Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thirty Days to Save the World

The level of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere reached a new high last year--news but not news.  That's been the story every year for the past thirty years.

What is news is the level now reached: the dangerous threshold of 400 parts per million.  The planet's average temperature also passed the dangerous mark of 1 degree C over normal. "We are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” said Secretary General Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Organization, that released the greenhouse gases data.

Scientific American put these findings in context, in a succinct summary of where we are right now.  It starts with: The Earth's climate has changed.  That's has changed, as well as is changing.

Scientists who studied extreme weather events of last year were able to report that at least 14 of them were at least influenced by global heating.

A few weeks before the world turns its attention to Paris,  UK climate expert Lord Stern emphasized the critical moment for the human future, and called on European countries to significantly increase their pledges of cuts to greenhouse gases.  Various nations are positioning themselves publicly on aspects of prospective agreements.

A German delegate to the conference and an advisor to German Chancellor Merkel as well as Pope Francis, John Schellnhubber expressed optimism about the outcome. Noting that more than 80 countries will participate, he said: “That is a very telling thing - a sign of hope - because people at the top level do not want to be tainted by failure.”  He stressed the action that must follow, enabled in part by Paris pledges: a 30 year crash program in renewable energy. "Otherwise we have no chance of avoiding dangerous, perhaps disastrous, climate change.”

“The avalanche will start because ultimately nothing can compete with renewables,” he told the Guardian. “If you invest at [large] scale, inevitably we will end up with much cheaper, much more reliable, much safer technologies in the energy system: wind, solar, biomass, tidal, hydropower. It is really a no-brainer, if you take away all the ideological debris and lobbying.”

He believes that pledges will be met because nations don't want to lose face. Public pressure is “really holding the key to this”, said Schellnhuber, who has attended most of the 20 previous UN climate summits. “The last, best hope we have is moral argument.”

Meanwhile, a couple of events from last week continue to reverberate.  Did President Obama's decision to nix the Keystone pipeline "help save the world?" a New York compendium of reactions asked.  Some say yes, some say no, some say stop, and some say go go go.

The reporting that found Exxon Mobil suppressed for decades their own scientists' certainty that global heating was happening and was dangerous to the planet led to a dramatic suit by the state of New York, accusing Exxon Mobil of securities fraud in perpetuating this deception.  What may look like symbolic grandstanding may not be, according to the Reuters report on the unusual statute in New York law that applies.  More on the probe, which may spread to other energy companies.  This suit follows a similar one against Peabody Coal, which admitted wrongdoing.

Here's background on the suit from PBS Newshour. The revelations and the suit led to this past Sunday's Doonesbury cartoon, as reproduced above.

Late Updates

A live 24 hour global telethon sponsored by the Climate Reality Project and featuring a mix of celebrities and political leaders happens on Friday.

But according to a survey, it is Pope Francis who has been an effective advocate for action addressing the climate crisis, especially among Catholics, but not limited to them in the US:

Some 17 per cent of all respondents and 35 per cent of Catholic respondents said they were influenced by Pope Francis’s message that climate change is a crucial moral issue. The percentage of Catholics who said they were “very worried” about global warming more than doubled compared with spring. And the number who denied the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is happening declined by 10 percentage points among Catholics and 6 points among the US population in general.

Canada is gearing up for Paris big time:

All Liberal cabinet ministers have been charged with ensuring the success of the new government’s commitments on climate change, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in an interview Wednesday as he prepares to engage the country’s diplomatic corps in the international fight against global warming.

A veteran climate warrior, Mr. Dion will play a pivotal role in the Liberal government’s climate agenda, both as minister for global affairs and as chair of the cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy. He is expected to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna at the Paris climate summit at the end of the month..." 

Meanwhile, new scientific findings in Greenland add urgency to Paris action. The Washington Post:

"As the world prepares for the most important global climate summit yet in Paris later this month, news from Greenland could add urgency to the negotiations. For another major glacier appears to have begun a rapid retreat into a deep underwater basin, a troubling sign previously noticed at Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier and also in the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica."

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