e360 digest
Climate


20 Jan 2015: Genetic Diversity Is Key To
Food Stability in Changing Climate, UN Says

As climate change advances, much more should be done to study, preserve, and take advantage of the biological diversity

Wild red rice is hardier than cultivated varieties.
underpinning world food production, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Between 16 and 22 percent of current crop species — including 61 percent of peanut and 12 percent of potato species — could become extinct in the next 50 years, the report notes. Wild strains, which are often better at adapting to environmental changes, will become increasingly important for feeding the global population, which is expected to grow by 3 billion people by 2050, the report says. Strengthening gene and seed banks, improving breeding practices, increasing genetic diversity on farms and in fields, and preserving soil microbiomes will be key to boosting crops' climate resilience, the FAO said.
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15 Jan 2015: Underwater Kelp Forests Mapped
In New Citizen Science Project

Kelp forests grow along roughly 25 percent of the world’s coastlines and provide valuable habitat and nutrients for many types of aquatic life. Now, research by the “Floating Forests” project is shedding light on how these underwater kelp forests are affected by climate change. The project is using NASA satellite data to observe changes in kelp forests over a period of more than four decades. The catch: No accurate way to automate the process exists, so the researchers rely on an international team of nearly 3,500 citizen scientists to mark the bright green kelp forests, which contrast with the deep blues of the ocean in the images.
Read more.
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13 Jan 2015: California Still in Widespread
Drought, Despite Heavy Precipitation

The heavy rains and snow that fell across much of California in the first half of December did little to recharge the state's

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California precipitation deficits

California precipitation deficits
dry reservoirs or ease long-term drought conditions, an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms. By the middle of December, 98 percent of the state remained under drought conditions, which is the same portion as before the storms, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Dry conditions over the last three years have left the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a 30- to 50-inch precipitation deficit, NOAA reports, and the agriculture-heavy San Joaquin Valley has fared even worse. To bring the state's four-year precipitation total out of the bottom 20 percent historically — a benchmark used to declare drought conditions — every part of the state would need to exceed its average rainfall between now and September.
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09 Jan 2015: Most Physicians Already Seeing
Health Effects of Climate Change in Patients

In a survey of physicians in the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the majority of doctors said their patients

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health effects of climate change

Results of survey on climate change and patient health
were already experiencing medical conditions associated with climate change and that physicians should be educating their patients and policy makers about climate-related health effects. Seventy-seven percent of ATS physicians — a group of doctors specializing in respiratory health and critical care — said air pollution associated with climate change is exacerbating chronic conditions such as asthma in their patients. Nearly 60 percent reported increases in allergies from plants or mold and injuries from severe weather related to climate change. Many of the physicians who responded to the survey said exposure to smoke from wildfires had caused or worsened lung conditions in their patients, and changes in precipitation and weather patterns seemed to be affecting patients as well, the Huffington Post reports.
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08 Jan 2015: Land Disturbances Darken Snow
And Increase Melt Rate, Researchers Say

Land disturbances, such as agricultural practices and development, may have a big impact on snow purity and

Sampling snowpack in Montana
melt rates, according to a large-scale survey of impurities in North American snow by researchers at the University of Washington. The researchers were particularly interested in the Bakken oil fields of northwest North Dakota. Before undertaking the study, they predicted that diesel emissions and air pollution associated with oil exploration would darken the snowpack, decreasing the amount of sunlight it reflects and increasing its melt rate. They found, however, that while these activities do add soot to the snow, the dirt they stir up adds an equal amount of impurities to the snowpack. Disturbances from clearing oil pads, new housing sites, agricultural activities, and extra truck traffic on unpaved roads add a significant amount of dirt to snowfields, they found.
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06 Jan 2015: Penguin Watch Projects Asks
Citizen Scientists to Monitor Birds' Habits

Penguin Watch, a citizen science project launched by researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K., is enlisting the

Group of Gentoo penguins
public's help in counting penguins in some 175,000 photos from locations across the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers are monitoring five penguin species — Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhopper, and King penguins — and recording information on the number of adults, chicks, and eggs, as well as their winter behavior, breeding success, and travel habits. The project is especially useful for monitoring penguins' winter behavior, for example, because it's logistically difficult for the researchers to visit these locations in winter, they say, and the images are far too numerous for researchers to view on their own. Understanding how the penguins live day-to-day should help shed light on how the penguins will respond to an increasingly volatile climate, the team says.
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02 Jan 2015: Historical Photos Help
Document Changes in Greenland Glaciers

