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More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
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Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists -- part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears -- even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we're inflicting on humanity and our planet.

After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self -- and its dry scientific reports -- to better serve the warming world?

The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC's assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC's main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC's online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats -- and nobody else.

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Mission not-quite-impossible

U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming

man pushing Earth up a hill
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Hooboy, it's gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we've been pumping into the atmosphere -- and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That's far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for -- to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.'s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we're already above 400.

These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you've heard this story before? Perhaps you're thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

Here's a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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WINDË Power

IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
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Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

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At-risk cities hold solutions to climate change

miami-wave
Ines Hegedus-Garcia

It is already taking shape as the 21st century urban nightmare: A big storm hits a city like Shanghai, Mumbai, Miami, or New York, knocking out power supply and waste treatment plants, washing out entire neighborhoods, and marooning the survivors in a toxic and foul-smelling swamp.

Now the world's leading scientists are suggesting that those same cities in harm's way could help drive solutions to climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by the Guardian, says smart choices in urban planning and investment in public transport could help significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries.

The draft is due for release in Berlin on Sunday, the third and final installment of the IPCC's authoritative report on climate change.

"The next two decades present a window of opportunity for urban mitigation as most of the world's urban areas and their infrastructure have yet to be constructed," the draft said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year

lighthouse
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It's more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year -- and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident -- they said earlier this week that there's a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

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Weather-related blackouts in U.S. doubled in 10 years

storms and the power grid
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The current U.S. electrical grid is a far cry from smart. Climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to an increasing number of blackouts across the country.

A new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central found that the number of outages affecting 50,000 or more people for at least an hour doubled during the decade up to 2012.  Most of the blackouts were triggered when extreme weather damaged large transmission lines and substations. Michigan had the most outages, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Click to embiggen.
Climate Central
Click to embiggen.

Severe rainstorms, which are growing more tempestuous as the globe warms, were blamed for the majority of the weather-related outages.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Salamanders are doing their best to stave off climate change

salamander
Bill Bouton

If we can't get through to Republicans, at least we have one slimy little crawler* that's helping to mitigate climate change. A new study indicates that woodland salamanders help keep carbon out of the atmosphere, thanks to their diet of insects that feed on dead leaves.

Here's how it works: Salamanders eat mostly "shredding invertebrates," bugs that survive by ripping leaves to pieces and eating them. Shredding the leaves releases their carbon into the atmosphere -- but when there are fewer shredding invertebrates, leaves stay on the ground and decompose, with their carbon eventually being absorbed safely into the soil. By eating the shredders, salamanders help carbon be directed into the ground and not into the air.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Droughts push beef prices to record highs

veggie grill
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A cost-saving barbecue.

Mo' drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

Herd thinning isn't a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It's a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering -- though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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California’s drought plan will screw the environment

The Delta in California
Mike Vondran
California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean -- at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan's highlights:

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The brutally dishonest attacks on Showtime’s landmark climate series

"Years of Living Dangerously" screen shot

The good news is the video of episode one of Showtime’s climate series, Years of Living Dangerously, has been getting great reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere.

The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009, as you can see in this chart from The Sociological Quarterly:

graph
Percent of Americans who believe the effects of global warming have already begun to happen, by political ideology, from Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap. Click to embiggen.

As I said, Years of Living Dangerously — the landmark nine-part Showtime docu-series produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in The New York Times Monday:

… a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue.

George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:

What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people. ... it is still the best documentary I have seen.

The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. is a senior fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his fivethirtyeight.com piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked by climate scientists and others that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a response piece by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel eviscerating Pielke.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living