Saturday, September 29, 2007

Should Step It Up Give It Up?

Where are all the planned Step It Up events for A National Day of Climate Action on November 3rd? With 35 days left it looks like there are less than 200 events planned. I say looks like because the grand total is no longer available for viewing. I guess the events were adding up so slowly that it was thought that showing the total would lead to discouragement. It seems almost hard to believe but back in February with 45 days left before A National Day of Climate Action on April 14th there were already 753 planned events listed on the Step It Up website. Looking back, I guess that was the Golden Age of Step It Up.

Maybe the Civil Rights movement is not a good model for a global warming movement. Maybe we really don’t need a global warming movement. Maybe just doing what needs to be done without gathering in large groups for demonstrations is the way to go. In any case, I plan to attend one or two Step It Up events but it seems like it won’t be the same as those heady days last spring when tens of thousands of people gathered at over 1,400 events to ask Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. How did Bill Mckibben pull that off? He is probably wondering himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Geoengineering Scheme—Floating Pipes

Every few months it seems a new geoengineering scheme to save us from global warming hits the news. The lastest one is from a very improbable source, British scientist James Lovelock who gained fame for his Gaia theory of a self-regulating Earth. Lovelock teamed up with another British scientist, Chris Rapley, to write an article in the journal Nature to propose a geoengineering scheme to enhance the take up of carbon dioxide by tropical waters. The scheme involves placing huge numbers of floating vertical pipes in the water in order to draw cold water up to the surface by downward movement from ocean swells. Since cold water is richer in life than warm water more carbon dioxide would be taken up, at least in theory. An article on the BBC News website points out that Lovelock and Rapley were not aware that an American company named Atmocean has already begun testing such a scheme. Long pipes placed in water allow cold water in at the bottom and have a valve to block the downward flow of cold water during upward motion.

Why is Lovelock jumping on the geoengineering bandwagon? He told BBC News that “We are taking the very strong line that we are not going to save the planet by the regular approaches like the Kyoto Protocol or renewable energy. What we have to do is to look at it in a systems sense, or a Gaian sense, and see if it’s curable by direct action.”

It is hard to argue with Lovelock’s pessimism about our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough. If this were a baseball game the home team would be down by 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth with 2 out. However, it is also very difficult to embrace any geoengineering scheme. Whether it is mirrors in space, microscopic sulphate particles placed in the atmosphere, stimulation of plankton growth, or whatever, one has to wonder whether these people really know what will be the results of what they are doing. One thing at least is clear. We should have acted on this problem 20 years ago. It really may be too late.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is Step It Up Losing Momentum?

To keep the momentum of their global warming movement going following the success of the first day of Step It Up events on April 14th author Bill McKibben and company have called for another day of Step It Up events on November 3rd. Unfortunately it appears there is less enthusiasm for this second go-around. Forty-five days before April 14th there were only two states, North Dakota and South Dakota, in which events were not planned. Well here we are only 42 days before November 3rd and the list of states without events planned is rather long. The list includes Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Not only does there appear to be a lack of enthusiasm among event planners, but politicians do not seem to be accepting invitations to attend the events. Among 221 members of Congress who have been invited only two have to this date accepted. Among 14 presidential candidates who have been invited none have so far said they would go. Since I think it fair to say that momentum for fighting global warming is not on the wane in the US and if anything it has picked up, it is likely that the reduced enthusiasm for Step It Up events has more to do with Step It Up than the issue per se. Perhaps the problem is that the novelty of showing up at global warming protest events has worn off. We’ve done that, now what? Perhaps people have concluded that the first round of Step It Up events had no effect on politicians so why go through all the bother of doing it again. In any case, if this truly is a political movement it appears to be somewhat in trouble.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IPCC Climate Impact Report Filled with Gloom and Doom

At a meeting held in London to launch the complete report on climate change impacts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) British climate scientist Martin Perry, who co-chairs the working group that wrote the report, had some particularly pessimistic comments to make. According to an article in the Guardian he said the following:

“We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it’s us.”

“…we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world.”

“…it’s evident from the work of the IPCC that even with a maximum of a 2C we’re not going to avoid some major impacts at the regional level.”

Perry doesn’t believe that there is much chance of holding global mean temperature to a 2C increase. According to climate scientists like James Hansen going beyond 2C could push us beyond some climate tipping points that might make global warming unstoppable and eventually lead to a world that we would find unrecognizable.

Overall the picture appears to be pretty bleak and with every passing year it just seems to get bleaker.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Is Fred Thompson Going After the Sun is the Cause of Global Warming Vote?

Now that Fred Thompson has declared that he is running for president a statement of his on global warming that he wrote on the ABC Radio Networks website back in April is receiving a lot of attention. Here is the statement:

Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming: Martian warming. It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto. NASA says the Martian South Pole's ice cap has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter's caught the same cold, because it's warming up too, like Pluto. This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle. Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn't even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There's a consensus. Ask Galileo.

The statement seems to suggest that Thompson is a global warming denier blaming increased solar activity for the rise in mean global temperature on Earth rather than greenhouse gases from human sources. Perhaps he is? On the other hand there are huge numbers of American voters who believe that increased solar activity is the culprit even though scientists have found not a shred of evidence to support this notion. If I had to make a guess I think that Thompson believes that “the science is absolutely decided” and “there’s a consensus.” The other stuff is probably to get votes by sticking it to liberals. His comments are amusing but for those of us who think that that facts presented in peer-reviewed scientific journals carry more weight than flip remarks by conservative politicians and that taking quick action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely urgent there is more reason to laugh at Thompson rather than with him.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Book on Climate Tipping Points Makes the Point

For those who still don't feel a sense of urgency to take action when climate scientists such as James Hansen from NASA warn us that if he don’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions very soon we will pass climate tipping points that will propel us into disaster it might be a good idea to read With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce, a former editor at New Scientist. If this book has a clear message it is “don’t mess with Mother Nature on a global scale.” The book of course will be lost on those souls who truly believe that global warming is a left wing conspiracy to take over the world via United Nations carbon police, but for all others this book is one more reality check as it is chocked full of possible ways that small changes can be rapidly amplified by various positive feedback climate mechanisms to result in the climate flipping from one state to another. The science seems clear enough, but the big question that remains is will we soon reach the tipping point for meaningful action. There are no answers to that in Pearce's book.