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This post was compiled by EB reader Bill Henderson. The comments surrounding each post are his own. -KS

(1)Most coral reefs are at risk unless climate change is drastically limited

Limiting global warming to 2 °C is unlikely to save most coral reefs

K. Frieler, M. Meinshausen, A. Golly, M. Mengel, K. Lebek, S. D. Donner & O. Hoegh-Guldberg, Nature
Mass coral bleaching events have become a widespread phenomenon causing serious concerns with regard to the survival of corals. Triggered by high ocean temperatures, bleaching events are projected to increase in frequency and intensity. Here, we provide a comprehensive global study of coral bleaching in terms of global mean temperature change, based on an extended set of emissions scenarios and models. We show that preserving >10% of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below 1.5 °C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8 °C) relative to pre-industrial levels. Even under optimistic assumptions regarding corals’ thermal adaptation, one-third (9–60%, 68% uncertainty range) of the world’s coral reefs are projected to be subject to long-term degradation under the most optimistic new IPCC emissions scenario, RCP3-PD. Under RCP4.5 this fraction increases to two-thirds (30–88%, 68% uncertainty range). Possible effects of ocean acidification reducing thermal tolerance are assessed within a sensitivity experiment.
(16 September 2012)

You can find the Nature paper free at

(2) How about a detailed attack on the ‘climate establishment’ from an ‘alarmist’ perspective with the Arctic melt and methane release as the topic? Surprised me. I personally still think Archer’s methane position is sound and that the Arctic Methane Emergency Group position is a stretch. But given the importance, what is at risk here (should I break down and cry? Rage in anger?), shouldn’t there be an immediate, very highest level investigation weighing the cause and effect, dangers, and recommending effective mitigation? We have the tech ability to speed up and focus climate science on what is happening in the Arctic and get at least informed publics on the same page if we just recognized the importance of doing so.

Arctic Crisis: Far From Sight, the Top of the World’s Problems

Nathan Currier, The Huffington Post
As this year’s sea ice extent bottoms out, it’s high time that more people recognize we’re in a global crisis — the arctic crisis. I’m sorry if this sounds “alarmist,” but the arctic, fundamental to the stability of our weather patterns, climate and agriculture, is rapidly coming apart. In the end, of course, this will just be a sub-plot to the bigger drama, the climate crisis, but by naming this the arctic crisis, I am suggesting that it needs to be treated independently, right away. It is the heart of the near-term climate issue, and its outcome could greatly alter the outcome of the larger story, which will be the saga of the century no matter what we do.

A crisis above all means this: a compression of time. In a medical crisis, for example, we expect that there will initially be the need to regain stability through some immediate means, and then other courses of treatment will be added subsequently to address the underlying problems. If the initial steps are not taken quickly enough, the whole trajectory can be different, rendering something quite manageable more dire, potentially even fatal. Because the arctic, which has received the brunt of warming, seems poised to pass a profound state shift in the very near future (in fact it’s already underway), and because it offers such vital ‘services’ to the planet, one could say that the urgency of the larger climate crisis is for the time being mostly contained within this arctic crisis.

But before looking at what to do, or even describing what’s at stake, there’s another order of business to turn to. An accounting is now due. Today I want to look back at the most authoritative recent opinions suggesting that this isn’t a crisis, and see how they’ve been holding up. In our pre-election season of fact-checking, let’s call this the ‘arctic crisis debate’ fact-checking 101. But since no one else has really been referring to an arctic crisis, what we’ll be looking at are some prominent statements from 2012 concerning the two great interrelated features of arctic stability: the state of its cryosphere, and the state of its carbon stocks. In particular, the sea ice and methane…
(11 September 2012)

(3) Yikes: Avoiding dangerous climate change is still possible, but just barely

Yikes: Avoiding dangerous climate change is still possible, but just barely

David Roberts, Grist
The most extreme climate “alarmists” in U.S. politics are not nearly alarmed enough. The chances of avoiding catastrophic global temperature rise are not nil, exactly, but they are slim-to-nil, according to a new analysis prepared for the U.K. government.

Remember, climate change is simple. We’re trying to avoid temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, because anything over that risks severe, irreversible, and overwhelmingly negative impacts. Currently we’re around 0.8 degrees above historical levels. If current trends continue, we could hit up to 6 degrees by 2100. That would likely exceed our ability to adapt, which is a polite way of saying it would lead to massive human die-off. That, in a nutshell, is (as I like to say) the brutal logic of climate change.

