2017 second hottest year recorded

There were indications through last year that it was likely to be one of the warmest on record, and that has been confirmed. Climate change/global warming is a growing concern for the well being of Earth and potentially for the future of the human race, which has been rapidly overpopulating the planet.

Stuff:  2017 was Earth’s second hottest year on record

Last year was Earth’s second hottest on record, just behind 2016.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, the first major international weather agency to report on conditions in 2017, said temperatures averaged 14.7 degrees Celsius at the Earth’s surface – 1.2C above pre-industrial times.

Sixteen of the 17 warmest years have all been this century.

2017 was the hottest non El Niño year, and the third warmest ever recorded.

Scientific American:  The Top 7 Climate Findings of 2017

As the potential effects of climate change are seen around the world – from starving polar bears to record-breaking storms – interest in climate science is soaring. Scientists are digging into the “how,” “why” and “what’s next” of global temperatures, melting ice, emission sources and sinks, changing weather patterns, and rising seas.

The last year has seen major breakthroughs and advancements in climate research. Here are some of the biggest findings reported by scientists in 2017.

Temperatures and carbon concentrations are breaking records

In January, both NOAA and NASA officially confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. It’s the third time in a row that record has been broken – 2015 and 2014 were both determined to be the hottest years ever observed.

Just two months later, in March, NOAA scientists announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are climbing at a record pace for the second year in a row.

Record low sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctica

Early March is around the time when Arctic sea ice typically reaches its maximum extent. Turns out it was the lowest max extent ever recorded in 2017, reaching just 470,000 square miles. For comparison, the average extent between 1981 and 2010 was about 5.57 million square miles. It’s the third year in a row scientists have seen a record winter low in the Arctic.

Around the same time, scientists observed record low sea ice in the Antarctic.

Sea-level rise is on the upswing

Multiple studies this year suggested that sea-level rise is occurring faster, or may be more severe in the future, than previous estimates indicate. One of the more dire of these was just published last week in the journal Earth’s Future. It suggests that better accounting for some of the physical processes affecting ice loss in Antarctica could double the sea-level rise expected under severe climate change scenarios. Another paper, released in October, came to similar conclusions. It also assumes a severe future climate change trajectory, and it updated Antarctic ice sheet dynamics.

These are some of the grimmer portraits of the future published this year, and their most alarming predictions rely on high-emissions scenarios that are not necessarily guaranteed to occur. But even more tempered studies are suggesting that future sea-level rise could be worse than we thought.

Some have tried to play down the risks of climate change by claiming that CO2 emission and sea level rise predictions were too high – but as scientific knowledge increases it’s just as likely they could have been too low.

Speaking of ice, glaciers are calving like crazy

In July, one of the biggest icebergs ever recorded broke from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf and began drifting out to sea.

Just a few months later, in September, Antarctica’s massive Pine Island Glacier – which already pours about 45 billion tons of ice each year into the ocean – calved an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan, or about 100 square miles.

These are some of the most remarkable glacier calving events recorded this year, but they’re hardly the only ones. The U.S. Coast Guard announced this month that the number of icebergs recorded in the North Atlantic this year is nearly double what it was in 2016 – more than 1,000 total observed.

Generally speaking, it’s natural for glaciers to lose large icebergs every now and then. But as both air and ocean temperatures rise, scientists are observing growing amounts of ice loss from both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and increasing instability among glaciers that back up to the sea.

Earlier this year, NASA images revealed a large new ice crack in Greenland’s enormous Petermann Glacier, which has already lost several gigantic icebergs over the last seven years.

Major discoveries about carbon

Using satellite data, researchers found that tropical forests – until recently thought to be one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks – are actually a net carbon source. Due to deforestation and degradation, they’re emitting about 400 million metric tons of carbon into the air each year.

There’s still great uncertainty about many aspects of the Earth’s carbon cycle, particularly when it comes to natural sinks like forests or the ocean.

But scientists are getting better at closing the gap. For instance, a report issued earlier this year by scientists with the Joint Global Change Research Institute suggested that methane emissions from livestock may be 11 percent higher than previous estimates suggested – a value that could help explain an ongoing scientific mystery about why atmospheric methane concentrations seem to be on the rise.

That could have serious implications for New Zealand’s agriculture.

These disasters could not have occurred without warming

…this year marks the first time some of the papers concluded that an event could not have occurred – like, at all – in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change.

Scientists say these are likely not the only events to occur strictly because of climate change. They’re just the first to be discovered.

Global emissions are on the rise – again

A November report from the Global Carbon Project found that carbon dioxide emissions are growing again after being flat for three years. The findings have dashed experts’ hopes that global emissions had possibly peaked for good.

The research projects that 2017 could see a 2 percent increase in the burning of fossil fuels, bringing this year’s human-caused emissions up to about 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The reason for the uptick lies largely with China, the report suggests, where increases in the consumption of coal, oil and natural gas have driven its 2017 emissions up by about 3.5 percent.

China has been reported as working hard on increasing renewable energy use – see How China is leading the renewable energy revolution – so this may turn around.

But there are a lot of other countries and factors involved, so warming and it’s effects, like sea level rise and increased number and intensity of storms, will be of ongoing concern.

China’s surveillance technology – 大哥

China is moving rapidly towards a 大哥 society. How long until Big Bro?

Public surveillance cameras and face recognition technology are already being used increasingly around the world, but China is set to implement Big Brother on a massive scale.

BBC:  In Your Face: China’s all-seeing state

China has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”. Across the country, 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

Washington Post: China’s intrusive, ubiquitous, scary surveillance technology

Human Rights Watch reported on Dec. 13 that Chinese authorities have been collecting DNA samples, blood types, fingerprints and iris scans, in some cases possibly without informing people, from a large swath of the population in the restive Xinjiang province in far northwestern China.

Ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang have long complained about repression and discrimination at the hands of the Chinese government; resentment has sometimes turned violent.

According to Human Rights Watch, in a procedure rolled out this year, the authorities there are collecting the DNA and blood-type information under the cover of a “free annual physical exams program called Physicals for All.”

For several years now, China has been building out a system known as the social credit score, which collects information on the behavior of individuals from data such as financial transactions, shopping habits, social media and interactions with friends, as well as other indicators such as traffic tickets and unpaid bills, and computes a single loyalty or “trust” score for each individual.

The authorities plan to make the system mandatory for the whole country by 2020.

I guess we just have to hope this doesn’t spread to other countries.

Big Bro?

Yang didn’t disclose Chinese intelligence connections

National list MP Jian Yang didn’t disclose all of his Chinese work history in his application for New Zealand citizenship.

NZH: Jian Yang didn’t disclose Chinese intelligence connections in citizenship application

A newly reelected National Party MP said to have been investigated by New Zealand’s intelligence agencies didn’t disclose links to Chinese military intelligence when becoming a citizen, documents show.

Newly unredacted documents from Jian Yang’s 2004 citizenship application show Yang, who moved to New Zealand in 1999, did not list the 15 years he spent studying and working at the People’s Liberation Air Force Engineering Academy and the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute from 1978. Both institutions are part of China’s military intelligence apparatus.

In his citizenship disclosures, Yang only lists his work and study history at the Australian National University and the University of Auckland.

The citizenship file had been released, following public clamour, the week prior to the election, but heavy redactions – said to protect Yang’s privacy – meant it was impossible to see what, if any, disclosures he had made about spy history in China.

The Herald complained to the Ombudsman about these redactions, forcing a rethink at the Department of Internal Affairs.

A spokesman for the Ombudsman’s office yesterday afternoon said: “DIA have reconsidered its decision to withhold Dr Yang’s answers to the study and work history questions on the citizenship application.”

In a press conference after news of his background broke, Yang said he had served as a civilian officer in the PLA and was required to not to name the institutions as a condition of being allowed to leave China.

He said he was not a spy, but conceded he was involved in training spies to assess intercepted communications.

Yang said he instead referred on applications to “partnership” civilian universities who had a relationship with the military institutions. “It is not that I am deliberately trying to cover-up. It’s because the system asked me to use the partner university,” he said.

At the time Yang denied making false declarations when becoming a citizen – a prerequisite to being able to enter parliament – but said he was reviewing his citizenship application to make sure it was correct.

The Herald say they have filed more OIA requests for information on Yang, but some may prove hard to get.

This week the SIS declined again to answer any questions about Yang, citing national security as a reason for withholding information.

“NZSIS does not comment on specific cases or individuals,” a spokesman for the spy agency said.

“I can neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of information.”

The University of Auckland has refused to release information relating to his appointment in 1999 as a senior lecturer in political science, citing Yang’s privacy. This refusal is also the subject to a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Immigration NZ is still considering whether to release information relating to Yang’s residency applications, a precursor to his citizenship.

Is there any cause for concern about what Yang has done as a New Zealand citizen, or as an MP?

Or is it just possible concerns due to his past in China?

Should all immigrants who become citizens and then become MPs be scrutinised?

Perhaps Julie Anne Genter should be investigated just in case she’s working for the CIA.

William Sio could be check out in case he’s a Samoan secret agent.

Or if it’s only Chinese we are concerned about what about Raymond Huo? He’s probably fine but why not be sure?

Perhaps also of interest – why was  Jian Yang investigated, who prompted it, and why was his history revealed during an election campaign?

Trump-Kim war of words continues

While the war between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un is just of words at the moment it continues to escalate with threats, provocation and name calling. If one acts with weapons it is certain the other will also try to act, so this is a very dangerous game of brinkmanship and ego.

Trump ramped things up substantially with his comments at the United Nations several days ago. Kim has responded, and Trump has escalated their slanging match.

BBC: Trump and Kim call each other mad

Kim Jong-un has said remarks by “deranged” US President Donald Trump have convinced him he is right to develop weapons for North Korea.

In an unprecedented personal statement, Mr Kim said Mr Trump would “pay dearly” for a UN speech where he threatened to “totally destroy” the North if the US was forced to defend itself.

Mr Trump responded that the “madman… will be tested like never before”.

The two countries have engaged in ever more heated rhetoric in recent months.

Mr Kim ended his statement by saying he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

This does sound like madness from both of them. Other countries have joined the war of words.

China responded to the war of words, warning that the situation was “complicated and sensitive”.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other,” said Foreign Minister spokesman Lu Kang.

Russia also urged restraint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “deeply concerned by an escalation of tensions”.

Kim and Trump don’t seem to care what the rest of the world thinks or fears, they seem intent on trying to out-heckle each other. The obvious risk is if the hackles rise too far then the shackles might come off military action, and that could end up in a major mess. Like nuclear. And world war 3.

North Korea may or may not have much of a nuclear arsenal, but the US, China and Russia all have huge ones, as well as huge non-nuclear armies.

NZH: This is personal: Why Kim’s latest attack on Trump is on a new level

On the surface it seems like more of the same: North Korea responds to another threat by US President Donald Trump by calling him a “deranged” old man who will “pay dearly” for his insults. These words yesterday, however, carry the weight of an unprecedented personal rebuke from North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

Here are five things to know about Kim’s statement:

He’s breaking ground

It was written in the first person, and issued directly to the international community generally and to Trump specifically.

He’s issuing a warning

The statement suggests more powerful weapons tests are in the works. North Korea’s Foreign Minister seemed to confirm this on the sidelines of a global UN meeting in New York, telling reporters that Kim’s comments could mean that North Korea will conduct an H-bomb test in the Pacific.

He’s playing the statesman

Believe it or not, Kim’s statement actually used gentler language than his propaganda specialists have favoured in the past. Granted, he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” (a word to describe a fragile elderly person) and a “frightened dog”. But this is a far cry from North Korea at its worst.

He feels justified

Kim says Trump’s threats only emphasise that North Korea has been justified in its pursuit of nuclear missiles. North Korea has long said that its weapons tests are necessary because of US hostility.

He’s insulted

Kim seemed to take umbrage that Trump was personally insulting him. Kim essentially says that he expected better of Trump.

…far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors,” Kim said.

Kim advised the President “to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world”. He added that “Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world”. In a country where Kim’s word is law, the message seems clear: This will not stand.

This could end very badly.

The nuclear umbrella

Nuclear umbrella refers to a guarantee by a nuclear weapons state to defend a non-nuclear allied state.

Does that include defending non-nuclear states from the fallout from thermonuclear war by not starting one?

Thank goodness for that. Perhaps wiser heads are prevailing.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that military action against North Korea was not a first choice and said he had a strong and frank discussion with China’s President Xi Jinping about the issue.

“President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it. But we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent… We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call.”

Perhaps talking more with leaders closer to the risk before tweeting might also prevail.

North Korean missile test

North Korea has successfully launched a test ballistic missile that could have a range of at least 4,000 km – two thirds of the distance to the US.

BBC: North Korea carries out new ballistic missile test

Japanese officials say the missile, which launched from north-western Kusong, reached an altitude of 2,000km.

The nature of the launch is still being determined, but analysts have said the test could suggest a longer range than previously tested devices.

The Japanese defence minister said it flew for about 30 minutes before falling in the Sea of Japan and could be a new type of missile.

Tomomi Inada said it covered a distance of about 700km (435 miles), reaching an altitude of more than 2,000km (1,245 miles) – higher than that reached by an intermediate-range missile North Korea fired in February.

If the Japanese analysis of the trajectory is right (that the missile reached an altitude of 2,000km), North Korea appears to have advanced its technology markedly.

Experts quoted by Reuters say the altitude meant the missile was launched at a high trajectory, limiting the lateral distance it travelled. They say if it had been fired at a standard trajectory, it would have had a range of at least 4,000km.

The US Pacific Command said in a statement the type was being assessed but that its flight was not consistent with that of an ICBM, which would have the range to reach the US mainland (more than 6,000km).

This will raise concerns and tensions.

South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who is seeking deeper engagement with the North, said it was a “reckless provocation”.

The White House said President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” because the missile did not land far from Russian territory.

A Kremlin spokesperson later said Russian President Vladimir Putin was concerned by the test.

China, North Korea’s only major ally, called for restraint by “all relevant parties” in the wake of the latest test.

I’m not sure that either Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump are able or willing to exercise restraint, at least with their rhetoric.

 

 

Developments in North Korea

 

There is a lot of world attention and concern about escalating tensions over North Korea, with contradictory messages of joint resolutions contrasting with continued rhetoric and threats from the US.

The US and China reported to be trying to work together on appropriate responses and actions, but at the same time Vice President Mike Pence continues the inflammatory rhetoric, and anonymous White House leaks continue to threaten military action.

  • The United States, its allies and China are working together on a range of responses to North Korea’s latest attempted ballistic missile test, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday, citing what he called an international consensus to act.
  • Pence Calls Launch a ‘Provocation’
    Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday described North Korea’s failed missile test as “a provocation” that highlighted the risks plaguing both the region and the United States, as the White House said President Trump had an array of military, diplomatic and other options to respond.
  • White House Said to Not Shy Away From Sudden Strike on North Korea
    In the wake of North Korea’s failed medium-range missile test this weekend, President Donald Trump is willing to consider ordering “kinetic” military action, including a sudden strike, to counteract North Korea’s destabilizing actions in the region, said a person familiar with the White House’s thinking.

 

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Possibly “Irreversible” Slide Towards Nuclear War

There is little doubt North Korea would come off very badly if the tensions between them and the US burst into military action.

But they are not likely to be the only ones severely impacted.

China, South Korea and Japan in particular will be very uneasy about the escalating confrontation.

Trump and the US are a lot safer lobbing bombs from afar, but at risk to them is their standing in the world.

While New Zealand is a long way from any potential nuclear fallout the trade repercussions could impact us.

And I’d be very wary of travelling in that region at the moment.

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As well as the Syrian air strikes there was other big news in the US yesterday.


NY Times: U.S. Senate Confirms Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice

The confirmation saga did not help the reputation of the Supreme Court, either. The justices say politics plays no role in their work, but the public heard an unrelentingly different story over the last year, with politicians, pundits and well-financed outside groups insisting that a Democratic nominee would rule differently from a Republican one.

BBC:  Trump Welcomes New ‘Friend’ Xi

“Tremendous progress” has been made in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Donald Trump has said on the summit’s second and final day.

“I think truly progress has been made,” the US president said, declaring the relationship as “outstanding”.

The two men and their staff sat face to face for talks at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.

Last year Mr Trump said China had “raped the US” and vowed to brand the superpower a currency manipulator.

I don’t know how the Chinese will view a two-faced Trump.