AAAS Message to Members: Climate Change

AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They publish Science magazine and several other journals, and are considered in many ways the lead and integrated professional organization representing all sciences in the United States. Alan Leshner, CEO, recently sent this letter to all members:

Dear Colleague,

As you may know, AAAS recently launched a major initiative to expand public dialogue on the risks of and possible responses to climate change. We are undertaking this effort by addressing the fact that many Americans still erroneously believe that the scientific community is divided on the issue and are largely unaware of the full spectrum of climate risks.

As a first step, we have released a short report, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change,” an assessment of current climate science and projected impacts. It contains messages about climate change that every American should know, explained in layman’s terms:

Scientific agreement that climate change is happening here and now—a consensus held by about 97 percent of climate scientists;
The core science of global warming and its impacts on sea ice, oceans, biodiversity, weather, human health and security;
Projected high-risk scenarios, including collapsing Arctic sea ice and ecosystems.

As the world’s largest general scientific society, we believe we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to voice the science community’s unified concern about the single greatest challenge of our time—and possibly of all time. If you have not yet visited the What We Know website, I urge you to do so and read the report.

AAAS worked with a team of top climate scientists to produce this report, including Nobel laureate Dr. Mario Molina, at the University of California, San Diego, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Dr. Diana Wall, at Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability; and Dr. James McCarthy, at Harvard University.

I hope “What We Know” will be a useful reference to help you talk about climate change with students, the public and policymakers. We need each one of your voices if we are to reduce risks for future generations and ourselves.

Alan I. Leshner, CEO, AAAS

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A comment on RealClimate’s review of Part 3 of the AR5 IPCC Report, regarding “Mitigation of Climate Change”

The review at RealClimate is quite good, and I recommend it. Nothing to add here. But I simply must quote from and underscore my agreement with the sentiment of one commenter, Davos:

It’s not exactly that the monetary costs will be ‘quite low’ (0.06% Growth per year, etc.), and I think this point was made, but it’s that beneath that aggregate is a substantial– HUGE transfer of investment and wealth across all sorts of entrenched business sectors and interests, with lots of nested localized economies beneath the “country” level whose very survival is on the line (can a deep valley coal-mining town become an efficient solar hub?) As with what you said, these policy decisions necessarily transcend climate realities.

When reading this report, I can’t help but think only the most shrill communist/monarchical government structures can pull off these kinds of feats. In America, the local representative system might make it impossible since it takes as few as five states to kill any program idea if its elected representatives find it a loser for them at home.

And speaking of ‘home’, it needs to be said again– another huge killer of policy possibilities are environmentalists themselves who deny the reality that their backyard must also be a candidate for the large-scale deployment of energy installations in order to pull off what is said to be necessary — even more-so without Nuclear or Fracking, etc. Every wind-energy and biomass installation projects I’ve been around has faced opposition, and the most successful of the opposers have been, without fail, an environmentalist. They are the ones armed with the knowledge, can manipulate the liabilities, and are a master of appeals for further impact study/review.

Given that it now can take up to 10 years to get a new large-scale energy plant installed and online, hitting those 2029 targets are going to require those who want to stand up for reducing/eliminating fossil fuels to also stand up to having lagre scale installations beyond-solar within their own eye-sight.

I’d say a bit more. While I extraordinarily disagree with the climate denier camp, or the “Climate’ll be alright” camp, or the “It makes more economic sense to wait” camp, there is a part of what some of them say which I agree with, and attach to some environmentalists. The part is that, from what I have seen of environmental progressivism, there are people who are perfectly happy using the risks and onrushing threat of climate change as bludgeons against organizations and interests they have quarrels with for other reasons.

First and foremost, anything having to do with nuclear materials or nuclear power is maligned and the threat exaggerated. As in the days of Clinton-Gore, even new promising technologies are maligned, before they have had a chance to prove themselves. I have mentioned before how I squarely blame the environmental movement during the Clinton-Gore administration for giving us a powerful means of combating greenhouse gases emissions by expansion of nuclear power.

Second, corporations are attacked as inherently unworthy. Sure, some of them abuse, and, like Exxon-Mobil, have funded climate deniers and mounted the shrill attack campaign against climate scientists. Some abuse the political process. Often, people cite Citizens United and such as the reason there is no progress. I agree it contributes. But we don’t have time to fix Citizens United first. Anyone who thinks that is being distracted by it. The scale needed to deal with climate disruption is so large and our options so constrained, both in time and choices, that corporations are the only way we are going to implement these, even if it is government initiated.

