Thursday, May 31, 2007

Andrew Revkin on Climate Impacts in the AARP magazine

Andrew Revkin, who covers the climate beat for the New York Times, has a couple of articles in the AARP's flagship publication, "the world's largest circulation magazine."

One section says: What the debate comes down to is not whether changes are coming but when they’ll occur—and how severe they’ll be. There is serious scientific disagreement about such vital questions as how fast and far temperatures, seas, and storm strength could rise. Warmer waters, for example, could lead to more Katrina-strength hurricanes. Yet new studies find that hurricanes might be torn apart by wind conditions associated with, yes, rising temperatures. This uncertainty is not humanity’s friend, experts say, especially as the global population crests in coming decades, putting ever more people at risk of flooding, famine, and other climate-driven threats.

“We’re altering the environment far faster than we can possibly predict the consequences,” says Stephen H. Schneider, 62, a Stanford University climatologist who has been working on the puzzle of humans and climate for more than half his life.

Schneider has long believed that responding to the greenhouse challenge is as much about hedging against uncertain risks as it is about dealing with what is clearly known. And the risks, as he sees it, are clear: there is a real chance things could be much worse than the midrange projections of a few degrees of warming in this century—and any thought that more science will magically clarify what lies ahead is probably wishful thinking.

When he lectures about global warming these days, Schneider often asks listeners about a more familiar risk. “How many of you have had a serious fire in your home?” he begins. In a crowd of 300 or so, usually three or four hands rise.

His next question: “How many of you buy fire insurance?”

Hundreds of hands go up.

For Schneider that pattern shows how well people deal with uncertain but potentially calamitous risks in their daily lives. The trick lies in transferring that same behavior to dealing with a risk facing our common home—the planet itself.

Corporate Climate Response

This conference is underway right now in London.

Exxonmobil Shareholders Rebuff Concerns On Climate Change

Terra Daily, via Agence France Press: ExxonMobil shareholders on Wednesday voted strongly against several measures that dissident investors proposed to reform the climate policies of world's largest oil company. A majority of ExxonMobil shareholders defeated resolutions, urging the oil giant to set goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to boost its use of renewable energy, at ExxonMobil's annual shareholder meeting in Dallas, Texas. Senior executives, including ExxonMobil chairman Rex Tillerson, had urged shareholders to reject the proposals.

Without referring explicitly to global warming or climate change, Tillerson said the jury was still out on the "complex issue of climate science…There's much we know and can agree on, and there's much we do not know," ExxonMobil's top executive told shareholders at the meeting, which was carried by Internet.

The votes spelled defeat for a group of large public pension funds holding ExxonMobil shares, including the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the biggest US public pension fund, and the New York City Employees' Retirement System, among others. With more than 100 million ExxonMobil shares, the funds still own less than two percent of the total.

They also failed to persuade shareholders not to re-nominate Michael Boskin as a company director, claiming that he had the power to change ExxonMobil's position on climate change as the head of the company's Public Issues Committee. Another measure had proposed that inform motorists about the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated by gasoline or diesel purchases at fuel stations. That measure was also comfortably defeated by company shareholders.

ExxonMobil's CEO was repeatedly challenged during the three hour meeting about the group's climate stance. US Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, a Democrat and a Republican respectively, have criticized ExxonMobil for its "climate-change denial" and support of "climate-change skeptics." Challenged about ExxonMobil's donations to certain scientists evaluating the world's climate, Tillerson replied: "We don't fund junk science. Why that's been put out there to disparage us is beyond me. It's not true. This is an issue for the next 10, 20 years we're going to continue to learn about," he said.

The oil giant reported record profits of 39.5 billion dollars in 2006.

ExxonMobil says it is moving to improve its energy efficiency while seeking to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, in particular by moving to stop gas flaring at its Nigerian operations.

"I'm not going to put a banner up and I'm not going to adopt a slogan, I'm not going there, that's not honest," Tillerson said in response to questions from shareholders about ExxonMobil's position on alternative energy sources.

Media Matters: Combatting Climate Disinformation

Media Matters, a "progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media," has created a page devoted to climate information in the media.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Climate and Insurance interviews Gary Guzy of Marsh

Climate and Insurance has an interview with Gary S. Guzy, Senior Vice President and National Practice Leader for Emerging Environmental Risk at Marsh, Inc. They discuss regulation and recent legal trends, as well as the growing “convergence of views” on the subject of business and climate change.

Commenting on Massachussetts v. EPA, a recent case before the Supreme Court, Guzy says: “I think the ruling will have two consequences: first, it will strengthen the hand of those who argue that federal legislation is needed to clarify this area, because the decision leaves EPA with few outs from going forward with regulation; and second, the Court’s ‘standing’ ruling may loosen a floodgate of litigation about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, bringing many in industry into the fold of becoming proponents of clarifying legislation.”

Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor

The New York Times reports on a cool show addressing how design can speed adaptation for poor farmers in developing countries: “A billion customers in the world,” Dr. Paul Polak told a crowd of inventors recently, “are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

The world’s cleverest designers, said Dr. Polak, a former psychiatrist who now runs an organization helping poor farmers become entrepreneurs, cater to the globe’s richest 10 percent, creating items like wine labels, couture and Maseratis. “We need a revolution to reverse that silly ratio,” he said.

To that end, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which is housed in Andrew Carnegie’s 64-room mansion on Fifth Avenue and offers a $250 red chrome piggy bank in its gift shop, is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality. For example, one of the simplest and yet most elegant designs tackles a job that millions of women and girls spend many hours doing each year — fetching water. Balancing heavy jerry cans on the head may lead to elegant posture, but it is backbreaking work and sometimes causes crippling injuries. The Q-Drum, a circular jerry can, holds 20 gallons, and it rolls smoothly enough for a child to tow it on a rope.

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity. “The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty. It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price. Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

“Most of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers, so they need a business model that lets them make money in three to six months, which is one growing season,” he said. KickStart accepts grants to support its advertising and find networks of sellers supplied with spare parts, for example. His prospective customers, Dr. Fisher explained, “don’t do market research.” “Many of them have never left their villages,” he said.

NASA: Danger Point Closer Than Thought From Warming

ABC News: Even "moderate additional" greenhouse emissions are likely to push Earth past "critical tipping points" with "dangerous consequences for the planet," according to research conducted by NASA and the Columbia University Earth Institute. With just 10 more years of "business as usual" emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas, says the NASA/Columbia paper, "it becomes impractical" to avoid "disastrous effects."

The study appears in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Its lead author is James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. The forecast effects include "increasingly rapid sea-level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones," according to the NASA announcement.

By heralding the new research paper, NASA is endorsing science that places considerably more urgency on the need to reduce emissions to avoid "disastrous effects" of global warming than was evident in the recent reports from the world's scientists coordinated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The new NASA release emphasizes the danger of "strong amplifying feedbacks" pushing Earth past "dangerous tipping points." …As the tipping points pass, "there is an acceleration, potentially uncontrollable, of emissions of vast natural stores of greenhouse gas," according to Hansen, who reviewed the study for ABC News today.

Hansen explains that dangerous feedback loops are being tracked in various regions of the planet. Many studies have reported feedback loops already observed in thawing tundra, seabeds and drying forests. Hansen also points out that dark – and therefore heat-absorbing – forests are now expanding toward the Arctic, replacing lighter-colored areas such as tundra and snow cover.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scientists concerned about effects of global warming on infectious diseases As the Earth’s temperatures continue to rise, we can expect a signficant change in infectious disease patterns around the globe. Just exactly what those changes will be remains unclear, but scientists agree they will not be for the good.

"Environmental changes have always been associated with the appearance of new diseases or the arrival of old diseases in new places. With more changes, we can expect more surprises," says Stephen Morse of Columbia University, speaking May 22, 2007, at the 107th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Toronto.

In its April 2007 report on the impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that rising temperatures may result in "the altered spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors," and will have "mixed effects, such as the decrease or increase of the range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa."

"Diseases carried by insects and ticks are likely to be affected by environmental changes because these creatures are themselves very sensitive to vegetation type, temperature, humidity etc. However, the direction of change – whether the diseases will increase or decrease – is much more difficult to predict, because disease transmission involves many factors, some of which will increase and some decrease with environmental change. A combination of historical disease records and present-day ground-based surveillance, remotely sensed (satellite) and other data, and good predictive models is needed to describe the past, explain the present and predict the future of vector-borne infectious diseases," says David Rogers of Oxford University, also speaking at the meeting.

One impact of rising global temperatures, though, can be fairly accurately predicted, says Morse. In the mountains of endemic areas, malaria is not transmitted above a certain altitude because temperatures are too cold to support mosquitoes. As temperatures rise, this malaria line will rise as well.

"One of the first indicators of rising global temperatures could be malaria climbing mountains," says Morse.

Australia: Gas rises as generators run dry

The Australian: Gas prices in the eastern states are beginning to rise as water shortages restrict output from coal-fired power stations. Graeme Bethune of Energy Quest said yesterday that gas production in eastern Australia jumped 20.1 per cent in the March quarter compared with the same period last year.

This reflected growth in gas-fired electricity of 67 per cent at a time when generation from hydro fell by 18 per cent and the total coal-fired generation had been flat - constrained in Queensland and Victoria by water restrictions. Dr Bethune said strong demand for gas had pushed up wholesale gas prices, with average Victorian spot prices up 27 per cent to $3.38 a gigajoule on the 2006 March quarter.

Gas prices have also been on the move in Western Australia where gas is sold on long-term contracts. After years of hovering around $2.23 a GJ, recent sales have been as high as $5.50 a GJ. The rise spells good news for AGL and Origin which have long-term contracts at lower prices with the main gas producers but are able to sell to the generators at higher prices.

Dr Bethune said gas-fired power stations in South Australia, southern Queensland and Sydney and Melbourne were running flat out because of the problems affecting hydro systems in the southeast and cooling water for large, coal-fired operations particularly in Queensland.

In April, the Energy Users Association, which represents major industrial electricity consumers, warned of big increases in wholesale electricity prices.

Insurance Industry's Potential Climate Change Liability

Insurance Journal: Liabilities follow the insurance industry as the night follows the day. So, it's not terribly surprising to learn that a new study - "Limiting Liability in the Greenhouse: Insurance Risk-management Strategies in the Context of Global Climate Change* – highlights just what those potential liabilities might be, and discusses the various risk mitigation strategies the industry should adopt to limit its exposures.

The 84-page report is set to appear in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal and the Stanford Journal of International Law. The authors, Christina Ross, Evan Mills and Sean B. Hecht, summarize the conclusions of a recent "Symposium on Climate Change Risk" which examined the emerging liabilities.

In their introduction the authors point out that, while the "most widely discussed insurance-related consequences of climate change are the impacts of property damage from extreme weather events," there are also emerging liability consequences. These include insurance risks, primarily "claims of third-parties who allege injury or property damage that may be the fault of the insured." As the climate change phenomenon becomes more certain, it establishes a basis for more claims.

The article explores three major dimensions of the issue as follows: "(1) sources of climate-change-related legal liability to third parties and their nexus with insurance and law, (2) new liabilities associated with potential technological responses to climate-change, and (3) potential roles for insurers, reinsurers, and other industry actors in proactively managing climate change-related liability insurance risks for themselves and their customers."

The authors also point out why the actions of the insurance industry, which they identify as "the world's largest," is so important. Those actions/inactions "will no doubt be key to the ultimate success of society's overall response." That doesn't appear to be an exaggeration, given the growing concerns industry leaders have expressed (for some of them go to the IJ web site and search "climate change" or "global warming").

…The industry is facing a double whammy. It has so far focused on handling the claims from increasingly violent weather related events – mainly property losses. But this study points out that the potential liability claims may well exceed those directly related to hurricanes or other costly natural disasters.

The industry's "material liability exposures" involve "both the causes and consequences of climate change and the costs of adaptation," the report continues. The claims can be direct, "a function of insurers' handling of shareholder and customer interests, as well as indirect, when insurers are payers of claims faced by others."

The study, however, is not all gloom and doom. The authors state that their "primary goal" is to "identify practical risk-management strategies that will allow insurers and other businesses to preemptively mitigate their exposure to climate-change liability." Excessive litigation would in effect equal a "market failure that can be avoided, at least in part, by adequate regulation, proactive reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptive strategies to prevent damages from climate change."

…In conclusion the authors point out that the "insurance sector is uniquely positioned between the two ends of the climate-change spectrum—the causes and impacts." It covers "carbon-intensive industries as well as homes, autos, and pollution-emitting airplanes that are some of the primary causes of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions." At the same time the insurance industry and their "trade allies" are exposed to "the liabilities faced by customers of these insured businesses, and to "in-house' liabilities potentially arising from their own actions in responding to the challenge."

Modern and effective risk management is the key to avoiding a whirlwind of climate change related liability claims. The industry has already applied its expertise in the property area, as well as in such fields as product liability and kidnap, ransom, extortion coverage. The emphasis is on claims avoidance rather than claims payment.

As the authors point out, such "proactive approaches are likely to yield a 'win-win-win' situation, in which insurers, policyholders, and third parties affected by climate change-related externalities will all benefit from decreased risk." In the notes and the addenda to the report, the study gives a number of specific examples of the steps insurers, brokers, agents and their clients have taken to decrease the possibilities of costly claims.

The insurance industry should take pride in the fact that, while many governments and companies refused to recognize the existence and importance of the changing weather patterns, it took the lead in establishing departments and funding studies that have produced the scientific data needed to confirm the threats climate changes pose.

It has, as the authors of the report recognizes, "perhaps more than any other institution, the power to set the stage for enduring and significant contributions to solving the problem of global climate change. In doing so, liability insurance considerations could prove to be as important as the more widely studied property insurance consequences of climate change."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Drought Monitor for the U.S.

The data cutoff for Drought Monitor maps is Tuesday at 7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The maps, which are based on analysis of the data, are released each Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

The land of unintended consequences

A valuable observation from Climate Feedback on perverse incentives in carbon regulation: Far off the American radar screen, and perhaps not a bright blip on the European one either, is the perverse incentive problem for carbon emissions offsets. As voluntary offset purchases by both individuals and corporations ramp up, a strong backlash against "offsetting your guilt" is building astride. But offsetting guilt as a personal choice or for corporate strategy on an individual basis is one thing. Using an international financial trading mechanism embedded in an international treaty is quite another. And when the mechanisms of one international environmental treaty leads to the subversion of another international environmental treaty, well, you can just hear the collective "whoops!" echo across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Here is the situation: Annex I countries that cannot meet their GHG emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol pay into the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) fund, which then pays for emissions reductions in developing countries. These emissions reductions can take many forms as long as "additionality" can be proven – that is, the reduction in GHGs would not have occurred without the CDM funding. CDM projects have included capturing landfill-produced methane, creating facilities to burn biomass for energy, and installing wind power capacity. However, CDM projects have also included burning HFC-23 and this is where the perverse incentive creeps up.

HFC-23 is the byproduct of HCFC-22 production. HCFC-22 is a refrigerant and strong ozone depletor, ostensibly banned by the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. Developing countries, however, were given a loophole arrangement under the Montreal Protocol (MP) specifically for HCFC-22, so while most countries in the world with any degree of industrial activity have agreed to abide by the MP, developing countries do not have to meet HCFC-22 phase-out targets. Because of this loophole, as a cheap and effective refrigerant HCFC-22 continues to be an important industrial chemical, produced in especially high volume by "rich developing" countries such as China, India and Korea.

Both HCFC-22 and HFC-23 are also strong greenhouse gasses, but HFC-23 has a 270-year lifetime in the atmosphere, HCFC-22 only 12 years, and thus HFC-23 has over ten times the Global Warming Potential of HCFC-22 at 14,800 times CO2-equivalent (see Table TS.2 in the WGI Technical Summary of IPCC AR4). Those seeking to fund CDM projects jumped early at the chance to abate the release of HFC-23 to the atmosphere. It turned out to be quite easy (read: cheap) to install capture-and-burn equipment on HCFC-22 factories, and with a ton of HFC-23 burned being the equivalent of over 14,000 tons of CO2 prevented from reaching the atmosphere, the race to fund HFC-23 burn projects was on.

The problem from an international policy perspective is that producers of HCFC-22 now make more money burning HFC-23 than they do selling HCFC-22. Imagine what being paid handsomely to burn your waste does to your incentive to reduce your waste. If your waste stream costs you to dispose of it, you might try to improve your production to reduce waste and thus save money. And even if you did get paid to burn your waste, it might make financial sense to reduce waste anyway if your efficiency improvements paid more in reduced operating expenses than burning waste generated in income. But neither is the case for HCFC-22 factories. For them a double financial incentive now exists: keep making HCFC-22 in copious amounts at a profit, which will produce HFC-23 as a now-valuable waste product. And since HCFC-22 producers need not even lift a finger to burn their HFC-23 (those funding the CDM project fund the capture and burn device), any incentive for switching away from the ozone-depleting HCFC-22 as a refrigerant is also destroyed.

Aside from very good in-depth reporting from Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times, based in part on the work of Michael Wara of Stanford (see the 8-Feb-07 issue of Nature), the HCFC-22/HFC-23 issue has gone largely unreported thus far. While the New York Times has run a small handful of articles in the past year on HCFC-22 and its ozone-depleting properties, none have raised the HFC-23 specter. According to my Lexis-Nexis search, no other American newspaper has covered the issue.

As individual states in the U.S. begin forming interstate agreements on GHG trading in advance of a federally-instituted nationwide emissions reduction program, unintended consequences like depleting stratospheric ozone in favor of reducing GHGs will need to be carefully watched for.

Climate Change Appraisal

Maywa Montenegro, via Gristmill, describes a website designed for individuals grappling with climate adaptation issues: Earlier this week I learned that I'm eligible, via my mother, for Dutch citizenship, which means I could potentially work, vote, and live in Holland without having to go through the hassle of visa applications.

Before moving to a country that lies largely below sea level, though, I might want to check out Climate Appraisal, which, as its name suggests, is a website where you can size up the environmental hazards of your desired address. A joint project of a former banking executive and climate scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the site has plenty of free information on numerous ways your property might perish, including earthquakes, shoreline reduction, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, fire, and flood. Each of those categories provides a definition, scientific overview, and scientific links. If you're willing to fork over actual cash, the premium subscription will generate maps, graphs, and tables in each of the hazard categories specific to your address. (Clicking on the floods tab, for instance, might tell me how many times the rivers in my county have breached their banks in the past 100 years.)

The climate change-related statistics are mainly projected temperatures and, for coastal areas, sea-level rise. And these are pretty speculative, as the website's creators readily admit. Nature News asked some scientists to review the site's content and many were critical of its rigor. "If I was doing this I would caveat it to death," said Linda Mearns, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author on the IPCC reports.

The creators acknowledge gaps in the data and say they hope to update it with new IPCC report information. They also validly point out, "If we included all the scientific discussion about all the uncertainties, no one would ever read it."

All in all, this is a fun place to fish, as long as you can ignore the many entreaties to sign up for the premium subscription (along with numerous Paypal signs). The scientific links alone make the site worth a visit, providing arrows to vast amounts of wonderful, wonky stuff.

And I'm sure we'll be seeing many more sites like this in the future, as people -- even well-intentioned ones -- seek to make a buck on climate change.

Rich must pay bulk of climate change bill - Oxfam

China Daily, via Reuters: Coping with the ravages of global warming will cost $50 billion a year, and the rich nations who caused most of the pollution must pay most of the bill, aid agency Oxfam said on Tuesday. The call, barely 10 days before a crucial Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany which has climate change at its core, is likely to make already tense negotiations even tougher.

The United States, which Oxfam says must foot 44 percent of the annual $50 billion bill, is rejecting attempts by German G8 presidency Germany to set stiff targets and timetables for cutting carbon gas emissions and raising energy efficiency.

"G8 countries face two obligations as they prepare for this year's summit in Germany -- to stop harming by cutting their emissions to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius and to start helping poor countries to cope," said Oxfam researcher Kate Raworth. "Developing countries cannot and should not be expected to foot the bill for the impact of rich countries' emissions," she said, echoing the position of the developing world.

Scientists say average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport, causing floods and famine and putting millions of lives at risk. The United States is the world's biggest producer of carbon emissions.


Oxfam has created a global warming adaptation financing index based on the responsibility, equity and capability of each nation. It said after the United States, Japan owed 13 percent of the bill, followed by Germany on seven percent, Britain just over five percent, Italy, France and Canada between four and five percent and Spain, Australia and Korea three percent.

Germany wants the leaders of the G8 along with India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa at their summit from June 6-8 to agree to limit the temperature rise to two degrees this century and to cut emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

But in a draft of the final communique to be presented to the leaders at the summit, Washington rejected these goals in decidedly undiplomatic terms. "We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position," the United States said in red ink comments at the start of a copy of the draft seen by Reuters on Friday.

"The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple 'red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to." The blunt language of the rejection sets the scene for a showdown at the summit. A source close to the negotiations described them as "very tense".

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Scientific reticence and sea level rise

In Environmental Research Letters, James Hansen of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies points out the dangers of excessive caution among scientists in communicating about one aspect of climate change: I suggest that a `scientific reticence' is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

Also: “There is, in my opinion, a huge gap between what is understood about human-made global warming and its consequences, and what is known by the people who most need to know, the public and policy makers. The IPCC is doing a commendable job, but we need something more. Given the reticence that the IPCC necessarily exhibits, there need to be supplementary mechanisms. The onus, it seems to me, falls on us scientists as a community.”

