Skeptical Science New Research for Week #12, 2020

Tamper with The System?

Well, we already are.

But there’s a difference between accidentally trickling sand into a precision gearbox versus formulating a plan to alter it on the fly with improvements in mind. One action is more or less innocently unscrupulous, the other amenable to earning an easy conscience. Low & Buck offer a critical analysis of “RRI” or “Responsible Research and Innovation” in connection with climate change in their paper The practice of responsible research and innovation in “climate engineering.”  We’ve an amply bitter track record of hastily deployed technological products that swiftly became entrenched and very difficult to remove despite obvious problems. RRI seeks to draw from that history to help produce a more rational means of progress. Here it’s in connection with avoiding multiplying our problems by thoughtlessly deploying technology while seeking to mitigate an earlier unplanned technological mess of our own creation. The abstract:

Sunlight reflection and carbon removal proposals for “climate engineering” (CE) confront governance challenges that many emerging technologies face: their futures are uncertain, and by the time one can discern their shape or impacts, vested interests may block regulation, and publics are often left out of decision‐making about them. In response to these challenges, “responsible research and innovation” (RRI) has emerged as a framework to critique and correct for technocratic governance of emerging technologies, and CE has emerged as a prime case of where it can be helpfully applied. However, a critical lens is rarely applied to RRI itself. In this review, we first survey how RRI thinking has already been applied to both carbon removal and sunlight reflection methods for climate intervention. We examine how RRI is employed in four types of activities: Assessment processes and reports, principles and protocols for research governance, critical mappings of research, and deliberative and futuring engagements. Drawing upon this review, we identify tensions in RRI practice, including whether RRI forms or informs choices, the positionalities of RRI practitioners, and ways in which RRI activities enable or disable particular climate interventions. Finally, we recommend that RRI should situate CE within the long arc of sociotechnical proposals for addressing climate change, more actively connect interrogations of the knowledge economy with reparative engagements, include local or actor‐specific contexts, design authoritative assessments grounded in RRI, and go beyond treating critique and engagement as “de facto” governance.

The juggling act of addressing risks and hazards while pursuing important, compelling benefits is nicely illustrated by the beguiling article Halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering moderates policy-relevant climate hazards, by Irvine & Keith. From the abstract:

Using a linearized scaling of GLENS we find that halving warming with stratospheric aerosols moderates important climate hazards in almost all regions. Only 1.3% of land area sees exacerbation of change in water availability, and regions that are exacerbated see wetting not drying contradicting the common assumption that solar geoengineering leads to drying in general. These results suggest that halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering could potentially reduce key climate hazards substantially while avoiding some problems associated with fully offsetting warming.

It sounds great. But would we really act on this, without a public process of evaluation, consent and governance? And what’s consent, and what’s governance? Does one country and its citizens get to make decisions that don’t stay neatly within borders, decisions that may be mistaken and even so redound on all? Isn’t that kind of decision process at the root of many of the problems we face? It’s for exactly these reasons that Low & Buck and many others are attempting to illustrate processes for such grave matters that will hopefully help us to obtain better long term results than we’ve so far produced by more chaotic means.

49 Articles 

Physical science of global warming & effects

Understanding Arctic Ocean circulation: a review of ocean dynamics in a changing climate

How oceanic melt controls tidewater glacier evolution

Processes shaping the spatial pattern and seasonality of the surface air temperature response to anthropogenic forcing (open access)

Observations & observational methods of global warming & effects

Grounding line retreat of Denman Glacier, East Antarctica, measured with COSMO‐SkyMed radar interferometry data

Permafrost degradation in the Western Russian Arctic

Ad hoc estimation of glacier contributions to sea-level rise from the latest glaciological observations (open access)

Ice island thinning: rates and model calibration with in situ observations from Baffin Bay, Nunavut (open access)

Sea-ice feedbacks influence the isotopic signature of Greenland Ice Sheet elevation changes: Last Interglacial HadCM3 simulations (open access)

A recent decline in North Atlantic subtropical mode water formation

Continuity of ice sheet mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica from the GRACE and GRACE Follow‐Onmissions

A satellite era warming hole in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean

Assessments of the Arctic amplification and the changes in the Arctic sea surface

Spatiotemporal changes of rice phenology in China during 1981–2010

The response of warm-season precipitation extremes in China to global warming: an observational perspective from radiosonde measurements

Modeling & simulation of global warming & global warming effects

Future wave-climate driven longshore sediment transport along the Indian coast

Climate model advancement GCMA

Impact of Cloud Ice Particle Size Uncertainty in a Climate Model and Implications for Future Satellite Missions

Impacts of atmosphere–sea ice–ocean interaction on Southern Ocean deep convection in a climate system model

Biology & global warming

The changing physical and ecological meanings of North Pacific Ocean climate indices (open access)

A global perspective on the climate‐driven growth synchrony of neighbouring trees

GHG sources & sinks, flux

Responses of terrestrial carbon fluxes to temperature and precipitation: carbon extreme versus climate extreme

Soil greenhouse gas budget of two intensively managed grazing systems

Greenhouse gas fluxes from reservoirs determined by watershed lithology, morphometry, and anthropogenic pressure

Carbon sequestration in paddy soil as influenced by organic and inorganic amendments (open access)

Climate change communications & cognition

Political populism, responsiveness, and public support for climate mitigation (open access)

Humans dealing with our global warming

Doubling of U.S. Population Exposure to Climate Extremes by 2050 (open access)

Electrifying the ‘eighth continent’: exploring the role of climate finance and its impact on energy justice and equality in Madagascar’s planned energy transition

From science to policy: Development of a climate change adaptation plan for the health and wellbeing sector in Queensland, Australia

Attitudes towards climate change migrants (open access)

Climate change adaptation strategies, productivity and sustainable food security in southern Mali

The costs of achieving climate targets and the sources of uncertainty (open access)

Climate and health damages from global concrete production

Global Climate and Human Health Effects of the Gasoline and Diesel Vehicle Fleets (open access)

Warm spells and climate risk to human health in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area

Global warming effects on climate zones for wine grape in Ningxia region, China

Escalating environmental summer heat exposure—a future threat for the European workforce (open access)

Climate resilience of the top ten wheat producers in the Mediterranean and the Middle East (open access)

Halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering moderates policy-relevant climate hazards

Achieving the Paris Agreement’s 2 degree target in Nepal: the potential role of a carbon tax (open access)

Consumption-oriented policy instruments for fostering greenhouse gas mitigation (open access)

A Stress Test for Climate Change Impacts on Water Security: a CRIDA Case Study


Tidal pressurization of the ocean cavity near an Antarctic ice shelf grounding line

Deep time perspective on rising atmospheric CO2

Informed opinion & nudges

The practice of responsible research and innovation in “climate engineering” (open access)

From Hubris to Humility: Transcending Original Sin in Managing Hydroclimatic Risk

Legally obtaining copies of “paywalled” articles

We know it’s frustrating that many articles we cite here are not free to read. Here’s an excellent collection of tips and techniques for obtaining articles, legally. 


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A list of journals we cover may be found here. We welcome pointers to omissions, new journals etc. 

The previous edition of Skeptical Science New Research may be found here. 


Building Health Lab

Architect since 2002, experienced in healthcare environment design. Master in public health sciences from the Charité Medical University in Berlin. Evidence-based Design researcher at TU-Berlin, helping ensure that urban & architectural design projects build positive health effectively. Founder of the Building Health Lab. BHL Building Health Lab Is a think tank that develops urban concepts for neighborhoods as strategy to build a sustainable healthy city. Our mission is to help government, industry, and citizens develop projects with social impact that protect people and planet health. With our expertise in health and design, we support health promotion and disease management through people-centred and climate adaptive designs.