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Climate Snippets #1

Reef Bleaching

From James Paten Gilmour, Research Scientist, Coral Ecology, Australian Institute of Marine Science writing in The Conversation (July 15, 2020):

“With no work in lockdown, tour operators helped find coal bleaching on Western Australia’s remote reefs.”

“This most recent event (2019/20) is significant because of the extent and duration of heat stress. It’s also notable because it occurred outside the extreme El Nino – Southern Oscillation phases [my empasis] – warming or cooling of the ocean’s surface that has damaged the northern and southern reefs in the past.”

Chris Mitchell has claimed (6/7/2020) that only natural events, such as El Nino and the Southern Oscillation, not human actions, have affected the Antarctic. Not so, according to Gilmour:

“The impacts from climate change are not restricted to Western Australia or the Great Barrier Reef – a similar scenario is playing out on reefs around the world, including those already degraded by local pressures.”

WA’s reefs stretch from Geraldton to the Kimberley and there are still some healthy reefs.

Dr Peter Ridd, claims reefs can survive bleaching, soil and fertiliser run-off in North Queensland and can recover in a decade.

Gilmour says:

“…we’ve seen the same reefs [in WA] recover over just one or two decades, only to again be devastated by mass bleaching – this time with little chance of a full recovery in the future climate.”

Last year, James Paton Gilmour and Rebecca Green reported: ‘Bright white skeletons’: some WA reefs have the lowest coral cover on record. (The Conversation, May 22, 2019).

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered 3 bleaching events in the past 5 years!

Rising Seas

There are still people who insist that they can see that the ocean at the local beach is not rising because when they go down there, the water rises no more than it did when they were children, years ago.

Rising sea can be, like the coronavirus, invisible – but the effects can be disastrous.

Recently our attention has been drawn to the plight of people and their houses at Wamberal on the mid-coast of NSW. People there tell us that there was a similar problem there 40 years ago and in 2016. And there are other places in Australia which have been affected by surging seas in recent years.

As well, various places have been named as being in danger from sea rises.

From The Canberra Times, August 5, 219, the terrible prediction that:

“WA beaches, homes and roads at risk of crumbling into the sea.”

And from The Guardian, 5 August 2019 a similar threat exists in WA:

“Port Beach in Fremantle and South Thompson Bay at Rottnest Island top list of 55 locations where coastal erosion poses serious threats.”

Other places in the world, such as Venice, Florida, and Pacific islands are suffering from rising seas. In the case of Pacific islands, some are seen to be expanding in area, especially as smaller islands are eroded and island sand and gravel is washed onto the larger island. Some will say the increase in size will provide more agricultural land, but the islanders themselves are not so convinced. They suffer rising heat and infrastructural damage from rising seas.

This focus by some on the addition of more land area might remind us of the Groucho Marx joke in which he describes some cloth. Don’t think about the quality, he says, feel the width.

In the case of Wamberal, does the existence of high cliffs of sand suggest any long term danger from erosion? And what would be the cost for the local council to build a high protective wall?

And yet further risks:

“Unwelcome sea change: new research finds coastal flooding may cost up to 20% of global economy by 2100.” (The Conversation, July 31, 2020)

Chris Mitchell raised the issue of some Pacific Islands expanding in size by wave action as discussed by Paul Kench from a New Zealand university. But Mitchell did not take into account the impacts of heat, destruction of infrastructure and surging seas on the islanders.

Interestingly, Kench transferred to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada in 2018. A report from two universities, Simon Fraser and Princeton Environmental Institute in New Jersey:

“… point to overwhelming evidence that the world oceans are rising at an accelerating rate. At the same time, the oceans are heating as much as 40% faster based on research done at universities across the US and the UK.”

States Professor Paul Kench, Dean of Science at Simon Fraser, said:

“We know that certain types of fossil corals act as important recorders of past sea levels. By measuring the ages and depths of these fossil corals, we are identifying that there have been periods several hundred years ago that the sea levels have been lower than we thought in the Indian Ocean.”

