Monday, December 21, 2009

There Is Now No Clear Path to Preventing Catastrophic Climate Change

With the Copenhagen climate meeting ending with the UN taking “note” of the Copenhagen Accord agreed to by the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa the belief that a UN agreement signed in 1992 would lead to the world taking steps to prevent catastrophic climate change has been proven to be an illusion. Instead of the world trying to solve the global warming problem we are left with a blame game for who is to blame for the failure. The environmental organization Friends of the Earth is blaming the rich countries. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the UK, a rich country, is blaming China and some other developing countries. And so forth. The Kyoto Protocol, ratified by all developed countries except the US was supposed to be the first step toward stopping global warming and the meeting in Copenhagen was supposed to be where the details of the second step would be agreed on. Well, it looks like there is no second step. Apparently the billions of people in the world will be left to face the consequences of the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere not to mention the acidification of the oceans that threatens to wipe out marine life. So far Barack Obama hasn’t given us any indication that he can step in and stop this hurtling toward self-destruction. Up against the powerful fossil fuel industry, a public that largely doesn’t want to pay more for electricity no matter what the long-term consequences, coal miners and many others who depend on the coal mining industry for their jobs, and a Republican party that just seems to say no to any call for change by the Democrats, what can Obama really do? Probably he should have spoken out more about this problem, but would that really have helped? I guess we better get ready to pass some climate tipping points. This is not going to be pretty.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen Accord Provides Hope of Avoiding 5°C to 6°C by 2100

It is hard for climate scientists to find any good news in the Copenhagen Accord that was hammered out at the climate meeting that just ended but Andrew Waston from the University of East Anglia in Britain told the French news agency AFP that “At least it may signal that there is some willingness to take action, so that we might have a hope of limiting the rise to 3.0°C to 4.0°C and avoid the really unknown territory that lies beyond.” That unknown territory seems to be where we are heading by the end of this century according to some recent scientific studies. So if the bar is set low enough maybe the meeting wasn’t a failure after all. For all the talk at the meeting about staying below a 2.0°C or 1.5°C rise in global temperature above preindustrial levels it seemed none of the big polluters really cared about those targets at all. Based on their pledges to lower emissions or lower the rate of increase in emissions, staying below 5.0°C seemed good enough although that was never uttered in public. So perhaps the only positive legacy of the Copenhagen meeting will be getting us on track to avoid 5.0°C. That’s probably about as low as the bar can be lowered.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can Obama Save the Climate Summit?

It is hard to believe that anybody can save the Copenhagen climate summit as the final two days for negotiating approach but British environmentalist and columnist George Monbiot thinks Obama can do it. In his column in The Guardian Monbiot writes that “Because of the size and weight of the United States, and the moral power invested in the current president, it is Barack Obama, and Barack Obama alone, who can rescue the climate negotiations from dismal bickering into which they have slumped.” I doubt if very many Americans believe Obama can save the day. After all, whatever he proposes has to be approved by the US Congress. How is that for an unmovable obstacle? Here is what Monbiot says Obama should say in his upcoming speech: "I hereby commit the United States to cutting greenhouse gases by 50% against our 1990 levels by 2020. I commit to this cut regardless of what other nations might do, but I urge you to compete with me to exceed it. We should be striving to outbid each other, not to undercut each other.” Congress is having trouble passing a bill with target as low as about 5% below 1990 levels. What Republican or Blue Dog Democrat would vote for 50% below? Monbiot says Obama should end his speech by saying "I have no illusions about the resistance these proposals will encounter. This will be the political battle of my life. But I know it is a battle worth fighting. If I duck it, future generations will never forgive me, just as they will not forgive anyone in this room for failing to rise to our greatest challenge. This is the battle we owe to our children and to their children. This is the time to do not what is expedient, but what is right." Last I heard Obama is hoping to get something passed on health care reform very soon and then take on financial regulatory reform and job creation next year. Where would he have time for waging this fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? At this point it doesn’t appear that President Obama or anyone else on the planet can save this meeting from tanking.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Keeping Global Temperature Rise Below 1.5°C Is Almost Impossible

When it comes to global warming there is little that the countries of the world seem to agree upon except perhaps that the rise in global temperature should be kept below 2°C (3.6°F). But now even that point of consensus has been shattered by a proposal at the climate meeting in Copenhagen by small island nations and poor African countries that the rise in temperature should be kept below 1.5°C. But according to climate science is that even possible? In a report from the BBC, the head of climate science at the UK’s Met Office, Vicky Pope, says "There's no way you'd get a 50% chance of avoiding 1.5°C…If you reduced everything to zero immediately you'd still get about 1.3°C because of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere." She noted that policies to ensure a reasonable chance of remaining under 1.5°C would involve "negative emissions" - sucking CO2 out of the air. So why are so many countries and climate activists embracing what seems to be virtually an impossible goal? Perhaps it is a symbolic way at making a statement that the richer countries are not doing enough. Or perhaps it is an act of desperation since anything approaching a rise in temperature of 2°C would probably lead to a sea level rise that would obliterate many of the small island countries and cause climate change in Africa that would be devastating.

What should the goal be? The 2°C target would expose us to a high risk of catastrophic climate change but while extremely difficult to meet according to the experts it remains realistically possible whereas the 1.5°C target would reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change but is apparently an unrealistic goal. Having postponed real action on this issue for two decades the world is left with no good choices.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hopes for Copenhagen Climate Meeting Fizzling Fast

Once billed by some as the most important meeting in human history, the global climate meeting set to begin in Copenhagen in a little over a week is failing to live up to the hype. The major political leaders have been simply thumbing their noses at science with commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions falling way short of the mark as pointed out in an Associated Press article. So far Obama has pledged that the US will reduce emissions by a paltry 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and the leading global warming polluter China will not agree to reduce emissions at all but only to reduce “carbon intensity” which refers to emissions per unit of production. We know the jig is up but still the politicians pretend that it isn’t, that progress will go on and on. Americans can continue to enjoy affluence if they are just willing to pay about the price of a postage stamp a day more for electricity. Hundreds of millions of poor Chinese will continue to be lifted out of poverty as hundreds of millions have before them and same for the struggling poor of India, even though some critical resources are growing short as the world population balloons toward 9 billion and the evidence that climate change is much more serious than the scientists thought only a few years ago seems to grow almost every day and it appears that climate change could threaten civilization itself. So it turns out we are not going to be saved at December meeting in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 after all. And in fact it turns out we are not going saved period. Darn!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Lower Standard of Living Called for to Fight Climate Change

To avoid catastrophic climate change, lower levels of consumption are needed in the rich countries says Professor Kevin Anderson, director of Britain’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change which released a study on how to combat global warming. In an interview with The Times, Anderson said “That may mean having only one car per household, a smaller fridge, buying fewer clothes and electronics and curtailing the number of weekend breaks that we have…It’s a very uncomfortable message, but we need a planned economic recession. Economic growth is currently incompatible with reductions in absolute emissions.” That’s quite a message to countries trying to get out of an unplanned recession. It is also pretty much the opposite of the message that we hear from Al Gore, Thomas Friedman, and numerous Democratic politicians who have been trying to convince everyone that going green to fight global warming is the key to economic growth. It is hard to imagine any politician in one of the rich countries such as the United States running for office on a platform that includes calling for an unplanned recession and promising the voters to lower their standard of living. Who wouldn’t want to run against an opponent saying that. To have any chance of succeeding with calls for lower levels of consumption would require ratcheting up the fear of climate change among the voters to a level that right now is unimaginable. It would have to be palpable fear. The type that keeps you up at night. The type that drives people to drinking and other means of mental escape. Unless the television networks replace all their reality shows, games shows, sit coms, dramas, and sports events with documentaries on global warming it seems unlikely that fear of global warming will increase to above its present level which is nearly undetectable based on the polls that have been taken. It appears in all likelihood that the rich countries will continue to party on and our planet will continue to grow warmer and warmer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Australia Overtakes the US as Leader in CO2 Emissions per Person

After being recently replaced by China as the number one greenhouse gas polluter in the world, the US has now been surpassed by Australia as the leading nation in CO2 emissions on a per capita basis. According to Reuters, the US emissions of 19.8 tons per capita annually was only good for second place, with Australia taking over the lead with 20.6 tons. In third place was Canada at 18.8 tons. Per capita emissions have become a major sticking point in the negotiations on a climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012 as developing countries, particularly China and India, have been arguing that developed countries should assume most of the burden for reducing emissions since on a per capita basis their emissions are several times higher. However, the British economist Nicholas Stern, who wrote an influential report on climate change, recently noted in a talk given in Beijing, China, that although China’s emissions on a per capita basis are much lower than those of developed countries, there were 13 provinces, regions, and cities in China that actually had higher emissions per capita than France and 6 with higher emissions than Britain. According to the AFP news agency, Stern has calculated that for the risk of dangerous climate change to be minimized emissions would need to be reduced to 2 tons per person worldwide. Unfortunately, with millions of people in China and India rapidly adopting Western lifestyles and many developed countries including the US refusing to commit to the necessary reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 called for by the leading climate scientists the prospects for minimizing the risks of dangerous climate change appear to be rapidly diminishing.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

UK Royal Society Gives Geoengineering the Okay for Future Research

Geoengineering schemes to combat global warming got a boost from a study by the UK Royal Society which came to the conclusion that it is technically possible for geoengineering to play a role and research on the schemes should go forward. A report from BBC News says that the Society found that of the two basic approaches, carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere and reflecting sunlight, that the former was preferred. It may turn out that whether of not geoengineering schemes to alter the climate are technically possible may be beside the point as the study noted that “The greatest challenges to the successful deployment of geoengineering may be to social, ethical, legal and political issues associated with governance rather than scientific issues.” Yes, this could be one heck of a mess. Perhaps the best advice from this study is the recommendation for an international body to come up with some sort of procedure whereby treaties could be devised for determining who would have responsibility for carrying out the research that might have risks and benefits on a global scale. The situation we are in was nicely summarized by the chairman of the study group, Professor John Shepherd from the University of South Hampton, who said "Geoengineering and its consequences are the price we may have to pay for failure to act on climate change.” If things go unexpectedly wrong that could be quite a high price.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indian Environment Minister Says Westerners Need to Live with Only One Car Not Three

With the countdown to the UN’s climate meeting in Copenhagen reaching the 100-day mark yesterday India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, gave a speech in Delhi in which he reiterated that India will not agree to a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in The Guardian, Ramesh said that “For us this is about survival. We need to put electricity into people’s homes and do it cleanly. You in the west need to live with only one car rather than three. For you it is about luxury.” Luxury? Wait a minute! Perhaps if Ramesh has a family with a teenage driver he should rent a McMansion in one of our cul-de-sac suburban developments for awhile and try to live with one car. Good luck! He would quickly find out that to get to anything other than a nearby neighbor’s house that he would have to drive. If he takes the car to work his wife would be either stranded at home all day or unable to get to her job. If the teenage driver takes the car to see a friend in the evening or on weekends they would both be stranded at home. Ramesh would quickly come to realize that two cars are a necessity and even having that third car avoids a lot of conflicts. These houses don’t have three-car garages for nothing. To really change things Ramesh would have go back in time to the 1950s and stop our government from building the interstate highway system and subsidizing mortgages through the GI bill. In other words, he would have to stop the things that made building our sprawling suburbs possible. We can’t now in 2009 turn back time. “The die has been cast.” If Ramesh and India are waiting for us to go from three cars to one car it promises to be a very long wait.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phase-out of “Super” Greenhouse Gases Through the Montreal Protocol Might Limit Climate Change

A report by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that using the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that are now being used in refrigerators and air conditioners as a substitute for chemicals that are responsible for the ozone hole, could be a major step in the fight against global warming. In an article from the Inter Press Service News Agency, a senior U.S. climate campaigner from EIA is quoted as saying that “An HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol will do far more for climate protection than the Kyoto Protocol has accomplished in its entire history or than Copenhagen will achieve in the next decade.” The HCFs are called “super” greenhouse gases because these molecules can trap hundreds or thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide. Phasing out HFCs is particularly important when considering projections of increased use of refrigerators and air conditioners in China and India between now and the year 2050. According to the EIA report, phasing out HFCs by 2050 would be the same as preventing from 118 to 224 billion tons of carbon dioxide being released. The G8 countries have made a commitment to phase-down HFCs. The members of the Montreal treaty next meet in November. So even with all the controversy over climate legislation in the U.S. and the bleak outlook for a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen maybe progress will still be made toward limiting climate change before it is too late.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Huge Antarctic Glacier Melting Much More Rapidly Than Believed

Here is yet another wake up call to the countries of the world that cannot agree on what to do about climate change, the massive West Antarctic Pine Island Glacier has been found to be melting four times faster than it was reported to be melting just 10 years ago. In an article posted on TimesOnline one of the British researchers who studied the glacier is quoted as saying “This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We’ve known that it’s been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this.” It is now predicted that if this accelerated melting continues the main section of the glacier will completely disappear in 100 years rather than the 600 years which was the previous estimate. Last year it was reported that this glacier was moving toward the sea at an accelerated rate of 7% greater than the previous year. Before the annual rate of increase was 1%. Scientists estimate that the melting of this glacier and the stationary ice behind it could raise sea level by about a foot. Adding that to predictions of sea level rise from other sources equals a more dire situation for coastal areas in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Seal the Climate Deal or Face Disaster Warns UN Secretary-General

As the countdown to the December climate meeting in Copenhagen continues, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, issued a stern warming in Seoul, South Korea that failure to reach an agreement will result in numerous devastating consequences. Reuters reports that Ban labeled climate change as a “fundamental threat to mankind.” The UN chief is so concerned about the lack of progress in negotiations so far that he has called for a special meeting of world leaders at the UN in New York City on September 22. This week the negotiators are at it again in Bonn, Germany trying to make progress on what appears to be a negotiation going nowhere. This negotiating process has been going on for almost 2 years now and so far there has been no breakthrough to bridge the gap in demands between the developed and developing countries. The two most important countries in this process, the US and China which presently account for almost one half of global warming pollution, remain far apart with China demanding that unless the US agrees to cut its emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 it will not agree to reduce its emissions and the US saying that it cannot reduce its emissions that much but that China must agree to reduce its emissions. The next most important country, India, has been saying that it will not agree to reduce its emissions under any circumstances but on a per capita basis its emissions will not rise above those of developed countries. With the Kyoto Protocol agreement ending in 2012 there is little time left to reach an agreement, ratify it, and then begin implementation. The scientists say that global emissions need to peak by 2015 to have any realistic chance of avoiding going over the warming threshold for catastrophic climate change. Under normal economic conditions global emissions increase by about 3%-4% annually so to level off by 2015 will take some doing. The good news is that in the past the world was able to reach an agreement to fix the problem of the ozone hole. The bad news is that the problem this time appears to be infinitely more complicated than finding substitute chemicals to keep air conditioners and refrigerators running.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Wind Turbine Syndrome a Possible Threat to Human Health

A prominent New York pediatrician, Nina Pierport, has identified a number of medical conditions caused by living close to wind farms, which she has dubbed the wind turbine syndrome. An article on her research was published in The Independent. Among the conditions that she says can be caused by wind farms are heart disease, migraines, vertigo, tinnitus, nausea, and sleep disturbance. Her research, which has been peer-reviewed, will be published in October. Dr. Pierpont has noted that not all people who live close to wind farms are susceptible. Her findings are based on a 5-year study of people living near wind farms in the US and four other countries. Central to her connecting wind turbines with various medical disorders is research conducted last year in the UK and Australia which showed that low-frequency vibrations and noise from the turbines can be transmitted through human ear bones. The research demonstrated that the human vestibular system is sensitive to low-frequency vibration, a phenomenon that was previously demonstrated in fish and frogs. The vibrations and low-frequency noise from the wind turbines therefore can cause abnormal stimulation of the vestibular system. Dr. Pierpont told The Independent that “The wind industry will try to discredit me and disparage me…This is not unlike the tobacco industry dismissing health issues from smoking.” Further research will surely be needed to prove that the wind turbine syndrome actually exists. But in the meantime Dr. Piermont’s research no doubt will be used as ammunition by opponents of wind farms when the siting is anywhere near residential areas and may be considered by planners when it comes to choosing sites.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Doubts Raised about Effectiveness of White Roofs for Combating Global Warming

The US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has advocated painting roofs white as a way to limit global warming. The advantage of white roofs over dark roofs is that white roofs reflect most of the sunlight hitting the roof back out into space whereas dark roof absorb most of the sunlight as heat. An article in the Washington Post says that according to Chu recent research shows that by painting about 63% of the roofs white in 100 large cities in temperate and tropical regions around the world that would equate to removing all of the cars in the world from the road for 10 years. However, the Post article notes that climate scientist Ken Caldiera from the Carnegie Institution in Stamford, California is less than enthralled with idea. Says Caldiera “It’s hard enough, in many of the cities in the world, to keep the streets swept, much less to keep the city reflective.” If painting roofs white includes slanted roofs such as those on houses, that raises the problem of aesthetics as the Post article points out. Of course, there are other things that can be done with roofs to help the cause besides painting them white. They can be covered with solar panels. Also, instead of white roofs they can be turned into green roofs by covering them with soil and adding plants. In any case, for flat roofs at least, white roofs, green roofs, and solar roofs all seem preferable to dark roofs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

US Secretary of Energy Advocates Geoengineering Scheme

Last month President Obama’s chief scientific advisor John Holdren stirred things up by saying geoengineering schemes should not be taken "off the table" as a means of fighting global warming. Now Obama’s Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has advocated one such scheme in a speech in London. His statement is unlikely to kick up much political dust however because this was not some scheme that could be attacked as scientific madness but simply painting roofs white and making roads the color of concrete. White roofs and light-colored roads reflect sunlight back into space and thereby prevent heating. According to The Independent Chu said that “…if you look at all the buildings and make all the roofs white, and if you make the pavement a more concrete-type of color than a black-type of color, and you do this uniformly... It's the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years.... It's actually geoengineering." Wonder whether we will hear that word soon from Congress.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gadget Happy Consumers Threaten Greenhouse Gas Targets

It looks like we may be Twittering and I-Phoning our way out of a chance to limit global warming. The addiction to being connected and entertained via electronic devices on a 24/7 basis has been increasing the consumption of energy around the world just as the need to reduce energy consumption has become critical to the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. An article in The Guardian says that a study by the International Energy Agency forecasts that the total energy consumed by information, communication, and consumer technologies will triple in only two decades. By the end of this year it is expected that there will be 1,000,000,000 personal computers in the world. As computers continue to advance with more powerful processors, greater memory capacity, etc. they require more energy. There are nearly 2,000,000,000 televisions in the world and the new large plasma-screen TVs are particularly energy hungry. Wind turbines and solar panels will not be able to replace fossil fuels if energy demand keeps rising. The conclusion seems inescapable that the digital lifestyle is on a collision course with nature. The Director of the International Energy Agency, Nobuo Tanaka, is quoted as saying “Despite anticipated improvements in the efficiency of electronic devices, these savings are likely to be overshadowed by the rising demand for technology.” In other words, if we want to have a habitable planet maybe we should consider going back to reading books, listening to the radio, and talking on a corded phone. Okay, that may sound somewhat boring but it beats extinction any day of the week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Computer Simulation Study Shoots Down Cosmic Ray Explanation for the Cause of Global Warming

There is more than enough evidence that human sources are the main cause of global warming to conclude that strong action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but one alternative explanation for the warming that has not been completely ruled out is known as the “cosmic ray hypothesis.” According to this explanation solar activity has an effect on cosmic rays which reduces cloudiness, thereby resulting in more sunlight reaching the surface of the earth which leads to increased warming. Science Daily reports that Peter Adams and Jeff Pierce, scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Dalhousie University (Halifax, Canada), respectively, developed a computer model to test this hypothesis and reported in Geophysical Research Letters that there were not enough changes in the concentrations of particles affecting clouds to make any difference in the climate. Adams told Science Daily that he expects the results of the computer simulation to be challenged but thinks the results will withstand any questioning. The history of science is full of controversial explanations eventually proving to be correct but it appears this will not be the case for the cosmic ray hypothesis.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Plans for New UN Climate Agreement Lack Ambitious Targets for Reducing Emissions

If anyone expects that the Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by a new UN climate agreement that finally addresses what climate scientists say needs to be done to avoid a climate catastrophe it looks like they will be sorely disappointed. Reuters has analyzed plans submitted by developed nations for a new pact and the targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions are not much stronger than the tepid ones of the Kyoto Protocol. Reuters concluded that the cuts called for range from 9 to 16 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol calls for a 5 percent reduction in emissions from developed countries by 2012. What do the climate scientists say is needed? According to the 2007 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions reductions of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels are needed by 2020. The cuts may even need to be steeper based on emissions data obtained after the report was released. For all the pronouncements we have heard from leaders of the developed countries that global warming needs to be finally addressed based on scientific knowledge none of them apparently are willing to do it. Perhaps at the final hour the leaders of the developed countries will face the facts and finally do what is needed but right now it seems far more likely that they will postpone taking the necessary steps even though postponement may almost guarantee future disaster.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Carbon Dioxide Increasing at a Record Rate in the Arctic

Measurements of atmospheric CO2 levels in northern Norway show that last week the levels hit a peak of over 397 parts per million (ppm). What was even more alarming than the actual level was the rate of increase because compared with the 2008 peak level the increase was more than 2.5 ppm. Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the Norwegian Polar Institute, Johan Strom, told The Guardian that “It is not the level of CO2 that is the problem, because the earth will adapt. What is very worrying is the speed of change. Levels [at this measuring station] are now increasing 2-3 ppm a year. The rate of increase is much faster than only 10-20 years ago. You can almost see the changes taking place. Never before have CO2 levels increased so fast.” The level of CO2 increased annually by about 1.5 ppm from 1970 to 2000 but has accelerated to about 2.1 ppm during this decade. The measurements obtained in the Arctic are typically a little higher than those obtained in Hawaii by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A climate scientist from the Met Office Hadley Center in Britain, Dr. Vicky Pope, said that “These are quite large numbers. It sounds like this is an Arctic phenomenon. It fits with the general increase in emissions. You would expect the concentrations of CO2 to grow.” Despite all this alarming information we still hear reports that leaders in China and India and even in the United States contend that coal needs to play a large role in meeting future energy needs. This vision of the future which includes more coal burning is not very promising.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Methane Increases in Atmosphere for Second Year in a Row

There is more evidence that atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas methane are trending upward again after a decade of stability. This bad news comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Methane doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere as the number one greenhouse gas carbon dioxide but an equivalent amount of methane can trap much more heat. A big question is why are methane levels increasing? The answer that we do not want is that the main source of the increase is melting permafrost in the Arctic region. That would mean that the dreaded positive feedback mechanism of global warming releasing methane from the permafrost which in turn would cause more global warming, etc. has kicked in enough to show up in atmospheric measurements. Hopefully there is some other explanation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Expansion of Antarctic Sea Ice Attributed to Ozone Hole

With our planet heating up it would be expected that the sea ice around Antarctica would be shrinking like the sea ice in the Arctic. However, over the past few decades the reverse has been true. This contradiction of expanding ice in a warming world can be attributed to the ozone hole over the Antarctic region according to scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and NASA. In an article from Reuters the explanation given by the scientists is that their research shows that the ozone hole disrupts the wind patterns around Antarctica, causing more frequent wind to blow off the ice-covered continent and thereby cool the sea leading to more ice formation. In addition, the wind blows the existing ice away from shore leaving open sea water which becomes frozen from the cold wind. If the scientists are correct that the ozone hole is responsible for sea ice expanding rather than contracting it would seem likely that the Antarctic sea ice should start contracting at some point during this century because of global warming since it is expected that the ozone levels in the upper atmosphere will fully recover by the end of this century.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama’s Science Advisor Gets the G Word (Geoengineering) Back in the Headlines

Speaking about his own personal views, President Obama’s chief scientific advisor John Holdren told the Associated Press that geoengineering could not be excluded as a possible option when it comes to addressing the problem of climate change. As reported in The Guardian, Holdren said "It's got to be looked at. We don't have the luxury of taking any approach off the table." With regard to one geoengineering scheme, cloud seeding, which could help cool the earth but also have the undesirable side effect of making the oceans more acidic, Holdren said that “We might get desperate enough to use it.” His attitude seems to be reasonable considering the alternative which is simply to try nothing if we cannot stop the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and resulting warming. However, how will we know when to try cloud seeding or some other geoengineering scheme? With a lag time of several decades between emissions and their full impact scientists may believe that the point has come long before the general public. Even today that may explain why the climate scientists are having such a difficult time translating their sense of urgency to the public.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ice Bridge of the Wilkins Ice Shelf Shatters

Within a period of only 48 hours the ice bridge that appears to hold the Connecticut-sized Wilkins Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula went from being intact to shattering. Glaciologist David Vaughan with the British Antarctic Survey told Reuters that “It’s amazing how the ice has ruptured.” Vaughn told BBC News that the ice shelf was stable for a long period time but began to retreat during the 1990s. He said that “The fact that it’s retreating and now has lost connection with one of its islands is really strong indication that the warming of the Antarctic is having an effect on yet another ice shelf.” So far during the past 50 years six ice shelves in this area of Antarctica have completely collapsed. According to Vaughn, the Wilkins Ice Shelf is soon likely to be the seventh.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Antarctic Ice Shelf Appears Set to Collapse

Back in January it was announced that the demise of the Wilkins Ice Shelf was imminent, with its ice bridge that attaches it to a couple of frozen islands off the Antarctic Peninsula having been reduced at its narrowest point to only a little more than 500 yards. Here it is in April and this ice shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is still here, but it looks like its time is about up according to a report by the Associated Press. Its ever-narrowing ice bridge was observed to have new rifts this week and a large block of ice broke off from the bridge according to the European Space Agency. Scientists are not sure whether the breakup of the ice shelf is being caused by global warming but with the average temperature having risen almost 4°F during last five decades global warming would certainly have to be seen as a possible cause. There are no ice sheets being held back from sliding into the sea by the Wilkins Ice Shelf so there is no concern about a rise in sea level from its demise. That appears to be the only good news from this unfolding event.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Move Over CO2, Here Comes NF3 and SO2F2

While most of the attention has been focused on the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when it comes to global warming, two little known greenhouse gases, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfuryl fluoride (SO2), are rapidly increasing in concentration, although their levels are still low. The latest measurements published were made by a team of scientists from the US and Australia. In a story posted on RedOrbit News, one of the scientists, Dr. Paul Fraser from the Center for Australian Weather and Climate research, is quoted as saying that “these gases have significant global warming potential.” Somewhat ironically nitrogen trifluoride is used in the manufacture of thin-film solar panels. It is also used in the manufacture of various type of electronic devices including liquid-crystal flat panel screens. Sulfuryl fluoride is used in fumigation. Dr. Fraser believes that in addition to likely setting targets for the better known greenhouse gases, it is likely targets will be set for these two other greenhouse gases in any revision of the Kyoto Protocol.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Controversial Iron-Seeding Experiment Produces a lot of Algae but Little CO2 Storage

After dumping six tons of iron filings into the Southern Ocean from the German research ship the Polarstern the scientists who conducted this geoengineering experiment have said that although they did manage to stimulate the growth of algae little of the carbon dioxide taken up by these microscopic organisms wound up on the floor of the ocean. Instead, most of the algae entered into the food chain as they were consumed by tiny organisms which in turn were consumed by somewhat larger organisms. One of the scientists, Professor Victor Smetacek, told BBC News that “What it means is the Southern Ocean cannot sequester the amount of carbon dioxide that one had hoped.” This experiment, which was considered as large scale, at least by protesters, covered 300 sq km of ocean. But it seems to be in fact rather small compared to what a company called Climos is planning. BBC News reports that this company plans to carry out an iron fertilization experiment that could cover up to 40,000 sq km of ocean. Considering all the protests surrounding this experiment using the Polarstern it seems almost certain that the protests will be even much larger if it appears that the Climos experiment will be carried out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Royal Society Is Preparing a Geoengineering Feasibility Report

Another sign that desperation is setting in among scientists when it comes to combating global warming is that Britain’s Royal Society is putting together a report on the feasibility of using geoengineering. In an article posted on Times Online the gravity of the situation as viewed by the scientists is perhaps summed up by one of the contributors to the report, Professor Brian Launder, who says that unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced or geoengineering can be used successfully “civilization as we know it will end within our grandchildren’s lifetime.” It would seem that simply by this academy of scientists issuing a report on geoengineering that this controversial approach to tackling global warming will gain more credibility. An argument against pursuing possible geoengineering solutions is that it will take attention away from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the argument that you need a Plan B if you are approaching the end of what we call civilization or anything even close to that and Plan A fails seems the more convincing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

About Four of Every Ten Americans Believe Global Warming Is Being Exaggerated

Despite the fact that over the last few years there have many scientific reports showing that earlier reports underestimated the effects of global warming a recent Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is exaggerated has increased from 30% in 2006 to 41%. Conversely, the percentage of who think that global warming is being underestimated has dropped from 38% in 2006 to 28%. Apparently, as the climate scientists describe the situation as becoming more dire the public perception has not moved accordingly in that direction. Rather, denial of the science is becoming stronger.

The explanation for these numbers can only be guessed at. The first thing that comes to mind is that the efforts of the right wingers to sow doubt about global warming has been increasingly successful. It seems clear that constant repetition of erroneous facts works. It worked in creating doubt that the ozone hole was not caused by human sources. Even many environmentalists began to believe that the ozone hole was caused by volcanic eruptions because that bit of erroneous information was repeated so often, even after it was proven beyond doubt that it was wrong. So now we hear over and over again that it is not warming but actually cooling, that the Arctic ice cap is not really rapidly shrinking during the summers, etc. Other possible explanations of why so many Americans think global warming is being exaggerated include a failure of the mainstream media to do a good job in reporting the issue, the power of psychological denial mechanisms, and good old American optimism.

Whatever the cause, with so many believing that global warming is being exaggerated, it doesn’t bode well for politicians trying to seriously address the issue. In many congressional districts and even in a number of states those who believe that global warming is being exaggerated are probably in the majority. Obama knows how to write and deliver speeches. Hopefully he can up with one that can move enough minds to believe in the dire predictions of climate scientists before it is too late.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Forget about Limiting Global Warming to 2°C Says Climate Expert

Some very sobering opinions on global warming are emanating from climate scientists gathered in Copenhagen for an international climate meeting. A particularly gloomy picture of the situation comes from Professor Katharine Richardson, chair of the scientific conference’s steering committee. As reported by the Times Online, Professor Richardson said in an interview that “We can forget about the 2°C. We are now facing the situation where we have to avoid a 5°-6°C rise in temperature.” The 2°C mark of course is the amount that many climate scientists have been saying is the most that global temperature can rise from preindustrial times without kicking off catastrophic climate change. Professor Richardson says “What we know now is that we are we facing the worst case scenario.” She came to this extremely gloomy conclusion after looking through hundreds of scientific papers that had been submitted to the conference. It seems hard to imagine that any politicians will embrace this forecast for certain disaster. How can a leader not express any hope except the hope that an even worse catastrophe than one certain to come can possibly be avoided? Certainly they would have to at least express the hope that some sort of geoengineering scheme would come to the rescue. Or, at least in democracies, the people could elect deniers and take comfort in global warming denial as so many Americans do today.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

China May Be Incapable of Lowering Carbon Dioxide Emissions

For those getting optimistic that with a new carbon-cutting U.S. administration in place there is good reason to believe that the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide my soon be dropping to levels that can combat global warming a reality check comes in the form research results from Dabo Guan from the University of Cambridge and colleagues from the U.S. and Norway who have concluded that China, which contributes about one fourth of all greenhouse gas emissions today, may not have the capability to cut emissions during the next two decades. An article posted on Spiegel Online says that these scientists have concluded that even with substantial use of energy efficiency measures and the latest energy technology carbon dioxide emissions for China will increase by 80% from 2002 levels by 2030. This is based on a projection that demand for electricity would triple in China as more roads and airports are built and the Western lifestyle with all of its electrical appliances and electronic gadgets continues to spread. It was assumed that the Chinese would use coal sequestration and storage for every new coal plant and that this technology would actually work, which is far from proven. It was also assumed unrealistically that by 2030 China would get 40% of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and hydro; no country has achieved that yet. Is there any hope? Guan’s advice is that the Chinese should not follow the typical energy-intensive lifestyles of people in the West. Unfortunately, it is very hard to imagine that advice being followed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Media Blamed for Public’s Lack of Concern about Global Warming

While the world’s leading climate scientists paint increasingly grim scenarios about where global warming is leading, various polls confirm that the public is relatively unconcerned. The blame for this apathy in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that human civilization seems to be heading for almost certain disaster on a scale that is unprecedented is attributable to the media according to Dr. Neil Gavin from the School of Politics and Communications Studies at Liverpool University. Science Daily reports that Dr. Gavin and his research colleagues found fewer articles published in the media on climate change over a 3-year period than are published on health matters during a period of one month. Dr. Gavin concludes that “Climate change…may not be high enough on the media agenda to stimulate the sort of public concern that prompts concerted political action.” It is difficult to know what it would take for the media to cover global warming for this type of political action to result. Most parameters of global warming are incremental. Global temperatures are increasing as predicted but the rate is only about .2C per decade. Sea level is rising as predicted but the increase is only about 3 to 4 mm per year. The atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have gone off the charts compared with the previous thousands of years but it only has been increasing by about 2 parts per million annually. These trends projected into the next several decades are ominous to say the least according to almost all climate scientists but it is difficult for these dire projections about the future to compete with a collapsing economy, wars and threats of terrorism, new information of the risks of heart disease and cancer, etc. The day that the media provides adequate coverage of global warming in time to provoke concerted political action to avert catastrophic climate change may just never arrive.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

US Climate Expert Says Global Warming Could Get “Out of Control” by End of this Century

The predictions on climate change by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the years keep getting gloomier and gloomier, but a leading climate scientist from Stanford University, Chris Field, thinks the IPCC's latest predictions are not gloomy enough. A report by Agence France-Presse posted on Yahoo News says that Field, a senior member of the IPCC, believes that a greater-than-predicted increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 to 2007, mainly attributable to coal burning to generate more electricity in developing countries, has increased the potential for disastrous effects of global warming. He warns specifically about higher temperatures increasing the possibility of tropical forests burning as a result of drying out and Arctic tundra thawing, each of which could potentially release huge amounts of greenhouse gases. This would set up a positive feedback mechanism which Field says “could spiral out of control by the end of the century.” Field says that “We don’t want to cross a critical threshold where this massive release of carbon starts to run on autopilot.”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Emergency Meeting of Climate Scientists Scheduled to Break Political Logjam

In what almost sounds like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie, the Guardian reports that climate scientists from around the world will hold an emergency meeting in Denmark next month to try to get the politicians moving on fighting global warming. An update will be published on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report of two years ago which will be more specific on some issues such as prediction of sea level rise. It would seem that there is already far and away enough information about the climate change crisis to warrant all-out action to stop global warming, so it is a little hard to fathom what this meeting will accomplish. The public doesn’t seem concerned enough to take to the streets and demand action so most politicians seem content to fiddle away as the disaster unfolds. Gradual warming with lag times of decades isn’t the type of crisis that will arouse the masses. The past two decades of mostly apathy is evidence of that.

Friday, January 30, 2009

New Highly Energy Efficient Light Bulb Can Burn for 100,000 Hours and Will Only Cost a Few Bucks

Researchers from Cambridge University in England have developed a relatively inexpensive way to manufacture a light bulb that is three times more energy efficient than a compact fluorescent bulb and should last an amazing 60 years according to an article in the Telegraph. Gallium nitride, which is used for special types of lights such as camera flashes, is also used in making these new bulbs. The breakthrough came in the manufacturing process which will permit a bulb to be sold for only a few dollars instead of almost fifty dollars. Another plus for the new bulbs is that they can be dimmed whereas an ordinary compact fluorescent can not. If these bulbs, which supposedly will be available for purchase in two years, are as good as advertised, this raises the issue of whether to continue replacing ordinary incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents or wait for the new bulbs to arrive in the stores. That should give Al Gore something to ponder.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Controversial Ocean Fertilization Experiment Has Begun

According to BBC News, scientists aboard the German research ship the Polarstern have begun dumping iron particles into an area of the Scotia Sea east of Argentina in an ocean fertilization experiment. The expedition had been suspended by the German government because of concerns that it violated the UN’s Convention On Biological Diversity. But with the expedition reauthorized by the German government the experiment is being carried out. The BBC article says that 6 tons of iron sulfate are being dumped into the ocean, although it has been reported that the ship set out with 20 tons.

This ocean fertilization experiment is taking place at a time when a new published research report described in an article posted at Yahoo News provides both good and bad news for the idea of dumping iron into the ocean to stimulate phytoplankton blooms as a way of countering global warming. The good news is that the research team, which was led by Raymond Pollard of the National Oceanography Centre of Southhampton in England, found that plankton were much more abundant in ocean water high in iron content than in ocean water that was iron-poor, suggesting that adding iron will produce plankton blooms. The bad news was that the research team found that only about 10% of the phytoplankton actually wind up on the bottom of the ocean. The remaining 90% don’t sink all way down and eventually, perhaps after decades or even longer, the carbon dioxide that the plankton had taken up from the atmosphere through photosynthesis gets back up to the surface. The smaller the percentage of carbon dioxide that gets permanently stored at the ocean bottom using this scheme the larger area of ocean that would be needed to have a significant affect on global warming, thereby maximizing costs and perhaps most importantly, risks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Study Finds Some Geoengineering Schemes Would Be Effective

It seems likely that the debate over geoengineering schemes to combat global warming will get kicked up a notch with the publication of a study that assessed the effectiveness of many such proposals. An article posted on ScienceDaily says that the study’s conclusion, which will probably rile many environmentalists, was that some of the schemes can be useful for helping us avoid climate change catastrophe. While a professor of environmental science at the British University of East Anglia where the study was conducted, Tim Lenton, is quoted as saying “We found that some geoengineering options could usefully complement mitigation [reduction in greenhouse gas emissions], and together they could cool the climate, but geoengineering alone cannot solve the climate problem,” this might not be enough to assuage those who see flying mirrors or particles of sulfur purposely dispersed in the atmosphere as future nightmares. Although geoengineering schemes only recently were largely thought of as being wacky it seems likely that if attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to lead mostly to frustration the seriousness with which geoengineering is regarded will grow. Unless something like a miracle occurs in Denmark at the end of this year when countries from all over the world sit down to decide how to tackle the global warming problem geoengineering’s stock will probably continue to rise in more quarters and the debate over geoengineering will likely grow more fierce.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ocean Fertilization Experiment off Antartica Is Halted

An article in the Telegraph reports that a planned experiment to dump 20 tons of iron sulfate into the Southern Ocean to create a 186-square-mile plankton bloom to soak up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been stopped by the German government because of concerns that the experiment violates the UN’s Convention on Biodiversity. This should bring relief to environmentalists who have been worried that this large experiment could have resulted in an ecological disaster. The Polarstern, the German research ship carrying the iron, left South Africa with scientists on board from Germany, India, and the UK about two weeks ago. About one week later the experiment was placed on hold by the German government so that a group of international scientists could review it. It appears now that this global warming geoengineering experiment has been terminated before the review was completed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bill McKibben Asking People to Join Civil Disobedience Action at Washington, DC Coal Plant

Al Gore said last fall that "If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration," and now author and climate activist Bill McKibben has issued a statement asking for volunteers to join a massive civil disobedience action at the Capitol Power Plant in the District of Columbia on Monday, March 2. According to Wikipedia this coal-burning plant supplies steam and cooled water to the Capitol Building and its surrounding complex. The last time is supplied electricity to the Capitol Building was in 1952. In 2006 the plant put out 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Although the plant is only about 1/100 the size a typical coal-fired power plant it has the reputation of putting out a large amount of nasty particulate matter, the size of which is especially harmful to humans. The civil disobedience action is being timed to coincide with a large meeting in DC of the youth climate movement PowerShift ’09. In an e-mail McKibben writes the following:
There are moments in a nation's--and a planet's--history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.
Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level--below 350 parts per million CO2--lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.
The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated. It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants.
Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day--it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.
With about half of the electricity in the US coming from burning coal and projections that electricity demand will be soaring breaking the coal habit is going to be difficult.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Global Warming About to Claim Another Antarctic Ice Shelf

According to an article in Reuters, scientists have found that the Connecticut-sized Wilkins Ice Shelf is now attached to the Antarctic Penninsula by a strip of ice that is only slightly more than 500 yards at its narrowest point. About 60 years ago the strip measured about 60 miles in width. Glaciologist David Vaughn says that the demise of the ice shelf is imminent. This will be the tenth Antarctic ice shelf lost to global warming that scientists have recorded. If an ice shelf is preventing ice sheets on land from speeding up and sliding into the ocean then the loss of an ice sheet can have serious consequeces as ice sheets enter the ocean and raise sea levels. Because the Wilkins Ice Shelf is not holding back ice sheets this current situation does not raise this concern. If all the ice from Antarctica melted sea level would be raised by nearly 200 feet. That may seem improbable within the next millineum but according to Purdue University climate scientist Matthew Huber in an article on the nzherald website if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed the levels of carbon dioxide would be high enough to melt the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets within 100 to 200 years. At the lower end of that range some babies alive today would be expected to witness this total melting of ice in their lifetime.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Iron-Dumping Ocean Fertilization Experiment Placed on Hold

Although the German ice breaker Polarstern continues to steam toward the Southern Ocean to carry out an ocean fertilization experiment by dumping 20 tons of ferrous sulfate into the waters of the Scotia Sea near the Antarctic Penninsula, whether the experiment is actually performed is now in doubt. According to a report in the Mercury, the pleas of several international environmental NGOs to stop the experiment has resulted in the German government organizing an independent review of the experiment by international scientists. The results of this review will determine whether or not the iron gets dumped. The purpose of dumping the iron is to produce plankton blooms which will pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to combat the carbon dioxide emissions problem which is a main driver of global warming. One of the NGOs which is opposed to the experiment is the ETC Group. Jim Thomas of this organization says that carrying out this experiment “will be a clear defiance of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.” This agreement, which placed a global moratorium on ocean fertilization activities because of ecological risks, was signed in May 2008 by 191 countries. Whether this experiment is actually stopped should be known soon. The head of public relations for the German research institute that owns the Polarstern told the Mercury that they hoped that an answer would come from the scientific review within one week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scheme to Cool the Earth with Sunlight Reflecting Crops

Forget about increasing the reflection of sunlight to slow global warming by launching mirrors into space or dispersing sulfur particles into the atmosphere, all that is required is to replace standard crops such as wheat and barley with varieties that are more light reflective. At least that is what Andy Ridgewell from the University of Bristol claims. The Guardian reports that Ridgewell and a team of researchers used climate modeling to determine the effects of planting different crop varieties on global temperature. The scientists found that simply by planting the most reflective variety a cooling of 0.1C would be obtained. Projections of greater cooling in the future would be based on developing even more reflective varieties. Ridgewell points out that there would not have to be any change in the type of crops or amounts of crops, the only change would be that crops would reflect more light. It seems hard to believe that the solution to the global warming problem could be as simple as planting different varieties of wheat, barley, and corn. Perhaps it is too simple but at least if this scheme fails people will be well fed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2008 Ties 2001 for 8th Place on Warmest Year List

Analysis of preliminary global temperature data by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that 2008 was the eighth warmest year since 1880, tying 2001 for the honor. According to NOAA, over the last three decades the global temperature has been increasing by 0.29 degree F (or 0.16 degree C) per decade. Using a different method of analysis but the same data NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that 2008 was the ninth warmest year. In any event, the data show that compared to a few decades ago the planet is rapidly heating up and projections are that we “haven’t seen nothin’ yet.” In fact, Purdue University climate scientist Matthew Huber, who applies climate models to past climates says that these models may be underestimating future warming. The NZHerald, a New Zealand website, reports that Huber used one of the same models used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but to make predictions of warming during a warming period 55 million years ago when there was a similar rapid increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and found the temperatures predicted by the model were lower than what actually occurred. The NZHerald site reported that Huber thinks his finding shows that the model is probably predicting temperatures on the low side during the current period of global warming. Yet more evidence that the IPCC has been underestimating the global predicament that we have created.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Iron-Dumping Ship Leaves Harbor for Ocean Geoengineering Experiment

Carrying 20 tons of ferrous sulfate, a ship has left South Africa to dump the iron into the Southern Ocean with the hope it will spur a plankton bloom in order to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to a New Scientist article, this is not a commercial venture but a scientific expedition and it has the scientific backing of the German, Indian, and UK governments. With regard to concerns that this experiment could have undesirable consequences, Ken Caldeira from Stanford University says in the article that such a small amount of iron “is unlikely to have a lasting effect” but “The rational concern is that experiments will lead down some slippery slope - that small experiments could be scaled up without any regulation.” It may be prudent not to begin such experiments but it seems they are going ahead. We could screw up the ocean more than we already have. Perhaps we should heed the words of Dr. Glen Barry who writes in his Climate Change Blog that “Geoengineering is indicative of both humanity's ignorance and laziness when confronted with tremendous challenges of their own making such as climate change.” It appears unlikely that such sentiments will prevail.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Reducing Soot Emissions Could Quickly Slow Global Warming

With all the attention on reducing carbon dioxide emissions as the primary means of fighting global warming relatively little attention has been paid to another major cause of warming, soot. The Independent reports that a published study by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that simply reducing the emissions of soot would quickly produce a cooling effect. Unlike carbon dioxide which can remain in the atmosphere for more than one hundred years soot rapidly falls back to earth to so the time between reducing emissions and cooling is short. According to the study the two most effective ways to reduce soot emissions would be by “reducing emissions from domestic fuel burning” in developing countries and “reduction in surface transport emissions in North America.” Since the technologies to reduce these emissions is readily available it would seem that the main question is whether governments will act. The wealthier countries would have to help the developing countries pay for technologies that eliminate soot emissions, e.g., solar stoves, and strict regulations would have to be imposed on the trucking industry in North America. Compared to what it will take to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions this seems like a relatively easy goal to achieve. If effective action is taken, not only might global warming be reduced but numerous lives would be saved from a reduction in toxic air pollutants.