My Reaction to An Inconvenient TruthI saw An Inconvenient Truth on June 25, 2006. Al Gore did a nice job of explaining the problems we face because of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The climatecrisis.net site was listed at the end of the film. One of the tips I found at climatecrisis said that planting trees can help to absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to the problem in our atmosphere. Here is what climatecrisis says about trees helping with carbon dioxide:
Plant a tree.
A single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Shade provided by trees can also reduce your air conditioning bill by 10 to 15%. The Arbor Day Foundation has information on planting and provides trees you can plant with membership.
Upon reading this I decided to plant at least one new tree in our yard. After visiting Capital Nursery Sunrise on June 30, 2006, I chose a Sequoia sempervirens 'Soquel' tree. The purchase was confusing because the sign said $12.99 but the tag on the one gallon pot said $32.99. The label on the pot also sais Gray-Green Coastal Redwood. Fortunately they went with the $12.99 price. It was easy to plant the tree, I waited until about 9pm so that the heat would not be overwhelming.
The first tree was nice but it wasn't enough. While browsing at Costco on July 5, 2006, I noticed that they had some 15 gallon Redwoods. They were only about $30 each so I purchased 2 of them. I planted the first tree that night and the second one on July 6th. Now our front yard has 3 new trees, hopefully they'll grow quickly...
An Inconvenient Truth ReviewPublished June 30, 2006
The Al Gore movie about global warming has a clever start. We are shown South America and Africa. In school Al Gore reveals that a student pointed out that they looked like they could fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The teacher answered that continents do not move, that they are too big. The point was that sometimes people think the planet is too big for things to change...
We know the planet has been warming for thousands of years since the last ice age. My question going into the movie was how much are humans increasing the process because our recent increases in carbon dioxide waste. The end of the movie showed that carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in millions of years. Unfortunately I don't remember seeing a graph saying temperatures are raising x% higher than normal because of our carbon dioxide waste.
ExxonMobil Denies Global WarmingI joined the Sierra Club because of the nice hikes but there is a side benefit - the newsletter. The Mother Lode Fall 2006 issue of Bonanza had an article by Rick Bettis that caught my eye. Bettis notes that there is more information about Global Warming on the Sierra Club's website: http://www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming/. The Chris Mooney Article in the May/June 2005 issue of MotherJones is a good read. The information about ExxonMobil is disturbing:
THIRTY YEARS AGO, the notion that corporations ought to sponsor think tanks that directly support their own political goals—rather than merely fund disinterested research—was far more controversial. But then, in 1977, an associate of the AEI (which was founded as a business association in 1943) came to industry’s rescue. In an essay published in the Wall Street Journal, the influential neoconservative Irving Kristol memorably counseled that “corporate philanthropy should not be, and cannot be, disinterested,” but should serve as a means “to shape or reshape the climate of public opinion.”
Kristol’s advice was heeded, and today many businesses give to public policy groups that support a laissez-faire, antiregulatory agenda. In its giving report, ExxonMobil says it supports public policy groups that are “dedicated to researching free market solutions to policy problems.” What the company doesn’t say is that beyond merely challenging the Kyoto Protocol or the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act on economic grounds, many of these groups explicitly dispute the science of climate change. Generally eschewing peer-reviewed journals, these groups make their challenges in far less stringent arenas, such as the media and public forums.
Pressed on this point, spokeswoman Lauren Kerr says that “ExxonMobil has been quite transparent and vocal regarding the fact that we, as do multiple organizations and respected institutions and researchers, believe that the scientific evidence on greenhouse gas emissions remains inconclusive and that studies must continue.” She also hastens to point out that ExxonMobil generously supports university research programs—for example, the company plans to donate $100 million to Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. It even funds the hallowed National Academy of Sciences.
Nevertheless, no company appears to be working harder to support those who debunk global warming. “Many corporations have funded, you know, dribs and drabs here and there, but I would be surprised to learn that there was a bigger one than Exxon,” explains Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which, in 2000 and again in 2003, sued the government to stop the dissemination of a Clinton-era report showing the impact of climate change in the United States. Attorney Christopher Horner—whom you’ll recall from Crichton’s audience—was the lead attorney in both lawsuits and is paid a $60,000 annual consulting fee by the CEI. In 2002, ExxonMobil explicitly earmarked $60,000 for the CEI for “legal activities.”
Ebell denies the sum indicates any sort of quid pro quo. He’s proud of ExxonMobil's funding and wishes “we could attract more from other companies.” He stresses that the CEI solicits funding for general project areas rather than to carry out specific sponsor requests, but admits being steered (as other public policy groups are steered) to the topics that garner grant money. While noting that the CEI is “adamantly opposed” to the Endangered Species Act, Ebell adds that “we are only working on it in a limited way now, because we couldn’t attract funding.”
ExxonMobil's FUNDING OF THINK TANKS hardly compares with its lobbying expenditures—$55 million over the past six years, according to the Center for Public Integrity. And neither figure takes much of a bite out of the company’s net earnings—$25.3 billion last year. Nevertheless, “ideas lobbying” can have a powerful public policy effect.
Consider attacks by friends of ExxonMobil on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). A landmark international study that combined the work of some 300 scientists, the ACIA, released last November, had been four years in the making. Commissioned by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that includes the United States, the study warned that the Arctic is warming “at almost twice the rate as that of the rest of the world,” and that early impacts of climate change, such as melting sea ice and glaciers, are already apparent and “will drastically shrink marine habitat for polar bears, ice-inhabiting seals, and some seabirds, pushing some species toward extinction.” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was so troubled by the report that he called for a Senate hearing.
Industry defenders shelled the study, and, with a dearth of science to marshal to their side, used opinion pieces and press releases instead. “Polar Bear Scare on Thin Ice,” blared FoxNews.com columnist Steven Milloy, an adjunct scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute ($75,000 from ExxonMobil) who also publishes the website JunkScience.com. Two days later the conservative Washington Times published the same column. Neither outlet disclosed that Milloy, who debunks global warming concerns regularly, runs two organizations that receive money from ExxonMobil. Between 2000 and 2003, the company gave $40,000 to the Advancement of Sound Science Center, which is registered to Milloy’s home address in Potomac, Maryland, according to IRS documents. ExxonMobil gave another $50,000 to the Free Enterprise Action Institute—also registered to Milloy’s residence. Under the auspices of the intriguingly like-named Free Enterprise Education Institute, Milloy publishes CSRWatch.com, a site that attacks the corporate social responsibility movement. Milloy did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article; a Fox News spokesman stated that Milloy is “affiliated with several not-for-profit groups that possibly may receive funding from Exxon, but he certainly does not receive funding directly from Exxon.”
Setting aside any questions about Milloy’s journalistic ethics, on a purely scientific level, his attack on the ACIA was comically inept. Citing a single graph from a 146-page overview of a 1,200-plus- page, fully referenced report, Milloy claimed that the document “pretty much debunks itself” because high Arctic temperatures “around 1940” suggest that the current temperature spike could be chalked up to natural variability. “In order to take that position,” counters Harvard biological oceanographer James McCarthy, a lead author of the report, “you have to refute what are hundreds of scientific papers that reconstruct various pieces of this climate puzzle.”
Nevertheless, Milloy’s charges were quickly echoed by other groups. TechCentralStation.com published a letter to Senator McCain from 11 “climate experts,” who asserted that recent Arctic warming was not at all unusual in comparison to “natural variability in centuries past.” Meanwhile, the conservative George C. Marshall Institute ($310,000) issued a press release asserting that the Arctic report was based on “unvalidated climate models and scenarios…that bear little resemblance to reality and how the future is likely to evolve.” In response, McCain said, “General Marshall was a great American. I think he might be very embarrassed to know that his name was being used in this disgraceful fashion.”
The day of McCain’s hearing, the Competitive Enterprise Institute put out its own press release, citing the aforementioned critiques as if they should be considered on a par with the massive, exhaustively reviewed Arctic report: “The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, despite its recent release, has already generated analysis pointing out numerous flaws and distortions.” The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute ($60,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003) also weighed in, calling the Arctic warming report “an excellent example of the favoured scare technique of the anti-energy activists: pumping largely unjustifiable assumptions about the future into simplified computer models to conjure up a laundry list of scary projections.” In the same release, the Fraser Institute declared that “2004 has been one of the cooler years in recent history.” A month later the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization would pronounce 2004 to be “the fourth warmest year in the temperature record since 1861.”
Frank O’Donnell, of Clean Air Watch, likens ExxonMobil's strategy to that of “a football quarterback who doesn’t want to throw to one receiver, but rather wants to spread it around to a number of different receivers.” In the case of the ACIA, this echo-chamber offense had the effect of creating an appearance of scientific controversy. Senator Inhofe—who received nearly $290,000 from oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, for his 2002 reelection campaign—prominently cited the Marshall Institute’s work in his own critique of the latest science.
TO BE SURE, that science wasn’t always as strong as it is today. And until fairly recently, virtually the entire fossil fuels industry—automakers, utilities, coal companies, even railroads—joined ExxonMobil in challenging it.
The concept of global warming didn’t enter the public consciousness until the 1980s. During a sweltering summer in 1988, pioneering NASA climatologist James Hansen famously told Congress he believed with “99 percent confidence” that a long-term warming trend had begun, probably caused by the greenhouse effect. As environmentalists and some in Congress began to call for reduced emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, industry fought back.
In 1989, the petroleum and automotive industries and the National Association of Manufacturers forged the Global Climate Coalition to oppose mandatory actions to address global warming. Exxon—later ExxonMobil—was a leading member, as was the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization for which Exxon’s CEO Lee Raymond has twice served as chairman. “They were a strong player in the Global Climate Coalition, as were many other sectors of the economy,” says former GCC spokesman Frank Maisano.
Drawing upon a cadre of skeptic scientists, during the early and mid-1990s the GCC sought to emphasize the uncertainties of climate science and attack the mathematical models used to project future climate changes. The group and its proxies challenged the need for action on global warming, called the phenomenon natural rather than man-made, and even flatly denied it was happening. Maisano insists, how ever, that after the Kyoto Protocol emerged in 1997, the group focused its energies on making economic arguments rather than challenging science.
Even as industry mobilized the forces of skepticism, however, an international scientific collaboration emerged that would change the terms of the debate forever. In 1988, under the auspices of the United Nations, scientists and government officials inaugurated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific body that would eventually pull together thousands of experts to evaluate the issue, becoming the gold standard of climate science. In the IPCC’s first assessment report, published in 1990, the science remained open to reasonable doubt. But the IPCC’s second report, completed in 1995, concluded that amid purely natural factors shaping the climate, humankind’s distinctive fingerprint was evident. And with the release of the IPCC’s third assessment in 2001, a strong consensus had emerged: Notwithstanding some role for natural variability, human-created greenhouse gas emissions could, if left unchecked, ramp up global average temperatures by as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius (or 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. “Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science,” wrote Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy in a 2001 editorial.
Even some leading corporations that had previously supported “skepticism” were converted. Major oil companies like Shell, Texaco, and British Petroleum, as well as automobile manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler, abandoned the Global Climate Coalition, which itself became inactive after 2002.
Yet some forces of denial—most notably ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute, of which ExxonMobil is a leading member—remained recalcitrant. In 1998, the New York Times exposed an API memo outlining a strategy to invest millions to “maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours with Congress, the media and other key audiences.” The document stated: “Victory will be achieved when…recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’” It’s hard to resist a comparison with a famous Brown and Williamson tobacco company memo from the late 1960s, which observed: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”
Though ExxonMobil's Lauren Kerr says she doesn’t know the “status of this reported plan” and an API spokesman says he could “find no evidence” that it was ever implemented, many of the players involved have continued to dispute mainstream climate science with funding from ExxonMobil. According to the memo, Jeffrey Salmon, then executive director of the George C. Marshall Institute, helped develop the plan, as did Steven Milloy, now a FoxNews.com columnist. Other participants included David Rothbard of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow ($252,000) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, then with Frontiers of Freedom ($612,000). Ebell says the plan was never implemented because “the envisioned funding never got close to being realized.”
Another contributor was ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol, who recently retired but who seems to have plied his trade effectively during George W. Bush’s first term. Less than a month after Bush took office, Randol sent a memo to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The memo denounced the then chairman of the IPCC, Robert Watson, a leading atmospheric scientist, as someone “handpicked by Al Gore” whose real objective was to “get media coverage for his views.” (When the memo’s existence was reported, ExxonMobil took the curious position that Randol did forward it to the CEQ, but neither he nor anyone else at the company wrote it.) “Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.?” the memo asked. It went on to single out other Clinton administration climate experts, asking whether they had been “removed from their positions of influence.”