Historical photographs from the early and mid-1900s have helped researchers from Denmark map the retreat

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Photo of a Greenland glacier from 1935
of Greenland's glaciers, according to findings presented recently at the American Geophysical Union meeting. This glacier near the Sukkertoppen ice cap in southwest Greenland, for example, retreated roughly two miles between 1935 and 2013, as shown in photographs from the Danish Geodata Agency and the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Older photographs, from 1900 to 1930, show even more remarkable changes. During that time, following the end of the Little Ice Age in the late-19th century, glaciers retreated more rapidly than they have been in recent years, the researchers say. They believe the findings will shed light on how quickly these glaciers might react to future temperature changes.
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29 Dec 2014: The Arctic Is Absorbing
More and More Sunlight, NASA Images Show

The Arctic has been absorbing significantly more sunlight since the year 2000, according to NASA satellite data,

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Changes in absorption of sunlight in the Arctic
a trend that mirrors the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during that same period. These maps show changes in the amount of solar radiation absorbed over the Arctic from 2000 to 2014, as well as changes in sea ice cover during the same period. As sea ice cover declines and more dark ocean is exposed to the sun's rays, that decreases the reflectivity, or albedo, of the ocean's surface, meaning more heat is absorbed. Shades of red depict areas absorbing more sunlight and areas with less ice cover. The Arctic's rate of absorption has increased by 5 percent every June, July, and August since 2000. No other region on the planet has shown significant changes in albedo during that time, researchers say.
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A Green Dilemma for the Holidays:
Better to Shop Online or In-Store?


Various studies in recent years have suggested that online shopping typically packs a lower carbon punch than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. But new research suggests the story is more complicated than that. The key, according to a report in the Journal of Cleaner Production, is to minimize the number of miles driven per item — whether by the shopper, a local delivery van, or a FedEx truck.
Read more.
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19 Dec 2014: 'Nuisance Flooding' Will Affect
Most of U.S. Coastline by 2050, Report Finds

By 2050, most U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due sea level

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Nuisance flooding projections for U.S. cities
rise, according to a new report the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The researchers looked at the frequency of so-called "nuisance flooding," which occurs when the water level reaches one to two feet above local high tide, and found that several cities along the East Coast are already seeing more than 30 days of nuisance flooding each year. Additional major cities — including Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — will reach or exceed that benchmark by 2030, the report says. Although nuisance flooding is not typically catastrophic or dangerous, it is often costly. The report drives home the point, researchers say, that such floods will become commonplace far earlier than 2100, which is generally cited as the date when sea level rise is likely to become damaging.
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18 Dec 2014: Clearing Rainforests Distorts
Global Rainfall and Agriculture, Study Says

Clearing forests not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it also triggers worldwide shifts in rainfall and temperatures

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Global effects of forest loss
that are just as potent as those caused by current carbon pollution and that pose great risk to future agricultural productivity, researchers report. Deforestation in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa may alter growing conditions in agricultural areas as far away as the U.S. Midwest, Europe, and China, the study in Nature Climate Change finds. The researchers calculate that complete tropical deforestation could trigger atmospheric changes leading to an increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius in global temperatures, in addition to warming caused by greenhouse gases released from the deforestation itself. That would double the observed global warming since 1850, the researchers note. They say their findings indicate that many of the predicted changes associated with widespread deforestation are already occurring — from Thailand, which is receiving less rainfall at the beginning of the dry season, to parts of the Amazon, where once-predictable rainfall has shifted notably.
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Beyond Lima: Major Investors
Must Fund Global Green Initiatives

Much of the discussion at the recent U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, was about the financing that

Climate talks in Lima stretched into Sunday.
will be needed to decarbonize the world’s energy supply, improve efficiency, and redesign cities and transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As journalist Isabel Hilton reports for e360 from Lima, moving the broader financial markets toward green investments is critically important in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The key, Hilton writes, is to get major institutions to invest in sustainable growth, particularly renewable energy, and to get major companies and the industrial sector to understand that they must revise their strategies to address the risks of climate change.
Read Hilton's analysis.
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15 Dec 2014: Draft Climate Accord Reached
In Lima Leaves Many Doubts in Its Wake

