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Found 101 results

  1. Never Trust the Appearance

    In the past months one of the most popular topics in Europe and America was the weather (especially the bad weather). Part of this climate condition was Polar Vortex: a phenomenon that hit on the USA caused the death of many people and billions of dollars of damages (five according to The Guardian). It led at least a dozen of Governors to declare a state of emergency and forced some of the world's top airports to shut down for some weeks. The Polar Vortex has brought to the lowest temperatures of history and also brought snow in southern States. It's hilarious, and dramatic too, that some people used these facts to state that global warming doesn't exist. The reasons? Since it's cold how can the planet becoming warmer? The main error in the statement is a strange and inward vision of the world. United States doesn't occupy the entire Earth's surface. Global temperature UN data unfortunately tell us this: the 2013 was one of the hottest year in history. What is unacceptable is that some people try to disprove the existence of a global climatic phenomenon whose severity is often underestimated, especially when one of the worst droughts in the history of California has taken place. An article from The Guardian proposes an alternative view on the Polar Vortex: according to the article this phenomenon supports the theory of global warming for the simple fact that global climate is not only changing thermally but is becoming strongly unstable causing various kinds of phenomena. In fact his phenomenon is caused from the rapid melting of polar sea ice, which replaces white, reflective ice with dark, absorbent open water. As a result, these region has heated up faster than other parts of the globe. And apparently winter storm isn't over. There is an 90 percent chance snow will fall in New York on March 2 and 3, according to the National Weather Service. At the same time UK is facing its wettest winter since 1766. A total of 435 millimeters (17 inches) of rain was recorded across England and Wales. Authorities are still working to pump away water and Deloitte LLP has estimated damages for 1 billion pounds ($1.7 billion). And a political debate on the budget for the floods emergency started. Apparently these floods have shown an incorrect handling of the budget for the emergencies. These are tragedies that speak for themselves. Climate change has many shades, some of these can be very dangerous and they hide behind the appearance. It's necessary to understand what are the consequences of climate change and fight them. It's important as fight the cause of all these phenomena: climate change. Here we come to the same but vital old story: we have to reduce pollution related to coal, oil and natural gas power plants, we have to explore new renewable energy technologies and I think that with the right measures bad weather won't do so many damages. Facing these adversities can be difficult and disorganization just makes things worse. I think that prevent other episodes like those we lived is in the general interest and that why is essential to understand the cause of all this. How can we understand if cold is a consequence of global warming? It's paradoxical but the only way is to listen what science have to say. Unfortunately people don't see climate change very often, it's gradual, while Polar Vortex or flooding in UK are visible and perceptible and so they are priorities. Wouldn't it be smarter to fight the cause than the consequences? We have to look further than the evidence if we have to avoid these emergency situations in the future. References from The Guardian and Bloomberg. Photo from CNN.
  2. The 'polar vortex' and severe cold weather don't mean climate change isn't happening, writes Yarrow Axford.   "Climate change is a painstakingly well-documented long-term global trend, in which each recent decade has been warmer than the decade before. This is generally true for most parts of the globe, but more importantly is true when one considers the Earth as a whole. [...] Despite the overwhelming evidence that our planet is warming, there are two points of perpetual confusion that combine with our psychology to make winter weather a seasonal boon for climate skepticism. For one, a cold snap where we live should not be confused for a global event."   Read it: No, Global Warming Isn't Suddenly a Myth Because It's Really Cold Out
  3. Athletes are getting ready for a warm, soggy Winter Games in >Sochi. But thanks to global warming, that could soon be the norm for the Winter Olympics. by mid-century, close to half of the previous host cities could likely be too warm for outdoor sports like Alpine skiing and snowboarding. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the average February daily high temperature in host cities was just 0.4 C, a figure that had risen to 7.8 C between 2000 and 2010.   Read it: Climate Change Could Melt the Winter Olympics
  4. Only a day after legislators and hundreds of farmers from parched districts in Northern California and the Central Valley rallied on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, Jerry Brown, Governor of California, made an emergency declaration. "We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," Brown said while calling on Californians to cut their water consumption by 20%. The now three-year long drought has forced cities to cut water use and may leave farmers no choice but to stop planting some crops.    Read the article: Governor declares drought emergency in California
  5. Believe it or not, winters have been warming rapidly in the majority of the continental 48 states since 1970. And, take note Chicago and other Midwest readers: The coldest states are warming the fastest. So says a 2013 report by Climate Central. In fact, says science writer Andrew Zimmerman, if the climate had not warmed so much during the past few decades, it's possible that the current freezer-like weather would be even colder in those areas. Yikes! Meanwhile, there have been above-average temperatures across parts of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia this past week, Zimmerman reports. Last month, the northern Alaska coastline, above the Arctic Circle, had the warmest temperatures on record in at least 70 years. It's part of an overall trend of warming in the Arctic area. But yes, brrrrr, every state in the continental U.S. has had sub-freezing temperatures this week. It's attributed to the behavior of the "polar vortex." The polar vortex (also known as a polar cyclone) is a large swirl of very cold air that sits over the polar regions year round. It intensifies in the winter and weakens in the summer. The jet stream from the Arctic polar vortex sometimes brings extremely cold weather southward into Europe, Asia and the U.S. According AccuWeather.com, cold outbreaks like the one this week occur "on average once every 10 years. The last far-reaching, bitterly cold blasts occurred in the mid-1990s, during February of 1996 and January of 1994." AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said, "We were overdue for a large Arctic outbreak of this intensity." This time the polar vortex has spread unusually far south into the U.S., giving us the record frigid conditions we've been experiencing. Is global climate change a factor in this unusual intrusion of the polar vortex? Some scientists say yes; others say the jury is still out. Scientific studies have tied abnormally cold temperatures in the U.S. and Europe to warmer than usual conditions in the Arctic - they dub this the "Warm Arctic/Cold Continents Pattern." This could be driven by the loss of polar sea ice which has been documented over the past few decades. That in turn is spurred by human-caused global warming. Research is ongoing. "The research linking climate change impacts in the Arctic to more extreme jet stream patterns is still very new, and we need several more years of data and additional research before we can be confident that this is occurring," writes Weather Underground scientist Jeff Masters. "But if the new research is correct, the crazy winter weather we've been seeing since 2009 may be the new normal in a world with rapid warming occurring in the Arctic." But one thing is sure, scientist agree: cold weather does not contradict the well-established fact that the Earth has been warming overall due to human activity, in particular the massive use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The consequences of this, scientists say, include more extreme weather of all kinds. For a break from the cold, you might want to consider a trip Down Under. Australia has experienced record-breaking scorching hot weather this past year. It's been so hot that mapmakers have had to add a new color to temperature maps to signify the blistering heat there. Australia's winter, which is during our summer months, was "only" the third hottest on record. But its spring temperatures, starting in September, were the hottest ever. January 2014 is starting off with similar heat extremes. Walgett, in New South Wales, recorded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the second hottest temperature ever measured in the state. One of the reasons for Australia's record heat in 2013 was very high ocean surface temperatures, the third warmest on record according to preliminary data. If you are not up for a trip to Australia, not to worry. The record cold in the U.S. will be ending this week, weather forecasters say. Temperatures are predicted to be up to 50 in places like New York and St. Louis. This article was first published in People's World by Susan Webb.
  6. Beware uncertainty! It can cut both ways - something the climate change deniers want us to ignore at our peril. The well-funded deniers have taken advantage of the great amounts of uncertainty about climate science, climate change, and the interlocking web of life that is nature, the nature on which humanity depends for its existence. And they have been correct that there has been and continues to be much uncertainty. Climate models and projections are guesstimates, not absolute proof. The world's climate system is complex and interacts in sometimes unexpected ways. But the climate change deniers imply, or state outright, that all this uncertainty means that things might not be so bad. They want people to conclude that there is nothing but upside to it. The problem is that uncertainty can work the other way too. It can mean that things are much worse than we thought - and we already thought they were pretty bad. For example, one of the uncertainties about climate change has been about exactly how the systems of cloud formation affect climate. Do clouds reflect, deflect, or absorb the sun's rays? To what degree? Does cloud cover make climate change better or worse? We haven't known. But a new study, published in Nature, a scientific establishment journal of record, peer reviewed and fact-checked, shows that as the climate changes and warms significantly, cloud formation changes as well, and a warming climate will decrease our cloud cover. As a result there will be fewer lower-level clouds to ameliorate the earth's warming. What this means is that the predictions up til now, based on calculations that did not include any cloud-related factors, have underestimated how much the climate will heat up by the end of the century. As we learn more, some of the uncertainty disappears. It is replaced by a certainty that if we don't act soon and in radical fashion to address the causes of climate change, we will sweep past the conservative estimates of 2 degrees Celsius of climate change. That figure might (there's that uncertainty again) keep climate change from affecting humanity and natural systems in catastrophic ways. But the new calculations, taking into account the new certainties about clouds, project an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, double the already-dire predictions of mainstream climate scientists. As other studies have suggested, the most drastic impacts of climate change will likely come from those effects we don't fully understand yet. Realistic optimism needs to be based on facts, on reality, on demonstrated understanding of how the world works. The laws of physics can't be repealed or annulled by legislative action. And the uncertainty about how bad climate change is going to get can mean it will get a lot worse a lot sooner than even the most dire projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations body of scientists charged with evaluating the latest in climate science. All these predictions can be depressing. But the hopeful signs come from the growing movements around the world for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the many related environmental problems we face. The divestment movement, the anti-fracking movement, the many cities and states as well as countries that are taking real action, the positive steps from the Obama administration such as regulating existing and future coal-powered plants and increasing auto standards, all will help, even though they are not yet anywhere near enough to address the enormity of the problems. What is needed is a massive worldwide movement, inclusive of many organizations, many strategies, and many fronts. Photo credit: Arbyreed (cc). This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  7. Authors of a recent climate change analysis, published in the monthly scientific journal Nature Climate Change, says that while the world struggles to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, we have given too little attention to other harmful greenhouse gases – more specifically, greenhouse gases associated with livestock. “Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and co-author of the analysis. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.” While acknowledging the dangers of CO2, the authors say that much more should be done to reduce releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two non-CO2 greenhouse gases that trap more heat than CO2 does. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas and recent studies have shown that methane releases could be much higher than previously thought. Methane release comes from a variety of sources, but it’s estimated that ruminants form the largest single human-related source of methane. The authors write that the most effective way to combat climate change is therefore to reduce the world’s populations of ruminant livestock, which are mostly associated with cattle and the production of beef. Research has shown that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep productions are 19 to 48 times higher (per food produced) than the equivalent production of non-meat foods such as beans, grains, or soy products. So although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the world could see a much faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the near-term through a substantial reduction in the number of ruminants globally. Individuals can do this by adopting a more vegetarian diet which cuts down on meat and dairy products. “Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”
  8. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in the process of finalizing the different sections of its massive every-seven-years report. The first portion of the 5th Assessment has already been released, and the next is scheduled for release in March. Copies of the draft of that section, about the impact of climate change on human society, have recently been leaked. While the draft is not finalized yet and may undergo revision, it offers dire warnings about the interactions between a warming world, other natural systems on which humans depend, and human social interactions. The latest leaked draft predicts that as global warming changes the climate, resulting in both more rain in some areas and more drought in others, extreme weather events and sea level rise, human societies will be increasing affected. This will lead in a variety of ways to increasing stresses on people, agriculture, water systems, the world's refugee crisis, and human habitation near oceans, among other impacts. The report predicts that as a result our future looks likely to be one with growing poverty, growing water and food stresses, flooding and the spread of desertification, ocean acidity and overfishing destroying many fisheries, spread of diseases, as well as extinction of many species of animal and plants that can't adapt quickly enough to changes in their habitat. Climate change is not just about the weather getting hotter. It is about the linked natural and human systems we all depend on. As severe drought causes crop failure in important agricultural areas, food prices increase. In an effort to increase the stressed food supply, some farmers draw down the water table for irrigation, mining water from underground aquifers that is not being replenished. As flooding impacts agricultural production in other areas simultaneously, prices rise even further. Over the past decade there have been several spikes in world food prices, leading to food riots. This was one factor in the Arab Spring revolts. This illustrates the interconnections affected by climate change. Climate change is not the sole or main cause of the problems the world faces, not by itself, not yet. But it makes virtually all other problems worse. A United Nations study of Darfur cited the effects of climate change on water and agriculture and land as one of a number of interlinked factors driving the conflict. Human access to protein is challenged by these physical changes to the climate and our agricultural practices. Meanwhile, even companies that occasionally admit that climate change is a problem (even as they fund climate change deniers) try to limit the impact on their particular company and business. For example, in Chevron's "7 Principles for Addressing Climate Change," they appeal to our sense of fairness: "Broad and equitable treatment of all sectors of the economy is necessary to ensure no sector or company is disproportionately burdened." At the same time, the industry is planning to take advantage of the melting of Arctic ice by drilling in the Artic Sea, in one of the areas most inhospitable for safe oil exploration. Fossil fuel companies are feeling pressure from the growing climate change divestment movement. While it will not likely cut into their massive profits soon, it places these companies on the defensive. Business professionals are beginning to build a case for divestment on purely financial terms. Cities and states around the world are attempting to grapple, sometimes in conflict with central governments, with necessary adaptations to climate change, including through divestment Issues related to climate change and fossil fuel use are beginning to affect local elections. Other environmental battles continue to play an increasing role in the public dialogue. Effort to build unity between environmental struggles and the labor movement and other progressive movements are growing. As news reports continue over the next months until the complete final IPCC 5th Assessment is released, the scientific arguments for more climate change activism are reinforced. The history of the coming decades will be one of massive environmental struggles, alongside the struggles of other progressive movements to save humanity from exploitation and oppression. The science is not divorced from these movements - it adds depth and detail to the reasons why humanity needs to fight to take more serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and fight to demand that corporations pay the costs of their pollution. As prominent Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva says, "It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet." This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine. Photo credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (cc).
  9. Karl Marx came up with the term "metabolic rift" to explain the crack or rift that capitalism has created between social and natural systems, humans and nature. This rift, he claimed, led to the exploitation of the environment and ecological crisis. Marx argued that we humans are all part of nature and he was also the first one who saw social societies as an organism with a metabolism similar to that of humans. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts from 1844, Marx wrote that: "Man lives from nature, i.e., nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man's physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature." The general idea is that disruptions, or interruptions, in natural cycles and processes creates an metabolic rift between nature and social systems which leads to a buildup of waste and in the end to the degradation of our environment. As people moved into cities they lost the contact with nature, and as a result they became less likely to consider how their actions and decisions affected the environment. Marx also noted that as the income for the workers in the cities increased, capitalists searched for a cheaper workforce outside of the city. Today when half of the world's population lives in cities this is happening on a larger and more global scale. More people than ever have lost the direct contact with nature. And instead of companies and corporations looking for cheaper workers from the countryside they now look outside the nation's borders, mainly in developing nations. The developed world is performing a "brain drain" where they are literally stealing the higher educated students and people from poorer and undeveloped nations. This is turn is fueling "a vicious downward cycle of underdevelopment" in the countries affected. An example of a global metabolic rift and its consequences can be seen in the 19th century trade in guano (bird droppings) and nitrates from Peru and Chile to Europe. In the late 1800s several agronomists and agriculture chemists, such as Justus von Liebig, warned that the transfer of food from the early industrialized agriculture farms on the countryside to the cities had resulted in a severe loss of soil nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This threat to the food production was the result of the division between town and country. The food was now being transported to cities far away from its source. And its waste products, which before used to help replenish the soil, now ended up polluting the cities instead. So this metabolic rift between town and country resulted in the loss of soil fertility in Great Britain and other nations which in turn led to the global trade of guano and nitrates from Peru and Chile. This trade also involved transfer of labor from China to work on the guano islands in Peru under slave-like or even worse conditions. It resulted in national economies strained by a huge burden of debt, the degradation of the Chilean and Peruvian environment and even led to a war between Chile and Peru over the guano resources. Liebig has said that this hunt for guano and nitrates "deprives all countries of the conditions of their fertility" and even likened Great Britain to a vampire which is "sucking its lifeblood without any real necessity or permanent gain for itself". Today guano is still widely sold around the world especially to countries such as France, Israel and the United States. Lately guano has also gained the status as an organic fertilizer which has helped increase the demands for it. But due to commercial overfishing as well as habitat loss and degradation the Guanay Cormorant bird has declined from its former population peak at around 60 million individuals to a slowly increasing population level at around 4 million birds today. When it comes to anthropogenic global climate change Marx metabolic rift theory can help us to better understand and solve the biggest environmental crisis ever. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the observed 0.6 °C temperature increases in global temperatures since the middle of the 20th century is a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as fossil fuels. So we humans have with our overdependence on fossil fuels disrupted the natural carbon cycle and earth's climate system. We are now accumulating more and more waste emissions into our atmosphere, 23 billion metric tons of CO2 every year, with no end in sight. With devastating effects this accelerating buildup of greenhouse gas waste emissions is warming up our planet and changing our climate. Because capitalism promotes the accumulation of capital on a never-ending and always expanding scale it cannot be sustainable. So the manmade climate change we are seeing now is, according to Brett Clark and Richard York, a result of a metabolic rift created by the capitalistic world system. To be able to address and solve this carbon rift and stop the worst effects of climate change Marx metabolic rift theory shows us that a complete transformation, or revolution, of our society is needed. If we don't the carbon rift will continue to expand and we will race faster and faster towards the burning cliff. References: Hornborg, A., J.R. McNeill & J. Martinez-Alier, red. (2007)."Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change" Clark, Brett & York, Richard (2005). "Carbon metabolism: Global capitalism, climate change, and the biospheric rift" Moore, Jason (2000). "Marx and the Historical Ecology of Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: A Comment on Alf Hornborg's "Ecosystems and World Systems: Accumulation as an Ecological Process."" Foster, Bellamy, John (1999). "The Vulnerable Planet" McMichael, Philip (2008). "Contemporary Contradictions of the Global Development Project: Geopolitics, Global Ecology and the "˜Development Climate," Third World Quarterly.
  10. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its Fifth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis for Climate Change. It summarizes what scientists now know about the causes and extent of climate change. It concludes that it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century, and that the observed changes “ are unprecedented over decades to millennia.” “Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.” The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. Headline messages in the IPCC report: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0-700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence). The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750. Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system. Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence). Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing. Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform. Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions. The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation. It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease. Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets. Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification. Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.
  11. The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is in the process of finalizing its next report, due to be released in four volumes between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. These reports, which have come out every seven years over the past several decades, represent the combined consensus views of thousands of climate scientists. Draft copies of some of the reports are now being leaked. While the IPCC correctly responds to criticism of these as premature, since they are by no means finalized yet, there are some things we can already be certain of. 1. The certainty on the part of the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is real and is at the very least primarily caused by human action has been growing with each new IPCC report. That trend will continue in the upcoming report. All the criteria for such certainty have long ago passed 90 percent, and just keep getting confirmed by new scientific study, by extreme weather events in the real world, by unprecedented droughts in many parts of the world, by the increasing acidity of the world's oceans, and much more. 2. Because the IPCC works on the basis of summarizing thousands of other scientific studies, it tends to be both wide-ranging in outlook and also somewhat conservative in its predictions. In each report, seven years apart, the "worst-case" predictions of the previous report have become the "most likely" predictions. This too will continue, as new studies confirm and deepen our collective knowledge about the world's climate system, how it works, how it is interconnected to all other natural systems (water, oceans, soil, plant life, etc.), and how changes in each of these systems affect all the others. 3. It appears that this latest report will include consideration for the first time of the impact on sea levels from the melting of ice in Greenland, predicting even higher sea level increases than in previous reports. However, it still will not include consideration of the impact on climate change of the melting of the permafrost across the top of the Northern Hemisphere. This is important because this melting releases massive amounts of previously frozen methane and carbon dioxide. This can exacerbate global warming caused by direct human interference in the climate, creating a feedback loop that will make greenhouse gas emissions much worse, and from a source that humans do not have any control over. 4. As each year passes, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to institute measures to reduce global warming. This creates a political paradox - the more we need such measures, the more proof there is of the reality of climate change, the more time passes, then the measures we need to take become more expensive and more massive, and the political will to do the right thing becomes more difficult. With each step toward certainty, the right-wing cries against reality become more shrill - another trend with no end in sight. 5. We can be certain that at least some of the press coverage of the final report will focus on anything that can be used to downplay the significance of the problem. This report will likely discuss the phenomenon that increases in average air temperatures have slowed over the past few years, and deniers will seize on this to undercut the need for change. But since all the world's natural systems are integrated at every level, average air temperatures, which are still increasing, are only one part of a very complex equation. If you take into account the rapidly increasing acidity of the ocean, which results from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide, there has been no slowing of the impacts climate change is making on the real world. But some press coverage will focus on any piece which, taken out of context, can be used to make people feel that the situation is not as bad as it really is. 6. Similarly, right-wing efforts to discredit climate change science, in addition to becoming increasingly shrill, also rely on overly simplified nonsense. Every year, when there is still a winter it will be used to claim that "global warming isn't real - we still have winter!" But this ignores how climate change works. It doesn't eliminate seasons, it makes the high temperatures greater. Just because we still have beaches in Florida doesn't mean that sea levels aren't increasing, and that increase will speed up over the coming decades. Right-wingers also focus on what is happening this year or next, to the exclusion of looking at the real long-term trends in the climate. This year may be about the same as last year in terms of the number and intensity of forest fires, for example, but the more than five decade long trend is for more forest fires burning at greater intensities. This winter may or may not be warmer than last year's, but the long-term trend is for Autumn to last longer and Spring to arrive earlier. 7. As many have pointed out, the right-wing attacks on climate science have little or nothing to do with the science itself; they are based on a rejection of what will be required to combat global warming. Government action on a large scale is required, as are restrictions on what businesses can do especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions. When right-wingers sneer at the science, they are really fearful of what will happen to their financial supporters in the fossil fuel industries. We can predict, with 100 percent certainty, that the upcoming IPCC report will confirm that global climate change is real, it is getting worse, it is caused mostly or entirely by human activity, and that we need to act to combat it - to reduce emissions, to adapt to the coming crises a warming world will bring on top of the huge impacts we have already seen. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  12. It's just about impossible to find any qualified scientist who denies (or even doubts) that climate change is real and dangerous, that human action is the primary cause, and that it can't be stopped without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This week, another major scientific organization issued a firm statement supporting the scientific consensus. Last year, an official statement on climate change by the American Geophysical Union said it was was real and "tied to energy use." This week, the the 61,000 member organization revised its position to be "more reflective of the current state of scientific knowledge." It puts the blame firmly on human action, and calls for "urgent action" including "substantial emissions cuts." As I've said before, the so-called climate change skeptics are really climate science deniers. Their opinions do not merit consideration in any rational forum. Here's the AGU's official position statement (pdf) on climate change, published August 5, 2013. Human-induced climate change requires urgent action Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes. Human activities are changing Earth's climate. At the global level, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuel burning dominates this increase. Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia. Extensive, independent observations confirm the reality of global warming. These observations show large-scale increases in air and sea temperatures, sea level, and atmospheric water vapor; they document decreases in the extent of mountain glaciers, snow cover, permafrost, and Arctic sea ice. These changes are broadly consistent with long-understood physics and predictions of how the climate system is expected to respond to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases. The changes are inconsistent with explanations of climate change that rely on known natural influences. Climate models predict that global temperatures will continue to rise, with the amount of warming primarily determined by the level of emissions. Higher emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to larger warming, and greater risks to society and ecosystems. Some additional warming is unavoidable due to past emissions. Climate change is not expected to be uniform over space or time. Deforestation, urbanization, and particulate pollution can have complex geographical, seasonal, and longer-term effects on temperature, precipitation, and cloud properties. In addition, human-induced climate change may alter atmospheric circulation, dislocating historical patterns of natural variability and storminess. In the current climate, weather experienced at a given location or region varies from year to year; in a changing climate, both the nature of that variability and the basic patterns of weather experienced can change, sometimes in counterintuitive ways "” some areas may experience cooling, for instance. This raises no challenge to the reality of human-induced climate change. Impacts harmful to society, including increased extremes of heat, precipitation, and coastal high water are currently being experienced, and are projected to increase. Other projected outcomes involve threats to public health, water availability, agricultural productivity (particularly in low-latitude developing countries), and coastal infrastructure, though some benefits may be seen at some times and places. Biodiversity loss is expected to accelerate due to both climate change and acidification of the oceans, which is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels. While important scientific uncertainties remain as to which particular impacts will be experienced where, no uncertainties are known that could make the impacts of climate change inconsequential. Furthermore, surprise outcomes, such as the unexpectedly rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, may entail even more dramatic changes than anticipated. Actions that could diminish the threats posed by climate change to society and ecosystems include substantial emissions cuts to reduce the magnitude of climate change, as well as preparing for changes that are now unavoidable. The community of scientists has responsibilities to improve overall understanding of climate change and its impacts. Improvements will come from pursuing the research needed to understand climate change, working with stakeholders to identify relevant information, and conveying understanding clearly and accurately, both to decision makers and to the general public.
  13. "The findings are striking," Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA's acting administrator, said on a conference call to the Guardian. "Our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place." The findings were published in the 32nd edition of the American Meteorological Society's State of the Climate report, which was compiled with contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and from more than 380 scientists from 52 countries. According to the new report, 2012 saw record levels of greenhouse gas emissions with a global average of carbon dioxide, methane and other warming gasses reaching 392.7 parts per million. 2012 was also among the 10 warmest years on record - ranking eighth or ninth depending on dataset. As a result, and as the report shows, the Arctic has lost record amounts of sea ice, making life hard for animals such as polar bears and raising the Earth's average sea levels. The map shows ice concentration on September 16, along with the extent of the previous record low (yellow line) and the mid-September median extent (black line). The most dramatic changes in the climate can be found in the regions of Arctic and Greenland. In 2012, the Arctic warmed at about twice the rate of lower latitudes while both the snow and sea-ice cover had fallen to its lowest levels ever since the beginning of satellite records. At one point in 2012, Arctic sea ice had receded to 1.32 million square miles - about 18% lower than the previous record low of 1.61 million square miles back in 2007, and a shocking 54% lower than the levels in 1980. If the current rate continues, the NOAA has projected that the Arctic ocean could become ice-free by 2050. "The record or near-records being reported from year to year in the Arctic are no longer anomalies or exceptions," said Jackie Richter-Menge, a civil engineer with the US army corps of engineers. "Really they have become the rule for us, or the norm that we see in the Arctic and that we expect to see for the forseeable future." The graph shows monthly global sea level from 1993 through early 2013 compared to 1993-2012 average, based on AVISO data. Global sea levels are rising as a result of the dramatic melting of sea ice, the report says. "Over the past seven years of so, it appears that the ice melt is contributing more than twice as much to the global sea level rise compared with warming waters," said Jessica Blunden, a climatologist at NOAA's national climactic data centre. During 2012, global average sea levels rose to record highs of 1.4 inches, about 35.56 mm, above the 1993-2010 average.
  14. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012. Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007 - a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world's largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal - which is primarily used to generate electricity - as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped. (See data.) Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom's emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany's emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both. Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012. CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China's carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India's emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012. Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century's worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country's borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China's books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries' carbon bill increases. On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution - twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons. Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land. About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat. For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas. CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops. More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. But a different future - one based on a clean energy economy - is within our reach. Germany, not a particularly sunny country, has harnessed enough of the sun's rays to power some 8 million homes, for example. The United States has enough wind turbines installed to power more than 15 million homes. Kenya generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from geothermal energy. This is but a glimpse of the enormous potential of renewable energy. The question is not whether we can build a carbon-free economy, but whether we can do it before climate change spirals out of control. By Emily E. Adams. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B" and more at www.earth-policy.org.
  15. President Obama made an important speech on climate change on June 25. He announced several policies to be implemented using his executive authority. Al Gore said it was the "best presidential address on climate" ever. The speech and the steps Obama announced are very positive for a number of reasons. First and possibly most importantly, he argued for the necessity of tackling climate change, declaring that "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." His advocacy of action to address climate change is one piece of convincing even more millions of people that we don't have time to waste. This helps turn the agenda away from the deniers and procrastinators, from the oil and coal company executives and owners who want to continue making excess profits while they still can. Obama called on the people of our country to demand action by political leaders at all levels - to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuel companies, to force politicians to promote sensible climate change laws as a condition of winning the support of voters. He called on citizens to "make their voice heard." The steps he announced, from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, to setting a goal of 10 gigawatts of renewables produced on public lands by the end of this year, are worthwhile in their own right. While these actions do not and can not accomplish as much as major congressional legislation, they do move the U.S. as a country from the obstacle to the solution side of the ledger. Obama, while punting the final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline down the road, set the crucial precedent that permits should be denied unless there is proof that the pipeline won't increase carbon dioxide emissions. This is an application of the precautionary principle, a variation of the medical admonition to "first do no harm." We should applaud the fact that Obama, after mentioning climate change in both his inaugural address and in this year's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, is following up with real action. If he moves forward on his determination to make progress on these environmental issues in his second term, it will be yet another historical accomplishment of his administration. Some have already derided his directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as merely telling the agency to perform its job, including following court decisions requiring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, given the already furious Republican opposition to any action by the EPA, Obama's public reaffirmation is another positive step. While not exactly a "new" policy, it does engage in the battle already ongoing over EPA regulations. These steps build on the environmental accomplishments of Obama's first term, increasing fuel economy standards significantly and investing in renewable energy, using the stimulus to support a more robust renewable energy industry and to invest in research. While appreciating the positive nature of his speech and the policies he announced, it is clear that these actions still fall far short of what scientific knowledge calls for. Climate change does not just threaten even more extreme weather events like last year's Hurricane Sandy; it imperils many natural systems on which developed human existence depend. Much more is required, and congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats are playing an obstructionist role, preventing the more far-reaching action that humanity needs. While Obama's proposals may be the maximum that is currently politically possible in the U.S., what is really required is a massive effort on many fronts - changing transportation, agriculture, military policy and production; regulating pollution-producing industries; research in many areas of energy, climate, weather, production; retrofitting existing buildings with much more substantial insulation; instituting new building code requirements and federal procurement policies - to mention a few areas where major progress is needed. The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline continues, and the next battle in the Senate will be over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Already, Republican senators are placing a hold on her nomination and threatening to filibuster any vote on her confirmation. These are just two of many battles to come. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  16. Speaking at a climate conference in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that inaction on global warming is "not an option" and called on nations to redouble efforts to secure an internationally binding climate change treaty. After being invited by the governments of Poland and Germany, environment and climate ministers from 35 countries "“ who together are responsible for around 80% of world carbon emissions - gathered earlier this week at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue conference in Berlin for a round of dialogue and informal negotiations ahead of the UN climate summit (COP19) in Warzaw, Poland, later this year. While stressing that all countries need to act, Merkel demanded immediate and bold action on climate change so that a binding climate treaty that limits emissions that cause global warming can be reached by 2015. "I'm under no illusion that there is a long road ahead," Merkel said at the conference. But "doing nothing only means that it will get a whole lot more expensive." These are indeed strong words for global action against climate change. But while Germany's carbon emissions rose by two percent last year, Merkel has so far seemed uninterested in fixing Europe's severely broken cap-and-trade program and failed to push for tougher climate policies for the European Union.
  17. CO2 levels hits dreaded 400 ppm milestone

    The level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached a symbolic milestone late last week when it hit historic record levels of 400 parts per million (ppm). Climate scientists warns that the milestone is a wake-up call for people and world leaders as it shows the alarming urgency of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions before it's too late. "Crossing 400 ppm is not a reason for celebration," said Pieter Tans, a scientist with NOAA's Global Monitoring Division, after the latest reading was released from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Because CO2 is the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming it is imperative that we reduce our CO2 emissions rapidly. But this latest milestone shows the world is moving in the wrong direction. Global CO2 levels have increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we passed 300 ppm during early 20th century and since then the rate have increased ever so rapidly. The rate has accelerated since the 1950s from around 0.7 ppm per year to 2.1 ppm per year for the last 10 years. "That increase is not a surprise to scientists," said Tans. "The evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas is driving the acceleration." And once emitted the CO2 stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, making it more and more difficult to mitigate and adapt to the devastating effects of runaway climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is the first time in human history that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere crosses 400 ppm. In fact, the planet haven't experienced these levels of CO2 in millions of years. The last time the level of CO2 was near these levels was during the Miocene Period, about 10 million years ago. Back then the Earth looked completely different from today. Global temperatures then were much hotter. At the poles it was perhaps as much as ten degrees warmer, and the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica had not been formed. Sea level was around 5 to 40 meters higher than today. But "it took nature hundreds of millions of years to change CO2 concentrations through natural processes such as natural carbon burial and volcanic outgassing," Michael Mann, climate change author and director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State, told the AFP. "We're unburying it and burning it over a timescale of 100 years, a million times faster." And this rapid speed in which global concentrations of CO2 are increasing is the main concern for climate scientists. "There is no precedent in Earth's history for such an abrupt increase in greenhouse gas concentrations," Mann said. It's easier for living things to adopt to slow changes that take place over tens of millions of years than to adjust to this abrupt change in climate. World leaders want to stop climate from rising further than 2 degrees in global temperatures. A 2C increase in global temperatures will mean that we have to stabilize our greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at about 445 to 490 ppm. But 350 ppm is the level climate scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. If the current trend is allowed to continue we will not be able to reach neither of these two targets. "We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks," Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said.
  18. In an interview with the Guardian last week Al Gore talked about the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year, the European carbon market, climate change deniers, smart grids and nuclear energy. The most surprising comment from Gore was about nuclear energy and its role in fighting climate change. According to Gore nuclear energy is not the answer to our problems because it’s dirty, too expensive, unsafe and that it poses a threat to world peace. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now sceptical about it. There's a few reasons. Let's assume for the moment that we will solve the problem of long-term storage of radioactive waste. Let's assume also that we'll figure out how to standardise their design as [each plant] is currently unique and that enhances the risk of operator accidents. Let's assume we can solve the terrorism threat to nuclear reactors. That still leaves a couple of very difficult problems. First and foremost, economics. The nuclear industry cannot give any reliable cost estimate for how much it will take to build a nuclear plant. When a utility is confronted with the absence of any advances for how much the construction cost is going to be, then that's a problem. Because the economics of nuclear only work at scale. You've got to have a 1,000 megawatt plant for it to be efficient and competitive. In the current environment, if you run a large utility that sells electricity you've got a certain amount of money to allocate in your budget. If you're looking at the trends towards more conservation and the rapid introduction of renewables, it's hard for you to project what your demand is going to be with as much precision as when the world was more predictable. As a result, you are less inclined to take all of your money and place one big bet on something that matures 12-15 years from now at an uncertain cost. That what's called a "lumpy investment" and they want smaller increments that give them smaller flexibility. In the US, there hasn't been a new order for a new reactor in 36 years. Yes, there is [more appetite for nuclear power now]. And because of the carbon crisis there will be more nuclear plants built and some of those being retired will be replaced by others. I think it will play a somewhat larger role, but it will not be the main option chosen. Whatever countries such as the US and the UK do, it will have a demonstration effect for the rest of the world. As the world comes to grips with how to solve the climate crisis, we in the US and the UK have a leadership role. If we told the rest of the world that nuclear is the answer [they would follow]. For the eight years that I spent in the White House every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a reactor programme. People have said for years that there are now completely different [nuclear] technologies. OK, but if you have a team of scientists that can build a reactor, and you're a dictator, you can make them work at night to build a nuclear weapon. That's what's happened in North Korea and Iran. And in Libya before they gave it up. So the idea of, say, Chad, Burma, and Sudan having lots of nuclear reactors is insane and it's not going to happen." Greenpeace was of course happy by Gore's comment. Martin Lloyd, from the Greenpeace blog Making Waves, said that: "It's always nice when people agree with you. We've maintained that nuclear power is a dangerous distraction to the real solutions to the climate crisis for a long time now. It's dirty, it's unsafe, it's a threat to world peace and it is terribly, terribly expensive." "Now, Al Gore, who's sometimes been on the other side of this argument has come round to our position. Because, as he notes, even if you assume problems with safety and waste can be overcome, it just doesn't make sense economically." Photo credit: Severin Nowacki (cc)
  19. The mass media and our environment

    The media these days are just another big business managed not more differently than any other industry. The mainstream media is very global in its scope (just think on CNN as an example) and like any other business its owned by a handful of large transnational corporations, or TNCs. General Electric (GE) is an example of a media owning TNC as it operates NBC Universal in USA. But how did it come to this? How come TNCs have such a big influence? If we look back in the US history we find some explanations. In the early days corporations was actually a public institution designed to serve the citizens in USA. It might be hard to imagine today in USA but the state had a great control over these political created corporations. But as time moved on these corporations became increasingly privatized. This was in the beginning fueled by the need to create private finances to help in war efforts and colonial state expansion and imperialism which took place during this period. But as corporations grew bigger and richer their political powers increased even further. During the nineteenth century the privatization increased rapidly as laws and ideologies were introduced to accommodate the corporate interests. In 1868 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor for private corporations to be given the same rights and protections as a "natural person" under the nations constitution. This meant that corporations were now free to influence the government with the very same rights as individual citizens had. This paved the way for corporate donations and lobbying which was used to "dominate public thought and discourse". Elizabeth Campbell notes that as a result corporations today basically controls individual politicians and whole political parties in the USA. When it comes to the media it wasn't until around the twentieth century that things changed and a new corporate media industry started to emerge. Before the twentieth century most of the media was local and national and not as globalized or privatized as they are today. The first forms of global media was the radio broadcasting and the film industry. 85% of all the films people were watching in cinemas by 1914 was coming from the US. And it was around this time that corporations and nations started to realize the importance of media as a political tool. At the end of World War II the USA successfully used the global media to reinforce the picture of its nation as a leading superpower in the world. After World War II the transition from local and public-owned media to global and corporate owned media begun. And with the successful spread of English media around the world commercials and advertising increased rapidly. Mass media and advertising Because mainstream media is privately owned their end goal is of course to make money from their business. And like one can imagine advertising is one of the main income sources. This means that the media have to comply with and cater to their advertisers wishes so they don't lose their income source. And those who can afford to advertise are the transnational corporations who all share and push the free-market capitalistic ideology. Campbell writes that these large corporate advertisers rarely want to sponsor shows or programs that involves any kind of serious environmental, social or political criticism towards any corporate activities. Product-placement in the media, for example when Pepsi pays to have their soda drink visible in a TV-show, is a multi-billion-dollar industry these days. And to be able to influence the public, i.e. their consumers, corporations spend more than half as much per capita on advertising than what is spent on education around the world. With the help of advertising corporations can construct needs and desires among the public for their various products. The ideology which is spread with the help from the mainstream media and the advertising industry encourages mass consumption on an unquestioned level and promotes consumption as happiness. Because corporations are all about profit margins they want to advertise their products to the largest audience possible. And when the media is profit-driven they want to attract as many viewers or readers as possible to be able to sell more advertisements and increase their sponsor income. And as Campbell notes it seems that the largest audiences can be brought together by offering celebrity gossip news, sex, violence or other shock value tactics. And of course this is what the mainstream media will concentrate their coverage on then. Thus the more in-depth and the more complex social, political or environmental issues gets left behind in the shadows of the spotlight on the "infotainment" news and "advertorials". See the above image screenshot for example. Corporate media means less diversity In the beginning of this post I mentioned General Electric as one of the media owning TNCs. GE is one of the six firms that controls most of the news, commentary and entertainment in the USA. Besides GE these six firms are AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, NewsCorp and Bertelsmann. They are also ranked among the world's richest corporations. Just 25 years ago there were around 50 different corporate owners in the US media. So as one can imagine if there are only six corporations in the USA, who all concentrate on their own self-interests, while controlling the majority of all the media consumed it results in less diversity for their audiences. And it doesn't matter then, as Campbell notes, if there are more information available if there is a lack of diversity. Less diversity means less democratic media. Let me explain this a bit further. In USA the top media sources such as CNN, Fox News and the New York Times etc supply the local papers and broadcasters with national and international news. So while the news are being described in many various media actors the news and opinions all originates from the same source. Richard Peet and Elaine Hartwick also notes that the mainstream media rarely have any coverage or debates about leftist and socialistic theories of development which are critical of our current capitalistic society. They argue this is because the mainstream media is so much largely controlled by private interests who only want to cover conservative and "at most" liberal viewpoints and topics. "Indeed, most people even in the "free democracies" go through life without even hearing the great critical ideas and the political-economic motives of leftist intellectuals," they write. And in an effort to increase their incomes and securing their profit-margins the corporate media is cutting their costs wherever they can. And unfortunately this means less quality and objective news journalism and more cheap "infotainment" like I've mentioned before. A big cost for the news media corporations are their overseas and field reporters. In-depth and field-based reporting is even on a national and local level expensive and reporters based overseas is in turn even more costly. Another result of the cost-saving measurements is that the media gets gradually more and more dependent on "official sources" in their reporting. Campbell notes that the global mainstream media is backing up their stories with information from "experts" provided by businesses and governments. An example of this is the Pentagon, as a government funded department, and Exxon Mobil, as a privately owned corporation, who both has the funds available to offer news organizations with everything from "experts" available for questioning to press statements, quotes and photo opportunities. According to Campbell this reliance is risky as it can make the reporters and journalists hesitant to confront, challenge or debate the information provided by these governmental and corporate bodies as it might "damage their established relationship". It also means that only the wealthy are able to fully access and exercise their right to free speech in the media. PR firms and think-tanks are the media tools for the corporations Due to their size, power and involvement in our societies these media corporations play one of the biggest roles in shaping each generations own personal values and thoughts, as well as people's political and environmental stances. According to Campbell today's media corporations have "almost total power" to decide what kind of topics will and will not be covered and discussed in our TVs, radios and newspapers. And as Campbell points out environmental topics in the mainstream media are never debated in a way that points out corporations as the source of the problem or the environmental degradation. Her example here is global warming. In USA the climate change debate has been mostly centered around the question if it is a problem or not. This question has managed to stay alive in the media debates mostly thanks to the work of corporate funded think-tanks and PR firms. These PR firms and think-tanks have managed to create a feeling among the public that there still are clear doubts and that the arguments are balanced on both sides of the global warming spectrum. A Gallup survey released last year shows that an increasing number of Americans (41%) believe that global warming is being "exaggerated" in the media. According to Gallup this is the highest level of public skepticism ever reported when it comes to the coverage on global warming by the mainstream media in USA. The same survey also shows that Americans have started to feel a bit less worried about climate change. The overall worry has decreased from 65% in 2007 and 66% in 2008 to 60% in 2009. According to Gallup global warming was the only environmental issue that "dropped significantly" among the public concerns during 2008. And lastly the survey shows that 16%, a new record-high for Gallup, of Americans believe the effects of climate change will never occur. But it's still important to note that a majority of Americans still believe that climate change is being correctly portrayed, or even underestimated, in the media. And as people usually tend to only favor actions on issues that there seems to be no clear doubts about one must say that these PR firms and think-tanks have succeeded in their work of creating "manufactured doubt". The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the CATO institute, all situated in the political centre in Washington D.C., are examples of powerful corporate funded think-tanks who has a huge influence in shaping the global warming debate in the media. These think-tanks use both emotional arguments as well as scare tactics to create their "manufactured doubt" in the media. Examples of arguments can be that any cuts in our energy consumption would harm workers, elder and poor people around the world. Or that renewable energy is both expensive and damaging to the environment. They also promote the views of a selected few scientists who disagree with the strong consensus and the vast majority of scientists and scientific institutions on man-made climate change. Another example is the now disbanded Global Climate Coalition which was carefully created by PR firms to give the impression of a friendly grassroots organization while actually lobbying against environmental reforms. This so-called grassroots organization had around 50 different trade associations and corporations who were involved in the oil, coal, gas, automobile and chemical industry. The tactics used by the agrichemical industry back in 1962 alongside the release of the widely popular book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is yet another example. Carson's book criticized the use of dangerous toxins such as DDT and helped create awareness of environmental destruction. The agrichemical industry responded by distributing thousands of negative book reviews of Silent Spring and at the same time they doubled their PR budget. According to Campbell it is estimated that corporations and businesses in USA spends $1 billion every year on PR firms and think-tanks who help them lobby against environmental reforms, laws and protection in the media. Earlier this year Greenpeace exposed the US-based Koch Industries, a privately owned oil company, as a major financial contributor to global warming skeptics in both Europe and USA. According to Greenpeace Koch Industries donated around $48 million to different climate skeptic groups and think-tanks between 1997 and 2008. The money went to many well-known conservative and libertarian think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato institute and the Foundation for research on economics and the environment. Greenpeace claims all of these think-tanks are "at the forefront of the anti-global warming debate". The Guardian also writes that Koch Industries also spent nearly $6 million ($5.7m) on various political campaigns and another $37 on lobbying in support of fossil fuels. "Koch industries is playing a quiet but dominant role in the global warming debate. This private, out-of-sight corporation has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition. On repeated occasions organisations funded by Koch foundations have led the assault on climate science and scientists, 'green jobs', renewable energy and climate policy progress." Now one might think that these climate denying think-tanks are solely funded by oil, gas and coal corporations who might have something to win by creating a fog of confusion and doubt around global warming. But this is not entirely the case. The CATO institute is for example funded by well-known corporations such as Comcast, FedEx, GM, Honda, Microsoft, TimeWarner, Toyota, Visa, VW, and WalMart among others. These corporations was, according to Cato's own annual report in 2007, contributing financially to the think-tank and helped fund an "absurd anti-scientific denier ad" in major American newspapers such as the The New York Times in 2009. Campbell claims that government action on environmental issues such as global warming is lagging behind because these topics can't be discussed "seriously" in the mainstream media. Instead, she says, the mainstream media and their corporate owners put the spotlight on simplistic topics such as discrediting individual environmentalists and "controversial scientific reports" instead of debating the larger and harder questions. Campbell writes that: "By reducing complex issues like global warming to simplistic special interest-driven sound bites about whether or not it really exists, citizens consuming the media become incapable of understanding and acting on real debate and questioning and instead prefer easy answers, quick fixes, and easy-to-grasp phrases. Audiences thus grow apathetic, cynical, and quiescent about media presentations of environmental issues, which has resulted in an increasingly widespread lack of interest in engaging in them." And this lack of interest is a major threat to democracy which requires a actively involved and informed citizen to function properly. Campbell concludes that a so-called democracy that only caters to corporate interests "will never pursue a path toward social and environmental sustainability". Journalismgate A paper on what kind of role the media plays in how we perceive and react to environmental issues around us is not complete without talking about "Climategate", as the media calls it. Climategate is what climate skeptics labeled as "the final nail in the coffin" of "the theory of global warming". The root of this "climate scandal", as the mainstream media portrayed it, was some email conversations between scientists at a climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain. The emails, who were illegally hacked, was reported to be evidence of some sort of attempt to manipulate and prevent scientific climate data to be released to the public. One can easily remember all the news reports, debates and commentaries from scientists who claimed the emails were taken out of context and all the various climate skeptics who claimed this was the evidence which exposed man-made climate change as a fraud last year. Even here in Sweden climate skeptics seemed to breathe fresh air from the major Climategate news coverage. Lars Bern who is one of the founders of the Stockholm Initiative, a Swedish think-tank which opposes the strong link between climate change and human activity, claimed that this was evidence on the "systematically manipulation" of temperature data from UN climate scientists. But was Climategate really the big scandal that the climate skeptics and largely the mainstream media portrayed it as? Of course not. Recently an independent inquiry set up to investigate the Climategate affair came to the conclusion that there was "absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever." Lord Oxburgh said that "whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly". But did this exoneration for the involved scientists from the University of East Anglia get as much coverage in the mainstream media as the false claims from the climate skeptics did? Did anyone in the mass media try to figure out who hacked the emails? Well from my own, and many others, experience they did not. Why is it, like Johann Hari says, that: "...when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative--See! The global warming story is falling apart!--to be reinforced by the media. It doesn't matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading "thinkers" in this movement." I would say that we can find the answers in the mainstream media's recent corporate development to why the climate skeptics only have to be right "0.01 percent of the time" to get their claims reinforced in the media. I have with the help from Campbell and others tried to make it apparent that the global mainstream media only cares about their profit-margins and rather want to focus on "infotainment" news, and stories like Climategate, as it helps them pursue their corporate owners free-market and consumption-driven agenda. My main and most obvious example of how corporations have controlled the debates and reports in the mainstream media has been global warming. But there are of course other examples of environmental issues and topics that the media has failed to adequately report on. Two of those are for example the topic of the garbage's created by our society and the various energy related issues. The media fails to inform the public on the issue of the millions of metric tons of household, chemical and corporate waste that are affecting a large population of people very day. Campbell argues that it becomes an "nonissue" because those people affected by the waste are not "key power holders" or the media corporations main target audience. When it comes to energy related issues such as oil drilling the media often simplify it to a question of whether who is for or against it. But these "both sides of the story" reports can not cover the complete story in such a complex issue as energy is. The corporate media also fails to explain or examine for their viewers and readers about the connections between energy production and consumption, our dependence on fossil fuels and those who control these energy sources. Simply put, the media is failing to relate environmental and social problems with the socioeconomic factors and powers that have created them. Campbell argues that as an result of this people gets the impression from the media that the war on terrorism, energy consumption and corporate power for example are totally unrelated issues to each other. Rush Limbaugh might be an extreme example of a conservative corporate mainstream media. But he works just fine as a shock example. In the ongoing BP offshore oil drilling scandal, out in the Gulf of Mexico, Limbaugh is claiming that the explosion could have been an inside "Earth Day eco-sabotage" and that the cleanup is unnecessary: "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there," Limbaugh said. "It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is". So if we want to be able to have informed citizens, move towards a more environmental and socially sustainable society and a media which not only the wealthy have right to access and use we need to deal with the corporate mainstream media. Otherwise we will soon face a major threat to our fragile democracy. After all, those who have the control over the mass media controls our culture and society. References Gould, Kenneth A. and Tammy L. Lewis, 2008: Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology. Oxford University Press. Campbell H., Elizabeth, 2008: Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology. Oxford University Press. Peet, Richard and Elaine Hartwick 2009: Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives. The Guilford Press.
  20. A few days ago I wrote about Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, the three front-runners in the Republican primary, and just where they stand politically when it comes to our climate and environment. As one can imagine their anti-science positions and climate skepticism didn't result in a very positive environmental record. Now one of the more unknown Republican candidates in the primary have spoken out against his fellow Republican party members for their anti-science rhetoric. It's the former Utah Governor and former Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman who said in an interview on ABC's This Week this past Sunday that the climate change skepticism coming from Romney, Bachmann and Perry is "not a winning formula" saying he "wouldn't necessarily trust any" of his opponents. Since my post last week the three front-runners have attended more campaign rallies and said more crazy things. For example: At a political rally in New Hampshire last week, Rick Perry continued to deny global warming and said that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects". Michele Bachmann on the other hand said at a rally in South Carolina that she will make sure that gasoline cost less than $2 a gallon again, if she becomes president. This is of course impossible and Stephen Lacey has a great post about this crazy dream from Bachmann over at Climate Progress. During the interview on ABC's This Week, Hunstman attacked Romney, Bachmann and Perry and said that the Republican party will be on the "losing side" if they continue to attack science. Here is an excerpt from Huntsman's interview where he attacks mainly Perry's stance on global warming, evolution and science: "I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science - Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position. The Republican Party has to remember that we're drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. And we've got a lot of traditions to draw upon. But I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a - a party that - that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula." He also attacked Bachmann's $2 gasoline promise: "I just don't know what - what world that comment would come from, you know? We live in the real world. It's grounded in reality. And gas prices just aren't going to rebound like that. But just as we are in a static world, that is completely unrealistic. And, again, it's talking about things that, you know, may pander to a particular group or sound good at the time, but it just simply is not founded in reality." Hopefully Huntsman can bring some sanity when it comes to science and climate change to the Republican primary and the coming presidential election. You can watch the full interview with Huntsman here.
  21. The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, which many have said was our last chance to take action against "the greatest threat the world has ever faced", ended in a failure. For over 15 years delegates and politicians from around the world have discussed, debated and negotiated the questions of dealing with man-made climate change in various COP (Conference of the Parties) summits. So why haven't they made any real progress yet? That is a big question that covers a whole range of topics and issues that I won't go into. Instead I will try to focus on the actual politics and tactics used at the COP summits. I will try to see if uneven development and inequality plays any part in how the actual negotiations plays out, how the delegates attending perceive climate justice and fairness, and if all this combined somehow sabotages the efforts to secure a climate deal. At the major United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 more than 100 world leaders met to address the question of global climate change. At the end of the conference 187 nations signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. Without any "tough details" the agreement said nations should "protect the climate system"¦on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." World leaders managed to get a consensus and reach an agreement but they still had disagreements on what kind of responsibilities nations had under the UNFCCC treaty. The "common but differentiated" phrase seems to have resulted in various different interpretations between the "North" and the "South". The poor developing nations were, compared to the North, very precise in their interpretation of the phrase and called for the rich developed nations to take the lead in the emission reductions. They also wanted the North to help developing nations in their environmental efforts by transferring large amounts of economic and technologic assistance from the North to the South. The North on the other hand interpreted the phrase a bit differently. According to the UNFCC treaty $625 billion was needed every year for a sustainable development to take place in the developing nations. Around 20% of the money would be paid by below-market loans to the South. But the developed nations never fulfilled their promise of economic and technologic assistance to the South. In the end they paid less than 20% of the $625 billion. In 1995, three years after the Rio Earth Summit, the first COP conference took place in Berlin, Germany. Here the so called "Berlin Mandate" declared that the developed nations in the North should reduce their emissions first while the developing nations would join in later on. Two years later in 1997 at the COP3 conference in Kyoto, Japan, the US president Bill Clinton actually signed the famous Kyoto Protocol, which called for binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But the protocol was never ratified by the USA because of the US senate which voted unanimously in favor for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. Once passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution successfully blocked any climate treaty that was, in their words, "unfair". Because the Kyoto protocol did not require the developing nations to do any emissions cuts the US senate felt it was "unfair" and refused to ratify it. And it is now, with the Kyoto protocol, that you can start to clearly see the different positions and opinions the North and the South, rich and poor, developed and developing nations have on what climate justice actually is. Developing nations didn't want to accept any scheduled emission reduction targets for the future. Any mention by the North that the developing nations should in some way slow down their development and economic growth by limiting their greenhouse gas emissions was met with an "openly hostile negotiating environment" from the South. The Brazilian ambassador Luis Felipe Lampreia stated during the COP3 conference that: "We cannot accept limitations that interfere with our economic development." And the lead negotiator from China said: "In the developed world only two people ride in a car, and yet you want us to give up riding on a bus". The developed nations are responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 emissions. One person in Bangladesh will during a whole year emit as much CO2 emissions as one average person living the UK will in only 11 days. A single power plant in Great Britain will produce more CO2 emissions, every year, than all 139 million people living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique combined. It is also clear that developing nations are much more vulnerable to the effects a changing climate brings such as droughts, rising tides, floods and tropical storms than rich and developed nations are. And nine Chinese and eighteen Indians release as much greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere as one average American does. The USA is alone responsible for over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but only around 4% of the world's total population lives in the USA. A whopping 136 developing nations are on the other hand together responsible for 24% of global emissions. But the former US President George H. W. Bush once notoriously stated that "the American lifestyle is not open to negotiation". His son, George W. Bush later dismissed the Kyoto protocol completely by claiming that the treaty "would cause serious harm to the US economy" and that it is "an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns". Even in light of these clearly uneven numbers the North's perception of climate justice seems to be to disregard any kinds of historical responsibilities or economical differences, the very same issues that the South thinks are the basis of climate justice. And these rather different perceptions on climate justice between the rich and poor nations help fuel an deteriorating negotiating atmosphere. When it comes to the negotiations during these summits, like the COP15 this past December, the income differences between developing and developed nations plays a big role in creating a hostile negotiating environment for the delegates. It is also one of the more direct examples on how inequality can dampen cooperation on climate change. Attending these yearly COP summits obviously costs money. Nations need to be able to pay for their delegate's salaries and accommodations. Other costs involves scientists, lawyers, translators, economists and consultants that can help the nations delegation in the actual negotiations, with their draft proposals, legal argumentation as well as being able to offer counterarguments and proposals to the demands of other nations. "The reason why many poor small countries are hardly represented in negotiations that concern them directly, writes Robert Wade, is that they cannot afford the cost of hotels, offices, and salaries in places like Washington DC and Geneva, which must be paid not in PPP [purchasing power parity] dollars but in hard currency bought with their own currency at market exchange rates (quoted in J.T. & Parks, 2006: 15)." Unfortunately many of the less developed nations (LDCs) cannot afford all this and most of the time they will have to go without this much needed help. Just a little side note to show how just bad these things can get: At a seminar in the aftermaths of COP15, at the Lund University in Sweden, a CPS student from Bangladesh told us about how he had, at a visit to the Bella center (where the climate talks were being held), walked into the delegation from Bangladesh. And after a short chat with them he ended up helping the delegation with translations at the big UN summit. The delegates also need to attend all the formal and informal meetings during the climate summit. And these can be many and scheduled to take place at the same time. If you have several delegates you can easily divide up the work and focus on certain issues, read every single document and draft texts. That's why the more delegates you can send the better. Studies have shown that there is a great difference between the numbers of delegates developed and developing nations are sending to these COP summits. For example: To COP6, in the Netherlands, the USA sent 99 delegates and the European Commission sent 76 delegates. Many developing nations such as African and small island states were lucky if they could even afford to scramble together a delegation consisting of one to three delegates. Recent studies and experiences at COP10 in 2004 confirm and back this up. During COP6 the chairs decided to split up the negotiations into smaller groups, subgroups and even subsubgroups so that they could easier cover all the climate related issues in an easier manner. Sure, this move can in an equal and perfect world make the debates and meetings flow much smoother. But with the current inequality between developed and developing nations it can make things worse. As you can imagine this decision gave a huge advantage and "agenda-setting power" to the developed nations who had been able to send many more delegates to the COP summit than the poorer nations had. Another problematic side effect of not being able to send enough people to the climate summits is that the developing nations delegates often gets "buried" in documents and papers. This of course leads to the delegation losing its strength and energy. In the last hours of the summit they could then be presented with a document or proposal to a treaty which is already done and beyond alteration and forced to accept or reject it in an unrealistic short period of time. The developed nations use this to get a tactical advantage of the developing nations. They can offer a document at the last hour and pressure everyone to sign it. If the developing countries don't accept it they are later labeled by the developing nations as the "bad guy" and the ones responsible for wrecking the climate talks (Huffington Post, 2009). At COP6, for example, "commitments were imposed by muscular chairmanship, or gaveled through without reaction from negotiators exhausted to the point of sleep," Ashton and Wang claim. But this approach does not always succeed as can be seen by the walkout by G77 delegates in 2003 at the Cancun trade negotiations, or from the failure of the COP6 summit where China and the G77 group felt marginalized by the developed nations. Or from the walkout by African nations at the latest COP15 summit in Copenhagen. The nasty behind-the-back tactics and behaviors used in the past by developing nations were also present at the latest COP. During the first week of the COP15 summit in Copenhagen a potential final agreement, called the "Danish text", was leaked to the Guardian. The draft text was apparently worked out by developed nations such as the UK, US and Denmark and planned to be adapted by nations during the final week of the summit. The draft agreement made the developing countries "furious" as it would give even more powers to the rich nations, weakening UN's future role as well as abandon the Kyoto protocol. Many NGOs, commentators and political leaders have criticized these COP summits and the tactics being used as unfair and even undemocratic. At the end of COP15 the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for example called the summit "undemocratic". Raman Mehta from Action Aid India said this in a statement, in light of the "Danish text", that: "The global community trusted the Danish government to host a fair and transparent process but they have betrayed that trust. Most importantly, they are betraying those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and whose voices are not being heard. This unfair behaviour strikes a blow to all efforts to achieve justice and equity in the climate change negotiations process (quoted from Friends of the Earth, 2009)." George Monbiot's verdict on the COP15 summit wasn't much better. He called it "stupid" and labeled the organizers and attendees of the summit as incompetent: "This was the chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit. The event has been attended by historic levels of incompetence. Delegates arriving from the tropics spent 10 hours queueing in sub-zero temperatures without shelter, food or drink, let alone any explanation or announcement, before being turned away. Some people fainted from exposure; it's surprising that no one died. The process of negotiation was just as obtuse: there was no evidence here of the innovative methods of dispute resolution developed recently by mediators and coaches, just the same old pig-headed wrestling." One also need to keep in mind that local environmental problems such as preventing soil erosion, providing clean drinking water, treating sewage and slowing down the spread of deserts are for most developing nations a much more critical and pressing issue than the more global ones. For developed nations the more global environmental issues such as climate change, ozone depletion and habitat loss are higher up on their priority list. This means that the developing nations need to put more effort into pursuing the South that the global issues should be a higher priority for them. At the same time many delegates and policy makers from the less developed nations fear that the nations in the core of the world system, which I explained earlier, might just use the climate and environmental concerns to cover up their real agenda: keeping the periphery nations underdeveloped. After being literally forced to accept trade-related, intellectual and property-rights laws and agreements that gives an advantage to the North many South policy makers and even academics hold this opinion of mistrust. And this is a reason to why there is such a big "climate of mistrust" at the COP negotiations. The North has almost constantly failed to keep their promises of financial aid, technological transfer, ignored many of the ecological problems in the South and used tactics to marginalize the South at negotiations. So it's not really that hard to understand that any suggestions from the North that the South should limit their development, for the good of global environmental issues, are met with a dismissive response from the developing nations. Final Thoughts So the lack of power and the extreme poverty and underdevelopment among many of the developing nations leaves them vulnerable in negotiations with the North. It's more expensive for developing nations to purchase environmental technology and knowledge as they have to be paid with real cash and not credits or loans from the North. This makes it hard for them to perform any kinds of meaningful emission reductions or take part in the COP summits on equal terms. The wealthy developed nations believe that climate justice is when an agreement involves all parties, both developed and developing nations. Because, they argue, the non-Annex I nations will in a near future increase their emissions with so much that they must be included in a climate treaty. The poorer developing nations on the other hand perceive this in another manner. The climate crisis is a result from the rich North's excessive consumption. And so they argue they also have the right, just like the North, to build and develop their economy using cheap fossil fuels. The ozone layer crisis during the 1980's is a good example of how the world can come together to combat global environmental issues. The negotiations back then was just as hard and complex as the climate talks are today. During the negotiations a Chinese delegate said that: "The call for modernization is so irresistible that China will continue to produce these ozone depleting chemicals," unless, of course they and other developing nations received financial compensation for their efforts. India was equally tough in their negotiations and their environment minister said in a statement that: "We didn't destroy the layer. You did. I'm saying that you [the West] have the capability and the money to restore what you have destroyed" (Do you recognize the style of the statements back then to the ones in today's climate debate?). In the end the North agreed to give financial aid to the developing nations so that they could afford to take proper actions and protect the ozone layer. But the current climate change negotiations are taking place in an even tougher "climate of mistrust" between the rich and poor. This mistrust is based on decades of Western promises not kept in global environmental and economic matters. To get rid of this suspicion and mistrust that is sabotaging efforts to secure a climate deal the North needs to understand their historical responsibility in this matter. As well as taking social and economic issues into account when negotiating about climate targets. The North could do this by offering a new and fairer global environmental and development treaty that clearly shows their commitments in this issue. "They could do this by providing greater "environmental space" to late developers, supplying meaningful sums of environmental assistance, funding aid for adaption and dealing with local environmental issues as well as global issues like climate change, and by identifying and investing in win-win technologies and sectors that both address local environmental issues and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (quoted in J.T. & Parks, 2006: 217)." Basically the North needs to stop treating the weaker nations in the South as "second-class citizens" and work on rebuilding the South's trust. Until they do we won't get a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal (Or a planet with a habitable biosphere!). Further reading: Roberts, J.T. & Parks, B.C. (2006). "A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy" Hornborg, A., J.R. McNeill & J. Martinez-Alier, red. (2007)."Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change" Age of Stupid, "UK Priemier: Message from the President of the Maldives" (2009) The Guardian, "Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure" (2009) United Nations Earth Summit+5 The Huffington Post, Pablo Erick Solón Romero Oroza, "Climate Headed for Crash Landing" (2009) Goodman, Amy, "The Climate Divide: Dispute Between Rich and Poor Nations Widens at UN Copenhagen Summit" (2009) Monbiot, George, "Copenhagen negotiators bicker and filibuster while the biosphere burns" (2009) Democracy Now, "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on How to Tackle Climate Change" (2009) The Guardian, "Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after 'Danish text' leak" (2009) Friends of the Earth International, "danish government slammed for bias and secrecy in role as president of un climate conference" (2009)
  22. Lord Nicholas Stern, British economist and academic who is most known for the Stern Review said, during an improvised speech at a Cape Town hotel in South Africa, that if we don't act quickly and determinedly to address climate change the world will face billions of climate refugees and extended world wars in a near future: "If the world's nations act responsibly, Stern said, they will achieve "zero-carbon" electricity production and zero-carbon road transport by 2050 _ by replacing coal power plants with wind, solar or other energy sources that emit no carbon dioxide, and fossil fuel-burning vehicles with cars running on electric or other "clean" energy. Then warming could be contained to a 2-degree-Celsius (3.4-degree-Fahrenheit) rise this century, he said. But if negotiators falter, if emissions reductions are not made soon and deep, the severe climate shifts and sea-level rises projected by scientists would be "disastrous." It would "transform where people can live," Stern said. "People would move on a massive scale. Hundreds of millions, probably billions of people would have to move if you talk about 4-, 5-, 6-degree increases" _ 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And that would mean extended global conflict, "because there's no way the world can handle that kind of population move in the time period in which it would take place.""
  23. Can we fix the climate without reducing emissions? Might there even be a way to fix the climate that is cheaper then reducing emissions and doesn't have side-effects? In this post I will look at some of the more creative proposals for fixing the climate, and see if they are any good. Many of the ideas I'll present here sound like crazy-talk at first, and I'm not saying that they necceceraly aren't, but I don't think they should be disregarded before we have considered them. I'll start with one of the most popular ideas: Pumping fine particles of sea-water into clouds to make them bigger and more reflective. This youtube-video explains it all: The good thing about cloud-seeding is that it can be very cheap. As mentioned in the clip only 500 litres of salt water a second, or something of that magnitude, needs to be sprayed up in order too control temperatures on earth. We would need roughly 1500 ships to counter-act a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, costing 1,5 to 3,5 million dollars each. And to keep up with the current rate of increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels we would need 50 new ships a year. Not that much for saving the climate. The Copenhagen Consensus Center, where top economists have tried to estimate the costs and benefits of different solutions to climate change, write this about the costs: Marine cloud whitening with a fleet of unmanned ships would be extremely cheap: for about $5.8 billion, all of the global warming for the century could be avoided. But is it possible that seeding the clouds might change the worlds weather patterns, and lead to droughts, etc? Yes. That's one of the reasons why we need to research this a lot more. But one of the great things about marine cloud whitening is that it's so flexible. If placing the boats one place leads to problems we might solve the problem by simply moving the boats. Maybe we even can make the worlds rain-patterns better (by prevent droughts, etc.) if we gain a good enough understanding of the climate system and how cloud seeding affects it? Since the boats can be controlled the amount of cooling can also be controlled, via satellite measurements and a computer model. And what do we do if marine cloud whitening doesn't work out? Then we stop doing it, and everything will return to normal within a few weeks. Which also means that it will be risk-free to do small-scale testing of the technology. But hey, you might think, won't the clouds become salty? Well, in a way they already are, as tiny salty water droplets from breaking waves already enter the atmosphere and help forming clouds. Marine cloud whitening only enhances a natural process. As far as I understand, the water always needs something to cling to (particles like dust, smoke, or salt) in order to form clouds, but when the clouds first have started forming they grow really big, and become mainly freshwater. So there is no danger of there raining salty water if we start with marine cloud whitening. Releasing sulfur in the stratosphere Picture of the volcano eruption at the Philippines in 1991, which reduced world temperatures by 0,6 degrees. In 1991 Mount Pinatubothere, a volcano in the Philippines, had a huge eruption. 10 million tonnes of sulfur was ejected into the stratosphere - the part of the atmosphere which is placed at about 10-50 km (6 - 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The sulfur was moved in different directions by the air motions, and after about a year it was evenly spread around the world. For two years after Pinatubo erupted, the average temperature on Earth decreased by about 0.6 °C (0.9 °F). The idea is to send up rockets (or baloons, or some other mechanism) to simulate a volcano eruption. At first normal fuel is used to lift up the rockets, but in the stratosphere hydrogen sulfide is burnt, leaving sulfate (which consists of sulfur and oxygen) in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, and thus cool the planet. Of course this wouldn't be free, but a lot cheaper than cutting emissions. Paul Crutzen, one of the top experts on this subject, has estimated that it would cost between 25 and 50 billion dollars a year (in comparison we spend over a thousand billion dollars a year on the worlds military and well over 250 billion dollars a year on subsidizing farmers in developed countries). And we have all the necessary technology to implement this measure at once, if we want to. But unfortunately this is not a problem-free solution. We don't yet know if it would disturb rain-patterns. And emitting sulfur is considered as polution, because it leads to health problems and because it leads to acid rain. That's why the release of it has been reduced through environmental regulation. It is naturally emitted by volcanoes and by the sea, but we shouldn't get to much of it. However, it should be noted that this sulfur would be released far up in the stratosphere. And further: Since it will have a greater cooling effect when released in the stratosphere it is predicted that we will need too release less then 10 percent of what is already being emitted by humans. A side-effect that there is a bigger reason to be afraid of is that releasing sulfur in the stratosphere might slow down, or even reverse, the healing of the ozone layer. The volcano eruption in 1991 led to a global column ozone loss of about 2.5 percent. However, we won't need to use as much sulfur as was emitted in the colcano eruption in order too compensate for a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere through geoengineering. The ozone layer is healing. It's better than it was a few decades ago, and it will continue to get better. So if we start reducing temperatures some decades from now the ozone layer won't necessarily get worse than it is now, only worse than it otherwise would have been then. Ironically one the people who has done the most research on releasing sulfur in the atmosphere is Paul Jozef Crutzen, who won a nobel prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer. He thinks that we at least should test his plan, so we know now what the risks might be if we face a catastrophic situation in the future. He says: Since the sulfur only stays in the stratoshpere for two years or so, he also makes clear: It is being discussed if we could use other cooling particles than sulfate. If you are interested you can see a short presentation that mentions this here. Launching glass discs into space This is what the glass discs might look like. They won't reflect the light, but divert it from hitting earth. Another idea is to launch glass discs into space so that roughly two percent less sunlight reaches earth. The reduction in incoming sunlight would cancel out the increase in climate gases. The plan isn't as crazy as it sounds. Even without using nanotechnology (which is emerging) we can get these glass discs pretty thin, and there are realistic ideas for how we can launch these glass discs into space by using electromagnetic power (much more effective for sending large quanteties out in space than using space ships). By placing these glass discs at the point in space where the gravitational force of Earth and the Sun cancel each other out (which is pretty close to earth) we won't need much energy to keep them in place. But even though the idea is feasible and has small side-effects it will be very expensive (although probably not as expensive as drastic cuts in emissions) and will take 30 years or so to implement. Therefore I won't use more space on it here, but if you are interested in learning more about it you can see this youtube-clip, and continue on to see this. And if you are especially interested you can read more about the arguments for and against here. Getting the sea to take up more CO2 The phytoplankton turns sunlight into energy, and thus provides food for the rest of the food chain as well, just like plants on land do. Had it not been for phytoplankton the sea would have been a lot less lively than it is today. Three fourths of the world is covered by the ocean, which naturally absorbs about one third of our CO2-emissions. In the sea it's not just "normal" plants that get their energy from the sun, but also phytoplankton. Phytoplankton account for around half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. The phytoplankton absorbs CO2, and releases oxygen. It doesn't release the carbon when it dies. Much of the plankton is eaten by other sea-creatures, but much of it also sinks further down in the ocean and stays there for a long time. Planktos-science.com tells us: Phytoplankton rely on minerals. In parts of the ocean the growth of phytoplankton is limited by lack of iron, and across most of the sea we can boost the phytoplankton-growth by adding nitrogen. The idea is to add nutrients to the ocean, and thus boost the growth of phytoplankton, so that they turn more CO2 into oxygen and make sure that more carbon is stored in the ocean. This youtube-video explains the idea in greater detail: Phytoplankton takes energy directly from the sun. And just like all animals on land are dependent on plants to provide energy, phytoplankton (and other sea-plants) are the foundation for life under the sea. As seen in the clip there is such a thing as too much phytoplanton, but it's important that we seperate between the deep sea and the parts of the ocean that's close to the shore, and between iron- and nitrogen fertilization. Acording to planktos-science.com phytoplankton blooms on the high seas where iron is limited have never been reported to produce negative environmental effects. And as explained in the clip, it's like irrigating the dessert. If it doesn't work out, we can stop doing what we are doing, and things will return to normal. The picture shows a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Norway in 2000. Image provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE. Plankton-blooms occur naturally all the time. And the ocean is supposed to be "fertilized" with minerals. This happens naturally when dust is carried by the wind and lands in the ocean. Much of the life in the ocean is totally dependent on this. But the natural flow of dust containing minerals vital for phytoplanton has been reduced significantly over the last decades. According to NASA, the amount of iron deposited from desert dust clouds into the ocean has decreased by 25 percent since the early 80's. In addition to this the growth of phytoplankton is reduced when sea temperatures rise. An article from NASA 2003 tells us that there has been a 6 percent reduction of phytoplankton growth in the ocean as a whole over the last two decades. Newer studies confirm this picture of phytoplankton growth decreasing. Near the shore phytoplankton growth seems to be increasing, but this is not relevant to the queston of iron-fertilization, which will take place in the deep ocean where the growth of phytoplankton is limited by the lack of iron. The fact that the growth of phytoplankton, and even the natural supply of iron, has been reduced significantly because of human activity, means that we don't have to look at iron fertilization as fiddling with nature, but rather as making it more simular to what it would have been if we hadn't interfered at all. In an interview with treehugger.com, which I recommend reading in its entirety, David Kubiak from Planktos, Inc. claims: Returning plankton populations to 1980 levels would neutralize about 50% of industrial society's greenhouse gas emissions. But there is debate about how effective iron fertilization will be. One of the things we don't know for certain is how much of the phytoplankton that will sink to the bottom of the sea or stay in underwater currents for a long time, and how much of it that will be released to the athmosphere more quickly. To read more about the arguments for and against iron fertilization you can click here or here. And to hear the pro-side you can see this presentation by Russ George, or read more on planktos-science.com. Making artificial "trees" The idea is to make machines that can absorb CO2 from the air. It can obviously be done. Plants do it all the time. But do we have the technology already? Will it be cost-effective? And will it take a lot of energy? A twelve minutes long video about artificial trees can be seen here for those of you who are interested, but here is a shorter one: The good thing about this solution is that it doesn't have any side-effects. Let me repeat that. It doesn't have any side-effects. All it does is to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Just as we increase the CO2-levels across the whole world when we emit a lot from one place (a coal power plant heats up the whole world, not just the city it's placed in) we don't have to think about where we place these "trees". The most practical will probably be to place them above the storing-sites for the CO2. 60 million trees, which is roughly the amount needed to absorb all the CO2 we currently emit, will not take up that much space. Klaus Lackner, the person who is leading the development of these trees, says in an interview with the The Green Inc. blog: We have reached a point where we can collect CO2 from the air and recover it - at a low cost. Now it's a production issue, rather than an 'inventing new things' kind of issue. But where do we put all the CO2 when it's collected? One solution is geological storage: Pumping CO2 into rock formations on the bottom of the sea, or deep underground elsewhere, into rock-formations. This is more feasible then it sounds, and has already been done successfully in Norway and Canada. If you are interested in reading more about how and why this works, and about the details, you can read here. The conclusion is that it can be done, and that it can be done safely. Under the high pressure CO2 takes up a lot less space, so we can store quite a lot of it this way, but as far as I know there is still doubt about whether or not we will be able to store all of the CO2 we will emitt in the long run using this method. But already new, promising ideas for how we can store more CO2 are emerging, like binding it to mineral substances. Great! So there we have our perfect solution to climate change. ...Or do we? Klaus Lackner thinks that the price of using these artificial trees to fight global warming can reduced to roughly $30 per ton of CO2 collected (which corresponds to about 25 cents a gallon or 7 cents per litre of gasoline), in current prizes. In 2006 we emitted 28 billion tons of CO2. Paying for that would cost 850 billion dollars. Of course the calculation would be more complicated than this in reality, partly because it will be cheaper to capture CO2 from point sources where concentrations are higher (such as a coal power plant), but it still won't be cheap. If we only could fight climate change by reducing emissions we would be in real hurry. And we kind of are also when we take geoengineering into account, since the negative consequences of global warming have started to occur already. But if it mainly is the consequences that will occur in some decades we are worried about (2035? 2050?) being able to take CO2 out of the atmosphere gives us the benefit of being able to wait a bit. This is good for two reasons: First of all, as we all know, technology is getting better and better. And there is no reason to think that science will stop advancing soon. Rather to the contrary all the information available to us makes it reasonable to expect that the advancing of technology will keep growing exponentially. I will write more about why I think there is reason to be very optimistic about how much better technology will get in the following decades in later blog posts. In the meanwhile it should be noted that one of the things that will revolutionize our ability to absorb CO2 (in addition to revolutionizing everything else) is the emergence of nanotechnology, which will enable us to design things on an atomic and molecular scale. When we can design things on such a small scale we will not only be able to make very small and very complicated machines, and do much of what we do today much more effectively, but we can also make new materials different from those we have today. The advancement of technology increases our productivity, and thus makes us richer. So even if the technology doesn't changes drastically, it will still be easier for us to afford. Obviously there are limits to how long we can wait, but I still think this was worth mentioning. These arguments aren't just relevant for artificial trees, but for all geoengineering. Many solutions Here I have looked at some of the solutions. But there are many other ideas out there. Like creating white, floating islands in places of the sea that we don't use much (of cheap materials, obviously) so that more sunlight is reflected. Or turning the Sahara and the dry parts of Australia into forests. Another idea is genetically engineering crops to be more reflective or shifting to more reflective crops. And although painting our roofs white probably wont solve the problem by itself, it is proposed as a cheap way to make earth colder. There are also ideas for how we can solve specific problems related to global warming, like stopping the melting of Greenland by wrapping the edges with reflective materials - a method that also can be used on glaciers. I agree that many of these ideas sound bad, and some of them probably are, but we should give them a serious look . Is it crazy to look for a technical solution for global warming? Some people dismiss geoengineering without even having looked at the different proposals. They'll say things like "you can't fix the climate by fiddling even more with it" or "we can't possibly know the outcomes of geoengineering". Although I think that many geoengineering-ideas aren't advisable, I don't think it's reasonable to conclude that geoengineering in general is doomed to not work or be risky. It might very well be that we soon find a solution that is without risk, without side-effects and cheap. If we don't, I still think geoengineering might be the answer, as long as we find a safe alternative with modest side-effects. What would happen if we stopped emitting tommorow? If history is a guide there is little reason to be optimistic about humanity cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. We have broken all climate-treaties so far, and global emission-levels are even higher than the highest scenario produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001. Even stopping the emissions from increasing further would require quite a lot of action, if we are to do it right now. And even if we do manage to take action to reduce emissions it will take time before they are reduced enough to stop the accumulation of climate gasses in the athmosphere. But let's say that we did take drastic action. Tomorrow all people on earth would stop driving cars, we would stop flying, all energy production involving fossil fuels would be stopped, we would stop all agriculture that emits methane, all industry that isn't environmentally friendly would be stopped, we would end deforestation once and for all, etc. Let's say that we went way further than even the most extreme environmentalists would want us to, and stopped all human emissions of climate gases in just one day. What would happen? What would happen is that the temperatures would keep increasing. Shortly explained this is because it takes time for the climate system to fully respond to increased emissions. NASA explain on their webpages: Even if all emissions were to stop today, the Earth's average surface temperature would climb another 0.6 degrees [Celsius] or so over the next several decades before temperatures stopped rising. Therefore geoengineering-plans might be a more environmentally friendly alternative than just drastic cuts in emissions, even if they have environmental side effects! Don't get me wrong: This doesn't mean that there aren't limits to how much environmental side-effects we should allow, or that a geoengineering-plan that doesn't have environmental side effects at all isn't preferable. And of course I am aware that it's possible to combine geoengineering and big, immediate cuts in emissions, if we think that's smart. Some geoengineering-solutions, like the ones that rely on decreasing the amount of solar radiation that is absorbed by Earth (glass discs in space, sulfur in the atmosphere, marine cloud whitening, etc.), aren't permanent solutions. We can't keep on emitting CO2 forever. But seriously, who thinks that steering the amount of climate gases in the atmosphere will be a challenge in 2100? We need a solution that solves the problem for long enough, but it doesn't need to solve the problem for ever. It should be taken into account that a solutions that relies only on controlling solar radiation don't solve other problems connected to CO2-emissions, such as acidification of the ocean. Price matters Let's us say (just for the sake of the argument) that the alternatives are reducing emissions and releasing sulfur in the stratosphere, and (also just for the sake of the argument) that we can stop global warming completely by reducing emissions if we reduce them fast enough. Let's also say (still for the sake of the argument) that we find out that releasing sulfur in the stratosphere will lead to some harm to the ozone, which again will lead to more cases of cancer. Then we should reduce emissions, shouldn't we? What kind of people would we be if we think it's ok that more people die of cancer? Well, since releasing sulfur in the stratosphere is a lot cheaper than drastically reducing emissions, we could save a lot of money on choosing this alternative. And if we spent a fraction of the money saved on cancer research we could double the research on cancer many times over, and thus reduce the cancer-burden significantly. Price matters. We only have a limited amount of resources, so we have to make sure that we achieve the greatest amount of good per dollar. So how can we most effectively address climate change? Exactly this question The Copenhagen Consensus Center on Climate tried to give an answer to in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kIUZU5xQz0&hl=en_US&fs=1 Here is the prioritized list that the top economists (including three Nobel-prize winners) came up with: As you can see, the highest ranked solutions are research on geoengineering and low-carbon technologies. You can read more about the different solutions on the list, and the reasoning behind how they prioritize, here. I don't know if The Copenhagen Consensus Center on Climate have gotten their cost-benefit analysis exactly right. An article on Realclimate.org critizises their report on geoengineering. Some of the critisism I think is illegitimate, other parts I think is fair, but I don't think there is any reason to doubt their main conclusions. Regardeless I think their way of thinking is exactly right: How can most effectively fight global warming? If we ranked the solutions after how much benefit (how much they reduce global warming + positive side-effects) we get per cost (what they costs to implement + side-effects), which solutions would make the top? I think this way of thinking to a large degree is missing in the climate-debate. At least it is in my homecountry, Norway. We should have a plan B! No matter if you think we should try to solve the climate problem with only carbon cuts or not, you have to agree that we should have a plan B. If it turns out that the world doesn't manage to cooperate on cutting emissions sufficiently even though we should, or if consequences of warming (like methane being released from melted permafrost, or ice melting making Earth absorb more sunlight) leads to even further warming, we should have have developed a plan B to stabilize the climate. How I think we should solve the problem I used to be an environmentalist. Of course I wanted us to research a lot on renewable energy and low-carbon technologies, but I didn't think that doing this would be enough by itself. I thought we should drive our cars less, fly less, try to not consume to much of the type of goods that emit the most, choose environmentally friendly energy over fossil energy even when it's considerably more expensive, eat less meat, etc. Not because I wanted it, but because I thought the negative consequences of doing so would be smaller than the negative consequences of not doing it. I'm still an environmentalist (as mentioned before geoengineering might very well be more environmentally friendly than just drastic cuts in emissions) but I now propose a different way of handling the problem: Funding research on renewable energy is one of the most efficient ways to combat global warming, and will also benefit society in other ways. Research a lot on geoengineering and carbon capture. Research a lot on renewable energy and other technologies that are important for reducing emisions (environmentally friendly cars, energy storage, etc.). Researching safe nuclear power is money well spent to, but I don't think it's necessary to cover our energy-needs. Funding the development of renewable energy would be a smart thing to do even if it didn't affect the climate. When solar power becomes efficient it will lead to very, very cheap and convenient energy. I think we have good reasons to be very optimistic about renewable energy, and recently wrote a post that you can read here (it's a lot shorther than this one, I promise!) about solar energy, where I argue that solar power soon will be cheaper than conventional energy. Research a lot on computers, re-engineering of the brain, nanotechnology and other technologies that is needed to boost our general technological growth. Researching nanotechnology for example, might not be looked at as a way to combat climate change, but might be a very effective way of doing just that because it will enable new technologies that can solve the climate-problem. And that it also gives other enormous payoffs shouldn't be a problem. Do emission-cuts, but only the ones that are very cost-effective. A perfect way of dealing with climate change does not exist, but this is the closest I can think of. Some of the reasoning behind my proposal for dealing with climate change is in this post. The rest, especially number 3, will be made clearer in later updates. We should at least take a look at it Even if you don't agree with my conclusions, you should agree that we should give research on geoengineering more funding. From a global perspective it would cost almost nothing to give geoengineering a closer look, and boost the research on some of the more promising geoengineering-ideas. So even if you're a sceptic and think it's unlikely that geoegineering will be a good idea, you should agree that we should fund more research on it. The UK Royal Society published a comprehensive and unbiased report on geoengineering. One of their main recomendations was exactly that: We should fund more research on geoengineering. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology wrote in March 2009: There is currently very little public funding specifically earmarked for geo-engineering. Despite a US Department of Energy White Paper (Unpublished) that in 2001 recommended a $64 million, five year programme, less than $1 million of public money is currently directly funding geoengineeringresearch in the USA. In the UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has proposed a £3 million ‘Ideas Factory’ commencing in 2010. To date, therefore, most researchhas been either funded using existing climate science grants or has been unfunded, performed in researchers’ spare time. Researchers in the field believe that an international research programme of around $100 million could advance the scientific and engineering knowledge significantly. I think it's a nobrainer. We should fund research on geoengineering by at least $100 million dollars - preferably much more. I also think it's important that people learn more about these proposals for dealing with climate change. Geoengineering should be a part of the public debate in the same way as emission-cuts are. I think it's wierd that geoengineering haven't recieved more attention in the media, and it's sad that politicians and enviormentalists know so little about it. If you didn't like this post, feel free to post a comment telling me why you think geoengineering is a bad idea, or simply how much I suck. If you however did like this post, and like me think it's a tragedy that geoengineering has recieved so little attention: Why not recomend this post to your friends, or help spreading it in some other way?
  24. According to a new report released by Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh nuclear energy is still dangerous, not cost-effective, and too expensive and will even worsen climate change. "A widely heralded view holds that nuclear power is experiencing a dramatic worldwide revival and vibrant growth, because it’s competitive, necessary, reliable, secure, and vital for fuel security and climate protection. That's all false. In fact, nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete—so hopelessly uneconomic that one needn't debate whether it's clean and safe; it weakens electric reliability and national security; and it worsens climate change compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options." Nuclear energy is a waste of money because it creates a pollution problem that lasts for thousands of years, money that would be better and more productively spent on renewable energy, the report says. The report will also depress the free market supporters as it says that "nuclear power plants are unfinanceable in the private capital market because of their excessive costs and financial risks and the high uncertainty of both." "During the nuclear revival now allegedly underway, no new nuclear project on earth has been financed by private risk capital, chosen by an open decision process, nor bid into the world’s innumerable power markets and auctions. No old nuclear plant has been resold at a value consistent with a market case for building a new one." Via DeSmogBlog.
  25. A recently published report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace shows that nuclear power cannot solve climate change due to time and safety limits. "After several decades of disappointing growth, nuclear energy seems poised for a comeback. Talk of a "nuclear renaissance" includes perhaps a doubling or tripling of nuclear capacity by 2050, spreading nuclear power to new markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and developing new kinds of reactors and fuel-reprocessing techniques. But the reality of nuclear energy's future is more complicated. Without major changes in government policies and aggressive financial support, nuclear power is actually likely to account for a declining percentage of global electricity generation." According to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2008 nuclear power's share of worldwide electricity generation is expected to drop from 15% in 2006 to 10% in 2030. The report, titled "Nuclear Energy: Rebirth or Resuscitation?", comes to the conclusion that states interested in nuclear energy should be aware of the costs and risks involved in nuclear energy, as well as the time it takes to construct a nuclear plant. "The earliest the first new U.S. reactor could be finished is 2015, but the report notes that it takes about 10 years to put a new plant in service, from licensing to connection to the grid. In two dozen countries that are interested in obtaining civil nuclear energy but have not previously built a reactor, it will take even longer, the report says." The report also comes to the conclusion that nuclear energy will not help countries to reach energy security or independence and that it could risk world security. "In addition, uranium and nuclear fuel come from only a few countries – Canada, Australia, Russia, the United States and France – making nations without resources or technologies as dependent on foreign sources of energy as before, the report notes. Worse still, it says, the need for fuel may drive more nations to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities, raising the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons."