Archive for August 12, 2012


NASA’s James Hansen, the ‘Godfather of Global Warming,’ says earlier predictions “too optimistic”

James Hansen, The Washington Post, August 3, 2012

When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988, I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summerthe United States is suffering through right now.These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.

But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.

An clean energy economy … is a simple, honest and effective solution.

But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.

Our new peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, makes clear that while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate (up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century), the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide.

When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe.

The change is so dramatic that one face of the die must now represent extreme weather to illustrate the greater frequency of extremely hot weather events.

Such events used to be exceedingly rare. Extremely hot temperatures covered about 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of the globe in the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. In the last three decades, while the average temperature has slowly risen, the extremes have soared and now cover about 10 percent of the globe.

This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it — the world that caused the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data show, will become even more frequent and more severe.

There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.

The future is now. And it is hot.

Dr. James Hansen is director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University. He was the first scientist to warn the US Congress of the dangers of climate change and writes here as a private citizen. Hansen is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.
********************************

Media Matters, April 2012

STUDY: Climate Coverage Plummets On Broadcast Networks

Research››› April 16, 2012  1:55 PM EDT ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS & JOCELYN FONG

A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.

Time Devoted To Climate Change Has Fallen Sharply Since 2009

Despite Ongoing Climate News, Broadcast Coverage Has Dropped Significantly. Since 2009, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate bill and a major climate conference took place in Copenhagen, the amount of climate coverage on both the Sunday shows (Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’ Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week) and the nightly news (NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and ABC World News) has declined tremendously. This drop comes despite a series of newsworthy stories related to climate change in 2010 and 2011, including a debate over comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the U.S. Senate, a series of record-breaking extreme weather events, notable developments in climate science, the rise of so-called “climate skeptics” in the House of Representatives, and a deal struck at the most recent UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa.

Sunday Show Coverage Of Climate Change Fell 90% Between 2009 And 2011. Since 2009, climate coverage on the Sunday shows has dropped every year across all networks. The Sunday shows spent over an hour on climate change in 2009, compared to 21 minutes in 2010 and only 9 minutes in 2011.

  • Fox News Sunday covered climate change the most, for just under an hour, but much of Fox’s coverage promoted the “Climategate” controversy and downplayed the threat of climate change. In fact, at no point did Fox News Sunday explicitly affirm the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate.
  • CBS’ Face the Nation covered climate change the least, for a total of just 4 minutes in 3 years.

Nightly News Coverage Decreased 72% Between 2009 And 2011. Coverage of climate change on the nightly news programs dropped from over 2 hours in 2009 to just 27 minutes in 2010 and 38 minutes in 2011.

  • NBC Nightly News covered climate change the most – for more than an hour and a half in 3 years.
  • CBS Evening News covered climate change the least, for a total of 40 minutes in 3 years.

Priorities? The Donald Trumps Climate Change In 2011

Each Network Covered Donald Trump More Than Climate Change In 2011. Every program included in our analysis devoted more airtime to Donald Trump’s flirtation with a presidential run and birther antics than to climate change in 2011, with the exception of ABC World News, which gave equal time to the two topics. Together, the broadcast networks spent more than twice as much time covering Donald Trump. The discrepancy was most glaring on NBC’s Meet the Press, which devoted 23 minutes to Trump but did not cover climate change at all in 2011.

Sunday Shows Feature Twice As Many Republicans As Democrats On Climate Change

Sunday Shows Featured More Republicans Than Democrats On Climate Change. In total, 68% of the political figures interviewed or quoted by the Sunday shows were Republicans, and 32% were Democrats. In 2011, the only people interviewed or quoted about climate change on the Sunday shows were Republican politicians. Fox News Sunday was the most skewed, featuring eight Republicans and only two Democrats over the three years.

Scientists Were Shut Out Of Climate Change Discussions On Sunday Shows. Our study finds that the Sunday shows consulted political and media figures on climate change, but left scientists out of the discussion. Of those hosted or interviewed on climate change, 50% were political figures — including elected officials, strategists and advisers — 45% were media figures, and none were scientists. By comparison, 32% of those interviewed or quoted on the nightly news programs were political figures, and 20% were scientists.

Almost Every Mention Of Climate Change Was About Politics. Our results show that on the Sunday shows, 97% of stories mentioning climate change in the past three years were about politics in Washington, DC or on the campaign trail. One story — on Fox News Sunday — was driven by extreme weather, and none were driven by scientific findings.

Broadcast Networks Play Important Role In Public Discourse

Pew: Network Evening News “Remains An Extraordinarily Popular News Source For Americans.” From the Pew Research Center’s 2012 State of the News Media report:

For all the losses, however, the network evening news remains an extraordinarily popular news source for Americans. More than four times as many people watched the three network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC during the dinner hour than watched the highest-rated shows on the three cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) during prime time.

And more than twice as many people watch the lowest-rated broadcast evening news program (CBS Evening News) than watch the highest-rated cable news program (The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News). [Pew Research Center, accessed 4/12/12]

Sunday Shows Help Set Scope Of Official Debate In Washington. The Sunday shows occupy a singular place in the American media landscape. Their audience of a combined 9 million or so viewers includes virtually the entire journo-political establishment. The discussions held on the shows frequently determine the scope of official debate in Washington, legitimizing some views and — by nature of their absence — marginalizing others. [Media Matters, March 2007]

Methodology

This report analyzes coverage of “climate change” or “global warming” between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011, on four Sunday morning talk shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday) and three nightly news programs (ABC World News, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News). Fox Broadcasting Co. airs Fox News Sunday, but does not air a nightly news equivalent; Fox News is a separate cable channel. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Timestamps were acquired from Media Matters’ internal video archive and were applied generously. For instance, if a segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. For those segments not available in our archive, we estimated the length of the segment based on its word count.

The following chart displays the coverage included in our study:

New satellite images show polar ice coverage dwindling in extent and thickness

The Guardian, August 11, 2012

The view from a yacht’s mast

The view from a yacht’s mast. Summer pack ice is showing a rate of loss 50% higher than anticipated. 

Sea ice in the Arctic is disappearing at a far greater rate than previously expected, according to data from the first purpose-built satellite launched to study the thickness of the Earth’s polar caps.

Preliminary results from the European Space Agency‘s CryoSat-2 probe indicate that 900 cubic kilometres of summer sea ice has disappeared from the Arctic ocean over the past year.

This rate of loss is 50% higher than most scenarios outlined by polar scientists and suggests that global warming, triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is beginning to have a major impact on the region. In a few years the Arctic ocean could be free of ice in summer, triggering a rush to exploit its fish stocks, oil, minerals and sea routes.

Using instruments on earlier satellites, scientists could see that the area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic has been dwindling rapidly. But the new measurements indicate that this ice has been thinning dramatically at the same time. For example, in regions north of Canada and Greenland, where ice thickness regularly stayed at around five to six metres in summer a decade ago, levels have dropped to one to three metres.

“Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected,” said Dr Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), where CryoSat-2 data is being analysed. “Very soon we may experience the iconic moment when, one day in the summer, we look at satellite images and see no sea ice coverage in the Arctic, just open water.”

The consequences of losing the Arctic’s ice coverage, even for only part of the year, could be profound. Without the cap’s white brilliance to reflect sunlight back into space, the region will heat up even more than at present. As a result, ocean temperatures will rise and methane deposits on the ocean floor could melt, evaporate and bubble into the atmosphere. Scientists have recently reported evidence that methane plumes are now appearing in many areas. Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas and rising levels of it in the atmosphere are only likely to accelerate global warming. And with the disappearance of sea ice around the shores of Greenland, its glaciers could melt faster and raise sea levels even more rapidly than at present.

Professor Chris Rapley of UCL said: “With the temperature gradient between the Arctic and equator dropping, as is happening now, it is also possible that the jet stream in the upper atmosphere could become more unstable. That could mean increasing volatility in weather in lower latitudes, similar to that experienced this year.”

CryoSat-2 is the world’s first satellite to be built specifically to study sea-ice thickness and was launched on a Dniepr rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on 8 April, 2010. Previous Earth monitoring satellites had mapped the extent of sea-ice coverage in the Arctic. However, the thickness of that ice proved more difficult to measure.

The US probe ICESat made some important measurements of ice thickness but operated intermittently in only a few regions before it stopped working completely in 2009. CryoSat was designed specifically to tackle the issue of ice thickness, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic. It was fitted with radar that can see through clouds. (ICESat’s lasers could not penetrate clouds.) CryoSat’s orbit was also designed to give better coverage of the Arctic sea.

“Before CryoSat, we could see summer ice coverage was dropping markedly in the Arctic,” said Rapley. “But we only had glimpses of what was happening to ice thickness. Obviously if it was dropping as well, the loss of summer ice was even more significant. We needed to know what was happening – and now CryoSat has given us the answer. It has shown that the Arctic sea cap is not only shrinking in area but is also thinning dramatically.”

Sea-ice cover in the Arctic varies considerably throughout the year, reaching a maximum in March. By combining earlier results from ICESat and data from other studies, including measurements made by submarines travelling under the polar ice cap, Laxon said preliminary analysis now gave a clear indication of Arctic sea-ice loss over the past eight years, both in winter and in summer.

In winter 2004, the volume of sea ice in the central Arctic was approximately 17,000 cubic kilometres. This winter it was 14,000, according to CryoSat.

However, the summer figures provide the real shock. In 2004 there was about 13,000 cubic kilometres of sea ice in the Arctic. In 2012, there is 7,000 cubic kilometres, almost half the figure eight years ago. If the current annual loss of around 900 cubic kilometres continues, summer ice coverage could disappear in about a decade in the Arctic.

However, Laxon urged caution, saying: “First, this is based on preliminary studies of CryoSat figures, so we should take care before rushing to conclusions. In addition, the current rate of ice volume decline could change.” Nevertheless, experts say computer models indicate rates of ice volume decline are only likely to increase over the next decade.

As to the accuracy of the measurements made by CryoSat, these have been calibrated by comparing them to measurements made on the ice surface by scientists including Laxon; by planes flying beneath the satellite’s orbit; and by data supplied by underwater sonar stations that have analysed ice thickness at selected places in the Arctic. “We can now say with confidence that CryoSat’s maps of ice thickness are correct to within 10cm,” Laxon added.

Laxon also pointed out that the rate of ice loss in winter was much slower than that in summer. “That suggests that, as winter starts, ice is growing more rapidly than it did in the past and that this effect is compensating, partially, for the loss of summer ice.” Overall, the trend for ice coverage in Arctic is definitely downwards, particularly in summer, however – a point recently backed by Professor Peter Wadham, who this year used aircraft and submarine surveys of ice sheets to make estimates of ice volume loss. These also suggest major reductions in the volume of summer sea ice, around 70% over the past 30 years.

“The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the impact of global warming,” said Rapley. “Temperatures there are rising far faster than they are at the equator. Hence the shrinking of sea-ice coverage we have observed. It is telling us that something highly significant is happening to Earth. The weather systems of the planet are interconnected so what happens in the high latitudes affects us all.”

%d bloggers like this: