Sunday, February 26, 2012

Himalayan Sherpas lament climate change devastation

GATI, Nepal: Climate change is altering the face of the Himalayas, devastating farming communities and making Mount Everest increasingly treacherous to climb, some of the world’s top mountaineers have warned.

Nepalese mountaineer Apa Sherpa (L), who has scaled Everest a record-breaking 21 times, and Dawa Steven Sherpa (R) speak during an interview with AFP in Sindhpalchowk, some 100 kilometres north of Kathmandu on February 23, 2012, during a break on the 120-day Climate Smart Celebrity Trek across the Nepalese Himalayas. Climate change is altering the face of the Himalayas, devastating farming communities and making Mount Everest increasingly treacherous to climb, some of the world’s top mountaineers have warned. – AFP Photo

Apa Sherpa, the Nepali climber who has conquered Mount Everest a record 21 times, said he was disturbed by the lack of snow on the world’s highest peak, caused by rising temperatures.

“In 1989 when I first climbed Everest there was a lot of snow and ice but now most of it has just become bare rock. That, as a result, is causing more rockfalls which is a danger to the climbers,” he told AFP.

“Also, climbing is becoming more difficult because when you are on a mountain you can wear crampons but it’s very dangerous and very slippery to walk on bare rock with crampons.”Speaking after completing the first third of a gruelling 1,700-kilometre (1,100-mile) trek across the Himalayas, Apa Sherpa would not rule out the possibility of Everest being unclimbable in the coming years.

“What will happen in the future I cannot say but this much I can say from my own experiences — it has changed a lot,” he said an an interview with AFP in the village of Gati, 16 kilometres from Nepal’s border with Tibet.

The 51-year-old father-of-three, dubbed “Super Sherpa”, began his working life as a farmer but turned to the tourism industry and mountaineering after he lost all his possessions when a glacial lake burst in 1985.

He is on a 120-day walk dubbed the Climate Smart Celebrity Trek with another of the world’s top climbers, Nepali Dawa Steven Sherpa, with the pair expected to reach the finish on May 13.

The expedition, the first official hike along the length of Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail since it opened last year, will take in some of the world’s most rugged landscapes and see the duo ascending beyond 6,000 metres (19,600 feet).

“I want to understand the impact of climate change on other people but also I’d like tourism to play a roll in changing their lives as it has changed mine,” said Apa Sherpa.

Research published by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) last year showed Nepal’s glaciers had shrunk by 21 per cent over 30 years. More


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Secret memo warns oilsands damage may be irreversible

Collateral damage from Canada’s booming oilsands sector may be irreversible, posing a “significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta,” says a secret memorandum prepared for the federal government’s top bureaucrat.

The memorandum, released by the Privy Council Office through access to information legislation, also raises doubts about recent industry and government claims that oilsands companies are reducing heat-trapping gases produced by each barrel of oil.

The industry has suggested that a shift in oilsands extraction to use steam to remove synthetic crude oil from natural bitumen deposits on site can reduce land disruption and provide for reductions in energy and emissions. But the memo, prepared for Wayne Wouters, the clerk of the Privy Council Office - the lead department in the federal government’s bureaucracy - said this shift is actually accelerating the industry’s impact on climate change, with emissions growth projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

“While the industry has taken steps to reduce emissions, the shift from mining to in situ production, which is almost three times as emissions intensive as mining, is resulting in a continued acceleration of emissions from this sector,” said the memo.

The memo, marked “secret,” was prepared for Wouters in advance of a discussion that was to be held on March 10, 2011, with representatives from energy companies Suncor, CNRL and Encana, as well as academic stakeholders. It suggested the so-called tailings ponds of toxic waste from oilsands mining could permanently damage Alberta’s landscape. More


Stern warns climate change critics

Flawed economic arguments against tackling climate change are being used to slow the move to low-carbon growth, a leading economist has warned.

Lord Stern, whose key 2006 report set out the economic case for cutting greenhouse gases, said science suggested the world was heading for temperature rises of 3C or 4C on the basis of current efforts to stop global warming.

Such rises would cause a “catastrophic rewrite of the relationship between humans and the planet within the lifetimes of those being born today”, he will say in the last in a series of lectures on climate change.

Opponents of strong moves to tackle climate change put forward economic arguments against action, including its cost, the fear companies may move to less strictly regulated countries and that the UK should not take measures when others are doing “nothing”.

But Lord Stern, chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said moving to a low-carbon economy will create “investment, opportunity and growth”.

It will involve substantial investment and strong policies, he admits, but said countries which get left behind will suffer from weak technology and having their “dirty” goods shut out of global markets.

He believes the arguments against tackling climate change on a national level in the UK are “confused” and fail to understand that global warming is a market failure, with the true cost of goods and services which create emissions not reflected in their price.

Policies which tackle emissions are addressing that failure and are pro-market, he will tell the audience at the Lionel Robbins Memorial Lectures.

Read more:


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heartland Institute Caught With Its Pants Down on Global Warming

A number of internal documents were apparently leaked this week from conservative think tank, The Heartland Institute, revealing its funding sources, strategy and a 2012 action plan to deliberately cast doubt on the subject of global warming despite the clear evidence and overwhelming scientific consensus.

Some sources are describing the leak as a counterpoint to “Climategate” and at least as potentially damaging, though this time to the “skeptics” side.

In a quickly prepared press release, the Heartland Institute claims both that the documents were fake and that they were stolen, which is a bit puzzling.

On the one hand they say that, “the stolen documents were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to ‘re-send’ board materials to a new email address.” And at the same time, they are “respectfully” asking that these materials not be disseminated since, “the authenticity of those documents has not been confirmed.”

They go on to appeal for civility, stating that, “As a matter of common decency and journalistic ethics, we ask everyone in the climate change debate to sit back and think about what just happened.” This is, of course, exactly what they did when the East Anglia e-mails were leaked, suggesting data tampering on the part of climate scientists. Not.

A list of the leaked documents can be found here. The Heartland Institute, claims that one of the documents, the 2012 Climate Strategy document is a fake. However, independent investigation has verified that each of the five strategic elements contained in the two-page overview are also contained in other documents whose validity has been confirmed.

The “allegedly fake” strategy document opens with the following statement. More

Friday, February 17, 2012

The inside story on climate scientists under siege

Michael Mann reveals his account of attacks by entrenched interests seeking to undermine his 'hockey stick' graph.

It is almost possible to dismiss Michael Mann's account of a vast conspiracy by the fossil fuel industry to harrass scientists and befuddle the public. His story of that campaign, and his own journey from naive computer geek to battle-hardened climate ninja, seems overwrought, maybe even paranoid. Expanding desert in Chinas Gansu province

But now comes the unauthorised release of documents showing how a libertarian thinktank, the Heartland Institute, which has in the past been supported by Exxon, spent millions on lavish conferences attacking scientists and concocting projects to counter science teaching for kindergarteners.

Mann's story of what he calls the climate wars, the fight by powerful entrenched interests to undermine and twist the science meant to guide government policy, starts to seem pretty much on the money. He's telling it in a book out on 6 March, The hockey stick and the climate wars: Dispatches from the front lines.

"They see scientists like me who are trying to communicate the potential dangers of continued fossil fuel burning to the public as a threat. That means we are subject to attacks, some of them quite personal, some of them dishonest." Mann said in an interview conducted in and around State College, home of Pennsylvania State University, where he is a professor.

It's a brilliantly sunny day, and the light snowfall of the evening before is rapidly melting.

Mann, who seems fairly relaxed, has just spoken to a full-capacity, and uniformly respecful and supportive crowd at the university.

It's hard to square the surroundings with the description in the book of how an entire academic discipline has been made to feel under siege, but Mann insists that it is a given.

"It is now part of the job description if you are going to be a scientist working in a socially relevant area like human-caused climate change," he said.

He should know. For most of his professional life has been at the centre of those wars, thanks to a paper he published with colleagues in the late 1990s showing a sharp upward movement in global temperatures in the last half of the 20th century. The graph became known as the "hockey stick". More


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

100-Year Floods May Happen Every 3 to 20 Years, Say MIT and Princeton Researchers

 Last August, Hurricane Irene spun through the Caribbean and parts of the eastern United States, leaving widespread wreckage in its wake. The Category 3 storm whipped up water levels, generating storm surges that swept over seawalls and flooded seaside and inland communities. Many hurricane analysts suggested, based on the wide extent of flooding, that Irene was a “100-year event”: a storm that only comes around once in a century. 

However, researchers from MIT and Princeton University have found that with climate change, such storms could make landfall far more frequently, causing powerful, devastating storm surges every three to 20 years. The group simulated tens of thousands of storms under different climate conditions, finding that today’s “500-year floods” could, with climate change, occur once every 25 to 240 years. The researchers published their results in the current issue of Nature Climate Change.
MIT postdoc Ning Lin, lead author of the study, says knowing the frequency of storm surges may help urban and coastal planners design seawalls and other protective structures.
Climate change is warming the oceans and preventing water layers from mixing, which could upset the carbon storage capacity of microbes and plankton.
As the ocean surface warms, evidence shows that it will become more “stratified”, or confined to layers that mix less than they did in the past.
This should reduce overall ocean productivity, but so little is known about the effect on ocean microbes that the implication for carbon sequestration and global warming is less clear, said Stephen Giovannoni, professor of microbiology, Oregon State University, who led the study. More

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Great Carbon Bubble: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard

 If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet -- as we shall see -- it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology.  Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def imageshows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.
It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’smost widely read meteorologist,explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”
In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history -- 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.” More

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Letter from the Future

 Greetings to you, people of the year 2001! You are living in the year of my birth; I am one hundred years old now, writing to you from the year 2101. I am using the last remnants of the advanced physics that scientists developed during your era, in order to send this electronic message back in time to one of your computer networks. I hope that you receive it, and that it will give you reason to pause and reflect on your world and what actions to take with regard to it.

Of myself I shall say only what it is necessary to say: I am a survivor. I have been extremely fortunate on many occasions and in many ways, and I regard it as something of a miracle that I am here to compose this message. I have spent much of my life attempting to pursue the career of historian, but circumstances have compelled me also to learn and practice the skills of farmer, forager, guerrilla fighter, engineer – and now physicist. My life has been long and eventful . . . but that is not what I have gone to so much trouble to convey to you. It is what I have witnessed during this past century that I feel compelled to tell you by these extraordinary means.
You are living at the end of an era. Perhaps you cannot understand that. I hope that, by the time you have finished reading this letter, you will.
I want to tell you what is important for you to know, but you may find some of this information hard to absorb. Please have patience with me. I am an old man and I don’t have much time for niceties. If what I say seems unbelievable, think of it as science fiction. But please pay attention. The communication device I am using is quite unstable and there’s no telling how much of my story will actually get through to you. Please pass it along to others. It will probably be the only such message you will ever receive.
Since I don’t know how much information I will actually be able to convey, I’ll start with the most important items, ones that will be of greatest help in your understanding of where your world is headed. Energy has been the central organizing – or should I say, disorganizing? – principle of this century. Actually, in historical retrospect, I would have to say that energy was the central organizing principle of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well. People discovered new energy sources – coal, then petroleum – in the nineteenth century, and then invented all sorts of new technologies to make use of this freshly released energy. Transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, lighting, heating – all were revolutionized, and the results reached deep into the lives of everyone in the industrialized world. Everybody became utterly dependent on the new gadgets; on imported, chemically fertilized food; on chemically synthesized and fossil-fuel-delivered therapeutic drugs; on the very idea of perpetual growth (after all, it would always be possible to produce more energy to fuel more transportation and manufacturing – wouldn’t it?). Well, if the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were the upside of the growth curve, this past century has been the downside – the cliff. It should have been perfectly obvious to everyone that the energy sources on which they were coming to rely were exhaustible. Somehow the thought never sank in very deep. I suppose that’s because people generally tend to get used to a certain way of life, and from then on they don’t think about it very much. That’s true today, too. The young people now have never known anything different; they take for granted our way of life – scavenging among the remains of industrial civilization for whatever can be put to immediate use – as though this is how people have always lived, as if this is how we were meant to live. That’s why I’ve always been attracted to history, so that I could get some perspective on human societies as they change through time. But I’m digressing. Where was I?
Yes – the energy crisis. Well, it all started around the time I was born. Folks then thought it would be brief, that it was just a political or technical problem, that soon everything would get back to normal. They didn’t stop to think that “normal,” in the longer-term historical sense, meant living on the energy budget of incoming sunlight and of the vegetative growth of the biosphere. Perversely, they thought “normal” meant using fossil energy like there was no tomorrow. And, I guess, there almost wasn’t. That was a classic self-confirming expectation – nearly.
At first, most people thought the shortages could be solved with “technology.” However, in retrospect that’s quite ludicrous. After all, their modern gadgetry had been invented to use a temporary abundance of energy. It didn’t produce energy. Yes, there were the nuclear reactors (heavens, those things turned out to be nightmares!), but they cost so much energy to build and decommission that the power they produced during their lifetimes barely paid for them in energy terms. The same with photovoltaic panels: it seems that nobody ever sat down and calculated how much energy it actually took to manufacture them, starting with the silicon wafers produced as byproducts of the computer industry, and including the construction of the manufacturing plant itself. It turned out that the making of the panels ate up nearly as much power as the panels themselves generated duing their lifetime. Nevertheless, quite a few of them were built – I wish that more had been! – and many are still operating (that’s what’s powering the device that allows me to transmit this signal to you from the future). Solar power was a good idea; its main drawback was simply that it was incapable of satisfying people’s energy-guzzling habits. With the exhaustion of fossil fuels, no technology could have maintained the way of life that people had gotten used to. But it took quite a while for many to realize that. Their pathetic faith in technology turned out to be almost religious in character, as though their gadgets were votive objects connecting them with an invisible but omnipotent god capable of overturning the laws of thermodynamics.
Naturally, some of the first effects of the energy shortages showed up as economic recessions, followed by an endless depression. The economists had been operating on the basis of their own religion – an absolute, unshakable faith in the Market-as-God; in supply-and-demand. They figured that if oil started to run out, the price would rise, offering incentives for research into alternatives. But the economists never bothered to think this through. If they had, they would have realized that the revamping of society’s entire energy infrastructure would take decades, while the price signal from resource shortages might come only weeks or months before some hypothetical replacement would be needed. Moreover, they should have realized that there was no substitute for basic energy resources.
The economists could think only in terms of money; basic necessities like water and energy only showed up in their calculations in terms of dollar cost, which made them functionally interchangeable with everything else that was priceable – oranges, airliners, diamonds, baseball cards, whatever. But, in the last analysis, basic resources weren’t interchangeable with other economic goods at all: you couldn’t drink baseball cards, no matter how big or valuable your collection, once the water ran out. Nor could you eat dollars, if nobody had food to sell. And so, after a certain point, people started to lose faith in their money. And as they did so, they realized that faith had been the only thing that made money worth anything in the first place. Currencies just collapsed – first in one country, then in another. There was inflation, deflation, barter, and thievery on every imaginable scale as matters sorted themselves out.
In the era when I was born, commentators used to liken the global economy to a casino. A few folks were making trillions of dollars, euros, and yen trading in currencies, companies, and commodity futures. None of these people were actually doing anything useful; they were just laying down their bets and, in many cases, raking in colossal winnings. If you followed the economic chain, you’d see that all of that money was coming out of ordinary people’s pockets . . . but that’s another story. Anyway: all of that economic activity depended on energy, on global transportation and communication, and on faith in the currencies. Early in the twenty-first century, the global casino went bankrupt. Gradually, a new metaphor became operational. We went from global casino to village flea market. More

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Presidential candidate Santorum: I've Never Believed In The 'Hoax Of Global Warming'

 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum targeted primary rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on Tuesday for allegedly buying into the “bogus” science of man-made climate change, while proudly declaring that he himself had never believed in the “hoax of global warming.”

At a campaign event in Colorado Springs, Colo., Santorum first took aim at Romney for his support of a regional cap and trade energy pact as Massachusetts governor, a line of attack he previewed over the weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Governor Romney proudly announced that they were the first state, Massachusetts, to put a cap on CO2 emissions in the state of Massachusetts,” Santorum said in Colorado, according to Politico, before turning on Gingrich.
“Speaker Gingrich has supported cap and trade for more than a dozen years. Now, he wants business incentives to go along with cap and trade, but he supported cap and trade, and sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi and said that global warming had to be addressed by Congress,” Santorum continued. “Who is he or who’s Governor Romney to be able to go after President Obama? I’ve never supported even the hoax of global warming.”
Gingrich has been battered on the now-notorious spot repeatedly over the course of the campaign. He’s gone as far as to call it the “dumbest thing” he’s done in the “last four years.”
As Think Progress points out, Santorum also gave a more thorough explanation of his views on climate change on Monday. “If you leave it to Nature, then Nature will do what Nature does, which is boom and bust,” Santorum said at an energy summit in Colorado. “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.” More

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations. 
 You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science. 
 Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend. More