kottke.org posts about global warming
Climate scientists have been wrestling with a curious fact lately: the rise in global temperature has been flat over the past decade or more even as we pump ever-increasing rates of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Economist discusses what that might mean for the climate and climate science.
Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth's surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, "the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade."
Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models. If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models' range within a few years.
The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. It does not mean global warming is a delusion. Flat though they are, temperatures in the first decade of the 21st century remain almost 1°C above their level in the first decade of the 20th. But the puzzle does need explaining.
Earlier in the week I posted about how climate change is affecting wine. Turns out that coffee is in trouble as well.
But in recent years, keeping the world's coffee drinkers supplied has become increasingly difficult: The spread of a deadly fungus that has been linked to global warming and rising global temperatures in the tropical countries where coffee grows has researchers scrambling to create new varieties of coffee plants that can keep pace with these new threats without reducing quality.
While coffee researchers can do little to prevent climate change, they're hard at work to keep up as Earth braces for temperature increases of several degrees over the next several decades.
"Coffee is the canary in the coal mine for climate change," says Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. "If you can't think about the long term risk for planetary impacts, think about the short term risk for your coffee. Know that a day without coffee is potentially around the corner."
Food and beverages where terroir is a big factor will be the first to be affected by climate change. This is already happening in the world of wine...wine production is happening in Denmark, French wines are changing flavors, and some places may become too hot to grow grapes at all.
As new frontiers for grape growing open up, the viability of some traditional production areas is under threat from scorching temperatures and prolonged droughts.
And in between the two extremes, some long-established styles are being transformed. Some whites once renowned for being light and crisp are getting fatter and more floral while medium-bodied reds are morphing into heavyweight bruisers.
You've likely seen the graph of the Earth's average global temperature over the past 2000 years...it's mostly a straight line until you get to the industrial revolution and then it shoots up. It looks like a hockey stick. In a study published today in Science, that graph has been extended back 11,300 years and you can really see the scope of the abrupt temperature change.
From a summary of the report at TPM:
The decade of 1900 to 1910 was one of the coolest in the past 11,300 years - cooler than 95 percent of the other years, the marine fossil data suggest. Yet 100 years later, the decade of 2000 to 2010 was one of the warmest, said study lead author Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University. Global thermometer records only go back to 1880, and those show the last decade was the hottest for this more recent time period.
"In 100 years, we've gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum," Marcott said. "We've never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly."
Using fossils from all over the world, Marcott presents the longest continuous record of Earth's average temperature. One of his co-authors last year used the same method to look even farther back. This study fills in the crucial post-ice age time during early human civilization.
Marcott's data indicates that it took 4,000 years for the world to warm about 1.25 degrees from the end of the ice age to about 7,000 years ago. The same fossil-based data suggest a similar level of warming occurring in just one generation: from the 1920s to the 1940s. Actual thermometer records don't show the rise from the 1920s to the 1940s was quite that big and Marcott said for such recent time periods it is better to use actual thermometer readings than his proxies.
On Friday afternoon, a government advisory committee released a draft of a federal climate assessment report, which pretty much meant that no one saw it, aside from the few journalists who were tasked, at that late hour of the week, with writing something about it. The upshot of the report? Bad news and there's not much anyone is doing about it. From Mother Jones:
Say what you want about the Obama administration's relative ignoring of climate issues: Many of his top scientists are paying rapt attention, and they think we're about to get our butts kicked -- although dumping the news at 4 p.m. on a Friday gives some indication of where it sits in federal priorities.
Anyway, what does the report say? From Nature:
Coming just days after news that the United States experienced its hottest year on record in 2012, the draft report says average US temperatures have increased by more than 0.8° Celsius since 1895, with a sharp spike since 1980. It also provides an update on the litany of impacts being analyzed by scientists. There is "strong evidence" that global warming has roughly doubled the likelihood of extreme heat events, contributing to droughts and wildfires, according to the report. Permafrost is melting in Alaska, while much of the country is experiencing more extreme rainfall and winter snowstorms.
And from Bloomberg:
The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report today that says many coastal areas face "potentially irreversible impacts" as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.
"The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change," the panel said in its report. Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by 2 degrees to 4 degrees in the next few decades, according to the report.
The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth's temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.
The report also highlighted decreasing air quality as a side effect of the changing climate. This weekend, the air quality in Beijing was off the scale for about 18 hours. The scale goes from 0-500:
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
The readings in Beijing topped out at 755. My friend Youngna is there and these two photos she took of the CCTV building two days apart shows how bad the pollution is there:
As previously reported, global warming doesn't just mean the Earth is getting warmer...the weather is getting weirder.
Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.
Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing -- minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting -- that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.
Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.
BTW, this story was published the day before the NY Times announced that they are dismantling their environment news desk and dispersing the nine-person staff throughout the newsroom.
It wasn't a decision we made lightly," said Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor for news operations. "To both me and Jill [Abramson, executive editor], coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."
This seems like a step in the wrong direction. Which prominent national publication will be brave and start pushing climate change coverage alongside that of politics, business, and sports? At the very least, the Times should have a weekly Climate Change section, the New Yorker should have a yearly Climate issue, Buzzfeed should have a Climate & Weather vertical, etc. (via @tcarmody)
The NOAA says that 2012 was the hottest year on record. BY AN ENTIRE DEGREE.
The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that hasn't occurred since the government began keeping such records in 1895.
Weather-wise, 2012 is Usain Bolt crossing the line in the 100-meter final at the Beijing Olympics, already slowing down, arms out, and still so so much faster than everyone else.
The forecasted temperature in the interior of Australia is so high for next Monday that the country's Bureau of Meteorology has had to add an extra color code at the top end of the temperature scale for REALLY FUCKING HOT.
The bureau's head of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones said the new scale, which also features a pink code for temperatures from 52 to 54 degrees, reflected the potential for old heat records to be smashed.
"The scale has just been increased today and I would anticipate it is because the forecast coming from the bureau's model is showing temperatures in excess of 50 degrees," Jones told Fairfax newspapers.
Australia's all-time record temperature is 50.7 degrees, set in January 1960 at Oodnadatta in the state of South Australia.
The nation as a whole experienced its hottest day on record on Monday with the average maximum temperature across the country hitting 40.33 degrees, surpassing the previous mark of 40.17 degrees set in 1972.
I feel like climate change needs a Steve Jobs to kick everyone's ass into action on this, iPhone announcement-style. "Unprecedented polar ice cap melt, new colors on Australia's weather map, massive East Coast hurricanes, are you getting it? These are not three separate incidents. This is one global pattern. And we are calling it anthropogenic climate change. [wild applause]" (via @ftrain)
Climate change, already on the hook for potentially killing spaghetti, will have a big impact on downhill skiing and snowboarding in the United States.
Under certain warming forecasts, more than half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeast will not be able to maintain a 100-day season by 2039, according to a study to be published next year by Daniel Scott, director of the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
By then, no ski area in Connecticut or Massachusetts is likely to be economically viable, Mr. Scott said. Only 7 of 18 resorts in New Hampshire and 8 of 14 in Maine will be. New York's 36 ski areas, most of them in the western part of the state, will have shrunk to 9.
The supposed debate among scientists over climate change has melted faster than the polar ice caps. National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell looked at all the related peer-reviewed scientific papers over the last several years. Twenty-four of those articles rejected the notion of climate change. Out of 14,000.
So let this be clear: There is no scientific controversy over this. Climate change denial is purely, 100 percent made-up political and corporate-sponsored crap.
It's still easy for many of us to ignore the issue of climate change, but every now and then a headline makes us take notice. This one did it for me: The End of Pasta.
But if humans want to keep eating pasta, we will have to take much more aggressive action against global warming. Pasta is made from wheat, and a large, growing body of scientific studies and real-world observations suggest that wheat will be hit especially hard as temperatures rise and storms and drought intensify in the years ahead.
A ProPublica Investigation: Poisoning the Well: How the feds let industry pollute the nation's underground water supply.
Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation's drinking water.
In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.
In 2006, New York magazine published a piece by Clive Thompson about what climate change is doing to New York's weather.
Nobody really knows what'll happen more than a week in advance, of course. But if we assemble these major climatic trends, a rough snapshot of New York's future begins to emerge.
First off, El Nino will keep our winters reasonably mild and reduce hurricanes in the immediate future, possibly until as late as 2008, because El Ninos usually last for only one or two years.
Meanwhile, the AMO will remain in its warm phase, charging up storms and hurricanes off our shores, for much longer, probably another twenty years. So while El Nino may be driving a temporary reprieve in our nasty weather, once it dissipates, the long-term trend is back to tumultuous hurricane seasons.
The final ingredient in the mix is global warming. In the past century, the average temperature in New York has risen by two degrees, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, the computer models reviewed in the "Metropolitan East Coast Climate Assessment" -- a 50-year prediction of New York's changing climate, developed by nasa and Columbia University -- suggest that the city will continue to heat up by as much as one degree by 2010, two degrees by 2020, and accelerate on a gentle curve until we reach as much as nine degrees warmer than now in 2100. It doesn't particularly matter whether you believe the warming is man-made or a natural cycle (most, but not all, climatologists believe the former). The point is, pumping that much extra energy into the system is bound to have some effect.
The impact on our daily life, though, is the big question. A few degrees of warming won't turn New York into a Miami-class shirtsleeves town. The effect will be more subtle: Climate scientists suspect that a warmer climate will produce more weather volatility. It's not that we'll have more rain overall, more snow overall, or more storms overall. But each event will be more intense than before.
"We're more likely to get hotter heat waves," says Mark Cane, a climatologist at Columbia University. "And increased storminess" adds Cullen. Both effects are due to the additional energy that global warming pumps into the "hydrological cycle," the water and energy that circulates through the atmosphere -- and it's water that creates weather.
As they say, "nailed it". The term "global warming" continues to be a misleading when it comes to the effect of the Earth's increasing temperature on our weather; as Thompson notes, it's not that it's just gonna get a little hotter in the summer or a little less snowy in the winter, the weather's gonna get weirder. Which is a problem...it's difficult for society to measure and talk about "weird".
Again. Venice is flooded again. The flooding happens so often that it's pretty much business as usual:
Except that this is a pretty serious long-term issue for Venice. The flooding is called acqua alta and according to a city guide, the current mark of 149 cm means that almost 70% of the city is flooded. And six of the top fifteen high water marks were recorded within the past 10 years.
But a project is underway to ease the flooding: a series of gates intended to protect the city called the MOSE Project.
The New Yorker's David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change during his second term in a Kennedy-esque "we choose to go to the Moon" fashion.
Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any "fiscal cliff." Ever since 1988, when NASA's James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.
The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth -- the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preelection natural catastrophe known as Sandy -- has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world-the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.
Photographer James Balog (the guy behind a new documentary called Chasing Ice) spent years taking pictures of the melting glaciers. In a variety of ways, these photos are quite incredible.
PBS ombudsman Michael Getler calls out NewsHour for "a faulty application of journalistic balance" in a recent segment on climate change.
Although global warming strikes me as one of those issues where there is no real balance and it is wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence, there is no harm and some possibility of benefit in inviting skeptics about the human contribution and other factors to speak, but in a setting in which the context of the vast majority of scientific evidence and speakers is also made clear.
What was stunning to me as I watched this program is that the NewsHour and Michels had picked Watts -- who is a meteorologist and commentator -- rather than a university-accredited scientist to provide "balance." I had never heard of Watts before this program and I'm sure most viewers don't, as part of their routines, read global warming blogs on either side of the issue.
I'm not being judgmental about Watts or anything he said. He undoubtedly is an effective spokesperson. But it seems to me that if you decide you are going to give airtime to the other side of this crucial and hot-button issue, you need to have a scientist.
Where have I seen this before, a massive long-lasting Arctic storm that looks a lot like a hurricane? Oh right, The Day After Tomorrow.
The storm had an unusually low central pressure area. Paul A. Newman, chief scientist for Atmospheric Sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., estimates that there have only been about eight storms of similar strength during the month of August in the last 34 years of satellite records. "It's an uncommon event, especially because it's occurring in the summer. Polar lows are more usual in the winter," Newman said.
Arctic storms such as this one can have a large impact on the sea ice, causing it to melt rapidly through many mechanisms, such as tearing off large swaths of ice and pushing them to warmer sites, churning the ice and making it slushier, or lifting warmer waters from the depths of the Arctic Ocean.
I love The Day After Tomorrow. I know it's a cheeseball disaster movie (which is pretty much why I love it) but it's also looking more than a little prescient. Well, as prescient as a cheeseball disaster movie can be anyway. In the Washington Post the other day, prominent climatologist James Hansen wrote that human-driven climate change is responsible for an increase in extreme weather.
My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
In many ways, the phrase "global warming" is grossly misleading. "Oh," we think, "it's gonna be a couple degrees warmer in NYC in 20 years than it is now." But the Earth's climate is a chaotic non-linear system, which means that a sudden shift of a degree or two -- and when you're talking about something as big as the Earth, a degree over several decades is sudden -- pushes things out of balance here and there in unpredictable ways. So it's not just that it's getting hotter, it's that you've got droughts in places where you didn't have them before, severe floods in other places, unusually hot summers, and even places that are cooler than normal, all of which disrupts the animal and plant life that won't be able to acclimate to the new reality fast enough.
But pretty Arctic cyclone though, right?
Russian scientists are seeing dramatically increased levels of methane coming from melting permafrost in the East Siberian Ice Shelf. If enough methane is released, that could really put a foot on the gas pedal with this whole global warming thing.
"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."
Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.
U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center is reporting that Arctic Sea ice was at its lowest January level since satellite records began.
NSIDC reported that ice extent was unusually low in Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and Davis Strait in the early winter. Normally frozen over by late November, these areas did not completely freeze until mid-January 2011. The Labrador Sea was also unusually ice-free.
The Asia Society has an exhibition of photos taken of Himalayan glaciers as early as 1899 paired with photos taken more recently from the same vantage points. The differences are stark. Be sure to check out the Comparative Photography section to get a sense of the scale involved. More photos at the NY Times Lens blog.
In a review in Prospect, Matt Ridley, who is no slouch as a science writer himself, calls Andrew Montford's The Hockey Stick Illusion "one of the best science books in years". Pretty high praise for what Ridley also calls "the biography of a graph". Specifically, this graph:
You may have seen it in An Inconvenient Truth in this form. The graph shows the dramatic rise in temperature in the northern hemisphere over the past 100 years caused, presumably, by humans. But as Montford details in his book, the graph is incorrect.
[The author] had standardised the data by "short-centering" them -- essentially subtracting them from a 20th century average rather than an average of the whole period. This meant that the principal component analysis "mined" the data for anything with a 20th century uptick, and gave it vastly more weight than data indicating, say, a medieval warm spell.
Talk about an inconvenient truth.
