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Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

SETH SHULMAN for Grist, part of the Guardian U.K., August 23, 2010

The ocean has been our savior.

Besides generating about two thirds of the oxygen we breathe, oceangoing phytoplankton — those floating microscopic plants that form the base of the aquatic food chain — absorb about a third of all the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. In this way, the oceans have managed to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and stave off even more dramatic warming of the planet.

But John Guinotte and colleagues are discovering that the critical role of “carbon sink” comes at a potentially devastating cost for the world’s oceans: acidification.

Guinotte is a coral specialist at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash. The changes he sees in ocean chemistry spell trouble for the coral that he studies closely. If the acidification process continues on its current trajectory, it poses a dire threat to the whole marine ecosystem.

“What I’m really concerned about with ocean acidification is that we are facing the prospect of a crash in marine food webs.” says Guinotte. “There is no question that many of my colleagues in marine science are scared about what is happening. We know we need a more precise understanding of the changes and biological responses now under way — and we need it as quickly as possible, before it is too late to turn things around.”

Guinotte has dedicated his life to the study of coral, especially the less well understood deep-sea varieties. Growing up in rural Kansas, his only exposure to corals was through the pages of National Geographic. But that changed when he learned to scuba dive at his grandfather’s winter home in the Florida Keys. The experience, plus his interest in biology and geography, led him to Australia, where he earned his Ph.D.

Guinotte still remembers the thrill of exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for the first time. “I was absolutely blown away by the abundance and diversity of coral,” he recalls. At that time, back in the late-1990s, scientists were increasingly concerned about coral bleaching caused by environmental stresses such as warming ocean temperatures. Those threats remain, Guinotte says, but ocean acidification may be an even more serious and intractable problem.

On the macro scale, Guinotte explains, the chemistry of ocean acidification is relatively clear. Based on some 25 years’ worth of measurements scientists know that oceans absorb about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide every day. The oceans are vast. But even so, the absorption of CO2 is now occurring at such an unprecedented rate that ocean chemistry is approaching a state not seen in many millions of years. Guinotte fears that many marine species might be unable to adapt quickly enough to survive these dramatic changes.

As carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, hydrogen ions are released. This lower the pH, making the water more acidic. Measurements indicate that Earth’s oceans are already about 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution. As the number of hydrogen ions has risen, the number of carbonate ions available in seawater has gone down. This carbonate deficit makes life more difficult for the “marine calcifiers,” species such as coral and shellfish that use carbonate to build their skeletons and protective shells.

“Ocean water becomes increasingly corrosive to calcium carbonate,” says Guinotte. “A reduction in carbonate ions not only impedes corals’ ability to build their skeletons, but once the calcium carbonate drops below critical levels, the ocean erodes the framework they have built up previously — the reefs upon which corals live.” Even if select coral species can survive ocean acidification, Guinotte says, when the coral reefs begin to dissolve, the effects on the entire marine ecosystem are likely to be devastating.

Scientists know from the fossil record that reefs which sustained damage from high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in the geologic past took millions of years to recover. “Given that we need to think in human time scales, it means we’re playing for keeps here,” says Guinotte. “To me, it sometimes seems like a school bus full of children heading for a cliff. Somehow we have to slow it down enough to find some real solutions.”

Because of the very clear potential for ocean acidification to effect everything from the tiniest oxygen-providing phytoplankton to the larger fish that feed in the coral reefs — or, as Guinotte has written, “from the shallowest waters to the darkest depths of the deep sea” — the threat to humankind is immense.

To figure out precisely how much acidification many varieties of coral can tolerate, and what we can do to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem, Guinotte argues for a coordinated research effort that tackles every aspect of the problem. That includes better monitoring of ocean carbon; closer tracking of calcifying organisms and more laboratory and field studies of their physiological responses to increasingly acidicity; and more detailed studies that model the threat to the marine ecosystem as a whole. Some of this work is under way, but too much of it has been conducted in piecemeal fashion. Only a more intensive, coordinated effort, says Guinotte, can provide the detail necessary for policymakers to develop strategies that protect critical species, habitats, and ecosystems.

“From the standpoint of the oceans,” Guinotte says, “there is no escaping the fact that we are going to need major reductions in our CO2 emissions — something like 80 to 90 percent. When we see governments arguing about reductions of 10 to 15 percent, I think all of us in the marine science community need to say that CO2 reductions of this scale are simply not going to be sufficient. We have to get off fossil fuels.”

The fossil record shows that high CO2 concentrations have likely played a big role in mass extinctions of marine life in the past. “If marine systems start to crash, it may well be too late to stop the train,” says Guinotte. “Governments are likely to panic and make irrational decisions; international tensions could certainly heat up. These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night. I continue to hope we can get it turned around. But it will take political will, and so far, that has been in short supply.”

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DAVID FOGARTY and NICK MACFIE, Reuters, August 17, 2010

A dramatic spike in ocean temperatures off Indonesia’s Aceh province has killed large areas of coral and scientists fear the event could be much larger than first thought and one of the worst in the region’s history.

The coral bleaching — whitening due to heat driving out the algae living within the coral tissues — was first reported in May after a surge in temperatures across the Andaman Sea from the northern tip of Sumatra island to Thailand and Myanmar.

An international team of scientists studying the bleaching event found that 80% of some species have died since the initial assessment in May.

More coral colonies were expected to die within the next few months and that could spell disaster for local communities reliant on the reefs for food and money from tourism.

“I would predict that what we’re seeing in Aceh, which is extraordinary, that similar mortality rates are occurring right the way through the Andaman Sea,” said Andrew Baird of James Cook University in Townsville, in the Australian state of Queensland.

If so, that would make it the worst bleaching recorded in the region, said Baird.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Syiah Kuala University in Aceh have also been assessing the damage.

“This one of the most rapid and severe coral mortality events ever recorded,” the U.S.-based WCS said in a statement.

It also fits a pattern of climate extremes, from heatwaves to flooding, that have hit many areas of the globe this year.

Between April and late May, sea surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea rose to 34 degrees Celsius or about 4 degrees C above the long-term average, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Hotspots website. (See: here )

SLOW RECOVERY

“Similar mass bleaching events in 2010 have now been recorded in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and many parts of Indonesia,” the WCS statement said.

Baird, of James Cook University’s ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told Reuters that climate change could have played a role in the extreme ocean temperatures around Aceh.

“There might be one of these cyclic climate phenomena driving it but it’s much more severe than you would predict unless there was something else forcing it, which is almost certainly global warming,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.

The bleaching is a blow to local communities in Aceh still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. That disaster caused relatively little damage to reefs and Baird said some areas had showed a dramatic recovery.

Baird said reefs in Indonesia would normally take 5 to 10 years to recover from localized bleaching. But if the event was spread across a much wider area, recovery would take longer.

“I suspect the scale of this event is so large there is unlikely to be many healthy reefs in the rest of Aceh.”

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JULIETTE JOWIT, Guardian UK, July 28, 2010

Phytoplankton might be too small to see with the naked eye, but they are the foundations of the ocean food chain, ultimately capturing the energy that sustains the seas’ great beasts such as whales.

A new study though has raised the alarm about fundamental changes to life underwater. It warns that populations of these microscopic organisms have plummeted in the last century, and the rate of loss has increased in recent years.

The reduction – averaging about 1% per year – is related to increasing sea surface temperatures, says the paper, published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

The decline of these tiny plankton will have impacted nearly all sea creatures and will also have affected fish stocks.

Phytoplankton provide food – by capturing energy from the sun – and recycle nutrients, and because they account for approximately half of all organic matter on earth they are hugely important as a means of absorbing carbon.

“This decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries,” add the paper’s authors, from Dalhousie university in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The researchers looked at measurements of ocean transparency and tested for concentrations of chlorophyll, which gives large numbers of phytoplankton a distinctive green sheen. They said that although there were variations in some areas due to regional climate and coastal run-off, the long-term global decline was “unequivocal”.

The Nature article comes as climate scientists published what they said today was the “best ever” collection of evidence for global warming, including temperature over land, at sea and in the higher atmosphere, along with records of humidity, sea-level rise, and melting ice.

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DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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BBC News, November 24, 2009

Three UK groups studying climate change have issued a strong statement about the dangers of failing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases across the world.

The Royal Society, Met Office, and Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) say the science of climate change is more alarming than ever.

They say the 2007 UK floods, 2003 heatwave in Europe and recent droughts were consistent with emerging patterns.

Their comments came ahead of crunch UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month.

‘Loss of wildlife’

In a statement calling for action to cut carbon emissions, institutions said evidence for “dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change” was growing.

Global carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise, Arctic summer ice cover was lower in 2007 and 2008 than in the previous few decades, and the last decade has been the warmest on average for 150 years.

The best thing we could do is to prepare for the worst. Build better flood defences in vulnerable areas Lee, Bracknell

Persistent drought in Australia and rising sea levels in the Maldives were further indicators of possible future patterns, they said.

They argue that without action there will be much larger changes in the coming decades, with the UK seeing higher food prices, ill health, more flooding and rising sea levels.

Known or probable damage across the world includes ocean acidification, loss of rainforests, degradation of ecosystems and desertification, they said.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world faced more droughts, floods, loss of wildlife, rising seas and refugees.

But Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist of the Met Office, Professor Alan Thorpe, Nerc’s chief executive, and Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said cutting emissions could substantially limit the severity of climate change.

Copenhagen summit

Prof Slingo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the importance of the statement was that “it emphasises that whilst global mean temperature changes may not sound very large, the regional consequences of those are very great indeed”.

She said: “As the inter-governmental panel on climate change stated very clearly in 2007, without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we can likely, very likely, expect a world of increasing droughts, floods, species loss, rising seas [and] displaced human populations.

“What this statement says very clearly is that some of those things, whilst we can’t directly attribute them at the moment to global warming, are beginning to happen.”

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PODESTA, GORDON, HENDRICKS & GOLDSTEIN, Center for American Progress, September 21, 2009

ctr-4-american-progressWith unemployment at 9.5%, and oil and energy price volatility driving businesses into the ground, we cannot afford to wait any longer. It is time for a legislative debate over a comprehensive clean energy investment plan. We need far more than cap and trade alone.

The United States is having the wrong public debate about global warming. We are asking important questions about pollution caps and timetables, carbon markets and allocations, but we have lost sight of our principal objective: building a robust and prosperous clean energy economy. This is a fundamentally affirmative agenda, rather than a restrictive one. Moving beyond pollution from fossil fuels will involve exciting work, new opportunities, new products and innovation, and stronger communities. Our current national discussion about constraints, limits, and the costs of transition misses the real excitement in this proposition. It is as if, on the cusp of an Internet and telecommunications revolution, debate centered only on the cost of fiber optic cable. We are missing the big picture here.

Let’s be clear: Solving global warming means investment. Retooling the energy systems that fuel our economy will involve rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. We will create millions of middle-class jobs along the way, revitalize our manufacturing sector, increase American competitiveness, reduce our dependence on oil, and boost technological innovation. These investments in the foundation of our economy can also provide an opportunity for more broadly shared prosperity through better training, stronger local economies, and new career ladders into the middle class. Reducing greenhouse gas pollution is critical to solving global warming, but it is only one part of the work ahead. Building a robust economy that grows more vibrant as we move beyond the Carbon Age is the greater and more inspiring challenge.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avert dangerous global warming is a moral challenge, but it is also an economic, national security, social, and environmental imperative. The “cap and trade” provisions, which will set limits on pollution and create a market for emissions reductions that will ultimately drive down the cost of renewable energy and fuel, represent a very important first step and a major component in the mix of policies that will help build the coming low-carbon economy. But limiting emissions and establishing a price on pollution is not the goal in itself, and we will fall short if that is all we set out to do. Rather, cap and trade is one key step to reach the broader goal of catalyzing the transformation to an efficient and sustainable low-carbon economy. With unemployment at 9.5%, and oil and energy price volatility driving businesses into the ground, we cannot afford to wait any longer. It is time for a legislative debate over a comprehensive clean energy investment plan. We need far more than cap and trade alone.

This is not just an exercise in rhetoric. Articulating and elevating a comprehensive plan to invest in clean energy systems and more efficient energy use will affect policy development and the politics surrounding legislation now moving through the Senate, as well as international negotiations underway around the globe. The current debate, which splits the issue into the two buckets of “cap and trade” and “complementary policies,” has missed the comprehensive nature of the challenge and its solutions. It also emphasizes the challenge of pollution control instead of organizing policy for increased development, market growth, reinvestment in infrastructure, and job creation through the transition to a more prosperous, clean energy economy.

This paper lays out the framework for just such an investment-driven energy policy, the pieces of which work together to level the playing field for clean energy and drive a transformation of the economy. Importantly, many elements of this positive clean-energy investment framework are already codified within existing legislation such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by House of Representatives earlier this year. But with all the attention given to limiting carbon, too little attention has been placed on what will replace it. These critical pieces of America’s clean energy strategy should be elevated in the policy agenda and political debate as we move forward into the Senate, and used to help move legislation forward that advances a proactive investment and economic revitalization strategy for the nation.

Read the full report here.

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MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, September 27, 2008

Al Gore said in San Jose on Saturday that the climate crisis deserves the same type of attention and money from Washington that the financial meltdown is getting.

“Instead of a focus only on a bailout, we need to bail in renewable energy,” Gore said during a 50-minute speech at the Civic Auditorium.

Gore, who turned 60 this year, was a three-term U.S. senator from Tennessee, vice president for eight years and narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to George Bush. But it was his move toward environmentalism, symbolized by his starring role in the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and his subsequent Nobel Peace Prize that turned him into an international crusader against global warming.

That’s what brought him to San Jose on Saturday, as the keynote speaker for the three-day West Coast Green conference. It included presentations on a variety of green-living topics, plus an exhibit hall of green-building products.

Wearing a navy suit, but no tie, Gore came across as part science teacher, part economist and part environmental evangelist. His remarks, which included a funny story or two and mentions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, drew frequent applause and a few standing ovations.

Indeed, the speech had something of a rock concert feel. Loud music played before the event started. Many in the casually dressed crowd of about 2,000 took cell-phone photos once Gore walked onto the stage. And his comments about the dangers of climate change, its impact on the world, and how it might be solved, sounded like Gore’s greatest hits.

He traced the current crisis with the financial markets to the subprime mortgage mess. There’s also a “subprime carbon” mess that’s shaking the world’s economy, he said, one that puts 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each day. And companies that deny it’s harmful are engaging in “a form of stock fraud,” he said.

Plans to seek oil from Canadian oil shale and tar sands are “utter and complete madness, complete insanity,” he said. And new coal plants should be banned in the United States, he said.

The world continues to look to America for leadership in solving global warming, he said, and it’s not getting it. “Every other nation that has failed to take action shares the same excuse for not doing so. They all point to the United States, and say, if the United States isn’t doing it, why should we,” he said. He linked that comment to the November election, but didn’t mention either Barack Obama or John McCain by name. But he repeated his quote from the Democratic convention, where he talked about McCain following Bush, saying “I’m for recycling, but this is ridiculous.”

Within 10 years, the United States should get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. “It’s time to think boldly,” he said. “We’ve had enough of little tiny policies.

He called for a national smart grid with expanded, underground transmission lines that add solar, wind and geothermal power to the national’s energy supply. And he mentioned Silicon Valley, where he now works as a partner at the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture-capital firm, as being integral to achieving something like a Moore’s Law for renewable technologies where efficiencies increase and prices fall at a consistent pace.

Gore was preceded on stage by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. He alluded to his stint as California’s governor three decades ago when he was derided as “Governor Moonbeam” for pushing for greener buildings and solar energy. He said that those have become popular notions today.

He, too, made reference to the $700 billion bailout package being negotiated in Washington, D.C.

“Why not spend $700 billion for solar, for efficiency, for conservation?” Vice Presideant Gore asked the audience. “Why not?”

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