Friday, January 4, 2008

Carbon-Based in the news!

Litchfield County Times (Connecticut): Rising sea levels causing islanders to flee their ancestral homes, majestic glaciers disappearing forever from our landscape and wildfires destroying one of the planet's most beautiful regions are the topics that haunt Cornwall resident and Carbon-Based blogger Brian Thomas.

Mr. Thomas, the new Cornwall Association president, has a longstanding passion for the environment. With a background in professional writing, he seems like a natural candidate to author a blog that collects news about ecological change. He launched the blog in April and updates it several times daily from his home in New York City during the week and from Cornwall on the weekends. In recent posts, topics have covered the migration of infectious disease, drought, flooding, climate refugees and species extinction. The news has come from as far a field as India, China, Scotland and Cuba and from as close as Michigan and North Carolina.

Mr. Thomas conceived the idea for the blog while still employed as a writer at the Wall Street financial institution Swiss Re. Before Swiss Re, Mr. Thomas was employed at Wall Street heavyweights Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch, also in writing. He began his career at Institutional Investor Magazine. "I have this financial background but I've always had a citizen's interest in scientific matters and climate change," he said.

He had been involved in several ecological projects at Swiss Re with scientists, including the Climate Change Futures report done with the Harvard Medical School and the UN Development Programme, a three-year study of the health and economic impact of climate instability. "That was really my serious introduction to the subject matter," he recalled. "Several of the scientists discussed how people talk about cutting carbon emissions but that the big problem is going to be adaptation. This is going to be something that needs more attention but nobody is really thinking about it."

One of the scientists suggested that given Mr. Thomas' avid interest in the subject, he should start a Web site. "I began to think about it. There is so much information out there about carbon emissions and cutting them and footprints, but climate change is also significant [and] not covered nearly as much," he said.

He describes the difference between the related subjects by saying, "In climate speak there are two big categories: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is the one people are most familiar with. That's cutting carbon emissions and things like solar energy, increasing the mileage on cars or getting electricity from the wind. However, even if we stop emitting all carbon right now we still have about 50 to 90 years of increasing temperatures and climate instability before things level off," he said. "So climate change, or adaptation, relates to events such as flooding, sea level rise, increase in infectious diseases, stronger wind storms."

When he started learning more while under the tutelage of the scientists working for Swiss Re, he became fascinated by the topic. As a field climate change cuts across so many categories. There are people who are recognized scientists in one area who find themselves working somewhere completely different because climate change took them there," he said of the need for bodies to fill positions to study the new discipline.

In the past year, he left Wall Street to work as a freelance sustainability consultant. He is working with alternative energy companies and other entities rebuilding Web sites, auditing carbon footprints, reviewing climate change assets, vulnerabilities and opportunities, finding nongovernmental organizations that clients can become partners with and creating communications that include employees, clients, investors, community leaders and media outlets. He also writes speeches, articles and Web content and has worked with municipalities that are trying to put climate change plans into effect and communicate them to the citizens.

...Mr. Thomas' blog has referenced a large climate change summit in Bali, where world leaders were discussing drafting a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed by world leaders, excluding the U.S., to lower carbon emissions. Information such as this appears daily on his blog.

Other topics include infectious disease. Mr. Thomas cited Lyme disease as an "early harbinger of climate change" because the range of ticks has moved northward and similar species have now appeared in Sweden.

Since the launch of his blog, Mr. Thomas has tried to be disciplined about posting items daily. He often posts several times each day, beginning before 6 a.m. Currently, his blog works at bringing together news from a variety of world sources relating to global climate change issues. He tries to keep the focus very tight and it also contains a minimum of commentary, a feature he'd like to change in the future. With his background in business and financial writing, he would likely write concise and interesting commentary.

"For now, I thought it's better to just lead people to the information that's out there. There are plenty of people [in the blogosphere] spouting off and pontificating. Earlier on I did some commentary but I'm still getting the hang of it. Blogging is an entirely different discipline from other kinds of writing," he said.

"I try to do it every day and some days it's tougher than others. Some days there is more interesting news than others." He gleans his information with an Internet news aggregator, Yahoo Reader, and gets feeds from all kinds of topics from scientific sites and also employs keyword searches. These tools merit about 100 news stories per day that he has to sort through to decide what is important, repetitive or irrelevant.

When he first launched the blog he was throwing in the odd bit of news about climate mitigation as well, but he got questions and subtle complaints from readers who hoped for a more focused feed of information. "Now I try to be more rigorous about making sure things are about the adaptation issue," he said. "But it's not a hard-and-fast distinction. For example, one of the biggest areas that will have to adapt is agriculture. There are all sorts of agricultural changes that are going to have to take place [for farmers to continue to grow food]. Some of them also cut carbon emissions while helping, say, plant species thrive in a larger variety of temperatures," he explained. "All these things are interrelated," he mused.

The work he does with the blog is personal yet still somewhat related to his professional identity. "They haven't quite overlapped yet," he said. "Adaptation is quite on peoples' minds yet as a separate topic," he explained.

One of the biggest issues in blogging is who owns the news material a blogger is using or linking to? He does not use subscription-only information on his blog. "It's a big issue with blogging-who owns it, where does it come from, how is it credited?" he listed.

Since his launch he has received e-mails from readers from as far away as Germany, Brazil and India. He loves to be contacted about climate change issues, and is also looking for other knowledgeable individuals to contribute to his blog.

Visit Brian Thomas' climate adaptation blog at

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