Archive for 2006 January

Poll: Will President Bush Mention Global Warming in the State of the Union Address?

Back in the fall of 2000, while running for President against an environmentalist, George Bush’s campaign promised to establish mandatory reductions on power plant emissions of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming.

In 2001, over the strenuous objections of EPA director Christine Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and under pressure from the coal industry, the plan was sabotaged, probably by Dick Cheney (as documented in O’Neill’s tell-all book).

Nonetheless, high energy prices and alarming indications that global warming is pushing the planet’s climate to a perilous "tipping point" have spurred many Bush supporters and moderates to call on the President to act now to change our energy policy and reduce carbon emissions.

Thomas Friedman, whose NYTimes column is said to be taken seriously within the administration, on Friday called on Bush to announce a new energy policy in tonight’s State of the Union Address. He wrote (behind a firewall) a mock speech for Bush that began with a historic challenge:

President Kennedy was
worried about the threat that communism posed to our way of life. I am here to
tell you that if we don’t move away from our dependence on oil and shift to
renewable fuels, it will change our way of life for the worse — and soon —
much, much more than communism ever could have. Making this transition is the
calling of our era.

    

Why? First, we are in a war with a violent strain of Middle East Islam that
is indirectly financed by our consumption of oil. Second, with millions of
Indians and Chinese buying cars and homes as they join the great global middle
class, we must quickly move away from burning fossil fuels or we’re going to
create enough global warming to melt the North Pole. Because of that, green
cars, homes, offices, appliances, designs and renewable energies will be the
biggest growth industry of the 21st century. If we don’t dominate that industry,
China, India, Japan or Europe surely will.

Friedman added a threat: If Bush fails to act on the issue, "you can stick a fork in this administration."

Irwin Seltzer, a conservative economist who writes an insightful column for the "Weekly Standard," and who has advocated a tax on carbon, reveals that the administration is being lobbied (believe it or don’t) by an insider group that wants a tax on gasoline:

A third group of policy makers, which includes the former president of Resources for the Future, (and now dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona), the widely respected Paul Portney, wants the president to announce that "the gas tax will be going up steadily for the foreseeable future to stimulate investment in all kinds of technologies without anointing any particular ones." The proceeds can be used to lower the tax on wages. The president may buy into a version of that proposal, asking Congress to set a tax on oil imports that cuts in only if crude oil prices fall below $35 per barrel.

Bush himself indicated that he will talk about changes in energy policy, in an interview with Bob Schieffer of CBS News.

"We have got to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons, oil. And the best way, in my judgment, to do it is to promote and actively advance new technologies."

Being naive and overly sincere (an occupational hazard among enviros) I read this and became a little excited. After all, polls consistently say that the public believes global warming is real and a threat; according to a poll taken last July, 73% of Americans believe that this country should join the Kyoto Protocol, and according to an ABC News poll published this weekend, over one-quarter of the public believes that global warming is the most serious issue facing this country today.

So I conducted a little poll of my own. Having minimal resources, it’s just one question long, and I sent it to a few dozen people I know have an interest in the issue (or at least, an interest in politics). Not everyone replied, of course, but the results are still interesting….and entertaining, actually. Lotta smart people in this world. Below the virtual fold are the responses to the question:

In his upcoming State of the Union address, will President Bush mention global warming in any way, shape, or form?

Roger Pielke, Jr., a political moderate who leads the Prometheus science policy site, a hotbed of discussion for global warming wonks, predicts that:

I’d bet heavily on energy policy, technology development, being in the
SOTU.

I’d be less confident that global warming would be mentioned, but general
"environment" may very well be.

Judith Lewis, the energetic and open-minded environmental reporter for the LAWeekly (and the nice person who sent me the Friedman column) predicted:

I say yes, he has to, but he won’t acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic.

Forrest Fleischmann, from the blunt and useful Forest News, said:

I doubt Bush will directly address global warming, however it does seem to be the elephant in the room that everyone knows needs to be dealt with.  The war in Iraq, the hurricanes, energy independence – all of these are global warming issues.

James Annan, an English climate scientist living in Japan who puts out the frighteningly brilliant James Empty Blog, sent a link to an Internet site that posts bets on public policy, Ideosphere.

At that site people are bidding on the question:

Will the phrase "global warming" appear in a State of the Union speech by 2008?

