Ecology, Biodiversity, Climate Change and Related News Updates
April 13, 2012
Highlight of the Week….
Prof Jim Hansen to use lecture at Edinburgh International Science Festival to call for worldwide tax on all carbon emissions
Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a “great moral issue” on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasa climate scientist Prof Jim Hansen. He argues that storing up expensive and destructive consequences for society in future is an “injustice of one generation to others”.
In his lecture, Hansen will argue that the challenge facing future generations from climate change is so urgent that a flat-rate global tax is needed to force immediate cuts in fossil fuel use. Ahead of receiving the award – which has previously been given to Sir David Attenborough, the ecologist James Lovelock, and the economist Amartya Sen – Hansen told the Guardian that the latest climate models had shown the planet was on the brink of an emergency. He said humanity faces repeated natural disasters from extreme weather events which would affect large areas of the planet.
“The situation we’re creating for young people and future generations is that we’re handing them a climate system which is potentially out of their control,” he said. “We’re in an emergency: you can see what’s on the horizon over the next few decades with the effects it will have on ecosystems, sea level and species extinction.”
Hansen will argue in his lecture that current generations have an over-riding moral duty to their children and grandchildren to take immediate action. Describing this as an issue of inter-generational justice on a par with ending slavery, Hansen said: “Our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem for future generations but we can only pretend we don’t know because the science is now crystal clear.
“We understand the carbon cycle: the CO2 we put in the air will stay in surface reservoirs and won’t go back into the solid earth for millennia. What the Earth’s history tells us is that there’s a limit on how much we can put in the air without guaranteeing disastrous consequences for future generations. We cannot pretend that we did not know.”
Hansen said his proposal for a global carbon tax was based on the latest analysis of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and their impact on global temperatures and weather patterns. He has co-authored a scientific paper with 17 other experts, including climate scientists, biologists and economists, which calls for an immediate 6% annual cut in CO2 emissions, and a substantial growth in global forest cover, to avoid catastrophic climate change by the end of the century. The paper, which has passed peer review and is in the final stages of publication by the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, argues that a global levy on fossil fuels is the strongest tool for forcing energy firms and consumers to switch quickly to zero carbon and green energy sources. In larger countries, that would include nuclear power.
Under this proposal, the carbon levy would increase year on year, with the tax income paid directly back to the public as a dividend, shared equally, rather than put into government coffers. Because the tax would greatly increase the cost of fossil fuel energy, consumers relying on green or low carbon sources of power would benefit the most as this dividend would come on top of cheaper fuel bills. It would promote a dramatic increase in the investment and development of low-carbon energy sources and technologies…..
by THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN NY Times Opinion
ISN’T it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food — just at the moment when world food prices hit record highs? And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials? And that it was spurred on in Yemen — the first country in the world expected to run out of water — by a list of grievances against an incompetent government, among the biggest of which was that top officials were digging water wells in their own backyards at a time when the government was supposed to be preventing such water wildcatting? As Abdelsalam Razzaz, the minister of water in Yemen’s new government, told Reuters last week: “The officials themselves have traditionally been the most aggressive well diggers. Nearly every minister had a well dug in his house.”
All these tensions over land, water and food are telling us something: The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well. If we focus only on the former and not the latter, we will never be able to help stabilize these societies.
Take Syria. “Syria’s current social unrest is, in the most direct sense, a reaction to a brutal and out-of-touch regime,” write Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, in a report for their Center for Climate and Security in Washington. “However, that’s not the whole story. The past few years have seen a number of significant social, economic, environmental and climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government. … If the international community and future policy makers in Syria are to address and resolve the drivers of unrest in the country, these changes will have to be better explored.”
From 2006-11, they note, up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced one of the worst droughts and most severe set of crop failures in its history. “According to a special case study from last year’s Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, of the most vulnerable Syrians dependent on agriculture, particularly in the northeast governorate of Hassakeh (but also in the south), ‘nearly 75 percent … suffered total crop failure.’ Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, affecting 1.3 million people.” The United Nations reported that more than 800,000 Syrians had their livelihoods wiped out by these droughts, and many were forced to move to the cities to find work — adding to the burdens of already incompetent government…..
If you ask “what are the real threats to our security today,” said Brown, “at the top of the list would be climate change, population growth, water shortages, rising food prices and the number of failing states in the world. As that list grows, how many failed states before we have a failing global civilization, and everything begins to unravel?”
Hopefully, we won’t go there. But, then, we should all remember that quote attributed to Leon Trotsky: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Well, you may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you.
Folks, this is not a hoax. We and the Arabs need to figure out — and fast — more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats where we can and to build greater resiliency against those where we can’t. Twenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about.
