Townsville takes part in the Global day of Climate Action

crowd with placards
The obligatory crowd photo

Today’s global day of climate action represents a remarkable collaboration of environmental and community groups around the world, led by 350.org. Here in Townsville, NQCC provided the leadership and a sizeable crowd assembled on the Strand for music, face-painting and speeches from Wendy Tubman and Sandy McCathie. Rather than a march we had a staged photo-op: dozens of people on the beach with their heads in the sand in imitation of a certain Mr Abbott (certain, that is, that climate change is crap and that he doesn’t need to listen to anyone who thinks otherwise; he’s wrong on both counts, of course).

It was a positive event in the same style as the National Day of Climate Action in June: a gathering of like-minded people for a good cause, having fun in beautiful surroundings as well as making a serious point.

350.org is assembling a photo gallery on flickr; Australian images are here. I haven’t yet seen photos of the completed heads-in-the-sand panorama but here’s one showing people beginning to get ready for it.

preparing to  dig
Playing on the beach – seriously

Update, 24.9.14

The media coverage has now peaked:

  • Avaaz has a great collection of photos from around the world accompanied by front-page newspaper coverage.
  • GetUp! has a good collection on instagram.
  • More locally, the Townsville Bulletin had no coverage at all on Monday (except a short report from AAP of the Cairns rally, which was presumably ‘news’ because it was held outside the G20 finance ministers’ meeting) but came to the party on Tuesday with a cute photo of a child in costume and a brief report.
  • The “heads in the sand” photo (below) from Cranky Curlew has attracted quite a lot of attention including a spot on Channel 10’s “The Project” yesterday evening.

Townsville Salutes

Global warming brings wild weather

weather-crazy

Just over a month ago I wrote about Australia’s Warmest Year On Record and ended the post by saying:

None of the above is necessarily due to global warming but it is all entirely consistent with global warming, and we can expect that weather like this will become normal as global warming progresses. Bearing in mind that this year represents, as the BoM says, temperatures [only] 1.2 C* above the baseline and medium-term predictions are in the range of  2 – 6 C above the baseline, I think we should be more worried than most of us are; but I will deal with those issues on their own in another post as soon as I can find time.

*That 1.2 C was Australia’s land surface temperature deviation. We out-did ourselves last year and in doing so we out-did the rest of the world, which is why the global average deviation (see below) is only half as large.

Now seems to be the time to look at those looming problems, while extreme weather around the world is dominating our evening news:

And don’t forget that an extreme event doesn’t end when the weather eases – remember  Typhoon Haiyan recovery effort to take up to five years and, locally, Bushfire recovery in the Blue Mountains stalls.

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, told us a few years ago that global warming was “loading the climate dice”, making extreme weather events much more common (quick introduction / technical introduction), and this is what we are seeing now. The bad news is that people are suffering the effects of climate change earlier than they would have done if this amplification of extreme weather had not occurred; its silver lining is that the extreme events are encouraging their victims to sit up and take notice and (hopefully) take action on the underlying problem earlier than they would otherwise have done.

I’m not the only person to have noticed this, of course. Al Gore’s recent comments on the subject, for instance, have been widely shared. The Guardian (rapidly becoming one of my more-trusted news sources, by the way) reported him thus:

Extreme weather events including typhoon Haiyan and superstorm Sandy are proving a “gamechanger” for public awareness of the threat posed by climate change, Al Gore said on Friday.

The former US vice-president, speaking to delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said: “I think that these extreme weather events which are now a hundred times more common than 30 years ago are really waking people’s awareness all over the world [on climate change], and I think that is a gamechanger. It comes about, of course, because we continue to put 90 million tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, as if it’s an open sewer.”

But he said the falling price of solar and wind power gave hope for efforts to tackle climate change.

“There’s a second gamechanger, that is that the cost down-curve for photovoltaic electricity and, to a lesser extent, wind. In 13 countries, the price of solar is cheaper than or equal to the [electricity] grid average price.” He claimed that within a decade most people would live in regions where that was true, and said of the falling costs of the technologies: “It is very impressive and it is opening up great opportunities for the world to solve climate change.”

