Archive for February, 2010

Stepping Back

February 27, 2010

I am travelling for a week and at my daughter’s birthday so I will be silent for about 1.5 weeks. Hope to see you after that.

Matt

Climate meeting in April aims at reviving UN process

February 24, 2010

 A mini-Coppenhagen out of the limelight.

Matt

Related photos / videos

  The April 9-11 meeting will take place in Bonn gathering senior officials of signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said Friis, whose country currently chairs the negotiating process. The date was set at a meeting of the UNFCCC bureau, tasked with drawing up a calendar of meetings for 2010 in the aftermath of the controversial climate summit in Copenhagen in December, the Danish news agency Ritzau said. Negotiators will be asked to sketch out a work programme for the end of the year, it said. The December meeting yielded a last-minute compromise deal brokered by around two dozen countries but it failed to get official backing from the entire forum. The so-called Copenhagen Accord sets a goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and pledges nearly 30 billion dollars in aid to poor countries in total by 2012. But it does not spell out the means for achieving the 2C (3.6 F) objective, and the emissions pledges made under it are only voluntary. Green groups and scientists say the document falls far short of what is necessary for tackling the problem posed by greenhouse gases. The document did not gain approval at a UNFCCC plenary session and so far has not been officially endorsed by major developing emitters which helped craft it. As a result, there is confusion as to how the accord fits into the highly complex two-track, 194-nation process. Some negotiators privately say the deal has little future other than as a benchmark of political will. The April meeting adds to the two other scheduled dates in the UNFCCC calendar this year. One meeting will take at the level of senior officials in Bonn from May 31-June 11. The next, likewise starting at the official level but ending at ministerial level, will take place in Mexico from November 29-December 10.

 

Tropical storms to be more intense but less frequent: climate study by David Cameron

February 22, 2010

I first heard this on National news. Here is what I heard. Please read.

Matt 

The study is an overview of work into one of the scariest yet also one of the least understood aspects of climate change. Known in the Atlantic as hurricanes and in eastern Asia as typhoons, tropical storms are driven by the raw fuel of warm seas, which raises the question about what may happen when temperatures rise as a result of greenhouse gases. Tom Knutson and colleagues from the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) looked at peer-reviewed investigations that have appeared over the past four years, when the issue began to hit the headlines. Their benchmark for warming is the “A1B” scenario, a middle-of-the-road computer simulation which predicts a global average surface temperature rise of 2.8 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over the 21st century. “It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged,” says the paper. But storms could have more powerful winds — an increase of between two and 11 percent — and dump more water, it warns. Rainfall could increase by 20 percent within 100 kilometres (62 miles) of the eye of the storm. In addition, some storm basins will “more likely than not” see a big increase in the frequency of high-impact storms. The overview calls for an effort to fill in some big gaps in knowledge, including the variability of cyclones in the past and how global warming will affect storm behaviour in specific regimes. It is published online by Nature Geoscience, a journal of Britain’s Nature Publishing Group. The findings broadly concur with those of the UN’s panel of climate scientists, which in a 2007 report said it was “likely” that tropical cyclones would become more intense this century, with heavier rainfall and stronger wind speeds. However, the panel said it was less confident in concluding whether the number of cyclones would decrease. 

Obama Rebukes Climate Change Skeptics

February 21, 2010

This is not a political blog, but Obama has good instincts on global climate change. Recent skirmishes on global warming where naysayers said, “see all the snow in D.C. it is proof that global warming is a hoax…” that has been shot down and at least for now my thinking is the general public sees through that kind of diatribe, which is good. I think persons see global climate change as somewhat long term (how long can we take is the crux of this debate), complex; like climate, change is not easy to pin down. So if the east is covered in snow that does not mean that our climate is not getting warmer. In this debate,  like most other debates I see that pocket book issues’ like the cost of a gallon of gas will determine our political will to change or stop using dirty and insecure forms of energy; that is true if you are Chinese, Indian or from the US.

US President Barack Obama on Friday rebuked climate change skeptics who argue that piles of snow dumped on the United States during a frigid winter cast doubt on global warming science.

