Archive for 2010 November

Into the Fossil Intensive future: When could we reach 4C?

It's possible the world will not manage to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases, and instead stomp on the fossil fuels and speed up global warming.

That's what it looks like right now, with the black diamonds below representing observed emissions, and tracking towards the upper end of estimates:


Today the world's oldest continuously operating scientific body, the United Kingdom's Royal Publishing Society, published a suite of papers looking at the likelihood of a rise of 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) here on earth this century.

Climate Progress writes it up here, mixing this prospect in with a number of other citations to papers and articles on emissions scenarios, methane release, drought, deforestation, desertification, among other scientific prophecies.  

It's well blogged, but as an alternative for those of us unable to keep quite so many thoughts clearly in mind, this post will focus on a single important paper, called

When could global warming reach 4°C?

and attempt to bring forward just three, or perhaps four, of its central points. 

First, when it comes to assessing the skill of global temperature projections, authors Richard Betts et al point out that we have a history already, from the last thirty years of estimates and observations: 

It is unwise to rely on simulations that are outliers in the distribution—indeed the most extreme members of the ensemble simulated warming of 1°C or above by 2000, while warming observed between 1850–1899 and 2001–2005 was between 0.57°C and 0.95°C, with a best estimate of 0.76°C [1].

In other words, our best estimates to date have been pretty solid, actually. 

Second, a scenario without mitigation cannot be ruled out, given the steady rise of emissions, even in the face of a huge economic downturn: 

While it is still too early to say whether any particular scenario is being tracked by current emissions, A1FI is considered to be as plausible as other non-mitigation scenarios and cannot be ruled out. (A1FI is a part of the A1 family of scenarios, with ‘FI’ standing for ‘fossil intensive’.)

And finally, a plausible scenario calls for a 4 degree Celsius rise by 2070:

Our best estimate is that a temperature rise of 4°C would be reached in the 2070s, and if carbon-cycle feedbacks are strong, then 4°C could be reached in the early 2060s—this latter projection appears to be consistent with the upper end of the IPCC’s likely range of warming for the A1FI scenario.

Our children stand likely to see ecological catastrophe on a global scale. 

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Frozen in Portland…

James Howard Kunstler, the grim futurist, speaks of Portland, in the present and in the future: 

Portland, on the other hand, has turned itself into one of the finest walkable cities in the USA and the Willamette River Valley is one of the most productive farming micro-regions in the world. Human beings will continue to live and thrive to some extent there. 

Kunstler likes the city, and says he has fans for his bleak outlook there, but doesn't live there.

Nancy Rommelmann, a writer/journalist/equaintance who does live in Portland, reports that the future may be good, but the present is not great for young people in that enviro town.

She quotes an English journalist who moved to town a couple of years ago, named Matt Davis:

I'd heard that Portland was a "livable" place and had a sense from reading about it that it was energetic, on the cusp of some kind of breakthrough, especially where green job creation was concerned. When I arrived I found that "livability" was generally reserved for the majority of white people who score sweet government jobs and that most everyone else is either funding their existence with family money, working for Wieden+Kennedy or barely surviving. 

That's the problem with the future, isn't it? You can't really live there. 

Frozen in Portland…, originally uploaded by Dialed-in!.

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Good water news for California this La Niña (to date)

As John Fleck reports, it's been an unusually good year for California so far, given that we're in a strong La Niña condition: 

The precip map is showing a classic La Niña pattern – dry south, wetter north, though California seems to be doing better than they might have hoped:Octppct

In fact, for left coasters, this doesn't feel like a La Niña much at all. 

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Why a farmer’s market is better for you than a Trader’s Joe

A couple of years back I did a story on a new local farmer's market, and, in interviewing the founder, learned something. To his way of thinking, a Trader Joe's – despite its cool reputation among the hipster clan — was as much of a rival as a Safeway. 

Turns out that for a local community, his antipathy is based in fact. A Trader Joe's, which, despite its folksy, Hawaiian shirt look, is a part of a multinational conglomerate, is no better for the local economy than an other big corporation, whereas a small local store is demonstrably better. To wit: 

Still, I shop there sometimes. Where else can a guy find whole wheat couscous? 

h/p: Andrew Sullivan

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Congress won’t extend unemployment benefits: LA Times

Veteran reporter Don Lee of the LA Times already knows that Congress won't extend unemployment benefits for the long-term out of work, even before the debate is joined: 

Economists also worry that consumer spending may weaken. Confidence remains low, and unemployment benefits, which have helped prop up spending, probably won't be extended by lawmakers, given the new political sensitivity to big government deficits. Hundreds of thousands of jobless workers will see their benefits expire this month.

Will the GOP really kill benefits for the jobless in the midst of the worst recession in decades? 

Toles seems to think so

Expect to hear lots of "Scrooge" references from the media for the new Congress. 

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In the woods (this Thanksgiving Day)


In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as a snake his slough, and at what period in life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.


[Pic taken this month in Chivery, in the UK, by Algo, via Treeporn

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The darker Thanksgiving prayer: Thanks, William S. Burroughs

Well, somebody had to say it. (About gratitude and the USA, I mean.) Why not William S. Burroughs? 

For hardcore bitter truth addicts only. 

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How to prevent the Sixth Extinction

39% of species alive today, according to an assessment by an international group of conservation scientists, face annihilation in the Sixth Extinction. That's total destruction of these species this century.

In effect, we are our own [killer] asteroid

To prevent this planetary disaster, Ted Rall has an idea:

Incidentally, his description of the Nagoya Protocol fits the facts.

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Most beautiful “to the reader” ever

Last time Patti Smith came through town, she was in her rock star mode, and put on an un-freaking-believable show at the Ventura Theater, chatting with fans in line, going on to play all her hits, her clarinet, a Blue Oyster Song, and just generally being a totally giving person and sweetheart.

At one point she told a little story about walking around downtown, enjoying Ventura, and discovering that a bird had shat on her shoulder. She laughed it off. Told us:

You have a really nice town here. Hope you can keep it.

This week she won the National Book Award for her memoir of being a young artist in New York in love. Haven't had a chance to read Just Kids yet, but at her show she also had on sale copies of her poetic tribute to her past lover Robert Mapplethorpe, The Coral Sea, a collection of prose poems she wote as reflections, set off by his beautifully composed but unsettling black-and-white photographs.

It's a book as gorgeous as a dream you don't want to forget, elusive in its plot, but memorable in its mood, tributary and longing. It's about her late friend Robert Mapplethorpe, who was also the subject of her memoir. And it's got the most beautiful "to the reader" little sort of foreward I've ever read.

The first time I saw Robert he was sleeping. I stood over him, this boy of twenty, who sensing my presence opened his eyes and smiled. With few words he became my friend, my compeer, my beloved adventure.

When he became ill I wept and could not stop weeping. He scolded me for that, not with words but with a simple look of reproach, and I ceased.

When I saw him last we sat in silence and he rested his head on my shoulder. I watched the light changing over his hands, over his work, and over the whole of our lives. Later, returning to his bed, we said goodbye. But as I was leaving something stopped me and I went back to his room. He was sleeping. I stood over him, a dying man, who sensing my presence opened his yes and smiled.

When he passed away I could not weep so I wrote. Then I took the pages and set them away. Here are those pages, my farewell to my friend, my adventure, my unfettered joy.

Thank you. Patti Smith, for trusting us with the whole story.


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GOP and FOX News attack NPR, to no avail

Unlike most media, on-line or traditional, National Public Radio is thriving. It may be the most popular and trusted news source in the country.

As Bill McKibben reports

Public radio claims at least 5 percent of the radio market. National Public Radio’s flagship news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, featuring news and commentary alongside in-depth reports and stories that can stretch over twenty minutes—are the second- and third-most-popular radio programs in the country, each drawing about 13 million unique listeners in the course of the week. These NPR shows have far larger audiences than the news on cable television; indeed, all four television broadcast networks combined only draw twice as large an audience for their evening newscasts. Morning Edition and All Things Considered are supplemented by well-regarded programs like The World, a BBC coproduction with Boston’s WGBH, and the business broadcast Marketplace—programming produced outside of NPR itself but within the larger world of public radio. In polls, public radio is rated as the most trusted source of news in the nation. The audience for most of its programs dwarfs the number of subscribers to the The New York Times or The New Yorker, or the number of people who read even the biggest best sellers. 

In fact, the burgeoning success of NPR seems to be driving the right in this country a little crazy.

Today Republicans in the House tried to eliminate the money the Federal government gives indirectly to NPR, without success. (Even if they succeed in cutting its stipend totally, they likely won't kill it off: The government only contributes about 15% of its budget.) 

And Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind FOX News, called the people who work at National Public Radio "Nazis." 

“They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive.”

Howard Kurtz, who recently left the Washington Post for the Daily Beast, got this quote.


Ailes took it back later — sort of


To hear the FOX News honcho compare the famously modulated NPR voices to perhaps the worst villains in the history of the world? 

It's a bit surreal — and very schoolyard. One wants to pull out the old "I'm rubber and you're glue" witticism from the sixth grade. 

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