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Climate Shifts » OveHG http://www.climateshifts.org Science, climate change, coral reefs and the environment Sun, 05 Oct 2014 04:16:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.24 Tropical Coastal Ecosystems http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7401 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7401#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 05:03:28 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7401 Free course begins next week!

Take the challenge and understand problems and solutions to managing tropical coastal ecosystems.  Do you want to develop the skills and knowledge needed to help preserve tropical coastal ecosystems? These critical systems provide goods and services for hundreds of millions of people.  Human activities, however, are leading to [...]]]> MOOClandscape[9]

Free course begins next week!

Take the challenge and understand problems and solutions to managing tropical coastal ecosystems.  Do you want to develop the skills and knowledge needed to help preserve tropical coastal ecosystems? These critical systems provide goods and services for hundreds of millions of people.  Human activities, however, are leading to their decline globally. TROPIC101x will introduce you to the fascinating organisms, ecological processes, challenges and solutions that lie behind these unique ecosystems.  Details regarding the course and enrollment can be found HERE.

DETAILS:  There are several ways you can take the course (see frequently asked questions).

  1. You can simply audit this course for free and have complete access to all of the course material, test material, and the online discussion forum. You decide what and how much you want to do.  Free to All.
  2. Alternatively, you can undertake the course, and complete the material for course assessment. Free to All.
  3. From here, and for a minimal fee, you can elect to obtain Verified Certificate of Achievement, which may be useful in job applications, promotions or school applications. 

Join us on April 28 – Don’t miss out!

Lecturers contributing to Tropic101x are:

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is the Director of the Global Change Institute (GCI) and Professor of Marine Science at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Prof Hoegh-Guldberg has a BSc (honours) from Sydney and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. Ove’s research focuses on the biology of coral reefs, particularly impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. In addition to publishing over 220 publications, Prof Hoegh-Guldberg leads a major research group and has started innovative education programs such as Stanford Australia. He is the Coordinating Lead Author for the ‘Oceans’ chapter for the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He was awarded the Eureka Prize for his scientific research in 1999 and is currently an ARC Laureate (2013-2018) after finishing his term as Smart State Premier’s Fellow (2008–13).

Cath LovelockProfessor Cath Lovelock
Cath Lovelock is a marine botanist who specialises in the ecology and ecophysiology of coastal plant communities. Her research group is particularly interested in the influence of environment, including global climate change, on plant community productivity and diversity. She conducts experimental work over a wide range of coastal plant communities that include macroalgae, mangroves and cyanobacterial mat communities. Some of her current research projects include assessment of how sea level and nutrient enrichment influences mangrove and salt marsh ecosystems, how mangroves mediate exchanges between the land and sea and how metabolism of coral reefs varies over latitude.

Hugh PossinghamProfessor Hugh Possingham
Hugh Possingham is the Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence for Environmental Decisions. His research involves the use of mathematical and statistical tools to solve problems in ecology and conservation. Laboratory members range from empirical ecologists to mathematicians. Recent research successes include: producing the software (Marxan) that was used to rezone the protected areas within the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Marxan is now used by 100 countries around the world to design their marine protected area systems, approaches for minimising the impact of land-use change on coastal ecosystems, protocols for optimal monitoring and decision support for setting global conservation priorities. Web page:http://www.possinghamlab.org

Stuart PhinnProfessor Stuart Phinn
Stuart Phinn’s research interests are in measuring and monitoring environmental changes using earth observation data and publishing/sharing ecosystem data. He received his PhD from the University of California – Santa Barbara/San Diego State University in 1997. The majority of his work focuses on the use of images collected from satellite and aircraft, in combination with field measurements, to map and monitor the earth’s environments and how they are changing over time. This work is done in collaboration with other environmental scientists, government environmental management agencies, NGO’s and private companies. A growing part of this work now focuses on national coordination of earth observation activities and the collection, publishing and sharing of ecosystem data.

Pete MumbyProfessor Peter Mumby
Pete Mumby is an ARC Laureate Fellow and is a marine scientist specialising in spatial ecology. Prof Mumby leads the Marine Spatial Ecology Lab (MSEL) that carries out applied science in support of coral reef management. His work includes basic coral reef ecology, remote sensing, ecological modelling, and the design of algorithms for marine spatial planning that consider larval and ontogenetic connectivity, climate change, and local physical conditions.

Sophie DoveProfessor Sophie Dove
Sophie Dove (Ph. D 1998,) has extensive experience in investigating the effects of environmental change on marine aquatic organisms. She is presently concerned with the interactive effects of SW temperature and SW pCO2 on a broad diversity of reefal organisms that are directly involved in reef construction and destruction. She is a teaching and research academic at the University of Queensland where she is the Director of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Laboratory. She has advised 20 post-graduate students, and is highly active in research having published 34 high impact journal articles over the last 5 years. Her novel isolation of pigments from Scleractinian corals led to two international patents

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The IPCC has spelled out the risks – now what do we do? http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7390 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7390#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 10:09:18 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7390 Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The Conversation, March 31 2014.

Despite the mounting evidence, there are still some who would deny the veracity of human-caused climate change and its potential to disrupt and harm our communities. Most dissenters rely on non-expert sources, which tend to have low grades of analysis, review [...]]]> SPM AR5 FlameOve Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The ConversationMarch 31 2014.

Despite the mounting evidence, there are still some who would deny the veracity of human-caused climate change and its potential to disrupt and harm our communities. Most dissenters rely on non-expert sources, which tend to have low grades of analysis, review and scientific integrity. Not so with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the latest part of which has been released today.

Involving hundreds of the world’s most qualified experts, the report focuses on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of ecosystems, economics and people to climate change. There is nothing lightweight about it. Like the Working Group I report, released in September last year, it stretches to more than 2,000 pages and has involved more than 50,000 responses to hundreds of reviewers. And the messages from Working Group II are also pretty stark. Here are some of those messages.

“Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.”

The latest report makes no bones about stating the consensus that human-driven climate change is occurring and it is important. Hundreds of changes have already been observed that are consistent with climate change, temperature rises (documented below), and associated issues such as ocean acidification.

Observed temperature change over 1901-2012. IPCC 2014 Summary for Policymakers
Click to enlarge

 The most important of these impacts are detailed on the map below, and include threats to ecosystems and organisms, increasing coastal erosion and inundation, decreasing crop yields, and intensifying flood frequency.

Observed examples of climate change impacts worldwide. IPCC 2014 Summary for Policymakers.,CC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

 The challenge of managing risks Risk is a prominent theme in the new report. Whether it be understanding the vulnerability of people and systems to climate change, or the benefits of adaptation, the IPCC’s Working Group II is couching its consensus, analysis and language in terms of “risk”, more so than the concepts of “vulnerability” and “exposure” discussed in previous reports. The reason for this change comes from the perception that risk is more widely understood by the general public than the previous terms. People understand managing and avoiding risk from an early age. Whether it is the tree you climbed as a child, or your decision to reduce your risk of harm by wearing a bike helmet, risk and its management is a familiar concept.

Rising risk with increasing temperatures. IPCC 2014 Summary for Policymakers.CC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

The new report summarises the expert consensus on risk and gives new insights into how those risks might change in the face of 2C or 4C of global warming. Importantly, the consensus report includes an assessment of whether the resultant risks can be reduced by adaptation. Adaptation, as you might remember, refers to our ability as people and communities to take steps to reduce the impacts of climate change. As can be seen from looking at the examples in the table below, in most cases our adaptation options for reducing risk are limited, especially if we fail to take action that might curb temperature rises.

Oceans in flux

One of the new features of the current assessment is the greater focus on the world’s oceans. In previous IPCC reports, discussion of the ocean has been split across systems and regional chapters, reducing the opportunity to look at the bigger picture of how climate change broadly affects the ocean as a whole. In the current assessment, the ocean (which, of course, covers 71% of Earth’s surface) is considered in a single new regional chapter, allowing all aspects of this massive system to be pulled together.


Key climate risks for the world’s oceans. IPCC (2014) Summary for Policy MakersCC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

One of the outcomes of this chapter is a much improved understanding of whether climate change has is affecting marine organisms and ecosystems. This type of information and understanding has been available for terrestrial systems going back to before the previous IPCC assessment in 2007. In 2003, for instance, many terrestrial species were found to have moved polewards – a discovery that was later confirmed. But similar understanding was lacking for ocean species. The new report fills in this gap, thanks largely to CSIRO’s Elvira Poloczanska and colleagues, who assessed 1735 marine biological responses and found that 81-83% of these published studies that showed changes that were consistent with ocean warming and other climate change related changes. That is an amazing number, and it means that life in the ocean is mostly on the move in response to the changing conditions foisted on it by climate change.


How the average distribution of key marine groups has been changing, measured in kilometres per decade, based on observations over 1900-2010. Positive distribution changes are consistent with ocean warming: that is, marine life moving into previously cooler waters, generally poleward.IPCC (2014) Summary for Policy Makers
Click to enlarge

 With populations of economically important organisms such as fish travelling towards the polar regions at rates of up to 200 km per decade, industries such as fishing are experiencing new challenges associated with shifting resources. In some cases, such as high-latitude fisheries off the Scandinavian coast, fisheries are experiencing increased catch rates as ice retreats and waters warm. But these benefits are likely to be short-lived, as further warming will eventually rob these fish species of their optimum living conditions.

Our ability to adapt is limited at best

The latest IPCC report clearly shows that the consensus on changes in risk under future warming and that adaptive capacity is limited at best in terms of countering the growth of vulnerability.

One world, two possible futures. The first shows how the world is projected to have warmed within the lifetimes of many children today (by 2081-2100), under a scenario where ambitious emissions reductions are made. The second shows the expected temperatures in the same 2081-2100 period if greenhouse gas emissions continue rising under a business-as-usual scenario.IPCC 2014 Summary for PolicymakersCC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

 When you read the 44-page Summary for Policy Makersreleased today, one thing that jumps out is the table of key risks and possible adaptation responses needed for each continent, small islands and the world’s oceans – even with only small amounts of climate change. If you are someone charged with the job of devising adaptation strategies, your eyes would no doubt be watering. What struck me when I first looked at the aggregated risks, adaptive possibilities and resultant vulnerabilities (such as the one shown below), was how little adaptation might achieve if we head into a world that is 2C or 4C warmer. The second thought was how expensive each option is in terms of time and resources, especially given that all have to be dealt with and cannot be seen in isolation.

Key climate risks and possibilities for adaptation for Africa. IPCC 2014 Summary for Policymakers,CC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

 

The cost of inaction

The third thought is one that concerns the economic argument for bringing our emissions globally to zero over the next two decades, versus trying to adapt to the changes – the subject of next month’s IPCC Working Group III report. It argues from a powerful expert consensus among many scientists that the cost of trying to adapt to the very long list of climate change threats is likely to be excessive compared to the strategy of reducing the challenges (emissions) posed by a changing climate in the first place. In other words – and I am far from being the first person to make this point – the need to act on climate change is an economic as well as environmental argument. In the words of Bill Clinton: it’s the economy, stupid. Those who think adapting to climate change looks worryingly expensive would do well to start arguing in favour of spending money on reducing its effects.

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IPCC preview: deep trouble brewing in our oceans http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7382 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7382#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 22:30:39 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7382 Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The Conversation, March 26, 2014

Scientists are meeting this week in Yokohama, Japan, to finalise and approve the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II – the part of the IPCC process that seeks consensus on the likely impacts of climate [...]]]> nr3g7tvk-1394507397Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The Conversation, March 26, 2014

Scientists are meeting this week in Yokohama, Japan, to finalise and approve the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II – the part of the IPCC process that seeks consensus on the likely impacts of climate change, as well as how it might change the vulnerability of people and ecosystems, and how the world might seek to adapt to the changes.

The oceans are a new focus of this latest round of IPCC assessment, and while one cannot preempt the report to be delivered next week, there are likely to be some important ramifications for our ability to deal with the growing impacts from non-climate-related stresses such as overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, as well as ocean warming and acidification.

To put it simply, a failure to deal with our changing climate will make it far more difficult to deal with the many other threats already faced by our oceans.

If you’ll pardon the pun, the ocean is in deep trouble, and that trouble will only get deeper if we don’t deal decisively with the problem of climate change.

Ecosystems already under stress

I am deeply concerned about the state of the world’s oceans, as I believe we all should be. The argument is pretty simple. Human activities are increasingly affecting the oceans, which are the cornerstone of life on our planet. These impacts are causing the decline of many ecosystems and fisheries. As a result, the risks to people and communities are rapidly expanding.

Throw in ocean warming and acidification, and you have many scientists predicting the dangerous and unprecedented decline of ocean processes and ecosystems.

Not only is this decline tangible and measurable, but models (fromsimple to advanced) show future projections of sea temperature rising above the known tolerance of many organisms and ecosystems.

The pace of this change now has many world leaders concerned about the future of the world’s oceans and their dependent people and businesses. This is led to an increasing number ofpast and future conferences focusing on how we can tackle the scale and rate at which marine ecosystems and resources are deteriorating and changing.

This concern has led to commitments such as the Global Partnership for Oceans. In a dramatic 2012 speech, outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick positioned the partnership to galvanise resources and take real action on reversing the decline of the world’s oceans. Soon afterwards, the partnership – which involves more than 150 governments, companies, universities and non-government organisations – declared a set of objectives to meet by 2022, including to:

  • Halve the current rate of natural habitat loss, while increasing conservation areas to include 10% of coastal and marine areas;
  • Reduce pollution and litter to levels that do not harm ecosystems;
  • Increase global food fish production from both sustainable aquaculture and sustainable wild-caught fisheries.

This sounds like a tall order. However, under a stable climate, I have few doubts that we could come close to achieving these broad objectives. It might take some time, but I think we would get close.

Unfortunately though, we are not in a stable climate.

Climate poses an extra layer of threat

Over the past 50 years, increasing amounts of energy and carbon dioxide have been flooding into the ocean through the burning of fossil fuels and changes to land use. Initially, the ocean was fairly inert to these changes because of its large volume and thermal mass.

However, just like the eponymous monster in John Wyndham’s apocalyptic novel The Kraken Wakes, the ocean is now stirring and big changes are beginning to happen. Ocean temperaturesand acidity are increasing in lockstep with average global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide content. Many of these changes are unprecedented in 65 million years.

While some changes, such as the extent of mixing of heat into the deep ocean, have been relatively unexpected, the energy content of the ocean has been increasing steadily. In reality, the widely proclaimed “hiatus” in surface warming simply represents heat being driven into the oceans.

 


Figure 1. Heat content of the ocean, atmosphere and land since 1960. Church et al. Geophys. Res. Lett. (2011)
Click to enlarge

 

The problem with climate change in the context of dealing with the growing threats from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction is that the goalposts are constantly shifting. If we continue to push sea temperature upward by 0.1-0.2C per decade, we begin to shift species, and hence fisheries – some are already moving at up to 200 km per decade. Trying to manage a fishery or protect an ecosystem, when the best conditions for the organisms involved are moving polewards at such a rate, may well become impossible in many circumstances.

Future goals

This means that if the Global Partnership for Oceans is to meet its ambitious goals, we must deal decisively with the problem of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change.

If we don’t, then with all due respect to the partnership’s efforts, we are set to waste billions of dollars trying to address problems that will only get swamped by a fast-changing climate.

As outlined in last September’s IPCC Working Group I Report, stabilising the climate will require world carbon dioxide emissions to be brought onto a trajectory far below what governments and companies are set to emit over the next 20 years if business is allowed to continue as usual.

