Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Cold Spring"

By Elizabeth Bishop

Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
-exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
-Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.

The poem chosen by Maryl Streep for a Lincoln Center Poetry Gala

"McCarthyism and Climate Change"

By Clive Hamilton in Huffington Post:

Is it strange that Sarah Palin, who once thought Africa was a country, now quotes verbatim from emails stolen from Britain's Climatic Research Unit or that Lord Monckton, a leading English climate denier, addresses a Tea Party rally in America?

Climate denial has outgrown the early lobbyist strategies of oil corporations and conservative think tanks. Since 1997, Republican rhetoric characteristically linked global warming to left-wing beliefs. But recently, tactics to discredit the opponents of climate change have expanded into efforts to intimidate them into silence as climate denial pitches itself to a right-wing, populist audience.

One symptom of this shift is the ongoing campaign of cyber-bullying directed at climate scientists themselves. Any climate scientist in the news now receives a torrent of aggressive and abusive emails. As Stanford's prominent climatologist Stephen Schneider says: "It's ugly death threat stuff; 'You belong in jail,' 'You should be executed.' [This] never happened... a year ago. [But] now it's off the charts."

The climate change deniers efforts to intimidate is not confined to verbal threats. Schneider reports that climatologist Ben Santer found a shredded animal on his doorstep late one night after someone rang his doorbell.

Targeting individuals at their residences is a strong indication that the intimidation campaign is determined and well-orchestrated. Internet sites like Climate Depot focus the efforts of an emerging army of aggressive bloggers. This reflects climate denial's jump from the world of think tanks into wider populist politics where the "global warming conspiracy" segues into a cauldron of right-wing grievances. Climate Depot is managed by a conservative activist -- Mark Marano -- famous for demanding that climate scientists be "publicly flogged." The site supplies a steady stream of anti-warming tirades from other conservative icons including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter.

But the vilification of climate scientists and others engaged in the climate debate is not confined to the blogosphere or to Fox News. Its most influential sources are mainstream organs like the Wall Street Journal and London's Daily Mail. Clearly, Rupert Murdoch's 2007 conversion from global warming skeptic to convinced believer has had very little impact on the editorial content of his newspapers which continue to conduct a global campaign to discredit climate change.

In February, the campaign against climate science took a sinister turn when Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (R) demanded criminal investigations against 17 climate scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A document prepared by Inhofe's staff claims these scientists are guilty either of manipulating IPCC data or of obstructing its release.

Political accusations of criminality against leading scientists smacks of McCarthyism, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that Inhofe's colleague, Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin (McCarthy's home state), wrote to the IPCC demanding these scientists be blacklisted from all further work with the IPCC.

The populist shift has emboldened the organized arm of climate change denial. Last February, the South Dakota legislature passed a resolution calling for "balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools." In South Dakota, the type of resolution that has urged the teaching of creationism alongside evolution will now balance climate change science alongside the teaching of "a variety of climatological, meteorological [and] astrological" factors that affect the climate.

The bold new tactics of climate denialists now include an extensive campaign of black operations; break-ins into climate scientists' offices, incidents of industrial espionage directed against green groups, and attempts like that against Britain's CRU to infiltrate the computer system at the Canada's University of Victoria by people posing as technicians.

It seems very clear now that populist anger is encouraged by a network of conservative think tanks funded, in part, by Big Carbon. These links, which have been heavily documented, are close enough to provoke the Royal Society to take the unprecedented step of writing to Exxon Mobil asking the company to desist from funding anti-science groups.

The various arms of these climate change denial efforts are united by their loathing of environmentalism. Environmentalism is variously seen to be the enemy of individual freedom, an ideology of smug elites, an attack on the consumerist basis of capitalism, or the vanguard of world government.

For deniers, accepting climate science would mean admitting that unrestrained capitalism has jeopardized humanity's future. But this painful admission would mean more than that environmentalists were right all along, it would initiate a demand for comprehensive and urgent government intervention. This would be intolerable. It's easier to reject climate science and conduct business as usual even though it means humanity's future is "harsh, brutish and short."

"Ocean Acidification Hits Northwest Oyster Farms"

From ABC:

Mark Wiegardt and Sue Cudd have each dedicated about 30 years of their lives to bringing oysters to our tables. Now the two have found themselves in the forefront of one of the newest, most pressing environmental issues of our time: ocean acidification.

It all began with the oyster larvae at their Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tilamook, Ore.

"It first started in 2007. We had a situation here when all of a sudden, our larvae started dying," said Wiegardt.

"At first we started wondering, what is wrong? Bacterial problems? What are we doing wrong?" Cudd said.

Desperate, Wiegardt and Cudd turned to expert oceanographer Burke Hales and his team from Oregon State University to study the new and alarming enigma. They learned that the Pacific waters piped into their hatchery from nearby Netarts Bay were the cause of the dying larvae.

Whiskey Creek's 8,000 gallon water tanks take in water from the Pacific Ocean and Netarts Bay. The water used in the hatchery is rough-filtered and heated, and pumped into the tanks that house roughly 48 million swimming larvae. If the larvae stop swimming, that's a problem.

The scientists went to work and learned that something was making the oceans too acidic and preventing the oyster larvae from growing shells. No shells means certain death.

When winds blew the ocean's deep carbon-rich waters onto the surface, hatcheries up and down the Northwest Pacific Coast began to suffer the same fate as Whiskey Creek.

"The chemistry is very simple. It is 101. Carbon dioxide makes the water more acidic, that is irrefutable," said Burke Hales, Oregon State University professor of oceanography.

Oceans act as sponges. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the oceans soak up one-quarter to one-third of all CO2 from fossil fuels. About 500 billion tons have been absorbed by the seas. Close to 22 million tons of C02 a day mix with the natural carbon of the ocean. But too much carbon and water makes the ocean too acidic.

Plants need carbon to grow, and animals exhale it with every breath. But too much carbon creates a problem. Where will it be stored, and how will it affect the chemistry of the planet?

"At first, scientists thought, Oh, isn't this great, the ocean's taking up carbon dioxide that's resulting in less greenhouse warming. And it's only later that scientists realize this carbon dioxide in the oceans forms carbonic acid, and that attacks the shells of marine organisms," said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institute at Stanford University.

According to the NRDC, ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Scientists have used mathematical models to demonstrate that if we continue to pollute, ocean acidity will double by the end of the century, compared with what it was in preindustrial times.

"While the effects are just beginning to be seen in our hatcheries, the oceans are now changing faster than they have ever changed over the last 200 million years," said Richard Freely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has been studying ocean acidification for 20 years.

"The effects can be seen in the weaker shells of oysters, clams, mussels, lobsters and shrimp. Smaller-shelled creatures, such as those at the bottom of the food chain, which most fish eat, are also dwindling away," said Freely. "Corals have a hard time forming too." Ocean acidity, said Freely, threatens the entire $2 billion U.S. shellfish industry.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, if carbon emissions continue on a path of business as usual, scientists predict vast areas of the Pacific, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans will become so corrosive that shellfish will dissolve, causing ripple effects throughout the food web.

"We're risking something that will really change the way the oceans are for the rest of human civilization," said Standord's Caldeira.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland

Photo by Albert Jakobsson
The beautiful Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland captured with an Aurora Borealis. There just happened to be a strong geomagnetic storm at the same time.
Though it registered a "7" on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of magnetic disturbances, the storm is expected to pass quickly. The silver lining, for those at high-latitudes anyway, is a beautiful show of auroras -- the result of high-energy particles from the sun smashing into oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere. As the molecules return to normal, they give off energy in the form of photons. The colors in the aurora depend on which atmospheric gas is being revved up by the invading electrons and how much energy is being exchanged. Oxygen emits greenish yellow or red light; Nitrogen generally produces blue.

AP Photo by Brynjar Gaudi

The volcano is erupting under a glacier...
The first one in March, which stopped a few days ago, had very beautiful lava fountains and I could go very close and take beautiful pictures. It was what we call here a tourist eruption.

This one, last week, was different. It started underneath a glacier nearby the first eruption. It melted down a lot of ice and we had huge floods. When the lava hits the water you have a huge explosion and it explodes into thin dust . You cannot go close to this eruption because it’s on top of a mountain and the explosions are huge. The hole is about 5,000 meters wide and 2 kilometers long. (Ragnar Sigurdsson)

The resulting ash has been drifting over Europe causing a huge disruption in air travel.

UK sends warships to rescue stranded Britons
LONDON – Britain sent Royal Navy warships on Monday to rescue those stranded across the Channel by the volcanic ash cloud and the aviation industry blasted European officials, claiming there was "no coordination and no leadership" in the crisis that shut down most European airports for a fifth day.

Eurocontrol, the air traffic agency in Brussels, said less than one-third of flights in Europe were taking off Monday — between 8,000 and 9,000 of the continent's 28,000 scheduled flights. Passengers in Asia who had slept on airport floors for days and were running out of money staged protests at airport counters.

All airports were open Monday in Spain and the country volunteered to become the new hub of Europe to get stranded passengers moving again. Infrastructure minister Jose Blanco said Spain could to take in around 100,000 people under the new emergency plan, which focuses on aircraft trying to bring Britons home from Asia, Latin America and North America.
Spain will also beef up train, bus and ferry services to get travelers to their destinations, he said.

European airlines sought financial compensation for a crisis that is costing the industry an estimated $200 million a day. British Airways said it was losing up to 20 million pounds ($30 million) a day and other airlines were also racking up huge losses.

Hundreds of thousands of travelers have been stuck since the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier begun erupting Wednesday for the second time in a month.

As pressure mounted from airlines, European civil aviation authorities were holding a conference call Monday about what steps could be taken toward opening airspace.

"It's embarrassing, and a European mess," said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association. "It took five days to organize a conference call with the ministers of transport and we are losing $200 million per day (and) 750,000 passengers are stranded all over. Does it make sense?"

In Paris, the IATA expressed its "dissatisfaction with how governments have managed it, with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership." The group urged governments to more urgently "focus on how and when we can safely reopen Europe's skies" — such as with more in-depth study of the ash cloud....

It's interesting to see how severely transportation can be disrupted by a natural event such as this.

As an Editor at the New York Times puts it:

When severe storms blow through, meteorologists can track their path and predict with considerable confidence when the disturbance will end. Volcanoes don’t blow through. Even with all of the sophisticated monitoring technology and expertise, no one knows when the eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull — the Icelandic volcano now venting ash into the atmosphere — will subside.

That uncertainty only deepens the sense of helplessness across Europe, where much of the airspace has been closed since late last week, stranding millions of passengers across the globe. Even President Obama had to forgo his planned trip to Poland for Sunday’s funeral of President Lech Kaczynski.

Like the ash cloud, the economic costs of this eruption are immense. The airlines, which estimate that they have lost about a billion dollars worldwide, are pressing officials to allow at least some flights to resume. For all that, the physical damage is minute, especially when compared with the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China. Luckily it has taken no lives.

What Eyjafjallajokull has done above all is force upon us a visceral awareness of our interconnected world — woven together by the crisscrossing of airline routes.... It will be a long time before we forget the threat that lies smoldering under an Icelandic glacier. Or its lesson that even in the 21st centry, our lives are still at the sufferance of nature.
Photo by Barcroft

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Cows on Drugs"

By DONALD KENNEDY in the New York Times:

NOW that Congress has pushed through its complicated legislation to reform the health insurance system, it could take one more simple step to protect the health of all Americans. This one wouldn’t raise any taxes or make any further changes to our health insurance system, so it could be quickly passed by Congress with an outpouring of bipartisan support. Or could it?

More than 30 years ago, when I was commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, we proposed eliminating the use of penicillin and two other antibiotics to promote growth in animals raised for food. When agribusiness interests persuaded Congress not to approve that regulation, we saw firsthand how strong politics can trump wise policy and good science.

Even back then, this nontherapeutic use of antibiotics was being linked to the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that infect humans. To the leading microbiologists on the F.D.A.’s advisory committee, it was clearly a very bad idea to fatten animals with the same antibiotics used to treat people. But the American Meat Institute and its lobbyists in Washington blocked the F.D.A. proposal.

In 2005, one class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, was banned in the production of poultry in the United States. But the total number of antibiotics used in agriculture is continuing to grow. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of this use is in animals that are healthy but are vulnerable to transmissible diseases because they live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

In testimony to Congress last summer, Joshua Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the F.D.A., estimated that 90,000 Americans die each year from bacterial infections they acquire in hospitals. About 70 percent of those infections are caused by bacteria that are resistant to at least one powerful antibiotic.

That’s why the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pharmacists Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials are urging Congress to phase out the nontherapeutic use in livestock of antibiotics that are important to humans.

Antibiotic resistance is an expensive problem. A person who cannot be treated with ordinary antibiotics is at risk of having a large number of bacterial infections, and of needing to be treated in the hospital for weeks or even months. The extra costs to the American health care system are as much as $26 billion a year, according to estimates by Cook County Hospital in Chicago and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, a health policy advocacy group.

Agribusiness argues — as it has for 30 years — that livestock need to be given antibiotics to help them grow properly and keep them free of disease. But consider what has happened in Denmark since the late 1990s, when that country banned the use of antibiotics in farm animals except for therapeutic purposes. The reservoir of resistant bacteria in Danish livestock shrank considerably, a World Health Organization report found. And although some animals lost weight, and some developed infections that needed to be treated with antimicrobial drugs, the benefits of the rule exceeded those costs.

It’s 30 years late, but Congress should now pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would ban industrial farms from using seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human health unless animals or herds are ill, or pharmaceutical companies can prove the drugs’ use in livestock does not harm human health.

The pharmaceutical industry and agribusiness face the difficult challenge of developing antimicrobials that work specifically against animal infections without undermining the fight against bacteria that cause disease in humans. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer to protect those at risk of increasing antibiotic resistance.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Extreme weather in spring harms agriculture in China


Extreme weather across China has affected agricultural production in many provinces, with its impact felt differently across the country.

A recent cold snap brought snow to the north part of China while a devastating drought continues to linger in southwest China's Yunnan, Guano, Guizhou and east China's Shandong.

The snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday hitting many parts of Heilongjiang Province, damaged more than 90,000 seedlings in the province. Direct economic losses were estimated at almost 600 million yuan, according to a provincial government spokesman Wednesday.

A cold snap in north China's Shaanxi Province, the country's biggest apple growing base, would also dent agricultural output.

The temperature plummeted to minus three degrees centigrade in some parts of Shaanxi on Wednesday, according to Shaanxi Meteorological Station.

"The frost brought by the cold snap will definitely harm my apple output this year," said Han Zhonggui, a villager of Luochuan county, Shaanxi Province.

In east China's Shandong Province, farmland affected by drought had increased from 300,000 Mu (20,000 hectare) on April 8 to 400,000 Mu (about 26,666 hectare) as of Wednesday, according to the provincial government.

The drought in southwest China's Yunnan and Guizhou provinces as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region also continues.

In most parts of Yunnan Province, temperatures had already risen to over 30 degrees centigrade with no rain forecasted in April, said the provincial Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters Tuesday.

"If the situation continues, the drought will severely affect this year's spring farming," said Liu Guowen, from Haidai town of Yunnan's Xuanwei City.

As of Tuesday, more than 121 million Mu of farmland had been affected by the lingering drought nationwide, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

"The extreme weather this year will surely affect the spring farming across the country to some extent this year," said Mao Liuxi, an agricultural meteorology expert at the National Meteorological Center.

Weather/Water Problems in Rio

Tragedy Strikes in Rio as Rain Leaves Over 100 (250) Dead (4-7-2010)

Between 8pm Monday night and 8am yesterday morning, almost twice as much rain fell on Rio de Janeiro than was expected for the entire month of April. Early reports have yet to assess the total number of casualties brought about by this highly unusual weather, but currently the death toll stands at over 100, with many more injured. The rains have collapsed buildings, triggered mudslides, and flooded thoroughfares. Thousands are left homeless. Officials have scrambled to maintain order, but as the rain continues to fall, some are beginning to wonder if climate change is to blame.

Rio's Poor are the Hardest Hit
The governor of Rio, Sergio Cabral, says that the biggest losses of life were due to mudslides in the city's poor, hillside communities, called favelas. In these regions, building regulations are virtually nonexistent and addressing safety concerns is difficult. Cabral criticized past administrations "who, by demagogy allowed in the past, high-risk areas to be occupied."

According to authorities, many other hillsides in Rio face a similar threat of landslides...

Weather extremes in Brazil have become a reality in recent years, as the country has faced record-breaking rains in some regions and long, devastating droughts in others. Often, when such unusual weather struck in years past, El Niño was assigned the blame. But this most recent storm is occurring after this year's El Niño had passed with average intensity.

After experiencing the latest round of extreme weather, some in Brazil wonder if this may be symptomatic of climate change. Ambiente Brasil, in posing the question "Who is to blame for the tragedy today in Rio?", sites climate expert Alexandre Mansur of Revista Época:
Now, it is good to prepare as extreme events may become more frequent in the coming years. Significant effects of climate change (when weather patterns become unrecognizable) will only begin from 2020. But already in this decade we will have, according to researchers, extraordinary events will become commonplace. The records that held every 20 years and marked a generation, begin to repeat themselves more regularly. It's a good reason to stop the construction in inappropriate places.

Rio de Janeiro Hit by Massive Storm Surge (4-10-2010)

One week after Rio De Janeiro suffered from torrential rains and deadly mudslides, the Brazilian city was dealt extreme waves and a massive storm surge.

A storm surge is an unusual rise in sea level on the coast due to a low pressure weather system and accompanying high winds.
An extra-tropical cyclone, or a storm that forms outside the tropics, formed along the coast of Rio and caused the storm surge. The features of this storm are similar to the Nor'easter that occurs along the East Coast of the U.S.

"Extra-tropical cyclones are common in the South Atlantic," said Alexandre Aguair of METSUL Meteorological Center in Brazil. "But they usually form along the coast of Argentina and in the Plata region."

Sometimes, storm surges affect the southern coast of Brazil but if the cyclone is very deep, the surge may reach the Southeast region.

"As this system developed much more to the North than usual, the surge didn't have an impact in the South, but it was a direct hit for Sao Paulo and mainly Rio," Aguair said.

Friday, April 09, 2010

"Humboldt Squid... Thriving-Thanks to Ocean Dead Zones"

From Scientific American:

Although many of the Pacific Ocean's big species are floundering, one large creature of the deep seems to be flourishing. The Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas, also known as jumbo squid, owing to its sizable nature) has been steadily expanding its population and range: whereas sightings north of San Diego were rare 10 years ago, the squid are now found as far north as Alaska.

Many researchers attribute the squid's recent success to the very climate, current and oxygen-level changes that have been hurting populations of other species in the diverse California Current.

"I find their adaptability and their perfection in dealing with anything nature throws at them to be a remarkable feature," says William Gilly, a professor of biology at Stanford University whose lab has spearheaded much of the U.S. work on Humboldt squid. "They're able to explore and take advantage of new environments that are compromised in any way." And they can move quickly, says John Field, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Center, adding: "They're capable of very large migration patterns." Gilly's group recorded one squid that was tagged in Monterey, Calif., and last detected around Mexico 17 days later.

Humboldt squid are formidable predators, reaching about two meters in length and 50 kilograms, dwarfing the 30-centimeter-long California market squid (Loligo opalescens) that often end up as calamari. (Despite their outsize nickname, however, jumbo squid are not the largest cephalopod in the seas—that honor goes to the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, rare specimens of which have measured more than five times the size of most Humboldt squid.) But their impressive size is just one of the things about these squid that keep divers, fishers and scientists fascinated.

Despite their often-unnerving abundance recently in coastal waters and commercial fisheries alike, little is known about the lives of these prodigious creatures of the deep.

Although these large squid are thought to live for only a year or two, they emerge from an egg measuring about one millimeter long. To sustain such rapid growth they appear to have nearly endless appetites.

A growing mass of these hungry squid could have a large impact on some fish stocks, especially those that are already faltering.

"They can eat pretty much all they want," Gilly says, noting that researchers have found a range of meals inside the squid, ranging from tiny krill to 40-centimeter-long hake—and even some salmon remains. Humboldts have even been known to eat each other.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"Wild Geese "

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver.

"How it will end"

"So what really will kill us? Greed, fear, short sightedness, and an inability to create a government that serves the public interest."

By Steve Kirsch

Modern humans have roamed the earth for the past 120,000 years. If we continue to act as we have in the past and as we are acting now, the scientific consensus is that there is now more than a 5% chance that human beings could be virtually extinct in as little as 90 years from now.

The reason you haven't heard about it though is because the press hasn't really connected the dots between 3 different highly respected scientific sources: IPCC consensus report, a paper that appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (that was cited by Time Magazine), and a book, "Six Degrees" by Mark Lynas, that was brought to my attention by Bob Corell, a leading climate scientist who appeared on 60 Minutes in 2006.

If you put the 3 sources together, you'll reach the same conclusion I did.

Here are the details...

Ostensibly, we will die due to the effects of global warming. By 2100, according to the IPCC consensus report (see Table SPM.3 on page 13 and footnote 5 on page 2 which explains the ranges in the table), there is a 5% chance that the average temperature of the planet will rise by more than 6.4ºC. That's in the report, clear as day, but nobody talks about it because only a few people understand exactly what that means to our planet. But one guy from the UK (who has hardly gotten any press in the US) Mark Lynas, has done the research on what this means. Lynas spent 3 years of his life poring over 10,000 scientific papers and found that, although it doesn't sound like a lot, a 6ºC temperature rise will pretty much wipe out just about every life form on the planet, us included. Although IPCC scientists had previously projected that there was only a 5% chance of more than a 6.4ºC warming by 2100, the assumptions on which those projections are based have already been exceeded, which is pointed out in this paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper points out that the assumptions in all 6 emission scenarios considered by the IPCC have already been exceeded. So that's why I am using the numbers from the A1FI scenario, which gave a 5% chance of exceeding 6.4ºC by 2100. If it doesn't happen by 2100, it will not be long after. I wrote a short web page "Why global warming should be every candidate's #1 priority" describing this in detail.

The bottom line is this: unless we change our ways, there is more than a 5% chance of a mass human extinction in less than 100 years. I'm just telling you what the overwhelming scientific consensus is. Whether or not you choose to believe it is, of course, up to you. If you do disagree, what is the scientific basis for your disagreement? Do you know something the scientists don't?

For some it will come much sooner. Australia will likely be mostly uninhabitable in 50 years from now (see Sydney 50 years to live Features The First Post).

So what really will kill us? Greed, fear, short sightedness, and an inability to create a government that serves the public interest.

Much as we may hate to admit it, our own government, which we empower to make decisions for us, is essentially no smarter than the frog in Gore's movie. Special interests, driven by short-term greed, control government decisions in America. Politicians, fearing they will be not be re-elected, pay attention to the people who are willing to spend big money to get their way. And despite all the awareness about global warming that has been generated to date, the public is still shortsighted and doesn't demand change. That lack of public outrage is why top staffers in the House complain that they can't pass even the simplest of measures to combat climate change, such as a bill to increase mileage standards for cars.

It's likely that we are not outraged because we will not feel the full impact of the ecological catastrophe we are creating today for another 30 to 50 years due to the thermal inertia of the ocean. The climate changes we are seeing today are just the tip of the iceberg; they are from our emissions from more than 30 years ago. Our emissions today are much higher than 30 years ago. But most people don't know that. They look out the window and things look fine. It seems just too impossible to believe that we could all be dead in less than 100 years. So we choose to ignore what the scientists tell us. The most unequivocal and important scientific consensus in our lifetime, and we choose to ignore it. How smart is that?

We are also too easily distracted by other seemingly more immediate issues such as terrorism, Iraq, healthcare and immigration to worry about things such as the survival of humanity. We think we can worry about that later. But we can't. By the time global warming has caused mass devastation, it will be way to late to do anything about it. The public can complain all they want...but it will be too late to make changes because the same "time delay" that has protected us for decades (the thermal inertia of the oceans) works the other way to make it impossible to reverse things quickly, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions completely. Our climate is like a battleship: it's direction can not change quickly. Today, we are like mariners in a fog heading straight for disaster. By the time we can clearly see the iceberg ahead, it will be too late to turn the battleship to avoid hitting it...

If we are going to save humanity from extinction, we had better be doing something about these 3 issues:

• global warming
• overpopulation
• the accelerating decline of every single major ecosystem

All of these trends are getting worse. None have been reversed at a global scale. We need action on all three. But right now, none of the candidates have the courage to even talk about serious solutions. In fact, on some issues, they won't even talk about the problem!

... Lester Brown does a great job of describing it in his wonderful book Plan B 2.0. Jared Diamond lays it all out in his book, Collapse. Diamond, Brown, George Monbiot, and others all point out that we have the technology to save ourselves, but simply lack the political will and leadership to do so...

What's ironic is that our fear of confronting and solving these problems makes no sense. If we do what must be done, there will be an incredible upside along the way - new jobs, and the inspiration that comes from working together on something that is greater than ourselves. There could be a final product of a healthier, happier humanity, with a planet shared by diverse and amazing creatures, if only people are willing to make the compromises needed to live sustainably....

"2 more glaciers gone from Glacier National Park"

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Glacier National Park has lost two more of its namesake moving icefields to climate change, which is shrinking the rivers of ice until they grind to a halt, a government researcher said Wednesday.

Warmer temperatures have reduced the number of named glaciers in the northwestern Montana park to 25, said Dan Fagre, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He warned the rest of the glaciers may be gone by the end of the decade.

"When we're measuring glacier margins, by the time we go home the glacier is already smaller than what we've measured," Fagre said.

From the Himalayas to Alaska, glacier melting has accelerated in recent decades as global temperatures increased. The meltoff shows the climate is changing, but does not show exactly what is causing temperatures to go up, Fagre said.

The park's glaciers have been slowly melting since about 1850, when the centuries-long Little Ice Age ended. They once numbered as many as 150, and 37 of those glaciers eventually were named.

A glacier needs to be 25 acres to qualify for the title.

If it shrinks any smaller, it does not always stop moving right away. A smaller mass of ice on a steep slope would still continue to grind its way through the mountains, but eventually disappears completely.

The latest two to fall below the 25 acre threshold were Miche Wabun and Shepard. Each had shrunk by roughly 55 percent since the mid-1960s. The largest remaining glacier in the park is Harrison Glacier, at about 465 acres.

Smaller glaciers and warmer temperatures could lower stream flows, which in turn prompt fishing restrictions and hobble whitewater rafting businesses, said Denny Gignoux, who runs an outfitting business in West Glacier. Tourism is a $1 billion a year industry in the area.

"What happens when all these threats increase?" Gignoux asked. "We're losing a draw to Glacier."

Two environmental groups released a report Wednesday highlighting the threat to tourism of fewer glaciers. The report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Natural Resources Defense Council included an analysis of weather records that showed Glacier was 2 degrees hotter on average from 2000 to 2009, compared with 1950 to 1979.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

NASA Slated To Receive Billions To Study Earth

From NPR

NASA, the agency known for exploring space, will be spending a lot more time studying Earth in the next few years.

The Obama administration has proposed a budget for NASA that includes billions of dollars for satellites and other tools to help scientists investigate Earth-bound problems, especially climate change.

That represents a major turnaround for NASA's Earth Science Division, which had been allowed to languish during much of the 1990s.

Back then, the division had so little money it wasn't able to replace aging satellites that monitor things such as polar ice, coastal wetlands, ocean temperatures and chemicals in the atmosphere.

But things have changed dramatically since the arrival of the Obama administration, says Edward Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"This administration has a clear priority for science in general and Earth science in specific," he says.

And now the White House has unveiled plans to give NASA's Earth science programs $2.4 billion in new money over the next five years. That's an increase of more than 60 percent.

Much of the new money will be spent trying to reinvigorate efforts to determine how fast the Earth's climate is changing, Weiler says.

"We've got to measure how fast the ice is being depleted, how fast carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere as opposed to being taken out of it," he says.

Scientists think carbon dioxide from sources like cars and power plants is the most important contributor to global warming. But they still don't know much about what happens to carbon dioxide once it gets into the atmosphere, says Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division.

"In order to figure out where it's going, how it's being exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, and the atmosphere and the land, you have to make a whole variety of measurements," Freilich says.

The extra funding will help scientists get those measurements. One chunk is paying for a new Orbiting Carbon Observatory to replace the original, which crashed into the ocean last year just after it was launched.

The new funding will also allow NASA to replace twin satellites called GRACE that have been making detailed measurements of the Earth's gravity field since 2002.

That may sound like something only science wonks would care about. But GRACE has proved to have many more practical applications than anyone expected, Weiler says.

For example, he says, GRACE has been used to collect data on gravitational fields to measure the amount of ground water in California's San Joaquin Valley, an important agricultural resource. And the measurements are showing that "ground water is disappearing more quickly than it's being replenished," Weiler says.

Scientists say global warming may be contributing to this loss of water by changing rainfall patterns in the western U.S.

The proposed NASA budget still needs approval from Congress. But NASA officials say lawmakers seem to like the space agency's new focus on the Earth.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

"New Mileage Rules: Pay More For Cars, Less At Pump"

From NPR:

Drivers will have to pay more for cars and trucks, but they'll also save at the pump under tough new federal rules aimed at boosting mileage, cutting emissions and hastening the next generation of fuel-stingy hybrids and electric cars.

The new standards, announced Thursday, call for a 35.5 miles-per-gallon average within six years, up nearly 10 mpg from now.

By setting national standards for fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes, the government hopes to squeeze out more miles per gallon whether you buy a tiny Smart fortwo micro car, a rugged Dodge Ram pickup truck or something in between.

The rules will cost consumers an estimated $434 extra per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, the government said. But the heads of the Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency said car owners would save more than $3,000 over the lives of their vehicles through better gas mileage.

Touting the plan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "Putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road isn't just the right thing to do for our environment, it's also a great way for Americans to save a lot of money at the pump."

The requirements for the 2012-2016 model years pleased environmentalists who have criticized sluggish efforts by previous administrations to boost fuel efficiency. They also were welcomed by automakers who have been seeking a single standard after California and a dozen states tried to create their own rules...

The regulations set a goal of achieving by 2016 the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The figure could actually be as low as 34.1 mpg because automakers can receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including preventing the leaking of coolant from air conditioners.

The changes will cost the auto industry about $52 billion, but the government says the program will provide $240 billion in savings to consumers, mostly through lower fuel consumption. The changes also could help U.S. manufacturers who produce advanced vehicles, batteries and engines, the government said.

The EPA is setting a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, equal to what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. This represents the EPA's first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.

Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles. Automakers that build more small cars will have a higher target than car companies that manufacture a broad range of cars and trucks. For example, passenger cars built by General Motors Co. will need to hit a target of 32.7 mpg in 2012 and increase to 36.9 mpg by 2016. Honda Motor Co., meanwhile, will need to reach passenger car targets of 33.8 mpg in 2012 and ramp up to 38.3 mpg in 2016.

Consumers can expect improvements to engines, transmissions and tires, and the use of start-stop technology that halts the engine at stop lights to save fuel. Automakers are expanding their portfolio of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and beginning to introduce electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

Obama Proposing to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.

Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.

The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies....

The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.