While lead negotiators at the Lima climate talks hailed a hard-fought climate agreement forged over the weekend, many critics say the accord does not go nearly far enough in forcing meaningful reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. The accord marks the first time that all nations, rich and poor, have agreed to submit plans outlining how they will reduce carbon emissions. But the Lima Accord, intended to lay the groundwork for crucial climate talks next December in Paris, does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by a specific amount. As the negotiations dragged on for an additional two days, an agreement was reached on Sunday only after China and other nations killed a provision that would have required all countries to submit readily comparable emissions data. Still, many climate officials praised the plan because it marked the first time that nearly 200 nations agreed to submit blueprints on how they plan to reduce greenhouse gases.
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12 Dec 2014: Majority of Americans Support
Climate Actions and Negotiations, Poll Says

Most Americans want the United States to be a world leader in combating global warming and to be participating in international climate negotiations, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Sixty-one percent of Americans think the U.S. should lead other nations on climate change, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans support some specific policies intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the poll found, such as funding research for clean energy and regulating CO2 emissions. Less than 20 percent of people polled think such protections would harm the economy long-term, while 60 percent say they would improve economic growth and provide jobs.
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11 Dec 2014: India and Australia Are
Focus of Attention in Lima Climate Talks

As United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, near an end, negotiators and observers are looking at India and Australia to see whether they will support a draft agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With China and the U.S. having agreed last month to reduce carbon emissions, India — the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 — has said its emissions will continue to rise as it pulls its people out of poverty. But India’s environment minister said in Lima yesterday that the country would spend $100 billion on clean energy and climate adaptation projects and would play its part in cutting CO2 emissions. Australia — whose Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has weakened the country’s climate laws — is playing a constructive role at the talks and may support a draft emissions-reduction agreement that could be ratified next December in Paris, observers said. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Abbott said that any climate agreement “must [move] past the developed-developing country divide that puts a brake on real action.”
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10 Dec 2014: Draft Agreement in Lima Talks
Calls for Emissions Cuts by All Nations

A draft agreement calling for all nations to commit to greenhouse gas emissions cuts is circulating among climate negotiators in Lima, Peru, The New York Times reports. The proposed text calls for each of the 196 countries involved in negotiations to publicly commit to its own plan for reducing emissions. Those individual plans, however, will be driven by national politics and economic concerns, rather than by what scientists say is needed to curb the worst effects of climate change, critics say. Historic pledges by the U.S. and China last month to cut emissions catalyzed the new draft text, negotiators say, because the two nations — the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters — had been spoilers in previous climate talks. “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The goal for the Lima talks is to settle on a draft text, which could become the basis for a deal signed by world leaders in Paris next December.
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09 Dec 2014: As Ministers Arrive,
Lima Climate Talks Face High Hurdles

With government ministers and UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon arriving at climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, large gaps remained between developed and developing countries over the issues of formalizing aid to poorer countries to adapt to climate change. Climate negotiators in Lima are drafting a negotiating outline for key climate talks in Paris next December, which many governments hope will lead to a binding global treaty to slash carbon emissions. The U.S. and the European Union want the focus of any treaty to be on emissions cuts, or mitigation, while developing nations are seeking written guarantees from wealthy nations to provide financing and other assistance to developing countries for climate adaptation. Ban Ki-moon has said he is confident that this divide can be bridged before the Lima talks end on Friday. Delegates from the Philippines, a country hit hard recently by typhoons and other weather-related disasters, said in Lima that they will push hard for a new deal requiring all nations, including developing countries, to slash emissions.
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03 Dec 2014: Public Largely Unaware of Meat
And Dairy's Contribution to Climate Change

The general public has a major lack of understanding of how eating meat and dairy contributes to climate change,

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Perceived vs. actual carbon emissions
according to a survey of Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa by the market research organization Ipsos MORI. Although meat and dairy production accounts for roughly 15 percent of total global carbon emissions — equal to exhaust emissions from the international transportation sector — less than 30 percent of survey respondents identified meat and dairy production as a major contributor to climate change. More than twice as many — 64 percent — said transportation was a major contributor. Closing the awareness gap is essential for changing meat and dairy consumption patterns, researchers said, especially in developed nations such as the U.S. Although much of the projected increase in meat and dairy consumption will likely happen in emerging economies, respondents in Brazil, India, and China demonstrated greater consideration of climate change in their food choices and above-average willingness to modify their consumption — an encouraging sign, researchers said.
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02 Dec 2014: New Proposal Outlines
Key Elements for a Global Climate Pact

Coinciding with U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, this week, a consortium of policy experts has released a proposal

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Key components of a global climate pact
outlining the key ingredients of a comprehensive climate agreement in Paris next year. Three major components of such a pact, the group said, will be a long-term plan to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible in the second half of this century; a long-term goal of reducing the vulnerability and building the resilience of communities facing climate impacts; and establishing five-year cycles for assessing and strengthening nations' actions to cut emissions and adapt to climate change. The proposal stresses "fairness, equity, and justice in climate actions," and suggests different timelines and responsibilities for developed and developing countries. The analysis, from experts at 10 research institutions, is based on interviews with climate negotiators and hundreds of government representatives.
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Five Questions for Gus Speth
On His Environmental Evolution

In a career that has spanned founding major environmental organizations, heading the United Nations
James Gustave Speth
James "Gus" Speth

e360 Five Questions
Development Programme, and serving as dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, James "Gus" Speth has seen his own ideas about environmental issues change dramatically over the years. Yale Environment 360 asked Speth five questions about his new memoir, Angels by the River; his growing recognition of the global nature of environmental problems; and his dissatisfaction with the state of the environmental movement in the United States.
Read more.
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01 Dec 2014: Politics, Not Extreme Weather,
Shape Climate Perceptions, Study Finds

Climate extremes such as droughts and record temperatures are failing to change people’s minds about global warming, according to a recent study led by Michigan State University sociologists. Instead, political orientation is the most influential factor in shaping perceptions about climate change, both in the short-term and long-term, the researchers found. Some previous studies suggested temperature patterns do influence perceptions about global warming, but none measured climatic conditions as comprehensively as the current research. The study analyzed 50 years of regional climate data and climatic storm-severity measures used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from all 50 states, along with 11 years of public opinion data from Gallup polls on climate change perceptions. Although advocates of climate change reduction efforts hope that experience with a changing climate will eventually convince the public of the reality and seriousness of the problem, the current findings do not bode well for that scenario, the researchers say.
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21 Nov 2014: U.S. Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050, Study Says

The United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies, according to researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project. The study analyzed scenarios with four types of decarbonized electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case. The scenarios achieved reductions of 83 percent below 2005 levels and 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to the study, which was released ahead of next month’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, and negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and industry would need to increase through the use of smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and vehicles will need to be fueled with electricity generated from wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal, the researchers said. They project the net costs would be on the order of 1 percent of gross domestic product per year. The 80-percent reduction by 2050 is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with global commitments to limit warming to less than 2 degrees C.
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20 Nov 2014: Real-Time Ocean Acidification
Data Now Available for U.S. Pacific Coast

Researchers, coastal managers, and shellfish farmers along the U.S. Pacific coast can now get real-time ocean

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Web portal for ocean acidification data
acidification data through an online tool developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data — which includes measurements of pH, carbon dioxide concentrations, salinity, and water temperatures at various sites — should help organizations and businesses make decisions about managing coastal resources and craft adaptation strategies, NOAA researchers say. The tool will feature data from five shellfish hatchery sites along the Pacific coast along with readings from NOAA’s ocean acidification monitoring sites. Ocean acidification is driven primarily by absorption of atmospheric CO2 by ocean waters, which changes seawater chemistry in a way that makes it difficult for many marine organisms to form their shells.
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14 Nov 2014: New Material Can Trap Powerful Greenhouse Gases Efficiently, Chemists Say

Scientists from the U.S. and Taiwan have developed a new type of lightweight, self-assembling molecule that can capture large amounts of potent greenhouse gases,

This porous material traps greenhouse gases.
according to a report in Nature Communications. The molecules create a lightweight structure with many microscopic pores that can adsorb gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Those long-lived compounds, once widely used as refrigerants, were phased out because they damage the ozone layer, but they are still used in various industrial processes. The newly developed material is rich in the element fluorine, which helps it bind CFCs and various other hydro- and fluorocarbon gases very efficiently — to the tune of 75 percent by weight, the chemists say. Although they are less prevalent, the greenhouse effect of those gases can be hundreds- or thousands-fold more powerful than carbon dioxide, the researchers note. Heavier, metal-based materials with similar capabilities have been developed in previous studies, but these were sensitive to water and difficult to process and recycle.
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13 Nov 2014: Global Maps Detail Seasonal and Geographic Trends in Ocean Acidification

A team of scientists has published the most comprehensive analysis yet of how acidity levels vary across the world’s oceans. Drawing on four decades of

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Taro Takahashi
Ocean acidification map
measurements, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Colorado mapped changes in ocean acidity by season and location, as well as how acidity levels affect the stability of shell-building minerals. The maps reveal that the northern Indian Ocean is at least 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, possibly due to its unique geography, the researchers say. The maps also show that ocean acidity fluctuates most in the colder waters off Siberia, Alaska, Antarctica, and the Pacific Northwest, due to cycles of deep-water upwelling and massive plankton blooms. The oceans have taken up a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans have put in the atmosphere over the last two hundred years, and acid levels at the surface have increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the industrial era, researchers say.
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12 Nov 2014: U.S. and China Announce
Historic Emissions Reduction Pledges

In what could prove to be a momentum-setting piece of diplomacy, the United States and China — which together account for a third of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions — jointly announced plans to pursue significant cuts in those emissions over the coming 10 to 15 years. Among the details of the joint pledges, unveiled as part of meetings this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in Beijing, were commitments from the U.S. to cut its CO2 emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, meanwhile, pledged to halt emissions growth by 2030, or earlier, and to increase the nation's share of non-fossil energy sources to roughly 20 percent over the same time frame. The inability of the world's two most consequential economies to agree on an approach to emissions reductions has been a key stumbling block in international climate negotiations for nearly two decades, and the announcement was met with cautious optimism by many climate experts, who characterized it as an important first step toward a global treaty.
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11 Nov 2014: New Mapping Tool Highlights
Carbon-Trapping Forests in Peru

A new, high-resolution mapping technique can be used to help identify and prioritize tracts of forest land with the highest

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Greg Asner
Map of carbon storage potential of land in Peru
carbon-sequestering potential, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, researchers with the Carnegie Institution for Science applied the technique, which integrated satellite imaging data and advanced, three-dimensional forest mapping information, to the 128 million hectares that comprise the nation of Peru. The analysis considered each landscape's unique climate, topography, geology, and hydrology to produce a map showing a range of landscapes with varying carbon densities — a potentially crucial tool as nations prepare to negotiate global forest protections as part of United Nations climate talks next month Lima, Peru.
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10 Nov 2014: Public Views of Climate Science Hinge on Solutions, New Study Finds

People often evaluate scientific evidence not on the basis of its perceived merits, but on whether they agree with the policy implications of the research, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Using issues like climate change and air pollution as test cases, Duke University researchers sought to determine if what they call a "solution aversion" bias could be detected among self-identified Republican or Democratic survey participants. In one example, participants were provided a scientific assertion that global average temperatures could rise as much as 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, after which they were presented with potential policy solutions. If that solution involved government regulation or increased taxes, just 22 percent of Republican participants expressed confidence in the initial scientific finding. But if the solution emphasized using market forces to curb temperatures, the percentage of Republicans accepting the initial temperature predictions rose to 55 percent. Self-identified Democrats displayed no difference in the same experiment, but liberal biases were clearly elicited on other issues, the researchers found.
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05 Nov 2014: Norway Best Prepared Nation
For Climate Change, Global Index Shows

Norway is the best prepared country for climate change, and has been so for almost 20 years, according to

Lofoten, Norway
rankings compiled by the University of Notre Dame. New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark rounded out the top five, while Chad, Burundi, Eritrea, Central African Republic, and Congo make up the bottom of the Global Adaptation Index. The rankings highlight the disparities between the world’s relatively wealthy, developed nations and its developing economies when it comes to dealing with climate change. Many of the highest ranking countries do face moderate exposure to climate change, the researchers said, but access to amenities such as electricity, sanitation, clean drinking water, and functional governance have left them better prepared. The economies of many developing countries, however, depend on natural resources, which makes their political and economic stability more susceptible to climate change. The index ranked 178 countries on their vulnerability and readiness to adapt to natural disasters associated with global warming.
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03 Nov 2014: Climate Impacts To Be Severe and Irreversible Without Emission Cuts, UN Says

Climate change will have “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on society and the environment

The U.N. climate panel's synthesis report was released on November 2.
unless nations swiftly and drastically cut carbon emissions — a goal that, while difficult, still remains within reach, according to a comprehensive new United Nations climate report released this week. Failure to curb emissions by the end of the century will likely lead to food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major coastal cities and entire island nations, and dangerous yet routine heat waves, among other impacts, the analysis concluded. But the panel also said for the first time that combating climate change is economically feasible. The new U.N. report synthesizes the findings from a series of analyses released over the past year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the panel's first major update since 2007.
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