"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Earth Faces Sixth ‘Great Extinction’: Researchers Struggling To Assess How Bad It Is

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Oldspeak: “Studies that try to tally the number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive right now produce estimates that swing from less than 2 million to more than 50 million. The problem is that researchers have so far sampled only a sliver of Earth’s biodiversity, and most of the unknown groups inhabit small regions of the world, often in habitats that are rapidly being destroyed…. Nature pulled together the most reliable available data to provide a graphic status report of life on Earth (see ‘Life under threat’). Among the groups that can be assessed, amphibians stand out as the most imperilled: 41% face the threat of extinction, in part because of devastating epidemics caused by chytrid fungi. Large fractions of mammals and birds face significant threats because of habitat loss and degradation, as well as activities such as hunting…. Conservation policies could slow extinctions, but current trends do not give much comfort. Although nations are expanding the number of land and ocean areas that they set aside for protection, most measures of biodiversity show that pressures on species are increasing. “In general, the state of biodiversity is worsening, in many cases significantly.” -Richard Monastersky

“So it’s a given, the anthropocene extinction is underway. Scientists know it’s bad. They just aren’t quite sure how bad. They do know half of the biodiversity they know about has been rendered extinct in the past 40 years. They expect extinction rates to increase as conditions worsen, it is significantly worsening currently. As time passes, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore these realities. I’ve been struggling with some grief the past few days. Lots of interesting subconscious stuff has been working itself out in meditation. Feeling lighter, more serene, less fearful, more discerning. Accepting what is has been quite liberating.” -OSJ

By Richard Monastersky @ Nature:

Of all the species that have populated Earth at some time over the past 3.5 billion years, more than 95% have vanished — many of them in spectacular die-offs called mass extinctions. On that much, researchers can generally agree. Yet when it comes to taking stock of how much life exists today — and how quickly it will vanish in the future — uncertainty prevails.

Studies that try to tally the number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive right now produce estimates that swing from less than 2 million to more than 50 million. The problem is that researchers have so far sampled only a sliver of Earth’s biodiversity, and most of the unknown groups inhabit small regions of the world, often in habitats that are rapidly being destroyed.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the uncertainty in the latest version of its Red List of Threatened Species, which was released in November. The report evaluated more than 76,000 species, a big increase over earlier editions. But that is just 4% of the more than 1.7 million species that have been described by scientists, making it impossible to offer any reliable threat level for groups that have not been adequately assessed, such as fish, reptiles and insects.

Recognizing these caveats, Nature pulled together the most reliable available data to provide a graphic status report of life on Earth (see ‘Life under threat’). Among the groups that can be assessed, amphibians stand out as the most imperilled: 41% face the threat of extinction, in part because of devastating epidemics caused by chytrid fungi. Large fractions of mammals and birds face significant threats because of habitat loss and degradation, as well as activities such as hunting.

Looking forward, the picture gets less certain. The effects of climate change, which are hard to forecast in terms of pace and pattern, will probably accelerate extinctions in as-yet unknown ways. One simple way to project into the future would be to assume that the rate of extinction will be constant; it is currently estimated to range from 0.01% to 0.7% of all existing species a year. “There is a huge uncertainty in projecting future extinction rates,” says Henrique Pereira, an ecologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig.

At the upper rate, thousands of species are disappearing each year. If that trend continues, it could lead to a mass extinction — defined as a loss of 75% of species — over the next few centuries.

Conservation policies could slow extinctions, but current trends do not give much comfort. Although nations are expanding the number of land and ocean areas that they set aside for protection, most measures of biodiversity show that pressures on species are increasing. “In general, the state of biodiversity is worsening, in many cases significantly,” says Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist with the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK.

Despite all the uncertainty, researchers agree that they need to devote more attention to evaluating current and future risks to biodiversity. One approach is to develop comprehensive computer models that can forecast how human activities will alter ecosystems. These general ecosystem models, or GEMs, are in their infancy: earlier this year, Tittensor and his colleagues published initial results from the first global model that seeks to mimic all the major ecological interactions on Earth in much the same way as climate models simulate the atmosphere and oceans (M. B. J. Harfoot et al. PLoS Biol.12,e1001841; 2014).

Building the GEM took 3 years, in part because the model tries to represent all organisms with body masses ranging from 10 micrograms (about the weight of small plankton) to 150,000 kilograms (roughly the size of a blue whale). “It needs a lot more development and testing, and ideally there will be a lot more variety of these models,” says Tittensor. But if they do a decent job of capturing the breadth of life in a computer, he says, “they have real potential to alert us to potential problems we wouldn’t otherwise detect”.

 

2014 Headed Toward Hottest Year On Record — Here’s Why That’s Remarkable

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 10:12 pm
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Oldspeak: “It is not remarkable that we keep setting new records for global temperatures — 2005 and then 2010 and likely 2014. Humans are, after all, emitting record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, and carbon dioxide levels in the air are at levels not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far warmer and sea levels tens of feet higher. The figure above from the Met Office makes clear that humans continue to warm the planet… What is remarkable, as the WMO explains, is that we’re headed toward record high global temps “in the absence of a full El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. But not this year.” -Joe Romm

“With El Nino, 70% to begin within a few months, expect the heat to continue to be on, and shit to get a lot weirder. “Simply put, we are rapidly remaking the planet and beginning to suffer the consequences.” -Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international, Princeton University. When you consider the reality that there really is no way to realistically change the humans carbon dioxide emissions sharply aside from the collapse of industrial civilization, it’s time for most of us to proceed to the acceptance stage of grief.  Denial is no longer an option. It’s just a matter of time and physics at this point. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…” -OSJ

By Joe Romm @ Think Progress:

2014 is currently on track to be hottest year on record, according to new reports from both the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.K.’s Met Office Wednesday. Similarly, NOAA reported two weeks ago that 2014 is all but certain to be the hottest year on record.

It is not remarkable that we keep setting new records for global temperatures — 2005 and then 2010 and likely 2014. Humans are, after all, emitting record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, and carbon dioxide levels in the air are at levels not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far warmer and sea levels tens of feet higher. The figure above from the Met Office makes clear that humans continue to warm the planet.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.”

As Peter Stott, Head of Climate Attribution at the Met Office, explained: “Our research shows current global average temperatures are highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate.” While it has been on the cool side in parts of the United States, the Met Office reported that the United Kingdom is headed toward its hottest year on record. Stott noted that, “human influence has also made breaking the current UK temperature record about ten times more likely.”

What is remarkable, as the WMO explains, is that we’re headed toward record high global temps “in the absence of a full El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).” We get an El Niño “when warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific combine, in a self-reinforcing loop, with atmospheric pressure systems,” which affects weather patterns around the world.

It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. But not this year.

Here’s a revealing chart from Skeptical Science courtesy of environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli of NASA’s temperature data (with the projection for 2014 in black and white):

This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

As one caveat, different climate-tracking groups around the world use different data sets, so it is possible that at the end of the year, some will merely show 2014 tied for the hottest year on record depending on how warm December turns out to be. For NOAA, however, it’s all but certain 2014 will be the hottest year on record. Either way, it’s remarkable this is happening in an ENSO-neutral year.

Finally, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported Friday that their models indicate “at least a 70% chance that El Niño will be declared in the coming months.” If so, then 2015 will very likely top 2014 to become the hottest year on record.

The only way to stop setting new annual temperature records on an increasingly regular basis — until large parts of the planet are uninhabitable — is to sharply change the world’s carbon dioxide emissions path starting ASAP.

 

Even Climate Change Experts & Activists Might Be In Denial About Ongoing Climate Calamity

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Oldspeak:”Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come. In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.”-Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta

“You recently saw a big, showy example of this irrational denial and cognitive dissonance at the “People’s Climate Farce” photo-op and parade and U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September. With less than a few weeks left before the widely scientifically agreed upon deadline of global carbon emissions peaking in 2015 and declining thereafter to have a probably negligible hope of averting the worst effects of climate change, is very, very, very badly missed, I’ve not been sure why the people who know best that the window is about to close are continuing to participate in this latest farcical round of “negotiations” and talks. This piece goes a long way in explaining the psychological roots of these unconscious defense mechanisms and denials of reality. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ

By Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta @ The Conversation:

Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions.

Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris.

However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism.

Climate denial can be unconscious

For at least a century, psychoanalysis has taught us that we might be consciously thinking and saying one thing, but unconsciously doing another. In this context that means people are very consciously aware of the threats posed by climate change, even if they aren’t doing too much about it.

Not a week goes by without the media showing catastrophic images of environmental damage and social suffering seemingly caused by a changing climate. Research suggests that such threats lead us to adopt various unconscious coping and defence mechanisms.

But what to do about it? EPA

Many people try to keep the catastrophe at bay or deny it is happening. Vested interests such as the Koch brothers in the US and other conservative forces have cleverly exploited this unconscious response by supporting a small group of scientists, politicians and think tanks to spread the message of climate scepticism and denial.

This stuff works. Climate denial is undoubtedly on the rise, particularly in those media-saturated markets of North America, Europe and Australia. The Kochs and others are clearly filling a psychological void. Research has also shown that “people want to protect themselves a little bit”, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty. If climate change simply isn’t happening, there’s nothing to worry about.

Another popular coping and defence mechanism is to pretend that we can address this global and urgent problem by tinkering at the edges of “business as usual”. For example, politicians and business leaders widely believe that we can achieve a decarbonisation of the global economy while maintaining high economic growth. Social psychologist Matthew Adams says such a response is part of an unconscious coping mechanism that simply implies that we have pushed the problem onto a distant future.

As the geographer Erik Swyngedouw shows, climate change politics could in fact be seen as a “post-political” phenomenon where apocalyptic images of environmental destruction and human suffering are used to justify swift action without allowing any real political and economic choices. For example, while on one day the UK government is acknowledging that climate change is already having stark impacts on developing countries by pledging £720m to poor countries, another day of the political calendar is dominated by rhetoric that emphasizes economic growth and even the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the UK.

Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come.

In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.

In fact, one could argue that those who are very close to the reality of climate change are particularly prone to a need to split their identity. The knowledge they have, and the images they have seen, might unconsciously lead them to the above-mentioned counter-balancing and coping behaviours. Not a good omen for the latest round of climate talks in Peru.

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