Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greenhouse Effect

  • How does the greenhouse effect work?

Visible light from the sun passes through the atmosphere and is absorbed by the Earth's surface - some of that energy is then emitted back to the atmosphere as heat. Greenhouse gases trap that heat, which would otherwise be released into space, raising the temperature of the atmosphere and, subsequently, the Earth's surface. Increases in greenhouse gases from human activities increase the amount of heat trapped by the atmposhere causing global warming and climate change.

  • What are the most important greenhouse gases and their sources?

Water vapor - Water vapor contributes the most to the greenhouse effect and occurs in the atmosphere as a result of the natural cycle of water.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) - Carbon dioxide also cycles naturally between the atmosphere and living organisms. Plants and algae remove CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, while all living things release CO2 via respiration (i.e., breathing). Carbon dioxide also cycles back and forth between water on the Earth's surface (freshwater and the oceans) and the atmosphere. In addition to these natural processes, humans release large quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and other industrial processes.

Methane (CH4) - Methane is a natural byproduct of decomposition, but significant quantities are also produced via agriculture and animal husbandry as well as by fossil fuel production.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) - Nitrous oxide is released naturally from terrestrial soils and oceans, but substantial quantities are also generated from the use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture and through some industrial processes.

Other gases - A number of other natural and man-made gases also contribute to the greenhouse effect, including tropospheric ozone, and industrial gases such as halocarbons.

Aerosols - Aerosols are airborne particles within the atmosphere. Some aerosols, such as sulfate aerosols and black carbon aerosols are also produced by fossil fuel combustion. Sulfate aerosols tend to reflect incoming solar radiation, cooling the Earth's surface. Black carbon aerosols absorb, rather than reflect, solar radiation, which shades the Earth's surface, but warms the atmosphere.

  • Is Climate Change a Natural or Human-Caused Phenomenon?
Our climate varies naturally over both short and long time-scales, but natural climate variability can be distinguished from human-caused climate change.

Scientists have conducted a number of attribution studies that compare observed changes in the global climate with those factors that are known to influence climate. These studies indicate that the climate change observed over the 20th century is due to a combination of changes in solar radiation, volcanic activity, land-use change, and increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Of these, greenhouse gases appear to be the dominant driver of climate change over the past few decades.

  • How Do We Know that Atmosphere Increases in Greenhouse Gases are Due to Human Activity?
Some greenhouse gases, such as industrial halocarbons, are only made by humans, and thus their presence in the atmosphere can only be explained by human activity.
Naturally occurring gases such as CO2 and CH4 are generated by natural processes such as plant and animal respiration and decomposition. However, scientists can quantify the various sources (both natural and human) of such gases and measure their contribution to atmospheric concentrations. Current concentrations of the primary greenhouse gases (see above) cannot be accounted for without considering human activities, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels. Furthermore, global warming may increase the release of greenhouse gases from natural resources.
  • Is There Any Connection Between Global Warming and the Ozone Layer?
Ozone is a greenhouse gas, and ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere is believed to have had a slight cooling effect on the global climate. Thus, ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere has not contributed significantly to global warming, although ozone depletion remains a concern because of its ability to block harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching humans and wildlife.

Ozone in the lower atmosphere is an air pollutant and a health risk, and ozone in the lower atmosphere has increased over the past century contributing to global warming.

Therefore, though there is a relationship between ozone and climate change, ozone depletion is a concern largely due to its effects on UV-radiation rather than on climate.

  • How Much Climate Change Has Been Observed to Date?   
Globally, surface air temperatures increased by approximately 1oF during the 20th century. Some regions of the world have experienced much greater warming; Alaska and the Antarctic peninsula, for example, have warmed by approximately 4oF over the same time period. Other regions of the world, such as the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere and the interior of Antarctica, have not experienced warming.

The observed warming over the 20th century was accompanied by a 10% increase in precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere and an increase in global sea-level of 4-8 inches.
  • What Accounts for the Differences in Temperatures From Measurements at the Earth's surface and satellite measurements of the atmosphere?
Satellites are capable of measuring temperatures in the lower atmosphere (less than 6 miles in altitude), whereas surface temperature measurements are made just a few feet from the Earth's surface.

Surface temperature records show roughly twice as much warming since 1979 than satellite records (although surface temperature records date back to the mid 19th century, satellite measurements began only in 1979).

A report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 stated that both the surface temperature records and the satellite temperature records possessed systematic errors that may bias the data, which account for some of the differences between the two data records. Nevertheless, "the warming of surface temperature that has taken place during the past 20 years is undoubtedly real.

However, the National Academy of Sciences also concluded that there are real discrepancies between the surface and satellite records, which have yet to be sufficiently explained. It is often argued that urbanization has increased surface temperatures at the Earth's surface causing the surface to warm faster than the atmosphere, but surface and satellite trends for the world's most urbanized regions (e.g., North America and Europe) are nearly identical, indicating urbanization cannot account for the disparity. In addition, a recent analysis suggests that the difference between surface and satellite trends may not be as large as previously thought, but these results remain controversial.
  • How Do Scientists Estimate the Climate of the Future and How Reliable are Their Projections?

Projections of future changes in climate are typically based on three sources of information:

- Knowledge of historical climate variability and change

- Scientific understanding of the climate system

- Computer models of the climate system that generate projections of future climate based upon a number of variables.

Of these three, climate models have received considerable attention. A number of different models exist and each represents the climate in a different way, resulting in large differences among models in projections of future climate change.

A number of current models do a reasonable job of simulating past climate variability (decades to centuries), but all such models perform poorly at modeling short-term climate variability (days-years) and regional climate variability.

The projections of climate models are also highly dependent upon the assumptions used regarding future trends in greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric concentrations.

