Introducing: The Conversation

A group of Australian scientists recently began a new online effort to correlate the body of science and the rising human influence on the climate system.

Their initial piece, “Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community,” covers The Conversation, an academic Web site that aims to provide a credible source of analysis and information on important issues as traditional journalism shrinks.

The letter is in the style of recent American-fronted efforts to counter individuals and groups who have mastered the use of the Web as a means of disseminating and aggregating all kinds of information be it fact or fiction so long as it casts doubt on climate science.

In contrast to Skeptical Science and RealClimate, tightly focused on science questions, this initiative appears to be trying to both clarify the state of the science on global warming and the same breath encourage policies that might possibly curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This excerpt manages to do a justice to the overall style:

“Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people. A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.”

“On the other extreme, economic instability and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and other interests vested to whip up ill-informed, climate scientists and populist rage have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.”

Arctic Warming Conference

At an Arctic warming conference in Copenhagen, scientists were told to use plain language to explain the dramatic melt in the region to a world reluctant to take action against climate change.

An authoritative report released at the meeting of 400 scientists showed melting ice in the Arctic might help raise global sea levels by as much as 5 feet this century.

The Arctic has been warming twice the pace of the global average in recent decades, and the latest five-year period is the warmest since measurements began in the 19th century.

The report stressed “the need for greater urgency” in combating global warming. However, nations remain bogged down in their two-decade-long talks on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The World Bank’s special envoy for climate change, Andrew Steer, insisted that the new findings “are a cause for great concern.” The sea rise will affect millions of people in both poor and rich countries, though, would particularly affect the poor.

Steer said bank studies portrayed the costs of major flooding events on infrastructure and the economy could run into billions of dollars.

The Problem with Camels

Recently, the Australian government proposed that killing camels should be an officially recognized means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country down under has the world’s largest wild camel population; an estimated 1.2 million – and they consider this to be a growing environmental problem.

Every camel belches an estimated 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of methane per year; that is equivalent to a metric ton (1.1 U.S. ton) of carbon dioxide in its impact on global warming. This is roughly one-sixth the amount of CO2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average car produces per year.

A bill to create a carbon credit regime will go to a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is expected to become law within weeks.

A government registry will be set up to determine what actions would qualify for carbon credits, and bureaucrats are expected to decide by the end of the year whether killing camels will be among them.

The government’s parliamentary secretary for climate change, Mark Dreyfus, said he hopes the proposal wipes out camels from the Australian wild.

“Potentially it has tremendous merit, because feral camels are a dreadful menace across the whole of arid Australia”.

Dreyfus said at an Associated Press meeting Thursday.

Renewing Renewable With the IPCC

Sustainable and renewable sources like solar and wind could supply up to 80 percent of the planet’s energy requirements by 2050 as well as play a role in fighting global warming.

But the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that in order to achieve that level, governments would have to spend much more money and introduce policies that integrate renewables into existing power grids, promoting their benefits in terms of improving public health and reducing air pollution.

After a recent four-day meeting, governments endorsed the renewable report Monday. The report reviewed solar energy, bio-energy, hydropower, geothermal, ocean energy and wind. However, they did not consider nuclear, the recent nuclear accident in Japan was not mentioned nor did it have any impact on the report’s conclusions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said swift, deep reductions in use of non-renewables and non-sustainables are needed to keep temperatures from rising more than 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Celsius) above preindustrial levels, which could trigger climate catastrophes.

Greenhouse Gas and the Courts

Despite the seethe of fringe scientists and conservative politicians, it remains a fact that greenhouse gases produced by mankind are among the main contributors to global warming.

The week before last, the Supreme Court considered one such way that emissions could be controlled, that’s through a huge and ungainly lawsuit filed by California and five other states against five different power firms as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority. A number of judges conveyed skepticism regarding the suit however should the court reject it there still won’t be opportunities for subsiding greenhouse gases.

While the lawyers and judges batted abstruse legal terms, the salient arguments regarding whether states had a right to sue and what the role of the courts should be in reducing emissions. One dilemma the states are faced with is the grounding of their suit not in the Clean Air Act but in the common-law idea that the courts should intercede to address the “public nuisance” made by the defendants’ emissions. The lawyer of the power companies mentioned — and the justices agreed —the court’s authority in the case is displaced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A related weakness of the case is that the lawsuit would make the courts the regulator of first resort. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, the states would “set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA.”

The case is different from a 2007 decision where the court ruled the EPA had the authority from Congress to control carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In that case, regarding emissions from cars, the ruling was anchored to a statute and the court’s role was to interpret it. The finding that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases has had matter-of-fact consequences: The Obama administration commenced the rule-making process for such regulation.

The Strange Discovery of Dr. Keeling

Scientists have long been hip to the fact that carbon dioxide traps heat at the surface of the planet. The unstoppable rise of the gas alters the climate in ways which threaten human welfare. This is called, among other things, the Greenhouse effect.

Dr. Keeling

“Fossil fuel emissions, they say, are like a runaway train, hurtling the world’s citizens toward a stone wall,” writes Justin Gillis of the New York Times, “A carbon dioxide level that, over time, will cause profound changes.”

He continues,

“The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food.”

In 1992, then-President of the United States, George Bush, pledged to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Then, in 1998, when it was time to commit to details in a document called the Kyoto Protocol, Congress recoiled. Last year’s Senate rejection of a Cap and Trade bill was a further disappointment.

However, while the government continues their restless non-action, two silent gray machines atop Mauna Loa, Hawaii, sit inside giant gray boxes and check the carbon dioxide level in the air, every hour. The machines are the brainchild of the late, Dr. Keeling, whose ken confirmed global warming even back in the ’50s. As the decades went on, his precise measurements continued to confirm that indeed the earth was heating up. In a 1998 essay he addressed claims that global warming was a myth, saying the real myth is that “Natural resources and the ability of the earth’s habitable regions to absorb the impacts of human activities are limitless.”

Dr. Keeling’s widow, Louise, honors both him and his scientific discoveries:

Carbon Graphic

“He was a registered Republican,” she said in an interview “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”

In recent years, researchers have put the Keeling measurements into a wider context:

“Bubbles of ancient air trapped by glaciers and ice sheets have been tested, and they show that over the past 800,000 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air oscillated between roughly 200 and 300 parts per million. Just before the Industrial Revolution, the level was about 280 parts per million and had been there for several thousand years.”

Reported Justin Gillis, “The gas seemingly played a major role in amplifying the effects of the ice ages, which were caused by wobbles in the earth’s orbit.”

He continued:

“The geologic record suggests that as the earth began cooling, the amount of carbon dioxide fell, probably because much of it got locked up in the ocean, and that fall amplified the initial cooling. Conversely, when the orbital wobble caused the earth to begin warming, a great deal of carbon dioxide escaped from the ocean, amplifying.”

And Now, Just To Play It Safe

Of all the summer news splashes the weather has managed to dominate the major headlines lately: Floods on the East Coast and down south in the United States, not to mention Deadly Deluges inundating parts of Pakistan, for instance. All of this while, Droughts in an excessively hot Russia have killed acre upon acre of wheat and human lives lost and then the formidable wildfires which ensued too.

Whether it is global warming related or not, though, remains to be determined. In Sunday’s New York Times, Justin Gillis seems sold on the idea that the Green House effect is to blame.

He wrote:

“Thermometer measurements show that the earth has warmed by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.”

This is true, though he also realizes that:

“Most climate scientists are reluctant to go that far, noting that weather was characterized by remarkable variability long before humans began burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

Now, what could he have meant by that?

In the 70’s a Global Freeze was the focus of fear for those few who bought into the front-page claims of scientists; whereas at present we are told that the greenhouse effect is causing our planet to roast at a wretched risk. But the skeptics are here to provide the checks and balances to our assumptions before we go colonize the moon and Mars as suggested by Stephen Hawking and even a prophetic Ray Bradbury. For instance, an incredulous cynic might cite the heat and drought in 1930s America, as a reason to remain skeptical – and they might be correct.

Writes Justin Gillis:

“Those were indeed dire heat waves, contributing to the Dust Bowl, which dislocated millions of Americans and changed the population structure of the United States.”

But was this related to the Green House effect or not? Gillis guesses, yes. And many scientists today are quick to attribute global warming to various natural disasters…For instance the recent Russian heat wave would have been less severe had Green House gases been less abundant in the atmosphere, is the hypothesis of some.

According to those who swear by the religion of Global Warming the evidence seems to be there: heavier rain downpours, shorter winters – however even this evidence is contentious; for is it not in the feasible region that El Nino is to blame? That mysterious child of the Doppler – whatever happened to that little devil?

So let us conclude in the ambiguous words of the New York Times’ Justin Gillis from last Sunday:

“It will be a year or two before climate scientists publish definite analyses of the Russian heat wave and the Pakistani floods, which might shed light on the role of climate change, if any.”

In the cautious meantime, let’s continue to love ourselves and in doing so, our planet.

Natural Separation: Al & Tipper The Gores No Longer

Environmental news is an all-embracing category – and so it needs to be in order to sustain longevity of popular interest and legitimacy even. Hey we can’t count emissions all day and expect that people won’t eventually get tired. has got to stay fresh you see, like the necessary dynamics in a healthy marriage.

So, this being said, we shall consider Al and Tipper’s separation worthy of the canvas.

