Thursday, October 16, 2014

Climate Change Odds and Ends

Recently, I have not been commenting on climate change news, mostly because either (a) developments and new research don’t change the overall picture significantly, or (b) because it wasn’t clear whether some developments did indeed constitute significant good or bad news.  At this point, I feel comfortable putting most of the news in category (a) – because for every piece of good news, there’s a piece of bad news.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the things worth noting as extending our knowledge but not changing the overall trend.

First, in the last two years Arctic sea ice minimum has seen a rebound from the awful 2012 season, to a point somewhere around the 2007 (initial plunge) state.  This appears to be a result of a prolonged negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) during melting season, which has allowed ice volume in the Central Arctic to recover in 2013 and then stay the same in 2014.  The NAO, in turn, seems to be related to the lack of an el Nino event – of which, more later.

This would be good news except that it is counterbalanced by two pieces of bad news.  Second (that is, the second piece of news), it turns out that southern seas were undermeasured until now and the amount of heat they have absorbed is much greater than originally thought.  Thus, the “momentum” towards global warming already in the system is greater than we thought.  Third, it now appears that 2014 may well be the warmest year on record, if present trends hold, easily beating 1998, that old standby of climate change deniers. 

The fourth piece of news again is positive:  the el Nino event that seemed very likely to have unprecedented force (and therefore leading to a giant leap in temperature as in 1998 is now projected to be weak and to start between October and December.  Fifth, the bad news associated with that is that the weakening of el Nino is related to unprecedented warming in the waters off Asia that spawn el Ninos – warming that again adds “momentum” to the underlying global warming trend.

The sixth piece of news is that the slowdown in US carbon emissions does now appear to be real, and related to a significantly faster uptake of solar energy than anticipated.  The seventh bad piece of news is that this has had zero effect on overall emissions, due especially to China’s increases in use of coal, plus effective exporting of other countries’ emissions to China via outsourcing. 

Finally, we may note an interesting argument recently put forward in Daily Kos:  fracking is not really economical, since each source is much more rapidly exhausted than in the case of conventional oil.  However, it seems clear that, even were this so, we are still in for several years of carbon pollution from that source, as natural-gas fracking companies seek to hide their losses by sweetheart deals with state and local governments that reduce the cost of drilling for new sources and taking care of the side effects of the old exhausted ones. 

Meanwhile, the rate of carbon emissions rise apparently continues to increase.  Happy Halloween.

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