Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No need to wait before acting on climate: UN expert

The Age, July 20, 2011   

The key facts on global warming are already known and leaders should not wait for the next edition of the UN climate panel's report to step up action, the body's top scientist says.

The 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released in 2007, "is very clear," Rajendra Pachauri told AFP in Paris, before a five-day meeting of the body in Brest, France.

The fifth multi-volume assessment, which summarises peer-reviewed science to help policy makers make decisions, is due out in 2013/14.

"We have enough evidence, enough scientific findings which should convince people that action has to be taken," he said after a round-table discussion with French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

"Based on observation, we know that there will be more floods, more drought, more heat waves and more extreme precipitation events. These things are happening," Pachauri said.
Pachauri, whose organisation shared the Nobel Peace prize in 2007 with former US vice-president Al Gore, announced that a special IPCC report on the relation of extreme weather events and disasters to climate change, and how to adapt to them, would be released on November 19.

The much anticipated report will review efforts by scientists to connect the dots between well identified long-term climate change trends and short-term weather patterns.

While scientists agree that the risk of more violent storms and flooding will rise over time, it remains difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, they say.

Pachauri cautioned that the widely accepted goal of preventing average global temperatures from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times is fast slipping beyond reach.

To achieve that goal in a cost-effective manner "concentration of greenhouse gases [in the atmosphere] must peak not later than 2015", he said.

The IPCC weathered a firestorm of controversy in late 2009 and 2010 when several minor but embarrassing errors were uncovered in the massive 2007 report, leading to initiatives to tighten standards for inclusion and review of material.

Pachauri was re-elected chairman of the IPCC in 2008.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scientists create carbon sponge

Meredith Griffiths
ABC News onlineJuly 20, 2011 
Scientists in the United States have created an entirely new porous material which has a high capacity for capturing carbon dioxide.
The procedure is usually expensive and energy intensive, but this time scientists say it is relatively low cost and it may be useful to capture emissions from coal-fired power stations.
Australian experts say it is a fundamental advance but is still many years away from practical application.
Dr Kai Landskron and his colleagues at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania have created the new kind of porous material that has a high capacity to take up carbon dioxide.
"We can make this material also in a pretty simple way, actually simpler than most other materials can be made," he said.
"We can make them from relatively inexpensive building blocks in simple solution reactions - by so-called polycondensation reactions."
Dr Landskron says the material could be easily manufactured on a large scale.
Dr Lincoln Paterson runs the Carbon Capture program at the CSIRO and says Dr Landskron's work is a fundamental advance.
"It still needs to be taken a long way towards practical application but it's exciting that these sorts of advances are being made and it's a fertile area for research," he said.
"The tests they've got so far are that it performs extremely well in the laboratory and it uses low cost materials."
But Dr Paterson says the research is still years away from practical application.
"It's a bit hard to say how many years because this research is proceeding at different speeds depending on funding and resources and the whole debate that's going on at the moment about the price of carbon," he said.
Dianne Wiley, from the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, says new materials are being produced every other day but not all are worth pursuing
"The obvious next step is to start to test with water and to start to test with gas mixtures because from our experience in the C02 CRC that's usually where you can very quickly sort out are these materials attractive to go onto larger scale testing?" she said.
Professor Wiley says the current form of Dr Landskron's new material is not useful and she has also questioned if it could be reproduced on a mass scale and how much that would cost.
Nevertheless she says it is good to see the research.
"We'll probably have to make lots and lots of materials as a scientific community until we find one that can actually work more cheaply and more energy efficiently," she said.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Climate inaction risks children's well-being

Lyndall Strazdins 
The Age, July 6, 2011   

Leaving tomorrow's adults to solve the problem is no solution at all.

Cost-of-living pressures seem to dominate our daily lives and it is not often easy to think beyond tomorrow. But imagine a future where these pressures are exacerbated and then take the time to consider that we could have done something about them.

Climate change, if allowed to continue, will have a dramatic and lasting impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren.

There is widespread scientific consensus that doing nothing will mean this century is characterised by higher temperatures, shifting rainfall systems, severe droughts and more fires and storms.

As a result, it is largely accepted that food and water costs will further increase, while weather-related disasters will generate financial insecurity, social dislocation and loss of livelihoods.
These climate-induced changes will affect health and well-being, especially children's. Children living today will confront even greater health risks over their lifetime, with estimates showing a 30 to 100 per cent increase in their chance of suffering from illnesses such as asthma by 2050. Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever; food and water-borne diseases; and diseases associated with air pollution and aeroallergens are expected to become more prevalent as our climate changes.

Recent research in Australia shows that young children are prone to overheating and that hot days can also increase the likelihood of fever or gastroenteritis. For every 1 degree increase in temperature there is a 3 to 8 per cent increase in diarrhoea-related disease, which is already one of the leading killers of children.

Added to this mix is the fact children don't cope as well as adults when dealing with traumatic events such as natural disasters, which are predicted to significantly increase as climate change takes hold.

Trauma exposure in childhood can lead to marked alterations in brain function and longer-term cognitive and mental health impacts. For example, children surveyed six months after the 2003 bushfires in Canberra, which destroyed 500 homes, showed much higher rates of emotional and behavioural problems compared with Australian norms.