Update: As expected, ye olde inbox is humming on this one. Here are a few places to look for the other other side of the story: Real Climate, Climate Progress (2, 3), New Scientist, and RealClimate. (thx, reed, barath, aaron)
Over at Worldchanging, Alex Steffen calls Bill Gates' talk about climate change the most important speech ever given at TED. Gates said that the number one priority for him and the Gates Foundation (the world's largest philanthropic organization) is to combat human-driven climate change.
He reckons that because population is going to continue to grow for at least four decades, because billions of poor people want more equitable prosperity, and because (as he sees it) improvements in energy efficiency are limited, we have to focus on the last element of the equation, the carbon intensity of energy. Simply, we need climate-neutral energy. We need to use nothing but climate-neutral energy.
Antarctic ice isn't melting as much as predicted because the overall global warming trend and the Antarctic hole in the ozone are at cross purposes with each other. Temporarily.
As the ozone hole heals in the coming decades, the winds will weaken, the continent will become much warmer in summer -- and melting will increase.
Jared Diamond has come to believe that some large multinational companies (like Chevron, Wal-Mart, and Coca-Cola) are "among the world's strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability".
The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image -- one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters -- reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
This article in the NY Times fits nicely with my belief that carbon offsets are bullshit.
"The carbon offset has become this magic pill, a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card," Justin Francis, the managing director of Responsible Travel, one of the world's largest green travel companies to embrace environmental sustainability, said in an interview. "It's seductive to the consumer who says, 'It's $4 and I'm carbon-neutral, so I can fly all I want.'" Offsets, he argues, are distracting people from making more significant behavioral changes, like flying less.
In a New Yorker book review this week, Elizabeth Kolbert tears Levitt and Dubner a new one over the geoengineering chapter of SuperFreakonomics, calling the pair's thinking on the issue "horseshit".
Given their emphasis on cold, hard numbers, it's noteworthy that Levitt and Dubner ignore what are, by now, whole libraries' worth of data on global warming. Indeed, just about everything they have to say on the topic is, factually speaking, wrong. Among the many matters they misrepresent are: the significance of carbon emissions as a climate-forcing agent, the mechanics of climate modelling, the temperature record of the past decade, and the climate history of the past several hundred thousand years.
To combat receding Himalayan glaciers caused by man-made climate change, Indian Chhewang Norphel has been building his own glaciers.
Here, Norphel is using what is abundant -- stone -- to conserve what is precious -- water. The idea is simple: Divert the unneeded autumn and winter runoff into a series of large, rock-lined holding ponds. As the days grow colder, the ponds freeze and interconnect into a growing glacier. He has built 10 glaciers across the region. His largest stretched more than a mile before an unusual week of rain wiped it out in 2006.
Norphel says that a good artificial glacier costs about $50,000.
New Scientist reports that Czech beer tastes worse than it used to due to climate change.
Climatologist Martin Mozny of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and colleagues say that the quality of Saaz hops -- the delicate variety used to make pilsner lager -- has been decreasing in recent years. They say the culprit is climate change in the form of increased air temperature.
Winemaking regions are shifting due to climate change as well.
Nicola Twilley proposes a Climate Change Tasting Menu that highlights food and drink demonstrating the effects of human activities on climate.
The starter would feature new products that have only recently been cultivated locally, thanks to climate change -- Devon olive oil perhaps, accompanied by a nice glass of Kent rosé. The main course might be controversial: test-tube grown imitation meats and vegetables that recreate the flavour and mouthfeel of species that are already lost or threatened with extinction by climate change.
Here are 20 bold/crazy ideas that could save the world...most of them related to energy and climate change.
A relatively small piece of the Sahara could theoretically provide electricity for the entire planet if it were covered in solar thermal mirrors. Plus think of all those jobs to build a solar plant the size of Britain. The new transmission grid would be quite a project as well...
Update: Hmm, the site appears to be down and redirected to same squatter spam thing. I'll put the link back up when the site (hopefully) returns.
Update: The Infrastructurist site is still down but I found the original link on the Guardian.
Climatologist James Hansen, who is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the creator of one of the first climate models that predicted global warming, is convinced that the problem of climate change caused by humans is much more dire than is generally thought (subscribers only link; abstract).
Hansen has now concluded, partly on the basis of his latest modeling efforts and partly on the basis of observations made by other scientists, that the threat of global warming is far greater than even he had suspected. Carbon dioxide isn't just approaching dangerous levels; it is already there. Unless immediate action is taken-including the shutdown of all the world's coal plants within the next two decades-the planet will be committed to climate change on a scale society won't be able to cope with. "This particular problem has become an emergency," Hansen said.
Hansen is so adamant about this belief that he has begun participating in protests around the globe, an unusual level of activism for such a respected and high-ranking government official. The last sentence of the piece reads:
He said he was thinking of attending another demonstration soon, in West Virginia coal country.
Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of the piece above, reports that Hansen not only attended that demonstration but got arrested.
Nathan Myhrvold, billionaire polymath, recently wrote a series of three posts for the Freakonomics blog about his trips to Iceland and Greenland.
I'd like to say that global warming was evident during my visit, but that is not really the case. Indeed, [my guide] Salik tells me that he and most Greenlanders are pretty skeptical about it. The local fishing industry used to be based on arctic prawns, but the sea temperature has changed just enough that the prawns are much further north, so now they fish for cod.
But, as Salik points out, this cycle has happened several times in living memory. The same with the glaciers: yes they are retreating, but at least in his area, they have yet to reach the limits that the locals remember them. Objective measurements do show that climate change is happening. Nevertheless I was amused that the locals don't seem to think it is such a big deal.
The photos are worth a look by themselves.
Freeman Dyson on the average lifespan of a carbon dioxide molecule in Earth's atmosphere.
Roughly, the total atmospheric carbon is eight hundred gigatons and photosynthesis absorbs seventy gigatons of carbon per year, giving a lifetime of about twelve years. This is the average time that a carbon dioxide molecule spends in the atmosphere before it is absorbed by a land plant. I used this lifetime to estimate how long it would take for a major change in the land vegetation to produce a major change in the atmosphere. This calculation completely ignores the ocean. In reality the flow of carbon dioxide into the ocean is about twice as large as the flow into land vegetation. So the lifetime of a carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere is really only about five years.
Due to "when will the ice break up" contests in Alaska and other records dating back more than 150 years, climate scientists are able to study the onset of spring thaws.
Seventeen lakes in Europe, Asia and the U.S. with records going back 150 years are thawing, on average, 13 days earlier now than when first recorded, said Wisconsin lake scientist Barbara Benson.
Frustrating that there's no charts associated with the story; this is a case where a picture would be worth 1000 words.
How nine cities from around the world are cutting their energy usage.
For cities, the motivation is twofold. All the hand-wringing over climate change has prompted more cities to do their part to contain greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists believe are causing global warming. In the U.S., more than 700 mayors have signed an agreement to try to follow the Kyoto Protocol's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions -- even though the Senate has rejected the treaty.
The other major motivation for cities: energy costs, which have more than doubled since 2000. Strapped for cash, municipalities are scrambling to save as much money on energy use as they can.
Signs of progress and setbacks in addressing climate change at the conclusion of Nobel Laureate Al Gore's annus mirabilis. From Al Gore's Nobel lecture:
However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."
So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.
The full text of Gore's lecture is here.
Stopping underground coal fires would significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.
Underground coal fires in China alone produce as much carbon dioxide annually as all the cars and light trucks in the United States.
A coal fire near Centralia, PA has been burning continuously since 1962 and prompted the permanent evacuation of the townspeople.
Al Gore won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation. More info here.
Update: Yes, yes, I know Al Gore uses Keynote and not Powerpoint. Hence the "essentially". (thx, everyone in the world)
Update: Amazingly, Al Gore now has an Emmy, an Oscar, and now a Nobel Prize. All he needs is a Grammy for the full Gore. (thx, brent)
Update: Man, you folks are testy today. When I say that Gore won a Nobel Prize for a Powerpoint presentation (again, "essentially"), I'm not being derogatory towards Gore. I like Gore...I've written several posts about him. But whatever his other accomplishments regarding the environment, he won the Nobel for An Inconvenient Truth. No movie, no prize. Period. Suppose someone had told you two years ago that someone would win a Nobel Peace Prize for a Hollywood film of a Powerpoint presentation...you'd have laughed in their face and every other part of their body!
Detailed satellite photo of the northern polar ice cap showing that for the first time in recorded history, the Northwest passage (the orange line) is open to sea traffic. The passage was a subject of intense interest to the European powers from the late 1400s, who wanted to find a way to Asia by boat that didn't involve sailing around Africa. (via ben)
Regarding Eve Mosher's project to draw a flood line around Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, here are a couple of related projects. Ledia Carroll's Restore Mission Lake Project outlined the shore of an historical lake which used to sit in the midst of San Francisco's Mission neighborhood. Under The Level explores the possibility and consequences of Katrina-level flooding in NYC. (thx, kayte and dens)
Artist Eve Mosher is drawing a chalk line around Brooklyn and lower Manhattan that denotes the encroachment of the ocean if it were to rise 10 feet above the current sea level. There's a web site for the project, including a progress blog. See also Flood Maps.
People who live in Greenland are loving this global warming thing. "At a science station in the ice-covered interior of Greenland, average winter temperatures rose nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit from 1991 to 2003. Winters are shorter, ice is melting, and fish and animals are on the move." 11 degrees in 12 years!
Projected climate map of Europe in 2071. The map is a bit confusing...the cities are placed on the map according to their projected new climate, not their geographical location. So, in 2071, Berlin will find itself in the same climate as circa-2007 North Africa.
Global warming + evolution = species explosion!!!
Mayor Bloomberg's plan for a "greener" and "greater" New York City includes congestion pricing for Manhattan south of 86th Street. "It's naive to suppose that congestion isn't itself costly. Sitting in traffic, a plumber can't plumb and a deliveryman can't deliver. The value of time lost to congestion delays in the city has been put at five billion dollars annually."
Noctilucent clouds (really high whispy clouds) were so common where I grew up in WI that I thought they were normal. Turns out they only appear in higher latitudes, at least until recently when global warming has caused them to appear more frequently and further south.
Arkansan blames liberal Congress for a particularly hot March, made so by daylight saving time. "You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate." Who needs The Onion with Connie M. Meskimen around? (The headline seems to be misspelled as well..."warning" should be "warming", yeah?)
Update: Phew, we still need The Onion...the letter is probably a joke. (thx, stephen)
It's been awhile since I've done one of these. Here are some updates on some of the topics, links, ideas, posts, people, etc. that have appeared on kottke.org recently:
Two counterexamples to the assertion that cities != organisms or ecosystems: cancer and coral reefs. (thx, neville and david)
In pointing to the story about Ken Thompson's C compiler back door, I forgot to note that the backdoor was theoretical, not real. But it could have easily been implemented, which was Thompson's whole point. A transcript of his original talk is available on the ACM web site. (thx, eric)
ChangeThis has a "manifesto" by Nassim Taleb about his black swan idea. But reader Jean-Paul says that Taleb's idea is not that new or unique. In particular, he mentions Alain Badiou's Being and Event, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze. (thx, paul & jean-paul)
When I linked The Onion's 'Most E-Mailed' List Tearing New York Times' Newsroom Apart, I said "I'd rather read a real article on the effect the most popular lists have on the decisions made by the editorial staff at the Times, the New Yorker, and other such publications". American Journalism Review published one such story last summer, as did the Chicago Tribune's Hypertext blog and the LA Times (abstract only). (thx, gene & adam)
Related to Kate Spicer's attempt to slim down to a size zero in 6 weeks: Female Body Shape in the 20th Century. (thx, energy fiend)
Got the following query from a reader:
are those twitter updates on your blog updated automatically when you update your twitter? if so, how did you do it?
A couple of weeks ago, I added my Twitter updates and recent music (via last.fm) into the front page flow (they're not in the RSS feed, for now). Check out the front page and scroll down a bit if you want to check them out. The Twitter post is updated three times a week (MWF) and includes my previous four Twitter posts. I use cron to grab the RSS file from Twitter, some PHP to get the recent posts, and some more PHP to stick it into the flow. The last.fm post works much the same way, although it's only updated once a week and needs a splash of something to liven it up a bit.
The guy who played Spaulding in Caddyshack is a real estate broker in the Boston area. (thx, ivan)
Two reading recommendations regarding the Jonestown documentary: a story by Tim Cahill in A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg and Seductive Poison by former People's Temple member Deborah Layton. (thx, garret and andrea)
In case someone in the back didn't hear it, this map is not from Dungeons and Dragons but from Zork/Dungeon. (via a surprising amount of people in a short period of time)
When reading about how low NYC's greenhouse gas emissions are relative to the rest of the US, keep in mind the area surrounding NYC (kottke.org link). "Think of Manhattan as a place which outsources its pollution, simply because land there is so valuable." (thx, bob)
NPR did a report on the Nickelback potential self-plagiarism. (thx, roman)
After posting about the web site for Miranda July's new book, several people reminded me that Jeff Bridges' site has a similar lo-fi, hand-drawn, narrative-driven feel.
In the wake of linking to the IMDB page for Back to the Future trivia, several people reminded me of the Back to the Future timeline, which I linked to back in December. A true Wikipedia gem.
I'm ashamed to say I'm still hooked on DesktopTD. The problem is that the creator of the game keeps updating the damn thing, adding new challenges just as you've finally convinced yourself that you've wrung all of the stimulation out of the game. As Robin notes, it's a brilliant strategy, the continual incremental sequel. Version 1.21 introduced a 10K gold fun mode...you get 10,000 gold pieces at the beginning to build a maze. Try building one where you can send all 50 levels at the same time and not lose any lives. Fun, indeed.
Regarding the low wattage color palette, reader Jonathan notes that you should use that palette in conjunction with a print stylesheet that optimizes the colors for printing so that you're not wasting a lot of ink on those dark background colors. He also sent along an OS X trick I'd never seen before: to invert the colors on your monitor, press ctrl-option-cmd-8. (thx, jonathan)
Dorothea Lange's iconic Migrant Mother photograph was modified for publication...a thumb was removed from the lower right hand corner of the photo. Joerg Colberg wonders if that case could inform our opinions about more recent cases of photo alteration.
In reviewing all of this, the following seem related in an interesting way: Nickelback's self-plagiarism, continual incremental sequels, digital photo alteration, Tarantino and Rodriquez's Grindhouse, and the recent appropriation of SimpleBits' logo by LogoMaid.
The headline blares that "NYC Blamed for 1% of Greenhouse Gases", which puts it on par with small countries like Portugal and Ireland, but they buried the lede on this one: "With 2.7 percent of the country's population -- 8.2 million of 300 million -- the average New York City resident contributes less than a third of the emissions generated by a typical American."
Antarctic glaciers are losing ice, but not because of melting. "In Greenland we know there is melting associated with the ice loss, but in Antarctica we don't really know why it's happening."
A report encompassing the work of thousands of climate experts says that "global warming will happen faster and be more devastating than previously thought". "The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document -- that's what makes it so scary."
The upper reaches of the northern hemisphere are warming so much that new islands are being discovered, including those once thought to be peninsula. "A peninsula long thought to be part of Greenland's mainland turned out to be an island when a glacier retreated."
Most of what we hear about global warming concerns the atmosphere and its carbon dioxide levels. In the New Yorker a few weeks ago, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about what's happening in the ocean (
not online, unfortunately it is online (thx, tim)). It turns out that like all tightly coupled systems, the ocean and the atmosphere like to be in equilibrium with each other, which means that the chemistry of the ocean is affected by the chemistry of the atmosphere. Much of the extra carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by humans over the past two hundred years is being absorbed into the ocean and slowly making the ocean more acidic.
The CO2 dissolves, it produces carbonic acid, which has the chemical formula H2CO3. As acids go, H2CO3 is relatively innocuous -- we drink it all the time in Coke and other carbonated beverages -- but in sufficient quantities it can change the water's pH. Already, humans have pumped enough carbon into the oceans -- some hundred and twenty billion tons -- to produce a .1 decline in surface pH. Since pH, like the Richter scale, is a logarithmic measure, a .1 drop represents a rise in acidity of about thirty per cent.
As Kolbert later states, "from the perspective of marine life, the drop in pH matters less that the string of chemical reactions that follow". The increased levels of carbonic acid in the water means there are less carbonate ions available in seawater for making shells, meaning that thousands of species that build shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate are in danger of extinction. As a particularly troubling example, coral use calcium carbonate taken from the seawater to construct themselves. Climate modeller Ken Caldeira believes that if humans keep emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the same rate as today, by 2075 the world's coral reefs will begin to disappear because their rate of natural erosion will surpass their ability to grow fast enough to keep up.
The truly worrisome thing about all this is that the ocean is an extremely slow moving machine and that once in motion, it's difficult to stop or change its course.
Maybe one of the reasons that the US hasn't embraced global warming as a national priority is because the country is so large that it never experiences collective weather extremes the way Europe does.
Please consider this letter notice of your termination, effective immediately. Despite clear expectations and requirements -- January temperatures not to exceed 40° F, consistent snow and blustery conditions, minimum of one blizzard with white-out per annum, &c. &c. -- you have failed to date to meet expectations and deliver even rudimentary winter weather. A forecast high of 72° today in New York City is clear proof of your failure to do your job.
A replacement will be appointed immediately. Perhaps we will try a young go-getter for this role, someone who is willing to take on the many weather challenges of this magnificent season rather than rest on his "Great Winter of '02-'03" laurels.
[Guest post by Meg Hourihan.]
Welcome to your new climate: in 2006, Europe experienced its warmest autumn in 500 years. "The results show that 2006 has beaten the 'hottest' autumns of 1772, 1938 and 2000 by about a degree."
Tariffs on imported sugar and ethanol imposed by the US government keep our sugar expensive and is keeping the US from using more efficient methods of saving energy and, oh, by the way, helping the environment. This excerpt from the last two paragraphs of the piece is a succinct description of what's wrong with contemporary American politics:
Tariffs and quotas are extremely hard to get rid of, once established, because they create a vicious circle of back-scratching-government largesse means that sugar producers get wealthy, giving them lots of cash to toss at members of Congress, who then have an incentive to insure that the largesse continues to flow. More important, protectionist rules flourish because the benefits are concentrated among a small number of easy-to-identify winners, while the costs are spread out across the entire population. It may be annoying to pay a few more cents for sugar or ethanol, but most of us are unlikely to lobby Congress about it.
Maybe we should, though. Our current policy is absurd even by Washington standards: Congress is paying billions in subsidies to get us to use more ethanol, while keeping in place tariffs and quotas that guarantee that we'll use less. And while most of the time tariffs just mean higher prices and reduced competition, in the case of ethanol the negative effects are considerably greater, leaving us saddled with an inferior and less energy-efficient technology and as dependent as ever on oil-producing countries.
Maddening. Partisan politics is a not-very-elaborate smokescreen to distract us from this bullshit.
The New Yorker has a piece this week on Nicholas Stern's 700-page report on global warming for the British government. Stern says, "Our emissions affect the lives of others. When people do not pay for the consequences of their actions, we have market failure. This is the greatest market failure the world has seen." The BBC has a nice series on it as well (look for related links in the sidebar). If you want to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, the entire report (and related documents) is available courtesy of the British government.
Grist Magazine: How to talk to a climate skeptic. Looks pretty comprehensive.
Using 100% of the profits from his airline and transportation companies, Richard Branson pledges $3 billion to fight global warming over the next decade. Will the billionaire philanthropists save us from ourselves? BTW, this happened at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting; there's a live webcast (+podcasts) if you want to watch from home.
Sources cited by The Independent say that George W. Bush is planning "astonishing U-turn" on his global warming policies, which, as Elizabeth Kolbert notes in this week's New Yorker, have been anything but helpful. Those who oppose Bush will give him a lot of crap for doing this just so he can salvage something from his shoddy Presidency, but if something genuinely gets done on the issue, I'll be happy...who gets credit for what and when needs to take a backseat here.