“The study, published in ‘Nature Geoscience’ on December 16, 2019, concludes that the last two centuries have seen the central Indian Ocean around the Maldives rise by nearly a metre. The threat lies in the rate of sea level rise over the past 200 years which suggests an accelerating trend posing a threat to coastal cities and human habitation around the Indian Ocean. The rate of acceleration and sea level rise will exceed anything in recorded history.

“Last Sunday, on the American news magazine show ’60 Minutes’, Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geoscience and International Affairs at the Princeton Environmental Institute, stated that ‘Sea level is rising almost everywhere on Earth…Not only is sea level rising, the rise is accelerating – it’s happening faster and faster…By the year 2050, which is only 30 years into the future, many places around the world, including in the US, are going to experience the ‘historical’, ‘once-in a hundred year’ once a year or more frequently.. Let me repeat that: An event that used to cause severe flooding once a century, we are going to get that same water level once a year.’”

And that is going to lead to more forced migration – another story.

And so the deniers prefer to claim that all this is panic, catastrophic alarmism and apocalyptic fear-mongering. Because they know if the burning of fossil fuels leads to massive destruction, then their fossil fuel business model is in tatters.

Prudence, Panic, Catastrophism, Apocalyptic Pessimism

Henry Ergas, The Australian, 16 July, 2020, informs us about the virtue of prudence:

“Prudence seems a lost virtue in coronavirus pandemic response…[prudence] was the disposition, acquired by experience, of thinking well in order to act well…[prudence ] involved proceeding cautiously, carefully defining the aims being pursued and the consequences of pursuing them… costs, economics, personal, etc…

“But while these factors are clearly at work, they would hardly be so powerful were it not for the growing pervasiveness of apocalyptic thinking.

“From bushfires to hailstorms, climate change to the coronavirus, every occurrence seems to trigger a race in which commentators compete in predicting the worst and in demanding ever more draconian remedies. Every lump of coal, we are told, hastens Armageddon: adaptation to a changing climate is pointless – only driving carbon emissions to zero can save the planet. And by exactly the same token, every coronavirus infection heralds an unstoppable pandemic; which only the most curtailing of economics and social activity can possibly avert…

“However, it is not just the trade-offs that would have to be set aside, so would the democratic process that gives voice to the many Australians who neither believe humanity is huddled in the ante-room of its own extinction nor share the doomsday hunger for drastic action. Rather, were the extremists to prevail, society would, as in a war, retreat from democracy into a perpetual state of emergency, invoking the ancient principle that is notoriously associated with Pyrrhus, the Macedonian king who suffered such crippling losses in prevailing over the Romans at Asculum at 279 BC as to ensure his campaign’s eventual collapse.”

There are a number of things we could say about this heavy-handed rhetoric. One is that it is itself a harbinger of panic and apocalyptic pessimism. Ergas and associates are very concerned, to the point of panic, and express their concerns to the extent we might come to the opinion they are more concerned about the money than about the people.

Another point is about the matter of prudence, about prudence being thinking well, acting well, cautiously, defining aims and costing them – and they are happening now, but then there is this “growing pervasive apocalyptic thinking”. Yes, his own panic and that of the right-wing politicians obsessed with costs.

As well, there is Ergas’s fear of “drastic action”, which destroys democracy and makes people fear for their lives, he says, “as in war”, when they might simply adapt, just as we might adapt to climate change – no need for “drastic action”.

All this is summed up by Ergas in the historic story of Pyrrhus, the Macedonian king who defeated the Romans in 279BC, but in the end was destroyed by his victory. It is the kind of Ancient History by which the leaders of the British Empire were educated in the C19th, along with Greek and Latin. Whether it applies to the way we are attacking the pandemic is not clear, but it stirs up fear and apocalyptic thinking so much that people are not able to comprehend exactly what they should do, so much conflicting advice is given. Medical experts are being accompanied by a chorus of homespun ideologues who have no real practical advice to give.

It is not clear exactly what the Murdoch media empire, for example, would have us do, with a prudent, well-considered plan of the kind which Ergas wants, but does not reveal in his writing.

More about the Money

Judith Sloan, in The Australian, 21 July, 2020 [pay-walled] tells us: “Labor forced to walk back from fantasy emissions targets.” Labor’s radical policies, she says, were firmly rejected in the last election. By how much? By a seat or two?

She briefly lists some Labor policies: half cars to be electric, CO2 emissions to be reduced by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, a price on carbon, subsidies for renewables (failures overseas, says Sloan), transition out of coal and support for workers and communities. Fantasy? Radical?

But Labor did not give the costing of their policies up to 2030/40/50, she says. And the Coalition has had trouble with costing too, which is a matter not mentioned by Sloan!

So Sloan calls on Brian Fisher, director of the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Research Economics, to do the costing. We have heard him before and we could give at least a rough idea of what he might say. He can model economics in advance, but the IPCC, apparently, cannot model climate.

“Fisher’s work,” Sloan tells us:

“… conceded the government’s policies would lead to adverse economic effects, but they were small. But he estimated that Labor’s would lead to a cumulative loss of GDP between $264bn and $542bn by 2030, with real wages falling by 3% and 167,000 fewer jobs.”

Jobs, says Sloan, and paying the bills are among top concerns now, and COVID-19.

Just domestic family matters. No science, please. Too expensive. Just look at Mr Fisher’s numbers!

Link to Climate Snippets #2

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  1. king1394

    Thanks for reminding me of the virtue of prudence. It is not something much valued nowadays. Should a politician pause for thought before giving an answer, he/she is seen as vacillating. If you take too long over some project, you miss a deadline. Even IQ is measured by speed as much as thinking as most tests have a time limit. Prudent consideration of a problem,with weighting of alternatives, and maybe waiting for more information is just not done nowadays.

  2. Ken Fabian

    We’ve had 3 decades of holding out for more and better information, all supporting the same conclusion at every iteration when it arrives, ie that global warming is real, very serious and is made worse by delaying further. Delay in the false hope that a different conclusion can still emerge has stopped being reasonable and is clearly counterproductive. Even so… No climate change denial around here say Mr Murdoch… but, oh, readers thought he meant anthropogenic climate change, not the “always been changing” sort? Perhaps they will want to buy a subscription to The Australian with their spare gullibility?

    The worst of it is that our Prime Minister and others in positions of highest trust and responsibility appears to welcome the anti-climate science/anti-climate action rhetoric, no matter how daft or dangerous – he won’t ever call it out, not even the loopiest conspiracy theories as promulgated by NewCorp columnists and editors; Mr Morrison would rather Australian voters believe The Australian’s BS about globalist/socialist/environmentalist/scientist-ist’s out to ruin the world than face up to and prevent the ruin of the world.

  3. guest

    Thank you, King1394, for your comment about prudence. It is an interesting word. As you and Henry Ergas say, it is about ‘weighting alternatives’ and ‘maybe waiting for more information’. And there is a time factor. So much to consider. But I think there is more prudent thinking happening in the world today than we might think – and a large amount of disruptive, dangerous thinking, too, contrived over a long period of time to secure vested interests which are being challenged.

    When Rudd had to deal with the GFC, he was told to “go early, go hard and go family.” He had to think prudently, but of course there were those who opposed the whole idea. For some, there was no GFC. For others, it was a honey pot for profit. Besides, in the case of pink batts the industry was not sufficiently regulated and regulation had to be done on the run.

    Have a look at Ergas’s essay on prudence. What does he say in the end? That Pyrrhus should have spent more time thinking about whether defeating the Romans was good idea, whether it would lead to his defeat in the end.

    It is Ergas’s way of saying that we must make sure that we do not make the cure for the pandemic worse than the pandemic itself. It is an example of panic talk, when he is trying to tell us not to panic.

    If you look carefully at what Ergas says, he does not in the end give any details of how we as a nation can prudently deal with the pandemic.

    Whereas, Morrison and his National Cabinet are working hard with epidemiologists and other medical people working tirelessly around the clock in order to deal with the details of the pandemic across the country, relying on the citizens to follow instructions. They are, no doubt weighting the alternatives and gathering information all the time.

    In the end they are doing what Rudd was asked to do: Go early, go hard and go family.

    All else is fatuous philosophic nonsense.

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