ResearchBlogging.org TH!

NK ABOUT IT #2 posts: Climate change science blogging on European Journalism Centre's platform October 2009 - February 2010
By M.Sc. Benno Hansen, Copenhagen, Denmark From September 2009 to February 2010 I was chosen to participate in the 2nd part of European Journalism Centre's blogging project, "TH!NK ABOUT IT". One of the cornerstones of my contribution was a series of articles about recent climatological research - presented here in chronological order. Although they are precise summaries of journal articles these texts were produced in the context of the blogging project thus a bit polemic at places. I won the blogging competition. 1. Predictions of irreversible, unavoidable climate changes a. Uncle Ocean has had it with us b. The two certain changes c. Conclusion: The ecosystem is even slower than politics! 2. Food and climate change - save or doom the world while eating a. The Greenhouse built from food b. Eat less red steaks c. Don't eat the cod d. The tropics are a spice e. Consider the cheese and eggs too f. The perfect recipe? 3. Limiting warming to 2°C: How much more can we drill, baby? a. The probabilistic reality b. Further reading 4. More CO2 a mixed blessing for farming a. German spring wheat b. Other studies 5. The South Pole is melting too a. A GRACEful study? b. Less room for scepticism 6. Arch denialist scores own goal a. Good and bad thermometers at Surfacestations.org b. Crash course in statistics: null hypothesis or no hypothesis at all c. Just noise? 7. Climate change causing biodiversity loss a. Crash course in ecology b. What should be done? c. What can be done? 8. Food security: climate change and sustainable development (TH!NK2½ part I) a. The yield gap b. Increased food production c. Reducing food waste

Predictions of irreversible, unavoidable climate changes
Published 14th October 2009 - 16 comments - 1018 views Most people nowadays have a basic understanding of climate change mechanics: Fossil fuels emit CO2, greenhouse effect increases, poles melt, beach resorts disappear. It's a bit more complicated than that, though. All changes aren't foreseen with equal certainty, complex systems biology models are needed to understand feedback mechanisms, some changes might be unavoidable already... and some even irreversible in any foreseeable future. A team of scientists have taken a step back and summed up on those climatological predictions that are both a) "illustrative", b) adverse, c) irreversible, d) already occuring, e) evidently anthropogenic, f) based on well understood physical principles and g) agreed upon by many models. It includes plenty for worry.

Uncle Ocean has had it with us
While we have emitted CO2 into the atmosphere throughout our time as an industrialized species about 80% of it has actually been absorbed into the ocean. Because the ocean and the atmosphere is exchanging such gasses as CO2, always on the move towards a state of equilibrium. This buffer provided by Earths vast quantities of water has perhaps deluded us into hybris. But now we have emitted so much carbon dioxide the ocean is beginning to slow down its uptake as it is full of it, so to speak. But this is, perhaps, the least of the implications. There is another consequence: If we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the oceans will slowly start emitting it in stead of absorbing it. Thus, "normalization" will be slow. In the words of the scientists themselves: "[...] atmospheric temperature increases caused by rising carbon dioxide concentrations are not expected to decrease significantly even if carbon emissions were to completely cease." In most models (which all assume we do cease emissions soon) only about half the temperature rise is observed while emissions continue; the rest thereafter. The other greenhouse gasses does not show this annoying feature. In this respect, CO2 is unique. An example of a prediction: a model run with a peak CO2 level of 800 ppm has the level slowly drop to 500 ppm. In year 3000. A bit too slow for me personally.

The two certain changes
Not a long list. But we can count on it. 1. The sea level will rise The most optimist model run in this project (immediate cessation of emissions) has the sea level go up by some 20 cm (about 8 inches) in this century. And even while the carbon dioxide levels are dropping in their painstakingly slow rate the sea levels actually still climb year 3000, although not much. But it goes to show how slow these mechanisms work. And that's from thermal expansion ("swelling" of warmer water) of

the ocean alone. The second factor highlighted is the melting of land ice masses. The complete melt off of these will lead to a sea level rise of 20 to 70 cm. A third is the melting of sea ice much harder to predict but impossible not to mention due to its incredible worst case scenario consequences. 2. The sub-tropics will become drier Patterns of precipitation will change. Exactly how is a complex question to answer involving meteorology as well as climatology. But drying of the sub-tropics is predicted and already happening in manners consistent with previous models. Particularly observed in the well studied southern USA and Mediterranean but also in eastern South America and western Australia. This drier climate will have other consequences in turn. Dependent on the region ecosystem changes will include loss of drinking water resources, serious effects on agriculture, increased fire frequenc and desertification. (Which will have consequences in turn... etc.)

Conclusion: The ecosystem is even slower than politics!
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change states its objective as avoiding "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system [...] threats of serious irreversible damage". The Earth is extremely stable. Even our massive manipulation of its ecosystem has been slowed down to a deceivingly illusive range of effects. And similarly, when we try to correct our mistakes, positive changes could very well be future events. And just imagine the consequences of continued and indeed continued acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions... no thanks. No wonder the study was on when to hit the brakes.

Solomon, S., Plattner, G., Knutti, R., & Friedlingstein, P. (2009). Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (6), 1704-1709 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0812721106

Food and climate change - save or doom the world while eating
Published 18th October 2009 - 11 comments - 1960 views Our contributions to the greenhouse effect via the food we eat is touched upon every now and then by media and public debate. Vegetarians usually blame meat eaters and buying local is touted as an obvious solution. It's a bit more complicated than that so this article sums up the results from a scientific study on exactly this subject. These numbers, details and

recommendations need more attention. Not just to heighten the level of discourse but because as they say: "Current trends in food choices point toward increased environmental effects." Some of us may be seeing more and more environmentally friendly and affordable choices. Perhaps we're just looking for them which the majority still isn't?

The Greenhouse built from food
Producing food is one of the basic human activities. In any form it is a process of consumption - even ancient slash and burn agriculture involved the removal of an ecosystem carbon sink (the forest) - but some forms are a lot less straining on our resources than others. One meal can emit nine times as much greenhouse gas as another of similar caloric content. How so? While carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important greenhouse gas (GHG) significant contributions are also made by methane (CH4, ~14%-25% of emissions [2 , 3]) and nitrous oxide (N2O, ~8% of emissions [3]). Methane is a product of natural materials decomposing without oxygen present - the occasional tree that dies and fall into a lake (naturally occurance of rot under water contributing miniscule GHGs), from the farts of many plant eating animals (due to their special cellulose digestion but significant contributions from industrial breeding only), from storage of manure (again: low oxygen rot) and from growing rice in flooded conditions (low oxygen and microorganisms). Nitrous oxide is produced by microbial transformation in soils and manure - especially when plenty of nitrogen is present. Nitrogen is often in local surplus from over-fertilization but it is actually also a by-product of the manufactur of fertilizer. So, even if our food production lowered its emissions of CO2 it'd still feed the greenhouse effect. Currently agriculture is the main source of the increase in atmospheric methane (~50%) and nitrous oxide (~60% to much higher in [3]). I'll skip the math in the middle and go straight to some dos and don'ts (mostly specific to a Western consumer but quite general).

Eat less red steaks
Emission of methane is particularly tied to the large scale production of meat (and consequently the dairy "by-products"... and rice). Livestock and their manure is guilty of about one twentieth (1/20) of the total GHG emissions. Cattle is the main problem because if its extreme emissions of methane by enteric fermentation. So, although pigs emit more methane via their manure, cattle in total emits about 3.8 times as much non-CO2 GHG per carcass weight. Per kilo of final edible product it accumulates to 30 kilos of CO2 equivalents (the measure of comparison between foods from here). "[...] the consumption of 1 kg domestic beef [...] represents automobile use of a distance of ~160 km (99 miles)." Don't even think about flying in that Argentine steak.

Of course, beef has good proteins. But comparing the GHG-wise efficiency of beef as a means of protein production to other food products it is actually the least effective. We can get our proteins from cereals, legumes and certain fish without causing climate change.

Don't eat the cod One fish we shouldn't rely on for protein, though, is the cod. Well to begin with it's on the verge of extinction due to over-fishing and warming waters (at least in the Baltic and North Seas, marine ecologists predict it may reestablish itself in the Barents Sea [4]). But for each kilo of cod caught about 9 kg (yes nine kilos) of GHGs are emitted because trawling for them is fuel-intensive. This makes cod about as climate unfriendly as pork. Although use of fossil fuel is increasingly "punished" (discouraged financially) and promises of protection of endangered species are handed out left and right cod fishing is profitable due to heavy subsidies by the European Union. And things are relative: While I may have portrayed pork as a reasonable substitute for beef above, cod and pork emits approximately the same amount of GHGs (8.8 to 9.3 kg CO2 equivalents).

The tropics are a spice
The flying Argentine steak is of course nasty. But basically, flying around with our nutrients is just not very smart. Anything flown from one half of the world to another will have a very bad GHG budget. Even fresh fruit; each kilo of which leaves 11 kilos of CO2 right in the atmosphere if transported by plane. Many of our primary exotics - bananas, oranges - are shipped in by boat though, which is much, much more carbon friendly than planes. The good solution is to eat locally produced food that doesn't require much transport at all. Should be common sense, really. Such products also has less need for demanding storage and temporary processing.

Consider the cheese and eggs too
Domestically produced cheese emits about as much GHG CO2 equivalents as tropical fruits. And although a on a diffent scale entirely even eggs have a less than impressive figure (~23% of that of cheese). On the one hand especially eggs, however, are a source of protein. On the other hand both products are probably a bit too prevalent in many Western diets for other general health and nutritional reasons (fats, cholesteroles, salmonella).

There are many pros and cons to consider. Do we compose the climate friendly recipe by eating only low GHG emitting foods? Or do we just adjust our diets a little bit here and there? Besides preferences and willingness to change, one important thing to consider is our need for protein. Let's face it: We're not going to convert to hut dwelling veganism all of us just yet.

The perfect recipe?
About those 'little changes' first: Chicken production emits only about 4.3 kg CO2 equivalents per kilo of meat. So, while still polluting, it could substitute some other meat meals while significantly lowering GHG emissions. (Small scale chicken production also holds some additional benefits such as pest control in plantations and food waste recycling. Chicken also lives anywhere in the world.) It is a relatively efficient source of proteins (~50 grams per kg GHG). Another "substitute food" - having annoyed the cod fans above, perhaps - could be herring. At least in countries with herring rich waters. Fishing for herring is much less fuel demanding than fishing for cod. Thus, it also becomes a very efficient source of proteins (~145 grams per kg GHG). Speaking of protein efficiency there is one clear winner: domestically produced whole wheat (~160 grams per kg GHG due to only 0.63 kg CO2 equivalents per kilo of food).

Secondly, soy need being mentioned as it even after shipping by boat (0.92 kg CO2 per kilo of food emitted) it delivers some 120 grams of protein per kg GHG emitted. Almost as good a budget goes for Italian pasta: compared to soy it additionally emits a bit of nitrous oxide but still delivers about 50 grams of protein per kg GHG emitted. At last, the clear winners: fresh carrots, potatoes and honey (in north Europe at least). These foods emit very little GHGs (0.42, 0.45 and 0.46 kg CO2 eqivalents of GHGs per kilo of food emitted respectively). They also provide some source of protein as well as other important nutritional ingredients. And honey is deliciously sweet. Also, honorable mention to apples. The ones in your garden especially, but even when sailed in by boat the GHG budget is OK. It is important to remember though, that this study didn't investigate every crop and livestock known to man, only a select set of representative and common choices. Pleas do comment with suggestions for other foods to avoid or prefer. Or even better: An actual recipe of low GHG emissions.

And finally: I personally don't really like either cod, herring, chicken or cheese myself. But I'm not vegetarian either as I really like beef, milk, eggs and other not too glorious foods unmentioned in this research (coffee to begin with). On a positive note, I love apples and honey. But I just summed up a research article - not advertising my tastes here. As may have been evident, I'm no cook either. One reflection made by the authors is the possibility of forcing fast food producers to "extend" their beefs with plant proteins. Actually, this could have a major beneficial impact. They also propose more information (propaganda) to the public about those dietary changes that will be beneficial to both human as well as environment. Sources: First of all...

Carlsson-Kanyama, A., & Gonzalez, A. (2009). Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89 (5), 17041709 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736AA Additionally... • • • [2] Major methane emitter identified in Asian rice fields [3] World Resources Institute [4] North Sea cod 'doomed by climate change'

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Limiting warming to 2°C: How much more can we drill, baby?
Published 01st November 2009 - 12 comments - 806 views What's with this 2°C thing? Limiting global warming to just two degrees Celcius has become one of the concensus talking points - not too unrealistic politically, yet not impossible either.

WWF, Greenpeace is running a campaign, Time to Lead, to convince politicians to keep warming below 2°C. The chain of cause and effect of course goes from burning of fossil fuels and related activities to disruption of the carbon cycle and build-up of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the atmosphere to a increased heating effect on the planet to melting glaciers and drying fields to relocating farmers and forest fires et cetera, et cetera. But the ecosystem isn't simple - each cause-effect link in the chain comes with various degrees of uncertainty, there are many lesser explored minor links and the big picture isn't that precise. But that picture is sharpening. In one recent "letter" to Nature it was calculated exactly how much the temperature will rise as more and more GHG is emitted. Implicitly how much we can burn before having to expect the temperature rise to exceed 2°C. Rather than a full summary of their methodology, many models used and scenarios explored this is just a brief look a couple of their key results. But first we are warned... "2°C cannot be regarded as a 'safe level'" Less than that will still have severe consequences. We're currently emitting in the range of 35 to 40 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 per year. The scenarios modeled have to take into account not just the peculiarities of ecological feed-back mechanisms but also various patterns of emissions. Their pocket calculators are over-heating too.

The probabilistic reality
Scenario year 2050 Risk of exceeding 2°C rise 1,000 Gt CO2 (only) cumulatively emitted 25% 1,500 Gt CO2 equivalents cumulatively emitted 26% 1,500 Gt CO2 (only) cumulatively emitted 50% 2,000 Gt CO2 equivalents cumulatively emitted 50% 36 Gt CO2 equivalents emitted per year 64% 2,000 Gt CO2 (only) cumulatively emitted 80% 2,500+ Gt CO2 (only) cumulatively emitted Close to certain (Most of these figures are listed as quite wide intervals in the paper. The above is a simplified excerpt. Please do not take it too literally. The apparent difference between the equivalentsand CO2-only calculations is in part due to the fact that most GHGs disappear much faster than CO2 does.) From these calculations some things can be concluded with high confidence though. Such as... "Emitting the carbon from all proven fossil fuel reserves would vastly exceed the allowable CO2 emission budget for staying below 2°C." ...and...

"Given the substantial recent increase in fossil CO2 emissions [...] policies to reduce global emissions are needed urgently if the 'below 2°C' target is to remain achievable." So, even given the uncertainties of the carbon cycle, ocean feed-backs, modeling methods and future decisions it is possible to calculate some frame of responsible operation beyond which we by all possible reasoning should expect severe adverse climate incidents.

Further reading
I am not the first to reference to this study. So, even if you don't subscribe to Nature, you can

read more about it right away. RealClimate / Hit the brakes hard The climatologists' blog talked about this study and one other while the print was still fresh. "unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively [...] we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C [..] humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground." Potsdam Institute / On the way to phasing out emissions: More than 50% reductions needed by 2050 to respect 2°C climate target This summary quotes Meinshausen. Ie: "Only a fast switch away from fossil fuels will give us a reasonable chance to avoid considerable warming. We shouldn’t forget that a 2°C global mean warming would take us far beyond the natural temperature variations that life on Earth has experienced since we humans have been around." Nature Comment / Halfway to Copenhagen, no way to 2 °C More recently the lead author also co-authored a comment in Nature further linking the emission targets in political debates with consequences to nature.

"Unless there is a major improvement in national commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, we see virtually no chance of staying below 2 or 1.5 °C. Coral reefs, in addition, seem to have certainly no chance"

Meinshausen, M., Meinshausen, N., Hare, W., Raper, S., Frieler, K., Knutti, R., Frame, D., & Allen, M. (2009). Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C Nature, 458 (7242), 1158-1162 DOI: 10.1038/nature08017

Rogelj, J., Hare, B., Nabel, J., Macey, K., Schaeffer, M., Markmann, K., & Meinshausen, M. (2009). Halfway to Copenhagen, no way to 2 °C Nature Reports Climate Change (0907), 81-83 DOI: 10.1038/climate.2009.57

More CO2 a mixed blessing for farming
Published 15th November 2009 - 26 comments - 2090 views While sometimes easily disregarded as wishful thinking, it is often optimistically postulated that future farmers' yields will be more bountiful due to 'carbon fertilization' via increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. But things are not that simple, unfortunately. It is correct that CO2 is one of the main ingredients of photosynthesis and that more ingredients allows for more products. But there are also other ingredients to the formula plus a labyrinth of biochemical processes from field to food to consider. More serious speculation on increased plant growth from increased CO2 levels quickly gets complicated by pro et contra whole ecosystems considerations [4].

German spring wheat
A recent German three season "Free-Air" wheat study in 550 ppm CO2 [1] came out with some

results on the plus side: • • 11.8% more biomass of above ground biomass (stem and ears, not leaves) 10.4% higher yield

But it also gave some results on the negative side: • • • • • Smaller grains (of lower market value) 7.4% grain protein concentration decrease Decreases in amino acid concentrations Changes in mineral compositions (ie potassium and lead increase; iron and silicon decrease) Fructose content increase

The study did many other findings but most not as significant as the above mentioned. There were changes in the dough characteristics too. Overall, it seems clear that rising carbon dioxide levels will change the nutritional value of our food. What this study did was grow 13 strains of spring wheat under conditions mimicing actual farming except adding CO2. Then analysing not just the grain, but the whole plant and the flour and bread produced. The growing plants were irrigated and fertilized - thus, under conditions where plant nutrients and water never limited growth. All future crops will not be that lucky: already drought is a major problem and is presumably only to increasingly cause wilting fields under global warming. Only (conventional) farmers in well-off countries are reasonably sure to be able to fertilize and irrigate their crops in any foreseeable future while elevated levels of CO2 will not do any good to a 3rd world farmer with soils cracked and dry. Wheat is one of the world's major food crops so even a seemingly microscopic change in it's biology could lead to enormous world population health impacts further down the causeeffect chain. The mixed (and regarding some parameters not mentioned here, unreliable) results, the single crop type and the geographical limitation of the study to Stuttgart, Germany further studies should be undertaken.

Some crops (ie maize) already has evolved a mechanism for concentrating CO2 in their leaves, meaning raised atmospheric levels will help them little. Plants in general will not be able to evolve such biochemical mechanisms to accustom themselves to the changed climate in the scope of time we humans alter nature and project food production.

Other studies
The German study is interesting because it's not from a biochemical model or a test chamber, but from an actual field. However, it only looked at rising carbon dioxide. There are many other factors to look into. One study saw a 1ºC temperature rise reduce tree growth by 50%, ozone levels are expected to rise also which will to some degree negate the effects of more CO2, plus the CO2 could have negative effects in itself (ie via ocean acidification and an expected drop in plant biodiversity). [2] And another Free-Air study found nitrogen and phosphorous levels to quickly limit growth if deficient (or rather, not in abundance). And considering agricultural crops for carbon sequestering purposes is not really serious thinking since their combined biomass is puny compared to forest biomass as well as fossil carbon emissions. [3]

Perhaps crops from elevated carbon dioxide futures are a bit like bodybuilders - bigger, but not necessarily better.

[1] Högy, P., Wieser, H., Köhler, P., Schwadorf, K., Breuer, J., Franzaring, J., Muntifering, R., & Fangmeier, A. (2009). Effects of elevated CO on grain yield and quality of wheat: results from a 3-year free-air CO enrichment experiment Plant Biology, 11, 60-69 DOI: 10.1111/j.1438-8677.2009.00230.x [2] New Scientist / Climate myths: Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production [3] RealClimate / CO2 Fertilization

[4] Climate Change Can Supercharge Plant Growth

The South Pole is melting too
Published 23rd November 2009 - 32 comments - 2261 views The ice masses on Antarctica are melting into the oceans a recent study confirms. For the last seven years the rate of loss has been approximately 190 gigatonnes each year. And no, it didn't stall, it has increased. The data is quite fresh: published in Nature Geoscience on 22nd of November 2009. And it agrees with another recent study of entirely different methodology which in 2008 estimated a loss of ice at about 196 ± 92 Gt yr-1.

A GRACEful study?
The research is based on measurements from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) [project website, Wikipedia]. It's data from a satellite measuring gravity, hence indirectly mass. 79 monthly samples covering April 2002 to January 2009 have been used. Those measurements have been “cleaned” for noise such as atmospheric pressure and ocanic

signals to produce accurate estimates for ice mass. More precisely, the result is ice loss of about 190 ± 77 Gt yr-1. So it's a bit more precise than the 2008 study. Both studies vary in their estimates of regional changes. Apparently, the Amundsen Sea Embayment is losing the most ice: about 110 Gt yr-1. And at an accelerating rate during 2006-2009.

Less room for scepticism
That's yet another nail for the coffin of climate change scepticism. Fair enough: it hasn't been very obvious that the South Pole was melting. Three main explanations for this are the following [2, 3]: Ozone hole has had a cooling effect of 2 to 6 degrees; incl. increases in winter storms. Increased precipitation freshens cold surface water causing less mix with warmer water currents below hence colder water near the ice. More snow-ice created (due to both precipitation and storms).

Perhaps a fourth reason being wishful thinking by the sceptics? The mixed message from the south has led to claims of Antarctica disproving global warming [3, 4]. The GRACE studies does show much variability across the continent, including local ice mass increases. “Antarctica may soon be contributing significantly more to global sea-level rise.” [1] (Source unless otherwise noted)

Chen, J., Wilson, C., Blankenship, D., & Tapley, B. (2009). Accelerated Antarctic ice loss from satellite gravity measurements Nature Geoscience DOI: 10.1038/NGEO694 [2] What's Holding Antarctic Sea Ice Back From Melting? [3] New Scientist / Climate myths: Antarctica is getting cooler, not warmer, disproving global warming [4] Grist / ‘Antarctic ice is growing’—Well, probably not, but even if it were, we are not off the hook This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Arch denialist scores own goal
Published 03rd February 2010 - 15 comments - 767 views Turns out “bad thermometers” claimed to falsely detect global warming are actually delivering the coldest data.

Good and bad thermometers at Surfacestations.org
One of the leading figures of the sceptics and deniers is one Anthony Watts. Praised as such even here at TH!NK #2: “Anthony Watts, 25-year broadcast meteorology veteran and currently chief meteorologist for KPAY-AM radio. In 1987, he founded ItWorks, which supplies custom weather stations, Internet servers, weather graphics content, and broadcast

video equipment. In 2007, Watts founded SurfaceStations.org, a Web site devoted to photographing and documenting the quality of weather stations across the U.S.” [2] He is a Californian radio weather-caster; uncertified by the American Meteorological Society but associated to the right wing lobbyist group Heartland Institute. [4] He appears to be spending most of his time blogging at wattsupwiththat.com but also set up surfacestations.org to collect images of the weather stations delivering US temperature data. The rationale behind surfacestations.org is that weather stations are increasingly subject to nearby heat sources, thus measured temperatures appearing higher and higher but not due to global warming. Surfacestations.org is a picture gallery of weather stations allegedly proving to be of poor quality due their proximity to asphalt, cell phone towers, exhausts etc. That's the hypothesis.

Who's alarmist here? Photographs of a weather station with arrows pointing out potential heat sources including a "cell tower"!? shown next to a graph of rising temperatures.

July 2009 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) investigated the claims and found “no indication [...] that poor station exposure has imparted a bias in the U.S. temperature trends”. Of course, the meteorologists investigating themselves didn't silence the critics. Although the report is an interesting read. [5]

Crash course in statistics: null hypothesis or no hypothesis at all
Say we're playing dice and you're winning. I accuse you of cheating by using a loaded die. That's my hypothesis then. But in order to support that theory, I'd have to formulate a null hypothesis and test it statistically. The null hypothesis usually is that the observations are the result of chance. If statistics show the chances of getting the observations by chance are very low then the hypothesis hasn't been disproved. Watts didn't test his hypothesis of surfacestations.org. Which is what a scientist would have done before posting wild claims on the Internet. He just labeled some as “bad”. In other words he left a neat little job for actual investigation. Even a welcome one because what better test

than one set up by a disbeliever? And the peer-reviewed judgment is on its way. From the abstract: “Results indicate that there is a mean bias associated with poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites; however, this bias is consistent with previously documented changes associated with the widespread conversion to electronic sensors in the USHCN during the last 25 years. Moreover, the sign of the bias is counterintuitive to photographic documentation of poor exposure because associated instrument changes have led to an artificial negative (“cool”) bias in maximum temperatures and only a slight positive (“warm”) bias in minimum temperatures.” From the conclusion if you really need more: “photos and site surveys do not preclude the need for data analysis, and concerns over exposure must be evaluated in light of other changes in observation practice such as new instrumentation. [...] The reason why station exposure does not play an obvious role in temperature trends probably warrants further investigation.” So, Watts' “bad” stations were even better than the real scientists expected. There is also a discussion of related research in the paper. A reality check which is also a good idea. My second contribution to TH!NK #2 was Don’t believe the truth. I discussed the role of the hypothesis: “a scientific hypothesis must allow for experimental tests of falsify it” etc. Mr. Watts, you're welcome to read it.

Just noise?
Basically, the temperature biases were already known and due to technological factors. What an embarrassment for Anthony Watts. Watts and other skeptics claim they are legitimately challenging scientific consensus. But are they just adding noise, unfounded doubt, wild claims, bad logic, disturbances and annoyance? That's the conclusion by the Environment Blog at The Guardian [3] and I agree. In a weird way the work of the people behind surfacestations.org is really worth appreciating. Sources

1. Matthew J. Menne, Claude N. Williams, Jr., and Michael A. Palecki (2010). On the reliability of the U.S. surface temperature record Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres. Vitezslav Kremlik: “Open letter to secretary-general of United Nations: A challenge” at climatechange.thinkaboutit.eu

The Guardian Environment Blog / Climate sceptics distract us from the scientific realities of global warming. SourceWatch / Anthony Watts NOAA: “Talking Points related to concerns about whether the U.S. temperature record is reliable”. Also don't miss Dot Earth / On Weather Stations and Climate Trends which has a lot of detail on the work. Amazingly, Watts was invited to participate but is now objecting to the publication of the study!

Climate change causing biodiversity loss
Published 11th February 2010 - 3 comments - 789 views 2009 was the year of COP15 and climate change. But 2010 is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. These two subjects are inextricably linked, however. And when promoting the biodiversity cause change makers can just build on their nice experiences from COP15 in communicating an abstract subject that calls for societal changes going against current economic dogma, right? This article looks at the problems and what can be done about them.

Crash course in ecology
Biodiversity is a measure of the variation among living things; the number of different species in an environment. A natural forest will have a higher biodiversity than a parking lot. A high level of biodiversity adds to the resilience – the ability to recover following a disturbance or catastrophe – of a given natural environment, an ecosystem. And that's just the beginning of why biodiversity is valuable beyond being nice and pretty. Species are moving polewards and upwards in elevation in response to generally rising temperatures. Earlier flowering, breeding time, biomass peaks are decoupling species interactions; i.e. changing the available food sources. Climate change in and of itself doesn't automatically means loss of biodiversity. Except in 2010 it does. Because much of what's left of nature is surviving only due to the maintenance of isolated, fixed protected areas. Without human civilization having reshaped most of the surface of Earth plants and animals would have just moved along with a changing climate. But to many species today there is nowhere to go. Most of the areas within their reach from their reserves are effectively deserts to them. Plus man would probably kill them before they died of natural causes. If climate change is addressed by deforestation to make place for biofuel production then this in turn will gravely affect biodiversity [2]. And besides climate change, “normal pollution” and the spread of humans keeps killing off species. Thus, many are already endangered which leaves them even more vulnerable. The European Union had pledged to halt extinctions by 2010 which hasn't happened – next to get wiped off the list are the Iberian lynx and the

Mediterranean monk seal [3, 5]. And 2009 some criminal American deliberately killed the last wild jaguar [4].

What should be done?
Scientists are working on it. Environmental scientists Nichole Heller and Erika Zavaleta reviewed a large number of peer-reviewed studies on the problem in 2009 [1]. From the 112 best articles 524 recommendations were identified, categorized, ranked and discussed. Typical of science, most recommendations were general principles, not advice on actions. The number one recommendation is to increase connectivity. That means designing corridors and removing barriers between habitats. Could be just preserving a hedgerow, actually. Perhaps locating reserves close to each other. And generally reforest. This will allow species to move by themselves if they feel the need. Right below that is to integrate climate change in planning and modelling of ecological scenarios such as pest outbreaks, harvest schedules and grazing, mitigating other threats such as invasive species and pollution to not have it add up in vicious synergy, intensively study the specific biological responses to climate change of organisms (physiological, behavorial etc.), intensively manage and even translocate populations. Then there is the rather obvious recommendation to simply increase the number of reserves. And as they say, “reserves should be accumulated in areas predicted to be hotspots for biodiversity in the future or to provide habitat for species of high conservation value, warranting increased effort to model species distributions in the future.” So, lots of work for modellers and park rangers. There are many challenges. For one thing most climate models are global while habitats and reserves are not. Besides uncertainties there are disagreements too. For example as to which is better, few large or many small reserves? All agree, though, that there is a need for more protected land. And many call for partial protection of surrounding areas. Within the reserves old trees should be preserved. Because they both tolerate a wide range of temperatures as well as help regulate local climate. And once felled it takes a long time to grow new. Old trees have virtually no economic value, though.

What can be done?
The remark about “nice experiences from COP15” above was a joke, of course. In case you were wondering. But not only a joke. Of course, there are few positive experiences to take with us from COP15. But some lessons learned include no apocalyptic forecasts because they only produce apathy and cynicism. And no sloppy reports because errors will eventually be picked up and heralded as proof of the collapse of science by those who wish to disbelieve anything not in support of business as usual. We need scientific predictions to somehow end up in constructive proposals for prosperous activities. [5]

But there is another obvious link between the subjects of biodiversity preservation and climate change: Most nature reserves are carbon sinks. In a carbon economy maintaining forests should be viable. “Currently the world's ecosystems, instead of maintaining and enhancing nature's carbon capture and storage capacity, are being depleted at an alarming rate.” - Achim Steiner, UNEP In Europe we have brought a halt to deforestation. And there are opportunities to re-plant and combine carbon sequestration with human recreation needs. Already our forests capture 712% of our fossil fuel emissions; clearly a value. And each hectare of new forest captures between 150 and 320 tonnes of carbon. Finally, we have the know-how to conduct our agriculture without degrading soil organic carbon and excessive fossil fuel use; we just have to start using this knowledge. [7]

Sources

HELLER, N., & ZAVALETA, E. (2009). Biodiversity management in the face of climate change: A review of 22 years of recommendations Biological Conservation, 142 (1), 14-32 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.10.006

Hannah Reid (2006). Climate Change and Biodiversity in Europe Conservation and Society, 4 (1), 84-101

European Voice / Sleepwalking to extinction Environment News Service / IG Report: Last U.S. Jaguar Captured, Killed Intentionally SciDev.net / Biodiversity loss matters, and communication is crucial Summary of "Forest Resilience, Biodiversity, and Climate Change" The Natural Fix? The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation. UNEP, 2009.

Food security: climate change and sustainable development (TH!NK2½ part I)
Published 24th February 2010 - 2 comments - 721 views Us TH!NKers are moving from part 2 to part 3, from climate change and COP15 to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals. Both topics are multifaceted, overlapping and quite complex. In fact, apart from climate change essentially being a sustainability issue, sustainable development was addressed directly several times during TH!NK2. Including by the good old “skeptic” who appeared shocked COP15 had dealt with “international economic development policy”. I strongly suspect climate change will be mentioned more than once during TH!NK3 too. Luckily, the highly esteemed scientific journal Science published a review article this month: Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Food security is one of those topics that is extremely important and linked to both climate change and sustainable development. As well as to security policy which is something I have been blogging about at my own Ecowar. It's a good article, summing up on the most important aspects while providing reliable figures. To sum it up: A growing population with an increasing consumption will have to get by on an exceedingly exploited Earth. This will lead to crises, challenges and tough choices. A global political effort is needed to solve the most pressing problems and take advantage of the windows of opportunity: closing the yield gap, reducing waste, changing diets and more.

The yield gap
The first subject is enormous and actually mixed into most parts of the article. To “close the yield gap” means moving from the harvest we do achieve to what we theoretically could achieve if our current knowledge and technology was utilized. They mention a political aspect as well: “Food production in developing countries can be severely affected by market interventions in the developed world, such as subsidies or price supports.” Just look at the subsidization of sugar beet farming in the EU, US and Australia which makes the otherwise sound sugar cane farming in the 3rd world less profitable. The chapter on the yield gap also addresses something that is central to the whole sustainability discussion:

“Food production has important negative “externalities,” namely effects on the environment or economy that are not reflected in the cost of food.” Take the difference between a liter of “normal” aka “industrial” milk on the one hand and a liter of organic milk on the other. The latter is a bit more expensive. Having been buying organic food for many years I have more than once been ridiculed by someone who just saw a TV show claiming organic food isn't more healthy that other types of food. Well, my answer usually is that “normal” food is cheap because you really don't pay for it. You don't pay for the pesticides you indirectly put in our common ground water, the global warming you cause by the energy intensive production of fertilizers, the woes of future generations who will not be able to sustain this “normal” production et cetera, et cetera. And contrary to what is sometimes claimed, sustainability isn't synonymous with a drop in production: “One study of 286 agricultural sustainability projects in developing countries, involving 12.6 million chiefly small-holder farmers on 37 million hectares, found an average yield increase of 79% across a very wide variety of systems and crop types”

Increased food production
Part of closing the yield gap – or rather, raising the bar – is the whole genetic modification issue. So far what we have seen from that opportunity is decreased sustainability. Because the first large scale GM crops have been optimized for profits through aggressive patenting, monopolies, design for intensively industrialized farming and reliance on pesticides. What needs to be developed is crops with beneficial traits (such as drought resistance and less greenhouse gas side-effects in both cultivation and livestock digestion). Available to 3rd world farmers without a debt trap attached. Advances in genetic technology can help us take great strides in crop cultivation in general. One of the things we need to preserve to most efficiently take advantage of such technology is our natural biodiversity. Our ecosystem is a treasure trove of biochemistry that shouldn't be squandered away. Year 2010 is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity because MDG number 7 included “achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss” of biodiversity. As I have already complained, this goal has failed. Doubly painful since it is so integrally linked to the climate change issue.

Reducing food waste
Now there is an obvious solution, right. 30 to 40% of all food is wasted. Solve that problem and we're almost halfway! Except in the developing world much waste is due to infrastructure limitations including lack of refrigeration. But installing refrigerators for 3 billion more people will consume enormous amounts of energy leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other problems. In the 1st world we are rich enough to throw away food for cosmetic reasons. We rely on dates printed on packaging, not an actual assessment of the freshness of our foods. And due to

diseases caused by industrialization (mad cows et cetera) we feel forced to destroy food waste rather than compost it or feed it to livestock. Lastly, we waste massive amounts of food by converting grain into meat. Since the conversion efficiency is about 10% why don't we try and go without eating for nine days after one day of meat? That would be a lesson. However, vegetarian zealots: back off. There is plenty of room for livestock by feeding with human food waste and grass, meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, livestock doubles as workforce in ploughing and transport plus produces manure. The conclusion begins: “There is no simple solution to sustainably feeding 9 billion people.” No, obviously not. What's certain is we'll experience endless discussion, crises and conflict over the arable land we have left as well as over the way we manage it and divide it's harvests.

This article is also posted to my own blog, Ecowar. The article Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People was brought to my attention by The Oil Drum. Thanks. UPDATE: A follow-up about the role of climate change in the UN MDGs - The COP in the MDGs (TH!NK2½ part II) - is ready at TH!NK3.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.