Clouds May Speed Up Global Warming


 “Cloud research is a tricky business. Clouds sometimes have a warming effect on the local climate and sometimes a cooling effect — it all depends on the type of cloud, the local climate and a variety of other conditions.

“One of the most fundamental questions about climate change is also one of the thorniest: How much, exactly, will the Earth warm in response to future greenhouse gas emissions?

“The answer, scientists say, lies in the sky above our heads. Clouds are the fluffy, unlikely gatekeepers of climate change — they play a critical role in how quickly the world warms.”

A report by E&E News  (Scientific American, July 26, 2021) said:

“A series of recent studies have shed new light on that role. As the world warms, cloud cover will change across the globe. And these changing clouds will probably speed up global warming.

“That means the Earth may be slightly more sensitive to greenhouse gases (GHG) than some older estimates might have suggested.

“‘Clouds are a big uncertainty,’ said Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London and a co-author of one of the new studies. ‘And so that was the main motivation. We want to understand how clouds will change and how this cloud feedback will affect global warming.’”

The report said:

“Climate change only complicates the matter. Global warming is expected to increase certain types of clouds in certain places and decrease them in others. All in all, it is a big, complex patchwork of effects all over the globe.

“For years, scientists have struggled to determine exactly how clouds would change with future warming — and whether they will make climate change worse, or whether they might dampen some of its effects. It has been a difficult question to answer. Scientists typically use computer models to make predictions about future climate change. But clouds are famously difficult to simulate, especially on a global scale.

“Over the last few months, though, several studies have begun to get to the bottom of it. They are all coming to the same conclusions: Some of the worst-case global warming scenarios may be less likely than scientists previously thought. But some of the best-case scenarios are also certainly not going to happen either.

“These studies all center on the same question: How much, exactly, would the world warm if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were to reach double their preindustrial levels?

“It is a hypothetical question for now. But that soon could change.”

The report added:

“Before the Industrial Revolution, around 150 years ago, global carbon dioxide levels hovered around 280 parts per million. Double that would be 560 ppm. Today, concentrations are already higher than 410 ppm and climbing every year.

“This CO2-doubling question — a metric known to scientists as ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’ — has been a central question among climate researchers for decades.

“It has also been a difficult one to make progress on.”

It said:

“In 1979, a seminal report from the National Academy of Sciences suggested the planet would probably warm by anywhere from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius in response. For years, study after study came to more or less the same conclusion.

“It is only recently that researchers have begun to narrow it down — and improvements in cloud research have had a lot to do with it.

“Last year, a groundbreaking new study found that a doubling of CO2 likely would result in warming of anywhere from 2.6 degrees to 3.9 degrees Celsius.

“It is a substantially narrower projection, ruling out some of the higher-end projections and eliminating much of the lower range. The study pulled together all the most recent research on climate sensitivity, accounting for multiple different lines of evidence — including recent advancements in cloud research.

And over the last few months, several recent studies — focused primarily on clouds — also have supported a narrower climate sensitivity range.

“A February study in Nature Climate Change suggested a likely sensitivity of around 3.5 C. A May study, also in Nature Climate Change, put it around 3 C. Both studies suggested that clouds, on a worldwide scale, probably would have a moderate amplifying effect on the rate of global warming.

“These studies used real-world observations to draw their conclusions. They compiled large quantities of data on cloud behavior—how clouds react to changes in temperature, humidity and other weather variables — and then conducted statistical analyses of those observations to figure out how clouds are likely to respond to future climate change.

“It is a fairly traditional way of tackling the problem, according to Mark Zelinka, a climate scientist and cloud expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and co-author of both the May study and the study from last year.

“A newer study, on the other hand, has taken a less conventional approach. Published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study used machine learning to figure out how clouds respond to changes in their environments.”

The report said:

“Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence in which computers sift through large quantities of data, identify patterns and then use those patterns to construct algorithms that predict how future data should behave under various conditions. In this case, the researchers used real-world observations of the way clouds respond to environmental change.

“The machine learning approach came to a similar conclusion: a narrower climate sensitivity, which rules out most of the milder climate scenarios. The study found that there’s almost no chance of a climate sensitivity below 2 C.

“‘I have thought for a while the cloud problem was particularly suited for machine learning approaches,’ said Ceppi, who conducted the study with fellow climate scientist and machine learning expert Peer Nowack. ‘If you want to understand the relationship between clouds and temperature or humidity or winds, it is quite hard to tease out the individual effects of each of these environmental variables.’

“Machine learning can be a simpler way to tackle such a complicated set of data, he said.

“Machine learning is showing promise in other kinds of cloud research as well. Some research groups are experimenting with incorporating machine learning components into global climate models as a way to work around the difficulties of simulating clouds.

“Clouds pose a challenge for models because they require extremely fine-scale physics — after all, clouds form from tiny water droplets in the sky. Simulating these microscopic processes on a global scale would require an unimaginable level of computing power; it just is not possible.

“To get around it, modelers do not typically force their models to physically simulate the formation of clouds. Instead, they manually plug in information about how clouds should form and respond to changes in their environments, a tactic known as parameterization.

“Machine learning can be an alternative to parameterization. Instead of plugging in a rule about how clouds should behave within the model, a machine learning component can construct algorithms that predict the way the clouds should respond.

“It is not exactly a common strategy yet. But multiple research groups in the last few years have begun investigating how useful it might be.

“These are promising advancements in the complicated field of cloud research. Still, “machine learning is a super helpful tool but no panacea,” cautioned Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, in an email to E&E News.

“Machine learning is an efficient way of analyzing complicated sets of data — but it can leave some questions unanswered about the underlying physical processes behind that data. There is still plenty of room for more traditional research on the hows and whys of cloud behavior.

“‘Coordinated developments on both fronts are the answer in my mind,’ Forster added.

“In the meantime, Zelinka added, it is reassuring that different strategies have arrived at similar conclusions.

“‘If it was just one study, you might question the robustness of that result,’ Zelinka said. ‘But if you’ve got more and more evidence from independent authors using independent techniques, and they are all reaching a similar conclusion, that is pretty powerful.’”

Study: What Stopping Global Warming Would Require of Americans

An Institute for Energy Research report (, July 26, 2021) said:

“A team led by University of Leeds researcher Jefim Vogel has published a new study, ‘Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use,’ in Global Environmental Change. According to the studyto save the planet from climate change, Americans must cut their energy use by more than 90 percent and families of four would need to live in housing no larger than 640 square feet. Public transportation would account for most travel and travel would be limited to between 3,000 to 10,000 miles per person annually.

“The team argues that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per capita, which is the amount of energy that the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kilowatt-hours annually per capita. With respect to transportation, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16 to 40 gallons of gasoline per year and take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so.

“The average food consumption per capita would need to fall to 2,100 calories per day — about 900 calories short of the daily global average food supply of just under 3,000 calories per person. Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually. The study allows everyone over the age of 10 to have a mobile phone and each household can share a laptop computer.

“In order to stay below the 1.5°C temperature increase threshold that the Paris climate agreement considers necessary, earlier research calculated that the average person should be limited to using 18 gigajoules per year (equivalent to 136 gallons of gasoline or 5,000 kilowatt-hours) of total energy. The team at the University of Leeds allocated a cap of 27 gigajoules (equivalent to 204 gallons of gasoline or 7,500 kilowatt-hours) per capita annually, which no country in the world with decent living standards has met nor do they come close. (See figure below.)  By way of comparison, Algeria’s consumption was 2 times as much per capita in 2019.

Source: University of Leeds

“When the team set their 27-gigajoule per capita threshold, they ruled out ‘speculative’ technological progress. However, if transitioning to no-carbon energy sources with nuclear, wind, and solar power could be achieved, then going on the strict energy diet the study specified would be unnecessary. But, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, in 2020, the fossil fuel energy sources supplied 83.1 percent of the world’s consumption. Nuclear power, hydroelectricity, and non-hydro renewable energy only supplied 16.9 percent. That is a long way to go in not too many years to reach a net zero carbon future.

Countries Take New Action against Climate Change

The report added:

“Recently, the European Union unveiled a new plan to control carbon dioxide emissions, China rolled out an emissions-trading system and the United Kingdom released a plan to reduce emissions tied to transportation. Called ‘Fit for 55,’ the European Union’s program is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. The European Union plans to ban sales of new internal-combustion cars by 2035 and subject aviation to the EU’s emissions-trading system. Another proposal requires vast expenditures to increase energy efficiency. There is a renewable-energy directive, and an update to the regulation on land use, forestry and agriculture that requires, among many other things, planting three billion trees by 2030. The plan also includes a proposal for a carbon tariff, which will put a carbon price on imports of a targeted selection of products to limit ‘carbon leakage’.

“China’s new emissions-trading system will initially involve 2,225 companies in the power sector, who are responsible for a seventh of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, according to the International Energy Agency. Under the trading program, emitters (power plants and factories) are given a fixed amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to release a year. Over the next three to five years, China’s trading system is set to expand to seven additional high-emissions industries: petrochemicals, chemicals, building materials, iron and steel, nonferrous metals, paper, and domestic aviation. Chinese companies will start with allowances that use benchmarks based on previous years’ performances. Companies are expected to compile and submit their emissions data to the provincial branches of the ministry, which is charged with verifying the information and ensuring the system is working as planned. Failure to comply could result in a maximum fine of $4,600 or a reduction in future allowances.  This may prove difficult for China, as they accounted for 28.7 percent of the world’s manufacturing in 2019, almost 12 percentage points more than the United States’ share.”

The Pushback

The report said:

The pushback is coming because people do not want to live in a third world country (27 gigajoules per capita is about half of Algeria’s consumption in 2019), nor do they want to spend enormous sums to transition their energy systems to non-carbon fuels. The Swiss last month rejected a referendum to impose a fuel tax and a tax on airline tickets. The British cabinet, which recently proposed major new carbon restrictions for transport industries, is split over previously announced plans to ban gas-fired home heating and the requirement for landlords to boost energy efficiency in rental units. E.U.’s new plan was attacked by furious lobbying in opposition. In France, there have been protests against a diesel tax hike that started in 2018.

“In Japan, resolutions codifying aggressive corporate carbon targets were defeated at the three companies where they were proposed — Mitsubishi UFJ, Sumitomo and Kansai Electric Power. In April, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest with around $1.6 trillion under management, announced it was abandoning ESG (‘environmental, social and governance’) investing.”


At the conclusion, the report said:

“Europe and China say they are progressing with climate change plans. But, certainly, in Europe and in Japan, there has been pushback to the reductions in energy use and/or to the enormous costs involved with reaching a computer projected +1.5°C temperature future. It is time for Americans to understand what President Biden’s net-zero energy system entails and what they will have to give up to get there.  It could mean living with half the energy an average Algerian uses.”

As Jeff Bezos stresses climate change, Amazon promotes books saying it’s fake

A Los Angeles Times report said on July 26, 2021:

“Soon after Jeff Bezos returned from the edge of space, the billionaire-turned-astronaut delivered a warning to everyone he had briefly left behind on Earth.

“‘We live on this beautiful planet,’ Inc.’s founder — and, until recently, chief executive — said Tuesday. ‘When you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is.’

“‘We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space,’ he added, ‘and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.’

“It is a familiar sentiment from the world’s richest man, who’s made environmentalism a central part of his public image. At an Amazon summit last year, he said people who deny the reality of human-caused climate change are ‘not being reasonable.’

“Yet on the e-commerce platform he built, a very different message is being sold — and getting boosted by the company’s own algorithms.

“New research from the nonprofit investigative group Advance Democracy has revealed that’s main search function — the ‘Sort by: Featured’ display option, which is the default way Amazon filters its enormous catalog of products when customers go looking for something — gives prominent real estate to books that downplay or outright deny the reality of climate change.”

The report said:

“Advance Democracy found that 20% of the top 60 search results for ‘climate change’ returned products containing ‘misinformation about climate change,’ including three of the first four sponsored results in the main product list.

“The nonprofit also found advertisements for climate-denialist books on the product pages of more scientifically sound climate texts. For instance, the ‘products related to this item’ list underneath Bill Gates’ ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’ included a sponsored link to ‘Exploding the Myths of Climate Change: A Denier’s Viewpoint.’ Under Mike Berners-Lee’s ‘There Is No Planet B’ was an ad for ‘Climate Miracle: There is no climate crisis, Nature controls climate.’

“The Times independently confirmed that climate denialist books appear among the top Amazon results for generic searches such as ‘climate,’ ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming,’ as well as on the product pages of mainstream climatological texts.

The report added:

“Advance Democracy said it conducted its research while using a virtual private network and not logged into an Amazon account, in an attempt to ensure that the algorithm’s recommendations wouldn’t be customized based on who was doing the research. Amazon says it displays sponsored products based on their relevance to a user’s search.

“Advance Democracy’s findings show ‘that climate change misinformation is prevalent, and even being promoted, on e-commerce sites,’ Daniel Jones, the organization’s president, told The Times in a written statement. ‘Just this week, Amazon released a press release “encouraging more companies to take action on climate change,” while at the same time the platform is profiting [from] and promoting climate change denialism on its platform.’

“Jones — a former Senate staffer who rose to national prominence for his investigation of the CIA’s use of torture during the war on terror, as portrayed by Adam Driver in the 2019 film ‘The Report’ — added that ‘the fact that if you search “climate” … climate misinformation immediately comes up is outrageous.’

“In response to Advance Democracy’s concerns, an Amazon spokesperson said the e-commerce giant is ‘committed to providing a positive experience for our customers’ and that ‘similar to other stores that sell books, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints.’

“‘Our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to generate results oriented to a specific point of view,’ the spokesperson said in an email, adding that “featured” results are chosen based on a variety of factors, including customer behavior, product information and item availability.

“This is a familiar refrain for the company. Facing accusations that its algorithm prioritized Amazon Basics products over alternative third-party options, Amazon told the Atlantic, ‘We feature the products customers will want.’

“But the idea that algorithms are neutral, impartial tools is a contested one. Over the last few years, more and more critics have warned that the computer systems helping to filter our news, screen our employees and sentence our criminals may be rife with unseen biases. Content-ranking algorithms of the sort used to curate social media feeds favor content that elicits a strong emotional response, including conspiracy theories, research has shown.

“Amazon has previously come under fire for pushing readers who searched ‘vaccine’ toward anti-vaccine literature — and it isn’t alone. YouTube has found itself in hot water for algorithmically promoting climate change misinformation, and Advance Democracy has made similar criticisms of EBay as it does Amazon. ‘14% of eBay’s top search results for “climate change” are for products containing misleading information about climate change,’ such as the book ‘Climate Bogeyman: The Criminal Insanity of Warming/ Climate Change Hoax,’ the organization wrote.”

The Los Angeles Times report said:

“Amazon and Bezos both have a mixed history when it comes to environmentalism.

“In February 2020, Bezos committed to spending $10 billion on the fight against climate change; he has since set 2030 as the deadline for dispensing all of that money.

“Meanwhile, Amazon has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2040, worked to transition its delivery fleet away from fossil fuels and co-founded a ‘Climate Pledge’ that encourages companies to decarbonize their work and regularly report their greenhouse gas emissions. The company accounts for an estimated 40% of all American e-commerce.

“But those efforts stand in contrast to both Amazon’s environmental impact — its carbon footprint grew 19% in 2020 — and its actions, including firing two employees who were leading an “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice” group, providing cloud computing services to fossil fuel companies and donating to political candidates who have questioned or downplayed the threat of climate change.

“Amazon’s algorithmic promotion of books that muddy the waters of the climate crisis is another strand in that web of contradictions.

“‘Algorithms are killing the climate,’ said Jamie Henn, the director of the climate advocacy groups Fossil Free Media and Clean Creatives.

“‘The impact that Amazon has on society is not just in its factories and trucks driving around our neighborhoods,’ Henn added. ‘It is in the way that it shapes or warps the way people see the world.’”

The report added:

“For Amazon users, that could mean seeing a version of the world at odds with what climate scientists — and Jeff Bezos himself — agree is actually happening.”

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