In addition, financial hardship, trauma and loss associated with climate-related disasters will likely affect parents' mental health, potentially increasing family conflict and eroding the close, supportive relationships that sustain a child's mental health. In the US, rates of inflicted head injury to children aged under two increased fivefold after one hurricane.
More broadly, children's well-being will be affected by economic, social and cultural impacts of climate change.

If, as forecast, climate change results in food and water scarcity, then there will likely be a rise in the number of families living in poverty.

Higher food and fuel prices will have further, compounding impacts on housing affordability and commuting times, potentially adding to stress for families with children.
Yet despite this evidence, climate change presents unique challenges that make it difficult for people to make sense of it and respond to it.

A joint study by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in partnership with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Public Health found that Australian children risk falling between the research-policy cracks.

Study participants, including experts in climate change and child and youth health and wellbeing, agreed that children and young people were already being affected by climate change, and cited extreme weather, rural economic strain, and mental well-being as some of the main concerns.

But they struggled to predict the future impact, due to knowledge gaps, lack of data and effective communication.

They were also concerned about the lack of involvement of children and young people in crucial policy decisions and agreed that urgent measures needed to be taken to address this.
There was much discussion about how it is hard for adults to change what they do; it's all about the solution lying with the people who are young now - the children now who can be better educated about these issues and will grow up to solve the problems.

While it is clear that children must have a say on their future, waiting for them to fix the problem without our help might well be too late.

They could end up so overwhelmed by the impact of climate change, including even greater cost-of-living pressures, that they themselves are unable to act.

Dr Lyndall Strazdins is a fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, and co-author of Weathering the future: Climate change, children and young people, and decision making.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Humans dwarf volcanoes for CO2 emissions

The clear need to communicate the dwarfing of volcanic CO2 by anthropogenic CO2 to educators, climate change policy makers, the media, and the general public is important. Discussions about climate policy can only benefit from this recognition.

Volcanoes are spectacular displays of the massive forces at work inside our planet, yet they are dwarfed by humans in at least one respect: their carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite statements made by climate change deniers, volcanoes release a tiny fraction of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities every year.

In fact, humans release roughly 135 times more carbon dioxide annually than volcanoes do, on average, according a new analysis. Put another way, humans emit in under three days the amount that volcanoes typically release in a year, according to the best estimates of volcanic emissions.

"The question of whether or not volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activity is one I get more than any question in my email from the general public," says Dr Terrence Gerlach, a retired volcanologist, formerly with the Cascades Volcano Observatory, part of the US Geological Survey. Even Earth scientists who work in other areas often pose him the question, he says.

To lay out a clear answer, Gerlach compiled the available estimates of CO2 emissions from all global volcanic activity on land and undersea and compared them with estimates for human emissions. He published the compilation in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Researchers estimate the amounts of carbon dioxide released by terrestrial volcanic eruptions by methods including remote sensing or flying through clouds of erupting volcanic gas, and by measuring certain isotope concentrations near undersea volcanoes. Carbon dioxide is dissolved in magma at great depths and is released as the magma rises to the surface.

"A lot of climate sceptics claim that volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans do," says Gerlach. "They never give any numbers, but the fact is you will never be able to find the volcanic gas scientist that will agree to that."

One example of these sceptic's claims is the 2009 book,Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Scienceby Professor Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide, who did not respond to Discovery News' requests for comment.

"The main reason, I think, that this myth persists," says Gerlach: "First of all, the emissions are extremely spectacular. When people see volcanic eruptions on television and it's awesome, and it's very easy for people to imagine that huge amounts of CO2 are being emitted to the atmosphere."

"However, these spectacular volcanic explosions that are so stunning on TV last only a few hours," he says. "They are ephemeral. In contrast, the sources of anthropogenic CO2 (smokestacks, exhaust pipes, etc) are comparatively unspectacular, commonplace, and familiar, and in addition they are ubiquitous, ceaseless, and relentless. They emit CO2 24/7."

Comparing the numbers

While there is uncertainty in the measurements - researchers estimate between 0.13 and 0.44 billion metric tons are released by volcanoes each year, with their best estimates between 0.15 and 0.26 billion tons - even the highest end of the range is dwarfed by anthropogenic emissions of 35 billion tonnes in 2010.

Gerlach noted that human land-use changes alone, which include deforestation, release 3.5 billion tonnes per year. Cars and light-duty trucks produce 2 billion tonnes; even cement production produces 1.5 billion tonnes. Any of these by itself is still several times higher than the annual emissions of all of the world's volcanoes.

Pakistan or Kazakhstan each produce about the amount of CO2 as volcanoes do each year, Gerlach notes in the article.

In yet another comparison, Gerlach reported that in order for volcanic emissions to match those made by humans, the 1980 Mount St Helens eruption would need to happen every 2.5 hours. The 1991, Mount Pinatubo eruption would need to occur every 12.5 hours.

"There is no way you can escape the fact that volcanoes are releasing a tiny amount of emissions right now," says Professor Bernard Marty of the Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in Nancy, France. "There is no doubt about this."

"Even if you do the reverse and you compute how much volcanism should happen to match atmospheric levels, you end up with completely unrealistic eruption rates," he said.

Dr Marie Edmonds, a volcanologist at Cambridge University agrees. While volcanoes are the most important natural source of atmospheric CO2, she notes, "The results show clearly that the amount is 100 to 150 times less than anthropogenic amounts."