Global warming-hurricane link spurs controversy

Reuters: Climate scientists agree there have been a lot of strong hurricanes lately. They agree that warmer seas have given these storms some extra punch. But they disagree how much global warming is to blame. With the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season about to begin, the controversy over the role of climate change in boosting hurricane intensity is a matter for debate among the researchers who watch the water and the clouds and work to figure out what makes the worst storms so furious.

"As far as I can tell, there is no dispute that higher sea temperatures mean more energy for these storms to feed on," said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, part of a consortium of U.S. universities. Trenberth said the next logical question is, how have sea surface temperatures changed over the last 30 years or so, "and that's where the global warming aspects come in and that's where some of the dispute seems to lie."

Trenberth is convinced that global warming is a major factor in spawning the kinds of intense hurricanes that kill, and he is hardly alone.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which set out the consequences of global warming in a series of reports this year, said future hurricanes and typhoons will probably be more intense as tropical seas continue to heat up. The world panel also drew a line between warmer seas and the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from human sources like factories, vehicles and coal-fired power plants.

However, Chris Landsea of the U.S. government's National Hurricane Center in Miami considers climate change a minor piece of the puzzle of hurricane intensity compared with long-term climate cycles that can last for decades.


When it comes to the relationship between hurricane strength and global warming, "the important question is not, is there an impact, but how much of an impact," Landsea said in a telephone interview. "When you look at all of the studies ... it's a pretty tiny sensitivity. Landsea said hurricanes get about 2 percent stronger for every rise of 1 degree F (.55C) in the sea surface temperature.

Sea surface temperatures have risen an average of about that much in the tropical Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico -- where big hurricanes are nourished -- over the last 100 years, and only about half of that increase is due to human-caused global warming, he said.

He said that 1 percent difference in intensity, gauged by the force of the storm winds, makes little difference, even in a storm with the devastating strength of 2005's Katrina, a top-ranked Category 5 hurricane. "Consider that we can only estimate winds to the nearest 5 miles (8 km) an hour here at the hurricane center and when you get to Category 4 or 5, you're really making a guess to the nearest 10 miles (16 km) an hour," Landsea said. "A 1- or 2-mile an hour (1.6 to 3.2 km) change is so tiny you can't even measure it."

But Trenberth noted that global climate change was a big factor in driving the spike in sea surface warming in 2005, a hurricane season that broke records for its intensity.

Tropical sea temperatures were up by 1.6 degrees F (.92 degree C) in 2005. "That's way higher than the next highest on record for the period," Trenberth said. Global warming accounted for about half of that rise, he said.

By contrast, the Pacific Ocean phenomenon El Nino accounted for .38 degrees F (.2 degrees C) of tropic sea warming that year, and a long-term cycle of warming and cooling known as the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation accounted for .19 degrees F (.1 degree C), according to Trenberth.


"The key thing about global warming is it doesn't go away," Trenberth said. "It provides a background level (of warming), and the natural fluctuations can be thought of as occurring on top of it."

Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated plainly that human-caused global warming contributes to hurricane intensity. There has been a large upswing in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes, beginning in 1995," Emanuel said on his Web site, "This corresponds to an upswing in tropical North Atlantic sea surface temperature, which is very likely a response to increasing anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gases."

Emanuel said there was no evidence that natural cycles or regional Atlantic climate phenomena are affecting sea surface temperatures, which have an impact on hurricanes.

John Holdren, a climate scientist at Harvard University and chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said he found Emanuel's work extremely persuasive -- a "smoking gun" supporting the impact of climate change on hurricanes.

The matter is not settled. A study published in Nature last week said hurricanes over the past 5,000 years appear to have been controlled more by El Nino and an African monsoon than warm local sea surface temperatures.

Vital Genetic Resources For Resisting Drought, Pests Jeopardised By Climate Change

Medical News Today: Wild relatives of plants such as the potato and the peanut are at risk of extinction, threatening a valuable source of genes that are necessary to boost the ability of cultivated crops to resist pests and tolerate drought, according to a new study released by scientists of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The culprit is climate change, the researchers said.

According to the study, in the next 50 years as many as 61 percent of the 51 wild peanut species analyzed and 12 percent of the 108 wild potato species analyzed could become extinct as the result of climate change. Most of those that remained would be confined to much smaller areas, further eroding their capacity to survive. The study also examined wild relatives of cowpea, a nutritious legume farmed widely in Africa. It found that only two of 48 species might disappear. However, the authors predict that most wild cowpeas will decline in numbers because climatic changes will push them out of many areas they currently inhabit.

"Our results would indicate that the survival of many species of crop wild relatives, not just wild potato, peanuts and cowpea, are likely to be seriously threatened even with the most conservative estimates regarding the magnitude of climate change," said the study's lead author, Andy Jarvis, who is an agricultural geographer working at two CGIAR-supported centers - the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Bioversity International, with headquarters in Rome. "There is an urgent need to collect and store the seeds of wild relatives in crop diversity collections before they disappear. At the moment, existing collections are conserving only a fraction of the diversity of wild species that are out there."

…Though not apparent to the average consumer, the wild relatives of crops play an important role in food production. All food crops originated from wild plants. But when they were domesticated, their genetic variation was narrowed significantly as farmers carefully selected plants with traits such as those related to taste and appearance as well as to yield. When trouble arises on the farm -attacks by pests or disease or, more recently, stressful growing conditions caused by climate change - breeders tend to dip back into the gene pool of the robust wild relatives in search of traits that will allow the domesticated variety to overcome the threat.

"The irony here is that plant breeders will be relying on wild relatives more than ever as they work to develop domesticated crops that can adapt to changing climate conditions," said Annie Lane, the coordinator of a global project on crop wild relatives led by Bioversity International. "Yet because of climate change, we could end up losing a significant amount of these critical genetic resources at precisely the time they are most needed to maintain agricultural production.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Inaction on disasters is not an option

From Reuters Alternet, an opinion piece by Salvano Briceno, director of the U.N. Secretariat of the International Stategy for Disaster Reduction: In the coming years, we could experience disasters on an unprecedented scale. They could begin with an earthquake, late at night in a sleeping city, or perhaps a violent volcanic eruption. Or they could follow a fearful windstorm, a catastrophic flood, or landslides triggered by colossal rainstorms. Millions of people may be affected with economic losses that could bankrupt the rest of the nation.

To create the conditions for disaster, all we need to do is nothing. If we do nothing - and by us, I mean the politicians, business leaders, local authorities, bureaucrats, workers, bankers, safety chiefs, volunteers, teachers, engineers, farmers, families, citizens, the media and everybody else who has a stake in tomorrow - then the worst will certainly happen.

It will not happen simply because sea levels have begun to rise, and the frequency and the ferocity of hurricanes, ice storms, floods, heat waves and droughts could be on the increase. It will not happen just because global population - and therefore the numbers of potential victims - has trebled in the last century, and could reach 9 billion by 2050. It will not happen because more people have crowded into urban slums and city dwellers now outnumber people in the countryside. All of these things are part of the recipe for a terrible disaster, but they are not enough.

