The Real Unknown of Climate Change: Our Behavior

Sep 20, 2017

By Justin Gillis

As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, few people in that state seemed to understand the nature of the looming danger.

The bulletins warned of rain falling in feet, not inches. Experts pleaded with the public to wake up. J. Marshall Shepherd, head of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia and a leading voice in American meteorology, wrote ahead of the storm that “the most dangerous aspect of this hurricane may be days of rainfall and associated flooding.”

Now we know how events in Texas turned out.

Dr. Shepherd and his colleagues have spent their careers issuing a larger warning, one that much of the public still chooses to ignore. I speak, of course, about the risks of climate change.

Because of atmospheric emissions from human activity, the ocean waters from which Harvey drew its final burst of strength were much warmer than they ought to have been, most likely contributing to the intensity of the deluge. If the forecasts from our scientists are anywhere close to right, we have seen nothing yet.

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5 comments on “The Real Unknown of Climate Change: Our Behavior

  • From the article

    If you want, say, a forecast for global temperature in 2100, the uncertainty about how much pollution we will spew out is at least twice as large as any uncertainty about the physical response of the climate to those emissions.

    Politicians and their self-serving stance are the deadliest unknown.

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  • Perhaps studies like these can help some people get a grip on the real costs of climate change!

    US economist Richard Thaler, one of the founding fathers of behavioural economics, has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics.

    Prof Thaler, of Chicago Booth business school, co-wrote the global best seller Nudge, which looked at how people make bad or irrational choices.

    Judges said he had demonstrated how “nudging” – a term he coined – may help people to exercise better self-control.

    Prof Thaler’s work led to the UK setting up a “nudge unit” under former prime minister David Cameron. It was launched in 2010 to find innovative ways of changing public behaviour.

    One of the Nobel prize judges, Per Stroemberg, said Prof Thaler’s work had explored how human psychology shaped economic decisions.

    “Richard Thaler’s findings have inspired many other researchers coming in his footsteps and it has paved the way for a new field in economics which we call behavioural economics,” Mr Stroemberg said.

    The panel said Prof Thaler’s insights helped people to recognise marketing tricks and avoid bad economic decisions.

    In particular, his work looked at how to “nudge” people into doing more long-term planning, such as saving for a pension.

    Prof Thaler also made a cameo appearance in the Hollywood film, The Big Short, explaining the complex financial instruments that led to the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

    It is the final Nobel to be announced this year, after prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace were awarded last week.

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  • phil rimmer #1
    Sep 21, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Politicians and their self-serving stance are the deadliest unknown.

    Yep! … and the uncaring, ignorant stupidity, of some is predictable!

    The Trump administration is moving ahead with a plan to roll back an Obama administration rule designed to curb power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has cast doubt on climate change, said the Clean Power Plan was an overreach.

    President Donald Trump ordered the EPA to rewrite the rule in March.

    The Clean Power Plan requires states to meet carbon emission reduction targets based on their energy consumption.

    Mr Pruitt said he would sign the proposed rule to begin withdrawing from the plan on Tuesday.

    “The war on coal is over,” he told a crowd in Hazard, Kentucky, on Monday.

    “Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers.”

    Mr Pruitt has previously argued that the Clean Power Plan would force states to favour renewable energy in the electricity-generation market.

    As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he took part in a lawsuit by 27 US states against the rule.

    A Supreme Court ruling in February 2016 left the regulation in limbo.

    The EPA under President Barack Obama said the Clean Power Plan could prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and 6,600 premature deaths.

    But according to US media, a leaked draft of the repeal proposal disputes the health benefits touted by the previous administration.

    The draft also reportedly argues the country would save $33bn (£25bn) by dropping the regulation.

    The Clean Power Plan required states to devise a way to cut planet-warming emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

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  • @#3 – The Clean Power Plan required states to devise a way
    to cut planet-warming emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

    While mucky Trump works his way down his “to be wrecked” list, and his goons are trying to restrict climate research at NASA and elsewhere in the US, the world will nevertheless be watching polluters!

    UK-Dutch-built Sentinel launches to track air quality

    A UK-assembled satellite has launched from Russia on a mission to monitor air quality around the globe.

    Its Dutch-designed instrument will make 20 million observations daily, building maps of polluting gases and particles known to be harmful to health.

    Called Sentinel-5P, the spacecraft is a contribution to the EU’s Copernicus Earth-monitoring programme.

    S5P is riding to orbit on a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile called a Rockot.

