Why changes in solar activity don’t mean a ‘mini ice age’ is on the way

  • 30 Apr 2013, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock

From time to time, we're told by parts of the media that earth is headed for a 'mini ice age'. Despite decades of data to the contrary, the theory is linked to the mistaken belief that the sun is driving climate change, not human activity.

The  Daily Mail repeated the claim today in an article urging us to "forget global warming ...the Earth may soon be plunged into a 250-year cooling period". The piece follows a radio interview with scientists from the Russian Pulkovo observatory.

But the vast majority of scientists do not agree that the sun is the main driver of climate change - or that we're on course for a mini ice age. Here's why.

Solar changes and the Little Ice Age

Scientists know the sun has some impact on earth's climate. Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London, told Carbon Brief recently:

"Climate science shows that the sun does have an influence on climate; this is not controversial. The planet responds to changes in the flux of energy that it intercepts from the Sun."

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UK shale gas resources may be ten times less than Peter Lilley claims

  • 30 Apr 2013, 14:30
  • Robin Webster

Is Conservative MP Peter Lilley right to claims a new estimate of the UK's shale gas resource will be 250 times larger than previously thought? A look at the figures suggests the real number could be ten times smaller.

Commentators on the energy debate have been  avidly awaiting a new figure for the amount of shale gas the UK has for a few months now. But over the weekend, the  Financial Times broke the news that the release of the estimate - produced by the British Geological Survey (BGS) for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - has been delayed by several weeks.

In today's  Daily Telegraph, Lilley writes:

"Ed Davey was apparently so upset by the British Geological Survey's new estimates, which show there may be 250 times as much shale gas as previously thought, that he told them to go and redo their figures."

Lilley's claim appears to stem from a  Times article from February, which publicisd figures indicating that BGS's new figures could be about 250 times larger than a previous estimate.

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Public concern over rising energy bills at an all time high

  • 30 Apr 2013, 11:15
  • Mat Hope

Public concern over rising energy bills is on the up, according to new government data. The news follows reports of energy companies  doubling their profits as Britain experienced a cold snap this spring.

The data also show support for some low carbon energy sources is at an all time high as the public becomes increasingly aware of the new kid on the block, shale gas.

Research company TNS UK interviewed around 2,000 people for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Public Attitudes survey. The idea was to gauge how the public sees what DECC calls its main "business priorities" - goals such as energy efficiency, improving the UK's energy infrastructure and increasing the amount of energy we generate from low carbon sources. DECC runs the survey every three months to track changes in opinion.

Paying for energy

More people than ever before said they were worried about paying their energy bills - 59 per cent. Almost a quarter said they were "very worried". That's a nine per cent rise since the question was last asked in February, with a result DECC says is probably down to Britain experiencing a particularly cold start to spring.

Concern does not appear to have translated into action, however, with fewer people switching energy suppliers. 52 per cent of people switched in the last year, compared to 55 per cent when the question was last asked in July 2012. Energy suppliers may be comforted by the news that 61 per cent said they had no plans to switch in the next year.

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Newslinks - 30th April • Adapting to climate change, attacks on green agenda & carbon dioxide highs

  • 30 Apr 2013, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Sourced under creative commons

Adapt faster to changing climate, Europe warned
A new report from the European Environment Agency warns major changes to agriculture, transport systems and infrastructure are needed if countries are to adapt to rising sea levels and extreme weather resulting from climate change.
The Guardian 


The politics of climate change
Research from the US suggests the public are more likely to support emissions reductions, regardless of their political orientation, if they believe there is a scientific consensus on global warming.

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Big Brother may be watching you - but probably not through a chip in your fridge

  • 29 Apr 2013, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

Last year's royal wedding had millions at home watching, cup of tea in hand and a roast in the oven - with their kettle, ovens and televisions causing a peak in electricity. But according to the Mail on Sunday, such pleasures could be spoiled if a new proposal to curtail energy use through chips that could turn off household appliances comes in. Sounds sinister - but is it right?

Fridges and freezers across the land could be arbitrarily switched off to cope with power surges and more variable power supply from renewables, according to the  Mail on Sunday and Telegraph.

The story is based on a  proposal from the network of organisations that own and operate electricity transmission grids across Europe. The 'European Network Transmission System Operators for Electricity' group (ENTSO-E) - which includes the UK's National Grid - has suggested to the European Commission that a chip could be inserted in new appliances, which would temporarily switch them off when the grid is struggling to balance supply and demand.

The European Commission is  expected to use the proposals to feed into changes to regulations governing the  electricity market. The proposals are part of a wider push for demand side management - or a  smarter electricity grid that will allow network operators to cope with the arrival or more unpredictable power sources like wind and wave power.

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Cloud-building plants help cool the atmosphere (but only slightly)

  • 29 Apr 2013, 15:45
  • Roz Pidcock and Freya Roberts

We know that plants absorb carbon dioxide, but are they moderating earth's temperature another way? A new study suggests the cooling effect of tiny particles emitted from plants can offset one per cent of global warming. We asked the authors what this means for slowing the pace of temperature rise.

What are aerosols?

Aerosols are tiny particles that can have a  cooling effect on the atmosphere. The particles scatter sunlight directly and stimulate clouds to form, preventing sunlight reaching earth's surface.

Scientists are confident that aerosols offset a substantial portion of human-caused warming, but there is still a lot of  uncertainty about how much.

Most aerosols come from  human activity, such as vehicle exhausts and wood burning. A much smaller fraction are naturally occurring, mainly through volcanic eruptions.

A new study in  Nature Geoscience explains how plants could be another - albeit much smaller - source of natural aerosols through the gases they release.

As co-author Ari Asmi from the University of Helsinki tells us, these so called biological aerosols bolster the effect of aerosols from other sources. 

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Newslinks - 29th April • Shale gas estimates, the 'Big Brother' regime & wild weather

  • 29 Apr 2013, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Sourced under creative commons

Survey may reveal vast underestimate of UK shale-gas reserves
The FT reports: "George Osborne had wanted to herald in the Budget the dramatic findings of a British Geological Survey report - that the extent of shale gas reserves in the UK has been vastly underestimated - as part of a sweeping pro-shale announcement, according to Whitehall sources." However, DECC is reported to have asked for the calculations to be redone.
Financial Times


Industrialised nations' greenhouse gas emissions dipped in 2011, data shows
Industrialised nations' greenhouse gas emissions dipped 0.7% in 2011, helped by a US shift from high-polluting coal in power plants and by Europe's economic slowdown, data compiled by Reuters showed on Friday.

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A closer look at how Arctic sea ice is changing

  • 28 Apr 2013, 18:00
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists know from decades of measurements that climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to shrink. But why do some years lead to particularly low levels of ice while others stick to the long term downward trend more closely? A new study sheds some light on what could be driving dramatic year to year differences.

Rapid decline

Satellite data show Arctic sea ice is declining by about four per cent per decade. A recent estimate suggests that between  70 and 95 per cent of Arctic sea ice loss in the past three decades is due to human-induced warming.

This long term declining trend is particularly noticeable in September, when sea ice reaches its seasonal low. In September 2012, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979.

But as a new study published today in Nature Climate Change shows, the summer minimum doesn't get gradually lower each year. If it did, we might expect 2011 to be the second lowest on record - in fact it was 2007.

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KPMG: UK is carbon tax world leader but innovation laggard

  • 26 Apr 2013, 13:20
  • Mat Hope

Creative Commons

The UK has a world leading carbon tax but is lagging behind on implementing other green measures, according to a new report. Financial advisors KPMG  ranked 21 of the world's major economies according to how well they use taxation to incentivise low carbon investment. While the UK is number 1 for climate taxation, it seems the government isn't doing enough to incentive new and innovative ways to lower emissions.

UK leads climate taxation

KPMG puts the UK top of the class for policies which penalise carbon dioxide emissions. But it's unclear if the government would want the accolade, as it continues to try and convince industry that green policies don't put them at an  economic disadvantage.

The UK's main climate taxation policy is the  carbon price floor. The price floor sets aminimum price companies have to pay to emit carbon dioxide - currently £15.70 per tonne of carbon dioxide. If the EU carbon price is below this - it is currently  around £2.50 per tonne - companies pay the difference to the UK government. The policy is unpopular with both industry and environmental groups that say it is simply a way of  making lots of cash for the Treasury without having any real impact on emissions.

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Newslinks - 26th April • Fracking the UK, forest fires, and a concerned Michael Sheen

  • 26 Apr 2013, 11:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Credit: Gage Skidmore

'Get on and drill' for shale gas say MPs
The UK should pursue shale gas development, the UK Environment and Climate Change committee has said, but warned that "Ministers should [not base] energy policy on an assumption that gas prices will fall in the future as a result of shale gas production."
The Telegraph 


KPMG: Green taxation "rapidly evolving" global trend
KPMG has published a 'green tax index', showing that the UK ranks third in the world for using green taxation to drive corporate behavioural change.
Business Green

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