Archive for August, 2005

Seventy Dollars a Barrel

August 30th, 2005

It’s almost as if Earth is fighting back. The loss of life from Hurricane Katrina is a terrible thing (all loss of life is) but I couldn’t help but notice the dark irony in the fact that it was yet another freak weather event that finally pushed the price of a barrel of oil over $70 bucks for the very first time by forcing oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, which pump a quarter of the United States’ oil and gas supplies, to shutdown. Yes, I am fully aware that it’s impossible to point at one particular storm and say unequivocally “that is due to global warming” but it’s the pattern that counts — and we are quite simply seeing bigger, more devastating freak weather events more and more often now, right across the globe. What more of a wake up call does the US federal administration need than climate chaos on it’s doorstep?

Update: Elissa just sent me this article by Ross Gelbspan, which makes the point very well.

Katrina’s Real Name

Commentary: It’s Global Warming.
By Ross Gelbspan

August 30, 2005

The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.

When the year began with a two-foot snowfall in Los Angeles, the cause was global warming.

When 124-mile-an-hour winds shut down nuclear plants in Scandinavia and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and the United Kingdom, the driver was global warming.

When a severe drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the Missouri River to their lowest on record earlier this summer, the reason was global warming.

In July, when the worst drought on record triggered wildfires in Spain and Portugal and left water levels in France at their lowest in 30 years, the explanation was global warming.

When a lethal heat wave in Arizona kept temperatures above 110 degrees and killed more than 20 people in one week, the culprit was global warming.

And when the Indian city of Bombay (Mumbai) received 37 inches of rain in one day — killing 1,000 people and disrupting the lives of 20 million others — the villain was global warming.

As the atmosphere warms, it generates longer droughts, more-intense downpours, more-frequent heat waves, and more-severe storms.

Although Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced off south Florida, it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

The consequences are as heartbreaking as they are terrifying.

Unfortunately, very few people in America know the real name of Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.

The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

In 1995, public utility hearings in Minnesota found that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists who were public dissenters on global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory yet when President George W. Bush was elected president — and subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and energy policies.

As the pace of climate change accelerates, many researchers fear we have already entered a period of irreversible runaway climate change.

Against this background, the ignorance of the American public about global warming stands out as an indictment of the US media.

When the US press has bothered to cover the subject of global warming, it has focused almost exclusively on its political and diplomatic aspects and not on what the warming is doing to our agriculture, water supplies, plant and animal life, public health, and weather.

For years, the fossil fuel industry has lobbied the media to accord the same weight to a handful of global warming skeptics that it accords the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the United Nations.

Today, with the science having become even more robust — and the impacts as visible as the megastorm that covered much of the Gulf of Mexico — the press bears a share of the guilt for our self-induced destruction with the oil and coal industries.

As a Bostonian, I am afraid that the coming winter will — like last winter — be unusually short and devastatingly severe. At the beginning of 2005, a deadly ice storm knocked out power to thousands of people in New England and dropped a record-setting 42.2 inches of snow on Boston.

The conventional name of the month was January. Its real name is global warming.

Today’s Front Pages

August 29th, 2005

Setting aside for a second the fact that most of what we get fed by the mainstream media is rubbish, one of my friends sent me an amazing link today (Thanks Dana.) It shows today’s front pages from hundreds of newspapers around the world, rolled together into a neat flash applet. Very clever, and quite useful. Now we can see the front page news of Siberia melting on every news paper in the world…

Oh, wait, it wasn’t on the front page. Right.

Game Over.

August 11th, 2005

Forget The Day After Tomorrow — gulf-stream shutdown, if it were to happen, would be a slow, gradual process. We have bigger problems. As reported in The Guardian today, one of the ‘nightmare’ scenarios for anyone who has studied climate change science is now happening. Scientists in Siberia have found that the worlds largest peat bog — permafrost the size of Germany and France combined — is melting. In it is trapped one quarter of the world’s methane deposits, and methane is an order of magnitude more potent a greenhouse gass than carbon dioxide. In a nutshell, the frozen earth is now boiling.

The problem is that the climate is a non-linear system, and feedback mechanisms mean that the relatively small amount of warming we have seen thus far now appears to be enough to tip natural systems over the edge. As they are released, the emissions from Siberia will double the atmospheric concentration of methane, evidence that we have now pushed the climate into dangerous runaway warming, and that the ‘wait and see’ attitude of many of ther world’s governments was — categorically — the wrong decision.

“This is an ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming”

Oh Shit.

From New Scientist:

THE world’s largest frozen peat bog is melting. An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region.

The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The news of the dramatic transformation of one of the world’s least visited landscapes comes from Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, Russia, and Judith Marquand at the University of Oxford.

Kirpotin describes an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming”. He says that the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt, and this “has all happened in the last three or four years”.

What was until recently a featureless expanse of frozen peat is turning into a watery landscape of lakes, some more than a kilometre across. Kirpotin suspects that some unknown critical threshold has been crossed, triggering the melting.

Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with an increase in average temperatures of some 3 °C in the last 40 years. The warming is believed to be a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical change in atmospheric circulation known as the Arctic oscillation, plus feedbacks caused by melting ice, which exposes bare ground and ocean. These absorb more solar heat than white ice and snow.

Similar warming has also been taking place in Alaska: earlier this summer Jon Pelletier of the University of Arizona in Tucson reported a major expansion of lakes on the North Slope fringing the Arctic Ocean.

The findings from western Siberia follow a report two months ago that thousands of lakes in eastern Siberia have disappeared in the last 30 years, also because of climate change (New Scientist, 11 June, p 16). This apparent contradiction arises because the two events represent opposite end of the same process, known as thermokarsk.

In this process, rising air temperatures first create “frost-heave”, which turns the flat permafrost into a series of hollows and hummocks known as salsas. Then as the permafrost begins to melt, water collects on the surface, forming ponds that are prevented from draining away by the frozen bog beneath. The ponds coalesce into ever larger lakes until, finally, the last permafrost melts and the lakes drain away underground.

“This is an ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming”

Siberia’s peat bogs formed around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Since then they have been generating methane, most of which has been trapped within the permafrost, and sometimes deeper in ice-like structures known as clathrates. Larry Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates that the west Siberian bog alone contains some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface worldwide.

His colleague Karen Frey says if the bogs dry out as they warm, the methane will oxidise and escape into the air as carbon dioxide. But if the bogs remain wet, as is the case in western Siberia today, then the methane will be released straight into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

In May this year, Katey Walter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks told a meeting in Washington of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that she had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia, where the gas was bubbling from thawing permafrost so fast it was preventing the surface from freezing, even in the midst of winter.

An international research partnership known as the Global Carbon Project earlier this year identified melting permafrost as a major source of feedbacks that could accelerate climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “Several hundred billion tonnes of carbon could be released,” said the project’s chief scientist, Pep Canadell of the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Canberra, Australia.



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