Blog Archive

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alexey Karpechko: Human activity to blame for polar warming

Data pins polar warming blame on humans

by Matthew Knight, for CNN, October 30, 2008

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Scientists think they have uncovered conclusive proof that human activity is responsible for rising temperatures in both polar regions.

Changes in polar temperatures are not consistent with natural climate changes say scientists.

Changes in polar temperatures are not consistent with natural climate changes say scientists.

Research carried out at the Climatic Research Unit at the UK's University of East Anglia (UEA) demonstrates for the first time that anthropogenic climate change is responsible for warming at the Arctic and Antarctic.

Previous studies have observed rises in temperature at both poles, but none, until now, have formally attributed the cause to human activity.

Using up-to-date gridded data sets, scientists led by the UEA observed mean land surface temperatures in the Arctic over a 100 year period. For the Antarctic the observation period was shorter -- 50 years -- as there is no station data available before 1945.

They then applied an average simulated response using two models. The first examined natural forcings -- events like solar cycles and volcanic activity which can affect temperatures.

The second model simulated natural combined with anthropogenic forcings -- which included greenhouse gases, stratospheric ozone depletion and sulphate aerosol.

Scientists discovered that the observed changes in Arctic and Antarctic temperatures are not consistent with internal climate variability or natural climate drivers alone.

One of the report authors, Dr Alexey Karpechko told CNN: "In both cases the accelerations are not consistent with natural forcing, which means that natural forcing alone cannot produce such a warming. So in a sense, we can say conclusively that this [warming trend at the poles] is due to human influence."

The paper "Attribution of polar warming to human influence" is published in the science journal Nature Geoscience.

The Antarctic data is of particular interest given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 notes that anthropogenic climate change had been detected in every continent except Antarctica.

This new data appears to demonstrate that man-made warming is indeed happening on the continent as well.

The report may go some way towards silencing climate skeptics who point to evidence that most of Antarctica has been cooling for some time.

"There is strong warming in the Antarctic peninsula," Karpechko said. "But for several decades there has been a slight cooling of the rest of the continent. This slight cooling is due to circulation changes which are partly caused by ozone depletion.

"This is why there has been a bit of confusion as to what is happening in Antarctica. But we expect a recovery of the ozone layer in the future. We may also expect that the Antarctic warming trends will emerge more clearly."

Commenting on the study conducted by the UEA, Professor David Vaughan, a Glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey told CNN: "This is exactly the sort of study we need. The poles are extremely important in the climate change debate and the rapid warming in the Arctic is one of the icons."

Professor Vaughan, who is studying the patches of warming happening in Antarctica, concedes that the cooling that's occurred in the past 30 to 50 years is "a little perplexing". But he agrees with Dr Karpechko over the effects of the ozone hole.

"The likelihood is that over the next century the ozone hole will be substantially reduced," Professor Vaughan said, "And it may mean that the Antarctic warming becomes much more apparent in that period."

Climate modeling might not convince everyone that warming is taking place, but as Professor Vaughan points out: "Simulations are built around physical principles and an understanding of the physical world".

Climate modeling is a relatively new area of expertise but Professor Vaughan said that the UEA is widely recognized as one of the world leaders in this field.

As previous IPCC reports have pointed out, the effects of warming at the poles are already being felt by indigenous polar species and communities. This new report is confirmation of the culpability of humans in contributing to these rising temperatures.

"I'm afraid that there will always be people that don't believe that we are making all these changes," Dr Karpechko said.

"Some people are waiting for the science to say that a particular heat wave is caused by humans. But attributing specific effects to human activities is much more difficult than attributing global changes. I don't know if we should wait for that because it will be too late.

"I see from the data that there is warming. This is really frightening."

Link to article:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: China's strategies to combat climate change

Blogger's note: I have a tendency to read such articles with a highly jaundiced eye.

China's strategies to combat climate change

Editor's note: The following article is drawn from findings published in the Climate Group's July report, "China's Clean Revolution." PDF

China is pursuing a green energy program for all the right reasons: It will offer the country a new source of domestically produced energy, provide an alternative to imported fuels, and help support Beijing's ongoing economic development. What's more, a renewable energy platform also lays the groundwork for developing new business sectors that could contribute to the economy through job creation and export potential. In short, China recognizes that energy efficiency addresses global warming, but also that the actions needed to tackle climate change also could contribute to economic development. In addition, by moving quickly to implement policies that address global warming, China is positioning itself to work more effectively with the international community to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

That isn't to say any of this will be easy. China faces real challenges in balancing continued economic development against the need to safeguard the environment domestically and to play a responsible role in the international community as well.

Since Beijing launched its economic reforms in the early 1980s and opened the country to ever-increasing levels of foreign investment, China's economy has grown at a breakneck pace of 10-15 percent each year--with the exception of 1989 and 1990 when gross domestic product (GDP) growth cooled. Even as the global economy has vacillated since 2001, the Chinese economy has continued to grow at rates of 8-11 percent per year. An explosion in manufacturing has largely driven this rapid expansion. In the process, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and turned itself into an economic and industrial powerhouse.

Of course, the rapid growth and major shift to manufacturing has meant a corresponding rise in energy use. As a result, China has become the planet's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China is also now the world's largest producer and consumer of coal at about 2.5 billion tons--or 40 percent of the global total. In fact, coal is the source of 80 percent of Chinese electricity, and is one of the few fuel resources China has in great abundance.

Yet, overall, energy intensity in China has improved steadily at a rate of around 3.9 percent per year from 1980 to 2005, resulting in impressive cumulative gains. For example, in 1980, China consumed 17 tons of coal for every $1,400 of GDP it produced, but that figure fell to 1.2 tons per $1,400 of GDP in 2006.

And despite the rapid rise in total energy use, per-capita energy consumption is still well below that of the West, as the average Chinese citizen consumes less than one-half the energy of the average person in the European Union (EU) and only one-fourth that of the average American. Again, the challenge becomes how China will deliver an improved standard of living for its populace while also protecting the environment and addressing global warming. It's an especially vexing proposition when Beijing's reliance on coal is considered.

More here:

World Wildlife Fund's 2008 Living Planet Report Warns: Humans using 1/3 more than the planet can sustain

Living Planet analysis shows looming ecological credit crunch

Living Planet Report 2008
Living Planet Report 2008
29 Oct 2008
Gland, Switzerland: The world is heading for an ecological credit crunch as human demands on the world's natural capital reach nearly a third more than earth can sustain.

That is the stark warning contained in the latest edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report, the leading statement of the planet’s health. In addition global natural wealth and diversity continues to decline, and more and more countries are slipping into a state of permanent or seasonal water stress.

“The world is currently struggling with the consequences of over-valuing its financial assets,” said WWF International Director-General James Leape, “but a more fundamental crisis looms ahead – an ecological credit crunch caused by under-valuing the environmental assets that are the basis of all life and prosperity.”

The report, produced with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network (GFN), shows more than three quarters of the world’s people now living in nations that are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped their country’s biological capacity.

“Most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing – and increasingly overdrawing – on the ecological capital of other parts of the world,” Mr Leape said.

“If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.”

The report, published every two years, has since 1998 become widely accepted as an statement of earth's ability to remain a “living planet.” In 2008, it adds for the first time new measures of global, national and individual water footprint to existing measures of the Ecological Footprint of human demand on natural resources and the Living Planet Index, a measure of the state of nature.

The Living Planet Index, compiled by ZSL, shows a nearly 30% decline since 1970 in nearly 5000 measured populations of 1,686 species. These dramatic losses in our natural wealth are being driven by deforestation and land conversion in the tropics (50% decline in Tropical LPI) and the impact of dams, diversions and climate change on freshwater species (35% decline). Pollution, over-fishing and destructive fishing in marine and coastal environments is also taking a considerable toll.

“We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically – seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences,” said ZSL co-editor Jonathan Loh. “The consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown.”

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and land disturbance are the greatest component of humanity’s footprint, underlining the key threat of climate change. The ecological footprint analysis, produced by GFN, shows that while global biocapacity – the area available to produce our resources and capture our emissions – is 2.1 average or “global” hectares per person, the per person footprint is 2.7 global ha.

“Continued ecological deficit spending will have severe economic consequences,” said GFN Executive Director Dr Mathis Wackernagel. “Resource limitations and ecosystem collapses would trigger massive stagflation with the value of investments plummeting, while food and energy costs skyrocket.”

The USA and China have the largest national footprints, each in total about 21% of global biocapacity, but US citizens each require an average of 9.4 global ha (or nearly 4.5 Planet Earths if the global population had US consumption patterns) while Chinese citizens use on average 2.1 global ha per person (one Planet Earth).

Biocapacity is unevenly distributed, with eight nations – the United States, Brazil, Russia, China, India, Canada, Argentina and Australia – containing more than half the world total. Population and consumption patterns make three of these countries ecological debtors, with footprints greater than their national biocapacity – the United States (footprint 1.8 times national biocapacity), China (2.3 times) and India ( 2.2 times).

This can be contrasted with the Congo with the seventh highest per person biocapacity of 13.9 global ha per person and an average footprint of just 0.5 global ha per person – but facing a future of degrading biocapacity from deforestation and increased demands from a rising population and export pressures.

The new water footprint measures show up the significance of water traded in the form of commodities with, for example, a cotton T-shirt requiring 2,900 litres of water in its production. On average, each person consumes 1.24 million litres (about half an Olympic swimming pool) of water a year, but this varies from 2.48 million litres per person a year (USA) to 619,000 litres per capita annually (Yemen).

“Around 50 countries are currently facing moderate or severe water stress and the number of people suffering from year-round or seasonal water shortages is expected to increase as a result of climate change,” the report finds.

“These Living Planet measures serve as clear and robust signposts to what needs to be done,” said Mr Leape. “It is our hope that in years to come we will be reporting increases in the Living Planet Index, an ecological footprint coming down in shoe sizes and water becoming more rather than less available in more places.”

The report suggests some key “sustainability wedges” which if combined could stabilise and reverse the worsening slide into ecological debt and enduring damage to global support systems. For the single most important challenge – climate change – the report shows that a range of efficiency, renewable and low emissions “wedges” could meet projected energy demands to 2050 with reductions in carbon emissions of 60–80%.

“If humanity has the will, it has the ways to live within the means of the planet, but we must recognize that the ecological credit crunch will require even bolder action than that now being mustered for the financial crisis” Mr Leape said.

Link to article:

New Scientist special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

  • 16 October 2008
  • From New Scientist Print Edition.

(Graph: Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York)
(Graph: Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York)

THE graphs climbing across these pages (see graph, above, or explore in more detail) are a stark reminder of the crisis facing our planet. Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.

But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.

This, of course, is economic heresy. Growth to most economists is as essential as the air we breathe: it is, they claim, the only force capable of lifting the poor out of poverty, feeding the world's growing population, meeting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating technological development -- not to mention funding increasingly expensive lifestyles. They see no limits to that growth, ever.

Economists see no limits to growth -- ever

In recent weeks it has become clear just how terrified governments are of anything that threatens growth, as they pour billions of public money into a failing financial system. Amid the confusion, any challenge to the growth dogma needs to be looked at very carefully. This one is built on a long-standing question: how do we square Earth's finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too? It has taken all of human history for the economy to reach its current size. On current form it will take just two decades to double.

In this special issue, New Scientist brings together key thinkers from politics, economics and philosophy who profoundly disagree with the growth dogma but agree with the scientists monitoring our fragile biosphere. The father of ecological economics, Herman Daly, explains why our economy is blind to the environmental costs of growth ("The World Bank's blind spot"), while Tim Jackson, adviser to the UK government on sustainable development, crunches numbers to show that technological fixes won't compensate for the hair-raising speed at which the economy is expanding ("Why politicians dare not limit economic growth").

Gus Speth, one-time environment adviser to President Jimmy Carter, explains why after four decades working at the highest levels of US policy-making he believes green values have no chance against today's capitalism ("Champion for green growth"), followed by Susan George, a leading thinker of the political left, who argues that only a global government-led effort can shift the destructive course we are on ("We must think big to fight environmental disaster").

For Andrew Simms, policy director of the London-based New Economics Foundation, it is crucial to demolish one of the main justifications for unbridled growth: that it can pull the poor out of poverty ("The poverty myth"). And the broadcaster and activist David Suzuki explains how he inspires business leaders and politicians to change their thinking ("Interview with an environmental activist").

Just what a truly sustainable economy would look like is explored in "Life in a land without growth", when New Scientist uses Daly's blueprint to imagine life in a society that doesn't use up resources faster than the world can replace them. Expect tough decisions on wealth, tax, jobs and birth rates. But as Daly says, shifting from growth to development doesn't have to mean freezing in the dark under communist tyranny. Technological innovation would give us more and more from the resources we have, and as philosopher Kate Soper argues in "Nothing to fear from curbing growth", curbing our addiction to work and profits would in many ways improve our lives.

It is a vision John Stuart Mill, one of the founders of classical economics, would have approved of. In his Principles of Political Economy, published in 1848, he predicted that once the work of economic growth was done, a "stationary" economy would emerge in which we could focus on human improvement: "There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress... for improving the art of living and much more likelihood of it being improved, when minds cease to be engrossed by the art of getting on."

Today's economists dismiss such ideas as naive and utopian, but with financial markets crashing, food prices spiralling, the world warming and peak oil approaching (or passed), they are becoming harder than ever to ignore.

Read more:

Why politicians dare not limit economic growth (FREE FEATURE)

Harvesting renewable energy will help us to avert climate change without big changes to our lifestyles, right? Not without cutting consumption, says Tim Jackson

Interview: The environmental activist

Why do we fail to live within the constraints that nature has set for us, and fool ourselves things have never been better, asks environmental activist David Suzuki

Economics blind spot is a disaster for the planet

If we can't find a way to switch to a sustainable economy, we're heading for the ultimate crash Herman Daly

Interview: Champion for green growth (FREE FEATURE)

Gus Speth has influenced US environmental policy from the Supreme Court to the White House. He tells Liz Else why green values stand no chance against market capitalism

The trickle-down myth: Does growth really help the poor?

The argument that economic growth helps fight poverty is disingenuous and misguided, says economist Andrew Simms

We must think big to fight environmental disaster

As the ecological and financial crises mount, Susan George says our only option is to scale up positive actions to transform our economies

What would life be like in a land without growth?

What would a sustainable society actually be like? How would we make a living? And what would happen to all those bankers? New Scientist imagines the progress of a "steady state" economy 10 years after its inception

Nothing to fear from curbing growth

Breaking our dependence on profits and growth would make our lives better, not worse, says philosopher Kate Soper


Editorial: Time to banish the god of growth

Tips from scientists on how to save the planet

Twelve recommended books on overconsumption

The facts about overconsumption

Recommended organisations and websites: read more and take action

From issue 2678 of New Scientist magazine, 16 October 2008, pages 40-41

Link to article:

Katharine Giles et al.: Arctic Sea ice thickness 'plummets'

Arctic ice thickness 'plummets'

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News, October 28, 2008

Arctic sea ice
The data prove that overall volume of sea ice is decreasing, say researchers

The thickness of Arctic sea ice "plummeted" last winter, thinning by as much as 49 centimetres (1.6 ft.) in some regions, satellite data has revealed.

A study by UK researchers showed that the ice thickness had been fairly constant for the previous five winters.

The team from University College London added that the results provided the first definitive proof that the overall volume of Arctic ice was decreasing.

The findings have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"The ice thickness was fairly constant for the five winters before this, but it plummeted in the winter after the 2007 minimum," lead author Katharine Giles told BBC News.

I think this is the first time that we can definitively say that the bulk overall volume of ice has decreased
Dr Seymour Laxon
University College London

Sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record in September 2007, when it extended across an area of just 4.13 million sq. km (1.59 million sq. miles), beating the previous record low of 5.32 million sq. km, measured in 2005.

The team from the university's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling -- part of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation -- found that last winter the ice had thinned by an average of 26 cm (0.9 ft.) below the 2002-2008 winter average.

Dr Giles added that the data also showed the western Arctic experienced the greatest impact, where the ice thinned by up to 49 cm (1.6 ft.).

Melting point

The recent record losses of ice cover in the Arctic has led to suggestions that the region could have reached a "tipping point" but some uncertainty over the causes had remained, explained co-author Seymour Laxon.

"The extent can change because the ice can be redistributed, increasing the amount of open water," he told BBC News. "But this does not reduce the overall amount of ice."

Envisat (Image: Esa)

"To determine whether the reduction in sea ice extent is the result of ice being piled up against the coast or whether it is the result of melting, you need to measure the thickness."

"I think this is the first time that we can definitively say that the bulk overall volume of ice has decreased," observed Dr Laxon.

"So this means melting; it doesn't mean that the ice has just been pushed up against the coastline."

Dr Giles explained that the measurements gathered by satellite provided a continuous data-set and had a number of advantages over other methods.

"Drilling, submarines or aircraft; all of these techniques can be limited by time and space," she said.

"You can only sample relatively small areas, and you cannot have a continuous time series -- it's a very harsh environment, so field experiments in winter are logistically difficult."

"We have been using satellite data, which means we get coverage all across the Arctic Ocean (apart from the very centre) and we get it continuously, so we have great coverage both in terms of time and area."

The measurements were recorded via a radar altimeter onboard the European Space Agency's (ESA) ENVISAT satellite.

The altimeter fires pulses of electromagnetic waves down on to the ice, which reflects them back up to a receiver on the satellite.

The time taken for the waves to complete this journey is recorded, and it is a fairly straightforward calculation to work out the height of the ice above sea level.

As one-tenth of the ice sits above the water, it is then possible to work out the overall volume and thickness of ice in that location.

Dr Laxon said the project's findings are being used to help climate modellers refine their projections of what is going to happen in the future.

"The time when Arctic sea ice is going to disappear is open to a lot of debate," he said.

"About five years ago, the average projection for the sea ice disappearing was about 2080.

"But the ice minimums, and this evidence of melting, suggests that we should favour the models that suggest the sea ice will disappear by 2030-2040, but there is still a lot of uncertainty."

The researchers hope to keep the data series, funded by the EU and the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), running for as long as satellite-based measurements are available.

Link to article:

Dead water effect caused by layers of water with different levels of salinity

Blogger's note: this article is about an interesting phenomenon that must be taken into consideration when discussing the Arctic Sea ice melt.

Mysterious 'dead water' effect caught on film

  • David Robson, news service, October 21, 2008
A toy boat demonstrates how waves beneath the sea's surface can invisibly slow a ship's progress: Watch the full-size video

In 1893, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and his ship Fram were victims of a strange phenomenon as he sailed past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago, north of Siberia.

Nansen wrote afterwards: "Fram appeared to be held back, as if by some mysterious force, and she did not always answer the helm … We made loops in our course, turned sometimes right around, tried all sorts of antics to get clear of it, but to very little purpose."

Nansen called the effect "dead water", reporting that it slowed Fram to a quarter of her normal speed.

Research has already shown that dead water occurs when an area of water consists of two or more layers of water with different salinity, and hence density – for example, when fresh water from a melting glacier forms a relatively thin layer on top of denser seawater. Waves that form in the hidden layer can slow the boat with no visible trace.

Now French scientists recreating that scenario in a lab tank have revealed new detail of the phenomenon and even captured the effect on video. The work will help scientists to better understand dead water and the behaviour of stratified sea patches.

Silent stalker

Physicist Thierry Dauxois and colleagues from the University of Lyon found that a hidden wave at the interface of the layers invisibly chases and slows a boat (see video, top right).

The toy boat is pulled across the 300-centimetre tank with a constant force by a cable. The water is separated into two layers of different saltiness and hence density, labelled with dye.

Just as described by people who have experienced dead water in the real world, the water's surface is smooth, but the boat suddenly slows as the concealed wave makes contact.

"It creates a depression below the boat that prevents it from moving," team member Matthieu Mercier told New Scientist.

Swimming hazard?

It is the boat itself that initiates the wave – water from the layers below is dragged upwards to fill in the gulf its wake. That sets up an oscillation in the boundary between the layers, which gradually grows as the boat moves forward.

The wave gains size and speed until it, and the trough in front of it, eventually catch up with the boat and sapping its energy before the wave breaks against its side, Mercier says.

Although previous work on dead water considered two layers of water, the real ocean naturally separates into many different layers of slightly varying salinity. When the researchers added a third layer of water to their experiments, hidden waves appeared at both boundaries, slowing the boat by about the same amount.

Studying the way these "interfacial waves" build and develop across the different layers could help scientists to understand real ocean dynamics – for example, how pollutants mix and percolate down to the depths of the ocean, says Dauxois.

Leo Mass, a physical oceanographer at Utrecht University, was the first to study dead water in detail. He says the same effect may also explain how strong swimmers can experience unexpected difficulties in the ocean.

A paper on the Lyon group's research is available on the arXiv preprint server

Link to article:

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Public's Dangerous Misunderstanding of Climate Change

The Public's Dangerous Misunderstanding of Climate Change

As I report on climate change, I come across a lot of scary facts, like the possibility that thawing permafrost in Siberia could release gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or the risk that Greenland could pass a tipping point and begin to melt rapidly. But one of the most frightening studies I've read recently had nothing to do with icebergs or megadroughts. In a paper that came out Oct. 23 in Science, John Sterman -- a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Sloan School of Management -- wrote about asking 212 MIT grad students to give a rough idea how much governments need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to eventually stop the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. These students had training in science, technology, mathematics and economics at one of the best schools in the world -- they are probably a lot smarter than you or me. Yet 84% of Sterman's subjects got his problem wrong, greatly underestimating the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions need to fall. When the MIT kids can't figure out climate change, what are the odds that the broader public will?

The shocking study reflects the tremendous gap that exists on global warming. On the one hand are the scientists, who with few exceptions think that climate change is very serious and needs to be dealt with immediately and ambitiously. On the other side is the public, which increasingly believes that climate change is real and worries about it, but which rarely ranks it as a high priority. A 2007 survey by the UN Development Programme found that 54% of Americans advocate taking a "wait-and-see" approach to climate change action -- holding off on the deep and rapid cuts in global warming that would immediately impact their lives. (And it's not just SUV-driving Americans -- similar majorities were found in Russia, China and India.) As a result, we have our current dilemma -- a steady drumbeat of scientific evidence of global warming's severity, and comparatively little in the way of meaningful political action. "This gap exists," says Sterman. "The real question is why."

That's where Sterman's research comes in. "There is a profound and fundamental misconception about climate," he says. The problem is that most of us don't really understand how carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Increasing global temperatures are driven by the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Before the industrial age, the concentration was about 280 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere. After a few centuries of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, we've raised that concentration to 387 ppm, and it's rising by about 2 ppm every year. Many scientists believe that we need to at least stabilize carbon concentrations at 450 ppm, to ensure that global temperatures don't increase more than about 2 C above the pre-industrial level. To do that, we need to reduce global carbon emissions (which hit about 10 billion tons last year) until they are equal to or less than the amount of carbon sequestered by the oceans and plant life (which removed about 4.8 billion tons of carbon last year). It's just like water in a bathtub -- unless more water is draining out than flowing in from the tap, eventually the bathtub will overflow.

That means that carbon emissions would need to be cut drastically from current levels. Yet almost all of the subjects in Sterman's study failed to realize that, assuming instead that you could stabilize carbon concentration simply by capping carbon emissions at their current level. That's not the case -- and in fact, pursuing such a plan for the future would virtually guarantee that global warming could spin out of control. It may seem to many like good common sense to wait until we see proof of the serious damage global warming is doing before we take action. But it's not -- we can't "wait and see" on global warming because the climate has a momentum all its own, and if we wait for decades to finally act to reduce carbon emissions, it could well be too late. Yet this simply isn't understood. Someone as smart as Bill Gates doesn't seem to get it. "Fortunately climate change, although it's a huge challenge, it's a challenge that happens over a long period of time," he said at a forum in Beijing last year. "You know, we have time to work on it." But the truth is we don't.

If elite scientists could simply solve climate change on their own, public misunderstanding wouldn't be such a problem. But it can't. Reducing carbon emissions sharply will require all 6.5 billion (and growing) of us to hugely change the way we use energy and travel. We'll also need to change the way we vote, to reward politicians willing to make the tough choices on climate. Instead of a new Manhattan Project -- the metaphor often used on global warming -- Sterman believes that what is needed is closer to a new civil rights movement, a large-scale campaign that dramatically changes the public's beliefs and behaviors. New groups like Al Gore's We Campaign are aiming for just such a social transformation, but "the reality is that this is even more difficult than civil rights," says Sterman. "Even that took a long time, and we don't have that kind of time with the climate."

The good news is that you don't need a PhD in climatology to understand what needs to be done. If you can grasp the bathtub analogy, you can understand how to stop global warming. The burden is on scientists to better explain in clear English the dynamics of the climate system, and how to affect it. (Sterman says that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark report last year was "completely inadequate" on this score.) As for the rest of us, we should try to remember that sometimes common sense isn't a match for science.

Link to article:

Arctic is melting even in winter: The polar icecap is retreating and thinning at a record rate

The Sunday Times, October 26, 2008

Arctic is melting even in winter

The polar icecap is retreating and thinning at a record rate

A polar bear walks in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic icecap is now shrinking at record rates in the winter as well as summer, adding to evidence of disastrous melting near the North Pole, according to research by British scientists.

They have found that the widely reported summer shrinkage, which this year resulted in the opening of the Northwest Passage, is continuing in the winter months with the thickness of sea ice decreasing by a record 19% last winter.

Usually the Arctic icecap recedes in summer and then grows back in winter. These findings suggest the period in which the ice renews itself has become much shorter.

Dr Katharine Giles, who led the study and is based at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), said the thickness of Arctic sea ice had shown a slow downward trend during the previous five winters but then accelerated.

She said: “After the summer 2007 record melting, the thickness of the winter ice also nose-dived. What is concerning is that sea ice is not just receding but it is also thinning.”

The cause of the thinning is, however, potentially even more alarming. Giles found that the winter air temperatures in 2007 were cold enough that they could not have been the cause.

This suggests some other, longer-term change, such as a rise in water temperature or a change in ocean circulation that has brought warmer water under the ice.

If confirmed, this could mean that the Arctic is likely to melt much faster than had been thought. Some researchers say that the summer icecap could vanish within a decade.

The research, reported in Geophysical Research Letters, showed that last winter the average thickness of sea ice over the whole Arctic was 26 cm (10%) less than the average thickness of the previous five winters.

However, sea ice in the western Arctic lost about 49 cm of thickness. This region saw the Northwest Passage become ice-free and open to shipping for the first time in 30 years during the summer of 2007.

The UCL researchers used satellites to measure sea-ice thickness from 2002 to 2008. Winter sea ice in the Arctic is about 8 ft. thick on average.

The team is the first to measure ice thickness throughout the winter, from October to March, over more than half of the Arctic, using the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite.

Giles’s findings confirm the more detailed work of Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, who has undertaken six voyages under the icecap in Royal Navy nuclear submarines since 1976 and has gathered data from six more voyages.

The vessels use an upward-looking echo-sounder to measure the thickness of sea ice above the vessel. The data gathered can then be compared with previous years to find changes in thickness.

Wadhams published his first paper in 1990, showing that the Arctic ice had grown 15% thinner between 1976 and 1987.

In March 2007 he went under the Arctic again in HMS Tireless and found that the winter ice had been thinning even more quickly; it was now 50% of the 1976 thickness.

“This enormous ice retreat in the last two summers is the culmination of a thinning process that has been going on for decades, and now the ice is just collapsing,” Wadhams said.

The scale of the ice loss has also been shown by other satellite-based observations that are used to measure the area of the Arctic icecap as it grows and shrinks with the seasons.

In winter it normally reaches about 5.8 million square miles before receding to about 2.7 million square miles in summer.

In 2007, however, the sun shone for many more days than normal, raising water temperatures to 4.3 C above the average. By September the Arctic icecap had lost an extra 1.1 million square miles, equivalent to more than 12 times the area of Britain.

That reduced the area of summer ice to 1.6 million square miles, 43% smaller than it was in 1979, when satellite observations began.

At the heart of the melting in the Arctic is a simple piece of science. Ice is white, so most of the sunlight hitting it is reflected back into space. When it melts, however, it leaves open ocean, which, being darker, absorbs light and so gets warmer. This helps to melt more ice. It also makes it harder for ice to form again in winter. The process accelerates until there is no more ice to melt.

Wadhams said: “This is one of the most serious problems the world has ever faced.”

Link to article:

Australia's Stern review warns of runaway global warming : No chance of hitting targets says economist Ross Garnaut

[Blogger's note: it is my not-so-humble opinion that we need to get back down to 350 ppm -- this report is trying to say that 450 ppm is not possible.]

Australia's Stern review warns of runaway global warming

Carbon emissions are rising so fast that the world has no chance of hitting climate targets, says Australian economist

  • David Adam, The Guardian, October 27, 2008

Carbon pollution levels are rising so fast that the world has no realistic chance of hitting ambitious climate targets set by Britain and the G8, an influential report to the Australian government has warned.

The report, from economist Ross Garnaut, says existing carbon goals, such as those in Britain's climate change bill, are based on out-of-date emissions figures, and are so ambitious that they could wreck attempts to agree a new global deal on global warming.

Garnaut says that nations must accept a greater amount of warming is inevitable, or risk a failure to agree that "would haunt humanity until the end of time."

The report, billed as the Australian Stern review, uses recent estimates of booming carbon emissions that were not included in last year's report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or the 2006 report from Sir Nicholas Stern on the economics of the problem.

Since 2000, the Garnaut report says, global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use have grown by 3% each year, as economies of developing countries including China have boomed. This compares to annual growth rates of 2% through the 1970s and 1980s, and just 1% in the 1990s.

The report, published today, predicts that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise by more than 3% each year until 2030.

The worst case considered by the IPCC was that world carbon dioxide emissions would rise by 2.5% each year — a scenario often criticised as too pessimistic. Most government projections and discussions are based on the milder IPCC "median" scenario, which sets an annual growth rate of just 2%.

Garnaut says the recent spike in emissions means reflects a "platinum age" for the world economy, with growth exceeding the "golden age" of the 1950s and 1960s. And he says the trend raises "serious questions" about suggested climate targets.

Britain and Europe are pushing for the world to agree to limit carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm), which they say could avoid dangerous climate change. The level is currently more than 380 ppm, up from 280 ppm before the industrial revolution, and rising by more than 2ppm each year.

The framework for such an agreement was established at UN negotiations in Bali last year, and will be discussed in Poland this December. Analysts say a new treaty must be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen, late next year, for it to enter into force in 2012, when the existing Kyoto protocol expires.

The Garnaut report says developed nations including Britain, the United States and Australia would have to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 5% each year over the next decade to hit the 450 ppm target. Britain's climate change bill, the most ambitious of its kind in the world, calls for reductions of about 3% each year to 2050.

Garnaut, a professorial fellow in economics at Melbourne University, said: "Achieving the objective of 450 ppm would require tighter constraints on emissions than now seem likely in the period to 2020 ... The only alternative would be to impose even tighter constraints on developing countries from 2013, and that does not appear to be realistic at this time."

The report adds: "The awful arithmetic means that exclusively focusing on a 450 ppm outcome, at this moment, could end up providing another reason for not reaching an international agreement to reduce emissions. In the meantime, the cost of excessive focus on an unlikely goal could consign to history any opportunity to lock in an agreement for stabilising at 550 ppm, a more modest, but still difficult, international outcome. An effective agreement around 550 ppm would be vastly superior to continuation of business as usual."

Experts say that a 450 ppm goal could limit temperature rise to 2 C, while 550 ppm would commit the world to 3 C warming, which the IPCC warned would inflict drought and famine on hundreds of millions of people and devastate wildlife.

Friends of the Earth said: "A target of 550 ppm of carbon dioxide is a recipe for disaster and even the lower target of 450ppm will mean we will face runaway climate change. The Arctic sea ice and Himalaya glaciers are already disappearing and the permafrost bomb is looming. We need much deeper cuts. Professor Garnaut has described strong targets as delusional, but he continues to feed a delusional policy debate that recognises the problem but doesn't want to implement the solution."

The report, which was released by the Australian government last month, comes after climate scientists criticised carbon targets as having no scientific basis and potentially leading to "dangerously misguided" policies.

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows at the Tyndall centre for climate change research at Manchester University say global carbon emissions are rising so fast that they would need to peak by 2015 and then decrease by up to 6.5% each year for atmospheric CO2 levels to stabilise at 450 ppm, which might limit temperature rise to 2 C. Even a goal of 650 ppm — way above most government projections — would need world emissions to peak in 2020 and then reduce 3% each year.

Link to article:

Climate change 'making seas more salty': increased salinity in oceans can be attributed to manmade climate change

Climate change 'making seas more salty'

Scientists report that increased salinity in oceans can be attributed to manmade climate change

  • David Adam, The Guardian, October 27, 2008
Sunset over the Mediterranean coast, Marmaris, Turkey

The Mediterranean area will become drier as a result of increased salinity in the water. Photograph: Corbis

Global warming is making the sea more salty, according to new research that demonstrates the massive shifts in natural systems triggered by climate change.

Experts at the UK Met Office and Reading University say warmer temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean have significantly increased evaporation and reduced rainfall across a giant stretch of water from Africa to the Carribean in recent years. The change concentrates salt in the water left behind, and is predicted to make southern Europe and the Mediterranean much drier in future.

Peter Stott of the Met Office, who led the study, said: "With global warming we're talking about very big changes in the overall water cycle. This moisture is being evaporated and transported to higher latitudes."

The team wanted to see whether manmade climate change could be blamed for changes in salinity measured in the Atlantic. In 2003, experts reported that the north Atlantic waters were freshening, with salt levels decreasing – a mild version of the scenario depicted in the Hollywood film The Day After Tomorrow where massive amounts of fresh water shut down warm ocean currents and cause temperatures to plunge.

Meanwhile, further south towards the tropics, Atlantic waters have been getting saltier – about 0.5% more since the 1960s.

Using state-of-the-art climate models, the scientists simulated events over both parts of the ocean with and without increased levels of greenhouse gases. They found that the freshening of the north Atlantic could be explained by natural variations, a conclusion supported by a recent recovery of the salt levels there.

But for the mid Atlantic, the models showed that only human-driven global warming could explain the increase in saltiness – the first time such an explicit link has been made between climate change and salinity. The results will appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Link to article:

David Adam: CO2 curbs may be too late for reefs, study warns

CO2 curbs may be too late for reefs, study warns
Plight of the coral reefs

Plight of the coral reefs. Photograph: Sterling Zumbrunn/CI

A new global deal on climate change will come too late to save most of the world's coral reefs, according to a US study that suggests major ecological damage to the oceans is now inevitable.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are making seawater so acidic that reefs including the Great Barrier Reef off Australia could begin to break up within a few decades, research by the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California suggests. Even ambitious targets to stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, as championed by Britain and Europe to stave off dangerous climate change, still place more than 90% of coral reefs in jeopardy.

Oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at how carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea as human emissions increase. About a third of carbon pollution is soaked up in this way, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Experts say human activity over the last two centuries has produced enough acid to lower the average pH of global ocean surface waters by about 0.1 units.

Such acidification spells problems for coral reefs, which rely on calcium minerals called aragonite to build and maintain their exoskeletons.

"We can't say for sure that [the reefs] will disappear but ... the likelihood they will be able to persist is pretty small," said Caldeira.

The new study was prompted by questions by a US congressional committee on how possible carbon stabilisation targets would affect coral loss.

Link to article:

Friday, October 24, 2008 's environmental meters maintains an environmental page with live, running meters for:

Global carbon emissions

Sea level rise

Species extinctions

Global temperature



Link here:,,5009760,00.html

Thursday, October 23, 2008

League of Conservation Voters: "Dirty Dozen" List of Politicians

Link to pdf file with links to candidates (begins on page 3):

Congressman Tim Walberg Named Latest Member of the 2008 Dirty Dozen

WASHINGTON, DC, October 14, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today announced that U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan's 7th District has been named to its 2008 "Dirty Dozen" list.

LCV's trademark Dirty Dozen program targets candidates for Congress — regardless of party affiliation — who consistently vote against clean energy and conservation and are running in races in which LCV has a serious chance to affect the outcome. Since the Dirty Dozen was launched in 1996, LCV has defeated more than half of the candidates named to the list. In 2006 alone, LCV ousted several supposedly "undefeatable" incumbents such as former House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo and former Senator Conrad Burns....more

Anne Northup Named to 2008 Dirty Dozen

WASHINGTON, DC, October 14, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters, which works to turn environmental issues into national priorities, today added Anne Northup to its 2008 Dirty Dozen list.* Northup has a lifetime score of only 7% on LCV's National Environmental Scorecard and voted against every major piece of environmental legislation in the 109th Congress.

"With energy at the heart of the 2008 election, it is critical that we elect Representatives who will steer us away from Big Oil and toward a clean, renewable energy policy," said LCV Deputy Legislative Director Tim Greeff. "Anne Northup has a deplorable environmental record and promises to continue our reliance on oil and minimize investment in alternative energy sources." ...more

Don Young Joins the 2008 Dirty Dozen

WASHINGTON, DC, October 2, 2008 - WASHINGTON, DC –The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today added Alaska Congressman Don Young to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list.* Young’s abysmal record on energy issues makes him one of this year’s worst candidates for re-election to the US House of Representatives.

“Alaska is the frontline of global warming. As their homes and businesses slide into the sea, the people of Alaska deserve a Representative who will fight for real solutions, not oil company profits,” said LCV President Gene Karpinski. “Don Young has repeatedly blocked legislation that would raise fuel efficiency in our cars; repeal subsides for oil conglomerates, and invest in clean renewable energy, working instead to pad the pockets of Big Oil interests at home and in Washington.”...more

LCV Urges Voters to Turn Out the Lights on Senator Dole

WASHINGTON, DC, September 15, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today announced that Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has been named to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list. Dole has a lifetime score of only 4% on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard.*

“Senator Dole’s record proves that she’s working in the best interests of Exxon/Mobil, not the people of Raliegh/Durham. For Chevron, not the people of Charlotte. For the lobbyists of big oil, not the people of small town North Carolina,” LCV Senior Vice President Tony Massaro said.

“Instead of protecting clean water and clean air for our health or developing clean energy for our children, she votes in favor of oil company profits every time.”...more

Dean Andal Takes Pombo’s Place in the 2008 Dirty Dozen

WASHINGTON, DC, August 14, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today added Dean Andal to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list.* Andal’s abysmal record on energy and environmental issues make him one of the worst candidates for federal office in the nation. “Californians are paying over $4.50 per gallon for gasoline, and deserve a representative who will work to end our nation’s dependence on oil, and fight for alternative energy sources,” LCV Senior Vice President Tony Massaro said.

“Andal has consistently voted against fuel efficiency programs and measures to slow global warming. His current proposals echo the failed policies of the Bush Administration that created the situation we’re in now. If elected, Andal will help the oil industry dismantle the laws that protect California’s coastline from oil spills from tankers and offshore drilling while doing nothing to reduce the price of gasoline.”...more

Congressman Sam Graves Earns Dubious Distinction as Member of 2008 Dirty Dozen

WASHINGTON, DC, August 12, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today added Congressman Sam Graves (MO-6) to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list.* Graves has earned an abysmal lifetime LCV score of only 4% on energy and environmental issues. He has accepted $63,983 from the oil & gas industry.
“While the people of Missouri are paying record prices at the pump, the oil companies are handing that money right back to Sam Graves,” LCV Senior Vice President Tony Massaro said.

“Is it any wonder that he keeps voting to give those same oil companies billions of our tax dollars? Thanks to Sam Graves, we’re paying Exxon twice for the same gas – once at the pump and again with the tax dollars that could be going to schools, to veterans, or to developing new sources of energy that would create thousands of jobs in Missouri.” ...more

LCV Adds Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) to 2008 "Dirty Dozen"

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today announced that Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been named to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list. Stevens holds a lifetime score of only 14% on the LCV environmental scorecard.

“For forty years in the Senate, Ted Stevens has stood in the way of progress. Today, he literally lives in the house that oil built,” LCV President Gene Karpinski said. “With his scandalous ties to the oil industry finally exposed, Alaska has the chance to let Mr. Stevens retire to that nice house.”

Stevens has consistently voted for billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies since 1977. Oil and gas interests have given more than $460,000 in campaign contributions to Stevens’s campaigns. Last July, the FBI raided Stevens’s home in search of records documenting his connection to Bill Allen, an executive of the Veco oil services company, which reaped millions in federal contracts and who was convicted of bribery. Allen’s contracting business doubled the size of Stevens’s home. Stevens is under federal investigation. ...more

LCV Adds Senator Mary Landrieu to 2008 "Dirty Dozen"

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today added Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to its 2008 “Dirty Dozen” list.* Her lifetime LCV Score of 43% ranks her the worst Democrat in the Senate on environmental issues currently running for reelection. **

Last week, Dr. Thomas Fingar, the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council testified that global warming poses a significant risk to America’s national security, and that “some parts of the United States—particularly built-up coastal areas—will be at greater risk of extreme weather events.” In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s representatives should be leading the charge in the fight against global warming.

“For a Senator from Louisiana, which faces severe consequences from global warming, to fail to protect Louisiana is disappointing,” LCV Senior Vice President for Political Affairs and Public Education Tony Massaro said. “Senator Landrieu joins the DD because she acts more to protect Big Oil than the future for the people of Louisiana.” ..more

LCV Adds Congressman Steve Pearce to 2008 "Dirty Dozen"

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today added Congressman Stevan Pearce (R-NM) to its 2008 "Dirty Dozen" list.* Pearce’s record of extremism marks him as one of the twelve worst members of Congress currently up for election.

"During his five years in Congress, Steve Pearce has voted consistently against the environment," LCV Senior Vice-President for Political Affairs and Public Education Tony Massaro said. "Of the 80 conservation key votes since he has been elected, Pearce has voted against clean air, clean energy, protecting the nation's wildlife, and preserving our natural heritage in all but one vote."

Pearce's lifetime LCV score is an embarrassing 1%. He has earned three 0% scores in his tenure and his highest annual score was 5% in his first year.** His opponent, Tom Udall, has earned a 96% lifetime LCV score.

In addition to owning millions of dollars of stock in Key Energy, a Texas-based oil services company, Steve Pearce has accepted more from the oil and gas industry, $556,649, than from any other economic sector. He has voted to give more than $14 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry, opposed renewable electricity, and fought against fuel efficient cars that would save New Mexico families hundreds of dollars at the pump...more

LCV Adds Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to 2008 "Dirty Dozen"

WASHINGTON, DC, April 10, 2008 - The members of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the independent political voice for the environment, today voted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to the 2008 "Dirty Dozen" list.

LCV members voted online to decide which 2008 candidate had committed the most egregious offenses against the environment. 25,000 concerned citizens voted for the next member of the "Dirty Dozen," and chose Sen. McConnell by an overwhelming margin.

"Our members know that Mitch McConnell has voted against our health and safety since he came to Washington. They know that he stands as an impassable roadblock in the way of a clean energy future for this country," said LCV President Gene Karpinski. "They know that it is time to tear down this roadblock. That's why McConnell, this 'Godfather of Green,' is the new 'Don' of the Dirty Dozen."..more

LCV Adds Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer to 2008 "Dirty Dozen"

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 24, 2008 - The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the independent political voice for the environment, today announced that former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO) has been named to its 2008 "Dirty Dozen" list.

During his tenure in Congress, Bob Schaffer worked to get Big Oil $33 billion in tax breaks by supporting an energy bill written by Dick Cheney and the oil industry. After leaving the House, he went to work for Big Oil. Now he wants to return to Washington to work for them in the Senate," said LCV Senior Vice President and Colorado native Tony Massaro. "Coloradans deserve a senator who works for them, not Big Oil."..more


COLORADO US SENATE: Mark Udall has been a leader on renewable energy since his time in the Colorado State House, and as Co-Chair of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, he fights to expand America's commitment to renewable energy every day. His lifetime LCV score is 99%. RUNNING AGAINST REPUBLICAN STEVE PEARCE

NEW MEXICO US SENATE: Tom Udall has fought to defend America's wild spaces and led the first successful effort to pass meaningful renewable electricity standards in the House in 2007. His lifetime LCV score is 96%. RUNNING AGAINST SCHAEFFER

NEW HAMPSHIRE US SENATE: Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire worked with members of both parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants and has pledged to fight for clean energy as a US Senator. RUNNING AGAINST INCUMBENT JOHN E. SUNUNU

James Hansen: Obstruction of Justice

Following 2-pager (plus a long footnote re League of Conservation Voter recommendations) is on my web site at

Obstruction of Justice

“You’re Hannah, right?” Hannah Morgan, a 20-year old from Appalachia, Virginia, was one of 11 protesters in handcuffs early Monday morning September 15 at the construction site for a coal-fired power plant being built in Wise County Virginia by Dominion Power. The handcuffs were applied by the police, but the questioner, it turns out, was from Dominion Power.

“Mumble, mumble, mumble,” the discussion between police and the Dominion man was too far away to be heard by the young people. But it almost seemed that the police were working for Dominion. Maybe that’s the way it works in a company town. Or should we say company state? Virginia has got one of the most green-washed coal-blackened governors in the nation ( ).

It seems Hannah had been pegged by Dominion as a “ringleader.” She had participated for two years in public meetings and demonstrations against the plan for mountaintop removal, strip mining and coal burning, and she had rejected their attempts to either intimidate or bargain.
“Bargain?” What bargain is possible when Dominion is guaranteed 14% return on their costs, whether the coal plant’s power is needed or not? Utility customers have to cough this up, and they aren’t given any choice. The meetings and demonstrations were peaceful. Forty-five thousand signatures against the plant were collected. But money seems to talk louder.

Dominion’s “mumble, mumble” must have been convincing. Hannah and Kate Rooth were charged with 10 more crimes than the other 10 defendants. Their charges included “encouraging or soliciting” others to participate in the action and were topped by “obstruction of justice.” Penalty if convicted: up to 14 years in prison. [Why does this remind me of Jim Jobe in “Grapes of Wrath”?]

“Obstruction of justice??” My first thought was that this case might help draw attention to the inter-generational injustice and inequity of continued building of coal-fired power plants. Is the Orwellian double-speak in the charge of “obstruction of justice” not apparent?

Executives in the coal and other fossil fuel industries are now aware of the damage that continued coal emissions causes for present and future life on the planet. Yet their response is to promote continued use of coal, and in some cases even encourage contrarians to muddy the issue in the public’s mind. Their actions raise issues of ethical responsibility to the young and the unborn, and a question of legal liability, it seems to me.

Mountaintop removal is not the only potential source of energy. The governor of neighboring West Virginia asserted that if there were an alternative energy source, they would not need to continue strip mining. A case has since been made that over time wind power on the mountaintops could provide more power than coal (, but if the mountaintops are removed for coal mining, the wind quality becomes less useful for power generation. The governor has not taken up the suggestion of wind instead of coal.

In Wise County the defense case is even stronger than at Kingsnorth in the United Kingdom (, because of demonstrable local effects of strip-mining. Twenty-five percent of Wise County is already devastated by mountaintop removal. Health problems of local residents associated with coal dust have been well documented ( Given all this, the peaceful protest of the demonstrators is commendable. They are just asking business to invest in Appalachia, not destroy it (

However, let me correct an error in a recent article by Andy Revkin in the New York Times. I have argued that it is time to “draw a line in the sand” and demand “no new coal plants,” but I have not advocated unlawful protest. My recommendation, as you can see in my presentation at Virginia Tech last week ( (also pdf -> ppt) is that this is the time to exert maximum effort to use the democratic process.

I participated in a press conference of PowerVote, and the above talk was in cooperation with Virginia Powershift 2008. The upcoming election potentially could be a tipping point, but it requires a lot of changes. Young people are doing a great job of informing people and getting out the vote. The organizations do not generally endorse specific candidates, but I have a very astute young friend who identified the most important races, where the outcome could affect actions on the climate matter.

That friend’s opinions (recommendations of the League of Conservation Voters) are below. They include Democrats and Republicans. (BTW, I am an Independent, and I believe that the United States needs a third party, but that will be the subject of a different e-mail.)

Don’t expect the election to solve the climate problem. There are differences between Presidential candidates, but neither appears to “get it.” They both seem to think that “clean coal” exists. They both (and special interests) are likely to favor the hidden tax and market distortions of the inefficient “carbon cap and trade” game. For politicians and CEOs the shenanigan potential of “carbon cap and trade” is irresistible – it beats the pants off a simple, honest, effective “carbon tax and 100% dividend” that would put money in the hands of consumers and drive innovations and energy/carbon efficiency in the most economically effective way.

Back to Hannah Morgan et al. and the proposed coal plant. No happy ending here, at least not yet. The defense lawyer realized that a trial would be dangerous. An “unfavorable jury pool” made the possibility of prison time real. With 14 charges against Hannah and Kate, it was unlikely that a jury would find them innocent of all charges. Result: a “B-minus” plea bargain.

This, it seems to me, is the reality of the present situation in the United States. The fossil fuel industry has enormous power, with big influence on the public, as well as on politicians. Although practical steps to stabilize climate, with other benefits, can be defined, it will be difficult to overcome fossil fuel special interests, and we are running out of time. That is my rationale for interjecting comments/recommendations about the upcoming election into this note.

Don’t expect the young people to give up. But they shouldn’t be standing alone. They didn’t even create the mess. They are just inheriting it.

To top it off, because I was on travel, I couldn’t make it to the court proceedings. They had decided to accept the plea bargain, but asked me to write a statement on their behalf (which follows), but when I sent an e-mail in the wee hours that morning I failed to attach the attachment! It figures – they are pretty much on their own anyhow.

Statement of James E. Hansen*

If this case had gone to trial I would have requested permission to testify on behalf of these young people, who, for the sake of nature and humanity, had the courage to stand up against powerful “authority.” In fact, these young people speak with greater authority and understanding of the consequences of continued coal mining, not only for the local environment, but for the well-being of nature itself, of creation, of the planet inherited from prior generations.

The science of climate change has become clear in recent years: if coal emissions to the atmosphere are not halted, we will drive to extinction a large fraction of the species on the planet. Already almost half of summer sea ice in the Arctic has been lost, coral reefs are under great stress, mountain glaciers are melting world-wide with consequences for fresh water supplies of hundreds of millions of people within the next several decades, and climate extremes including greater floods, more intense heat waves and forest fires, and stronger storms have all been documented.

Our parents did not realize the long-term effects of fossil fuel use. We no longer have that excuse. Let us hope that the courage of these young people will help spark public education about the climate and environmental issues, and help us preserve nature for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

*For the sake of identification, I am director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute, but these are my personal opinions and do not represent any organization.

Jim Hansen