Archive for January, 2009

Adaptation to climate change

January 29, 2009


Similar to many of my colleagues I fell ill (with voice extinction and bronchitis) and had to stay in bed for 2 days:  a good time to read the books left unread! So I went through the 458 pages thick Earthscan Reader on “Adaptation to Climate Change” (2009, ISBN 978-84407-530-0) by E.L.F. Schipper and I. Burton, editors. I was prepared for the worst, but this did not happen. The book is a compilation of papers and articles written for most of them prior to 2002, and it shows. The hysteric tones now so common in climate change papers are absent (or at least very muted). The book stretches on adaptation in opposition to mitigation; most of the contributing authors come from social or geographic university departments, or from UN administrations.
The editors tried hard to impose a logical guideline, but this was beyond their reach: practically all chapters start by defining concepts like adaptation, resilience, risk, sustainability, stability etc.  So there is very much redundance in this reader, and many of these concepts have slightly different definitions. A big objection is that the only scientific authority retained is the IPCC;  nowhere in the text is there any mention of non-IPCC consensus research. Most authors also start by parroting the usual stuff: climate change will increase (or has increased) extreme events like floods and droughts. But if one manages to ignore this, many chapters contain interesting ideas. Most authors stretch that humans always have adapted to the every time existing climate changes, and that the global situation is not an absolutely new one.

An excellent contribution is the concise chapter by Robert Pielke Jr. “Rethinking the Role of Adaptation in Climate Policy”. First he recalls that climate change funding is BIG: $11 billion public money appointed in the US from 1989 to 1997 (so if you are on the receiving end, loosing funds will hurt!). The IPCC is vocal on global mitigation, and sees adaptation more like a capitulalion strategy (I guess this is one of the great sins of environmentalism!). Pielke thinks that mitigation at the IPCC or EU scale envisioned will be out of reach. Adaptation measures will be a good think, regardless if there exists an anthropogenic global warming or not. As climate (and weather) has and will have big swings, to be prepared to cope is the solution to go (he cites W. Nordhaus: “mitigate we might,  adapt we must”).  The UNFCCC favours mitigation because of it’s definition of climate change as the result of human activity; without human interference, a stable invariant climate is suggested (an absolute nonsens!). The IPCC adopts a larger point of view (“natural” + anthropogenic climate change), but nevertheless is focused practically exclusively on GHG emissions and how to restrict them. The last 10 years showed that mitigation politics practically never worked up to now, and that the likelyhood of reaching the extravagant reductions proposed is very small. As climate changes can be unpredictable, independant of any human-induced change, the focus on mitigation alone seems very dangerous. More, even with no worsening, it is possible that societal changes (like building in places exposed to flooding) will increase vulnerability. All this speaks for adaptation. Mitigation is global, and needs either a global governance or extreme tough global agreements, both very difficult to implement. Adaptation is more regional, and is easier to implement. Pielke: “Adaptation links the documented needs of today with the expected problems of tomorrow“.

Another interesting chapter is “Cautionary tales: adaptation and the poor” by Robert W. Kates. The Green Revolution allowed Asia to cope with a doubling population from 1960 to today, and to become self-sufficient in cereals. This did not happen in Africa, even if there are some success stories in that continent too. Africa has the highest birth-rates, but nevertheless we saw nowhere the  population collapse predicted by malthusians. Kates: ” In developing countries, coping with climate extremes of crought, flodd and storm is the moral equivalent of war – requiring the equivalenet effort in percentage of GDP than most countires now expend on national defense.” So getting rid of armed conflicts and corruption, installing good governance will make adaptive measure absolutely feasible.

Should you read this book? I think yes, but be prepared to jump over the litany and IPCC parroting that most (not all!) authors seem obliged to deliver. If you can manage this (and if time demands, read only a subset), there remains quite some sensible and interesting stuff.

Western Europe warming much faster than expected… really?

January 22, 2009

There is a new paper from G.J. van Oldenborgh et al. in Climate of the Past reporting that Western Europe has warmed much more from 1950 to 2007 than predicted by  a 17 runs of  the ECHAM5/MPI-OM climate model. The abstract tells us that “the warming trend of the last decades is now so strong that it is discernible in local temperature observations“. Hmmm! The observational data are from the HADCRUT3 database; the authors write that only mean global temperatures are taken from this dataset (if I understand this correctly), but they use their “own merged dataset” for the maps given in the paper (what is that dataset?). The essence of the paper is that the observed temperatures are higher than the predicted ones. One cause could be the reported warming of the eastern Atlantic, which is given as larger than what the models told. As West Europe’s temperature is under the big influence of the atmospheric circulation, the author write that changes in that circulation pattern may explain more than 50% of the variance in temperature observed (there is a circulation shift to more westerly winds). The AMO (Atlantic Multiannual Oscillation) has, according to the paper, only a very little effect on global mean ( = Western Europe mean?) temperature. I remain uneasy with many of these reportings, but the paper is well written and agreable to read. Where I jumped up, was a chapter on solar irradiance (shortwave radiation) increases from 1971 to 2007. Six Dutch stations are reported as showing an average  increase of 14+/-2 Wm-2K-1 corresponding to about 0.7K of the observed global warming.

Here at meteoLCD my solar measurements since 1998 show a very different picture:


The annual or seasonal averages have been computed from **ALL** measurements ( i.e. two recordings per hour, each being the average of 30 1-minute-step measurements),  not from monthly mean values as in the paper.

The yearly trend is negative, the spring trend nearly flat and the summer trend strong negative: just the opposite to the Dutch measurements. In a personal communication, G.J. Oldenborgh told me that the radiation data come from Wageningen University; they have been heavily “massaged”, i.e. corrected for circulation patterns. Without these corrections, no trend would have shown up. The meteoLCD data given in the graph are the raw data; the 11 year series obviously is to short to fully qualify for trending (should be at last 30 years, as G.J. Oldenborgh wrote in his very curtuous letter).  I remain uneasy on the Dutch data handlings, that suggest a reality that in fact is only virtual. Changing wind circulations are a fact of life, and changing cloud patterns should be taken as is. Computing a hypothetical irradiance which would have existed in the abscence of the circulation patterns seems a dangerous procedure to look for real life trends!

The author conclude that the difference between the observed and predicted warming is very unlikely to be caused by decadal climate fluctuations; they remarkably refrain from citing anthropogenic emissions as the probable cause!

Rising CH4 = part of cyclical growth rate?

January 18, 2009

A paper published by Rigby et al. in GRL showed that after almost 10 years of stagnation, methane levels started to increase again in 2007; that increase was simultaneous in BOTH hemispheres. As the transport from one hemisphere to the other takes about one year, it seems not possible that this rising CH4 comes from thawing Siberian permafrost. Looking at the graph of the global growth rates, I wonder:


Does the (recent) growth rate have a cyclical behaviour, of a period of about 5 years? CH4 levels have an annual cycle, with maximum release during the warmer periods. Could it be that the current state of the atmosphere is more one of relatively stable CH4 levels, slowly oscillating around the 1800 ppb level (nmol/mol)?
It just seems a bit premature to theorize on rising levels ( and to rise the alarm of thawing permafrost releasing huge quantities of a potent GHG) when the phenomen is cyclic. Wait and see…

Blow my Bulb

January 13, 2009


I installed a new website on the problems with CFL’s and incandescent lamps. European regulations will forbid sales of the 100W bulb from September 2009 on; the arguments are the low efficiency of the traditional lamp, and how much electrical power will be saved by forcing all households to switch completely to CFL’s. I understand that CFL’s are irreplaceable in a professional environment; in many household applications their frequent on/off switching makes this less sure. The numbers and claims of the CFL pushers floating around are sometimes extravagant, as are the given lifetimes. To test this problem of resistance to frequent switching, I build with two colleagues a device which does just this: switching until death occurs! The whole experiment is visible at

There are a couple of various comments and articles on the site; during the next weeks many more will follow.

I am not an enemy of the CFL, but one of political enforced decisions, that should be left at the discretion of the individual person.