Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for August 2012

Antarctic Peninsula warms – The Australian spins

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Interesting ice-core temperature results from James Ross Island on the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) that points to recent and rapid warming that is unusual and of concern (sourced from Crikey who find its unusual nature alarming). The Australian reports (via Graeme Lloyd) that while unusual, the warming is not unprecedented relative to natural variation. Lloyd also includes a quote that is neither in the paper or the press release, and a bogus assertion arising from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the research. I have enquired from the authors if they were the source of Lloyd’s quote. Update – they have replied: see below.

So, how concerned should we be about the results? From the press release:

Results published this week (Nature paywall) by a team of polar scientists from Britain, Australia and France adds a new dimension to our understanding of Antarctic Peninsula climate change and the likely causes of the break-up of its ice shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Vale Frank Fisher

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Frank Fisher, environmental educator, academic and theorist, electrical engineer, understandascoper, social constructionist, constant cyclist, chronic disease sufferer and friend died yesterday (August 21, 2012). His is a great loss to us all. His contributions to what we might call deep social learning, where environmental issues are solved not by learning about environmental loss, but by learning about the social constructions that led to that loss, are invaluable. He also taught and understood the wisest lessons about behaviour and habit. If a person wants change, they have to live it.

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Written by Roger Jones

August 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Grauniad on Kuhn

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No, not an exotic Hungarian sandwich, but The Grauniad has an excellent 50th anniversary review of Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions written by John Naughton in their Sundy paper. In a total paradigm shift, the comments aren’t totally trolltown, either. See also, Howard Sankey on the The Conversation.

Before Kuhn, our view of science was dominated by philosophical ideas about how it ought to develop (“the scientific method”), together with a heroic narrative of scientific progress as “the addition of new truths to the stock of old truths, or the increasing approximation of theories to the truth, and in the odd case, the correction of past errors”

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Perth morgues are full and SW WA has been unseasonally cold – coincidence?

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During the last weekend in July, Perth experienced an unusually high number of deaths, putting pressure on the state’s mortuaries. All facilities are full, according to the ABC.

Curiosity piqued, I checked Perth’s weather data for unseasonal cold. Sure enough, during June and July, Perth and the rest of south west WA had experienced cold conditions, not seen in Perth for 13 years and longer elsewhere. This linked article was published in mid July. In the last three weeks of July, daily temperatures were below 10 degrees on 3, 4 and 3 days, respectively preceding the last weekend of July.

Was it the the poor, the aged and the infirm filling the mortuaries, after repeated, unseasonal cold snaps? Has an overall warmer climate not insulated people from such events? The average temperature at Perth Airport is 13°C and for July was 11°C; perhaps there are some bad respiratory diseases around making things worse.

Perth average daily temperature June-July 2012, showing 10°C threshold

Cold remains dangerous for the vulnerable in southern winters. At this range of temperature, contrasts in temperature are the largest risk to vulnerable people, rather than absolute temperatures themselves.

Written by Roger Jones

August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

2012 Marine Report Card

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Warmer oceans, tropical species being found further south, decline in temperate species, the first signs of CO2 effects on shell production in Australian waters …

These are a few of the headlines from the Marine Climate Change in Australia, Impacts and Adaptation Responses 2012 Report Card (download pdf). Put together by the Marine Biodiversity and Resources Adaptation Network (NCCARF), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship. The reporting comprehensive,  covering the report card itself and six chapters on marine climate and thirteen on marine biodiversity. Alistair Hobday, summarising the report card on The Conversation.

Here’s a summary with some of my own conclusions about observed and projected changes. The latter you can take or leave as they’re based on my personal views about how climate changes. For recent and near future changes, I place a greater emphasis on how climate is likely to change rather than by how much. This places the emphasis more on the diagnosis and understanding of change rather than prediction. There’s a fair bit in doing this, so amongst other things I’m into today (like gardening, cooking and cleaning), I’ll update these sections as I go (Sunday 11 am, SST; Wednesday, SLR). Read the rest of this entry »

Industry Roundtable Context Paper

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The recent VCCCAR Annual Forum featured an industry roundtable breakfast, chaired by Anne Barker of City West Water, to discuss industry and adaptation to climate change. The roundtable was attended by a couple of dozen people from industry, public policy and research. The discussion was really interesting, with industry representatives talking about the opportunities they were pursuing, how targeted R&D could keep down product prices (e.g., in housing construction) and what kinds of supporting policy they would like to see. There are clearly lots of opportunities for collaboration between research and industry but they won’t be successful without close cooperation.

As part of the roundtable, an Industry Roundtable Context Paper (pdf download) was prepared by Celeste Young and myself. We tried to keep it simple and direct. It’s scope is also limited to Victoria, but we hope it also is relevant in a broader context. The main points are (not rocket science!): Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

August 15, 2012 at 8:33 am

Meeting Report: Adaptation Conversations

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The following article was written for an online publication but never made it out the door. It describes the recent Victorian Centre of Climate Change Adaptation Research Annual Forum. It seems a pity to waste, so here it is. Co-written with a colleague, Celeste Young.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change started researching adaptation in the early 1990s, the relationship between science and policy was viewed differently to how it is today. The IPCC’s brief was to offer policy-relevant, not policy-prescriptive advice. Policymakers would take scientist’s findings on climate change and impacts and develop adaptation policy to manage those impacts. These findings were contained in a report handed over from the science to the policy community every five years or so.

Times have changed. Adaptation scholars looked at this methodology (automatic download of pdf) and said “IPCC, You’re doin’ it wrong!” Adaptation is a social process. The focus has therefore shifted from getting better predictions out of science to getting a better understanding of decision-making under climate change. Sure, adaptation needs information on how the climate may change but adaptation decisions are made using information from many other sources; such as “what changes are we seeing in markets, policy, society and the environment?” And, most importantly, “what are the goals of people doing adaptation?”

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Written by Roger Jones

August 15, 2012 at 7:03 am

Posted in Adaptation, Australia, Conference, Scenarios

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Food Security and Climate Change

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An excellent briefing from Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group on food security and climate change is updating the current global  situation with respect to recent climate events (Hat tip to Jamie Doughney). I’ll reproduce it below after making a few comments.

Most of the briefing concentrates on the conditions of the 1974 food crisis to add a historical perspective. Globally, the US and North America is in the second year of drought, looking at greatly reduced maize production and other other crops. The southwest Indian monsoon is somewhat late and currently at 17% below the 50-year average after a poor year last year. The Horn of Africa is in a delicate recovery stage after last year’s disaster, and efforts to build resilience in the region are ongoing. A recent report from scientists at the UK’s Met Office and the USA’s National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the number of below average rainy seasons in East Africa could have been attributable to warming in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans.

Rogers states that economic growth has been patchy, so that the proportion of people under food stress has not changed greatly since the 1970s. This time around though, he nominates climate change as making a significant contribution to that stress. I agree. One part of that is the asymmetric impact of warming on land affecting drier regions. This is pretty well known. The other is that he suggests climate change is accelerating:

The loss of Arctic sea in recent summers has exceeded forecasts using climate modelling and some recent events have been startling in their intensity, including the extent of the thawing of surface layers of the Greenland ice cap during the early part of July.

This is because climate change is strongly non-linear, and there is increasing evidence that the world, or at least much of the  northern hemisphere, is in a warming episode similar to that experienced in 1997-98. The idea that extremes should change gradually on a smoothly changing mean climate is seriously wrong, and if the world continues to adapt based on that assumption, millions of people will continue to be at risk through insufficient adaptation efforts.

I’m champing at the bit to get back to this research because I use different methods to those of mainstream climate science (but also have a truckload of other work to do). However, both lines of research are pointing to a strong climate change signal in recent extreme events, thereby increasing scientific confidence in its conclusions.

Rogers’ briefing is reproduced below.

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Feedback from Evans – there is no feedback

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After me getting an op-ed in The Age representing real climate science and policy, it’s time for some asshattery, c/- both the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Fairfax press has decided to redress the balance of knowledge with some agnotogeny* from Dr David Evans. From his tagline:

Dr David M. W. Evans is a mathematician and engineer who consulted full-time for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) from 1999 to 2005. He says he changed from being a warmist to a sceptic after ”evidence supporting the idea that CO2 emissions were the main cause of global warming reversed itself from 1998 to 2006”.

Cartoon by Fiona Katauskas

Oh purleeze. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

August 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm