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Climate change: Two presentations and an alarming update

In previous articles, I have commented on the emergency we’re facing in the form of climate change.

In this article, I provide links to two presentations which highlight many of the key issues in terms of: (a) climate change generally; and (b) the massive impact of animal agriculture. I also provide an update on alarming developments in the Arctic region, along with some comments on government inaction and the pathetic level of media reporting.

Presentation 1Climate change tipping points and their implications

climate-change-paul-mahony-may-2012-public-cover

Description: Climate presentation including links to what I believe are dramatic videos of what’s happening to the Greenland ice sheet and methane escaping from thawing permafrost below a lake in Alaska. (First presented in March, 2012)

Key issues:

  • The science, including amplifying feedbacks
  • Tipping points, including examples and recent developments
    - Arctic sea ice
    - Greenland ice cap
    - Methane clathrates/hydrates (permafrost and ocean sediments)
  • Implications
  • Denialism and media reporting
  • Essential measures

Presentation 2 - Solar Or Soy: Which is better for the planet? (A review of animal agriculture’s impact)

Presentation-Solar-or-Soy-Handouts-5-cover

Description: Animal agriculture has a massive impact on climate change. In June 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management reported on activities and resources that contribute disproportionately to environmental pressures and impacts. In its report, the panel said, "a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products". This presentation supports that view. (First presented in February, 2011)

Key Issues (inter-related):

  • Inherent inefficiency
  • Scale
  • Greenhouse gases and other warming agents
  • Deforestation
  • Water
  • Nutrition

The presentation on climate change tipping points was prompted by dramatic news in late 2011, including:

  • The extent of Arctic summer sea ice was reported to have been the second lowest on record. [1]
  • Russian scientists had reported  "astonishing" and unprecedented releases of methane from permafrost along the seabed of the Siberian Arctic Shelf. [2]
  • The percentage increase in greenhouse gas emissions globally in 2010 was reported to have been the highest on record by a significant margin. [3] 
  • The International Energy Agency reported that, without massive changes in energy infrastructure, "The world is on the brink of irreversible climate change . . . in five years global warming will hit a point of no return after which it will be impossible to reverse the process. " [4]

Paradoxically, media reporting of the issue had been waning in 2011 and the three years immediately preceding it. The following chart depicts the extent of climate change reporting on the evening broadcast news in the United States by NBC, CBS and ABC. [5]

Brulle-Networks-small-2

Developments on climate change may have been alarming in 2011, but the situation has worsened significantly in 2012. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that July 2012 was the hottest month in the contiguous United States since record keeping began in 1895. However, in a study of major media outlets, only 8.7% of television segments and 25.5% of print articles reported on the July heat waves in the context of climate change. [6]

Another key development has been a dramatic fall in the extent of Arctic summer sea ice. It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the melting that has occurred in this year's northern summer.

The first two charts below show the extent of Arctic summer sea ice melting for many years, including 2012. This year's melting has broken the previous record of 2007 by a significant margin. To put that into context, let's consider some comments published in 2008 about the northern summer of 2007 [7 ].

  • [Mark] Serreze [of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center] told the Guardian on 4 September: "It's amazing. It's simply fallen off a cliff and we're still losing ice."
  • NSIDC research scientist Walt Meier told the Independent on 22 September that the 2007 ice extent was "the biggest drop from a previous record that we've ever had and it's really quite astounding . . . Certainly we've been on a downward trend for the last thirty years or so, but this is really accelerating the trend."
  • The decline was 22 percent in two years, compared to 7 percent per decade between 1979 and 2005.
  • The problem was not only the declining area, but also the thickness of the ice. In the early 1960's, it was around 3.5 metres. By 2008, that had reduced to 1 metre, with half the reduction occurring in the previous seven years.

As can be seen in the following charts, the Arctic summer sea ice extent is reducing at what appears to be an accelerating rate. That appears to be consistent with the exponential trend shown in the third chart, which I had included in an earlier article.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported on 5 September, 2012:

"Following the new record low recorded on August 26, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop and is now below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely remains in the melt season." [8]

Sea-ice-extent

 
 Monthly-sea-ice-extent
 
Monthly August ice extent for 1979 to 2012 shows a decline of 10.2% per decade.

