within which it may be possible to arrest the rise in global temperature to within a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels. These results corroborate the risk-analysis previously carried out by the GCI for the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change (APPGCC), shown in summary in Section 8 below.

GCI also produced an online interactive chart that shows how this works in a coupled scenario and an uncoupled scenario.

In slide 2, it shows the difference between these two scenarios and how the coupled emissions model balances sinks and emissions. It shows how this "sink failure" of the oceans and forests can be slowed with faster contraction of carbon emissions, and therefore the interconnection of the model systems is used to calculate the projected atmospheric carbon. This, unfortunately, cannot be a solution to global carbon emissions because of the increasing ocean acidity and the degradation of forests since human habitation began to expand thousands of years ago, and this has rapidly accelerated beginning with the industrial revolution. The only means of keeping the carbon from crossing the tipping point of 450 ppmv is to reduce all carbon emissions to zero by 2050, according to this model and protecting the planet from "sink failure". This point is emphasized by the David Suzuki Foundation, which highlights the nature of the planet's deteriorating carbon sinks.

In addition to this debate, there is now an added factor that has been documented in the northern arctic area, the collapse of the ice shelves and the release of methane as a result of the warming induced by human activities. This is not yet factored into the climate models that have been used as a basis for developing a global agreement about carbon emissions, thus they are completely flawed to this extent. It appears that we are facing a runaway climate change scenario very soon because of this planetary response to escalating warming, which destroys the very "carbon sinks" that we are relying upon.

It's imperative that the people of this planet move to zero emissions by the target date of 2050, with a rapid contraction of emissions in place by 2020 for all countries.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Year of Storms

We're seeing a series of massive, deadly storms in the midwest, and it's just the beginning of summer. Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes occurring over and over; the atmosphere is unleashing tremendous energies. Storms in Europe are creating unprecedented flooding. The Nation Institute, via, has posted an article by Rebecca Solnit, which is in dialogue with Bill McKibben's writings on planet Eaarth.

Her article at Tom Dispatch makes timely comments about how human civilization responds in the face of large disasters, now bearing down upon us more and more often because of climate change. The consequences of climate change are a lance aimed straight at the heart of our oil-supported structure in the United States and now across the globe:

Cheap oil requires our insanely expensive military whose annual budget amounts to nearly as much as the rest of the world’s militaries put together, a crazy foreign policy, and in the past decade, a lot of death in the Middle East. It also pushes along the destruction of nearly everything via climate-change, a cost so terrible that the word “unaffordable” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Unimaginable” might, except that the point of all the data and data projections is to imagine it clearly enough so that we react to it.

Bill McKibben, writing in the New York Review of Books on Nov.5, 2009 makes his usual succinct comments on her previous book "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster". They have proven to be prescient.

"Its also time to ask another question, which is what the future will actually feel like once we don't prevent global warming. That is, what will it be like to live not on the relatively stable planet that civilization has known throughout the ten thousand years of the Holocene, but on the amped-up and careening planet we're quickly creating? With her remarkable and singular book, "A Paradise Built in Hell", Rebecca Solnit has thought harder about the answer to that question than anyone else. And she's done it almost entirely with history - she's searched out the analogues to our future in our past, examining the human dynamics of natural disasters from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 up through Hurricane Katrina...Solnit's argument, at bottom, is that human nature is not necessarily what we imagine it to be, and the even in very extreme cases, people are cooperative."

This challenge that arises to meet us now may perhaps be the very Frankenstein monster that we've created - which will force us into a moral stance on the lifestyle that we've built -  a lifestyle which violates the physics of natural processes on our planet.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Heads Up

Al Gore is back with his Climate Reality Project. Today's e-blast out to the world goes as follows:

Seven years ago, I was honored to have my presentation on climate change turned into a movie called An Inconvenient Truth. To this day, I am consistently gratified when people tell me that the film opened their eyes to the climate crisis, and that it has encouraged and inspired acts of leadership, big and small, around the world.

In honor of the seventh anniversary of the film's release, I'm pleased to invite you to join me for an interactive Google Hangout with my good friend Jeff Skoll tomorrow, June 11, at 2pm EDT. We will talk about some key developments in the climate effort since the film originally came out. Most importantly, I want to invite you to participate in shaping the conversation by submitting your questions and watching the Hangout here.

Also, as part of the anniversary celebration, The Climate Reality Project has helped put together this list of ten actions you can take right now on climate change. I hope that you'll visit the site, share it with your friends, and get inspired!
Sincerely,   Al Gore

And in back of this, the Obama administration is rounding up the troops for a full-court press against the climate-deniers. The organizers' website with the ammo and the targets are at the Organizing for Action site.

There seems to be a concerted effort now with respect to getting climate change on the political table ahead of efforts to participate in global climate negotiations. The recent meeting in Rancho Mirage, CA, between Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping (as opposed to the Dec. 2009 unofficial meeting between the two countries) has resulted in serious progress on an agreement to fight climate change that is realistic, and not a result of both nations being triangulated into false positions as anti-emissions-cap players. Both countries' leaders want to control emissions and have put positions on the table only to have them portrayed as globally uncooperative because they don't agree to basically a shakedown by third-world countries for money as a front to corporate protection of profits. The proposed cap-and-trade system is part of that, since it allows continued emissions under the cover of "allowances" that feeds a system of monetary transfer. This is why the math isn't being done right on the emissions caps, they're being set high enough to allow for this game by the European governments, but unfortunately that doesn't bring the carbon levels in the atmosphere down enough to avert the destruction of climate change. It's politics and money again. Still.

The climate negotiations have to based upon a fair and scientific system, otherwise they'll simply collapse. Time is of the essence.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Counting It

How can our system of extreme consumerism be tamed so that we can live within our planetary means? How do we save the trees? One approach is to look at the whole picture and begin to take into account the costs of consumerism.

The Prince of Wales is now ramping up his 20-year charity patronage to emphasize the impact that consumerism is having on the planet's natural resources an forests. He's started up a new initiative called Accounting for Sustainability that frames this problem as an economic crisis as well.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a global initiative focused on drawing attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity. It has produced a study that begins to measure the value of the planetary ecosystem. The study, "Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business” was commissioned by the TEEB for Business Coalition to identify the world’s largest natural capital risks and opportunities for business and their investors. The report, authored by Trucost, quantifies environmental externalities such as damages from climate change, pollution, land conversion and depletion of natural resources, across business sectors and at a regional level. It demonstrates that the profits of high impact business sectors would be wiped out if the costs of environmental damage and unsustainable natural resource use are accounted for. This report highlights the urgent need for businesses to manage natural capital assets and reduce liabilities. Businesses and investors can take account of natural capital impacts in decision making to manage risk and gain competitive advantage.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity provides a detailed breakdown of the parts of the ecosystem that provides the life-sustaining sources of water, air and food. This is the kind of accounting that takes place with Natural Capital, which doesn't leave most of the impacts of energy, transportation and production off the books.

The study is an important benchmark for business, but how does it get put into play by the business community and the corporate sector? There needs to be a call to action made by the people who purchase these products and services, who rely on the natural world for their existence, after all is said and done. One person raising awareness of this entire interconnected web of existence is Billy Talen.

In his book, The End of the World, Talen has written sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism. He is taking the argument to the people, using creative methods in his activism to wake people up to the destructiveness of our modern existence. He has partnered with groups of people to get the message out:

There is a quiet revolution taking place right now. It’s a hell of a challenge. Forestry scientists know that we are experiencing a worldwide die-off of trees. Forests store 40 percent of the CO2 on land. They are the great cleaners of the air because the greenhouse gases are held inside trees. The forests all over the world are dying and the scientists do not know how to tell people they are stuck with that big false beautiful movie of the forest. To reconstitute the forests and the sea we will have to make the big banks back down. They are decimating us by industrial agriculture, financing five massive hydroelectric dams like in Chile near the Pascua and Baker Rivers. That development that destroys the forests and the planet earth must be stopped. Hallelujah. Amen.