Worth Repeating: Climate ‘Tipping Points’ May Arrive Without Warning, Says Top Forecaster

via www.telegraph.co.uk

via www.telegraph.co.uk

A new University of California, Davis, study by a top ecological forecaster says it is harder than experts thought to predict when sudden shifts in Earth’s natural systems will occur — a worrisome finding for scientists trying to identify the tipping points that could push climate change into an irreparable global disaster.

“Many scientists are looking for the warning signs that herald sudden changes in natural systems, in hopes of forestalling those changes, or improving our preparations for them,” said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. “Our new study found, unfortunately, that regime shifts with potentially large consequences can happen without warning — systems can ‘tip’ precipitously.

“This means that some effects of global climate change on ecosystems can be seen only once the effects are dramatic. By that point returning the system to a desirable state will be difficult, if not impossible.”

The current study focuses on models from ecology, but its findings may be applicable to other complex systems, especially ones involving human dynamics such as harvesting of fish stocks or financial markets.

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Originally posted Feb 15, 2010

 

 

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Shading Earth: Delivering Solar Geoengineering Materials to Combat Global Warming May Be Feasible and Affordable

The basic feasibility of SRM with current technology is still being disputed

A cost analysis of the technologies needed to transport materials into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting Earth and therefore reduce the effects of global climate change has shown that they are both feasible and affordable.

Published August 31, 2012, in IOP Publishing‘s journal Environmental Research Letters, the study has shown that the basic technology currently exists and could be assembled and implemented in a number of different forms for less than USD $5 billion a year.
Put into context, the cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is currently estimated to be between 0.2 and 2.5 per cent of GDP in the year 2030, which is equivalent to roughly USD $200 to $2000 billion.
Solar radiation management (SRM) looks to induce the effects similar to those observed after volcanic eruptions; however, the authors state that it is not a preferred strategy and that such a claim could only be made after the thorough investigation of the implications, risks and costs associated with these issues.
The authors caution that reducing incident sunlight does nothing at all to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, nor the resulting increase in the acid content of the oceans. They note that other research has shown that the effects of solar radiation management are not uniform, and would cause different temperature and precipitation changes in different countries.
Co-author of the study, Professor Jay Apt, said: “As economists are beginning to explore the role of several types of geoengineering, it is important that a cost analysis of SRM is carried out. The basic feasibility of SRM with current technology is still being disputed and some political scientists and policy makers are concerned about unilateral action.”
In the study, the researchers, from Aurora Flight Sciences, Harvard University and Carnegie Mellon University, performed an engineering cost analysis on six systems capable of delivering 1-5 million metric tonnes of material to altitudes of 18-30 km: existing aircraft, a new airplane designed to perform at altitudes up to 30 km, a new hybrid airship, rockets, guns and suspended pipes carrying gas or slurry to inject the particles into the atmosphere.
Based on existing research into solar radiation management, the researchers performed their cost analyses for systems that could deliver around one million tonnes of aerosols each year at an altitude between 18 and 25 km and between a latitude range of 30°N and 30°S.
The study concluded that using aircraft is easily within the current capabilities of aerospace engineering, manufacturing and operations. The development of new, specialized aircraft appeared to be the cheapest option, with costs of around $1 to $2 billion a year; existing aircraft would be more expensive as they are not optimized for high altitudes and would need considerable and expensive modifications to do so.
Guns and rockets appeared to be capable of delivering materials at high altitudes but the costs associated with these are much higher than those of airplanes and airships due to their lack of reusability.

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Biodiversity Crisis Is Worse Than Climate Change

biodiversity jenga

Image by Kalense Kid via Flickr

Biodiversity is declining rapidly throughout the world.

 
The challenges of conserving the world’s species are perhaps even larger than mitigating the negative effects of global climate change. Dealing with the biodiversity crisis requires political will and needs to be based on a solid scientific knowledge if we are to ensure a safe future for the planet. This is the main conclusion from scientists from University of Copenhagen, after 100 researchers and policy experts from EU countries were gathered this week at the University of Copenhagen to discuss how to organise the future UN Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES — an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change (IPCC).

Species extinction and the degradation of ecosystems are proceeding rapidly and the pace is accelerating. The world is losing species at a rate that is 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate.

Mass extinctions of species have occurred five times previously in the history of the world — last time was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many other species disappeared. Previous periods of mass extinction and ecosystem change were driven by global changes in climate and in atmospheric chemistry, impacts by asteroids and volcanism. Now we are in the 6th mass extinction event, which is a result of a competition for resources between one species on the planet — humans — and all others. The process towards extinction is mainly caused by habitat degradation, whose effect on biodiversity is worsened by the ongoing human-induced climate change.

“The biodiversity crisis — i.e. the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems — is probably a greater threat than global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of humankind on Earth. There is a need for scientists, politicians and government authorities to closely collaborate if we are to solve this crisis. This makes the need to establish IPBES very urgent, which may happen at a UN meeting in Panama City in April,” says professor Carsten Rahbek, Director for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen.

A biodiversity equivalent to the UN panel on climate change

Professor Rahbek was one of the main forces behind this week’s conference on biodiversity and the organisation of the new Biodiversity panel IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). The conference was arranged and hosted in cooperation with the Danish Ministry of Environment and took place at the University of Copenhagen, where more than 100 scientists and decision makers, primarily from EU countries were gathered. The conference has been organised just as Denmark is taking over the EU Presidency, which provides an opportunity to influence the process of organising the UN Biodiversity Panel.

The new panel is the biodiversity equivalent to the UN panel on climate change, which has resulted in enhanced policy awareness and changes around the world, and initiated a change of behaviour for billions of people in many companies. Unfortunately, the same is not true when it comes to reducing the threats to ecosystems and the loss of animal and plant species.

“There is a need to produce future scenarios that are easily understood and at the same time bring together the best scientists in this field.

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Leading Lights

Aligning economic value with currently unpriced things—in nature and society—could be the ticket to global sustainability.

The week started off on a dark note. From São Paulo to Seoul, Moscow to Delhi, Toronto to Beijing, a record 4,000 cities, towns, and municipalities dimmed their lights for Earth Hour 2010—a project kicked off three years ago by drought-addled Australians in an effort to draw attention to the effects of global climate change.

This year, by the time lights had twinkled off first in Sydney and then in Samoa 26 hours later (due to a kink in the International Date Line), the World Wildlife Fund estimated that approximately 1 billion people in 125 countries participated. And as is fast becoming de rigeur for all such grassroots events, those people were blogging, webcasting, and tweeting in force, explaining what a dark Eiffel tower looks like and how a Sphinx in the shadows appears.

Even the city that never sleeps got in on the action, with a darkened Empire State Building and Times Square. Not quite as impressive, perhaps, as Toronto’s city-wide eclipse, but it was enough to at least answer the challenge of Dr. Johan Rockström, who a few days earlier had told an audience of New Yorkers, “I know Stockholm will participate; I don’t know about New York.” Rockström, the director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, was in town for the State of the Planet 2010 summit, hosted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The event, at which yours truly was also in attendance, was billed as an attempt to bring leading thinkers from academia, business, and international governance to address four pressing challenges: climate change, poverty, economic recovery, and ineffective international systems. Events of this ilk have the tendency to go either of two ways: One is the epic gloom-and-doom archetype, where attendees are assailed with terrifying statistics on dark topics like extinction, malaria, and sea-level rise, and where afterwards, one feels compelled to curl up in a fetal position, or perhaps to crawl into the cold, unlit apartment of No Impact Man. The other is a techno-optimistic archetype—where speakers assail you with “Buy our green gadgets, our biofuels, our PHEVs, and the world will become a happier place.” This conference, marbling anti-poverty gurus like Jeffrey Sachs with the CEO of PepsiCo India, managed to eschew those stereotypes, making for a more nuanced discussion of economic development in the age of the Anthropocene.

“All the science shows that technology is not a silver bullet. We’ll have to see lifestyle changes as well,” said Rockström, in the day’s first panel on global warming. Yet speakers also emphasized the potential of technology to realize dramatic changes, particularly in the developing world. In Africa, Professor of Professional Practice Glenn Denning told the audience, when agriculture expands, people start saving. And the first they do is buy mobile phones. Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg spoke of great opportunities to link cell-phone usage to delivery of healthcare and education in poor areas. “We’ve seen that health workers can register information with mobile. We’ve seen rising school attendance. They do things with mobile phones that we in the West could never imagine.”

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