Icicles hang on a resturaunt 
  “We just got five feet of snow in Washington,” said Obama, when asked about alternative energy projects during a town hall meeting in Nevada. “Opponents of climate change, they say — ‘see look at that, there is all this snow on the ground — this doesn’t mean anything.'” “I want to just be clear that the science of climate change doesn’t mean every place is getting warmer — it means the planet as a whole is getting warmer.” Obama cited the lack of snow in Vancouver during the current winter Olympics and unusual snowstorms in places like Dallas in the southern United States as examples of violent weather patterns brought on by climate change. The president has committed the United States wholeheartedly to the fight against climate change — unlike the previous Bush administration — and played a major role in the ill-fated UN climate conference in Denmark last year. But there is growing doubt over the fate of legislation being pushed by Democrats in Congress aimed at establishing a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon emissions. Republicans have branded such legislation “job killing” and even some Democratic lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of passing such a bill that could impose more costs on industry during a deep economic crisis.

 

Asian Carp; An Ecolgical Disastor Waiting To Happen

February 20, 2010

I have lately harped on the Asian Carp; a complex of potentially destructive fish put in the Illinois River by well intentioned catfish farmers who could not stop the advance of this carp (several species) once they became loose in the Illinois river system after a well documented series of spring floods in  that area. Here is how the EPA sees this disastor waiting to happen. I think invasive anything (European Starlings, Asian mongoose, Purple Swamphen, Burmese Pythons and Norway Rats come to mind) can have disasterous impacts on entire ecosystems. Asian Carp in the Great Lakes are a disastor in waiting.

 Matt

Asian Carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.

How did Asian carp get so close to the Great Lakes?

Two species of Asian carp — the bighead and silver — were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970’s to remove algae and suspended matter out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin.

The carp have steadily made their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming the most abundant species in some areas of the River.

Chicago Area waterways map showing location of carp barrier
Chicago Area waterways map showing location of carp barrier (Illustration courtesy of Phil Moy, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute)

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, where the barrier is being constructed, connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the Illinois River.

What effects might Asian carp have on the Great Lakes?

Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.

Researchers expect that Asian carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Due to their large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Old Truths About The Northeast’s Winter

February 20, 2010

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, February 19, 2010; A19

I am a fan of all things Thomas Friedman on global climate change. For a lot of reasons I like Eugine Robinson, here is one of them.

Matt

We’re the nation that put a man on the moon, so we can’t be stupid. We’re just pretending, right? We’re not really taking seriously the “argument” that the big snowstorms that have hit the Northeast in recent weeks constitute evidence — or even proof — that climate change is some kind of hoax.

That would be unbelievably dumb. Yet there are elected officials in Washington who apparently believe such nonsense. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had his family build an igloo near the Capitol and label it “Al Gore’s New Home.” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) boasted on Twitter that the snows would continue “until Al Gore cries uncle.” Talking heads are seriously debating whether the record snowstorms doom the prospects for comprehensive legislation to deal with energy policy and climate change, which is one of President Obama’s top priorities.

It is true that Washington is slogging through its snowiest winter on record. Before I could bring in the newspaper on Thursday morning, I had to dress for a mountain-climbing expedition because my front yard resembles a small glacier. My commute to the office normally takes 20 minutes; it took more than an hour, as I fought my way through streets whose outside lanes have been encroached by huge snowbanks.

But that was nothing compared with Tuesday morning, when I awoke to find that a snowplow had blocked my car into the driveway with a two-foot berm of ice. I had an early appointment, so I had to shovel my way out — before coffee. I’m afraid that the first thing my neighbors heard that morning was some unneighborly language.

Still, even this unpleasant experience didn’t make me crazy enough to entertain the notion that a snowstorm or two — in a city where it snows every year — could somehow disprove all the scientific evidence for climate change.

Nor did it even cross my mind that our Snowmageddon, inconvenient though it might be, could meaningfully alter the political debate over climate legislation. That would be idiotic. As comedian Stephen Colbert pointed out, it would be like looking outside at night, seeing the darkness and concluding that “the sun has been destroyed.”

As even Sens. Inhofe and DeMint surely are aware, the Earth is really, really big. (And it’s not flat. It’s shaped like a ball. Honest.) It’s so big that it can be cold here and warm elsewhere — and this is the key concept — at the same time. Even if it were unusually cold throughout the continental United States, that still represents less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Those who want to use our harsh winter to “disprove” the theory that the planet’s atmosphere is warming should realize that anecdotal evidence always cuts both ways. Before the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, crews were using earth-movers and aircraft to deposit snow on the ski runs — the winter had been unusually warm. Preliminary data from climate scientists indicate that January, in terms of global temperatures, was actually hotter than usual. Revelers participating in Rio de Janeiro’s annual carnival, which ended Tuesday, sweltered in atypical heat, with temperatures above 100 degrees. Fortunately, the custom during carnival is not to wear much in the way of clothing.