When the question was posted in early 2004, the mass prediction was nearly 80%;  recently it’s declined to about 60%. When I wondered who these people making these bets/predictions were, Annan replied that "The players are a weird mix of futurologists, technology freaks
and me(!) so it’s not clear that their opinions are a representative
sample of the real world…but its history shows that most of its
predictions are not completely silly."

John Whitehead, a professor who co-edits the highly educational Environmental Economics site, responded:

My guess is that he won’t mention it.

Steve Benen, a journalist and former Clintonian, who runs the political insightful Carpetbagger Report, said:

I’d say there’s practically zero chance that Bush will mention global warming on Tuesday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made reference to the environment and the need for alternative energy sources. The president isn’t nearly bold enough to connect emissions with climate change, but I suspect his pollster encouraged him to give at least a little lip-service to the environment. It does well with soccer moms, and he’ll just go back to ignoring the issue once the speech is over.

Some of my favorite respondents thought outside the box, including Bill Patzert, a leading climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who said:

I had a dream last night that I tuned into the President’s "State of the Union Address" and it went something like this:  "My fellow Americans, the results from a Presidential Commission headed by Vice-President Cheney has determined that our continuing record breaking global temperatures are the result of human produced carbon emissions and the United States is the biggest culprit.  Consequently, I will send to the Congress legislation that will reduce U.S. carbon emissions, with an emphasis on "car," by 50% over the next 10 years.  Personally, I am trashing my gas guzzling pickup and buying a Prius for the ranch.  Vice President Cheney has volunteered to be a champion of public transportation and will ride a bus to work every day.  Finally, the White House will be fitted with a state-of-the-art solar power array.  I encourage each and every American to follow our lead. Let’s all think more and use less energy.  Good night, thank you and God Bless America and all the scientists."

Lance Mannion, who puts out a wonderfully unpredictable blog, responded:

Nope.  Can’t imagine him bringing it up even to
dismiss the idea.  It would be about as useful to him
as bringing up Jack Abramoff’s name.

David Roberts, who posts on the irreverent environmental Gristmill site from Seattle, responded to the poll question with hysterical laughter, and then calmed down enough to add:

He won’t talk about global warming. He’ll talk about the danger of "foreign oil," and he’ll use the opportunity to push for nuclear power and nebulous hydrogen research.

Dude is nothing if not predictable.

Along the same lines, Kevin Drum, who runs the level-headed and huge Political Animal, wondered:

Sounds like a trick question.  The answer is no, isn’t it?  Is there any reason to think otherwise?

Sadly, he’s almost certainly right. When asked what she expected from the State of the Union address, Arianna Huffington said on last Friday’s Left, Right, and Center:

I expect nothing.  And I don’t think I will be disappointed.

So folks, there you have it. As I read this poll, it’s unanimous: Bush will not mention global warming in any way, shape, or form.

 

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“A Human Folly Beyond Imagining” of the White House Press Corps

Last week Adam Browning in the invaluable Gristmill alerted me to a column by veteran Washington Post writer David Ignatius, who thoughtfully looked at the trouble reporters are having reporting on climate change:

One of the puzzles if you’re in the news business is figuring out what’s "news." The fate of your local football team certainly fits the definition. So does a plane crash or a brutal murder. But how about changes in the migratory patterns of butterflies?

For some reporters, notably Andrew Revkin of the NYTimes, who has been reporting on climate change for twenty years, these questions are far in the past. Revkin knows climate change is news, and has proved it countless times. His most recent story, about the efforts of government public relations officials to silence this country’s leading climatologist, Jim Hansen, is today the most emailed of all NYTimes stories.

The explanation for this I hear so often from leftists (including a comment on Adam Browning’s post)is  that "the owners [of the commercial press] do not allow articles or columns that offend advertisers." But this will come as news to the LATimes, which lost at least a million dollars last year after General Moters cancelled their advertising because of a highly critical column written by Dan O’Neill, their auto critic. Their response? They gave O’Neill an additional column in their weekly magazine, and promoted it heavily, besides continuing to highlight his auto reviews.

