Tag Archives: climate change

Dr. Richard Muller (Guardian photo)

The Last Climate Change Skeptic


If Dr. Richard Muller, a professor of physics from the University of California, Berkeley, is not the last of the global climate change skeptics, he should be. For years he has been one of the highest profile critics of the procedures and conclusions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), arguing that its current analysis of evidence is too flawed to definitively conclude a relationship between anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and rising global temperatures.

He has since changed his mind, offering an opinion piece in The New York Times (July 28/12) describing his “total turnaround” on the subject and defining himself now as “a converted skeptic”. His transformation is worth exploring.

Funded by the American multi-billionaire Koch brothers — themselves heavily invested in fossil fuels and major funders of climate change contrarians — Professor Muller gathered a team of a dozen scientists to examine the evidence from a single authoritative perspective. Rather than using the more diverse strategy of the IPCC, his team examined only raw temperature records, the data he believed would reveal whether or not the planet was warming and, if so, whether it correlated to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Professor Muller’s team began by examining 1.6 billion temperature records from 36,000 stations dating back to 1753, about 100 years longer than previous data sources. His Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BENT) eliminated all possible sources of error. It ruled out “urban heating” — cities generate their own heat, and large areas of asphalt and roofs also increase temperatures so the project used only rural temperatures. BENT ruled out “data selection” — previous studies compiled samples from a representative 20 percent while the BEST project used 100 percent of temperature records. The project ruled out “poor station quality” — not all temperature records were reliably accurate so it allowed for this error factor. And, finally, it ruled out “human intervention” and “data adjustment factors” by automating the data collection process so no element of subjectivity could intrude on the statistics.

The BENT project also took into account the effect of ocean currents on any heating, as well as solar variability — satellite information revealed the sun’s output of energy to be relatively stable and that sunspots had very little effect on any heating. And, finally, the project considered the cooling influence of particulate matter from volcanic explosions. The graph of temperatures from 1753 to the present shows distinct and sharp drops after every major volcanic eruption — Laki, Tambora, Cosiguina, Krakatoa, Agung, Chichon and Pinabubo — followed by an immediate recovery. The line of the graph arches slowly upward from 1753 until 1950 when its ascent increases markedly. The IPCC proposed the possibility that prior to 1950 the temperature rise may have been due to increased solar activity; the BENT project ruled out this possibility because the temperature rise correlates too closely to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. In most respects, the BENT findings are even more dramatic than those of the IPCC. Professor Muller estimates that the global rise in temperature attributed to human activity has been 1.5°C since 1753, of which 0.9°C has occurred since 1950.

As a disciplined scientist, he jumps to conclusions carefully. “Much to my surprise,” he wrote, “by far the best match [to temperature increase] was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.” This match doesn’t prove conclusively that rising carbon dioxide levels are responsible for global warming, he notes. Correlation is not causality. But the correlation indicates “it’s extremely likely that at least 74% of observed warming since 1950 was manmade; it’s highly likely all of it was.” As a caution, he notes that, “To be considered seriously, any alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as does carbon dioxide.” Presently, nothing else comes close to being a candidate. Without a better explanation, the evidence compels the conclusion that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are “almost entirely the cause” of Earth’s rising surface temperature.

Professor Muller is also quick to note that no particular weather event can be linked to the global temperature rise of 1.5°C. He is technically correct. But his declaration raises an interesting question. What, if any, is the effect of a rising temperature on weather? Heat energizes everything — this what heat does. His study did not venture into the complex realm of climatology. It is inconceivable, however, that such a temperature increase could not have some effect on heat transfer, humidity, precipitation, wind patterns, jet stream flows and the myriad of other factors affecting weather.

Meanwhile, Professor Muller is intent to offer advice from his “surprise” discovery. “Science,” he writes in his New York Times article, “is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.”

Indeed, the next part will be difficult. The findings of the BENT project simply confirm a finding and focus an issue that is now beyond the bounds of reasonable dispute. Skeptics, deniers and habitual contrarians have just lost the remnant of their tattered credibility. So the moral weight for corrective action shifts to our political leaders — where the avoidance of their ethical duty is no longer an excusable option.


Climate change deniers are almost extinct


Read this article by David Suzuki in the Georgia Straight. Excerpt: “As evidence builds, deniers are starting to change their tune. They once said global warming isn’t happening, and some claimed the world is actually cooling. Now, heat records are being broken worldwide—this past decade was the hottest on record. Many scientists say the situation is even more severe than first thought, with temperatures and impacts increasing faster than predicted.

“Faced with the evidence, many deniers have started to admit that global warming is real, but argue that humans have little or nothing to do with it. (Richard) Muller’s study was just one of many to demolish that theory.” (August 21, 2012)

Read more: http://www.straight.com/article-760936/vancouver/david-suzuki-climate-change-deniers-are-almost-extinct

Vancouver's Stanley Park was severely damaged by a wind storm in 2006 (flickr photo)

Carbon Costs


During nearly three decades of fruitless negotiating, the political leaders of the international community have failed to find an effective way to price carbon dioxide emissions and thereby ameliorate global warming and climate change. But simple causality guarantees that we will pay a carbon tax, even if we don’t have an official one. So a carbon tax is levied and collected by nature, usually inequitably and sometimes very cruelly.

In anticipation of this rising tax, the cities of Toronto and Halifax have already instituted expensive “adaptation” strategies to accommodate an increase in street flooding, storm water runoff, sewer backups, heat-related illness and storm emergencies.

Vancouver is the latest city to consider costly preventative measures that should reduce the astronomical costs associated with more active weather. The city is still stinging from a 2006 windstorm that left 250,000 people without electricity and required infrastructure repairs of $10 million. Then a 2010 rainfall flooded many homes, which resulted in lawsuits against the city. Said Sadhu Johnson, the deputy city manager, “The key for us is to be proactive. It will save us billions in the next century” (The Vancouver Sun, July 21/12).

And how much will it cost Vancouver to be “proactive”? Just the risk assessment studies for coastal flooding, urban forest management and fresh water challenges could be $1.3 million. The “adaptation” strategy is expected to cost $84 million for the years 2012 to 2014. All these re-engineering costs can be attributed to global warming. “The climate is clearly changing,” concludes Vancouver’s study, “and, in many instances, we are observing changes at the most extreme end of the projections made a decade ago.”

And what are the expected changes? Wetter winters with a 28 percent increase in “extremely wet days” by 2050. Heavy rainfall events that occurred every 25 years will occur every 10 years. Summers will get correspondingly dryer. Temperature increases will average 1.7°C by 2050 and 2.7°C by 2080. “Extreme heat events” that occurred every 25 years will occur every 8 years. Sea level rise, difficult to predict because of so many variables, could be from 1 metre to 2 metres by 2100, a change that could cause havoc with drainage systems, wharfs, buildings, roads, waterfront facilities and low-lying residential areas.

Although inland cities do not have to contend with rising sea levels, they often have to contend with flooding rivers, and may be subjected to more extreme weather because of their continental location — Manitoba recently spent $1 billion on dikes and flood management. So multiply Vancouver’s initial “proactive” costs by the number of other cities in Canada to get a vague estimate of the hidden carbon taxes that will either be payed in prevention or repairs. Then add the rest of North America’s cities and those of the world. “Adaptation” is a term describing people’s efforts to make the best of a bad situation. Call these costs a carbon tax.

Other carbon taxes are more severe. The four people who died in BC’s Johnsons Landing mudslide on July 12, 2012, were just a few of those paying a heavy carbon tax. Unusually heavy winter snowfall and torrential rains during warm summer weather created the conditions that brought down a mountainside on their idyllic homes in the Kootenays. But floods in China, Thailand, Brazil, France, Poland, Japan, India, Australia and the Philippines in the last two years have exacted a much heavier toll.

The floods in Pakistan in 2010 drowned thousands, submerged one-fifth the country and displaced 20 million people. These floods were followed by record high temperatures of 53.5°C. Saudi Arabia had temperatures exceeding 47°C in 2010, and Mecca had rain this summer when the city was sweltering at 42.8°C — the highest temperature at which rain has ever been recorded. Russia had 172 casualties from extreme rainfall on July 7th. Britain ended an extraordinary spring drought with incessant rain. A drought is presently parching much of the US corn belt, more damage to add to the $5 billion that Texas recently lost to drought.

Climate change deserves so much attention because the impacts are pervasive and fundamental, affecting almost everything related to our security and prosperity. The science of this process is indisputably clear. More than 40 different supercomputer models consistently predict nearly identical weather outcomes for rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, confirming repeatedly that the extreme weather events we have been experiencing in recent months and years are wholly consistent with the new reality we are inflicting upon ourselves. Much of this damage can be counted as carbon tax.

This tax cannot be negotiated or postponed. It is levied in accordance with the laws of physics. A rise of a single degree in temperature increases humidity by 8 percent. Humidity over oceans has already increased by 5 percent. More humid air coupled with higher temperatures transfers greater amounts of energy into storm systems and causes more extreme weather. More heat means more evaporation. Climate science requires that increasing amounts of evaporated moisture must eventually come down as precipitation. For some places, this means more droughts; for other places, this means more floods. The distribution is not based on any human notion of fairness. Nonetheless, it is a carbon tax, duly levied and dispassionately collected. Our own version would likely be less painful and more equitable — if ever the international community should find the foresight to implement one.


Carbon’s Terrifying Mathematics


Exasperation about the world’s ineffective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was registered clearly on August 2, 2012, when Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and a principle founder of the environmental movement called 350.org, published a detailed article in Rolling Stone magazine called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”. As one of the most eloquent, passionate and informed spokespersons on the environmental threat of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, McKibben’s article reads like a warning and an ultimatum. To give shape to his concerns, he identifies three numbers as key reference points.

The first is 2°C. This is the maximum global temperature increase that national political leaders have decided is prudent and safe. But even with this limited increase, climatologists warn, we have a one in five chance of losing control and far exceeding this number — it’s Russian roulette, McKibben reminds us, with five chambers instead of six. He quotes Thomas Lovejoy, former World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, who observed, “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” And James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climatologists, concurs. “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”

Newscasts now commonly carry reports of unusual droughts, heat waves, forest fires, torrential rains, floods, landslides and windstorms. As the global temperature rise approaches 0.8°C, weather anomalies are already disruptive and costly. Even with this apparently modest rise, McKibben writes, “June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere — the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th century average…”. The odds of this “occurring by simple chance”, he explains, is 3.7 x 10 to power of 99 — “a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.” A rise of 2°C represents two and a half times this temperature increase.

The second number he asks us to note is 565 gigatons. This, scientists estimate, is the additional amount of carbon dioxide we can emit into the atmosphere before we exceed the 2°C limit. Global emissions in 2011 were 31.6 gigatons, an increase of 3.2 percent over the year before. Projections are for continued increases, the result of wholly unsuccessful efforts to reduce the global output. “In fact,” McKibben writes, “study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year — and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school.” A more ominous prediction comes from Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency”s chief economist. “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees,” a situation McKibben describes as “a planet straight out of science fiction.”

The third number McKibben asks us to note is 2,795 gigatons. This is the total carbon dioxide known to be held in storage in proven reserves of oil, gas and coal around the world. These reserves are the national property of countries and the private property of corporations. The present value of these reserves is about $27 trillion, an amount that the owners expect to recover by sale and the purchasers expect to burn as fuel. Notice that this 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in storage is five times larger than the allowable 565 gigatons of emissions if average global temperature increases are to be held below 2°C.

As McKibben points out, this discrepancy reveals a worrisome dilemma. If the 2°C temperature ceiling is going to be met, then 80 percent of the fossil fuels held in storage will have to remain there, unburned, at a loss of about $20 trillion in assets. In McKibben’s words, “Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically above ground — it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide — those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.” Countries relying on royalties and corporations expecting profits will have to forego most of their income to avoid the unleashing of a “science fiction” world of excessive heat and extreme weather.

These countries and corporations are not expected to willingly constrain their extraction of fossil fuels to save the planet from the environmental consequences. Their history and performance confirm this expectation. As McKibben points out, the melting Arctic ice has merely been an incentive for countries and corporations to rush northward to find even more gas and oil. Venezuela is intending to develop the Orinoco tar sands, a site even bigger than Alberta’s reserves. Burning the oil from just these two deposits would reach the 565 gigaton limit set for holding global temperature increases below 2°C. To paraphrase Naomi Klein’s chilling words, “…wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.” The Northern Gateway, Keystone and Kinder Morgan pipelines are all North American examples of such oil promotion projects. So are the daily tankers planned for BC’s West Coast.

If a way exists through this dilemma, it’s a global carbon tax that is sufficiently large to give renewable energies a competitive advantage and to leverage petro-states and fossil-fuel corporations to leave their assets in the ground. But this will take an unprecedented act of political will — one, it seems, we are not yet ready to take.


Stephen Hume on Extreme Weather


Read this superb summary by Stephen Hume in The Vancouver Sun of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and what they portend for the future. (July 30, 2012)

The story that should dominate headlines is the series of extreme weather events which may be portents of a grim future in which much worse is to come.

Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather is a key predictor of global warming.

Perhaps our bizarre weather is just a coincidence — certainly that’s the claim of global warming skeptics — but mainstream scientists are for the first time directly attributing extreme weather to the influence of human activities on climate.

For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the probability of increased extreme rainfall events in the 21st century is 66-100 per cent.

Skeptical or not, it’s been a wild July.

The month began with 18 reported dead in Uganda when torrential rains triggered landslides and flash floods; the mass evacuations of 32,000 people in Colorado in the face of advancing wildfires which have destroyed more than 600 homes; 80 dead and two million homeless in India as a result of flooding following torrential rains; chaos in the United Kingdom as a result of flooding and torrential rains; and 13 dead and two million without power following a storm of unprecedented violence — and torrential rains — in the eastern United States.

A week later, the U.K. was once again paralyzed by torrential rains and flooding; in Russia, similar downpours killed 144 in the Krasnodar region. In the U.S., the human death toll from a scorching drought ticked steadily upward – the total is now thought to be around 100 – while crops withered in the fields, ranchers began selling off livestock they could no longer feed or water, and more than a thousand counties in 26 states were declared crop disaster areas by the U.S. department of agriculture.

The week after that, four died in a mudslide caused by heavy rains in British Columbia’s Kootenays while another narrowly missed a major tourist resort; torrential rains caused flash floods and mudslides in Japan that killed 28; New York was pounded by marble-sized hail in a “freak” summer storm; and flash floods thundered through a Santa Clara pueblo after torrential rains fell on fire-denuded hillsides in New Mexico.

Next came drought and wildfires in Portugal which killed 16, two of them firefighters; torrential rains in China killed 95 people – 37 in metropolitan Beijing where a record 460 millimetres fell – and many remain missing; wildfires swept through Spain’s Costa Brava region, burning so fiercely that tourists leaped to their deaths from cliff tops to escape the flames.

And as July moves through its final week, torrential rains in Nigeria are reported to have caused flash floods which killed 35.

So, extreme weather in the form of drought or torrential rain has killed at least 535 people in the last three weeks, more than 44 times the number slain by the movie theatre killer in Colorado who so dominates the headlines.

This is likely just the start.


From Market Economy to Market Society


If we can accept the scientific opinion that the primary ecosystems of our planet are seriously degraded — a United Nations’ report recently warned they are on the verge of collapse — then why have we been so slow to seriously address a problem that is rapidly approaching a condition deemed grave? One answer comes from Dr. Michael Sandel, a Harvard political philosophy professor, in his new book What Money Can’t Buy.

Dr. Sandel concludes that, “We have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” The business of business, it seems, has infected society. Everything is now for sale and everything has a dollar value. We have stopped asking, “What are your principles?” Instead we are asking, “What is your price.” Life has been commercialized and money has become the primary measure of worth.

Want a law that favours your interests? Hire a lobbyist. Want to repair your damaged corporate reputation? Employ a public relations firm. Want to meet a powerful politician? Pay the $1,500 political contribution to a party’s fundraising event. Want special medical treatment? Go to a private clinic. Want to attend a special sporting event? Pay the ticket scalpers their asking price. Want to sell a product? Buy advertising. Want to avert the consequences of committing a crime? Hire a skillful legal team. Want to skirt the moral obligation of paying taxes? Hire a tax lawyer. Want environmental concessions? Invest huge sums in industrial development. Need fulfillment? Go shopping. Even the academic world is being skewed in the direction of money as universities are pressured to pander to commercial interests and students are lured toward business degrees rather than liberal educations.

The complicated moral and ethical issues of our time are reduced to monetary values. The virtue quotient is replaced by the asset balance. Wisdom is displaced by financial smarts. Success is measured by money, a gauge that somehow bypasses the old indicators of merit. So those with the most money are venerated with the greatest social approval. The result is a moral paucity, a materialistic quest that is swelling the ranks of the rich and the poor while shrinking everything between.

The evidence of this trend has been mounting for decades but only recently have some corporate remunerations become obscene enough to define the situation with shocking clarity. In 2009, the CEOs of the Canada’s top 100 corporations earned an average of $6.6 million per year in salary and benefits — 3 hours of their pay took their employees 12 months of labour to earn. In 2010, these same CEOs earned an average of $8.4 million per year while their employees’ wages remained flat. In 2011, a year of record profits for big American corporations, their CEOs earned an average of $9.6 million — a typical US worker would need to labour 244 years to reach the same remuneration. Such amounts of money can only be used to gain even more power to make even more money.

These numbers are astounding for their effect as well as their amount. As humanity’s inherent intolerance for unfairness is violated, the result is a rise in crime, social breakdown and pervasive discontent. Devious profit-making schemes, exploitive investments and reckless banking practices have shaken the global financial system. Anxiety and insecurity are increasing in an age of apparent plenty.
Although these disquieting effects are important, they fall within the realm of human affairs and can be corrected with a change of mind and legislation. Much more worrisome, however, is the environmental damage caused by a culture that has evolved from a “market economy” to a “market society”. When the fundamental value system of a society is in sympathy with market values, it elects similarly inclined governments, the constraints on money’s destructive power relax even further, disturbances to nature accelerate and, ultimately, we victimize ourselves.

This is the trend that is making scientists, historians, philosophers and a rising number of economists uneasy. A society living by “market” values has internalized the economic rules that are external to nature’s inflexible and iimpassive principles. This partially explains why the warnings of environmental experts go unheeded and why conservation policies are so difficult to implement. If the public has become a “market society”, it is not inclined to provide political support for environmental initiatives, and reform is seriously handicapped. A collective ethos that worships at the altar of Mammon will not understand that some things are more important than money. The impending collision of the two conflicting systems could be messy.

Nature is essential to our well-being. Virtually everything we do is dependent on it. But its accounting system doesn’t understand ledgers, promises, intentions or risks. A ruined ecology cannot be legislated back to health. An extinct species cannot be reintegrated into the biological fabric of life. Weather changes caused by burning fossil fuels will take centuries to subside, even if we were capable of a radical and immediate reduction of greenhouse gases. An acidified ocean will take millennia to return to normal. A massive species extinction — exactly what we are causing today — takes evolutionary processes about 10 million years to repair. The logic of a “market society” doesn’t synchronize with the logic of nature.

So we know the answer to Dr. Sandel’s rhetorical question, What Money Can’t Buy. We also know the alternative. It’s carved into a stone in the ruins of ancient Rome — the old and silent Latin words of “Salve Lucrum”, roughly translated as “Hurray For Profit!”


Guardian: Arctic Sea Ice Melt Accelerates


Read this story from The Guardian on a new record low for arctic sea ice in June. (June 27, 2012)

Sea ice in the Arctic has melted faster this year than ever recorded before, according to the US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC).

Satellite observations show the extent of the floating icehttp://thecanadian.org/administrator/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item that melts and refreezes every year was 318,000 square miles less last week than the same day period in 2007, the year of record low extent, and the lowest observed at this time of year since records began in 1979. Separate observations by University of Washington researchers suggest that the volume of Arctic sea ice is also the smallest ever calculated for this time of year.

Scientists cautioned that it is still early in the “melt season”, but said that the latest observations suggest that the Arctic sea ice cover is continuing to shrink and thin and the pattern of record annual melts seen since 2000 is now well established. Last year saw the second greatest sea ice melt on record, 36% below the average minimum from 1979-2000.

“Recent ice loss rates have been 100,000 to 150,000 square kilometres (38,600 to 57,900 square miles) per day, which is more than double the climatological rate. While the extent is at a record low for the date, it is still early in the melt season. Changing weather patterns throughout the summer will affect the exact trajectory of the sea ice extent through the rest of the melt season,” said a spokesman for the NSIDC.

The increased melting is believed to be a result of climate change. Arctic temperatures have risen more than twice as fast as the global average over the past half century.

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/27/arctic-sea-ice-melt-rate


Exxon Chief Acknowledges Global Warming From Fossils Fuels, Insists Humans Will Adapt


Read this Canadian Press story, via TheTyee.ca, on Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s recent statement covering global warming, fracking, and other controversial aspects of his company’s business. (June 28, 2012)

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson says fears about climate change, drilling, and energy dependence are overblown.

In a speech Wednesday, Tillerson acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society will be able to adapt.

The risks of oil and gas drilling are well understood and can be mitigated, he said. And dependence on other nations for oil is not a concern as long as access to supply is certain, he said.

Tillerson blamed a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press, and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” for energy misconceptions in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He highlighted that huge discoveries of oil and gas in North America have reversed a 20-year decline in U.S. oil production in recent years. He also trumpeted the global oil industry’s ability to deliver fuels during a two-year period of dramatic uncertainty in the Middle East, the world’s most important oil and gas-producing region.

“No one, anywhere, any place in the world has not been able to get crude oil to fuel their economies,” he said.

In his speech and during a question-and-answer session after, he addressed three major energy issues: Climate change, oil and gas drilling pollution, and energy dependence.

Tillerson, in a break with predecessor Lee Raymond, has acknowledged that global temperatures are rising. “Clearly there is going to be an impact,” he said Wednesday.

But he questioned the ability of climate models to predict the magnitude of the impact. He said that people would be able to adapt to rising sea levels and changing climates that may force agricultural production to shift.

“We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”

Andrew Weaver, chairman of climate modeling and analysis at the University of Victoria in Canada, disagreed with Tillerson’s characterization of climate modeling. He said modeling can give a very good sense of the type of climate changes that are likely. And he said adapting to those changes will be much more difficult and disruptive than Tillerson seems to be acknowledging.

Steve Coll, author of the recent book “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,” said he was surprised Exxon would already be talking about ways society could adapt to climate change when there is still time to try to avoid its worst effects. Also, he said, research suggests that adapting to climate change could be far more expensive than reducing emissions now. “Moving entire cities would be very expensive,” he said.

Read more: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Environment/2012/06/28/exxon-fossil-fuel-adapt-climate/

Wind farms like this one aren't the only secret to Denmark's carbon-cutting success

Carbon 400 and How Denmark Became an Emissions Cutting Success


The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a record 400 parts per million in May, 2012, a milestone that should send a chill of concern through anyone who is remotely concerned about the disturbing ramifications of global warming. Little solace should come from the fact that this concentration of greenhouse gas was only reached in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Greenland and Mongolia, and will dip slightly as plants in the Northern Hemisphere absorbs some of it during the summer months of growth.

As for the rest of the planet, however, levels have risen during the last year from 391 to 395 ppm, up from the pre-industrial reference number of 280 ppm. We are now at the highest known concentration in at least 800,000 years, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado. The rest of the planet will probably reach the 400 ppm milestone within two years as carbon dioxide concentrations increase and equalize. The NOAA reports that the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest ever recorded in human history. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency recently announced that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2011 hit a record high of 34.8 billion tonnes, up 3.2 percent from 2010.

