Story of a meme: Chinese and European emissions

  • 26 Aug 2011, 00:00
  • Christian Hunt

Want to know how memes start? Take this for an example. With European climate politics revolving around whether to have the ambition of reducing emissions 20% or 30% by 2020, Polish environment minister Andrzej Kraszewski (quoting a claim made by the IEA last December ) recently stated

"moving to a 30% CO2 reduction target would be equivalent to the total emissions produced by China in just two weeks".

The claim that efforts to increase Europe's 2020 mitigation goal from 20 to 30% would only amount to two weeks of China's emissions make for a compelling soundbite. But it's wrong. As the calculations below show, the accumulated emission reductions by 2020 would be equivalent to around 11 billion tons of CO2 - more than 75 weeks (1.45 years) of China's emissions.

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More on 'Let them eat carbon'

  • 25 Aug 2011, 16:42
  • Robin Webster

Last week we wrote two blogs concerning claims about energy bills made in the Daily Mail. Both of the figures quoted in the Daily Mail were sourced to a new book by the Taxpayers Alliance, entitled 'Let them eat carbon'. The two claims made were:

1.  That ' green taxes' are costing families £500 a year (see the blog we posted on this point)

2.   That ' EU emissions directives alone' are costing households up to £115 a year (and again, a blog in response). 

Matthew Sinclair, the author of the TPA book, responded to both pieces,  here and  here, repeating the first point, and defending the second, and suggesting that we've got our analysis wrong.

Arguments about these sorts of numbers get complex quickly, so I'll try to keep it as jargon-free as possible.

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Maunder minimum, solar activity and the Little Ice Age: new research

  • 24 Aug 2011, 00:00
  • Verity Payne

This summer the skeptic notion that changing solar activity has caused global warming has been pedalled widely in the mainstream media. Consider, for example, notorious US skeptic Joe Bastardi's wild claims on Fox News earlier this month:

"We have warmed up overall over the last 20 to 30 years, or the last 200 years because of sunspot cycles, you can trace it to the sunspot cycle."

The promotion of this skeptic misconception is not limited to the US. Skeptic commentators in the British press have proclaimed that a new ice age is nearly upon us thanks to an approaching 'solar minimum' - suggestions that have been soundly rejected by scientists as we reported here.

These claims appeared after the publication of research indicating a new solar activity minimum. A previous period of low sunspot activity, the Maunder Minimum, lasted 70 years in the late 17th to early 18th century. It coincided with part of the 'Little Ice Age' - a period of cooling affecting parts of the globe, that lasted around 300 years.

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Those Daily Mail figures keep coming – who’s counting?

  • 19 Aug 2011, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

The Daily Mail's volley of contradictory numbers attacking green energy is continuing. This week they are aided by the release of a new book, Let Them Eat Carbon, by the free market TaxPayers' Alliance.

In an editorial entitled "No room for dogma in these hard times", the newspaper discussed the impact of rising fuel and food prices on households. It said:

"…the Mail urges ministers to do what they can to ease the corrosive effects of inflation by halting their politically correct obsession with green energy taxes. As we reveal today, EU emissions directives alone are costing households up to £115 a year - money that is desperately needed elsewhere in the economy."

The estimate that "EU emissions directives alone" are costing households up to £115 a year appeared to be based on the following figures, outlined elsewhere in the paper and sourced to the TaxPayers' Alliance:

"Figures show the Trading Emissions Scheme, which caps businesses' carbon emissions, cost UK consumers £1.9billion last year, equivalent to £75 per family.

"The Renewables Obligation, under which energy companies have to invest in alternative energy sources, costs £1.1billion, or £40 per home.

"These schemes are in addition to [other hidden] green taxes consumers pay in their energy bills."

£75 plus £40 is £115.

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Summer (and winter) reading - ten books about climate change

  • 18 Aug 2011, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

The summer has arrived and what better way to enjoy the sunshine but to sit on beach pondering whether extremely pleasant weather events are a product of climate change and a warning of a very uncertain future?

We at Carbon Brief have scoured the bookshops from London's Charing Cross Road to the Amazon (website) to bring the ten most compelling publications from 2011 about climate change science, policy and communications (although you will have to wait for some).

1) The philosopher Stephen M Gardiner brings you a 512 page tome A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change.

This book claims our politicians, our institutions and ourselves must be held to account for a "profound ethical failure" of failing to face up to climate change - and discusses how today's wealthy are capitalising on scientific ignorance to exploit the poor and future generations.

Oxford University Press, £22.50.

2) If you are anything like us, whilst you are lounging by the sea or in a country retreat what will really be occupying your mind is how our cities will survive and adapt in the wake of climate change.

Luckily, Peter Calthorne, a world renowned architect and planner, has just published his 176 page hardback Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Calthorne argues that the next 50 years will change our cities more profoundly than anything witnessed during the last half century.

Island Press, £31.00

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What the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Daily Mail don’t tell about their ‘green tax con’

  • 15 Aug 2011, 18:00
  • Guy Shrubsole

The Daily Mail has an article today headlined

'The 'green tax con' that is costing families £500 as finances are under strain'.

The £500 figure comes from a book from the TaxPayers' Alliance, Let Them Eat Carbon, due to be released on Thursday. So far the TPA have put out only a press release and the book's introduction. The book - and the Mail - argues that families are paying £500 more than they should be annually in green taxes.