Gore’s presentation at Davos was also covered on Mashable, under the heading Al Gore on Climate Change: ‘Extreme Weather Events Are a Game Changer’.

Meanwhile, Lord Nicholas Stern (of the 2006 Stern Report) made similar points on the front page of The Guardian and attracted valuable commentary from Joe Romm on Climate Progress at In Flooded UK, Guardian Warns ‘Climate Change Is Here Now’.

There are, I think, two take-home messages from all of the above (1) we must all be prepared for wild weather from here into the foreseeable future and (2) if this weather is what we get from an average global temperature just 0.6 – 0.7 C above the twentieth-century average, a 2C rise is not going to be “safe enough” by any reasonable interpretation.

National Day of Climate Action – Townsville

hundreds of people on lawn
The crowd on Burke St headland, the Strand

The National Day of Climate Action was a great success nationally and Townsville people played their part in it. We gathered on the Strand at 4 p.m., wearing the “hot, bright” colours requested by  GetUp!, and listened to speakers telling us about the multiple threats posed by climate change. Organisers counted over 450 people which on a per capita basis is about as good as Melbourne and, in fact, the national average. Congratulations to GetUp! and local organisers NQ Conservation Council.

Band and audience
Live entertainment between speakers

Halelujah BABY raised the energy levels with some very appropriate songs and there were some great individual contributions – this sign, for instance, and the small group of folk musicians (harp, recorders and fiddle) playing on the edge of the site.

Rain was threatening from 3.30 onwards and started falling about 5.00 as we were coming to the end of the programme but this is Townsville so the rain is warm and we still walked from the headland down on to the beach for a group photo. I might have said “marched” but we were far too happy and relaxed for that. We were serious about climate change and getting some action to address it, sure, but we were also happy to be there together and see such a large group of like-minded people. It’s all too easy to be discouraged by the indifference of those around us at work or in our social circles but this rally affirmed the community support that environmental action does have.

There is a saying amongst politicians that each letter they receive on a given issue is worth ten votes. How many votes is each participant in a rally worth? Surely at least twice that. Ewen Jones, can you afford to lose 9000 votes next election?

Didn’t attend but want to be heard? You can still (as of the time of writing) sign the petition.

National news for the National Day of Climate Action

The 2012 ‘State of the Climate’ report

Global Surface Temperature Anomaly - how far above (red-brown) or below (blue) average temperatures we were in 2012
Global Surface Temperature Anomaly – how far above (red-brown) or below (blue) average temperatures we were in 2012

Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released online on August 2 by the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

Conditions in the Arctic were a major story of 2012, with the region experiencing unprecedented change and breaking several records. Sea ice shrank to its smallest “summer minimum” extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. In addition, more than 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet showed some form of melt during the summer, four times greater than the 1981–2010 average melt extent.

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate – carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place,” said acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D.

NOAA’s peer-reviewed annual State of the Climate report is published as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This year marks its 23rd edition. The full report was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice, and sky.

The summary you are reading is condensed from State of the Climate in 2012: Highlights, so it is a summary of a summary; clicking the link to read (at least) the complete Highlights is worthwhile. All inline links, except one obvious one, are to the Report.

  • Warm temperature trends continue near Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, ranking either 8th or 9th, depending upon the dataset used. The United States and Argentina had their warmest year on record. Including the 2012 temperature, Earth is warming at a rate of 0.06°C (0.11°F) per decade since 1880 and a more rapid 0.16°C (0.28°F) per decade since 1970.
  • La Niña dissipates into neutral conditions: For the first time in several years, neither El Niño nor La Niña, which can dominate regional weather and climate conditions around the globe, prevailed for the majority of the year.
  • The Arctic continues to warm; sea ice extent reaches record low: The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate compared with lower latitudes. Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September and Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in June each reached new record lows. Arctic sea ice minimum extent (1.32 million square miles, September 16) was 18 percent lower than the previous record low extent that occurred in 2007.
  • Antarctica sea ice extent reaches record high: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.51 million square miles on September 26. This is 0.5 percent higher than the previous record high extent that occurred in 2006.
  • Sea surface temperatures increase: The globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2012 was among the 11 warmest on record.
  • Ocean heat content remains near record levels: Heat content in the upper 2,300 feet, or a little less than one-half mile, of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012. Overall increases from 2011 to 2012 occurred between depths of 2,300 to 6,600 feet and even in the deep ocean.
  • Sea level reaches record high: Following sharp decreases in global sea level in the first half of 2011 that were linked to the effects of La Niña, sea levels rebounded to reach record highs in 2012. Globally, sea level has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades. [Coincidentally, a good item on sea level rise has just appeared on RealClimate.]
  • Ocean salinity trends continue: Continuing a trend that began in 2004, oceans were saltier than average in areas of high evaporation, including the central tropical North Pacific, and fresher than average in areas of high precipitation, including the north central Indian Ocean, suggesting that precipitation is increasing in already rainy areas and evaporation is intensifying in drier locations.
  • Tropical cyclones near average: Global tropical cyclone activity during 2012 was near average, with a total of 84 storms. The North Atlantic was the only hurricane basin that experienced above-normal activity.
  • Greenhouse gases climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2012. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.1 ppm in 2012, reaching a global average of 392.6 ppm for the year. In spring 2012, for the first time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration exceeded 400 ppm at several Arctic observational sites.
  • Following a slight decline in manmade emissions associated with the global economic downturn, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached a record high in 2011 of 9.5 ± 0.5 petagrams of carbon, and a new record of 9.7 ± 0.5 petagrams is estimated for 2012.

A Reef in Time

cover of the book A Reef in Time is a book I have known about since it was published in 2008 but I only got around to reading it a few months ago. It is such a great book (great in the sense of masterful, imposing or significant, not fun) that I wanted to tell others about it via some sort of review, but I was daunted by the fact that Charlie Veron’s work is far beyond my capacity to critique in any meaningful way. He is, after all, a legend of reef science (see wikipedia or climateshifts or even his facebook page), while I barely dip my toes into the subject.

This page is my compromise: a collection of comments which agree with my own perception of the book but carry the weight of opinion of people far more expert than myself. I will start with the author:

When I started writing ‘A Reef in Time’, I knew that climate change was likely to have serious consequences for coral reefs, but even I was shocked to the core by what all the best science that existed was saying. In a long phase of personal anguish I turned to specialists in many different fields of science to find anything that might suggest a fault in my own conclusions. No luck. The bottom line remains: the GBR can indeed be utterly trashed in the lifetime of today’s children. That certainty is what motivates me to broadcast this message as clearly, as accurately and, yes, as loudly, as I can.

That quote appeared on a blog post by Caspar Henderson, who has this (and more) to say about the book:

… this book does more than simply convey the central message that climate change – and in particular ocean acidification – threaten to destroy the GBR, and that action to avert this should be a top priority. It also does at least two other useful things. One, it provides a brilliantly clear and authoritative introduction to much of the history of life on earth via a focus on some of the most productive ecosystems in the seven tenths that is ocean. Two, it conveys the stupendous enormity of a mass extinction event which – unless somehow averted – is likely to be the biggest in sixty five million years …

The book is also fascinating in its detailed account of the GBR itself, including a plausible account of a ‘stone age Utopia’ in which aboriginal peoples may have lived in caves under what, today (following a rapid rise in sea level at the end of the last glaciation about 11,500 years ago), are coral reefs.

Another opinion comes (via the publisher’s site) from Louise Goggin, writing in Australian Marine Science Association Bulletin: 

This is not a book for the fainthearted… Indeed, Veron believes we are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction of the planet. He makes his case in this book and paints a vivid picture of what we will be losing if we do not stop spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere… The book is easy to read with well-placed illustrations to explain complex concepts. It presents its argument in a logical and increasingly disturbing sequence that reaches a bleak end. It is a plea for urgent action written by a man who is passionate about the Great Barrier Reef. It should be read widely by anyone who cares about our planet.

Climate science is advancing so rapidly that 2008 is a long time ago. Sadly, none of the recent news makes Veron’s predictions seem any less likely. See, for instance, “New Maps Depict Potential Worldwide Coral Bleaching by 2056” on Science Daily in February this year.