Evidence for human-made global warming hits ‘gold standard’: scientists
Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent, Feb 25, 2019 / 8:04 AM
OSLO (Reuters) – Evidence for human-made global warming has reached a “gold standard” level of certainty, adding pressure for cuts in greenhouse gases to limit rising temperatures, scientists said on Monday.
“Humanity cannot afford to ignore such clear signals,” the U.S.-led team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change of satellite measurements of rising temperatures over the past 40 years.
They said confidence that human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level, a statistical gauge meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming.
Such a “gold standard” was applied in 2012, for instance, to confirm the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe.
Benjamin Santer, lead author of Monday’s study at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said he hoped the findings would win over skeptics and spur action.
“The narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong,” he told Reuters. “We do.”
Mainstream scientists say the burning of fossil fuels is causing more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.
U.S. President Donald Trump has often cast doubt on global warming and plans to pull out of the 197-nation Paris climate agreement which seeks to end the fossil fuel era this century by shifting to cleaner energies such as wind and solar power.
Sixty-two percent of Americans polled in 2018 believed that climate change has a human cause, up from 47 percent in 2013, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Monday’s findings, by researchers in the United States, Canada and Scotland, said evidence for global warming reached the five sigma level by 2005 in two of three sets of satellite data widely used by researchers, and in 2016 in the third.
Professor John Christy, of the University of Alabama in Huntsville which runs the third set of data, said there were still many gaps in understanding climate change. His data show a slower pace of warming than the other two sets.
“You may see a certain fingerprint that indicates human influence, but that the actual intensity of the influence is minor (as our satellite data indicate),” he told Reuters.
Separately in 2013, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that it is “extremely likely”, or at least 95 percent probable, that human activities have been the main cause of climate change since the 1950s.
Peter Stott of the British Met Office, who was among the scientists drawing that conclusion and was not involved in Monday’s study, said he would favor raising the probability one notch to “virtually certain”, or 99-100 percent.
“The alternative explanation of natural factors dominating has got even less likely,” he told Reuters.
The last four years have been the hottest since records began in the 19th century.
The IPCC will next publish a formal assessment of the probabilities in 2021.
“I would be reluctant to raise to 99-100 percent, but there is no doubt there is more evidence of change in the global signals over a wider suite of ocean indices and atmospheric indices,” said Professor Nathan Bindoff, a climate scientist at the University of Tasmania.
Reporting by Alister Doyle, editing by Ed Osmond and Angus MacSwan
NEB Sidesteps ‘Significant’ Impacts, Recommends Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval
By Mitchell Beer, February 25, 2019
Canada’s National Energy Board is recommending federal cabinet re-approval of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion despite its likely “significant” environmental and climate impacts, prompting multiple Indigenous and environmental opponents to vow the project will never be completed.
“The project would cause ‘significant adverse environmental effects’ on the southern resident killer whale population, and while a worst-case spill from the pipeline or an oil tanker is not likely, ‘the effects would be significant,’” CBC reports, citing NEB Chief Environmental Officer Robert Steedman.
“While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the Government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the project and measures to minimize the effects,” the NEB decision stated.
“Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said it’s ‘ludicrous’ that economic interests are considered more important than killer whales,” National Observer reports. “We are proud British Columbians, and we have a duty to protect what we’ve all been blessed with in British Columbia in regard to the pristine beauty of the environment,” Philip said. “We will rise to the challenge.”
“I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns…so we have every expectation that they’re going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it,” said Stand.earth climate campaigner Sven Biggs, in the lead-up to the NEB announcement. “It’s likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you’ll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty “said he was pleased the NEB sees the project as a matter of ‘national interest’, and ‘now it is up to the federal government to take the steps necessary for getting this pipeline built without any further delay’,” Observer states.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi called the ruling “an important milestone”, adding that Ottawa is in a “very strong position” to wrap up project consultations with affected Indigenous communities within 90 days.
“We know how important this process is to Canadians,” Sohi said in a prepared statement. “We are hopeful the work we are doing will put us in a strong position to make a decision.”
The NEB attached 16 new conditions to the approval, on top of the 156 it had already imposed, including “measures to reduce underwater noise and to protect marine species from collision, reduce the emissions of vessels, among other issues,” Observer reports. “The NEB said it applied the precautionary principle, requiring that environmental measures must anticipate and prevent environmental harm, when considering human industrial involvement with the ‘complex and interconnected ecosystem’ of the Salish Sea.”
The Board added that the pipeline “remains in the public interest of Canada,” CBC writes. “The regulator provided a list of ‘considerable’ benefits from the project including jobs across the country, government revenues, spending on pipeline materials, greater market access for Canadian oil, and training, jobs, and business opportunities for local Indigenous communities.”
It added that marine traffic off the B.C. coast is on track to increase, with or without an expanded pipeline. “The panel feels strongly that if these recommendations are implemented, they will offset the relatively minor effects of the project-related marine traffic and, in fact, will benefit the entire Salish Sea ecosystem,” Steedman said.
For the groups that have been fighting the pipeline, the decision was just another step on a long road.
“We still say no to the project,” said UBCIC Secretary Treasurer, Chief Judy Wilson. Even if one nation, one community says no, that project is not happening.”
“The troubling part for me and First Nations concerned about their water and their territories is the fact that Trudeau has stated this pipeline will be built, full stop. It makes an absolute mockery of the consultation process that was court ordered and has been accomplished today,” added UBCIC Vice President and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis Chief Bob Chamberlin.
“The NEB has effectively ignored the impacts on whales, Indigenous communities, and the climate. Now it is up to cabinet to reject the NEB’s recommendation and refuse to approve the project,” said Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel.
Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver responded with a Friday afternoon demonstration outside local CBC offices. “The world’s climate scientists are clear: we have 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions or face catastrophic consequences,” the organization stated on Facebook. “We can do this, but the clock is ticking. Instead of making urgent and meaningful investments in sustainable development and renewable energy projects, the Trudeau government is committing billions in public funds toward expanding dirty tar sands bitumen extraction.”
The news report on Common Dreams captured crossborder reaction, as well.
“I understand in British Columbia, this pipeline will provide a way of having an income,” said Noel Purser of the Suquamish Tribe, one of four Northwest U.S. Indigenous communities that challenged the project in 2013. “But is it worth the potential of a spill, that risk? Is it really worth that? Because that will impact everybody, not just here in British Columbia. It will impact us in Suquamish; it will impact our relatives in Alaska.”
“Once again, Canada’s NEB has sided with short-term Big Oil profits instead of the long-term health of the Pacific Northwest’s people, climate, and orcas,” said Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth. “Shame on Prime Minister Trudeau, his government, and the National Energy Board of Canada for ignoring widespread opposition and serious concerns in favor of this destructive pipeline. Canada’s decision will likely bring about the extinction of the Northwest’s iconic killer whales and drive us further towards the brink of climate chaos.”
Writing in the week or so before the decision, Dogwood BC’s Kai Nagata circulated a list of the things he would and would not do once the widely-expected announcement was official.
“Here’s what I’m going to do when the news comes out: Take a deep breath, walk the dog, make dinner for my kid,” he wrote. “Here’s what I’m not going to do: Wail, gnash teeth, rend my garments, wallow in despair.”
All of that on the assumption that the outcome of the NEB’s review was already as certain as death and taxes.
“Justin Trudeau can promise hope and change and reconciliation and all that nice stuff. At the end of the day, he does what the oil companies tell him,” he wrote. “So that’s what’s wrapping up this week—another rigged review by an industry-funded, industry-staffed regulator that has never said no to a pipeline.” But “we also need to build our energy for the bigger fight ahead,” beginning when the project receives federal cabinet approval.
“That’s going to take hard work. And hard work requires us to slow down and take care of the basics: sleep, food, fresh air, our relationships with family and friends,” he wrote. But despite the “hell of a beating” communities have taken from fossil companies over the last couple of years, “I’m feeling calm and confident,” he concluded. “I hope you do, too.”
Repost of the DeSmog Blog Feb 23 newsletter [Editor: Once again, I highly recommend the DeSmog newsletter. Excellent coverage of climate news. See below for most recent email, and sign up at right on their front page. – R.S.]
Message From the Editor
The Trump administration is having a big week when it comes to entrenching fossil fuel industry interests in federal policy.
Climate science denier and retired Princeton physicist Will Happer — described by an actual climate scientist as “unmoored” — is expected to head a new White House committee to determine the national security risks of climate change. Which, of course, federal defense and intelligence agencies have already concluded.
Meanwhile, federal officials backed away from negotiations with California over fuel efficiency standards, which, as Ben Jervey explains, sets the stage for the Trump administration to revoke the state’s special authority to set stricter clean car rules.
The oil industry and Koch network have been lobbying hard to roll back federal clean car standards, making this development another win for their campaign.
And speaking of fossil fuel industry campaigns, a DeSmog investigation has revealed that not only do the fossil fuel and tobacco industries use the same PR playbook, they donate to dozens of the same so-called “free-market think tanks” that promote these industries’ interests.
In 2016, retired Princeton physicist Professor Will Happer accepted an invitation from conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin to give a keynote at his conference to talk about the “positive effects of CO2.”
Griffin thinks the science behind global warming is a scam. He also thinks there is “no such thing” as the HIV virus and that some plane contrails are part of a political plot to spray the population with poisons.
In an interview at the conference, Happer repeated his well-oiled mantra that “CO2 will be good for the Earth” and how it was “pretty clear we are not going to see dangerous climate change.” Read more.
The Trump administration just took a big step closer to handing the Koch network one of it biggest wins yet under this presidency. Bloomberg has reported that there will be no deal between the Trump administration and California on fuel efficiency and emissions standards for cars and light vehicles.
This move sets the stage for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to attempt to revoke California’s special waiver under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state to set its owns standards that are more stringent than federal standards. Read more.
Fossil fuel companies have a long history of adopting public relations strategies straight from the tobacco industry’s playbook. But a new analysis shows the two industries’ relationship goes much deeper — right down to funding the same organisations to do their dirty work.
MIT Associate Professor David Hsu analyzed organisations in DeSmog’s disinformation database and the Guardian’s tobacco database and found 35 thinktanks based in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand that promote both the tobacco and fossil fuel industries’ interests. Read more.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced the city is scrapping plans for a multi-billion-dollar update to three natural gas power plants, instead choosing to invest in renewable energy and storage.
“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” said Mayor Garcetti. “The climate crisis demands that we move more quickly to end dependence on fossil fuel, and that’s what today is all about.”
Last year America’s carbon emissions rose over 3 percent, despite coal plants closing and being replaced in part by natural gas, the much-touted “bridge fuel” and “cleaner” fossil fuel alternative. Read more.
Sparks flew at a New Orleans City Council’s utility committee meeting on Valentine’s Day, compelling the committee to delay voting on a resolution that would scrap plans to rescind the permit for Entergy’s proposed $210 million natural gas power plant in exchange for a $5 million fine.
The contentious permit was awarded to Entergy, which provides power to the city, on March 18, 2018, but the city council’s third-party investigation of Entergy found the allegations that the company took part in an astroturf campaign to influence the vote for its proposed New Orleans East gas plant to be true. The investigation concluded that the company was responsible for hiring paid actors, who were wearing t-shirts supporting the plant, to fill council chambers and speak in support of the project. Read more.
In September 2018, two prospective buyers announced they were dropping out of negotiations to purchase the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), the American West’s largest coal-fired power plant.
Avenue Capital Group and Middle River Power had sought to keep the aging coal plant in business, but “said they could not get anyone to commit to buying power from the plant, delaying the start of an environmental review,” the Associated Press reported. The plant, located in northern Arizona near the Utah border, is currently scheduled to shut down in December, after its current owners concluded in 2017 that its power was too costly to be competitive. Read more.
Trump is losing his rallying cry to save coal. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted on Thursday to retire two coal-fired power plants in the next few years despite a plea from the president to keep one of the plants open.
Earlier this week, the president posted an oddly specific tweet that urged the government-owned utility to save the 49-year-old Paradise 3 plant in Kentucky. It so happens that the facility burns coal supplied by Murray Energy Corporation, whose CEO is Robert Murray, is a major Trump donor. Read more.
By Joseph Aldy, Harvard Kennedy School (6 min. read)
Congressional Democrats have introduced a “Green New Deal” proposal that calls for a 10-year national mobilization to curb climate change by shifting the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels. Many progressives support this idea, while skeptics argue that a decade is not long enough to remake our nation’s energy system.
The closest analog to this effort occurred in 2009, when President Obama and Congress worked together to combat a severe economic recession by passing a massive economic stimulus plan. Among its many provisions, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided US$90 billion to promote clean energy. Read more.
From the Climate Disinformation Database: CO2 Coalition
The CO2 Coalition is a 501(c)(3) group formed from the now-defunct climate science-denying George C. Marshall Institute. Its stated purpose is promoting “the important contribution made by carbon dioxide and fossil fuels to our lives and the economy.” It was co-founded by Will Happer (who is poised to lead a White House probe of the national security risks of climate change) and former Exxon manager Roger Cohen. The coalition has received funding from the Koch family foundations and Mercer Family Foundation (the Mercers are conservative mega-donors).