Archive for 2009 March

Climate Change: A Back-Burner Issue

According to Toles, maybe not:


Much as I dislike giving credit to a fake enviro like Thomas Friedman for writing about the environment, his column yesterday effectively made some important points no other nationally syndicated columnist has dared put forth, at least that I know of. The column is called Mother Nature's Dow:

Mother Nature doesn’t tell us with one simple number how she’s
feeling. But if you follow climate science, what has been striking is
how insistently some of the world’s best scientists have been warning —
in just the past few months — that climate change is happening faster
and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few
years ago. Indeed, if Mother Nature had a Dow, you could say that it,
too, has been breaking into new (scientific) lows.

Consider just two recent articles:

Washington Post reported on Feb. 1, that “the pace of global warming is
likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial
greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and
higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms
in global ecosystems, scientists said. ‘We are basically looking now at
a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in
climate model simulations,’ Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie
Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University,

The physicist and climate expert Joe Romm recently noted on his blog,,
that in January, M.I.T.’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of
Global Change quietly updated its Integrated Global System Model that
tracks and predicts climate change from 1861 to 2100. Its revised
projection indicates that if we stick with business as usual, in terms
of carbon-dioxide emissions, average surface temperatures on Earth by
2100 will hit levels far beyond anything humans have ever experienced.

our more recent global model simulations,” explained M.I.T., “the ocean
heat-uptake is slower than previously estimated, the ocean uptake of
carbon is weaker, feedbacks from the land system as temperature rises
are stronger, cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century
are higher, and offsetting cooling from aerosol emissions is lower. Not
one of these effects is very strong on its own, and even adding each
separately together would not fully explain the higher temperatures.
[But,] rather than interacting additively, these different effects
appear to interact multiplicatively, with feedbacks among the
contributing factors, leading to the surprisingly large increase in the
chance of much higher temperatures.”

Mike, my faithful reader, I know Friedman is a jet-setter with a carbon footprint probably about the size of New Jersey, and he's come to this subject having blown his credibility on Iraq, the economy, and countless less important topics. But still — this time he's right.

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How Do You Save A River? Easy. Make a Wetland…

The Environment Agency of the UK, after looking at climate models that predict a shocking 50-80% drop in river flows from the hard-rock west of England and Wales by 2050, are calling for drastic measures to maintain flows and species habitats. To wit (from the Telegraph):

River flows across the country will be cut in half, while the west of the
country could lose up to 80 per cent of their river water.

The agency is to urge water companies to build new treatment plants to purify
fresh water from the sea and to clean effluent waste water to ensure there
are reliable sources of drinking water in the future.

Natural habitats will also be threatened by the lack of water and in some
cases vulnerable species will need to be moved in ambitious relocation
programmes to ensure their survival.

The one possible bit of good news I can see here is the idea of the Agency specifically setting out to create wetlands in the upper reaches, both to absorb flooding during storm events (expected to be heavier, due to the increased intensity of the hydrological cycle) and to maintain flows during dry times. Also interesting is the idea of relocating endangered species…though surely that won't be easy. 

The strategy also proposes creating large areas of upland wetlands, which have
in the past been drained for farming and industry, to help slow the progress
of rain run-off and act as natural storage areas that will also provide
valuable habitats.

While summers will be far drier than present, short extreme rainfall events
will become more common and river flows during the winter months will
increase, raising the risk of flooding unless run-off can be slowed down by
wetlands and peat bogs.

Story doesn't discuss how in the world one might relocate a salmon run…perhaps no one knows.


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An Unboring Life…

…may not be lucrative, but at least it gives you a chance to become a person you want to be.

Or, as Ibsen put it, in his usual gentle way:

What is healthy is the happiness one acquires through one's own will.

via Jessica Hagy's great Indexed, which kindly allows others to link and copy. Anunboringlife

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Cheney, Dust, and Bob Dylan

Marc Ambinder (here) explains how the GOP is putting its foot into its mouth, or shooting itself in the foot…or some combination thereof.

Each time Cheney opens his mouth, the DNC — or Robert Gibbs, if he's
in the mood — finds a way to reduce Republican opposition to President
Obama's plans to the words of someone who is very unpopular with most
Americans.  (A side note: Cheney, smarter than the average elephant,
understands this. He has his legacy to defend. He is worried not about
criminal prosecution; rather, if the Obama mindset over next
four-to-eight years sets in, Dick Cheney, a guy who most Americans
don't like, will be the Dick Cheney that Andrew Sullivan knows: truly
infamous and even wretched; someone who sanctioned torture; someone who
abused executive power with relish. Obama's Justice Department may soon
renounce the legal foundations upon which Cheney's policies were
constructed and may even cite the former administration's lawyers for
misconduct.  If they do this — once they do this — the edifice will
be nothing but dust.)

In other dusty news of the day, Ann Powers, the pop music critic for The Los Angeles Times, gets a chance to listen to Bob Dylan's new record, coming out next month, and reports (here) that its last song is on the same subject:

"It's All Good": "Throw on the dust! Pile on the
dust!" Dylan shouts in this apocalypse party of a song. Sharp guitar
lines and one of the album's fastest tempos gives the band a chance to
fade out on a high note. Dylan's final word: Enjoy this world, even as
it descends into chaos. In fact, especially enjoy the chaos.

I've had something of a falling-out with Dylan over the last decade, considering his recent records wildly overrated, and his recent performances mostly dreadful, but I do love the picture and title for the new one. Hope springs eternal…as does love:


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On Climate: “The Expert is Scared”

From the Aspen Environment Forum:

“Maybe that’s the narrative: The expert is scared.”

Robert Socolow,
Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Co-Principal
Investigator, Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative

Note that Socolow in the climate/energy field is considered something of a hopeful moderate.

Probably should have attended this conference. List of speakers, beginning with Lisa Jackson, new EPA chief, looks great. Here's a roulette wheel/graphic representing a massive recent unified study, out of a huge program at M.I.T., which found a substantially greater probability of catastrophic warming this century, assuming (as we saw last century) no substantive policy change. For more, see here or here.


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Sex and Death, by Richard Avedon

With all due respect to Science Daily, Nature, the GRL, and countless other ultra-serious scientific journals, the most interesting thinking in the world of science journalism right now seems to be happening in blogs such as Bioephemera, which looks at the intersection of art and science.

Here's an example, from the great photographer Richard Avedon, part of a series he did in l995 for The New Yorker (though it's unclear if it was ever published). It's labeled a "photo editorial," and that seems about right…mortality in these pictures seems unable to resist beauty, and beauty isn't a bit surprised, and doesn't that make a lot of sense?

Here's the whole series, courtesy of Bioephemera….via a fashion site called Haute Macabre.


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Climate, by Emily Dickinson


I think that the Root of the Wind is Water —
It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product–
Airs no Ocean keep —
Mediterranean intonations —
To a Current's Ear —
There is a maritime conviction
In the Atmosphere —

She's utterly correct, of course. It's quite astounding how much the atmosphere can resemble the ocean in its influences, such as with Rossby Waves, or with the simple fact that most of the excess energy the planet has absorbed from space has been taken up by the ocean, rather than the atmosphere.

84% in fact, according to Tim Barnett of Scripps.

Here's an antique locket of America's greatest woman poet, courtesy of Tartx.

Antique Emily Dickinson locket

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Weirdest Right-Wing Obama Taunt

Lately I've heard a new insult directed at Barack Obama by right-wing outlets…claiming that without his teleprompter, he's lost. Unable to pronounce words. Hopeless in front of a crowd with a mic.

No, I'm not kidding. The allegation is that Barack Obama is stupid. Take a look at this genius post from the super-popular right-wing site Powerline, which begins:

Everyone knows that Barack Obama is lost without his teleprompter…

…and goes on to mock him for mispronouncing a word. The post then puts up a YouTube rant, supposedly from the teleprompter to the Prez, in which "the one who bails your ass out night in and night out"  demands better treatment, a private heated compartment, top billing, etc.

Right. The President, who was mocked repeatedly by his Republican opponent during the fall debates for his "campaign of eloquence," now has been struck dumb, and cannot articulate his own thoughts.

This despite the fact that, for instance, a couple of weeks after taking office he took questions from the national press live for forty-five minutes, without a single misstep of the slightest consequence. 

To such a criticism this Democrat can only say: Wow.

With enemies like that, who needs friends?

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Geo-Engineering: The Ecologist Doesn’t Like It

According to The Ecologist, the technological fixes for global warming are untested, dangerous, expensive, and probably ineffective. (See the chart below.)

This may all be true, but as more than one scientist pointed out at this year's American Geophysical Union conference, if the news about global warming is as bad as some fear, we really may not have a choice but to begin to research these technologies.

Now Chris Mooney, probably our best young science journalist, writes a column on "When Will Geo-Engineering Tip?" for Science Progress (here). This will not make The Ecologist happy, I predict…

…for me the surprise is that Mooney argues that geo-engineering will likely be "cheap." To which one can only ask the old jazz question: Compared to what?  But to be fair, as Jeff Masters of Wunderblog reported from the AGU this year, some possible solutions do look reasonably priced…if goofy


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Why DeSalination Is Not the Answer

A water manager for United Water Conservation District named Steve Bachman explains succinctly why desalination is not the answer, in a story I wrote in today's Ventura County Star (here):

“People ask all the time about desalination,” he said. “And yes, we can
do that, if you’re willing to pay two times or more what you’re paying
now for water.”

In a phone conversation, he explained further. Water districts can buy water from Metropolitan — when it is available — for $600 an acre-foot. "Desal" today costs in the range of $1100.

So there you go. Of course we haven't mentioned the huge carbon footprint, the infrastructure problems, the salts disposal…but do we need to?

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