Lastly, regarding income inequality and unemployment, what progressives seem to fail to understand is that the changes in fossil fuel dependencies which are needed will inevitably hurt and unemploy people, whether that is done by restructuring the energy sources we use or by reducing consumption. The most astonishing example I saw of this was an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing in Boston on proposed rules for tightening permissible greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one which was going to result in a local coal-fired plant closing. A Sierra Club spokesperson actually did not speak to the rule, but to the employees of the plant who were going to be let go as a result of its closing.

What these things say to me is that, apparently, these members of the environmental movement do not appreciate how serious a problem we have, and are willing to treat these questions of policy as a political game. In that respect, they do no take the problem seriously, and, in doing so, they are no better than outright climate deniers. In fact, I judge them worse because they should know better.

There are also some environmentalists who, for want of a better description, I will call environmental neo-Puritans, who seek to somehow solve the problem by returning to a simpler world, presumably the world of Tolkien’s Hobbits, advancing agriculture and soils management so, presumably, “Gaia can heal Herself of our inflicted hurts”. Setting aside that this neo-Puritanism is a political non-starter with much of the world, who we need to cooperate to get this problem solved, it is also delusionary to think that individual actions can magically, collectively result in a solution to this problem. As the IPCC AR5 WG3 just noted, this is a problem that demands global cooperation, and any solution will fail if it is not coordinated. My view coincides with that professed by Stewart Brand in the Last Whole Earth Catalog (1968): “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Some of these, and perhaps some others, wrap themselves up in striving for perfect individual practice, claiming that is all they can control and achieve, and that is, in the end, all that matters. This is a sentiment popular among some Unitarian Universalists as well. I necessarily and thoroughly reject this attitude, for, among other things, it is a rejection of engineering. I am an engineer, and engineers are essential to solving this problem. I also think the “I can only control myself” attitude selfish and solipistic.

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Who Does It and How

Professor Kevin Gurney of Purdue University and colleagues prepared a YouTube video in 2008 which shows where carbon dioxide emissions originate and how.

Professor Gurney went on, talking more about tracking the details of carbon dioxide emissions in a Google TechTalk, and the “missing sink” for CO2 emissions:

And gave another interesting talk emphasizing that the natural world, principally the biosphere, are being saturated by our emissions:

And remember, it’s us:

And you can now get a Google Earth overlay showing carbon emissions:

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Steve Easterbrook at the Azimuth Project explains “What Does the New IPCC Report Say About Climate Change?”

Steve Easterbrook at The Azimuth Project explains What Does the New IPCC Report Say About Climate Change, taking a tour through its summary for policymakers, but bringing in material from the physical sciences report as needed.

He has produced four parts, thusfar, with a promise of more to come:

  1. The warming is unequivocal
  2. Humans caused the majority of it
  3. The warming is largely irreversible, and it will get worse as we continue to emit more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere
  4. Most of the heat is going into the oceans, causing thermal expansion of the oceans and, hence, sea-level rise, and presenting the possibility that this heat will come back out and contributing to Earth surface warming in addition to the warming which results directly from a warmer atmosphere.
  5. I’ll link more here as Steve produces them.


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“Climate Change: Why you should be angry and why anger isn’t enough”

John Ashton at the TEDxBedfordSchool: “If we can afford to bail out the banks, we can certainly afford to build a carbon neutral energy system.”

One of the world’s top climate diplomats, John Ashton is now an independent commentator and adviser on the politics of climate change. From 2006-12 he served as Special Representative for Climate Change to three successive UK Foreign Secretaries, spanning the current Coalition and the previous Labour Government. He was a cofounder and, from 2004-6, the first Chief Executive of the think tank E3G. From 1978-2002, after a brief period as a research astronomer, he was a career diplomat, with a particular focus on China. He is a visiting professor at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies, and a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College.

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Risky Business

(This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Washington Post, on 3rd October 2013, under the title “We need climate-change risk assessment”.)

If the United States were run like a business, its board of directors would fire its financial advisers for failing to disclose the significant and material risks associated with unmitigated climate change.

Managing risk is necessary for individuals, investors, businesses and governments. As individuals, we buy insurance for our homes, vehicles and health because the future is unpredictable. Businesses take similar actions and save, when they can, for the next economic downturn. Investors diversify their portfolios and hedge their bets for the same reason. And for governments, managing risk can mean anything from maintaining a standing army (in case of war) to filling a strategic petroleum reserve (to protect against severe shocks in oil prices).

As businessmen and public servants, we are intimately familiar with the systems used to manage risk. They are central to informed decision-making. But today, the world faces one of the greatest humanitarian and economic challenges of our time: the threat of global climate change. And in this arena, our risk-assessment systems have broken down. This ignorance cannot be allowed to continue.

Government officials, economists, financiers and everyone else in the business community need to ask: How much economic risk do we face from unmitigated climate change? Answering this question would go a long way toward helping us all prepare for the extreme weather and related economic effects that are most likely coming our way.

That’s why the three of us have joined together to lead a new effort designed to do just that. Our Risky Business initiative ( will look across the U.S. economy and assess the potential impacts of climate change by region and by sector. Our analysis, when complete, will arm decision-makers with the information they need to determine how much climate risk they are comfortable taking on.

The reality is that we don’t yet know everything there is to know about climate change, and we don’t know its full potential impact. That’s exactly why we need to assess the risks. What will changes in temperature and precipitation mean for farmers and livestock producers? How will higher sea levels affect the value of coastal property? What might stronger and more frequent storms mean for the infrastructure that is the bedrock of our national economy?

These are not theoretical questions. We already know that extreme weather events cost a lot of money. In recent years, these costs have added up after such events as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina; the wildfires and epic floods in Colorado; the die-off of pine trees across the Rocky Mountains; devastating, historic floods across the Midwest; deepening drought in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma; record heat waves across Alaska and the Northeast; and the slow but intractable death of the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

While it is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, world climate scientists agree that climate change makes these types of events both more likely to occur and more catastrophic in scope. Even under the best-case climate scenarios, we are likely to experience more extreme weather, more droughts and heat waves, more destructive storms and floods.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York City created a comprehensive resilience blueprint that measures climate risk across all major vulnerable areas, from the power grid to hospitals to the coastline. Our nation needs the same blueprint. It is essential that our national exposure to climate risk be understood so all Americans can make informed decisions about the future.

We believe the Risky Business initiative will bring a critical missing piece to national conversations about climate change and help business leaders, elected officials and others make smart, well-informed, financially responsible decisions. Ignoring the potential costs could be catastrophic. That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

Michael Bloomberg, an independent, was mayor of New York. Hank Paulson, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs and Treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, is chairman of the Paulson Institute, which promotes sustainable economic growth. Tom Steyer is the founder of Farallon Capital Management and co-founder of Next Generation.

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The Stone Giant speaks to the Hobbit …

That inestimable corporate institution, Exxon-Mobil, announced today, on the heels of the IPCC WG2 report, that:

… it was “highly unlikely” that the world would cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to keep global warming within the internationally agreed limit of 2C. In two reports on the implications of climate change for its business published on Monday, Exxon rejected suggestions that policies to cut emissions would leave many of its oil and gas assets “stranded” – incapable of being profitably developed.

It accepted that carbon dioxide emissions created by burning fossil fuels were raising global temperatures, and that warming created risks, but argued that the threat needed to be weighed against other objectives, including the need for energy in developing countries.
Creating a reasonable chance that the rise in temperatures stayed below 2C would mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent by 2050, and putting a price on carbon far in excess of levels now prevailing in the EU’s emissions trading scheme, costing the average US household thousands of dollars per year, it said.

ExxonMobil believes that although there is always the possibility that government action may impact the company, the scenario where governments restrict hydrocarbon production in a way to reduce GHG emissions 80 percent during the Outlook period is highly unlikely.

I’d say, this is in part due to the continuing success of the fossil fuel divestment movement. The previously Unassailable Giant has spoken, and is worried, which is why they are spending so much time directly addressing the challenge.

What they are saying, in short, is that “We don’t believe you have the balls to cut emissions by reducing consumption, or by imposing taxes, because your populations are too soft, squishy, and desirous of creature comforts to do otherwise.”

In other words, Exxon-Mobil, and its Overpaid White Guys at the Top, are saying “Let them eat cake.”

Update, 0158 ET, 1st April 2014


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