- 1. ECOLOGY
Published: Thursday, April 05, 2012, 10:00 PM Updated: Friday, April 06, 2012, 5:58 AM
A cut-off of water supplies to a key Klamath Basin national wildlife refuge contributed to the deaths of 10,000 or more birds this year, the most in a decade, the refuge’s manager says. The Lower Klamath refuge in southern Oregon and northern California is a crucial stop for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. The refuge and five other refuges in the basin are also last in line for water, behind farmers and endangered fish, in one of the most water-short — and politically fraught — regions in the West. Ron Cole, project leader for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, estimates 10,000 to 15,000 birds have died from avian cholera this year. From December to mid-March, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut off water supplies to the 46,900-acre Lower Klamath refuge, citing light snowfall and projections of dismal inflows to Upper Klamath Lake, which stores water for farmers and three fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act. …
New York Daily News – April 9, 2012
The birds are some of the 10000 birds felled by avian cholera this spring on the refuge, a major stop on the Pacific Flyway that attracts some 2 million birds. TULELAKE, Calif. – Dave Mauser walked the edge of a mudflat, peering underneath the dried …
Study: Top deer predator in Michigan isn’t the wolf
The Grand Rapids Press
What researchers found this past winter, the third year of a western upper peninsula deer mortality study, is that coyotes were the No. 1 predator of deer, followed by bobcats. Wolves came in fourth after….
Sunday, April 8, 2012 (SF Chronicle) Kelp off California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state’s coastline, according to a new scientific study. Scientists from CSU Long Beach tested giant kelp collected off Orange County, Santa Cruz and other locations after the March 2011 accident and detected radioactive iodine, which was released from the damaged nuclear reactor. The largest concentration was about 250 times higher than levels found in kelp before the accident….The radioactivity had no known effects on the giant kelp, or on fish and other marine life, and it was undetectable a month later. Iodine 131 “has an eight-day half-life, so it’s pretty much all gone,”
Manley said. “But this shows what happens half a world away does effect what happens here. I don’t think these levels are harmful, but it’s better if we don’t have it at all.” Spread in large, dense, brown forests across the ocean off California, giant kelp is the largest of all algae and grows faster than virtually any other life on Earth. It accumulates iodine, making it a useful way to check how far radioactive material spreads.
- 2. CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS
(Credit: NOAA) Over 15,000 Records Broken as March 2012 Becomes Warmest on Record
NOAA: U.S. records warmest March; more than 15,000 warm temperature records broken First quarter of 2012 also warmest on record; early March tornado outbreak is year’s first “billion dollar disaster”
According to NOAA scientists, record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. The average temperature of 51.1 degrees F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5 degrees F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months (or more than 116 years) that have passed since the U.S. climate record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.
- NOAA U.S. Climate Report for March 2012: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/
- NOAA Climate Portal: http://www.climate.gov
- NOAA-NESDIS Visualization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAjjjtDY8UU
In latest issue of Global Ecology and Biogeography:
Rise of the generalists: evidence for climate driven homogenization in avian communities (pages 568–578)
Catherine M. Davey, Dan E. Chamberlain, Stuart E. Newson, David G. Noble and Alison Johnston
Article first published online: 30 JUN 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00693.x
Evolution at sea: Long-term experiments indicate phytoplankton can adapt to ocean acidification (April 8, 2012) — Fossil fuel derived carbon dioxide has a serious impact on global climate but also a disturbing effect on the oceans, know as the other CO2 problem. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it forms carbonic acid and results in a drop in pH, the oceans acidify. A wealth of short-term experiments has shown that calcifying organisms, such as corals, clams and snails, but also micron size phytoplankton are affected by ocean acidification. The potential for organisms to cope with acidified oceanic conditions via evolutionary adaptations has so far been unresolved. Scientists have now for the first demonstrated the potential of the unicellular algae Emiliania huxleyi to adapt to changing pH conditions and thereby at least partly to mitigate negative effects of ocean acidification. … > full story
Which plants will survive droughts, climate change? (April 6, 2012) — Biologists aim to predict which plant species will escape extinction from climate change. Droughts are worsening around the world, which poses a great challenge to plants in gardens and forests. Scientists have debated for more than a century how to predict which species are most vulnerable. … The pinpointing of cell saltiness as the main driver of drought tolerance cleared away major controversies, and it opens the way to predictions of which species could escape extinction from climate change, Sack said.”The salt concentrated in cells holds on to water more tightly and directly allows plants to maintain turgor during drought,” said research co-author Christine Scoffoni, a UCLA doctoral student in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology…..> full story
Impact of warming climate doesn’t always translate to streamflow (April 6, 2012) — An analysis of 35 headwater basins in the United States and Canada found that the impact of warmer air temperatures on streamflow rates was less than expected in many locations, suggesting that some ecosystems may be resilient to certain aspects of climate change. … The study was just published in a special issue of the journal BioScience, in which the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network of 26 sites around the country funded by the National Science Foundation is featured. Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites. In fact, water flow decreased only at sites with winter snow and ice, and there was less impact in warmer, more arid ecosystems. “It appears that ecosystems may have some capacity for resilience and adapt to changing conditions,” said Jones, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Various ecosystem processes may contribute to that resilience. In Pacific Northwest forests, for example, one hypothesis is that trees control the stomatal openings on their leaves and adjust their water use in response to the amount of water in the soil. “So when presented with warmer and drier conditions, trees in the Pacific Northwest appear to use less water and therefore the impact on streamflow is reduced,” she added. “In other parts of the country, forest regrowth after past logging and hurricanes thus far has a more definitive signal in streamflow reduction than have warming temperatures.”…> full story