“After a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate…This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together.”

E-mailed the Gores.

The 40-year marriage of these high school sweethearts slowly eroded like too many coastlines, after losing the 2000 presidential election and the near-death of one of their children. The erosion was slow and subtle.

Being on the road so often made the 62-year-old former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate increasingly isolated from his wife.

The word “Gore” became synonymous with climate change in the 21st century. Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar for his revolutionary documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2007, which is responsible for the neo-environmental movement.

In the movie which grossed $49,000,000 and cost about $1,000,000, Gore discusses the scientific opinion on climate change, as well as the present and future effects of global warming. He famously stresses that climate change “is really not a political issue, so much as a moral one.”

Al and Tipper agree that if either the environment or a marriage need to be saved, the former is the more pressing.

Ian McEwan Reflects Copenhagen Failure in His New Novel

Ian McEwan Reflects Copenhagen Failure in His New NovelThe British novelist Ian McEwan, inspired by the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks, changed the finished manuscript of his new book about a scientist working on a technology to address global warming.

The end of the book is set in summer 2009, and McEwan introduced a new scene, in the last few pages, in which Michael Beard, the chief protagonist and a Nobel-prize winning physicist, receives an email that invites him to address a meeting of foreign ministers at the coming summit. McEwan said:

“I just slipped something in to reflect the spirit of sadness…Everything has collapsed around him [Beard] and he knows that Copenhagen will be just the place for him. It is where he would be heading to add his confusion to everybody else’s.”

Had the summit produced a successful deal, as McEwen was so rooting for, Beard and his failures would not have fitted in:

“I would not have wanted my man anywhere near it,” said the author. “I didn’t want him there, believe me.”

McEwan said that he had spent four years gathering material for the book, though he had wanted to write about climate change since the mid 1990s:

“I couldn’t see a way in. A subject so weighted with moral and political value is not helpful to a novel. I couldn’t see a way of making it come alive.”

That all changed during a visit of artists and scientists to the Arctic in 2005, when he said he was struck by the contrast between the idealistic evening discussions of global warming and the chaos of the equipment room.

“Clothes and equipment there to save our lives, which we should have been able to look after very easily would go missing, and I thought, for all the fine words and good intentions, maybe there was a comic inadequacy in human nature in dealing with this problem.”

McEwan said he was “baffled” by the media storm over the emails released from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the mistake made in the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

“I think those involved, in the UEA press office and the IPCC, need to get a little more nimble. These things just surge across the blogosphere.”

He said that he was happy to class himself as “warmer” — a term increasingly used by climate skeptics to describe those who agree with the scientific consensus that human activity drives warming:

“Though I am quite tempted sometimes to be a calamatist. There is something intellectually delicious about all that super-pessimism.”

McEwan added that his research on the climate had forced him to reconsider opposition to nuclear power:

Author Ian McEwan

“We just don’t have anything else that can run our cities on a windless night in February…It is rare that virtue and necessity collide. Sooner or later we’re going to have to find a new energy source for mankind.”

Katrina Victims Sue Gas Companies

Katrina Victims Sue Gas CompaniesVictims of Hurricane Katrina are moving to sue carbon gas-emitting multinationals for helping fuel global warming and boosting the tragic 2005 storm.

The class action suit brought by residents from southern Mississippi, which was ravaged by hurricane-force winds and driving rains during the storm, was first filed just weeks after Katrina hit in August of 2005.

The documents say:

“The plaintiffs allege that defendants’ operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States caused the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming…[The increase in global surface air and water temperatures] in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs’ private property, as well as public property useful to them…”

More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans in Louisiana when levees gave way under the weight of the waves.

The suit, which is claiming compensation and punitive damages from multinational companies including Shell, ExxonMobile, BP and Chevron, has already passed several key legal hurdles, after first being knocked back by the lowest court.

Three federal appeals court judges decided in October 2009 that the case should be heard. But in February the same court decided to re-examine whether or not it could be heard this time with nine judges.

Other companies named in the suit include Honeywell and American Electric Power, with the residents saying that:

“the defendants’ greenhouse gas emissions caused saltwater, debris, sediment, hazardous substances, and other materials to enter, remain on, and damage plaintiffs’ property.”

They allege that companies had a duty to:

“avoid unreasonably endangering the environment, public health, public and private property.”

The district court, which originally rejected the case, ruled that it was:

“a debate which simply has no place in the court.”

The court argued to Congress that what needs to be done is to enact legislation:

“which sets appropriate standards by which this court can measure conduct.”

Mississippi residents must now wait for the appeals court to fix a new hearing date.

A decision will be due by the end of 2010, and both sides could also then take the case to the Supreme Court.