Thursday, May 17, 2012

People and Planet: a new report and other stories

Royal Society report (Summary and recommendations) calls for both population stabilisation and big cuts in consumption to avoid "a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills". This is a significant contribution to the discussion of the relationship between population and consumption (which I discussed back here). I haven't had a chance to read the full report yet, but the conclusions seem to be broadly consistent with the points I made: that both population and consumption need to be addressed, but the latter can be addressed faster, further and with fewer ethical conundrums and so ought to be the primary immediate focus.

Guardian: IEA warns of 6ºC rise. It is hard to get a handle on just how catastrophic 6ºC would be. Let's just say that if we get to 6ºC, I don't think we'll be doing cost-benefit analyses anymore. David Roberts reflects on whether 6ºC is alarmist or realistic and points out that science alone can't tell us how bad climate change will be - because the most important unknown is just how we are all going to act and react over the next couple of decades. Those who think that 6ºC by 2100 is entirely unrealistic implicitly assume either (a) massive global co-ordinated action to mitigate through aggressive emissions reductions across the board or (b) global and long term economic collapse arriving sooner rather than later.

Mongabay: Organic agriculture has lower yields than industrial farming, according to a new study in Nature, especially for grains, though that is not the whole story, since there are various downstream costs of industrial agriculture that reduce yields elsewhere (and elsewhen).

ScienceDaily: Plastic in ocean underestimated by at least a factor of 2.5 due to the effects of wind pushing pollution beneath the surface, rendering measurements and calculations based on skimming the surface inaccurate.

SMH: India's border fence. Not with Pakistan or China, but the 4,000 km militarised fence on the border with Bangladesh, in the face of a rising tide of people fleeing, amongst other things, a rising tide. Though speaking of that rising tide...
H/T Donna.

ABC: Australasia at hottest for (at least) 1,000 years (also in the Guardian and the original study is here). This is a significant finding since most temperature reconstructions have focused on the northern hemisphere, where a greater number of proxy records mean more data is available.

Science: Some good news from Greenland. A review of ten years of satellite data appears to indicate that we are not on track for the "worst case" (i.e. 2 metre) sea level rise by 2100. Of course, "good" is relative; even a rise of a few feet will lead to massive headaches, but multi-metre rises probably mean infrastructure vulnerabilities worth trillions. Sea level rise is one of the most serious long term effects of climate change, though I suspect that over the next few decades it is not going to dominate in comparison with, for example, concerns over food security.

Grist: What would it look like for media to take climate seriously? A very interesting conversation between two journalists about media coverage of the climate threat.


byron smith said...

The Conversation: More on the organic yields publication from one of the authors, pointing out that nothing is black and white in this discussion.

byron smith said...

Telegraph: Great Pacific Garbage Patch has increased 100-fold since the 1970s.

byron smith said...

RealClimate: A good summary by the authors of the Greenland paper linked in the main post.

byron smith said...

Planet 3.0: Resilience vs yield: a difficult choice and another good example of the kind of knotty problem we'll increasingly face as we travel deeper into the Anthropocene.

byron smith said...

Grist: US organic firms being bought out by big food, who are also then stacking the regulatory agencies to change the definition of organic and so can sell slight modifications of their old products under the premium label. Nice work if you can get it.

byron smith said...

Guardian: This plastic bag conspiracy is a deadly distraction.

"Do I smell an opiate for the oblivious? This rhetoric is rubbish too because, as the environmental catastrophe mounts, we are doing less, not more, to preserve ourselves. The British Social Attitudes Survey, which is as good a measure as any of what we are not thinking about, reports that anxiety about the environment has lessened, even as the threat has grown – 37% think environmental threats are exaggerated, up from 24% in 2000. The proportion that believe fossil fuels contribute to climate change is down from 35% to 20%. I am no statistician but I think this means that ignorance has almost doubled in the last decade. We should be proud."

byron smith said...

A recent highly publicised study generated headlines claiming no health benefits to eating organic. But that is not the full story: what the headlines missed was the study's fine print, its funders and the fact that personal health is only one of the many reasons to prefer organic. The health of farmers, the soil, waterways, local biodiversity and the climate are others.