For those who are counting carbon, these numbers are dismaying because they are the definitive indicators of how poorly humanity is collectively addressing the climate change issue. Normal weather, reliable food production, community safety, political stability and almost everything environmental is linked directly or indirectly to these carbon dioxide levels. Efforts to date are not even slowing the increase in atmospheric CO2, let alone reducing the concentrations to the 350 ppm considered safe for stable climate conditions.

The exasperating element in this whole sorry process is that we know how to fix the problem and we have enough of the technology to do it. All we lack is the political will.

As models of contrast, Canada is an example of dismal procrastination and denial while Denmark represents exemplary and pragmatic effort. Instead of reducing emissions from the 1990 reference level and despite its pledge to do so, Canada has increased its emissions by 30 percent and is not even expected to reach its diluted 2020 target. In contrast, Denmark’s emissions are now 13 percent below its 1990 levels and the country is taking a leading role in wind technology, energy efficiencies and functional solutions. Canada’s failure to act is a powerful factor in the cynical and gloomy mood pervading the country — the only real antidote for pessimism is to acknowledge a problem and confront it with constructive effort.

Jeff Rubin, who left the CIBC bank as its chief economist for World Markets to analyze the direction of future socio-economic structure in an age of rising energy costs, has included Denmark’s success in his latest book, The End of Growth. How is this country accomplishing what Canada is not? The answer is surprising and obvious.

Denmark is thought of as the “wind technology capital of the world”. Indeed, it may be. But its thousands of huge turbines produce only 20 percent of its power. The rest comes from coal. Yes, coal, the fossil fuel that is 20 percent dirtier than oil and twice as polluting as natural gas. Granted, the coal is combusted in state-of-the-art facilities and the excess heat is used to warm buildings. But that’s not how Denmark’s has accomplished what Canada cannot — or will not.

Denmark’s secret, according to Rubin, is carbon taxes. The simple pressure of price on carbon dioxide-emitting goods and services induces Danes to reduce electricity consumption, to buy small cars, to build efficient houses, to bicycle, to favour local over imported food, and to shop for low-carbon products. Amazing. And the money raised goes to increasing efficiencies that further reduce carbon emissions. This little country has found a solution that is elegant, practical and effective, one that must lift a heavy moral weight from the Danish conscience and replace the load of guilt with an immense national pride — very unlike Canadians who live with a shameful international reputation darkened by the stigma of being a global environmental laggard and pariah.

For Canada, the carbon tax solution has been recommended multiple times by the government’s own National Roundtable On the Economy and Environment, an organization created in 1988 precisely for the purpose of finding common agreement between seemingly opposing interests. It was founded on the principle that “a modern economy” and “a sustainable environment” are “mutually reinforcing.” And this is one of the organizations, along with important climate science, that the Harper government is eliminating as superfluous.

If a government intends to deny the facts of science and repudiate the relationship between economics and the environment, then an image is emerging of leadership wholly disconnected from fundamental realities. All that remains for Canadians is bewilderment, exasperation and the haunting suspicion that their future is being charted by an ideology that is incomprehensible, myopic and ominous.

Dr. Mark Jaccard was arrested recently in BC at a protest against coal shipments (Vancouver Observer photo)

Radicalizing Scientists


Dr. Mark Jaccard, professor of economics at Simon Fraser University and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was arrested on railway tracks near Vancouver for blocking the arrival of a Burlington Northern train loaded with Wyoming coal bound for nearby Deltaport and then Asia. Before being released from police custody, he was fined $115 for his May 5th, 2012, trespass violation under the Railway Safety Act, as were the other 12 people in his protest group. “Putting myself in a situation where I may be accused of civil disobedience is not something I have ever done before,” said Dr. Jaccard (CBC, May 5/12). He now joins at least another of his august colleagues, Dr. James Hansen, in this distinction.

Dr. Hansen is one of the world’s foremost authorities on global warming, internationally recognized and awarded for his studies, insights and conclusions on the disruptive effects of greenhouse gases on climate and ecologies. He has been arrested in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for similar protests. During testimony given before the Iowa Utilities Board in 2007, Hansen likened coal trains to “death trains”, contending that they would be “no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.” In his assessment, carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels must be curtailed or the environmental consequences will be catastrophic.

Dr. Jaccard echoed this warning with his own eloquence. “The window of opportunity for avoiding a high risk of runaway, irreversible climate change is closing quickly,” he said. “Within this decade we will either have steered away from disaster, or have locked ourselves onto a dangerous course. Our governments continue to ignore the warnings of scientists and push forward with policies that will accelerate the burning of fossil fuels. Private interests — coal, rail, oil, pipeline companies and the rest — continue to push their profit-driven agenda, heedless of the impact on the rest of us.” Meanwhile, he adds, government response to climate change concerns are “entirely inadequate” (Ibid.).

As a concerned grandfather, Dr. Hansen worries about future generations. So does Dr. Jaccard. “I now ask myself how our children, when they look back decades from now, will have expected us to have acted today,” he said. “When I think about that, I conclude that every sensible and sincere person who cares about this planet and can see through lies and delusion motivated by money, should be doing what I and others are now prepared to do.”

These two scholarly, prominent and respected scientists have been radicalized by the shrinking distance between uncontrollable climate change and our options for preventative action. They are not alone in their recognition of the tragic loss of opportunity as government and industry habitually fail to implement the strategies known to reduce CO2 emissions. The level of frustration, exasperation and desperation in scientists everywhere is intensifying as they gauge the seriousness of our situation against a history of empty promises.

This history is nicely summarized in a documentary, Earth Days (2010) by the American cinematographer, Robert Stone. His film captures the evolution of a crisis as it unfolds during the last half-century. It begins with grainy images of US President John F. Kennedy promising that natural places will be saved for Americans to appreciate in a distant 2000, “If we do what is right now, in 1963.”

Subsequent US presidents discover that merely protecting natural places won’t be enough. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson warns, “Either we stop poisoning our air or we become a nation in gas masks, groping our way through these dying cities, a wilderness of ghost towns that the people have evacuated.” Then Richard M. Nixon cautions, “The great question of the ’70s is, shall we surrender to our surroundings or will we make peace with nature, and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water.”

When the “energy crisis” of the ’70s hits, a worried President Gerald Ford promises to “…accelerate technology to capture energy from the sun and the earth for this and future generations.” The next US president, Jimmy Carter, is alarmed enough to advise, “If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.”

Then Ronald Reagan pledges, “We must and we will be sensitive to the delicate balance of our ecosystems, the preservation of endangered species, and the protection of our wilderness lands.”

As for the intended environmental measures of George H.W. Bush, he is equally reassuring. “It is said,” he notes, “that we don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors but that we borrow it from our children. And when our children look back on this time and this place, they will be grateful.”

Bill Clinton, with ever-clearer scientific evidence, warns, “If we fail to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, deadly heatwaves and droughts will become more frequent, coastal areas will flood and economies will be disrupted. That is going to happen unless we act.”

Finally, George W. Bush observes obliquely but succinctly, “And we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil.”

In the 49 years since 1963, as environmental awareness has grown, some measures have been implemented to protect ecologies and reduce industrial pollution. But greenhouse gas emissions, a key issue, have continued to rise rather than fall. The United States has abandoned the Kyoto Protocol legal efforts to reduce these emissions. Canada’s endorsement of the Protocol was entirely hollow, and it has since given notice of its withdrawal. The current Canadian government assiduously avoids any mention of climate change and is even cutting relevant scientific funding — not encouraging for an expectant public and hopeful scientists.

As Dr. Jaccard was being led away in handcuffs from the stalled Burlington Northern coal train, he was asked by a reporter, “Was it worth it?” And he replied, “I don’t know. We’ll know — our kids will know — in two decades.”