Should we turn deserts into carbon-sucking tree plantations?

To fight climate change, some scientists think we should vegetate the hell out of deserts. The latest such idea calls for large plantations of a hardy species of Central American tree to be planted in near-coastal desert areas and irrigated with desalinated water.

While forests soak up carbon dioxide, deserts do comparatively little to help with climate change. So should these seas of sand be planted and watered out of existence in a bid to reduce CO2 levels?

Some say yes. The approach would be like geoengineering, but rooted in a more natural system. Scientists call it bioengineering or carbon farming.

Continues at Grist …

Seas may rise 10 yards during centuries ahead

Sea-level rise is currently measured in millimeters per year, but longer-term effects of global warming are going to force our descendants to measure sea-level rise in meters or yards.

Each Celsius degree of global warming is expected to raise sea levels during the centuries ahead by 2.3 meters, or 2.5 yards, according to a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The world is currently trying (and failing) to reach an agreement that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Business-as-usual practices could yet raise temperatures by 4 (or even more) degrees Celsius.

Multiply 2.5 yards by 4 and you are left with the specter of tides that lap 10 yards higher in the future than today. That’s 30 feet, the height of a three-story building. For comparison, the seas rose less than a foot last century.

Continue reading at Grist …

Kerry implores India to tackle climate change, ticks off Indian enviros

IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian, welcomes John Kerry. Photo by U.S. Embassy New Delhi.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in India over the weekend and gave a speech urging the fast-developing country to work closely with the U.S. and other countries on solutions to climate change.

Kerry is leading a delegation to Delhi for U.S.-India talks focused on trade and energy; Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is part of the visiting group. The stop in Delhi is one leg of a trip Kerry is making throughout the region.

The Americans’ arrival in Delhi coincided with deadly floods in northern India that some Indian officials have linked to global warming. But though climate change poses urgent dangers in India, Kerry’s speech was not received warmly by all of the nation’s environmentalists. Some felt they were being lectured to by the secretary of state, a representative of a nation that is second only to China in total greenhouse gas emissions.

Kerry has long warned of the dangers of climate change, and it’s been one of his favorite topics to discuss abroad since he was sworn in as Obama’s top diplomat. “Everywhere I travel as secretary of state — in every meeting, here at home and across the more than 100,000 miles I’ve traveled since I raised my hand and took the oath to serve in this office — I raise the concern of climate change,” he wrote just last week in an opinion piece in Grist.

Kerry’s speech in India was part of a broader push by the Obama administration on climate change. The U.S. recently struck a deal with China to cooperate on reducing heat-trapping HFC emissions, and the president is preparing to make a big climate announcement on Tuesday.

Continues at Grist …

Here’s how the world can get on track with climate goals

The world is driving itself into a future of climate hell, but experts say it’s not too late to take the off-ramp.

Despite declining greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and other developed nations, global emissions broke a new record last year. They were pushed 1.4 percent higher than the year before by rapid growth in China and India, and by Japan turning to fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.

During U.N. climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009, most of the world agreed to aim for a post-Industrial Revolution temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world keeps traveling along its current path, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report that long-term average temperature increases of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C are more likely.

Climate negotiations are underway to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which could help stem the tide of rising emissions. But no new agreement is expected to come into force until 2020 — and who knows if it would even be strong enough to make a difference.

So it would be easy to conclude that we’re royally fucked.

But in its new report, the IEA outlines four strategies that countries could pursue during the next seven years to help spare us the “royally fucked” scenario of skyrocketing temperatures — all at zero net economic cost.

Continues at Grist …

Arctic summers could be nearly ice-free in seven years

Everybody get ready to grab your swimsuit and head north. The latest melting projections by government scientists suggest that the Arctic could be nearly ice-free during summer in seven years — or maybe even sooner.

But before you get all excited about the novelty of taking a dive into waters that once harbored year-round ice, we should warn you that the seven-year thing is a worst-case scenario. But even the best-case scenario published in a recent scientific paper projects that the summer ice will virtually disappear during the first half of this century.

(Also, we should warn you that the water will still be pretty damned cold, if not quite as cold as before. Also, you might get run over by a container ship. Or coated by an oil spill.)

Continues at Grist:

It’s hard to sea, but the globe is still warming

Evidence of climate change is all around us, manifesting in superstorms, wildfires, and melting ice. But temperature spikes recorded by weather stations over the past 15 years have been more muted than was previously the case, and lower than climate models had predicted.

That’s leading many people to wonder: Is global warming less of a threat than we had feared?

Climate scientists have been noting for years that the atmosphere is heating up less quickly than expected. Since last year, a growing number have been suggesting that we adjust our warming projections downward. Just last week, 17 scientists called for exactly that in a letter published in the journal Nature Geoscience; they wrote that their latest projections for rising temperatures remain “in agreement with earlier estimates, within the limits of uncertainty,” but at the lower end of that range.

At issue is “climate sensitivity” — the extent to which temperatures warm as carbon dioxide levels rise. And central to the debate is “equilibrium climate sensitivity” — the temperature response to a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. (The CO2 concentration has already risen more than 40 percent since the industrial revolution, from about 280 parts per million to 400 ppm this month. And it is projected to nearly double the preindustrial level by 2050 — and then keep on rising.)

In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that global average temperatures would rise by between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius once carbon dioxide levels doubled. The Nature Geoscience letter suggests that the rise would probably be between 0.9 and 2 degrees C, most likely 1.3 degrees. That 1.3 figure is lower than earlier most-likely projections, such as the IPCC’s, which suggested that an increase between 1.4 and 1.6 degrees C was most probable.

Phew! Everything is fine then, according to some sloppy news reports and optimistic headlines, which have suggested that such findings mean climate change isn’t such a daunting problem. It’s perhaps more comforting for the press to dwell on the minutiae of garden-variety scientific uncertainty than to consider the role of climate change in triggering droughts, floods, and killer storms.

Meanwhile climate skeptics have seized on the controversy and used it to bash climate science across the board.

As far back as 2009, some scientists were reporting [PDF] that the rise of land and sea surface temperatures had slowed down. But the flurry of more recent research and media attention has brought the controversy out of labs and into the limelight. Now people want to know: Where’s the missing heat?

Continues at Grist …

Would Hillary and Norgay Recognize Mount Everest?

When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest 60 years ago Wednesday, the mountaineers gazed over a view from the top of the world that had never been seen before.

The view has changed since that historic day. Pollution and rising mountain temperatures are relentlessly shearing away at the Himalayas’ frozen façade. Photographs taken around the time of the 1953 expedition show hulking ridges of ice that have since shrunk or disappeared.

Glaciers and snow are melting throughout the sprawling mountain range, which stretches across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibetan China. The waning glaciers are leaving precarious mountainside lakes of cyan blue water in their wake.

Continue reading at Slate:

Climate change adaptation: So simple, a caveman could do it

Climate change is a helluva thing to live through. But humanity’s ability to cope and survive during past periods of climatic upheaval might have been what inspired species-advancing leaps in culture and innovation.

New research published last week in the journal Science links some of our ancestors’ greatest cultural advances during the Middle Stone Age to periods of tremendous tumult in the climate. The findings suggest climate change helped get our African ancestors off their butts and thrust them off on quests to explore the greater world.

The Middle Stone Age, which began roughly 280,000 years ago and ended perhaps 30,000 years ago, was a momentous time in our history. During this period, Homo sapiens developed modern bodies and brains, and began an epic march out of Africa to inaugurate a worldwide diaspora. This migration begat cave paintings, advanced stone tools, and a cultural revolution that would eventually deliver us to the globalized, Twitter-connected, Monsanto-dominated, mountaintop-removing, solar-panel-using, electric-car-driving world we recognize today.

Continue reading at Grist: