Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

The World Meteorological Organization Would Like Just a Moment of Your Time

Stormy SkyYou don’t have to read the whole report which isn’t long, but is full of “facts” and “numbers” and “science” and things of that sort. Just look over the WMO’s press release about its latest greenhouse gas bulletin – the chill you feel may compensate for the heat we’re generating. The report has thorny sentences like this: “This conclusion is consistent with GAW measurements of the spatial distribution of CO2 at the Earth’s surface and its rate of increase, a decrease in the abundance of atmospheric oxygen (O2), and a decrease in carbon isotope ratio, 13C/12C, in atmospheric CO2.”

The Organization’s press release is blunter and more to the point: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide.” While the WMO has traditionally focused on atmospheric concentrations of CO2, this year’s report states that the current rate of ocean acidification appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years. We don’t live in the oceans so we tend to take them for granted but, as the press release points out, the oceans are the primary driver of the planet’s climate and attenuator of climate change. As Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO says in the release, “If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come – we ARE running out of time.”

While you contemplate the WMO report, consider as well that warming oceans are beginning to belch unprecedented amounts of methane, a global warming gas even more potent than CO2.

 

These Stories Are Not Related

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

Remember when Freedom Industries shut down Charleston, West Virginia by spilling thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical into the Kanawha River? Perhaps you were wondering what consequences might befall the company for poisoning the water supply for 300,000 residents of the state capital. Wonder no longer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Freedom Industries eleven thousand dollars – that’s $11,000 – for an incident OSHA itself described as one that could likely result in death or serious physical harm.

That draconian penalty is sure to impress the importance of environmental safety on the rest of the extraction industry.

Meanwhile, over in another coal-dependent state, state legislators worked themselves into a lather about new EPA carbon emission regulations. One Kentucky state senator illuminated the debate by informing us that “the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here,” and pointing out that there are no factories or coal mines on Mars, so what’s the big deal, anyway? Not content with astronomical ignorance, another senator argued that just because the dinosaurs went extinct, we humans had no need to worry. “The dinosaurs died, and we don’t know why, but the world adjusted. And to say that this is what’s going to cause detriment to people, I just don’t think it’s out there.”  Well, okay then. If we humans die out, the world will adjust. Problem solved.

Come Christmas, some people might find a lump of coal in their stocking.

 

Ice & Us: There Is No Turning Back

Photo by NASA. Some rights reserved.

Photo by NASA. Some rights reserved.

The scientific community seems to talk about rising sea levels A LOT. This makes sense – as far as consequences of global warming go, it’s one of the easiest to explain, and one of the most potentially disastrous. We’ve looked at how a rise in sea level would effect us domestically and the results were not heartening. It’s pretty easy A-to-B math to see that if the sea level goes up, many coastal cities will be in critical danger of flooding and other natural disasters, and the entire ecology of the oceans will drastically change. And if that proof wasn’t in the pudding before, it sure is now.

Two new studies released this week confirm that the enormous West Antarctica Ice Sheet, the segment of the Western Antarctica continent that extends out into the Amundsen Sea, is losing mass at a rate that cannot be reversed. The ice sheet is estimated to weigh 25.4 million km3, however the accepted narrative in scientific communities for decades has been that it has been steadily and exponentially losing mass, to the point where snowfall is no longer replacing the amount of ice the sheet is losing. Between the years of 1996 and 2006, there was a 75% increase is the amount of ice mass lost, a statistic that seemingly should have set off alarm bells eight years ago. This week’s studies, then, should really just function as icing on a terrible, terrible cake, but judging by the reactions seen online, a lot of people were unaware that this was a problem.

The studies (one published in Science and one in Geophysical Research Letters) reach the same unsettling conclusion – the ice sheet is falling apart, and at this point the process cannot be reversed or delayed. The melting process will unsettle neighboring sections the larger continental ice sheet, and will result in a 10 + ft. rise in sea level. This will continue to happen slowly over the rest of the 21st century and speed up in coming centuries to the point of total global crisis. Coming on the heels of very pessimistic reports on climate change from the White House and NASA, it seems the gravity of the situation is finally starting to sink in on the Internet at large. I saw links to both of the aforementioned studies linked to dozens of times on many social networks by all sorts of people who normally wouldn’t be inclined to share this kind of stuff. The reality of climate change has, for many, finally gotten personal.

State Department Gets Coy on Keystone

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

The State Department announced on Friday afternoon that it had gazed upon the Keystone XL pipeline and found it passing fair. A model of diplomatic even-handedness, the report concedes that, yes, the pipeline will increase carbon emissions but heck, those emissions are going to increase anyway. The tar sands oil in Alberta is going to make it to market one way or the other, it concludes, and whether the pipeline is approved or not won’t make much difference in the end. “Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” the Department said.

Unlike an earlier draft, the final report addressed other environmental concerns beside carbon emissions. But its tone and conclusions are mild, allowing both opponents and backers of the pipeline to brandish the report in support of their respective positions.

The State Department was at pains to note that its analysis is only one factor in the administration’s final determination to approve the pipeline, which will also weigh national security, foreign policy and economic issues. Which is as much as to say that approval is all but assured. The environmental concerns were the alpha and omega of opposition to TransCanada’s plan to sluice the heavy oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Consider some of the issues involved. Tar sands oil is some of the filthiest fuel on the market. Extracting it consumes extravagant amounts of water and leaves a wasteland of slurry behind. Large swaths of Alberta are even now heavily polluted as a result of the oil that’s already been sucked up. The pipeline will run through the Ogallala Aquifer, threatening the water supply for the world’s bread basket. Consider, too, that TransCanada has a hard time keeping oil and gas in the pipelines it’s already running around the U.S. Add all that up and throw in ham-fisted and sweeping seizures of private property under eminent domain to build the thing, and you have a volatile and messy way of moving a filthy product to market.

The report is blandly reassuring about the possibility of spills, noting that TransCanada is planning to change the line’s route through Nebraska, and will rely on satellite technology and an increased number of shutoff valves to minimize the risk of spills and leaks.

Eight other federal agencies have yet to weigh in on the project now that the Department has released its report. Meanwhile, the 30-day public comment period will open on February 5. You can let them know if their report troubles or soothes you.

Shut Up and Light the Charcoal

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

What if you went camping with a bunch of friends and they decided it would be really cool to barbecue burgers and brats inside the tent. You take one look at the bright red warning label on the charcoal bag and pitch a fit (you’re also the one who pitched the tent). The label announces in no uncertain terms that burning charcoal inside can kill you. “You can’t grill in here,” you say. “We’re all going to die!” But your friends pooh-pooh your sissy concerns and insist there’s nothing wrong with throwing meat on a hot grill indoors. Where’s your scientific proof that everybody is going to die? What harm is a little smoke going to do? Besides, it might rain and  who wants to get wet? Would you stay in the tent? Slip into your sleeping bag after dinner expecting to get up in the morning for bacon and eggs cooked on the same barbecue? I doubt it.

But that’s pretty much where we are with greenhouse gases and global warming today. The warnings are clear and unambiguous but still there’s a concerted campaign to ignore the blaring claxons and carry on grilling in the tent. Between November 2012 and December 2013 2,258 peer-reviewed articles were published in scientific journals by 9,136 authors detailing man’s contributions to global warming.  Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. A new draft United Nations report concludes that the nations of the world have dragged their feet so long in combating climate change that the situation has grown critical and the problem could become impossible to solve with current technologies within 15 years. According to the report, our feeble efforts at instituting alternate energy simply can’t compete with the subsidies offered to the fossil fuel industries. Even as more clean energy comes onto the market, emissions continue to outpace any reduction the clean energy might bring. Failure to reign in emissions, the report says, will saddle future generations with enormous disruption, enormous costs, and the challenge of solving the problems were are creating now with technologies which have yet to be invented.

Still, the climate change deniers soldier on, insisting that filling the tent with smoke is a capital idea and that anyone who says the contrary is a tree hugging alarmist. And the deniers aren’t just fringe characters. Some of them occupy positions of great power and influence, such as, say, the Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is a vociferous critic of any attempts to reduce carbon emissions, and has noisily denounced the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution rules for new power plants. Representative Smith has not turned his back on science entirely, though. Just one day after condemning the EPA, he held a hearing to explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Smith is hardly the lone denier on the committee. The Subcommittee on the Environment is now chaired by a representative who rejects the scientific fact of anthropogenic global warming.

If your camping buddies insisted on filling the tent with a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that could kill you within an hour, you could at least go sleep outside. There is no outside when it comes to climate change. We’re all trapped inside the tent.

Cool Water

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water,
Cool water.
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
Cool water.

The night are cool and I’m a fool each star’s a pool of water,
Cool water.
But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn and carry on to water,
Cool water.

Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man
and he spreads the burnin’ sand with water.
Dan can’t you see that big green tree where the waters runnin’ free
and it’s waiting there for me and you.
Water, cool water.

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
Cool water.
And way up there He’ll hear our prayer and show us where there’s water,
Cool Water.

Dan’s feet are sore he’s yearning for just one thing more than water,
Cool water.
Like me, I guess, he’d like to rest where there’s no quest for water,
Cool water.

Bob Nolan

California has an official song. It’s called I Love You California. It might be time to retire the pretty little thing and switch to Cool Water, a song that’s been notably covered by artists as diverse as Hank Williams and Joni Mitchell.

California is in trouble. It’s perennial governor, Jerry Brown, has managed to wrestle its finances into shape for the first time in years,  but the state’s weather outlook is also sunny – too sunny. Temperatures aren’t just unseasonably high across the state, they are setting records, bringing summer into the depths of winter.

Along with the record setting heat has come a record setting drought. 2013 was the driest year in California history. Faced with drastically reduced water reserves and a snow pack only 20% of normal, Governor Brown declared a drought emergency across the state. According to Brown, the state’s reservoirs are critically low and cities across the state have already begun rationing water. He wants the state’s residents to cut back water consumption by 20%. So far, the conservation efforts are voluntary. We’ll see how long that lasts before mandatory cutbacks are put into place.

I’m sure there will be some griping about brown lawns, but the shady groves of Beverly Hills will probably be unaffected. (I’ve noticed over the years that whatever the drought conditions, the water in Beverly Hills’ verdant gardens always flows with abandon.) But the statewide water shortage is no trivial matter. California feeds the nation. Without adequate water supplies, its $45 billion farm economy is at risk. Already the local cattle business is feeling uncomfortably pinched.   Almonds, tomato, lettuce and avocado crops are also in danger of wilting away.

A graphic illustration of just how radically low California’s reserves are comes to us complements of some high school students in Bishop, California. Those enterprising souls have been launching big helium balloons up into the stratosphere for three years. Among other things, they’ve captured images of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Comparing the amounts of snow now on the peaks with last year’s snow pack is sobering. “We had a flight almost exactly a year ago, and at that time the mountains were almost completely covered in snow,” said one of the students. “In the recent images very few mountains were covered with snow. We knew we were in a drought, but it wasn’t clear to us before we saw the pictures how bad it is.” Another added, “Given that last year was also a low snow year, it is very disconcerting.”

So, California is experiencing both record heat and record drought. To get a taste of what that particular combination can bring, cast your eyes past the equator to Australia, which is struggling through a similar double-whammy. It’s not a pretty picture.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if the experiences in California and Australia are anecdotes or data.

Treasury Department Quietly Kicks Coal to the Curb

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

Back in June, the administration released details of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. One aspect of the plan is to tilt public financing towards clean energy and to end U.S. government support  for the public financing of new coal plants overseas.

The Department of the Treasury recently issued guidance on implementing that part of the president’s plan. The guidelines are intended to level the playing field for clean energy alternatives and to promote low-emission power generation. The plan accomplishes this goal by ending U.S. support for coal plant funding by multilateral development banks. From now on, the U.S. will not support such projects at all in wealthy countries unless they employ carbon capture and sequestration technologies. In the world’s poorest countries, the U.S. will support only the most efficient coal technology available and only where no other economically feasible alternative exists. The U.S. is the largest shareholder in development banks like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. While the U.S. is in no position to impose its policy on the banks by diktat, the new Treasury guidelines will likely exert considerable pressure to scrub coal plant funding from the banks’ agendas.

The U.S. isn’t going it alone in reining in funding for new coal plants. The World Bank itself has announced that it will limit financing for new plants to “rare circumstances” where countries have no alternative. The leaders of  Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden joined Obama in Stockholm in September in pledging not to fund any more coal projects.

The Treasury guidelines will have no effect on private financing, of course. And political pressure in favor of burning coal is intense, not just in the U.S., but in India and, of course, China – the world’s most voracious consumer of coal. Indeed, the Treasury action is a reflection of the intense political battle being waged in Washington, and arises out of Obama’s reliance on administrative measures to chip away at carbon emissions in the face of Republican obstruction in Congress. In this case, Obama and the Treasury appear to be taking a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook: they’re walking softly and carrying a big stick.

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