A lack of such decisive action will indeed wake the Kraken – committing us to ocean, and indeed planetary, impacts that are likely to last for many thousands of years.

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Bernie Fraser: ‘brazen falsehoods’ and ‘misinformation’ have confused a switched-off and fed-up public http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7378 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7378#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 02:36:59 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7378 Lenore Taylor, political editor, The Guardian, March 11 2014

One of the country’s most experienced policy thinkers draws a brutal conclusion about Australia’s climate change debate: the “good guys” have lost the argument because they failed to contest untruths peddled by “bad guys”, including the federal government.

Bernie Fraser, the chairman of the independent [...]]]> Bernie FraserLenore Taylor, political editor, The Guardian, March 11 2014

One of the country’s most experienced policy thinkers draws a brutal conclusion about Australia’s climate change debate: the “good guys” have lost the argument because they failed to contest untruths peddled by “bad guys”, including the federal government.

Bernie Fraser, the chairman of the independent climate change authority, which the Abbott government intends to abolish, is a softly spoken former governor of the reserve bank and former secretary of the federal treasury, not known for simplistic assessments of major policy discussions.

But he is clearly frustrated at what he believes has been the wilful misleading of a confused and increasingly fed-up public by politicians and industry groups who, he says, deliberately spread misinformation about climate science and the policies that might reduce Australia’s emissions.

The “bad guys” are winning because their “brazen falsehoods”, “untruths” and “misinformation” are often going unchallenged.

“The good guys are way behind and seem to be not making up ground,” he says, in an interview with Guardian Australia ahead of a speech he will make to the national press club on Thursday. “The public generally are getting bored with it all and switching off. The problem seems to be to be that the bad guys are spreading untruths and exaggerations and assertions without a lot of hard evidence and serious debate, cheered on by the big companies who make similar assertions and repeat those assertions without thorough debate.”

Asked to define the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in this analysis, he says: “The good guys are the mainstream scientific bloc and their analysis of why the planet is warming up.

“The bad guys are the mavericks, the kind we hear on the radio, who don’t accept the science and who attack the scientists, I ignore them and they deserve to be ignored … but it’s more serious when you get to people in positions of influence, in industry associations or companies, or in the government and the opposition who in some cases say they believe the science but then don’t act as if they do.

“That whole range of people I lump into the bad guy camp.”

Included in this “bad guy” category, he says, are “the present government and some of its biggest supporters, big companies and industry associations”.

“In the case of the companies and business associations, they are speaking their book and that is understandable. Companies pursue self-interest rather than community interest. The problem becomes really serious when those self-interested views tend to have disproportionate influence on the policy-makers and that is happening at the present time … particularly because there is not an effective countering of those kinds of views.”

And that brings Fraser to the Labor party.

“The Labor party has lost its way,” he says. “That is one of the reasons why the government and the big companies are getting away with blue murder on some of these things, just asserting things, because Labor is not picking them up effectively.

“Labor has changed its mind so many times the public is just confused about what they stand for on climate change at the moment. I suspect some members of the Labor party are also confused about what they are doing …

“I think there has been a long-term trend towards brazen false or misleading assertions and a faith that repeated brazen assertions can at least confuse things sufficiently to carry the day … Those kind of brazen campaigns have become more prominent … and there is very little institutional advocacy left for promoting the broader community interest.

“There is no one out there really presenting a coherent, informed, mature case on this … It seems to be a very important debate we should be having is going by default and those who speak loudest and most frequently, regardless of the merits of the argument, seem to be winning the day.”

In its most recent report the authority found Australia needed to treble its minimum 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions from 5% below 2000 levels to 15% to have a “credible” role in international efforts to slow global warming.

The Abbott government has committed to meet the 5% target through its Direct Action policy – primarily a program of competitive government grants to companies and organisations seeking to reduce emissions.

Fraser repeated the authority’s view that policymakers need to use a “toolbox” of policies to reach an emissions reduction target, but he also said Ross Garnaut, an expert climate adviser to the former Labor government, had made some “good points” about the capacity of Direct Action – as so far outlined – to meet the targets.

Garnaut criticised the government’s green paper, saying it “shoots the breeze” instead of outlining a serious policy, and said Direct Action would quickly cost an unaffordable $4bn to $5bn a year. He advised the Senate to stick with a floating carbon price until the Coalition came up with a sensible alternative.

“I have been careful in questioning the likely effectiveness of Direct Action,” Fraser says. “I’ve perhaps been sceptical about it, as we understand it at this point in time.

“I thought the submission by Ross Garnaut made some pretty good points … because there are reasons for doubts about the government’s ability and willingness to address the question to the extent that I and the authority would say the science requires it to be addressed.”

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Is Australia shooting itself in the foot with reef port expansions? http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7361 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7361#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 22:02:47 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7361 Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The Conversation, March 14, 2014

With the approval of dredging as part of the Abbot Point port expansion, Australia has given the green light to an increase in coal exports. While opposition to the plan has focused primarily on the effects of dumping dredge spoil [...]]]> 224rr9wm-1395724077Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.  From The Conversation, March 14, 2014

With the approval of dredging as part of the Abbot Point port expansion, Australia has given the green light to an increase in coal exports. While opposition to the plan has focused primarily on the effects of dumping dredge spoil near the Great Barrier Reef, climate change has been missing from the discussion.

Increasing coal exports will play a significant part in the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, and will prove to be a very uneconomical decision for Australia.

Going, going …

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage listed marvel that spans 2000 kilometres of the Queensland coastline. It is rich in ecosystems and species that attract tourism worth A$6.4 billion a year to Australia, employing more than 64,000 people.

If we were to manage the reef sustainably, it would be the ecosystem that keeps on giving through tourism and ecosystem services such as protecting the coast, and providing a sanctuary and nursery for marine life.

Despite efforts to date, however, the Great Barrier Reef is in deep trouble. The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences has rigorously recorded the decline of reef-building corals, which are essential to the reef’s existence.

These records show that the reef has lost about half of its coral cover since the early 1980s. The researchers found that tropical cyclones (48%), predation by the crown-of-thorns starfish (42%) and ocean warming (10%) were responsible for the decline.

Driving these changes are the modifications that humans have made, and are continuing to make, along the Queensland coastline. We have dramatically reduced water quality by deforesting river catchments, expanding coastal agriculture, and building major ports.

Climate change and ocean acidification have been steadily ramping up, with predictionsthat ocean warming will decimate reef-building corals by the middle of this century.

Despite some claims, there is next to no evidence that evolution (genetic adaptation) can keep pace with this rate of change, the highest for tens of millions of years.

This leaves a world-class environmental asset at serious risk from the activities of industries that line its coastal borders. As we prepare to build bigger and bigger ports, and export more and more fossil fuels, we are driving in a direction that will almost certainly eliminate the Great Barrier Reef over the next few decades.

Given the billions of dollars in tourism and fisheries revenue that the reef generates each year, countering this trend makes good business as well as sound environmental sense.

Burning through our carbon budget

One perspective is that we have some room to export coal and gas while we seek other solutions. Surely, we can export some of the fossil fuels that are available in the Queensland hinterland and then change tack?

Unfortunately, this perspective is at odds with the numbers.

The first number is that globally we only have 565 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit before we send atmospheric concentrations beyond 450 ppm CO2, which will probably drive global temperatures at least 2C above the pre-industrial average.

This limit is broadly accepted by the international scientific community as the level beyond which the impacts of climate change become largely unmanageable and dangerous (the so-called “climate guardrail”).

At a global annual emissions rate of 32 billion tonnes, this means we have only 15 years before global emissions need to fall to zero. That’s not a lot of time to sneak out those fossil fuels to the global market.

The second number is that proven reserves owned by private and public companies, and governments, equate to 2,795 billion tonnes of CO2 if burned.

The coal from Queensland’s Galilee Basin alone would release enough CO2 to use up 6%of the 565 billion tonne guardrail.

As Malte Meinshausen from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has previously pointed out, this means that roughly 80% of these recognised fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned unless technologies such as carbon capture and storage can be made to work at a much greater scale.

However, even under the most optimistic circumstances (with financing yet to be secured), the total CO2 that is likely to be stored globally amounts to about 125 billion tonnes – a small fraction of the total fossil fuels in train to be burned.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

In a crowded export market, this doesn’t bode well for companies and governments investing in the mines and infrastructure for shipping fossil fuels to the rest of the world. With the Australian government’s preoccupation with rapid coastal development, dredging, and fossil-fuel exports, the impacts will accumulate.

Not only are we contributing to a declining water quality along the Queensland coastline, but we are rapidly escalating our capacity to supply fossil fuels to the rest of the world. At best this is a strange form of self-harm. But given that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels, are we risking our economy and prosperity as wellStranded assets and carbon bubbles come to mind.

To anyone outside Australia, it might look as if we’ve got it in for the Great Barrier Reef. With the rush to dredge and build along the Queensland coastline, we are choking an ecosystem that has provided enormous support to industry and the community.

At the same time, we appear to be shooting ourselves in the foot by exporting fossil fuels, which will ultimately drive the climate into a state where the Great Barrier Reef will be but just a memory.

Surely, we should be using the same infrastructure investments to build strong tourist and manufacturing sectors along with the renewable energy infrastructure that will ensure that the ecosystem that keeps giving to the Australian economy will do so in perpetuity.

But we are not. One has to ask, then, where is the logic or economics in all of this?

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Deja vu: What’s causing Australia’s heat wave? http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7341 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7341#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 10:54:18 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7341 UPDATE:  Heat waves and broken records.  This report could have been written right now.  However, it is was produced by our Bureau of Meteorology exactly one year ago!  Take a look at this report produced for The Conversation in Jan 2013.  Welcome to the new norm!  Any one for cricket?

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UPDATE:  Heat waves and broken records.  This report could have been written right now.  However, it is was produced by our Bureau of Meteorology exactly one year ago!  Take a look at this report produced for The Conversation in Jan 2013.  Welcome to the new norm!  Any one for cricket?

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Science with a Smile:) Could Rhubarb Revolutionize Renewable Energy ? http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7308 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7308#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 18:37:13 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7308

Flow batteries are rechargeable devices based on specific chemicals in liquids separated by a membrane.  They hold the key to cheap energy storage, especially if their dependence on expensive metals such as platinum and vanadium is reduced. Enter organic compounds called quinones.  Quinones are central to electron transport in photosynthesis (plastoquinone, phylloquinone), [...]]]> Rhubard

Flow batteries are rechargeable devices based on specific chemicals in liquids separated by a membrane.  They hold the key to cheap energy storage, especially if their dependence on expensive metals such as platinum and vanadium is reduced. Enter organic compounds called quinones.  Quinones are central to electron transport in photosynthesis (plastoquinone, phylloquinone), and aerobic respiration (ubiquinone). A discovery by Harvard biochemists suggests that quinones similar to those found in rhubarb may unlock the development of cheap flow batteries.

Marc Howe. Jan 20, 2014.  Sourceable.  The new technology, developed by a team of scientists and engineers from Harvard University, is an organic flow battery which eschews the use of expensive metals, turning instead to carbon-based molecules called quinones which are cheap and naturally abundant.

Flow batteries involve the storage of energy in chemical fluids which are sited in external tanks outside the casing of the battery itself. The external position of the tanks enables them to be scaled up independently of the electrochemical conversion hardware, which means their storage capacity is restricted solely by their size.

It is this scalable storage capacity which makes them a potential game-changer for climate-dependent forms of clean energy. The chief shortcoming of wind and solar power is their lack of consistent output due to reliance upon fickle weather conditions.

Advanced storage capacity could alleviate this shortcoming by permitting the storage of excess energy when generation outpaces consumption, for subsequent usage when the air is still or the sun doesn’t shine.

The chief impediment to the widespread adoption of large-scale flow batteries thus far has been the prohibitive cost of some of their component materials, such as vanadium and platinum.

The new organic flow battery developed by the Harvard team is already on par with vanadium flow batteries in terms of performance, yet is far more economical due to the fact that it not require copious use of precious metals. The quinones used in the battery are extremely easy to source, given their ready abundance in both green plants and crude oil.

Following a lengthy and exhaustive analysis of over 10,000 quinone molecules, the Harvard team eventually settled upon a molecule which is almost identical to that found in rhubarb – a fact which attests to the potential availability of raw material.

According to Roy G Gordon, Harvard’s Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science, the organic flow battery could be a paradigm-changing development in the field of energy storage.

“The whole world of electricity storage has been using metal ions in various charge states…[but] none of them can economically store massive amounts of renewable energy,” Gordon said.”With organic molecules, we introduce a vast new set of possibilities.”

The Harvard team behind the new battery technology received funding for their endeavours from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy ARPA-E), and have already published a paper on their results in the scientific journal Nature.

Plans are now underway for the commercial deployment of the technology. Connecticut-based Sustainable Innovations, LLC, who contributed to the battery’s development, hope to unveil a portable demonstration version of the battery by the end of a three-year development period, which can be connected to the solar panels of a commercial building for storage purposes.

 

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Solar Power Craze on Wall St. Propels Start-Up http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7309 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7309#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 18:15:10 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7309 Big changes are beginning to stir in solar energy. Heavy hitters such as Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and PayPal) continue to see opportunities to transform the world through business excellence.  And those insights are catching on on Wall Street.  SolarCity is not simply a way to sell solar systems, it [...]]]> Elon MuskBig changes are beginning to stir in solar energy. Heavy hitters such as Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and PayPal) continue to see opportunities to transform the world through business excellence.  And those insights are catching on on Wall Street.  SolarCity is not simply a way to sell solar systems, it is a way to sell the energy itself, making “SolarCity almost like a newfangled utility”. Diane Cardwell and Julie Creswelljan wrote more on this innovation and the appeal it is generating in the New York Times last week.

By DIANE CARDWELL and JULIE CRESWELLJAN.  Jan 3, 2014

The first inklings of the idea came to Elon Musk and a cousin in an R.V. heading to the Burning Man festival in 2004.

Solar energy, they agreed, could be big.

But not even Mr. Musk, the billionaire behind the Tesla electric car, could have foreseen the solar power craze that is sweeping Wall Street. He and his cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive are riding a wave of exuberance over the industry and their young business, SolarCity.

The company — the nation’s largest provider of rooftop solar systems, with more than 80,000 customers — has not made a dime. And, frankly, no one quite seems to know when, or if, it will.

But SolarCity has captured investors’ imaginations and become a potent symbol of a stock market ascent that makes the vertigo-inducing heights of Twitter seem tame. SolarCity’s share price, which closed at $59.27 on Friday, has soared more than sevenfold since it went public, and the company, which did not exist eight years ago, is valued at roughly $4.9 billion.

Depending on whom you talk to, the rise of SolarCity and similar companies is either a sure sign that solar power is finally having its day or that yet another mania has gripped the markets. Two other companies, SunPower and SunEdison, have also exploded in value. In all, an estimated $13 billion was invested in solar projects in 2013, a tenfold increase since 2007, according to GTM Research, which tracks the industry.

Solar companies have had the wind at their backs lately. The broad stock market is coming off its best year since 1997 — the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose nearly 30 percent in 2013 — and the shares of many young companies have leaped from one high to another.

But few have been hotter than SolarCity, in part thanks to the Musk mystique surrounding Tesla Motors, itself a market darling.

This much is certain: The stock market has been very good to Mr. Musk, 42. On paper, his wealth quadrupled in 2013, to more than $5.5 billion, reflecting his stakes in SolarCity and Tesla. As chairman of SolarCity, he has little day-to-day involvement in the company.

“It’s the easiest job I have, that’s for sure,” Mr. Musk said in a telephone interview. “Most of what I do is show up to hear the good news.”

Still, SolarCity and its ilk face formidable challenges. It is trying to outrun rivals in a race to transform the power industry. Utilities are furiously working to undo the incentives that have fueled the solar industry’s growth. A generous federal tax credit is set to shrink in a few years. It has attracted the attention of regulators, who have questioned the way it values the rooftop systems.

And, because of its stock price, it must continue to feed Wall Street’s appetite.

“The market expects them to grow really rapidly for a while — there’s no other way that that price makes sense,” said Shayle Kann of GTM Research.

But there have been signs of growing pains. In interviews, former employees describe a high-pressure environment that went into hyper-drive when the company went public in December 2012. Complaints to the Better Business Bureau of misleading marketing and flawed installations, along with negative reviews on social media forums like Yelp, appear to be rising.

SolarCity says its employees as well as most of its customers are happy, and that its ratings have remained high. But the bad reviews have attracted the attention of Peter Rive, one of SolarCity’s co-founders and its chief operations officer. He regularly responds to the criticisms on Yelp.

“Any negative review that we get, be it through Yelp or through our own customer satisfaction survey, I take very seriously,” Mr. Rive, 39, said, adding that nothing he had seen indicated that service was deteriorating, despite the rapid growth. He delves into complaints, he said, “just because it bugs me — every single time somebody has a negative review I want to understand” the root cause of the problem.

SolarCity is not the first venture for the Rive brothers nor for Mr. Musk, who made a fortune as a co-founder of PayPal. The Rives were working at a computer services company that Lyndon Rive had started with another brother, but he was getting antsy.

“I wanted something that would be long-lasting,” Mr. Rive, 36, said. “And something that could solve some of the environmental challenges we’re facing.”

Mr. Musk suggested he look into solar.

The Rives, and a handful of others, decided not to simply sell solar systems. Instead, they pioneered a way to sell the energy itself, making SolarCity almost like a newfangled utility.

SolarCity and competitors like Sunrun, Sungevity and Vivint install rooftop systems for little to no upfront payment and then sell the electricity for prices below what customers pay utilities. Though greeted with skepticism at first, the service has proved appealing to customers who want solar power but do not have the cash to buy a system outright.

SolarCity will not predict when it will make a profit. In fact, executives argue that the losses are a good thing. “Losing more money means we’re investing more capital and creating more value,” Robert Kelly, SolarCity’s chief financial officer, said.

But as the company tries to expand and show robust growth, signs of customer dissatisfaction have emerged.

“This is the biggest homeowner’s mistake I have ever made,” said Jeffrey Leeds of El Grenada, Calif. With an electric bill running up to $450 a month, Mr. Leeds turned to SolarCity in 2012.

But last fall, he owed his utility $1,300 — more than double what he expected. SolarCity told him he must have used more energy, but Mr. Leeds said “absolutely nothing” had changed about the way his family lived.

SolarCity and Mr. Leeds agree that his overall costs were lower, but disagree on how much. Mr. Leeds said he saved $200, the company said about $575.

Regardless, he said, “that’s not the sort of money I thought I would be saving.”

SolarCity said Mr. Leeds’s case was unusual, affected by a complex design, a persnickety inspector and unusually foggy weather. Most customers are satisfied, it said; the rate of complaints has remained steady even though the company now signs up a new customer about every three minutes of the workday.Executives see little standing between them and the one million customers they want to reach in four years.

As a result, Mr. Musk says the company’s stock price is too low.

“People do not understand the magnitude of the business,” he said. “It’s really very, very significant.”

 

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Want to know more about global change and coastal marine ecosystems? http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7297 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7297#comments Sun, 12 Jan 2014 08:26:50 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7297

The University of Queensland has opened a free on-line course (1-2 year University level – http://bit.ly/JEnRkV ) on Tropical Coastal Ecosystems and Global Change as part of the edX partnership with Harvard and MIT.

This exciting course will introduce the major tropical coastal ecosystems (principally coral reefs, mangroves, sea [...]]]> Green Turtle at Heron Island

The University of Queensland has opened a free on-line course (1-2 year University level – http://bit.ly/JEnRkV ) on Tropical Coastal Ecosystems and Global Change as part of the edX partnership with Harvard and MIT.

This exciting course will introduce the major tropical coastal ecosystems (principally coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass meadows) and will explore the problems and solutions that these critical systems face.

The lecturers include Professors Hugh Possingham, Sophie Dove, Catherine Lovelock, Stuart Phinn and myself, with contributions from Drs Dorothea Bender, Ruth Reef, and Chris Roelfsema.

The course starts on April 28.  To find out more and register, go to http://bit.ly/JEnRkV 

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Another record year for Australia http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7245 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7245#comments Mon, 30 Dec 2013 18:50:26 +0000 http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=7245 Abbot Point), it will finish the year with 2013 being its hottest year ever.  Peter Hannam from the SMH puts it all together for us!

Happy New Year!

SMH, ENVIRONMENT [...]]]> Yet another record passes.  Not only has Australia signalled the go-ahead for the world’s largest coal ports (Abbot Point), it will finish the year with 2013 being its hottest year ever.  Peter Hannam from the SMH puts it all together for us!

Happy New Year!

SMH, ENVIRONMENT EDITOR

2013 will go down as the year that registered Australia’s hottest day, month, season, 12-month period – and, by December 31, the hottest calendar year. Weather geeks have watched records tumble. These tallies include obscure ones, such as the latest autumn day above 45C (Western Australia’s Onslow Airport at 45.6C on March 21), the hottest winter’s day nationally (29.92C , August 31), and even Wednesday this week, with the hottest-ever 9am reading (44.6C, at Eyre weather station near the WA-South Australian border). ”We’re smashing the records,” says Professor Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW.

”We’re not tinkering away at them – they’re being absolutely blitzed.”

Global interest in Australia’s extraordinary year of heat flared early on. In January, when models started predicting heat that was literally off the charts, the Bureau of Meteorology added new colours to the heat maps – deep purple and pink – to accommodate maximum temperatures of 50-54 degrees. Moomba fell a shade short, reaching 49.6C on January 12. But for Dr David Jones, head of climate analysis at the bureau, the year’s stand-out event was a whole month largely overlooked by a media diverted by the football finals and federal elections. ”From a climate point of view, what happened in September was probably the most remarkable,” he says. September’s mean temperature soared to be 2.75 degrees above the 1961-90 average, eclipsing the previous record monthly deviation set in April 2005 by 0.09 degrees. Maximums were a stark 3.41 degrees over the norm, with South Australia’s top raised by 5.39 degrees and NSW’s by 4.68. The heat swept away the previous September mean record by 1.1 degrees. ”To have 103-104 years of observations, you don’t expect to break the record for a continent for a month by a degree,” Jones says. ”We’re very fortunate we haven’t had a month that anomalous in the middle of summer.”

Summer heat

Summer was a scorcher. Sydney clocked its hottest day in records going back to 1859, with the mercury peaking at 45.8C on January 18. Hobart notched up 41.8C on January 4, its hottest in 120 years of data. January baked, becoming Australia’s hottest single month in the hottest-ever summer. The duration and area affected by the heatwaves – rather than heat spikes – came to characterise much of the year of exceptional conditions. ”January was incredibly hot for such a long time for such a large area,” Jones says. ”In many ways we were very fortunate not to have had a frontal system like Black Saturday [in 2009] to draw down that hot air into a coastal zone with a gale-force wind.” Fires destroyed hundreds of properties in Tasmania in January, and a similar number in NSW in October. The latter came after a remarkably warm and dry stretch, in which Sydney marked its hottest July and September, and second-warmest August and October.

Sydney’s record year

”August was the first month in 2013 to see year-to-date records for Sydney,” says Dr Aaron Coutts-Smith, head of climate monitoring in NSW for the bureau. ”September onwards pushed us ahead.” Sydney’s year will break the city’s record for maximum and probably also mean temperatures, Coutts-Smith says. The former was running at 23.6C before Friday’s blast of summer heat – well ahead of the previous high of 23.3C set in 2004. The harbour city’s average maximum is about 1.9C above the long-term norm – enough to match a typical year in Byron Bay, about 800 kilometres up the coast. Australians might want to get out a map to consider conditions further north than where they live. Hot years are now about two to three degrees warmer than cool ones 100 years ago. ”It’s a very large change,” Jones says. ”That’s the equivalent of moving in the order of 300-400 kilometres closer to the equator.”

Nowhere below average

For Australia, the year to beat for heat was 2005, when national mean temperatures were 1.03 degrees above the long-term average. As at the end of November, the country was tracking 1.25 degrees above the norm, with a hotter-than-usual December expected. ”As best as we can tell, not a single part of Australia has seen below-average temperatures for this year,” Jones says, noting that Australia’s land-ocean region hasn’t had a cooler-than-average year for almost two decades. Global temperatures are rising too. Last month was the hottest November in records going back to the 1880s, the US government reported this week. That put 2013 on track to be the fourth-hottest on record – behind 2010, in first place, and 2005 and 1998, roughly equal second. Jones dismisses claims regularly aired by climate sceptics that the planet stopped warming in 1998. ”Certainly there is no global surface data set which shows 1998 was the warmest on record.” Globally, the climate system holds significant heating momentum as humans continue to burn fossil fuels and drive the emission of other greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide levels rose 2.2 parts per million to 393.1 in 2012, bringing atmospheric levels to 41 per cent higher than in pre-industrial times, the World Meteorological Organisation said last month. ”If you actually look at the amount of heat that the earth’s absorbing, it’s tracking up almost monotonically,” Jones says.

Wake-up call

Pitman says 2013′s likely global ranking of fourth-hottest year ever is exceptional not least because the most significant driver of climate variation – the El Nino-Southern Oscillation in the Pacific – remains in neutral mode. He likens this to the surprise when an athlete at sea-level breaks a record that had been set at high altitude. ”We shouldn’t be breaking records in any years other than an intense El Nino,” he says. ”Quite why the globe is as warm as it appears to be is worrisome.” By extension, the next El Nino – in which the central and eastern Pacific Ocean usually warms up and eastern Australia gets drier conditions – has the potential to exceed this year’s record-breaking Australian heat. ”If we get that additional anomaly, it might even be enough to trigger an awakening in the eyes of some of our leaders,” Pitman says. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/records-melt-in-our-hottest-year-20131220-2zqrt.html#ixzz2oz6UCquI

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