You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2007.

Slightly slower than usual, here’s the NSIDC release for two days ago. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be producing their summary of September, and probably drawing the page to a close for the year not long after that. Before the monthly means are posted, though, these are the numbers we have so far for this year.

At it’s lowest, sea ice extent reached around 4.13 Mkm2, during the week of the 16th September; not especially late (the previous week has been the average over recent years), and earlier than some years. What is unusual about this month is the ‘flat-line’ appearance of the ice extent; normally, the refreeze starts as soon as the thaw has ended, and we get the familiar curved graph of extent; this month, the ice has persistently refused to start increasing in extent, in spite of the steadily decreasing temperatures. As a result, the September monthly mean is likely to come in around 4.2 Mkm2. How does this compare to previous years?

The Long-term mean Summer sea ice extent is 7.7 Mkm2. So, this month will have been around 3.5 Mkm2 lower than that mean; around 45% less. The previous lowest ever was two Septembers ago: 5.32 Mkm2. We’re around 1.1 Mkm2 lower than that; about 21% down.

In the meantime, ice extent in the Antarctic has pushed close to record high anomalies;  more than 1 Mkm2+ at its’ height. I haven’t yet seen any analysis of the data from here, or any novel explanations, but it still doesn’t look like the Antarctic  is  trending positively in a consistent way much beyond it’s natural variability; I’ll look for more on this later.

Ignoring the plight of Polar bears and local inhabitants for the moment, does the change in sea-ice matter? It does seem to be prima facie evidence of the ‘Polar Amplification’ hypothesis – not just this year’s low, but the trend over nearly thirty years, and the apparent (this year and 2005 could still turn out to be exceptional, rather than habitual) acceleration of the rate of decline in the NH.

But this year, at first glance, it at least looks as if the conditions in the Arctic are, somehow, different to previous years, not least because of the loss of a chunk of perennial sea ice in the Central Arctic Ocean, and the exceptionally low quantity of multi-year ice in the ocean as a whole, as well as the apparent inertia in the system this month.

What I am confused about, though, is how the huge amount of heat-loss from the ocean compared to previous years will effect the area next year. One the one hand, we may well see a slow and deficient refreeze throughout the Autumn and Winter, with a very large extent of vulnerable first-year ice. On the other, a vast amount of the heat transported in to Arctic Ocean via the NwAC and the Bering Strait will probably be removed from the climate system into the stratospher over the coming months. This is likely to have an impact on this Winter’s weather in Siberia and Northern Canada/Alaska, and more so in the Chukchi Sea area than anywhere else. There is also the possibility that the internal downwelling and upwelling circulation, as well as the boundary layer heights, will be affected.

It is far too soon to be claiming a systemic change in the Arctic yet, but the next four seasons may be critical in helping us understand what is and isn’t happening, and how the global climate system might respond.

Condoleeza Rice, speaking this evening, as reported by the BBC. Here’s an extract:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said climate change is a real problem, and world leaders should forge a new global consensus on tackling it. At a meeting of the top 16 polluting countries, Ms Rice said the US was “a major emitter” and was not “above the international community on the issue”.

She said that the “growing problem” should be resolved under UN auspices.

Critics voiced concern that the US was trying to rally support for voluntary rather than binding emission cuts.

This would dilute attempts to reach a global agreement through the UN, ahead of the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

All nations should tackle climate change in the ways that they deem best

Condoleezza Rice

Motives behind Bush’s summit

US President George W Bush, who rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, has opposed mandatory cuts, calling instead for voluntary approaches – echoed by China and India.

At the talks in Washington, Ms Rice said: “Though united by common goals and collective responsibility, all nations should tackle climate change in the ways they deem best.”

She challenged leaders to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels by moving toward energy sources that would reduce global warming – but without harming their economies.

Well, it could be argued that at least the Bush Government is starting to ‘talk the talk’, but nobody expects anything from his speech tomorrow, other than a call for a voluntary, non-binding, agreement. Wouldn’t it be great if China turned round and said ‘not good enough…’?

One question would be the apparent contradiction for any signatories between operating ‘under UN auspices’ and ‘in the way they deem best’. Does this mean that the UN should be seen as the authority on the matter, or does it mean that no matter what, the US will not be bound by the UN to an agreement? Take a guess.

As yet, there is still no indication that the Bush administration is willing to see beyond the short-term interests of its own people, and to see those interests in primarily economic terms. One question I would ask of Whitehouse watchers, though, is, if Bush’s people felt that the house might push through a bill which proposed real emissions cuts, would they feel compelled to pre-empt it by forcing through a much weaker bill in advance, to force it out into the cold?

Via email, I discover that EcoEquity, an excellent organisation with some heavy-hitting climate change ethics powering its output, has produced the latest version of its ‘Global Development Rights’ framework.

Called ‘The right to development in a climate constrained world‘, the document sets out to provide a foundation for policy-making decisions which is both ethical and pragmatic. This is what they say about it:

GDRs is a “Climate protection framework designed to support an emergency climate stabilization program while, at the same time, preserving the right of all people to reach a dignified level of sustainable human development free of the privations of poverty.

More specifically, the GDRs framework quantifies national responsibility and capacity with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to think about national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.

If you don’t know the team’s work, I recommend you link to the sidebar pages for background. Looking at the programme for the Clinton Global Initiative, one wonders whether Baer & Athanasiou have had some input into that organisation, too.

Their ‘bottom line’ is fairly straightforward; climate change requires mitigation, and both the responsibility and the capacity to deal with lies with us, the developed nations. In other words, if we don’t start paying the bills, we face almost certain large-scale human tragedy.

For a while it appeared that addressing contrarians, denialists and skeptics, and their disinformation and disruption, was an important task for bloggers and writers on climate science and climate change. But the time has come to shift focus, at least to some extent. The message of the reality of human-induced climate change has been heard loud and clear, and the vast majority of the general public now supports action on climate change and believes it is necessary.

This is my interpretation of the report published for the BBC World Service this week, on public opinion in 21 countries on the the issues. Produced by Globescan and PIPA at UMa, a copy of the full survey results is available here.

As well as this, it appears that the global business community and the markets are equally aware of both the need for action and the opportunities this represents. This week, the HSBC is opening a tradeable market in Carbon-friendly investments, in response to rapidly increasing demand from investors, Chicago is opening an auction of carbon credits, (one presumes, then, that Carbon is to be a ‘commodity’, in trade terms), and the corporate leaders are both aware of the problems an willing to take action, as the latest CDP report indicates.

What should be evident from all of these, as well as the work done at the CGI, the UN and in advance of the ‘Bush Climate Summit’, the reports in almost all media, is that denialism is dead. However loudly these people shout, it seems that nobody is listening apart from themselves, and a number of us bloggers who have worked to counteract the disinformation and deception (I don’t really include myself here; that would be untrue as well as immodest).

The recent ‘blog storm’ on Oreskes/Schulte and the outpourings of groups such as the SPPI show that such material still has a ready audience, but this audience is clearly a small minority with very little influence on the tide of public and business opinion. In terms of influence, inasmuch as it ever had any, denialism is a busted flush, a dodo, a dinosaur. I expect that the money supporting such endeavours is going to vanish pretty soon, too, so the profiteers who have made a living from choosing to deceive rather than dealing with truth will have no further motive to peddle their rubbish.

The time has come to throw out the trash. There really isn’t any need to deal with the dinosaurs any longer; their drivel can be summarily dismissed as the ravings of fools and loons, and we can move forward to more constructive pastures.

What is the current matter at issue, then? Clearly, what needs to be addressed now is the procrastination which is holding back progress on climate and environmental action. In particular, pressure on the Bush administration to stop messing about and make a commitment is most urgent.  Other matters are still of importance; helping developing nations, energy policies, international cooperation, deforestation and pollution are all critically important, too.

So, if you hear a ghostly howl in the night, or a little gremlin appears one day on your blog, don’t worry, it’s just the departing spirits of the denial dinosaurs bewailing their own demise.

It isn’t novel to suggest that we live in a culture (in the ‘developed West’) which encourages us to see the world in a childish, almost infantile way. Almost every value which has an impact on everyday life is narrow in scope and simplistic. We prefer surface over substance in almost every imaginable way: physical appearance, ‘bling’, youth, the preferring of immediate gratification over distant benefits. The list of ways in which this might be manifest is almost endless.

What does this have to do with climate change?

It is arguable that this cultural characteristic – if indeed it is one – is one of the principle ‘background’ causes why the concerns of scientists and others are, if not ignored, at least pushed aside in the order of priorities, not just for the general public, but also for policy-makers, in particular in the USA (and here again, I mean the current administration). In a world where what matters is immediately-to-hand, to paraphrase Heidegger, and what we ‘want’ (like a four-year-old child) is more pressing than what is ‘good for us’, looking ahead and seeing the bigger picture simply doesn’t register on the mind.

There are plenty of rational, intelligent people who are able to look ahead, and are able to have a more mature outlook on our prospects, but there are equally a number of otherwise rational and intelligent people who seem unable to grasp the concept that considering the future is an important thing to do, both morally and sensibly, and that in so doing, we should appeal to reason and knowledge (often, but not exclusively, represented by science and academia) for guidance and direction.

But how do I, we, anyone who writes, blogs or argues about climate change, start to talk with others, who choose not to share our concerns about the future? As with politics, if the principal engagement with issues takes places at the immediate, personal or local level, then these are the levels at which we can hope for a response from individuals. This doesn’t mean that we must abandon the ‘wider vision’, but that it may need to be placed in a context for our audiences. Like other bloggers, I find it difficult to know who my audience is specifically, and, in responding to other blogs, or getting feedback from them, it is easy to slip into a group mindset which responds to itself as broadly ‘rational’ and not to ‘others’ for whom this is an opaque, confusing dialogue.

You might object that such an attitude is exactly the reason why ‘dumbing down’ is an issues in our society; not only does it imply a patronising attitude to ‘others’, but also it panders to the cultural childishness by simplifying, making immediate, and trivialising the whole subject which gets us going. This is a bit of a quandary; should we be playing by a rulebook which inherently undermines the very concern which needs addressing, that of the future, or do we need to start the entire ‘Enlightenment’ project all over again?

The causes of the current ‘Age of endarkenment’ (gosh, that looks like it was written for The Simpsons) are many and various, and what lies at the root of the current situation does matter, but more pressing still is the fact of our cultural situation: somehow, we need to help others to start seeing the world in a more ‘grown-up’ way, and to start valuing things more substantial than celebrity, triviality and ‘toys’ (possessions) . At the same time, we need to engage the minds of these selfsame others on the consequences to them of their indifference, not only for themselves, but also for people distant in space and time.

This seems to imply that the purpose, or agenda, of those amongst us for whom climate change is the ‘defining problem of our generation’, must be one of bringing a new enlightenment into our culture; in other words, to educate, inform, and thereby to liberate those who choose to live in a shallow world. As to who might be the object of this liberation, whether our audience should be the current administrators of our society, or the people they are supposed to represent; this can be the choice (and relate to the talents) of each of us.

Here is a proposal and a suggestion, then; the proposal is that an important, perhaps central objective of writers on climate change should be to provide the necessary education. The suggestion is that, in an age where the light of reason is everywhere beset by ignorance and superstition, that we share the common goal of ‘bringing a new Enlightenment’ into the world.


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September 2007