The final ingredient for human tragedy would be inaction. If we choose not to look, then we will not see disaster until it happens. If we choose not to act, then we will be at our most vulnerable when it arrives. We should face the bitter truth that some of the worst disasters of the past few decades could have been avoided, or their impact softened, if we had been better prepared; with more shelters from the storm, better advance warning of floods, surer protection from collapsing buildings, and swifter action against the fire, hunger or disease that arrives with each catastrophe.

That is why, in the wake of a series of warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists who have been studying climate change, the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is about to bring governments, the United Nations, financial institutions, scientists and engineers, community leaders, non-governmental organisations together in Geneva for the first ever global platform on ways to make a dangerous world a safer place.

We - all of us - have a million reasons to do something rather than nothing. Worldwide, nearly 200 million people live in coastal flood zones, at risk from storm surges and cyclones. The economic costs of disasters rose 14-fold in the last 50 years and totaled $1 trillion in the last 15 years alone. Eight out of the 10 most crowded cities in the world are potentially at hazard from earthquakes. Six out of 10 of these cities are vulnerable to storm surges and tsunamis.

Yet there is good evidence that money spent wisely now could prevent horrendous losses in the years ahead. By 2015, 12 of the 15 largest cities in the world will be in developing countries. A billion people already live in slums, shanty towns, on unstable land and in badly built apartment blocks and by 2020 these numbers could reach 2 billion.

So there are urgent reasons, both humanitarian and financial, for helping to protect the vulnerable against future tragedy. We know what to do: ministers, scientists, engineers, investors and economists from 168 nations gathered at Kobe in Japan in 2005 to forge the Hyogo Framework for a decade of action. This document is a guide to a host of steps that could be taken, by heads of state and by the people most at risk, by international organisations and village councils, by civil engineers and schoolteachers, to foresee future hazards and avoid them, to prepare for the worst blows that nature can deliver, and soften their impact.

All over the world, nations have begun to act. But are those actions enough? Can they be implemented swiftly enough? Are they the best actions against local hazards? Is there enough political will to complete them, and keep disaster risk reduction (prevention, mitigation and preparedness) on the political agenda? Can risk reduction be the most effective strategy for adaptation to climate change?

Disasters that arise from natural hazards usually hit the poor hardest, and keeping the survivors in poverty and despair for years or even decades afterwards.

The worst disasters can undo decades of development. The US Geological Survey and the World Bank have estimated that an investment of $40 billion into disaster preparedness could have prevented $280 billion worth of losses during the last decade of the 20th century. That represents a sevenfold return: a bargain, by any investor's standards.

The cost of doing something is modest. But the price of doing nothing will be catastrophic. We know what to do. We know, better than ever, how to do it. And above all, we know that to do nothing is not an option.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Woods Hole Geologists Compile Longest Hurricane Record

Terra Daily: The frequency of intense hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean appears to be closely connected to long-term trends in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the West African monsoon, according to new research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Geologists Jeff Donnelly and Jonathan Woodruff made that discovery while assembling the longest-ever record of hurricane strikes in the Atlantic basin.

Donnelly and Woodruff began reconstructing the history of land-falling hurricanes in the Caribbean in 2003 by gathering sediment-core samples from Laguna Playa Grande on Vieques (Puerto Rico), an island extremely vulnerable to hurricane strikes. They examined the cores for evidence of storm surges-distinctive layers of coarse-grained sands and bits of shell interspersed between the organic-rich silt usually found in lagoon sediments-and pieced together a 5,000-year chronology of land-falling hurricanes in the region.

In examining the record, they found large and dramatic fluctuations in hurricane activity, with long stretches of frequent strikes punctuated by lulls that lasted many centuries. The team then compared their new hurricane record with existing paleoclimate data on El Nino, the West African monsoon, and other global and regional climate influences. They found the number of intense hurricanes (category 3, 4, and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale) typically increased when El Nino was relatively weak and the West African monsoon was strong.

"The processes that govern the formation, intensity, and track of Atlantic hurricanes are still poorly understood," said Donnelly, an associate scientist in the WHOI Department of Geology and Geophysics. "Based on this work, we now think that there may be some sort of basin-wide 'on-off switch' for intense hurricanes."

Climate change policy fails Aussie tourism industry Prime Minister John Howard risks tarnishing Australia's reputation as a natural tourism destination by failing to urgently address climate change, Queensland Minister for Tourism Margaret Keech says.

Mrs Keech told state parliament that climate change is the greatest challenge facing the $A18 billion ($NZ20 billion) a-year Queensland tourism industry, and that the federal government has let the industry down by failing to earmark adequate funds for the issue in the budget. "Queensland is working hard to address this worldwide issue but our tourism industry is being let down by lack of action from the federal government," she said.

"At a recent climate change summit delegates were told that long before our natural tourism product is affected by global warming, changes in consumer perceptions could have a negative impact on tourism jobs and export earnings. The federal government has been dragging the chain on this issue for too long."

However federal Tourism Minister Fran Bailey said Mrs Keech's claim was an "aberration of fact". Ms Bailey said the budget included $A7 million over four years to implement the Great Barrier Reef Climate Change action plan, and $A26 million to establish and manage the Australian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation. "Overall the government has committed more than $A2 billion towards its climate change strategy," Ms Bailey said.

"The Australian government is (also) developing a Tourism Action Plan on Climate Change to assess the impact of climate change on tourism and develop adaptation strategies in consultation with the tourism industry and state tourism ministers. This is part of the Climate Change Adaptation Framework agreed by federal and state governments that is focusing on practical outcomes, not political point scoring."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Arctic, Small Island States Call for Action on Adaptation

Environmental News Network: When it comes to the earth's changing climate, the people of the Arctic and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have a message for the world - the time for action is now. This message is supported by the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which highlights the vulnerability of the polar regions and small island states to climate change.

These two regions, separated by geography, climate and culture, are united by the fact that they are already feeling the dramatic effects of climate change. Both regions are looking for ways to adapt, but on their own, they may not be able to succeed. Strategic policy-relevant and community-driven initiatives need to be addressed through collaboration.

"We need to focus our research efforts on local communities because adaptation to climate change is a global concern with local manifestations," says Grete Hovelsrud, project leader for the Many Strong Voices Programme and Research Director at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO).

From 27 to 30 May 2007, 40 stakeholders from the Caribbean, Alaska, Fiji, Greenland, French Polynesia, and other locations in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will gather at a workshop in Belize. They are part of the Many Strong Voices Programme, coordinated by the UNEP/GRID-Arendal, based in Norway, the Center for International Climate and Environment Research - Oslo (CICERO), the Caricom Climate Change Centre and the Organization of American States' Department of Sustainable Development.

The Many Strong Voices Programme was launched in late 2005 at a global climate change meeting in Montréal, Canada. Its task is to bring together a consortium of researchers, policy-makers, and organizations to advance mutual learning and exchange of knowledge, research, and expertise on climate change adaptation within and between the Arctic and the SIDS.

Adapting to 'inevitability of 40C city' Climate Change Adaptation ‘by Design Guide’ for sustainable communities, published today by the Town and Country Planning Association, shows how adapting towns and cities to climate change offers enormous potential for creating high value, quality places where people and businesses will want to spend time.

Speaking at the launch today Robert Shaw, TCPA Director (Policy and Projects), said: “We must adapt to the inevitability of the 40oC city.” Without very strong action we will see temperatures in many UK cities sitting above 40oC for long periods of the summer.

The social and economic, not to mention environmental, implications of this will be far reaching and threatens to undermine the long term desirability of towns and cities as places to live and work.”

“Responding to this requires innovative use of space within and around buildings. Ill thought through promotion of high density development in order to save land can do much to exacerbate the problems. Space needs to be left or created for large canopy trees combined with green space and green roofs which can help to keep summer temperatures in cities cooler and minimise the risk of urban flooding.”

The new guide communicates the importance of adapting to some degree of inevitable climate change and illustrates how adaptation can be integrated into the planning, design and development of new and existing communities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Experts Predict Scorching Summer

USA Today: As Memorial Day weekend beckons, federal climate scientists predict drought will intensify in much of the West this summer and persist in the fire-scorched Southeast despite recent rain.

People heading out this holiday to fish and boat in the Southeast could find lakes and reservoirs so low that sandbars and stumps pose hazards. Campers and hikers in the Southwest may see restrictions in national forests dangerously dry from years of drought.

In its drought outlook for June, July and August, the federal Climate Prediction Center foresees some improvement in the Gulf Coast states, including central and South Florida and the state's Panhandle. But southern Georgia and northern Florida, raked by wildfire this month, "may see deterioration" even though the rainy season is due to start, the center reports.

"Fire is the big story," says Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska. "The lack of spring rains has increased fire incidence."

The climate center outlook also expects little lasting relief in dry areas of the West, from California across Nevada and Utah, and new drought areas developing in large parts of Idaho and Oregon.

…Drought, a scourge in the West for nearly a decade, now afflicts about one-third of the contiguous USA, including part of the upper Midwest. The total rises to 49% with areas classified as "abnormally dry." More than 40% of Alaska fits into that dry category. In the West, 69.5% of the region's 11 states were either in drought or abnormally dry, nearly double the area affected a year ago.

The snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada averaged just 29% of normal this winter. Although water left over from last year's spring snowmelt should fill municipal tap water needs this year, another subpar winter could jeopardize California's water supply.

Invasive Species and Climate Change

From the US Global Change Research Program, a look at the impact climate change might have on biodiversity and invasive species: …Invasive species are currently a significant issue on the Great Plains. Invasive species are plant or animal species that have been introduced into an environment (often accidentally) in which they did not evolve. Such species usually have no natural enemies present to limit their reproduction and spread. Invasive species typically have high reproductive rates, fast growth rates, and good dispersal mechanisms. The costs and weed-associated losses from invasive species in crop and forage production in the agricultural sector are currently nearly $15 billion annually…

…Rather than identify specific strategies, the following is a proposed set of general principles to guide strategic development of social responses to climate change. The five principles can be articulated as follows:

* “No regrets -- strategies: These strategies respond to existing stresses while also making the system more resilient to climate change, all without incurring significant costs…
* Alternative pathways: Alternatives to adaptation can be provided by developing effective coping strategies for present and future stresses. For example, enhancing the heterogeneity of landscapes and connected aquatic and terrestrial systems can provide a more diverse set of alternative pathways for adaptation. … The idea of enhancing land stewardship by private landowners is central to the success of this management principle;
* Preserve diverse habitats: By focusing on preserving current land uses that promote integrity in natural systems, biodiversity can be enhanced.
* Adaptive management: Adaptive management involves learning by doing and continually evaluating what works and what fails to work in an attempt to lessen the impacts of climate change on natural systems.
* Information dissemination: Effective coping strategies depend on informing the public and decision makers about the implications of climate change for natural systems, and what these effects mean to the quality of human life. For example, why is the role of wetlands in flood control important to society? What could changes in this natural system mean to a community or to other natural systems - both locally and regionally?

Adaptation, according to the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. has a concise page on adaptation to climate change. One useful section: Illustrative examples of potential adaptation measures in different sectors include the following:

Human Health
* Many diseases and health problems that may be exacerbated by climate change can be effectively prevented with adequate financial and human public health resources, including training, surveillance and emergency response, and prevention and control programs.
* Urban tree planting to moderate temperature increases
* Weather advisories to alert the public about dangerous heat conditions…

Coastal Areas and Sea Level Rise
* Developing county-scale maps depicting which areas will require shore protection (e.g. dikes, bulkheads, beach nourishment) and which areas will be allowed to adapt naturally
* Analyzing the environmental consequences of shore protection
* Promoting shore protection techniques that do not destroy all habitat
* Identifying land use measures to ensure that wetlands migrate as sea level rises in some areas
* Engaging state and local governments in defining responses to sea level rise

Agriculture and Forestry
* Altering the timing of planting dates to adapt to changing growing conditions
* Altering cropping mix and forest species that are better suited to the changing climatic conditions
* Breeding new plant species and crops that are more tolerant to changed climate condition
* Promoting fire suppression practices in the event of increased fire risk due to temperature increases

Ecosystems and Wildlife
* Protecting and enhancing migration corridors to allow species to migrate as the climate changes
* Identifying management practices that will ensure the successful attainment of conservation and management goals
* Promoting management practices that confer resilience to the ecosystem

Water Resources
* Altering infrastructure or institutional arrangements
* Changing demand or reducing risk
* Improving water use efficiency, planning for alternative water sources (such as treated wastewater), and making changes to water allocation

* Increasing energy efficiency to offset increases in energy consumption due to warming
* Protecting facilities against extreme weather events
* Diversifying power supply in the event of power plant failures due to excess demand created by extreme heat, or by extreme weather events

Monday, May 21, 2007

GeoOptics Announces 100-Spacecraft Array to Deliver Critical Hurricane And Climate Data

TerraDaily: GeoOptics is an international consortium formed to deploy and operate CICERO, which will consist of 100 micro-satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) performing Global Positioning System and Galileo atmospheric radio occultation (GNSS-RO). CICERO will deliver critical data on the state of the Earth's atmosphere and ionosphere in near real time to forecasters and researchers worldwide at an accuracy and vertical resolution 20 to 50 times greater than is possible with the current operational space based systems.

GNSS-RO delivers profiles of atmospheric density, pressure, temperature, moisture, and geopotential heights, along with global ionospheric electron distribution and a host of derived products. Principal applications are global weather forecasting, hurricane and storm track prediction, climate change research, and space weather (geomagnetic storm) monitoring.

Recent experiments at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, show that GNSSRO offers breakthrough improvements in forecasting of hurricanes and will allow for the first time the direct observation of subtle long-term temperature changes above the Earth's surface.

CICERO expands on the powerful GPS-RO sensing technique pioneered in the US over the past 15 years by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and by a variety of countries around the world.

Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming

The Independent: In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?

…The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.

The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.

Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the total.

"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.

Global climate change and hurricanes

Climate Feedback: The 2007 hurricane season is about to get officially underway. Never mind that nature has already provided the first named storm in the North Atlantic: Andrea. Several forecasts suggest that the 2007 season in the North Atlantic will be well above average. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are above normal and atmospheric conditions look likely to be favorable for tropical storm activity….

What we expect from the dynamics is that the storms will experience increased intensity because there is more fuel for the storms (higher SSTs and more water vapor) but stronger storms take more energy out of the ocean and leave behind a colder wake, and so the expectation is that numbers could actually decrease. There is some evidence to suggest that size, and thus damage, may increase, but there are no statistics on size at all. A key issue for the Landsea paper is what about duration? As long as the storms keep moving to a new piece of ocean they do not get affected by the cold wake, and so in recent times the storms may be developing farther to the east and this may mean there are fewer storms missed than Landsea claims. Moreover, storms that were east of 55 degrees W that might not have been subject to aircraft surveillance tend to move west into the area where they are tracked, and so all that may be missing is a bit at the start of the storm?

How to Talk to a Skeptic

Grist publishes a useful collection of sequential responses to rely on debate with climate skeptics. The arguments are arranged by "stages of denial," "scientific topics," "types of argument," and "levels of sophistication."

Africa needs to thicken its skin

Business Day: ...Beyond the known risks to Africa’s growth and prosperity, Africa is increasingly exposed to global risks that originate outside the continent but which can have powerful effects on it.

And it is these risks, some of which are the flipside of integration into an increasingly prosperous world economy, which Africa is not yet well equipped to mitigate and manage. If these global risks are not dealt with, Africa’s renaissance may turn out to be built on shaky ground.

Three bear closer attention: climate change, terrorism and an asset-price collapse.

The first of these, climate change, may be the silent killer of the 21st century. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report should leave no doubt. Water stress is set to increase, agricultural yields may be stretched even further, and adaptation to the new conditions looks set to cost up to 10% of gross domestic product.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Some healthy debunking

From Climate Science Watch, Michael McCracken of the Climate Institute debunks a Richard Lindzen essay in Newsweek: "Richard Lindzen’s op-ed “Why So Gloomy?” which was published in the April 16, 2007 issue of Newsweek and distributed by MSNBC, includes roughly a score of statements that are contrary to the international scientific consensus and, in many cases, quite misleading…"

After a detailed and meticulous rebuttal, McCracken concludes: “Lindzen’s op-ed is deceptive and misleading, trying to blur and distort the very clear international scientific consensus that climate change is real, is primarily due to human influences, is already causing important impacts on the environment, and that future changes and impacts will be much more serious. The reason to be gloomy is that political efforts to deal with this increasingly serious issue have been so limited in the 40 years since 1965 when … a panel of the President’s Science Advisory Council indicated … that human-induced climate change was a real issue deserving of attention.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Greenpeace: Exxon still funding climate skeptics

Reuters: Exxon Mobil Corp. gave over $2 million in 2006 to groups Greenpeace called global warming skeptics even as the oil company campaigned to improve its climate-unfriendly image. Nevertheless, Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded company, cut its donations to these groups by more than 40 percent from 2005.

The company still funds about 40 "skeptic groups," according to the report from Greenpeace, but Exxon disputed that many of the organizations were "global warming deniers." The groups listed include: the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Many of them concern themselves with a wide range of issues.

Earlier this year, Exxon said it had stopped funding a handful of groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, that have downplayed the risks of carbon dioxide emissions.

Exxon has argued that its position on global warming has been widely misunderstood and has taken part in industry talks on greenhouse gas emission regulations. "We believe that climate change is a serious issue and that action is warranted now," said Exxon Mobil spokesman Dave Gardner. Gardner said in a statement that the company supports numerous public policy organizations on a variety of topics that do not represent Exxon or speak on its behalf.

Study: Southern Ocean saturated with CO2

Reuters, via CNN: The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is so loaded with carbon dioxide that it can barely absorb any more, so more of the gas will stay in the atmosphere to warm up the planet, scientists reported Thursday. Human activity is the main culprit, said researcher Corinne Le Quere, who called the finding very alarming.

The phenomenon wasn't expected to be apparent for decades, Le Quere said in a telephone interview from the University of East Anglia in Britain. "We thought we would be able to detect these only the second half of this century, say 2050 or so," she said. But data from 1981 through 2004 show the sink is already full of carbon dioxide. "So I find this really quite alarming."

The Southern Ocean is one of the world's biggest reservoirs of carbon, known as a carbon sink. When carbon is in a sink -- whether it's an ocean or a forest, both of which can lock up carbon dioxide -- it stays out of the atmosphere and does not contribute to global warming.

The new research, published in the latest edition of the journal Science, indicates that the Southern Ocean has been saturated with carbon dioxide at least since the 1980s. This is significant because the Southern Ocean accounts for 15 percent of the global carbon sink, Le Quere said.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ethics and Climate Change: conference follow-up

Earlier in May, the University of Washington convened a what sounds like a stimulating conference on the Ethics of Climate Change. The conference homepage says: "Climate change is in many ways an ethical issue. Still, there has been little discussion of the ethics of climate change in academia or by the general public (especially relative to the science and policy dimensions). This conference aims to encourage and facilitate such a discussion. Accordingly, it will focus on topics such as the ethical responsibilities of scientists, obligations to future generations, and the intersection between climate change, global justice and human rights."

Abstracts of the papers look full of insights into pertinent issues. Several of the mainstays of Real Climate attended, and noted the issues and papers that struck them as particularly interesting.

U.S.: National Security Meets Climate Change

Stratfor: As world leaders gather for the G-8 and U.N. General Assembly meetings this summer, they will face a new contingent pushing for international action on climate change. For the first time, generals, security advisers and foreign diplomats are discussing climate change during international negotiations in a significant way. Embedding climate change into national security discourse will add a new urgency to the issue and affect traditional national strategic planning operations as world leaders negotiate a post-Kyoto international energy regulatory framework…

The notion of "climate security" -- the potential for increased global conflict and compromised national security arising from a warming climate -- has gained significant traction within the past month. Most notably, 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals have issued a statement supporting greater national planning for potential national security threats posed by climate change. These former military leaders held two separate deliberations May 14 on their "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" report, released April 18 by the CNA Corp., a Washington-based military and technology research company.

That military officials are taking up the issue of climate change shows that it has moved beyond the realm of purely environmental, or even economic, concerns. Military and security preparations require less certainty that a threat is looming if the stakes are considered high. This emerging perception of climate change could in turn decrease the requirement that scientists prove without a doubt the occurrence of the phenomenon and accelerate government acceptance and assessments of climate change.

The report, which gained national media attention upon its release, warns that climate change could dry up rivers, flood inhabited areas along coastlines and alter ecosystems upon which many populations -- particularly in developing countries -- depend, and that this could cause resource conflicts and significant migrations across national borders. The generals warn that increased terrorism would likely arise as climate change disrupted local economies and increased social tensions. The retired officers argue that the United States would undoubtedly become embroiled in minor (and perhaps major) conflicts increasing along with global temperatures. The officers recommend the United States integrate the security consequences of climate change into national security and defense strategies and direct the Defense Department to assess the impact climate change could have on U.S. military installations and preparedness worldwide..

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hurricane experts claim 2007 to be an especially active season

Pravda: Two U.S. hurricane experts said that they expect 2007 to be an especially active season, producing up to 17 tropical storms and hurricanes and a possibility of at least one striking the United States.

Philip Klotzbach, a research associate at Colorado State University, and Joe Bastardi, the chief hurricane forecaster for AccuWeather Inc., acknowledged that similar predictions for the 2006 season were wrong but cited a more active storm cycle this year. Klotzbach and Bastardi were addressing the Second Annual AccuWeather Hurricane Summit, a gathering of more than 100 weather experts and academics to discuss the coming season with members of the energy industry, whose business can be severely affected by storms.

"We didn't predict very well last year," Klotzbach said, noting that 2006 turned out to be an average year with 10 tropical storms and five hurricanes. None made landfall, he said, the first time since 2001 that has happened.

Klotzbach and his renowned colleague at Colorado State, Professor William Gray, issued their annual predictions April 3, forecasting a "very active" season with 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes and five "intense" hurricanes. Klotzbach said there is a 74 percent chance of a major hurricane striking the United States, with a 49 percent chance it will hit along the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville. Storms reaching Category 3 or greater on the hurricane scale are considered major, with winds up to 130 mph.

Australian water crisis could be worse than thought

Reuters: Water shortages facing Australia's drought-hit prime agricultural area might be worse than expected, the government was told on Wednesday, as river towns braced for unprecedented restrictions on water use.

The head of an inquiry into relocating farming to Australia's tropical north, Bill Heffernan, told the Australian Financial Review that the amount of water flowing into the major Murray-Darling river system could be 40 percent less than thought.

However, Australia's Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said there was no reason to panic and Heffernan's concerns about over-counting surface and ground water had been accounted for. "The problem is one we are aware of," Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, adding there was no need for the government to increase a A$3 billion ($2.5 billion) 10-year plan to buy water back from drought-ravaged irrigators.

Prime Minister John Howard in April urged Australians to pray for rain and told farmers along the Murray-Darling they would receive no irrigation water without higher inflows into the rivers in the lead up to winter.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Adaptation in Pakistan

Daily Times (Pakistan): …Farming practices in agriculturally dominated countries like Pakistan have to be adapted to cope with the ongoing climatic change. While the Indo-Gangetic Plain is currently classified as a highly productive, irrigated agricultural area, climate models show that by 2050 as much as half of the region may be reclassified to a heat-stressed area with a much shorter growing season. Moreover, the UN Environmental Programme warns of an impending ‘Asian haze’ due to increasing pollution that could cause a drastic reduction in rainfall — by between 20 per cent and 40 per cent — particularly in the crucial agricultural regions of north-India and Pakistan.

Water scarcity is already a big problem in our part of the world. Pakistan is itself water stressed and any reduction in rainfall levels would be acutely felt, particularly in our rain-fed agricultural producing areas…

Cultivation of trees together with crops could significantly cope with several of the adverse consequences of climate change. The World Agro-forestry Centre has shown how planting trees between crops and in the boundaries around crops helps prevent soil erosion, restore soil fertility, and provide shade for other crops. Trees and shrubs are seen to even sequester more carbon than other crops. Countries like Pakistan should seriously consider such options. If recently introduced mechanisms like joint forest management committees are used to encourage this practice, the alarmingly low forest cover in the country could be improved.

…countries most vulnerable to future climate changes are presently overwhelmed by very immediate development concerns like abject poverty, or a severe lack of health facilities. It is understandable that people in developing countries seem less concerned to place a priority on problems projected to occur decades down the road. Nonetheless, at least planners in these countries must realise that climate variability is already a major problem impeding progress in the agriculture sector, particularly in the marginal rain-fed regions where a majority of the rural poor reside. So, developing resilience to climate changes will only help counter existing difficulties confronting poor farmers in countries like our own.

Climate messages are 'off target'

BBC: Alarmist messages about global warming are counter-productive, the head of a leading climate research centre says. Professor Mike Hulme, of the UK's Tyndall Centre, has been conducting research on people's attitudes to media portrayals of a catastrophic future.

He says strong messages designed to prompt people to change behaviour only seem to generate apathy…. "There has been over-claiming or exaggeration, or at the very least casual use of language by scientists, some of whom are quite prominent," Professor Hulme told BBC News.

His concern is that these exaggerations have given the green light to the media to use the language of fear, terror and disaster when covering scientific reports - even when those reports are much more constrained in their description of the course of likely future events. He says extravagated claims simply generate a feeling of helplessness in the public.

"My argument is about the dangers of science over-claiming its knowledge about the future and in particular presenting tentative predictions about climate change using words of 'disaster', 'apocalypse' and 'catastrophe'," he said.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Slowing deforestation key to climate fight: experts

Reuters: Even slowing the amount of clearing of tropical forests could significantly cut the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, international experts say in a new study.

Deforestation in the tropics accounts for nearly 20 percent of carbon emissions caused by human activities, said Pep Canadell of the international scientific body Global Carbon Project and the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research.

"If by 2050 we slow deforestation by 50 percent from current levels...this would save the emission of 50 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere," he said.

The aim was also to stop deforestation when 50 percent of the world's tropical forests remained. This would avoid the release of the equivalent of six years of global fossil fuel emissions, Canadell said.

Making buildings behave better

The Economist: Unless you were a specialist in the matter you probably didn't rush to read the report of the third working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when it came out earlier this month. A pity. It focused on the economics of mitigating climate change, and it came up with some striking news for town and city types.

We all know plenty by now about the part played by cars in climate change. But what about the part played by buildings, with all their systems for heating, cooling, lighting and power? The IPCC report looked at the potential for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide from all major culprits—including transport, power generation, general industry, agriculture and buildings. Despite all those exhaust-pipes and power-station chimneys, it found that the greatest potential lay with buildings.

Even with a “carbon price” of less than $20 per tonne, (ie, a polluter would have to pay $20 per tonne of carbon produced), you might expect to see a reduction of more than 5m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from buildings, compared with less than 2m from transport.

In most industries, moreover, it would cost money to cut emissions—for instance, by replacing cheap coal-fired power generation with more expensive wind power. But buildings could cut 30% of their emissions by 2030 and save money at the same time.

Climate action 'needs devolution'

Opinion piece from the BBC by Matthew Spencer, chief executive of Regen SW: "...It is no coincidence that some of the strongest action on climate change has come from the places where the most power has been devolved to local decision makers.

The Scottish Executive has been successful in implementing ambitious policies to support renewable energy and is now leading the UK on wind power, with strong public backing. The Mayor of London has used his planning power to shake up energy standards in new buildings, and is aiming for 60% cuts in carbon by 2025, 25 years ahead of the government's target.

In Denmark, famous for its success in renewables, the political culture of strong local government has been critical to the development of energy service companies. A number of local councils in Britain use the powers they do have on planning to block renewable energy schemes

The widespread use of high-efficiency heat networks in the major cities has been led by municipally owned energy supply companies. In the UK, the work of Woking and Merton councils on local energy is famous, but it is largely the result of strong-willed individuals with vision and determination who are prepared to work against the system to get things done.

There is a huge gulf between this "best practice" and the rest. In fact, in the absence of clear responsibilities on climate change, a number of local councils in Britain use the powers they do have on planning to block renewable energy schemes. UK Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has said she wants government to "get off the centralising tread mill", and wants climate change to be the first test of the new relationship between central and local government.