Archive for 2006 July

Sunday Morning on the Planet

Summer blackberries. ‘Nuff said.


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Why They Call It “Global” Warming

In Greenland, reports the Wall Street Journal [$], temperatures have warmed 2.7  degrees Fahrenheit in the last thirty years. This has been good for Greenland’s farmers and ranchers, even though (ironically) Greenlanders support the Kyoto Protocol, and–according to the story–frequently express concern about warming elsewhere. Still,

For Mr. Magnusson and his reindeer ranch, the longer grazing seasons mean fatter animals for slaughter, since reindeer gain about half a pound per day during the spring and summer grazing season. More abundant grasslands have prompted one farmer to buy cows for a government-funded experiment in dairy farming. A longer growing season allows crop farmers to expand their home gardens into commercial enterprises. Fishermen have begun catching tons of warm-water cod, after that fish’s long absence from the region.

"We have so many cold places in Greenland, and a lot of it is covered with ice," says Mr. Magnusson. "So we are grateful for those two extra degrees we get."


In England, it’s a different story. The warming–which is breaking heat waves records this summer–

is not welcome. Besides the heat, the still-costly Wall Street Journal says that:

England is facing its worst drought in a century, according to the government’s Environment Agency. The extreme recent heat is exacerbating a shortage of water caused by two drier-than-normal winters that left the water supply low. The underwater reservoirs, or aquifers, that supply 70% of the southeast of England are, in some places, at a quarter of where they should be, local water companies say.

Emergency water restrictions across the southeast currently ban garden hoses, and, in some places, full swimming pools and ornamental fountains. Even the Buckingham Palace lawn is brown after the royal gardener stopped watering earlier this summer.


Some, including [gardener] Mr. Stone and Mayor Livingstone [of London], partly blame global warming for drying up England. A spokesman for the Met Office, the country’s official weather forecaster, says two dry winters and a number of warmer summers are not conclusive proof of global warming. He notes, however, that these conditions are what the office would expect from climate change.

And in Peru, an iconic glacier is in full retreat, according to the Washington Post.

QUELCCAYA GLACIER, Peru — In the thin, cold air here atop the Andes mountains, the blue ice that has claimed these peaks for thousands of years and loyally fed the streams below is now disappearing rapidly.

Mountain glaciers such as this are in retreat around the Earth, taking with them vast stores of water that grow crops, generate electricity and sustain cities and rural areas.

Farmers here say that over the past two decades they have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of ice and snow on their mountaintops. The steady supply of water they need to grow crops has become erratic.

"There is less water now. If there is no water, this land becomes a desert," said Benedicto Loayza, a 52-year-old farmer, standing under pear trees fed by channels dug on the mountain centuries ago to collect runoff.

But "There’s no global warming," as one friend put it dryly at a party this evening. "No, no, no global warming," everyone agreed vociferously.

I listen amused to the sarcasm and cannot help but think again in amazement and wonder back to  Peggy Noonan’s wide-eyed question from a column in the Wall Street Journal a week ago: Is global warming real or not?

Does she read the papers? Does she even read her own newspaper? How can a person step up to a pulpit that big and write to thousands upon thousands of readers in such complete ignorance?

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Small Colorado Coal Burner Pays Big Bucks to Climate Change Denier

According to ABC News, a small rural electric co-operative in Colorado paid a climate change denier  $100,000 for unspecified activities without informing or asking its members.

"It’s outrageous," Ron Binz, a public utility consultant formerly with the state of Colorado, told ABC. "It’s an abuse of authority. The customers are member-owners. [General Manager] Stan Lewandowski is basically spending other people’s money."


Please see the full story in today’s Grist.

Mentioned in the story is a study published by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Here’s a picture taken by FEMA from that study.


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Middle East + Global Warming

Tom Toles , of course.


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Senate Staffer Attacks NYTimes Reporter for Writing Book on North Pole

A book written to be accessible to anyone over the age of ten, The North Pole Was Here, has a staffer for a prominent denier in the US Senate up in arms.

Not for what the book says–because the staffer appears not to have read it–but the fact that it was written by a reporter.

NYTTimes reporter Andrew Revkin published a straightforward but appealing you-are-here account of visiting the top of our home planet, where the air is thin, the "ground" is ice floating on the ocean, and everything is changing.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

Unlike the planet’s South Pole, where a continent is home to permanent research stations and dozens of scientists, engineers, cooks, doctors, and other staff, at the North Pole nothing is permanent except the seabed far below. The ice that is here today will be somewhere else tomorrow. In a few years, much of what I am walking on, what our airplane landed on, will break up and slide out of the Arctic Ocean altogether through passages around Greenland, replaced by newly formed ice. A while ago, a visitor left a message in a container on the ice near this spot. It was found on a beach in Ireland a few years later.

Amazingly, this factual account has alarmed Marc Morano, a communications director for Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). Marc Morano, formerly with The Rush Limbaugh Show, and the first in the media to publicize the attacks of the Swift Boat veterans, has now attacked New York Times’ reporter Andrew Revkin.

According to a story broken by Greenwire (reg. required) on Wednesday, Morano called into doubt the twenty years of Revkin’s reporting on climate change issues, because "sales of Revkin’s book…would be enhanced by his paper’s coverage of climate."

Morano said: "We’re not just shooting arrows."

Yesterday also saw the revelation in the NYTimes that NASA has altered its credo, removing the first line–"To alter and protect the home planet"–perhaps because prominent climate researcher James Hansen pointed to that phrase when insisting on the right to speak up on the hazard to the planet and our way of life from global warming.

Given this somewhat crazy state of affairs, Gristmill asked Revkin to answer a few questions, to which he graciously responded.

Gristmill interview with Andrew Revkin.

(Please check out the above link for the actual interview. My version of the opening is slightly different in emphasis…but it’s the same information, so I hope Grist won’t object if I leave up the original version.)

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Fighting Fire in the Heat

From the "Photo of the Week" in Editor and Publisher.


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Chart of the Week

Anomaly outlook for Canada this upcoming month…


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Global Warming: #2 on the Pop Charts

Thom Yorke, lead singer of the world-famous band Radiohead, is not the first pop artist to find success with a song about global warming.

Andrew Bird, a superb violinist and exciting new rock musician with a long-term interest in weather systems, already has an alternative hit with his Tables and Chairs, a soaring song with a great chorus about global warming:

so don’t, don’t you worry,
about the atmosphere
or any
sudden pressure change

cause i know

that it’s starting to get warm in here

and things are starting to get strange

But Yorke is the first rock star to top the charts with a record focused on global warming, hitting number two this week with his new album The Eraser. Although usually loathe to discuss the meaning of his often-inscrutable songs with the press, he openly described what inspired the record to the LA Times:

"In the paper one day, [Friends of the Earth activist] Jonathan Porritt was basically dismissing any commitment that the working government has toward addressing global warming, saying that their gestures were like King Canute trying to stop the tide. And that just went `kaching’ in my head. It’s not political, but that’s what I feel is happening. We’re all King Canutes, holding our hands out, saying, `It’ll go away. I can make it stop.’ No, you can’t."

This became the central image in "The Eraser" — a king futilely attempting to hold back waves of disaster, drawn from a print by Yorke’s friend Stanley Donwood.Cnut_woodcut_by_stanley_donwood_4

On the Radiohead site, Yorke links to a new climate change campaign, and in his usual off-hand but factual manner, talks about how the issue has hit him personally:

"THIS IS WHAT IM DOING NOW. this is big shit.this is the big ask. about climate change the stuff that wakes me up at 4am in a sweat, ….is that normal? i worry too much, apparently……THOMx"

The record, constructed on a laptop, is electronica and sounds a little strange. Yorke aptly describes it as "bits and bobs and shreds of all sorts of random chaos." But it frames Yorke’s thin but charismatic quaver–the voice voice of anxiety in our times–extremely  well.

"A million engines in neutral," he sings. "The tick tock tick of a ticking timebomb."

In his lyrics, Yorke elegantly describes the central reality of global warming, the natural fact that we as a culture have the most troubling accepting, its cloudy blend of invisibility and inevitability.

He sings:

It’s relentless





As reviews have said, both of the record and of the live version with Radiohead, it’s a strong record: alluring, unsettling, oddly beautiful. (Here’s a link to a solo acoustic performance of The Clock, which begins "Time is running out…")

Will it help? Who knows? After being criticized by the Sunday Times of London for hypocrisy, because Radiohead’s last tour was far from carbon neutral, Yorke told The Observer:

No one’s going to come out of this dirt-free; I don’t come out of it dirt-free. It’s basically [about] having to make a decision whether to do nothing or try to engage with it in some way, knowing that it’s flawed. It’s convenient to project that back on to someone personally and say they’re a hypocrite. It’s a lot easier to do that than actually do anything else. And yeah, that stresses me out, because I am a hypocrite. As we all are.’

Facing facts: It’s a start.

(Cross-posted at Gristmill.)

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July Sunset

Just another summer sunset…taken tonight on an evening walk. 


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Innovative White House Strategy: Incompetence Exhaustion

A couple of months ago I remarked that the Bush administration had found an innovative strategy to avoid further investigations: scandal fatigue.

Administration screw-ups (WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Valerie Plame, Medicare, the budget, and many, many more) have become so complicated and overwhelming that most people tune out less spectacular misdeeds. But while the world seems to be "blowing up," in Maureen Dowd’s words, the administration continues to stifle discussion of global warming.

A couple of recent examples from Climate Science Watch:

1)    In late June, the State Department retired the portion of its website devoted to climate change, apparently so as not to have to have to report on the connection between climate change and hurricanes. It still reports on numerous other serious issues, including bird flu, HIV/AIDS, and tsunamis.

2)    The EPA’s leading expert on sea rise was prevented from responding on the record to questions, according to the NYTimes.

Now the Bush administration appears to have stepped up that strategy in the Middle East, encouraging so much anarchy, chaos, and destruction today that no one has time to think about the damage tomorrow from natural disasters.

Fortunately, the irreplaceable Tom Toles hasn’t forgotten…


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