It has been a bad few months, to say the least, for those brave enough to still call themselves “climate scientists.” First, some e-mails were unearthed that showed some leading researchers to be petty, vindictive and perhaps willing to ignore data that didn’t fit their theories. Then it was learned that an official U.N. document on climate change overstated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are believed to be melting. As other examples of sloppiness or imprecision emerged, the winter turned harsh. Critics piled on, sensing that the moment had arrived to kill any serious global effort to address humanity’s impact on the temperature of the biosphere.

But here’s what those bad few months can’t change: After decades of study, scientists around the world have reached the conclusion that the Earth is warming and that humankind is responsible. The past decade was the warmest on record. Among the anticipated effects of climate change are increased precipitation — not just rain, but also snow — and bigger storms. What we’ve seen this winter tends to prove, not disprove, the scientific consensus that warming is real.

But there is one unanswered question that I want climate scientists to address: Please tell me when the Robinson Glacier outside my house is going to melt.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

WeLove Birds; A Great Website

February 20, 2010

Got bird photos or videos? Upload ‘em. Curious about an endangered feathered friend? Check out WeLoveBirds.org’s resource library. Scored an awesome sighting? Add it to the roster. Puzzled by a bird-related conundrum or want to share a funny avian anecdote? Ask a question or recount a story on the blog. A recent post lists ways that “you definitely know you’ve been birdwatching too much”–for instance, “you have a birdwatching app on your iPod” and “you have long-winded debates…[about] what could have possibly led a famous ornithologist to call something as majestic as an eagle ‘bald.

Invasive Fish that the Average Fisherman Would Not think Of As Invasive

February 18, 2010

Not to “beat a horse that is already down” but I have invasive species on the brain” and I can lay this thinking at the fins of Asian Carp. My thinking go’s somewhat like this. I live near the Yellowstone River and the Smallmouth Bass, a predacious predator, is slowly replacing the trout of the Yellowstone as it moves up the river. This is an irritant for the purist trout fisherman, but few modern fisherman realise that Rainbow and Brown Trout were at one time invasives that wiped out much of the native fisheries of the Yellowstone.

My area is a headwater  that features trout like the rainbow, an exotic here also, that outcompeted top tier tier fish in these waters that included the native grayling  and the native Cutthroat Trout. As this water cools down because of global climate change, happening now, the Rainbows and Brown Trout of this area will be displaced by the more aggressive Walleye Perch that is less than fifty miles from tthese headwaters and is expanding its distibution as I type this. This is the same dynamic that allows the Smallmouth Bass to compete in the lower Yellowstone.

A friend of mine, an aquatic Ecologist, said freshwater fisheries throughout the US are screwed up as they are and with a warming climate they will only become even more screwed up as entire aquatic ecosystems begin to warm up. I can go on a lot but I think you get the point…a warming climate will screw up entire aquatic ecosystems that are already discombobulated.

Matt

More On the Asian Carp

February 18, 2010

I keep harping on the Asian Carp. Our country has a sad history of intentional and unintentional introductions of invasive species that have wreaked havoc in entire ecosystems and have cost us billions of dollars to manage, control or barely mitigate.

Some obvious mistakes are the House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon and Norway Rat. Less obvious mistakes are the Chinese Pheasant and Brook Trout. 

 This carp was brought over for what seemed like good reasons but now has potential to alter, for the worse, the entire Great Lakes Ecosystem. So solutions, even dramatic ones like temporarilly changing the flows of the  Chicago River are worth a try or the potential for heartache is huge and US history, a trashheap of good ideas that backfired, may backfire here at the expense of an entire Ecosystem

Matt

Enter the Asian carp A native of China, four species of asian carp (whose weight can exceed 100 pounds) were originally imported to America by southern catfish farmers in the 1970s to eat pond algae. After floods decade ago caused some ponds in Arkansas to overflow, the fish escaped and have slowly curled their way up the Mississippi, leaping over and slipping through man-made barriers.  Over time, they even made their way into the last tributaries connecting the Gulf of Mexico with Lake Michigan. If the carp infest the lake, they will undoubtedly wreak havoc on the region’s ecosystem. By eating massive amounts of plankton and algae, the fish would essentially knock out the lowest species in the water’s food-chain, crowding out smaller fish. They also reproduce at blistering speeds; one female can produce upwards of 1 million eggs in her lifetime. “They are programmed to eat and breed,” said Jennifer Nalbone, the Navigation and Invasive Species specialist at Great Lakes United, on a conference call with reporters last week. When startled, the fish can also leap up to eight feet in the air with enough force to smash into fishing and recreational boats. While it might take years for the carp to establish a firm presence, the threats to the region’s $7 billion fishing industry, as well as the $16 billion recreational boating industry, are immense. How close are they to Lake Michigan?In late November, the Army Corps of Engineers validated scientific research that found the species had breached an electric barrier on the Sanitary and Ship Canal, less than 100 miles from the lake. In response, Illinois officials quickly dumped a toxic chemical into a nearly 6-mile stretch near Lockport where the fish were located, killing an estimated 100 tons of additional fish in the process. But it wasn’t enough. In late January, researchers at the University of Notre Dame identified Asian carp DNA in Lake Michigan’s Calumet Harbor near the Illinois-Indiana border. Last Tuesday, Illinois officials promised to take another shot at targeted removal. Starting this week, they will use nets and electrofishing techniques to trap the fish. While none have yet been detected in the lake itself, the urgency is clearly growing. The dueling solutions

Friedman Is My Hero, This Is Why

February 17, 2010

This guy tells it like it is.

Matt

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes. Just drill, baby, drill.

When you see lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tweeting that “it is going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’ ” or news that the grandchildren of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma are building an igloo next to the Capitol with a big sign that says “Al Gore’s New Home,” you really wonder if we can have a serious discussion about the climate-energy issue anymore.

The climate-science community is not blameless. It knew it was up against formidable forces — from the oil and coal companies that finance the studies skeptical of climate change to conservatives who hate anything that will lead to more government regulations to the Chamber of Commerce that will resist any energy taxes. Therefore, climate experts can’t leave themselves vulnerable by citing non-peer-reviewed research or failing to respond to legitimate questions, some of which happened with both the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Although there remains a mountain of research from multiple institutions about the reality of climate change, the public has grown uneasy. What’s real? In my view, the climate-science community should convene its top experts — from places like NASA, America’s national laboratories, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, the California Institute of Technology and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre — and produce a simple 50-page report. They could call it “What We Know,” summarizing everything we already know about climate change in language that a sixth grader could understand, with unimpeachable peer-reviewed footnotes.

At the same time, they should add a summary of all the errors and wild exaggerations made by the climate skeptics — and where they get their funding. It is time the climate scientists stopped just playing defense. The physicist Joseph Romm, a leading climate writer, is posting on his Web site, climateprogress.org, his own listing of the best scientific papers on every aspect of climate change for anyone who wants a quick summary now.

Here are the points I like to stress:

1) Avoid the term “global warming.” I prefer the term “global weirding,” because that is what actually happens as global temperatures rise and the climate changes. The weather gets weird. The hots are expected to get hotter, the wets wetter, the dries drier and the most violent storms more numerous.

The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever.

2) Historically, we know that the climate has warmed and cooled slowly, going from Ice Ages to warming periods, driven, in part, by changes in the earth’s orbit and hence the amount of sunlight different parts of the earth get. What the current debate is about is whether humans — by emitting so much carbon and thickening the greenhouse-gas blanket around the earth so that it traps more heat — are now rapidly exacerbating nature’s natural warming cycles to a degree that could lead to dangerous disruptions.

3) Those who favor taking action are saying: “Because the warming that humans are doing is irreversible and potentially catastrophic, let’s buy some insurance — by investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and mass transit — because this insurance will also actually make us richer and more secure.” We will import less oil, invent and export more clean-tech products, send fewer dollars overseas to buy oil and, most importantly, diminish the dollars that are sustaining the worst petro-dictators in the world who indirectly fund terrorists and the schools that nurture them.

4) Even if climate change proves less catastrophic than some fear, in a world that is forecast to grow from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion people between now and 2050, more and more of whom will live like Americans, demand for renewable energy and clean water is going to soar. It is obviously going to be the next great global industry.

China, of course, understands that, which is why it is investing heavily in clean-tech, efficiency and high-speed rail. It sees the future trends and is betting on them. Indeed, I suspect China is quietly laughing at us right now. And Iran, Russia, Venezuela and the whole OPEC gang are high-fiving each other. Nothing better serves their interests than to see Americans becoming confused about climate change, and, therefore, less inclined to move toward clean-tech and, therefore, more certain to remain addicted to oil. Yes, sir, it is morning in Saudi Arabia.

Maureen Dowd is off today.