    The vehicle left the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 12:27 local time (10:27 BST; 09:27 GMT).

    Controllers will know they have a functioning satellite in position above the planet when they first receive a radio communication from S5P.

    This should occur about an hour-and-a-half after the Rockot left the ground.

    The EU, with the help of the European Space Agency (Esa), is developing a constellation of satellites as part of its Copernicus programme.

    Five of the platforms are already up; many more will follow in the next few years.

    All called Sentinels, they are tasked with taking the pulse of the planet and gathering data that can inform the policies of member states – everything from fisheries management to urban planning.

    The Sentinels, in number and capability, dwarf anything planned elsewhere in the world, and Sentinel-5 Precursor, to give it its full title, is one of the big UK contributions to the whole endeavour.

    The satellite’s TROPOMI instrument has been developed by a consortium led from the Netherlands’ national meteorological agency (KNMI), and will build daily global maps of key gases that contribute to pollution.

    These include nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. All affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, and a number of them also play a role in climate change.

    The “Precursor” in the spacecraft’s name references the fact that the TROPOMI instrument comes before a near-identical sensor that will eventually fly on Europe’s next-generation weather satellites from 2021.

    Putting up 5P now also ensures there is no data gap in observations should an ageing, previous-generation instrument suddenly fail. That sensor, called OMI, flies on the US space agency’s Aura satellite.

    Although still in good health, it is operating far beyond its design lifetime. But TROPOMI is more than just a gap-filler, says KNMI’s principal investigator Pepijn Veefkind because it is a step on in performance with a tenfold improvement in resolution on what has gone before.

    “Big sources, such as power plants – you will be able to detect them. But generally we will be on the city scale. So for example in the Netherlands, we will be able to distinguish between the centre of Rotterdam and the harbour,” he told BBC News.

    One major use for the data will be in delivering air quality forecasts, including providing warnings when citizens are likely to encounter problems like smog or high UV (ultraviolet light) levels.

    British atmospheric scientist Paul Palmer said some of TROPOMI’s climate observations would be just as important, and highlighted its detection of the greenhouse gas methane.

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  • We are now getting real-time imaging of pollution traced from sources!

    See the link for actual images.

    New Sentinel satellite tracks dirty air

    It’s been working less than a month but already the UK-Dutch-built Sentinel-5P satellite is returning spectacular new views of Earth’s atmosphere.

    The spacecraft was designed to make daily global maps of the gases and particles that pollute the air.

    The first sample images released by mission scientists show plumes of nitrogen dioxide flowing away from power plants and traffic-choked cities.

    S5P has even captured the ash and sulphur emissions from Agung volcano.

    The mountain, sited on the Indonesian island of Bali, is in the midst of a big eruption.

    Researchers, led from the Netherlands Met Office (KNMI), still have another five months of calibration work ahead to get the satellite’s data ready for public use.

    But it is clear, says principal investigator Pepijn Veefkind, that when fully operational, the new Sentinel will be an extremely powerful tool to monitor air quality.

    “It’s been amazing to see how quickly we were able to get the satellite working. This is a big improvement on what we’ve been able to do before. In just a week, we’ve got more data out of Sentinel-5P than in several years of operation of a previous mission,” he told BBC News.

    Sentinel-5P is the latest spacecraft in a fleet of Earth observers being commissioned by the European Union and the European Space Agency.

    Built by Airbus in Britain, the new spacecraft was launched into an 824km-high orbit by a Russian rocket on 13 October.

    It carries a single instrument called Tropomi. This is a spectrometer that observes the reflected sunlight coming up off the Earth, analysing its many different colours.

    In so doing, it can detect the presence in the atmosphere of a suite of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols (small droplets and particles).

    All affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, and a number of them also play a role in climate change.

    The sample images were released during a briefing event at the German space agency in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich. It is where Sentinel-5P’s data is processed.

    One of the first images shows nitrogen dioxide over Europe. These emissions come largely from motor vehicles and the combustion of fossil fuels in industrial processes.

    High concentrations of the pollutant are evident over parts of the Netherlands, the Ruhr area in western Germany, the Po Valley in Italy and over parts of Spain.

    NO2, a yellow-brown gas, will, in the right weather conditions, promote the production of ground-level ozone, which is a severe respiratory irritant.

    Another sample image shows pollution drifting away from power plants in India. The worst of this pollution runs from north of Patna in the state of Bihar to south of Raipur in the state of Chhattisgarh.

    Another image is a global map of carbon monoxide.

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