Environment—Talk of the Nation, NPR
Link Between Extreme Weather And Climate Change
[16 min 50 sec] April 5, 2012
Transcript with Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research…
Scientists forecast forest carbon loss (April 6, 2012) — For more than 30 years, scientists at the Harvard Forest have scaled towers into the forest canopy and measured the trunks of trees to track how much carbon is stored or lost from the woods each year. … > full story
Ecosystems dependent on snowy winters most threatened, long term research confirms (April 6, 2012) — As global temperatures rise, the most threatened ecosystems are those that depend on a season of snow and ice, scientists say. In semi-arid regions like the southwestern United States, mountain snowpacks are the dominant source of water for human consumption and irrigation. New research shows that as average temperatures increase in these snowy ecosystems, a significant amount of stream water is lost to the atmosphere. … > full story
Long-term studies detect effects of disappearing snow and ice (April 6, 2012) — Regions of the earth where water is frozen for at least a month each year are shrinking as a result of global warming. Some of the effects on ecosystems are now being revealed through research conducted at affected sites over decades. They include dislocations of the relationships between predators and their prey, as well as changes in the movement through ecosystems of carbon and nutrients. The changes interact in complex ways that are not currently well understood, but effects on human populations are becoming apparent. … > full story
By Michael Mann, Special to CNN
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
Editor’s note: Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, holding joint positions in the Departments of Meteorology and Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with other scientists who participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
(CNN) — Imagine you are sitting in your office simply doing your job and a nasty e-mail pops into your inbox accusing you of being a fraud. You go online and find that some bloggers have written virulent posts about you. That night, you’re at home with your family watching the news and a talking head is lambasting you by name. Later, a powerful politician demands all your e-mails from your former employer.
It sounds surreal. But it all happened to me.
What was my offense? I worked on climate change research that indicated the world is a lot warmer today than it was in the past. Because that research caught the public’s attention when it was released in 1998, I became one of dozens of climate researchers who have been systematically targeted by a well-funded anti-science campaign.
- 3. OIL SPILLS AND RELATED
Photos document oil still contaminates ‘cleaned’ Louisiana marshes
Wetland areas in north Barataria Bay and the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area at the mouth of the Mississippi River continue to show signs of oil that state officials say is from the BP oil spill, according to photos posted on Flickr by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. More
3,000 dolphins found dead on Peruvian beaches
Fox News Latino
So far in 2011, some 3,000 dead dolphins have washed up on the beaches in the northern Peruvian region of Lambayaque, supposedly having died from the effects of petroleum exploitation in the area. According to the science director for the Scientific Organization for Conservation of Aquatic Animals, the deaths of the oceanic mammals was due to a “marine bubble,” an acoustic pocket that forms as a result of using equipment to explore for petroleum below the seabed. More
- 4. POLICY
April 10, 2012 ATTEMPTS to slow down climate change by large-scale geo-engineering present ”serious risks” and are unlikely to replace the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Australia’s chief scientist has warned. In an overview of schemes proposed by scientists, researchers at the Office of the Chief Scientist say the main methods of planetary-scale engineering would confront big problems with technical feasibility, political co-operation and cost. But research should be pursued in the hope of developing last-ditch methods to slow climate change. ”Given the difficulty in implementing global action to reduce CO2 emissions from human activities and their continued growth, geo-engineering is one possible approach to combat global warming,” it said. ”Geo-engineering would not moderate all the effects of rising emissions, and will introduce its own risks and uncertainties. ”Humans already play a role in dictating the Earth’s climate by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – raising carbon dioxide levels by about 40 per cent since the Industrial Revolution – and by clearing forests to reduce the amount of carbon the land absorbs. But the deliberate management of global climate is still confined to theory, backed by a few small-scale experiments. The report divides geo-engineering solutions to climate change into two basic types – plans to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and plans to block some of the sun’s heat before it gets here. They include fertilising the oceans with iron filings, to stimulate the growth of algae, which absorbs CO2 and then sinks to the ocean floor, and sowing the atmosphere with sulphates, which deflect some of the sun’s rays away from Earth…. The findings of the Australian report are similar to those of recent studies undertaken by Britain’s Royal Society and the US Task Force on Climate Remediation Research.
- 5. RESOURCES
- 6. RENEWABLES AND RELATED
- 7. OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
By THOMAS LOVEJOY April 5, 2012 Op-Ed Contributor NY TIMES
In a cavernous London conference center so devoid of life as to seem a film set for “The Matrix,” 3,000 scientists, officials and members of civil society organizations met in the last week of March to consider the state of the planet and what to do about it. The Planet Under Pressure conference is intended to feed directly into the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this coming June, 20 years after the Earth Summit in Rio convened the largest number ever of heads of state and produced, among other things, two international conventions, one for climate change and the other for biological diversity. While it is not as if nothing has been achieved in the interim or that scientific understanding has stood still, it is obvious that new science is not needed to conclude that humanity has failed to act at the scale and with the urgency needed. …
- 8. IMAGES OF THE WEEK