The fact is, this "commercial" explanation makes little sense, because big papers like the NYTimes, the LATimes, and the Washington Post cover global warming more thoroughly than anyone else in the print media except science publications, and in fact even right-wing sensationalists like the Drudge Report and FOXNews like global warming stories. Moderate-sized papers (The Boston Globe, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Francisco Chronicle) often run big stories on global warming. BusinessWeek, Fortune, and the Economist have published countless pieces on the issue. A terrible movie on the subject ("The Day After Tomorrow") was a huge hit. Probably it’s true that in smaller towns and red states, the issue gets less coverage, or sarcastic coverage, but that surely that reflects the slow and difficult-to-understand nature of the threat as much as it does advertisers. As Ignatius points out: 

Scientists believe that new habitats for butterflies are early effects of global climate change — but that isn’t news, by most people’s measure. Neither is declining rainfall in the Amazon, or thinner ice in the Arctic. We can’t see these changes in our personal lives, and in that sense, they are abstractions. So they don’t grab us the way a plane crash would — even though they may be harbingers of a catastrophe that could, quite literally, alter the fundamentals of life on the planet. And because they’re not "news," the environmental changes don’t prompt action, at least not in the United States.

But I would argue that the real split here is not between scientists and reporters, many of whom are following climate change news intently, but between reporters in the science field…and reporters in Washington, especially at the White House.

To test this theory, I looked through this months "press gaggle" briefings at the White House, with Scott McClellan.

The results? Not one question about the global warming, the environment, or the health of the planet was asked to date this month.

Questions were asked about what the President thought about "the compatibility between the Washington Post and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." (McClellan ducked the question.) Numerous questions were asked about the different between "responsible critics" and "irresponsible critics" of the President’s policies, as defined by the President. (McClellan artfully alluded to "irresponsible remarks" by certain Democrats, but refused to specify which ones he meant, thereby broad-brushing every Democratic criticism as irresponsible.) Of course, countless questions were asked about the hot button issues: war in Iraq, the nuclear program in Iran, the Middle East, the Patriot Act, and surveillance on phone conversations without warrants, which are issues surely everone in national news would agree need discussion.

But the fact remains that the White House Press corps was far more interested in the health of Dick Cheney’s foot–asking numerous times if he was using a cane–than the health of the planet.

This during a month when numerous enviro issues came to the fore. For example, the year began with the tragic death of twelve coal miners; reporters could have followed the lead of the Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles and pointed out that coal mining is a very dangerous business for coal miners, and–scientists say–for us too, as coal is the worst choice in power generation, at least until some means is found to sequester carbon emissions.

Did this disaster prompt the Administration to rethink its commitment to build new coal plants?

No questions on that, but plenty of questions on the semantic difference between "having a strategy" for winning the war in Iraq, and "not liking the strategy" for winning the war in Iraq.

This month saw the release of two serious and alarming books on global warming (see here and here) including one at the beginning of the year by Lonnie Thompson, an Ohio State researcher funded by the government. Thompson has been studying glaciers around the world for most of his life, and believes that in fifty years we may not want to go outside between one and four under the business-as-usual scenario being pushed by the Administration.

Should the Administration reconsider its promotion of the construction of new coal plants?

No questions on that, but plenty of questions about Dick Cheney’s cane.

Also this month saw the twenty-fifth anniversary of the once-proud Environmental Protection Agency. Five Republican former chiefs of the EPA said at a panel in Washington, D.C. that they believed that global warming was real and a threat to our way of life. Did the President take note?

No question about that, but a long question about a Navy Chaplain who has gone on a hunger strike because the Navy ordered him not to mention Jesus Christ in public prayer. He’s appealing to the President. That, the President’s press secretary promised to investigate.

Perhaps today we’ll hear some questions on the topic. This weekend came the news that James Hansen was not allowed to meet reporters without a government official in attendance (shades of the USSR!) on Saturday, and on Sunday in the Washington Post we heard again about our arrival at a planetary tipping point. Let’s hope some questions are asked on the topic.

Tomorrow I will report on a one-question poll sent to scientists and economists on this issue, asking if President Bush tomorrow in his State of the Union address will in any way, shape, or form mention global warming.

But for today, let’s not let the White House press corps off the hook and remind them of Ignatius’ conclusion:

So many of the things that pass for news don’t matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as {scientist Thomas] Lovejoy and ["New Yorker’ writer Elizabeth] Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She’s right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.

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Bush Administration Tries to Silence Global Warming Scientist

The NYTimes leads today with the news that the Bush Administration has in recent weeks tried to silence James Hansen, the most widely known climatologist in the country, ever since he gave a speech on global warming in December.

His crime?

He said it still might be possible to avoid disaster.

If we act now, reduce our fossil fuel consumption, and–most importantly–do not build a new infrastructure of power plants, we can avoid disaster.

If we go ahead with what is known as the business-as-usual scenario aggressively promoted by the Bush administration, the changes already occuring will accelerate, our children will face disaster, and our grandchildren will inherit "a different planet."

In his potent speech a couple of weeks ago, Al Gore alluded to this attempt to silence Hansen; evidently reporter Andrew Revkin got the go-ahead to follow up.

This is big news not because of what Hansen said; he’s been saying the same thing for years and years. It’s big news because the Bush administration once again shows what it really cares about, which has nothing to do with fact, the planet, or public policy, and everything to do with not embarrssing George W. Bush.

White House appointee and public relations specialist George Deutsch oversees the NASA agency for which Hansen works. His job, he said, is "to make the President look good." So he refused to allow Hansen to talk to NPR.

This will only bring more attention to what Hansen is saying, however, which is good. Here’s a pdf version of the speech Hansen gave on December 6 to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, with slides Download keeling_talk_and_slides.pdf.

It’s a thorough but relatively easy to follow discussion, with a very simple point: If we want the maintain the seas, the coral reefs, the glaciers, the weather, and the climate we have now, within a 1C range, we must not build the hundreds of power plants (and especially coal plants) that are proposed and eagerly encouraged by the Bush administration. Not too complicated!

In years past, critics (often funded by Exxon) claimed that modelers like Hansen were way off base, for a variety of highly-technical reasons, and derided their predictions. Take a look at this graph, which shows five different models, compared against observations.
Surfaceairtempmodels_1

It’s remarkable how accurate the modelers have been. In a just world, we would be commending them for reducing the astounding complexity of our atmosphere to a mathematical model that precisely reflects our planet’s behavior. Instead, the powers that be want to shut them up. Amazing.

Another observation worth noting. If we wish to avoid disaster, either we can change our behavior  with regard to energy production…or pray for the eruption of enormous volcanoes to blanket the earth in cloud and soot for decades to come.

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Fox Hack Attacked: Secretly Took Money from Big Tobacco

Now that it’s been revealed that one of its columnists was secretly taking big bucks (over $90,000 a year) from Big Tobacco, will FOXNews dump Stephen Milloy, the science abuser of JunkScience infamy?

It’s an interesting question; already, as detailed on this site months ago, Milloy was horrified when FOXNews, under the influence of Al Gore, did a 180 degree turn and began running specials on global warming, which violates his head-in-the-sand stance.

See Judith Lewis for the full truth about Milloy’s idea of science…which seems connected to the amount of money he finds in his bank account. 

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Snowmen March Against AGW

This one (from the ever-reliable The Onion) is so cute I don’t even want to excerpt the story; read the whole darn thing. But here’s one of the insta-classic pics from the story, depicting a charismatic, articulate spokesman, speaking to a crowd, estimated at somewhere between 350,000…and 30,000.

Snowmenspeakoutagainstagw

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A Pre-Katrina Worldview

In a speech last Friday, White House political advisor Karl Rove laid out the Republican battleplan for the 2006 elections, saying that:

Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic — not at all. But it does make them wrong — deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.

Today, to just about nobody’s surprise, we get official confirmation of what has been widely reported for months: in the days before Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of New Orleans, the White House was fully and thoroughly briefed on the oncoming disaster. Eric Lipton of the Washington Post reports:

A Homeland Security Department report submitted to the White House at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, hours before the storm hit, said, "Any storm rated Category 4 or greater will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching."

The internal department documents, which were forwarded to the White House, contradict statements by President Bush and the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, that no one expected the storm protection system in New Orleans to be breached.

"I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," Mr. Bush said in a television interview on Sept. 1.

So the President was misleading. That’s not really news. But what is still not appreciated, both by the public and the press, is how deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong the Bush administration is and has been on global warming, which is as great a menace to this nation and the world as terrorism. Katrina is a spectacular example of how things can go wrong for us when we bump up against the processes of the natural world, but this adminstration refuses to open its eyes to a thousand or more warnings from scientists in this country and around the world, saying that even the modest provisions of the Kyoto Protocols "didn’t suit our needs" and would have "wrecked the economy," as Bush claimed in an interview at the G8 summit in July.

Fortunately, we do have Tom Toles to keep our eyes on the big picture, and amusingly so.

Minesafetyreport

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Even the Republican Party Has Soul, Says McCloskey, Joining Congressional Race

Today in Lodi, lifelong Republican Pete McCloskey announced his campaign for the 11th District of California, which is represented by rampaging anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo, a protege of Tom Delay. (Pombo denies the label, but even the Wall Street Journal highlights his extreme positions on the environment.)

Here’s how McCloskey puts it:

I run, in part, because I believe the key question of the Republican Party today is whether we go back to historic Republican principles of integrity, fiscal responsibility, limited government and environmental balance, or do we go the way of the DeLay Republicans, (1) with no ethics enforcement, (2) an understandable public perception that Republicans give undue preference to big-money contributors, (3) a huge and ever-growing bureaucracy, and (4) a constant erosion of the environmental protections for community health, and park and wilderness lands that have been established over 30 years.

It was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who gave us a strong environmental policy to protect parklands, wildlife preserves and wilderness, as well as anti-trust laws to control business excesses.  Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the first George Bush substantially increased park and wilderness areas and environmental health protections.

I would characterize this campaign as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

The integrity of the man shines through his announcement; although political experts doubt McCloskey’s chances, surely the sincerity and commitment of this "farmer friendly" former Marine will make it impossible for Pombo to broad-brush his opponents as radical extremists.

Plus, the very real possibility of an indictment in Pombo’s future on corruption charges will make mudslinging more difficult than usual, which seems to be the way Republicans win elections these days.

To reporters McCloskey has hinted that Pombo has profited not just from his connections to Tom DeLay’s seamy "clients," but also from land deals furthered by Pombo’s powerful grip on his district. Tell us more, Pete…

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Cool Eating: or, How a Vegetarian Diet Could Help Save the World

According to Gidon Echel and Pam Martin, at the University of Chicago, when it comes to global warming, reducing the amount of meat in your diet could be as meaningful as the car you drive. Here’s their paper (Download diet_energy_and_global_warming.pdf).

Echel and Martin argue that "there is an order of magnitude parity in fossil energy consumption between dietary and personal transportation choices" and add that "For a person consuming a red meat diet at ~35% of calories from animal sources, the added GHG [greenhouse gases] burden above that of a plant eater equals the difference between driving a Camry and an SUV. These results clearly demonstrate the primary effect, an effect comparable in magnitude to the car one chooses to drive."

Unfortunately, because it’s been thirty years since I took a math class, I confess I have trouble following their paper. It seems well-grounded and carefully thought out, but the caloric complexity leaves me in the dust, and the charts compress so much data into small graphs that they can be daunting, at least to literary types.

But it’s a serious idea worth your attention, and a ground-breaking concept I intend to track over the coming year. Along those lines, here’s the best veggie recipe I came up with in 2005, a slight variation on a San Francisco classic. It’s the only recipe good enough to convince my daughter to eat spinach, even though she’s been a proud vegetarian for years.

The Vegetarian Joe’s Special:

I package chopped frozen spinach, or 1/2 pound fresh, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fake [soy] hamburger. (12 oz. also works fine)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Thaw frozen spinach and drain well, or cook fresh spinach and drain well. Set aside. In a heavy skillet saute onion and garlic in oil until onion is transparent. Add fake beef and brown/warm. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir in reserved spinach. Keeping heat high, add eggs to the skillet, stirring constantly until eggs are blended and cooked. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Note: Among the other amazing things about the veggie version of this recipe is that all the ingredients can be kept on the shelf or in the refrigerator indefinitely for emergencies, and it only takes about twenty minutes to prepare. Chopped mushrooms can also be added. A winner!

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“A Flickering Climate” is No Joke

A flood of news on climate change this week. Here’s a short list, with a few brief comments:

This week in Washington a conference was held to celebrate the once-proud Environmental Protection Agency’s thirty-fifth birthday.

Six former EPA chiefs–five of them Republicans–lambasted the Bush administration for failing to lead against the threat of global warming. Christine Whitman said:

You’d need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we’ve handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we’re putting into the air, isn’t exacerbating what is probably a natural trend. But this is worse, and it’s getting worse.

"You’d need to be in a hole somewhere"…strange choice of words, if you ask me. Also noteworthy was the defense from the current chief, Steven Johnson, who said the Bush administration has spent $20 billion on researching the issue (and nothing to combat it, evidently).

When yours truly wrote a long story about this issue two years ago, the figure for Federal research I heard bandied about was $2 billion. A year ago administration defenders said $5 billion. A few months ago, that jumped to $18 billion. Now it’s $20 billion? Where are these figures coming from? Now, if I had some actual time…maybe I could find out.

Much more serious is this story from Fortune, which is drawn from a new book by Eugene Linden called "The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations." The publication is noteworthy: a lot of businesses, especially the insurance business, are very alarmed by the potential cost of climate change.

The Earth’s heat-distribution system has already begun shifting massively in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases. Precipitation patterns, the change of seasons, storm intensity, sea ice, glaciers, temperatures on the tundras–all are in flux. As scientists nervously monitor sea and air currents for signs of major shifts, many believe that today’s proliferation of weather extremes may be the prelude to another epochal transition–a possibility first flagged by the great oceanographer Wallace Broecker in the journal Science in 1997.

How bad could it get? Imagine Europe suffering floods and heat waves on a vastly greater scale than those endured in 2002 and 2003, while northern regions experience intermittent deep freezes as atmospheric and ocean circulations struggle to find new equilibrium. At the same time, droughts and floods not seen since ancient times would afflict some of the most densely populated regions on earth. The probability of drought in the American breadbasket would rise, and along with it the possibility that the U.S. grain surplus–which accounts for the dominant share of world grain exports–would disappear.

A flickering climate wouldn’t just clobber countries with the wealth and technological resources to try to cope. It would affect every part of the planet, and in so doing reduce the resiliency of the global community. With every nation dealing with local emergencies, it would be more difficult to mobilize resources to aid victims in other areas, and there would be fewer resources to mobilize.

Municipalities around the world would struggle under the burden of greatly increased demands on funds to maintain and repair basic infrastructure.

Forget about safety nets–FEMA and its ilk would be bankrupt. In the world’s tightly coupled markets, financial tsunamis would surge through the system, leaving banks and corporations insolvent. Financial panics, largely absent for more than 70 years, would return with a vengeance.

The book considers two broad scenarios: gradual climate change, and the possibility of abrupt climate change. The latter almost certainly would be disastrous. But even the former is more threatening than many may realize:

Tim Barnett, an oceanographer at Scripps Oceanographic Institution, took part in a study of the likely effects of climate change on the Los Angeles area. Surprisingly, he says, even modest decreases in rainfall during what he called a "best-case scenario for future climate change" (a gradual and small change, decades in the future) could reduce available water for the area by 50% by 2050. The region has limited storage capacity for water and relies on the winter snowpack that builds up in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies for water during the dry summer months. Under even modest climate-change scenarios, however, the snowpack would be smaller and would melt earlier. The region would dry up before its driest months.

Angelinos wouldn’t necessarily go thirsty. California has plenty of agricultural water that could be diverted to human needs. The ancillary effects would be harder to manage. Farm output would be reduced, and water shortages could idle hydroelectric plants. Drought also makes trees more vulnerable to pests, such as the pandora moth that afflicts ponderosa pine. Dead trees are tinder for wildfires, like the ones that destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California in 2003. Such impacts would roil the economy. Consider how increased fire risk and other effects of acute water scarcity might affect housing prices or the job market.

People of color are looking at the threat, and don’t like what they see, according to this story on a Black Entertainment Television site:

Citing Katrina as a case-in-point, some environmentalists say global warming impacts minorities and the disadvantaged harder than other groups.  If global warming gets worse, many African-American communities will be more vulnerable to breathing ailments, insect-carried diseases and heat-related illness and death.

But the bizarre news of the day comes from Japan, via the British National Business Review, which discusses the invasion of giant jellyfish invading Japan.

Why the early appearance and the elevated numbers [of the giant jellyfish] are appearing in the Sea of Japan is a question that many are trying to lay at the door of global warming because jellyfish prefer warmer water — but it appears that the more proximate cause is heavy, early rains in China.

Note the key word: Proximate. It’s not an either/or situation. Global warming could very well cause early, heavy rains in China. But despite the attempts by some media outlets to spin it as a big joke, Japanese fisherman aren’t laughing. A glance at this picture will show why:

Giantjellyfishinjapan

 

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An Island of Bears

David Quammen, one of this country’s most thoughtful nature writes, editorializes today in the NYTimes against "delisting" grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park:

Some people have argued that it’s important in principle to de-list the Yellowstone grizzly, in order to show that the Endangered Species Act can yield success stories. That’s like arguing that we must claim success in our wars, early and often, in order to preserve faith in America’s military. So long as Yellowstone is an island, growing smaller every year, we shouldn’t delude ourselves that its grizzlies have "recovered" in any but the most tenuous and misleading numerical sense.

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