  • What are the current estimates for 21st century climate change?

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections for 21st century average global temperature increase is 2.5-10.4oF, based upon multiple climate models and multiple assumptions regarding future greenhouse gas emissions.

Regional warming may be greater or less than the global average. For example, temperature increases in the United States are projected to be approximately 30% higher than the global average. The Arctic is likely to experience the greatest warming.

Associated with this warming will be an increase in global average sea level of 4-35 inches, depending on the magnitude of warming.
Global precipitation patterns will also be altered by temperature increases. Generally, the hydrological cycle is expected to accelerate leading to increases in precipitation at the global level. However, these global increases may not necessarily balance the increased evaporation under warmer conditions, and some regions may experience a decrease in precipitation.
  • What are the Projected Impacts of Climate Change?

Species in natural ecosystems will attempt to migrate with the changing climate, but will differ in their degree of success. Ecosystem productivity may decrease or increase, at least over the short-term.

Increases in temperature and changes in precipitation will have significant impacts on water resources, either reducing or increasing water availability along with increasing the risk of floods or droughts.

Coastal developments will experience additional sea-level rise that will interact with coastal storms to erode beaches, inundate land, and damage structures.

U.S. agriculture and forestry will likely experience mixed results with moderate warming, with increases in productivity likely in northern states and possible declines in southern states. However, at higher magnitudes of warming, the risk of more uniform adverse effects across the nation increases.

Human health may be affected by climate change through a number of mechanisms including extreme temperatures (i.e., heat waves), exacerbation of air pollution, severe weather, and increased spread of infectious diseases.
  • Will There Be Any Benefits Associated with Climate Change?
Climate change may offer a number of benefits, depending primarily on the rate at which climate change occurs and the magnitude of temperature and precipitation changes in particular regions.

Current assessments indicate that agriculture and forestry in the United States are likely to benefit from low to moderate climate change, although these benefits will not be evenly distributed geographically, and some regions will experience damages.

With continued warming, however, benefits will likely peak and subsequently decline, and the effects of climate change for the nation as a whole in these sectors will turn negative.

Other benefits such as increased water availability, reduced energy demands, and greater ecosystem productivity may also occur in specific regions over the short or long-term. However, such benefits will likely be balanced by opposite effects in other regions.

  • To What Extent Can Humans Adapt To Climate Change?

Some degree of adaptation will undoubtedly be necessary to respond to the coming climate change that is unavoidable.

Depending on the rate and magnitude of climate change, humans can invest in infrastructure and other societal systems to ameliorate its consequences.

However, different regions and sectors will differ in their ability to adapt. Natural ecosystems have inherent, but limited capability to adapt to climate change, which is further impeded by other human impacts to the environment such as development and habitat fragmentation. Even human societies, particularly developing countries, have limited resources to respond to the challenge of climate change.
Some climate related impacts are difficult to adapt to. For example, extreme weather events, such as storms and floods, are not easily ameliorated by adaptation measures.
Thus, investing in the reduction of greenhouse gases will offset necessary investments in adaptation in addition to protecting against those adverse effects of climate change for which adaptation is particularly difficult.

  • How Much Do Greenhouse Gas Emissions Have to Be Reduced to Stop Climate Change?
Current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are projected to increase global temperatures by an additional 1oF in coming decades. Thus some degree of continued climate change is inevitable, despite efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but emissions reductions will aid in reducing the magnitude of that change and stopping human-induced increases in global temperatures.

In order to stop temperature increases, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be stabilized, meaning emissions of these gases must be reduced to such a level that they do not cause any additional increase in atmospheric concentrations.

The magnitude of emissions reductions necessary to achieve such stabilization depends on a number of factors including the level at which greenhouse gases should be stabilized and future patterns of fossil fuel use and emissions.

In its latest assessment report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated the magnitude of emissions reductions necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at a doubling of the preindustrial by the end of the century level for a broad range of scenarios for future greenhouse gas emissions. Given mid-range baseline projections for CO2 emissions, IPCC estimated that global CO2 emissions would have to be reduced by the end of the 21st century to 40-75% below baselines.

  • What are carbon "sinks?"
"Sinks" are reservoirs that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it, sometimes by converting it to another compound. The two largest natural sinks for CO2 are the oceans and terrestrial vegetation, including forests. For example, forests remove CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, storing that carbon in their tissues. Keeping forests intact instead of cutting them down can prevent CO2 from being released and expanding forests can enhance removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol recognizes the preservation and enhancement of certain kinds of sinks and allows these to be counted as part of a country's efforts to meet its target.
  • Is Planting More Trees a Way of Solving Global Warming?

Increasing the world's forest cover is uniformly considered to be a useful mechanism for mitigating atmospheric CO2 concentrations, because of the ability for plants to remove CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

However, even a vigorous global reforestation program would not be sufficient to offset anthropogenic CO2 emissions from human sources.

Thus, reforestation may assist in reducing the rate at which atmospheric CO2 increases (and provide additional ecological benefits as well), but the stabilization of CO2 will still require direct reductions in CO2 emissions.
  • What role do black carbon aerosols (also known as soot) play in global climate change?

Black carbon aerosols or soot are small, carbon-based particles that are emitted to that atmosphere as a by-product of incomplete/inefficient fossil fuel combustion (see glossary). Although not gases per se, these aerosols have similar warming effects on the global climate as traditional greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, etc. Black carbon contributes directly to warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to the ability of the particles to absorb incoming solar radiation, which is then reemitted to the atmosphere. Interestingly this also contributes to cooling at the Earth’s surface, because the absorption of solar radiation in the atmosphere contributes to a shading effect on the surface. However, the warming effect is estimated to be considerably larger than the cooling effect, and some estimates indicate that compared to the various greenhouse gases, the direct warming caused by black carbon is second only to carbon dioxide. Black carbon aerosols also influence the climate indirectly, by changing the reflectivity of ice and snow. Black carbon aerosols in the atmosphere eventually return to Earth, and when they occur on the surface of ice and snow, their dark color causes ice to absorb more solar energy than it otherwise would (i.e., black carbon reduces the Earth’s “albedo” - see glossary). This causes the Earth as a whole to reflect less solar energy in addition to promoting the melting of glaciers and other ice formations, particularly in the Arctic. Both of these effects contribute to global warming. Collectively, these direct and indirect effects make black carbon a major contributor to global climate change, yet carbon dioxide remains the dominant historical and future human influence on the global climate.

  • Who is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change?

Once emitted, GHGs can remain in the atmosphere for many years, from approximately 10 years to thousands of years, depending on the gas. This means that emissions from a long time ago are still in the atmosphere and still affecting the Earth's climate system. Countries in the developed world have been emitting substantial quantities of GHGs since the start of the industrial revolution in the mid-18th Century. The United States, for example, is responsible for approximately 25 percent of the world's emissions of GHGs to date. However, although industrialization in other parts of the world has been delayed, emissions of GHGs from developing countries are rapidly catching up with those of the developed world, and some estimates indicate that emissions from developing countries, particularly those from China and India, will exceed those of the United States and Europe in coming decades. Determining responsibility for climate change necessitates consideration of these complex patterns of development, past, present, and future.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This Model Is Not Quite As Pretty As Those Victoria's Secret Models.

The good news: The earth’s carbon cycle has natural negative feedbacks that reverse natural surges in carbon dioxide.

The bad news: We are spewing CO2 into the atmosphere 14,000 times faster than nature has over the past 600,000 years, far too quickly for those feedbacks to respond.

Current CO2 levels - 392.40ppm 

How Reliable Are the Models Used to Make Projections of Future Climate Change?

"...models are unanimous in their prediction of substantial climate warming under greenhouse gas increases, and this warming is of a magnitude consistent with independent estimates derived from other sources, such as from observed climate changes and past climate reconstructions."
There is considerable confidence that climate models provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at continental scales and above. This confidence comes from the foundation of the models in accepted physical principles and from their ability to reproduce observed features of current climate and past climate changes. Confidence in model estimates is higher for some climate variables (e.g., temperature) than for others (e.g., precipitation). Over several decades of development, models have consistently provided a robust and unambiguous picture of significant climate warming in response to increasing greenhouse gases.

Climate models are mathematical representations of the climate system, expressed as computer codes and run on powerful computers. One source of confidence in models comes from the fact that model fundamentals are based on established physical laws, such as conservation of mass, energy and momentum, along with a wealth of observations.

A second source of confidence comes from the ability of models to simulate important aspects of the current climate. Models are routinely and extensively assessed by comparing their simulations with observations of the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and land surface. Unprecedented levels of evaluation have taken place over the last decade in the form of organised multi-model ‘intercomparisons’. Models show significant and increasing skill in representing many important mean climate features, such as the large-scale distributions of atmospheric temperature, precipitation, radiation and wind, and of oceanic temperatures, currents and sea ice cover. Models can also simulate essential aspects of many of the patterns of climate variability observed across a range of time scales. Examples include the advance and retreat of the major monsoon systems, the seasonal shifts of temperatures, storm tracks and rain belts, and the hemispheric-scale seesawing of extratropical surface pressures (the Northern and Southern ‘annular modes’). Some climate models, or closely related variants, have also been tested by using them to predict weather and make seasonal forecasts. These models demonstrate skill in such forecasts, showing they can represent important features of the general circulation across shorter time scales, as well as aspects of seasonal and interannual variability. Models’ ability to represent these and other important climate features increases our confidence that they represent the essential physical processes important for the simulation of future climate change. (Note that the limitations in climate models’ ability to forecast weather beyond a few days do not limit their ability to predict long-term climate changes, as these are very different types of prediction.

There are still some unknowns that could send the projections off the charts.....like what will happen if we "uncork" all the methane that is currently stored under the permafrost!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Power Shift 2011

Thousands of young activists gathered at a rally in front of the White House on Monday to demand that the president protect the Clean Air Act, stop taking money from corporate polluters, and invest in a clean energy economy. The rally was the culmination of a three-day climate summit, called Power Shift, that drew 10,000 participants from across the country.

Speakers included :   Former vice president Al Gore, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, environmental activist Van Jones, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, AFL-CIO president Richaed Trumka to name just a few.

Noticeably absent.... the media!

Here is the transcript of Bill McKibben’s (350.org) fiery speech.

All right, listen up. Very few people can ever say that they are in the single most important place they could possibly be doing the single most important thing they could possibly be doing. That’s you, here, now.

You are the movement that we need if we are going to win in the few years that we have. You have the skills now. You are making the connections. And there is no one else. It is you.

That is a great honor and that is a terrible burden. There is no one else.

The science is the easy part in this, grim, but easy. 2010 was the warmest year on record. And it was warm. We were on the phone one day with our 350 crew in Pakistan and one of them said, “It’s hot out here today,” and I was surprised to hear him say it because it’s usually hot in Pakistan during the summer. He said, no it’s really hot . We just set the new, all time Asia temperature record, 129 degrees. That kind of heat melts the arctic. That kind of heat causes drought so deep across Russia that the Kremlin stops all grain exports. That kind of heat causes the flooding that still has 4 million people across Pakistan homeless tonight.

It’s tough, it’s grim, but the good news at least is that it’s clear, the science. We have a number: 350 parts per million. 350, the most important number on earth. As the NASA team put it in January 2008, “any value in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and which life on earth is adapted.” Getting back to 350 pars per million will be very very tough, the toughest thing human beings have ever done, but there is no use complaining about it, it’s just physics and chemistry. That’s what we have to do.

But if the scientific method has worked splendidly to outline our dilemma, that’s how badly the political method has worked to solve it. Think about our own country, historically the biggest source of carbon emissions. Last summer, the Senate refused to even take a vote on the tepid, moderate, tame climate bill that was before it. Last week, the House voted 248 to 174 to pass a resolution saying global warming wasn’t real. It was one of the most embarrassing votes that Congress has ever taken. They believe that because they can amend the tax laws they can amend the laws of nature too, but they can’t. I’m awful glad a few of you went up to the visitors gallery to talk some sense to them last week.

Even the White House. Two weeks ago, the interior secretary, who spoke here two years ago, Ken Salazar, signed a piece of paper opening up 250 million tonnes of coal under federal land in Wyoming to mining. That’s like opening 300 new coal fired power plants and running them for a year. That’s a disgrace.

But you know what. We understand the physics and chemistry of political power. In this case, it’s not carbon dioxide that rules the day: it’s money.

Many of you are in the District of Columbia for the first time and it looks clean and it looks sparkling. No, this city is as polluted as Beijing. But instead of coal smoke it’s polluted by money. Money warps our political life, it obscures our vision, but just like with physics in chemistry there is no use whining. We know now what we need to do and the first thing we need to do is build a movement.

We will never have as much money as the oil companies so we need a different currency to work in, we need bodies, we need creativity, we need spirit.

350.org has been like a beta-test for that movement. It began with youth here at Power Shift four years ago. It’s now spread around the planet. In the last two years, there have been 15,000 demonstrations in 189 nations. CNN called it the most widespread political activity in the planet’s history. But it needs to get bigger still. On the first Earth Day in 1970 there 20 million Americans in the street, one in ten Americans. That’s the kind of size we need.

And so, on September 24 we need your help. September 24 is the next big day of action. We’re calling it Moving Planet and in those 189 nations, people will be in motion. Much of it will be on bicycles, because the bicycles is one of the few tools that rich and poor both use. Who here knows how to ride a bike? All right, September 24, I cannot wait to see the pictures. We are not going to wait for the politicians to move, we’re going to create the future that we need ourselves.

But that movement doesn’t just need to be bigger, it needs to sharper too, more aggressive.

You know what, at Copenhagen we got 117 nations to sign on to that 350 target. That was good, but they were the wrong 117 nations. They were the poorest and most vulnerable nations. The most addicted nations, led by our own, weren’t yet willing to bit the bullet, so that’s where we’ve got to go to work.

That work, to deal with that money pollution, that work starts Monday at ten o’clock in Lafayette Square, across from the White House and next to a place called the US Chamber of Commerce.

The Koch Brothers are high peaks of corruption, but the US Chamber of Commerce is the Everest of dirty money. It boasts on its web page that it is the biggest lobby in Washington. In fact, it spends more money lobbying than the next five lobbies combined. It spent more money on politics last year than the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee combined and 94% of that went to climate deniers.

We cannot stop their money, but we can strip them of their credibility. They claim to represent all American business, but they don’t. 55% of their funding came from 16 companies. They don’t have to say who those companies are, but it’s easy to tell when you watch what they do. They spend their time lobbying to make sure the planet heats up as fast it possibly can.

They sent a legal brief to the EPA last year, saying that they should take no action on climate change, because if the planet warmed, humans could alter their behavior and their physiology to deal with the problem. I don’t even really know what that means, alter your physiology. Grow gills? I don’t know. But I can tell you this. I am too old to change my physiology and you all are too good looking. But I will adapt my behavior. Every day now I will roll out of bed and go to work fighting them. Hell, I will go to bed at night and try to dream up new ways to fight.

We’re going to adapt our behavior all right. We’re going to adapt our behavior now to fight on every front. I’m sorry if that sounds aggressive, but there we are.

Twenty-two years ago, I wrote the first book about climate change and I’ve gotten to watch it all, and I know that simply persuasion will not do. We need to fight. Now, we need to fight non-violently and with civil disobedience. You will hear from my friend Tim DeChristopher in a moment and more to come, but if you’re going to go that route, one thing you need to make sure that you manage to get across in your witness is that you are not the radicals in this fight.

The radicals are the people are the people who are fundamentally altering the composition of the atmosphere. That is the most radical thing people have ever done.

We need to fight with art and with music, too. Not just the side with our brain that likes bar graphs and pie graphs, but with all our heart and all our soul. Tomorrow or tonight, you need to go down behind Hall B downstairs and help them build the art work for Monday morning.

We need to fight with unity. We need to have a coherent voice. That’s why, last week we joined with our friends at 1Sky to build this bigger, stronger 350.org. We need to speak with one loud voice, because we are fighting for your future.

So far, we’ve raised the temperature of the planet one degree and that’s done all that I’ve described, it’s melted the arctic, it’s changed the oceans. The climatologists tell us that unless we act with great speed and courage that one degree will be five degrees before this century is out. And if we do that, then the world that we leave behind will be a ruined world.

We fight not just for ourselves, we fight for the beauty of this place. For cool trout streams and deep spruce woods. For chilly fog rising off the Pacific and deep snow blanketing the mountains. We fight for all the creation that shares this planet with us. We don’t know half the species on Earth we’re wiping out.

And of course, we fight alongside our brothers and sisters around the world. You’ve seen the pictures as I talk: these are our comrades. Most of these people, as you see, come from places that have not caused this problem, and yet they’re willing to be in deep solidarity with us. That’s truly admirable and it puts a real moral burden on us. Never let anyone tell you, that environmentalism is something that rich, white people do. Most of the people that we work with around the world are poor and black and brown and Asian and young, because that’s what most of the world is made up of, and they care about the future as anyone else.

We have to fight, finally, without any guarantee that we are going to win. We have waited late to get started and our adversaries are strong and we do not know how this is going to come out. If you were a betting person, you might bet we were going to lose because so far that’s what happened, but that’s not a bet you’re allowed to make. The only thing that a morally awake person to do when the worst thing that’s ever happened is happening is try to change those odds.

I have spent most of my last few years in rooms around the world with great people, many of whom will be refugees before this century is out, some of whom may be dead from climate change before this century is out. No guarantee that we will win, but from them a complete guarantee that we will fight with everything we have. It is always an honor for me to be in those rooms. It is the greatest honor for me to be with you tonight.

No guarantee that we will win, but we will fight side by side, as long as we’ve got. Thank you all so much.

– Bill McKibben


Thursday, April 14, 2011

This Hurts All Of US

Wall Street Journal April 13, 2011

GOP Wins Deep Cuts in Environment Spending


In negotiating the budget deal that averted a government shutdown, Democrats and the White House claimed a big victory in preventing Republicans from blocking a set of environmental regulations. But as details of the compromise became known Tuesday, it was clear Republicans had won deep reductions in spending at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the deal headed to House and Senate votes by the end of this week, the EPA's 2011 budget would be reduced by 16% from 2010 spending, taking it to $8.7 billion.

That reflects the kind of tradeoffs each side made in the negotiations over the bill. The legislation doesn't include most of the policy provisions that Republicans proposed to block funding for key administration priorities on health care, the environment and other issues. But Republicans found Democrats moving more than halfway in the compromise over how much to cut spending in the $1.05 trillion bill for the remaining six months of the 2011 fiscal year.

Democrats had wanted to freeze spending; Republicans sought $61 billion in cuts from 2010 levels. The final bill calls for about $39 billion in cuts-the largest one-time federal spending reduction in history.
Although the outlines of the compromise were announced Friday, the details were not released until Tuesday, when legislation was filed spelling out how the cuts were spread across legions of programs.

The EPA was also a major focus of both parties. The deal didn't include a Republican-backed measure that would have stripped the agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But the bill cuts $1.6 billion from the agency.

"The Obama administration has dumped money into the EPA over the past two years, and what the American people have seen as a result is a slew of new regulations pouring out of the agency," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho). Mr. Simpson, chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, helped fashion the EPA cut in the spending deal.

On Mr. Obama's watch, the EPA's budget has risen sharply, to $10.3 billion in the 2010 fiscal year, after years in which its funding hovered between $7.5 billion and $7.7 billion.

Most of the EPA cuts will reduce aid to help states implement health and environmental-protection laws. Mr. Obama had proposed cutting those programs, but only by about $200 million.

"These federal cuts make our job to provide a clean environment that much harder," said R. Steven Brown, the agency's executive director, who said the practical effect would be to derail roughly $1 billion in improvements to sewage-treatment and drinking-water plants.

The deal also cuts by $149 million, or 33%, a federal fund for buying land for environmental purposes. Programs related to climate change would be cut by $49 million, or 13%.

The position of the president's special adviser on climate change would be eliminated. The post has been open since Carol Browner left the administration earlier this year, and the White House has said it will not name a successor. But the job had not been formally eliminated.

Also included in the compromise was a provision, backed by Mr. Simpson and Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), that would take gray wolves in the northern Rockies off the endangered-species list.

Environmentalists say it is the first time Congress has taken such a step, and that it sets a bad precedent for lawmakers, rather than scientists, to determine what species should be on the list. But Mr. Tester said wolf populations had recovered in Montana and should no longer be considered at risk.

Another GOP-backed provision would block the Interior Department's Wild Lands initiative, which would have inventoried federal lands for their wilderness characteristics. Ranchers and others feared it would have led to greater restrictions on oil drilling, mining or cattle grazing or snowmobiling on those lands.

"The provision to defund Wild Lands is a victory for Utah and all public lands states," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R., Utah), one of the lawmakers who pushed to include language in the bill defunding the policy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

As floods and extreme weather devastate the world, CBS News explains the link to global warming.

January 26, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — In the past year, every continent except Antarctica has seen record-breaking floods. Rains submerged one-fifth of Pakistan, a thousand-year deluge swamped Nashville and storms just north of Rio caused the deadliest landslides Brazil has ever seen.

Southern France and northern Australia had floods, too. Sri Lanka, South Africa, the list goes on.

And while no single weather event can be linked definitively to global climate change, a growing number of scientists say these extreme events represent the face of a warming world.
“Any one of these events is remarkable,” said Jay Gulledge, senior scientist for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “But all of this taken together could not happen without the extra heat that’s in the ocean. It defies common sense to overlook that link.”

When even the national media starts to explain the link to human-caused global warming, you know the weather has become extreme (see Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”). ABC News coverage has been outstanding. And now CBS News story publishes a crystal clear explanation of the link:

That link works more or less like this. Concentrations of greenhouse gases are the highest the earth has seen in 15 million years. These gases trap heat, warming both the air and the oceans. Warmer oceans give off more moisture, and a warmer atmosphere can hold more of it in suspension. The more moisture in the air, the more powerful storms tend to grow. When these supercharged weather systems hit land, they don’t just turn into rain or snow, they become cyclones, blizzards and floods.

“There is a lot of tropical moisture in the atmosphere that is getting transported over very long distances and is dropping out in various places around the world in dramatic fashion,” Gulledge said.

Last year tied with 2005 as the warmest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And floods in 2010 weren’t the only extremes.

In Russia, 15,000 people died during a record heat wave. Australia suffered its warmest summer on record. Pakistan witnessed its hottest day in history, as did Los Angeles. The U.S. East Coast has struggled under unusually heavy snows for two winters running. The Brazilian Amazon suffered one of the worst droughts in its history. And even as the Brazilian government recovered the bodies of those killed by record storms in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it trucked drinking water to cities in the north blighted by drought.

Weather like this matches the predictions of numerous recent climate studies. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that severe droughts and heavy rains were already on the rise in many parts of the world, and linked them to the surge in greenhouse gases. A study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences predicted an increase in heavy rainfall of somewhere between 3 and 10 percent for every Celsius degree of warming. Each additional degree would also cause the amount of area burned by wildfires in North America to double or quadruple, according to the same report.

“If you think it’s bad now — when we’ve had about 0.7 degrees Celsius of warming — wait until we’ve had 3 or 4,” Gulledge said. “There’s absolutely no reason to think it will not continue getting worse and worse and worse.”

The only unscientific thing in this story, really, is that it ends with an online poll.

But otherwise it has quite a thoughtful explanation of what may be happening.

Some scientists are starting to worry that natural weather patterns, which played a role in some of the biggest recent flooding, are also showing effects of human-driven climate change. This year’s rainy season in Australia is linked to a phenomenon called a La Nina, which occurs when water in the equatorial region of the Pacific is cooler than normal.
La Nina and its warm-water counterpart, El Nino, are part of a natural pattern of ocean currents and atmospheric winds that redistribute heat by moving it from one part of the world to another. Even as La Nina and El Nino influence the overall climate, much like organs in a body, they may remain vulnerable to system-wide shocks, said Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at The University of Maine.

So far scientists have found no definitive link between rising greenhouse gases and changes to El Nino and La Nina events. But Mayewski thinks that might be changing.

“This is a naturally occurring phenomenon,” Mayewski said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be impacted by humans.”

He is investigating whether greenhouse gases may have so disturbed the balance of heat that natural patterns, like El Nino and La Nina, may begin to speed up and intensify.

“We may very well be changing this El Nino-La Nina system much faster and more radically,” Mayewski said. “It’s a naturally occurring system that we may be giving a lot more push to.”

And, if he’s right, that could mean even less stable, more extreme weather in the foreseeable future.

For some agencies working to help countries prevent and recover from natural disasters, there’s no question that they’re getting worse.

“There was never any doubt in our mind that, in reality, the frequency and severity and number of people that were affected kept increasing,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations’ assistant secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

In an increasingly urbanized world, people, goods and infrastructure are concentrated, meaning that each natural disaster has the potential to cause an unprecedented amount of damage.

“The losses are increasing very rapidly,” Wahlstrom said. “Today is decision time. We know what the risks are. We can see the trends.”

… While natural disasters tend to be more deadly in developing countries, this last year has shown extreme weather can strike planet-wide.

“The attitude that many of us probably have lived with for decades, because we’ve lived in fairly safe countries, is that disasters are something that happens to others,” Wahlstrom said. “That is no longer viable.”

Hear! Hear!

Trickle Down

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign

New fresh water in Arctic could shift Gulf Stream
Associated Press

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Scientists are monitoring a massive pool of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean that could spill into the Atlantic and potentially alter the key ocean currents that give Western Europe its moderate climate.

The oceanographers said Tuesday the unusual accumulation has been caused by Siberian and Canadian rivers dumping more water into the Arctic and from melting sea ice. Both are consequences of global warming.

If it flushes into the Atlantic, the infusion of fresh water could, in the worst case, change the ocean current that brings warmth from the tropics to European shores, said Laura De Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

German researcher Benjamin Rabe, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the Arctic's fresh water content had increased 20 percent since the 1990s — about 8,400 cubic kilometers. That is the equivalent of all the water in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together or double the volume of water in Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake.

Increased runoff from the great northern rivers "could potentially impact the large scale ocean circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. This is important for us in Western Europe because our climate is pretty much dictated by the Thermohaline ocean circulation," said De Steur.

The Thermohaline current loops like a conveyer belt from the tropics to the North Atlantic, driven by the differences in salt content and wind patterns. Warm water from the south gains in salinity and grows heavier as it cools. At its northern end, the current is further chilled by cold air and sinks, warming again and rising as it travels south.

That cycle could be affected when the pool of fresh water is released into the Atlantic, said De Steur and Rabe. The icy water has been kept bottled up in the Arctic by wind patterns, which have not shifted their general clockwise direction for the unusually long time of 12 years. Normally, the winds change at intervals of five to 10 years.

The two scientists spoke to The Associated Press as part of a European Union initiative, called Clamer, to collate and publicize information from 300 EU-funded research projects conducted over the last 13 years on climate change and marine ecology. Rabe and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, published their research last year in the journal Deep Sea Research on the effects of higher river runoff on ocean salinity.

De Steur said most of the excess fresh water has collected in the Canada Basin, but in the last three years changes also have been noticed in the Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean.

"It's important to monitor this to see if this can be transported to the Atlantic, where it might potentially effect the Gulf Stream and the Thermohaline circulation," she said.

Friday, April 1, 2011


The arguments I keep hearing for why we continue to burn oil and coal to fuel our way of life is that they are abundant, cheap and we are just are not far enough along with renewable alternatives to switch. Then there are the barriers to any climate progress--from Big Coal to the US Chamber of Commerce, from the coral of corrupt politicians attacking the Clean Air Act to an administration too timid to defend it. We're not going to suddenly stop developing our renewable sources, but the sobering fact is that they are nowhere near ready to replace our addiction to crude. We're still decades away from a full shift to renewables... And that's time we don't have.
In 2009, all energy from renewable sources — solar, geothermal, biomass waste, wind, biofuels, wood and hydro-power— made up only 8% of U.S. energy consumption. Also consider that the U.S. was second in the world that year when it came to renewable electricity production.

During the speech that Obama gave at George Washington University on March 30th, the President said, “The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil,” he said. “We’re going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil. We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution that is threatening our climate. And we have to do it quickly.”  My response to that is - talk is cheap!
What I hope to illuminate in this post is that when all the costs are figured in, it will become evident that it is actually insanely expensive.  So much so, that we can not afford to continue to burn it without the risk of environmental bankruptcy!  So, here’s the argument for why we must find a way to transition ourselves away from the use of fossil fuels and do so now.

First - The Facts

Oil is currently the life blood of our economy.  According to the US Department of Energy, oil supplies more than 40% of our total energy needs and more than 99% of the fuel we use in our cars and trucks.  The world consumes nearly 95 million barrels/day, with the US consuming over 20% of that.  (The US represents approximately only 4.5% of the world population yet we consume more than 20% of the Oil!)

Total annual US consumption – 7 billion barrels!  Now, the US only produces around 2.08 billion barrels/year.  Therefore, the US must import approximately 4.92 billion barrels.  Much of these imports come from areas of the world that are prone to strife and instability.  Like the Persian Gulf which includes Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.  Other large suppliers to the US, like Venezuela and Nigeria, are down right hostile towards us or funnel income from oil revenues to extremists who want to harm us.

The fact is that the use, production, transportation and sale of oil cause problems in many regions of the world both in environmental degradation and loss of human life.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq began under the codename "Operation Iraqi Liberation", later renamed "Operation Iraqi Freedom,” because the acronym for it was O.I.L.  (Maybe a little too obvious to the world why we were cared so much about going there?)
Iraq has a high quantity of oil. The U.S. Department of Energy claims that Iraqi oil reserves may be home to over 400 billion barrels of oil.  For this reason, Iraq is high on the list of oil-related conflicts today, just as it was in the Gulf War.  The price tag for that war was 3 trillion dollars.  According to the latest numbers from the US Energy Information Administration, we only import around 350,000 barrels/day from Iraq.  That’s an expensive price tag for just a little over 1% of our oil imports! 

The conflict in Darfur was supported by the sale of oil to China.  In a statement released by Human Rights First, an NGO based in New York. “China's thirst for oil is causing bloodshed.”  There is a direct link between China's rising imports of Sudanese oil and sales of Chinese small weapons to Khartoum.

The Niger Delta in Nigeria has been the attention of environmentalists, human rights activists and fair trade advocates around the world.  The conflict there arose in the early 1990s over tensions between the foreign oil corporations, (Mobil, Chevron, Shell, Elf, Agip) and a number of the Niger Delta’s minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, (which of course they were) particularly the Ogoni and the Ijaw.

Do you really want to know the truth why France and England are so “concerned” about Libya?  Libya is OPEC's 8th largest oil producer.  Its stock of the commodity tops any other country in Africa and that "excludes" its massive oil reserves, thought to be under 75 percent of the country's land.
The International Energy Agency says that more than 70 percent of Libya's oil is exported to European nations such as France, Ireland, Germany, Spain and especially Italy. To protect their own interests, many have spent years investing in Libya's oil industry. By the end of October 2010, the number of French companies in Libya had nearly doubled from 2008 - most of them in the energy sector.
Environmental damage can also be a result of conflict over oil-producing regions. Environmental harm associated with oil resources can either be attributed to a side effect of conflict, or, in some cases, it is associated with military aggression that is intended to damage the natural resources of the region.

The Cost To Our Environment.

Although much of the world depends on the production or the trade of oil to fuel its economies, these activities can cause severe damage to the environment, either knowingly or unintentionally.  Oil production, and/or transportation, can disrupt everything from animal and fish life to human populations that inhabit the region.  Oil waste dumping, production pollution, and spills wreak havoc on the surrounding wildlife and habitat.  It goes so far as to threaten the extinction of some land, air, and sea animals along with several plant species.  In fact, the actual drilling and transportation of oil can both wield as much, if not more, negative impact to the environment than the use of the fuel itself.  Let us not forget the Gulf Spill and the Exxon Valdez to name just two.

One of the most controversial and debated aspects of oil is whether or not burning it is causing changes to our climate.  I said debated, not because there isn’t overwhelming evidence to show that it is, but because Big Oil knows that their very survival depends on keeping that debate going.
Fact – The burning of oil and gas generates carbon dioxide.
Fact – Over the last 400,000 years the natural upper limit of atmospheric CO2 concentrations is assumed from the ice core data to be about 300 ppm.
Fact - Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the carbon dioxide level was about 280 parts per million.
Fact - It is currently at 391 ppm and rising.   

When oil and gasoline are burned, carbon dioxide is the resulting by product.  A gallon of gasoline is assumed to produce 19.4 pounds of CO2 when burned.  This is calculated from values in the Code of Federal Regulations, which EPA uses to calculate the fuel economy of vehicles, and relies on assumptions consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines.  Annual, human created, CO2 out put .......29 gigatons!  To put that in perspective, 1 gigaton = 1 billion tons and 1 ton = 2000 pounds.  This is why atmospheric CO2 concentration have risen  30% in just the last 150 years. 

The Greenhouse Effect
The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from the Earths surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases and is re-radiated in all directions.  Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface of the Earth, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere. As a result, the temperature there is higher than it would be if direct heating by solar radiation were the only warming mechanism.
Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, and the planet becomes hotter.  As the surface temperature increases it’s causing the melting of the world’s glaciers, Greenland’s Ice Sheet and worst of all the Polar Ice Cap. 

The retreat of glaciers since 1850 affects the availability of fresh water for irrigation and domestic use, mountain recreation, animals and plants that depend on glacier-melt, and in the longer term, the level of the oceans.
The biggest concern though is the disappearance of the Polar Ice Cap due to global warming.  The Polar Ice Cap serves an important role in regulating the Earths temperature.  Albedo, or reflective coefficient, is the diffuse reflectivity or reflecting power of a surface.  In this case, the white of the Polar Ice reflects the radiant heat back into space.  But, as the Polar Ice shrinks the darker water around it begins to absorb more of that heat.  Take the example of wearing a white hat while out in the bright sun as opposed to wearing a black hat.  Which one will keep you cooler?
What is being created is a “feed back loop.”  In a feedback loop, the rising temperature on the Earth changes the environment in ways that then create even more heat. Many scientists consider feedback loops the single-biggest threat to civilization from global warming.  Past a certain point -- the tipping point, they say -- there may be no stopping the changes.
Scientists discovered that as global warming thaws and dries out the vast tundra, old decayed vegetation releases carbon dioxide and methane. They are the same greenhouse gasses that come from car and plane exhausts, and power-plant chimneys -- and the tundra releasing all its carbon dioxide and methane could accelerate global warming beyond control.
A hotter planet means more water will evaporate filling the atmosphere with more moisture.  When that moisture falls, it does not always fall when and where we would like it to.

Oil contains sulphur, which when burnt, forms sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide – these compounds combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulphuric acid, leading to ‘acid rain’. This can lead to destruction of forests and the progressive erosion of rock and masonry structures, both natural and man-made.

Oceans are at present CO2 sinks, and represent the largest active carbon sink on Earth, absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans create.

A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration.

When the CO2 mixes with H20 in creates carbonic acid.  The alkalinity of our oceans is changing, causing them to become more acidic.  The increase in carbonic acid in the oceans are causing many animals, like plankton, to die and is corroding to shells and coral.

So-called “dead zones”– patches of ocean lacking aerobic (oxygen breathing) life–will most likely increase due to a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2.)
The number of dead zones (low-oxygen regions that kill fish) off our coasts is growing.  In some spots off Washington state and Oregon , the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.  Scientists say this is all related - climate change, acidification, and dead zones.
“Reefs at Risk Revisited” a report released last month by the World Resources Institute, lays out a gloomy future for coral reefs, often referred to as the rainforests or nurseries of the ocean.  The world’s reefs are home to the vast majority of the world’s fish species, yet the combination of acidification and warming ocean temperatures means that 75% of the world’s coral reefs are currently under threat of bleaching and death, and that figure will expand to 90 percent by 2030 and nearly 100% by 2050.

The actual byproducts that result from the burning and use of oil are not the only aspect of the oil argument that may be harmful to the environment. 
Drilling for oil is a definite source of waste that harms the environment.  The most common problem comes in the drilling fluids that are used.  Drilling sites use oil-based-mud as drilling fluid to keep cuttings from the drill cleared away.  The problem is that in the mud there is both diesel fluid and mineral oil. Both of these are harmful to the environment.
The effects of oil on marine life are caused by either the physical nature of the oil (physical contamination and smothering) or by its chemical components (toxic effects and accumulation leading to tainting).  Marine life may also be affected by clean-up operations or indirectly through physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live. 
Runoffs from petroleum processing and petrochemical plants have dumped tons of toxic wastes into nearby waters.  These eventually seep into the ground polluting pastures and cropland.  Furthermore, entire bays and lagoons along coasts have been fouled by oil spills and runoff of toxic chemicals.
The environmental damage that is a result of oil retraction and production also directly affects human life.  Damage can include pollution of water resources and contamination of the soil.  Humans are affected by environmental devastation because it is damaging to vegetation, livestock, and to the health of the human body itself.  Oil spills can interfere with the normal working of power stations and desalination plants that require a continuous supply of clean seawater and with the safe operation of coastal industries and ports.

Oil is not a renewable resource.  It has taken millions of years to create the reserve that currently exists.  Petroleum is formed through the geologic transformations of ancient plant and animal remains over millions of years. The pressure, heat and metamorphosis turns the material into oil, hence the name fossil fuels.
Petroleum is not a renewable resource because it can be exhausted.  While new oil is theoretically being formed from ancient materials, it isn't formed fast enough to meet today's demand and therefore isn't a renewable resource.
As the supply begins to run out there will be a global “power struggles” (aka wars) to control the remaining reserves.  The stage just before this happens is called “peak oil.”
Peak oil refers to the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of oil production enters terminal decline.  The concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells.  The aggregate production rate from an oil field over time appears to grow exponentially until the rate peaks and then declines, sometimes rapidly, until the field is depleted.  It has been shown to be applicable to the sum of a nation’s domestic production rate, and is similarly applied to the global rate of petroleum production.  Peak oil is not about running out of oil, but the peaking and subsequent decline of the production rate of oil.
Many dire predictions of future oil production operate on the thesis that either the peak has already occurred, the global system is on the cusp of the peak, or that it will occur shortly and, as proactive mitigation may no longer be an option, predict a global depression, perhaps even initiating a chain reaction of the various feedback mechanisms in the global market which might stimulate a collapse of global industrial civilization, potentially leading to large population declines within a short period.  There are signs that the current price of oil ($106/ barrel) are beginning to strain the global economic recovery.

We are entering a new era, one of rapid and often unpredictable climate change.  In fact, the new climate norm is change.  The 25 warmest years on record have come since 1980.  And the 10 ten warmest since global record keeping began in 1880 have come since 1998.
The effects of rising temperature are pervasive.  Higher temperatures diminish crop yields, melt the mountain glaciers that feed rivers, generate more-destructive storms, increase the severity of flooding, intensify drought, cause more-frequent and destructive wildfires, and alter ecosystems everywhere.  We are altering the earth’s climate, setting in motion trends we do not always understand with consequences we cannot anticipate all because we “think” that we are using the easiest, cheapest and most efficient form of energy – Oil.