Weird Weather Will Only Get Weirder

New York City flooding
New York City flooding

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 29 2013 (IPS) 
 
Weird is the only way to describe January temperatures whipsawing between record warm and arctic cold over a span of a few days. Experts say that is what climate change looks like: weird, record-shattering weather.

Here’s a fact that goes beyond weird to astonishing. Anyone who is 27 years old or younger has never lived through a month that was colder than the global 20th century average. In other words, we’ve had 334 consecutive months with above average temperatures, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last summer, the Arctic sea ice shrunk to half of what it used to be during summers only three decades ago. Our planet’s weather is driven largely by the two cold polar regions and the warm tropics. With the Arctic defrosting, it should be no surprise our weather is getting weird. And that it’s not going to get better.

Wild and Weird Weather Getting Worse

New York City flooding
New York City flooding
It doesn’t have to be this way – typical family could reduce their energy use 60 to 75 percent

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 29 2013 (IPS)

Weird is the only way to describe January temperatures whipsawing between record warm and arctic cold over a span of a few days. Experts say that is what climate change looks like: weird, record-shattering weather.

Here’s a fact that goes beyond weird to astonishing. Anyone who is 27 years old or younger has never lived through a month that was colder than the global 20th century average. In other words, we’ve had 334 consecutive months with above average temperatures, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Last summer, the Arctic sea ice shrunk to half of what it used to be during summers only three decades ago. Our planet’s weather is driven largely by the two cold polar regions and the warm tropics. With the Arctic defrosting, it should be no surprise our weather is getting weird. And that it’s not going to get better.

Our planet is heating up because we each year put thousands of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. CO2 acts as heating blanket keeping the planet warm by trapping some of the sun’s heat.

The amount of extra heat-energy being trapped is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, calculates James Hansen, a climate scientist who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Cautious scientists like Hansen are terrified of what’s coming. Conservative institutions like the World Bank and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) have warned we’re on a path to heating the entire surface of the planet by an average of four or five degrees C before 2100. That translates into eight to 12 degrees C hotter in places like Canada.

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Gas Leaks from Fracking Accelerate Global Warming

UPDATE Jan 2013:

Yet another study reveals fracking has a huge problem of gas leaks. Up to  9% of the gas pumped out of the ground leaks into the atmosphere according to a study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published in Nature  Jan 3, 2013. Natural gas (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas. If these leaks are widespread, fracking is worse than burning coal accelerating global warming.

In Jan 2012 I detailed new research showing that replacing coal with natural gas from fracking does little to fight climate change (see below). Two studies published in the months after that made an even stronger case that fracking for natural gas is very likely a HUGE MISTAKE:

From Nature: Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field. Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.

From Environmental Research Letters: New study demonstrates switching to natural gas is the path to climate disaster. What’s needed is an aggressive deployment of zero-carbon technologies and conservation. 

— Stephen

 

Shale Gas Worse Than Coal Study Finds

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 24, 2012 (IPS)

Hundreds of thousands of shale gas wells are being “fracked” in the United States and Canada, allowing large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere, new studies have shown.

Shale gas production results in 40 to 60 percent more global warming emissions than conventional gas, said Robert Howarth of Cornell University in New York State.

“Shale gas also has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than oil or coal over the short term,” said Howarth, co-author of a study called “Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development” to be published in the journal Climatic Change.

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Extreme weather new normal with Climate Change

Climate change plays a role in all extreme weather now – atmosphere is 0.8C hotter and 4-6% wetter – turns out small increases can have big impacts. — Stephen

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

By Stephen Leahy

CAIRNS, Australia, Apr 3, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Extreme weather is fast becoming the new normal. Canada and much of the United States experienced summer temperatures during winter this year, confirming the findings of a new report on extreme weather.

For two weeks this March most of North America baked under extraordinarily warm temperatures that melted all the snow and ice and broke 150-year-old temperature records by large margins.

Last year the U.S. endured 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters including flooding, hurricanes and tornados.

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Mar. 28, provides solid evidence that record-breaking weather events are increasing in number and becoming more extreme. And if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, these events will reach dangerous new levels over the coming century.

Since 1950 there have been many more heat waves and record warm temperatures than in…

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Fracking and Shale Gas Accelerating Global Warming

UPDATE Jan 2013:

Yet another study reveals fracking has a huge problem of gas leaks. Up to  9% of the gas pumped out of the ground leaks into the atmosphere according to a study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published in Nature this week. Natural gas (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas. If these leaks are widespread, fracking is worse than burning coal, accelerating global warming.

In Jan 2012 I detailed new research in the article below showing that replacing coal with natural gas from fracking does little to fight climate change (see below). Now two studies published that since then make an even stronger case that fracking for natural gas is a HUGE MISTAKE:

From Nature: Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field. Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.

From Environmental Research Letters: New study demonstrates switching to natural gas is the path to climate disaster. What’s needed is an aggressive deployment of zero-carbon technologies and conservation. Joe Romm explains. — Stephen

Shale Gas Worse Than Coal Study Finds

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 24, 2012 (IPS)

Hundreds of thousands of shale gas wells are being “fracked” in the United States and Canada, allowing large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere, new studies have shown.

Shale gas production results in 40 to 60 percent more global warming emissions than conventional gas, said Robert Howarth of Cornell University in New York State.

“Shale gas also has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than oil or coal over the short term,” said Howarth, co-author of a study called “Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development” to be published in the journal Climatic Change.

(Audio of news conference)http://of%20news%20conference

This latest study follows up on Howarth and colleagues’ controversial April 2011 paper that provided the first comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing. That study found that when gas wells are “fracked”, they leak large amounts of methane and pose a significant threat to the global climate.

“We stand by the conclusion of our 2011 research,” said Howarth.

That research undercuts the logic of energy sector claims that shale gas is a “bridge” to a low-carbon energy future. Those claims are based on the fact that natural gas (which is mainly methane) has half the carbon content of coal, and when burned for electricity it is more energy efficient than coal.

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However, those climate gains are more than negated by methane leaks both at the well during the fracking process (called flow-back), and through the gas delivery and distribution system. Howarth and colleagues estimate that between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of all shale gas produced leaks – called “fugitive emissions” – into the atmosphere, making it worse than burning coal or oil.

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Canada’s Harper Government Guts Environment, Science and Monitoring Programs

Man w picture of grandchild was arrested for protesting against tar sands expansion, Sept 2011 Ottawa, Canada - Pix by R Leahy

Environment budget slashed while PM Harper’s office places a gag order on government scientists. (And a $60 billion order for military equipment)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 9, 2011 (IPS)

Canada’s Stephen Harper government is spending more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships while slashing more than 200 million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment.

Amongst the programmes now crippled is Canada’s internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, which was instrumental in the discovery of the first-ever ozone hole over Canada last spring. Loss of ozone has been previously linked to increases in skin cancer.

“The proposed cuts go so far the network won’t be able to do serious science,” said Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world’s ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.

Canada has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. It also hosts the world archive of ozone data, which is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.

“There’s only one guy running the entire archive, and he’s received a lay-off notice letter,” Duck told IPS.

Ozone monitoring and research is part of Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, conservation and providing weather and meteorological information.

“Canada can’t afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil?

That is totally backwards.”

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A Fatal Addiction to Plastic – Trashing the Oceans and Our own Health

Ocean trash art - plastic soda bottle tops, lighters, misc bits of plastic

By Stephen Leahy

KAUAI, Hawaii, U.S., Apr 1, 2011 (IPS)

“Be fantastic, don’t use plastic!” chanted a troop of 10-year- olds from President Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Honolulu at the conclusion of an international conference on the millions of tonnes of trash that enter the oceans every year, with serious consequences for marine life and habitats as well as to human health and the global economy.

Most participants were in a celebratory mood at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference, which concluded Mar. 25 with the Honolulu Commitment to address the growing problem of marine debris.

But Captain Charles Moore, the man who brought the world’s attention to the scope and scale of the problem, was not celebrating.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and every year it has only become worse,” Moore told IPS.

Moore is famous for revealing the immense amount of plastic in the north Pacific gyre, formed by ocean currents in a massive slow-moving whirlpool thousands of square kilometres in size.

Moore’s Algalita Marine Research Foundation documented that this vast expanse of oceans has about six kilogrammes of plastic for every kilogramme of plankton. He is careful to point out that there is no plastic island as reported in some media, it’s much more dispersed. Continue reading