How much can we feasibly limit temperature rise at this late date? A new paper (flagged by David Atkins) tries to answer that question; it’s from a research consortium involving the U.K. Met Office, the Walker Institute, the Tyndall Centre, and the Grantham Institute. The title is, “Development of emissions pathways meeting a range of long-term temperature targets” [PDF]. Feel the excitement!…

Long story short: This new round of comprehensive modeling shows that limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees is still within the realm of the possible, but only just barely. It would require a level of immediate, global, coordinated action never before seen in human history….
(17 September 2012)

(4) Freaked-out climate scientists urge other freaked-out climate scientists to speak up, fight Man

Freaked-out climate scientists urge other freaked-out climate scientists to speak up, fight Man

David Roberts, Grist
In my previous post, I discussed some new modeling which shows that avoiding climate chaos — limiting average global temperature rise to 2 degrees, generally agreed to be the threshold of danger — is still possible, but just barely, and only with massive, immediate, coordinated global action.

Can we make the radical changes necessary to meet that challenge? No, say climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows in a recent commentary in Nature Climate Change, not “within orthodox political and economic constraints.”

There is no political or economic constraint more orthodox than the primacy of economic growth. No solution to climate change that threatens economic growth can get any traction at all — even the most “alarmist” climate hawks fear to tread there. Which is too bad, Anderson and Bows say, because “climate change commitments are incompatible with short- to medium-term economic growth (in other words, for 10 to 20 years).” What’s worse, “work on adapting to climate change suggests that economic growth cannot be reconciled with the breadth and rate of impacts as the temperature rises towards 4 °C and beyond.” In other words: We either give up economic growth voluntarily for a little while or suffer a climate that will reverse economic growth long-term.

Yikes. I’ve cited papers by Anderson and Bows before, in my “brutal logic” series. They are extremely pessimistic about the chances of constraining temperature rise to 2 or even 3 degrees. They identify several ways that most climate modeling downplays the severity of the challenge, but their difference with, say, the U.K. group I wrote about yesterday is not so much over projections as what the projections mean in political economy terms…
(18 September 2012)

(5) Finally, and to sum up, (5)The Anderson-Bows paper A NEW PARADIGM FOR CLIMATE CHANGE is behind a paywall and so this poor activist has been searching. I found a big chunk at Judith Curry’s site – along with part of a rousing speech by Jane Lubchenco. I think Ms. Lubchenco’s and the Anderson-Bows perspective will speak to many of you.

There is a huge divide – on these listserves on most subjects as well as in economics/politics and in regard to tactics for fighting climate change – between those (many employed or otherwise deeply engaged) who think that change is possible within BAU and those that see that only radical, transformative action can lead to solutions to building problems.

Activate (?) your science

Judith Curry, Climate Etc.
We need bold science and bold action. There is a vital role for governments to play, but equally importantly is the role of academia, civil society, and industry. Harnessing that collective commitment is underway – but it remains to be seen if changes will be rapid and substantial enough. Her Excellency noted in her powerful opening remarks that there is a significant gap between the accelerating pace of degradation and the rate of effective response.
Each of you here can influence the rate of response by activating your science. – Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco gave the keynote presentation at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia. The text of the speech is found here. Some excerpts:

Scientists – YOU and I ! – with our knowledge of the threats, consequences, and likelihood success of options for solutions, have a particular responsibility to share our findings broadly, develop useful and useable decision-support tools, team up with local communities and industry partners, and help craft practical solutions.

Your knowledge and your passion are sorely needed. But your knowledge must be shared in ways that are understandable, credible and relevant to decision-making at multiple levels. Learning to become bilingual – to speak both the language of science and the language of lay people is a skill more scientists need to learn. You’ve all heard the phrase ‘learn by doing’? The same applies to teaching: ‘teach by doing…not by preaching.’

This is, in fact, happening in many parts of the world. Scientists, communities, NGOs, industry and governments are collaborating to develop management solutions that provide for immediate local needs and enable healthy, resilient reefs. These are powerful, hopeful signs, they are simply not at the scale commensurate with the threats.

This is a story of leadership, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary partnerships across many types of partners, peer learning, and science to develop and implement creative solutions that address food security in the face of climate change and ocean acidification.

The world, its coral reefs and the millions of people that depend upon them need more bold action – action that is science-and ecosystem-based,action that is embraced locally and nationally, action that values tomorrow as well as today. And we need bold science – science that is use-inspired: i. e., it is cutting-edge but relevant and focused on solutions.

Each of you here can influence the rate of response by activating your science.

I invite you to do more than create new knowledge. Share it! Put it to use with partners and a sustained engagement.

In short, activate your science.

Donna LaFramboise doesn’t like what Lubchenco had to say:

In Lubchenco’s universe there is apparently no danger of scientists going overboard, of unconsciously biasing their research. She seems to think that earning a scientific degree somehow transforms individuals into infallible beings who will never fall victim to self-delusion, whose judgment will always be impeccable.

The latest issue of Nature Climate Change has an article by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows entitled A new paradigm for climate change that make similar points:

How climate change science is conducted, communicated and translated into policy must be radically transformed if ‘dangerous’ climate change is to be averted.

We urgently need to acknowledge that the development needs of many countries leave the rich western nations with little choice but to immediately and severely curb their greenhouse gas emissions. But academics may again have contributed to a misguided belief that commitments to avoid warming of 2 °C can still be realized with incremental adjustments to economic incentives. A carbon tax here, a little emissions trading there and the odd voluntary agreement thrown in for good measure will not be sufficient.

Scientists may argue that it is not our responsibility anyway and that it is politicians who are really to blame. The scientific community can meet next year to communicate its latest model results and reiterate how climate change commitments and economic growth go hand in hand. Many policymakers (and some scientists) believe that yet another year will not matter in the grand scheme of things, but this overlooks the fundamental tenet of climate science: emissions are cumulative.

There are many reasons why climate science has become intertwined with politics, to the extent that providing impartial scientific analysis is increasingly challenging and challenged. On a personal level, scientists are human too. Many have chosen to research climate change because they believe there is value in applying scientific rigour to an important global issue. It is not surprising then that they also hope that it is still possible to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. However, as the remaining cumulative budget is consumed, so any contextual interpretation of the science demonstrates that the threshold of 2 °C is no longer viable, at least within orthodox political and economic constraints. Against this backdrop, unsubstantiated hope leaves such constraints unquestioned, while at the same time legitimizing a focus on increasingly improbable low- carbon futures and underplaying high- emission scenarios.

On a professional level, scientists are seldom trained to engage with policymaking; where opinions are encouraged and decisions informed as much by ideology as by judgement of the science, economics and so on. Policymaking is necessarily a messy process. Scientists, however, often assume that the most effective way of engaging is by presenting evidence, without daring to venture, at least explicitly, broader academic judgement. Perhaps, for narrowly defined disciplinary study, this is entirely appropriate. Yet many highly respected researchers are emerging with interdisciplinary expertise. Academic training has begun to foster the ability of researchers to embed quantitative analysis within a wider sociopolitical and economic context. Nevertheless, reluctance to proffer academic judgement confidently remains, particularly when such judgement raises fundamental questions about the viability of so-called real-world economics.

Reinforcing the view that we may be on the cusp of a paradigm shift are the fundamental disagreements between orthodox economists as to how to respond to the crisis. This theoretical disarray has parallels with those rare occasions in history where established knowledge is superseded by new ways of thinking and understanding. Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Planck all represent such radical transitions. They are seldom achieved easily and the old guard typically hangs on kicking furiously to avoid relinquishing its grip on power. Ultimately, however, such protestations are futile in the face of the new insights and new ways of doing things that emerge with the new paradigm.

It is in this rapidly evolving context that the science underpinning climate change is being conducted and its findings communicated. This is an opportunity that should and must be grasped. Liberate the science from the economics, finance and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable. But this is still not enough. In an increasingly interconnected world where the whole — the system — is often far removed from the sum of its parts, we need to be less afraid of making academic judgements. Not unsubstantiated opinions and prejudice, but applying a mix of academic rigour, courage and humility to bring new and interdisciplinary insights into the emerging era. Leave the market economists to fight among themselves over the right price of carbon — let them relive their groundhog day if they wish. The world is moving on and we need to have the audacity to think differently and conceive of alternative futures.

Civil society needs scientists to do science free of the constraints of failed economics. It also needs us to guard against playing politics while actively engaging with the processes of developing policy; this is a nuanced but nonetheless crucial distinction. Ultimately, decisions on how to respond to climate change are the product of many constituencies contributing to the debate. Science is important among these and needs to be communicated clearly, honestly and without fear.

JC comment: The above text clearly illustrates the postnormal environment that climate science is operating in. I can certainly understand why policy makers and advocacy groups want scientists to get involved, so that they can trade on the authority of scientists in their policy making….
(30 August 2012)