Archive for 2007 June

Opps (Housekeeping note)

Opps. Just came across eight comments that were not published because (I just found out) I am now supposed to approve every comment first. Apparently this is a change of policy, or perhaps this goes with allowing people to publish links, a change I made recently. My apologies to all of you who took the trouble to comment, but didn’t get the opportunity. Sometimes I’m a little thick.

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Lake Tahoe Fires and James Hansen

James Hansen is everywhere. Kind of like Cassandra. Speaking of the West and fire, Hansen and forty-six co-authors warn in a paper last month for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics:

An expansion
and intensification of subtropical dry conditions occurs consistently
with global warming in our climate simulations
(Hansen et al., 2005a, 2007a). Held and Soden (2006) and
Lu et al. (2007) find agreement among a large number of
models in intensification of the pattern of precipitation minus
evaporation and its temporal variance, with poleward expansion
of subtropical conditions accompanying global warming.
Practical impacts may include increased drought and
fires in regions such as the Western United States, Mediterranean,
Australia and parts of Africa. Paleoclimate data
(Cook et al., 2004) provide evidence of strong drought in the
western United States accompanying global warming, and
the GISS model is able to reproduce this tendency for subtropical
drying in past warm climates as well as in modern
ones (Shindell et al, 2006). We cannot specify a threshold for
these effects, and there is already evidence of such tendencies
in the past decade. However, the simulated effects are proportional
to global warming (Held and Soden, 2006; Lu et
al., 2007), so end-of-century effects under BAU warming are
about three times greater than in the alternative scenario.

Let me repeat that last line: The simulated effects are proportional to global warming, so end-of-century effects under Business-As-Usual warming are about three times greater than the alternative scenario (in which the growth of carbon emissions is moderated). Three times! Holy cow.

This is why scientists and environmentalists alike are determined to bring down carbon emissions numbers. We’re going to crash, but will we survive the collision with the future? If we make no effort to change — probably not.

[Flickr photo of firefighters working the Lake Tahoe fire on Monday from Lorelei_29: all rights reserved]


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Arnold vs. the EPA

A nice editorial cartoon by Steve Greenberg of the Ventura County Star. Posted here with permission.

Who would ever have thought that Arnold, the man who (more than any other individual) helped popularize the Hummer, is also the man who most directly confronted the Bush administration on global warming?

After 9/11, respected writers said the age of irony was over. They were wrong…irony will never die. We humans need it much too much.



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Robert Heinlein on Logic

Crushed under work today, but here’s a quote that deserves remembering, from an obscure but often charming book by Robert Heinlein called Glory Road:

Logic is a way of saying that anything that didn’t happen yesterday won’t happen tomorrow.

Could this be part of the reason that self-styled conservatives have so much trouble with the concept of global warming? That it strikes them as illogical, regardless of what the science says?

Just a thought. 

[The quote comes from early in the book, Chapter Five, shortly after Heinlein’s narrator/hero wakes to find himself on another planet.]

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Bush Administration on Carbon Emissions: We Don’t Care, and We Don’t Care if You Know We Don’t Care

Ever write something and only realize later what you were really trying to say? Ever write and publish something and then realize what you were trying to say?

This happened to me with the following post. Only after reading the comments (on Grist) did I realize the point. Even if you take the Bush administration at its word on global warming, you quickly see that they have no intention of acting to reduce carbon emissions. They say as much!

Here we go…

On a new blog called Terra Rossa–"Where Conservatives Consider a New Energy Future"–GOP pollster Whit Ayres argues that when President Bush at the G-8 summit declared his willingness to "seriously consider" carbon emission reductions over the next forty years, he took a "major step" in the direction of his environmental critics. Says Ayres: 

I don’t think anyone could argue that conservatives are not trying to compromise on the issue. While many conservative voters, politicians, and business leaders might prefer to take no action to limit carbon emissions, they have heard the call to action and are clearly working toward a cap they can live with.

Ayres claims the President has undergone a "sea-change" on global warming, but ignores these inconvenient facts:

    –No agreement to reduce carbon emissions came out of the G-8 summit, despite much pressure from Germany and Europe.

    –The President talks of "long-term" goals, but has committed to nothing but discussion.                                                                                                                              
    –Shortly after taking office, a White House insider admitted to Andrew Revkin of The New York Times [$] that the Bush administration intended to do as little as possible about global warming:

”There’s a sense in which everybody’s saying the American public doesn’t have the attention span or background to pay attention to this issue,” the official said. ”There’s still a hopeful perception around the White House that this has gone away.”

   –Not only did the President break a reassuring campaign promise regarding carbon emissions, but just this last year told a biographer that he was a "dissenter" on the "theory" of global warming.

So we have good reason to doubt the sincerity of the Bush adminstration, despite the bland assurances of progress from White House environmental chief Jim Connaughton. And in fact this past week the President himself, in his own words, has let us know exactly how high a priority he gives the issue. Four recent speeches–to a Southern Baptist convention, to a homebuilders convention, at a political fund-raiser, and at a nuclear power plant yesterday were put through a word processor, and the results show what is on the President’s mind, and what is not:

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Thinking About Polar Cities — Or Trying To

An interesting journalist named Dan Bloom, now based in Taiwan, has been agitating for consideration of one of James Lovelock’s more alarming ideas — polar cities. (Here’s his site on the subject.)

I don’t have answers for Mr. Bloom’s difficult questions, but while I’m thinking on the subject, I want to quote on this Sunday from his citation of the late great Kurt Vonnegut, and his poem Requiem:

..When the last living thing has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating upwards

from the floor of the Grand Canyon,

"It is done."

People did not like it here.

But some of us do like it here, readers will protest. And no doubt Kurt would say; yes, but — not enough to save the place. And he has a point. What  we say is of little interest to the natural world…

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Hasta La Vista, Governor

Shocking news: the "post-partisan" Governor of California, the world-famous Arnold Schwarzenneger, may be moving to my neighborhood. That’s according to a rumor printed in the Ventura County Star.

The Sacramento Bee recently reported that the couple made an offer on a property listed for about $6 million in Upper Ojai. It didn’t name an exact location. That story also cited a similar report in the Pacific Coast Business Times newspaper earlier this month.

Neither the governor’s office nor the real estate company said to be handling the transaction would comment. But the news has been bouncing around town since the power couple rode through three weeks ago.

According to a Realtor in the Santa Ynez Valley, the governor and his family also looked at properties there, but found none to their liking before heading to Ojai.

There goes the neighborhood (the obvious joke). Actually, the neighborhood is already essentially gone for ordinary folks like us. The elementary school population is less than half what it was ten years ago, because ordinary folks–young couples likely to send their kids to public school–can’t afford the area.

But the Guv endeared himself somewhat to me by visiting our colorful outdoor bookstore, Bart’s Books, where every couple of weeks I take a stack of books back, and a couple of books out, and pay nothing — recycling at its best.

When he was in town, the governor dropped into the store and browsed the bookshelves sheltered under the canopy of trees, said [the owner] Dave Ray, who wasn’t in at the time.

"I heard he said, Ah’ll be back,’ " Ray said.


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Seriously Warming

From McClatchey’s cartoonist Kevin Siers:


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Spring Comes to the Arctic — Two Weeks Early

In a gently-written article from Greenland, Nature reports that spring is coming two weeks early in the Arctic.

The discovery adds to the litany of changes to ecosystems that are occurring in response to changing climates around the world. But the rate at which changes are occurring in the high Arctic far outstrips that seen elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

"We suddenly realized that the trends are dramatically stronger than elsewhere," says Toke Høye of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, who led the research. Previous worldwide studies of animals and plants have suggested that, globally, the beginning of spring is advancing by around five days per decade.

But in the frozen valleys of Zackenberg, northeastern Greenland, the rate of change is almost triple the world average, Høye’s team has discovered. "This is the first study of its kind in the high Arctic," he says. "It’s quite a surprise to see such a huge difference."

I confess, I love Mr. Hoye’s quiet way of speaking, though I do think this is exactly the sort of dry understatement that has hindered public understanding of the threat of global heating. But that’s the nature of science; facts come first, emotion far behind. For most people, I think, it’s the other way around. Here’s Mr. Hoke’s picture of the thaw…


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The Fires of Life: Colin Fletcher, R.I.P.

When I was twelve or so, I stumbled across Welsh hiker Colin Fletcher’s classic book, The Complete Walker. Its blend of practicality and lyricism helped inspire me to become a somewhat-nervous young backpacker, mostly with friends and family. Later I headed off on my own, which for Fletcher was always the best way to go. (Indeed, he had a certain disdain for those who had to have company.)

A lot of his tips have dated, thanks to the incredible advances in backpacking technology just in the past ten years, but his principles remain as sound as ever, and before going I still like to spread out a tarp and put everything on it and visualize the trip, day by day, which was one of his fundamental ideas. I remember seeing a picture of him with all his gear spread out on the tarp and thinking; jeez, that’s not very much, and no it’s not, and no, you don’t need a lot, really.

The Los Angeles Times has the best obit I’ve seen on this wonderfully cranky individualist, which included with a great line from his book River, about going down the Colorado, from its source to the sea, at age 67. Fletcher wrote:

"I needed something to pare the fat off my soul…. And I knew … there is nothing like a wilderness journey for rekindling the fires of life."

Colin Fletcher, Rest in Peace:



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