As Carbon Brief has detailed before, this is not the first time that the Daily Mail has attacked the costs of green taxes.  In June, the Mail claimed in a series of articles that 'green measures' were adding £200 to an average household energy bill. The £200 figure was based on unreferenced claims by climate skeptic lobbyists the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In July, the Mail said that by 2020, green measures would add "up to £1,000 a year" to household energy bills. This figure came from a report by Unicredit bank which is not publicly available, which the authors would not discuss, and which contained no further detail about how the figure was calculated.

So what lies behind the statement that the 'green tax con' is costing families £500?  This is how the TPA justify it in their press release:

  •  " The Office for National Statistics has reported that environmental taxes raised £41.4 billion in 2010
  • After accounting for total road spending (£9.2 billion in 2010-11) and Air Passenger Duty (£2.1 billion), total domestic green taxes net of road spending were £30.1 billion in 2010
  • Greenhouse gas emissions were 582.4 Mt CO2-equivalent in 2010 according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The social cost of those emissions, based on earlier Government estimates of the social cost per tonne adjusted for inflation, was £16.9 billion
  • That implies that excess green taxes were levied of £13.2 billion, or over £500 for every family."

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Everything you ever wanted to know about Arctic sea ice (but weren't enough of a geek to ask)

  • 12 Aug 2011, 16:00
  • Christian Hunt

"New warning on Arctic sea ice melt" says one headline; whilst " Increase in Arctic ice confounds doomsayers" announces another. Media coverage of Arctic sea ice can all get a bit confusing - and we're about to see another round of it, as Arctic sea ice extent reaches its annual summer low in September.

September 2007 saw a record low for the extent of Arctic sea ice. The most recent data for the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) assessment of average Arctic sea ice extent during July 2011 was even lower than at the same time in 2007 - the lowest average extent reached over July since the start of the satellite data record.

So will this year's summer low be another record breaker? Speculation has already begun, and so has the inevitable 'Arctic death spiral' debate (exemplified here and here). Record lows and 'death spirals' are undoubtedly newsworthy, but often serve to confuse. The accompanying debate tends to reduce understanding of the main point - that there is an indisputable declining trend in Arctic sea ice over the last 3 decades.

With that in mind here are ten things you might want know about the Arctic ice cap...

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Best climate resources on the web

  • 12 Aug 2011, 10:00
  • Robin Webster

The climate blogosphere hasn't been at its most active this week. So we thought we'd use the opportunity to put down our top six (or seven) most useful climate resources on the web.

The Daily Climate

The US-based Daily Climate says that it

"works to increase public understanding of climate disruption, including its scope and scale, potential solutions and the political processes that impede or advance them."

The site aggregates daily news across the political spectrum on climate change "from center right to center left" as well as undertaking its own reporting. It offers a free daily news summary, which is well worth signing up to (here).


Yale e360 Digest/ Science Daily

Want to know what the long-term implications of the Texas drought are? Or why polar dinosaur tracks are important?  These are the two best sites we've found for accurate, accessible summaries of the latest research papers in climate science. Science Daily provides expanded coverage of scientific press releases, Yale w360 does more in-depth discussions.

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Essential climate video on US heatwave

  • 11 Aug 2011, 11:44
  • Christian Hunt

Does climate change cause a drought? Does it cause a famine?

  • 08 Aug 2011, 13:50
  • Christian Hunt

It's worth reading a piece discussing the Somalian drought and accompanying famine by Chris Funk, a researcher at the University of California, which neatly illustrates how the 'did climate change cause extreme weather event X' question isn't particularly helpful.

Last year, his team essentially predicted the drought in Horn of Africa which has led to a famine. And there's a link to climate change. But note the different components to the analysis:

Last summer, our group was meeting when a La Niña weather system was forecast. We knew that such an event could bring trouble, and we issued an alert that East Africa might experience severe droughts.

We based this conclusion on information from three sources. First, we knew that La Niña events are commonly associated with weakened rains in the Horn of Africa from October to December.

Second, from work on the ground, we knew that persistent poor rains at the end of the past decade, combined with high food prices, had weakened the population's resilience to food emergencies.

And third, research has linked warming in the Indian Ocean as a result of climate change to drying of March-to-June rains in East Africa. This warming has intensified the negative impact of La Niña events; it was the chance that both the autumn and spring rainy seasons could be affected, back to back, that really concerned us.

So according to Funk, here's a social problem (famine), driven by an extreme weather event (drought), occurring in a particular context of poor rains and high food prices. The drought is a result of changes in a natural weather system (La Nina), which may have been dangerously intensified by climate change.

You couldn't say that climate change 'caused' the drought or the famine. But you also couldn't say that it was unrelated. And that highlights a basic problem with the way we discuss causation, climate change, and extreme weather. There's a logical hiccup in saying that because we can't pinpoint climate change as 'the' cause for a specific extreme weather, there is no link.

It's going to be necessary to point this mistake out where it occurs, because the things which make it hard to predict extreme weather in advance - the difficulty of doing regional climate change predictions, and the difficulty of short term weather forecasting of specifics compared with long term climate forecasting of averages - aren't going to change any time soon.

You can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee, which is co-ordinating funding to aid relief in the Horn of Africa, here.

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