Could global warming kill the internet? "The internet is a big network of servers, and servers are hot. They devour electricity, they run hot and they mainline air conditioning. When the global thermostat goes up, the servers start going down." (via migurski)
Unsurprisingly, the WSJ doesn't much care for An Inconvenient Truth. Is there any way of uncoupling political alignment and one's position on this issue?
Global warming skeptic Gregg Easterbrook finally caves: "based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert". (via scott rosenberg, who says too little, too late, Gregg)
An Inconvenient Truth, a movie about Al Gore's global warming crusade, opens today in NYC and LA. John Heilemann has a lengthy piece on Gore for New York magazine, the NY Times has a piece about Gore and the movie, the climate science blog RealClimate has a positive review of the film, and here again is my review. Larry Lessig, who knows a thing or two about bringing tha PowerPoint noize, loves the movie, calling the slideshow "the most extraordinary lecture I have ever seen anyone give about anything".
An Inconvenient Truth will open in the rest of the US in mid-June; check this theater listing for details. For more news, check out the movie's blog.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has produced two TV ads critical of the global scientific and political consensus on global warming. "Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life." CEI is funded in part by energy companies, but I guess they're not that well funded because that's some of the most laughable propaganda I've ever seen. (thx, kyle)
How do scientist attribute climate-change data? In other words, how can they tell from the available data that climate change can be attributed to human causes?
In the 1960s, a young Al Gore had the good fortune to study under Roger Revelle at Harvard University. Revelle was one of the first scientists to claim that the earth may not be able to effectively deal with all of the carbon dioxide generated by the earth's rapidly increasing human population. The American Institute of Physics called Revelle's 1957 paper with Hans Suess "the opening shot in the global warming debates". Gore took Revelle's lessons to heart, becoming a keen supporter of the environment during his government service.
Since losing the 2000 Presidential election to George W. Bush, Al Gore has focused his efforts on things other than politics; among other things, he's been crisscrossing the world delivering a presentation on global warming. Gore's presentation now forms the foundation of a new film, An Inconvenient Truth (view the trailer).
In organizing my thoughts about the film, I found I couldn't improve upon David Remnick's review in the New Yorker. In particular:
It is, to be perfectly honest (and there is no way of getting around this), a documentary film about a possibly retired politician giving a slide show about the dangers of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. It has a few lapses of mise en scene. Sometimes we see Gore gravely talking on his cell phone--or gravely staring out an airplane window, or gravely tapping away on his laptop in a lonely hotel room--for a little longer than is absolutely necessary. And yet, as a means of education, "An Inconvenient Truth" is a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide. "An Inconvenient Truth" is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.
Watching the film, I realized -- far too late to move to Florida and vote for him in 2000 -- that I'm a fan of Al Gore. He's smart & intellectually curious (the latter doesn't always follow from the former), understands science enough to explain it to the layperson without needlessly oversimplifying, and despite his reputation as somewhat of a robot, seems to be more of a real person than many politicians. As Remnick says:
One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult.
The film has some small problems; many of the asides about Gore's life (particularly the 2000 election stuff) don't seem to fit cleanly into the main narrative, the connection it makes between global warming and Katrina is stronger than it should be, and the trailer is a little silly; this is a documentary about Al Gore and global warming after all, not The Day After Tomorrow or Armageddon. But the film really shines when it focuses on the presentation and Gore methodically and lucidly making the case for us needing to take action on global warming. An Inconvenient Truth opens in the US on May 24...do yourself a favor and seek it out when it comes to your local theater.
Short Elizabeth Kolbert article on the conservative response to climate change. "The new argument making the rounds of conservative think tanks, like the National Center for Policy Analysis, and circulating through assorted sympathetic publications goes something like this: Yes, the planet may be warming up, but no one can be sure of why, and, in any case, it doesn't matter -- let's stop quibbling about the causes of climate change and concentrate on dealing with the consequences."
Having not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the US is now refusing to work on its successor. Says Elizabeth Kolbert, "Without the participation of the United States, no meaningful agreement can be drafted for the post-2012 period, and the world will have missed what may well be its last opportunity to alter course."
Scientists have extracted ice cores from Antarctica that date back 650,000 years (the previous high was 400,000 years). The cores show that modern levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide levels are the highest they have ever been.
Elizabeth Kolbert (who wrote three articles for the NYer on global warming earlier in the year) discusses global warming as a possible cause for Hurricane Katrina. Like the climate scientists on RealClimate contend, Kolbert notes that no particular storm can be caused by global warming, but that the long-term patterns don't look good...increased greenhouse gases = warmer oceans = more destructive hurricanes. Paul Recer downplays the connection as well and cautions environmental groups who want to make political hay with scientific evidence that doesn't support their claims.
The second of Elizabeth Kolbert's three-part series on global warming for the New Yorker. This one's about how relatively short-term climate change can affect entire civilizations.
Part one of Elizabeth Kolbert's three-part series on global warming for the New Yorker. "Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice. How the earth is changing."