6.arctic_sea_ice_volume_freefall

 
The exponential trending, indicating a potential loss of all summer Arctic sea ice by 2015, is consistent with recent comments from Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University. In an article dated 30 August, 2012 [9], David Spratt cited an article from the previous day in The Scotsman, which stated:
 
"Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, who was branded 'alarmist' after he first detected 'substantial thinning' of sea ice in 1990, said: 'The entire ice cover is now on the point of collapse. The extra open water already created by the retreating ice allows bigger waves to be generated by storms, which are sweeping away the surviving ice. It is truly the case that it will be all gone by 2015. The consequences are enormous and represent a huge boost to global warming.'"

The implications of the Arctic summer sea ice retreating have been outlined in some of my previous articles. A key factor is the warming of exposed dark ocean, which absorbs solar radiation rather than reflecting it back to space. This leads to more warming and more melting of the sea ice in a self-perpetuating process. This warming of the ocean has dramatic impacts on the neighbouring Greenland ice sheet.

On that ice sheet, lakes are forming, which disappear down moulins (craters) to the bottom, a distance of more that two kilometres in many cases. The water cascading through the moulins warms the ice sheet and lubricates the base, contributing to further melting. There are many hundreds, possibly thousands, of moulins on the ice sheet. Here’s an example from a 2011 expedition by researchers from the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory, City College, New York: 
 
Moulin
 
The researcher who provided the above image, Professor Marco Tedesco, recently reported that melting over the Greenland ice sheet had shattered the seasonal record four weeks before the close of the melting season. "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979." [10]
 
We have little time to rectify the damage that has occurred or the resulting atmospheric and planetary processes. Politicians will almost certainly fail to act in the absence of grassroots support for emergency action. Although they should be helping to generate that support, the evidence indicates that they are unlikely to do so. On that basis, it will be left to the citizens of each country to insist on urgent political action.

A weapon we all have is our diet.  We must heed calls by the World Health Organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Dr James Hansen of NASA and others for a general move away from animal products.

Very recently, scientists from the Stockholm International Water Institute reported that a dramatic reduction in animals as a food source may be necessary to secure world food supplies due to water shortages. [11]

One can ask why organisations such as Oxfam and World Vision continue their ill-founded programs that enable well-meaning donors to supply animals to citizens of impoverished nations. Quite apart from the water and climate change impacts, animals are a grossly and inherently inefficient food source. Dr David Pimentel of Cornell University reported in 2003 that the grain fed each year to livestock in the U.S. could feed 840 million people. [12]
 
Are the views expressed in this article unrealistic? Although he did not comment on the agriculture sector, the following words from former international oil, gas and coal industry executive, Ian Dunlop, highlight the gravity of our current predicament (with my bullets and bold formatting) [13]:
  • Perhaps the greatest flaw in the climate debate has been our inability, or refusal, to address risk and uncertainty realistically.  
  • Scientists are giving increasingly urgent warnings on the mounting evidence of human-induced warming and the need for rapid carbon emission reductions.
  • Officialdom chooses to ignore these warnings, preferring policy based on ‘political realism’, shorthand for hoping the problem will go away.  
  • Business, supposedly the experts on risk management, should take leadership, but have abrogated any responsibility, given that realistic action will require a fundamental redesign of the economic system, undermining established vested interests.
  • The result is that nobody is seriously addressing the strategic risks to which we are exposed.
  • The history of the last two decades has demonstrated that conventional politics and business are incapable of handling this issue in a realistic manner. 
  • Leadership is totally lacking in both arenas; global and national institutions are failing here, just as they are failing to address the financial crisis – on both counts economic growth is the problem, not the solution. 
  • Climate change is now a far bigger risk than any financial crisis and yet the real effort devoted to managing it is miniscule in comparison.
 
Do we want a habitable planet with the ability to feed all, or do we want to exacerbate the crisis by continuing to eat animals and investing in fossil fuels as our primary energy source? It’s our choice.
 
Note: Ian Dunlop, who has been quoted above, was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive.  He chaired the Australian Coal Association in 1987-88, chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998-2000 and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997-2001.  He is a Director of Australia, Chairman of Safe Climate Australia, a Member of the Club of Rome and Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.
  

Paul_Mahony

Paul Mahony is a member of Vegetarian Victoria, Animal Liberation Victoria, Animals Australia, Bayside Climate Change Action Group (BCCAG) and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment (LIVE).

In 2009, he prepared Vegetarian Victoria’s submission to the Victorian State Government in response to its Climate Change Green Paper. His question on animal agriculture and climate change finished second in polling for The Sunday Age’s 2011 "Climate Agenda", and prompted an article prior to the close of polling and another subsequently.

Paul has had over forty letters published in The Age and The Sunday Age since 2008. He is also contributing to the land use component of “ZCA 2020”, a joint project between Beyond Zero Emissions and The University of Melbourne. His work is also featured on the websites of BCCAG and LIVE.

Find Paul on Twitter & Slideshare.

References:

[1] National Snow and Ice Data Center, September 2011 compared to past years http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2011/10/ 

[2] Connor, S., “Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats”, The Independent, 13 December, 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vast-methane-plumes-seen-in-arctic-ocean-as-sea-ice-retreats-6276278.html (Accessed 4 February 2012)

[3] Borenstein, S., “Biggest jump ever in global warming gases”, The Age, 4 Nov, 2012, http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-world/biggest-jump-ever-in-global-warming-gases-20111104-1myf5.html and Katharine Hayhoe, Atmospheric Scientist, cited in Brook, B. “Depressing climate-related trends – But who gets It?”, 6 Nov 2011, http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/11/06/depressing-climate-trends/, Original http://twitpic.com/7b8v2j

[4] Vale, P. "Climate Change: World Reaches Point Of No Return In Five Years, Say Scientists", The Huffington Post UK, 9 Nov 2011, updated 9 January, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/09/climate-change-five-years_n_1084052.html

[5] Brulle, R., cited in Romm, J, "Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011", Climate Progress, 9 January, 2012, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/01/09/400795/network-news-coverage-of-climate-change-collapsed-in-2011/

[6] Media Matters for America, "Study: TV Media Ignore Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat", 15 August, 2012, http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/08/15/tv-media-ignore-climate-change-in-coverage-of-r/189366"

[7] Spratt, D & Sutton, P, "Climate Code Red: the case for emergency action" (Scribe), 2008, pp. 12-13

[8] National Snow and Ice Data Center, "Arctic sea ice falls below 4 million square kilometers", 5 September, 2012, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-falls-below-4-million-square-kilometers/

[9] Spratt, D. "Big call: Cambridge prof. predicts Arctic summer sea ice “all gone by 2015”, 30 August, 2012, http://www.climatecodered.org/2012/08/big-call-cambridge-prof-predicts-arctic.html

[10] "Greenland Melting Breaks Record Four Weeks Before Season's End", ScienceDaily, 15 August, 2012, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120815121318.htm

[11] Vidal, J., "Water shortages to hit food supply", The Age, 28 August, 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/world/water-shortages-to-hit-food-supply-20120827-24wlc.html

[12] Pimentel, D., Cornell University “Livestock production and energy use”, Cleveland CJ, ed. Encyclopedia of energy (in press), cited in Pimentel, D. & Pimentel M. “Sustainability of meat-based and plantbased
diets and the environment”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S, September 2003

[13] “Interview with Ian Dunlop”, Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, 8 March, 2012, http://www.leadershipforwomen.com.au/transform/aclw-articles-published/expert-climate-change-panel/item/ian-dunlop

Images:

“Elegant Lightning” © James Horn | Dreamstime.com

“How Now Brown Cow” © Joseph Gough | Dreamstime.com

“Tower reflects sun” © Iñigo Quintanilla Gomez | istockphoto.com

“Edamame Isolated on White” © YinYang | istockphoto.com

“Coal fired future” © James Wright | istockphoto.com

"Nightly Broadcast news coverage of climate change", Brulle J., Drexell University, Philadelphia

"Arctic sea ice extent as at 3 September, 2012", National Snow and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-falls-below-4-million-square-kilometers/

"Average monthly Arctic sea ice extent", National Snow and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-falls-below-4-million-square-kilometers/

From Brook, B. “Depressing climate-related trends – but who gets it?”, 6 Nov 2011 http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/11/06/depressing-climate-trends/ based on Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) graphs from the Polar Science Center of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/, reported in http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2011/10/piomas-september-2011-volume-record-lower-still.html

One of the four moulins found at the bottom of a supraglacial lake on Greenland ice sheet, M. Todesco, Cryospheric Processes Laboratory, The City College of New York.

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