It was, in short, an industry hit list of climate scientists attached to the U.S. government. A year later the Bush administration blocked Watson’s reelection to the post of IPCC chairman.
PERHAPS THE MOST SURPRISING aspect of ExxonMobil's support of the think tanks waging the disinformation campaign is that, given its close ties to the Bush administration (which cited “incomplete” science as justification to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol), it’s hard to see why the company would even need such pseudo-scientific cover. In 1998, Dick Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton, signed a letter to the Clinton administration challenging its approach to Kyoto. Less than three weeks after Cheney assumed the vice presidency, he met with ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond for a half-hour. Officials of the corporation also met with Cheney’s notorious energy task force.
ExxonMobil's connections to the current administration go much deeper, filtering down into lower but crucially important tiers of policymaking. For example, the memo forwarded by Randy Randol recommended that Harlan Watson, a Republican staffer with the House Committee on Science, help the United States’ diplomatic efforts regarding climate change. Watson is now the State Department’s “senior climate negotiator.” Similarly, the Bush administration appointed former American Petroleum Institute attorney Philip Cooney—who headed the institute’s “climate team” and opposed the Kyoto Protocol—as chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In June 2003 the New York Times reported that the CEQ had watered down an Environmental Protection Agency report’s discussion of climate change, leading EPA scientists to charge that the document “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus.”
Then there are the sisters Dobriansky. Larisa Dobriansky, currently the deputy assistant secretary for national energy policy at the Department of Energy—in which capacity she’s charged with managing the department’s Office of Climate Change Policy—was previously a lobbyist with the firm Akin Gump, where she worked on climate change for ExxonMobil. Her sister, Paula Dobriansky, currently serves as undersecretary for global affairs in the State Department. In that role, Paula Dobriansky recently headed the U.S. delegation to a United Nations meeting on the Kyoto Protocol in Buenos Aires, where she charged that “science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.”
Indeed, the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty has been Paula Dobriansky’s stock-in-trade. At a November 2003 panel sponsored by the AEI, she declared, “the extent to which the man-made portion of greenhouse gases is causing temperatures to rise is still unknown, as are the long-term effects of this trend. Predicting what will happen 50 or 100 years in the future is difficult.”
Given Paula Dobriansky’s approach to climate change, it will come as little surprise that memos uncovered by Greenpeace show that in 2001, within months of being confirmed by the Senate, Dobriansky met with ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol and the Global Climate Coalition. For her meeting with the latter group, one of Dobriansky’s prepared talking points was “POTUS [President Bush in Secret Service parlance] rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you.” The documents also show that Dobriansky met with ExxonMobil executives to discuss climate policy just days after September 11, 2001. A State Department official confirmed that these meetings took place, but adds that Dobriansky “meets with pro-Kyoto groups as well.”
Greenland Ice Loss Doubles in Past Decade, Raising Sea Level FasterNASA satellites are showing that the Greenland ice sheets are falling into the ocean at an alarming rate. The Greenland Ice Loss Doubles in Past Decade, Raising Sea Level Faster article from February 16, 2006 discusses the problem:
The loss of ice from Greenland doubled between 1996 and 2005, as its glaciers flowed faster into the ocean in response to a generally warmer climate, according to a NASA/University of Kansas study.
The study will be published tomorrow in the journal Science. It concludes the changes to Greenland's glaciers in the past decade are widespread, large and sustained over time. They are progressively affecting the entire ice sheet and increasing its contribution to global sea level rise.
Researchers Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Pannir Kanagaratnam of the University of Kansas Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, Lawrence, used data from Canadian and European satellites. They conducted a nearly comprehensive survey of Greenland glacial ice discharge rates at different times during the past 10 years.
"The Greenland ice sheet's contribution to sea level is an issue of considerable societal and scientific importance," Rignot said. "These findings call into question predictions of the future of Greenland in a warmer climate from computer models that do not include variations in glacier flow as a component of change. Actual changes will likely be much larger than predicted by these models."
The evolution of Greenland's ice sheet is being driven by several factors. These include accumulation of snow in its interior, which adds mass and lowers sea level; melting of ice along its edges, which decreases mass and raises sea level; and the flow of ice into the sea from outlet glaciers along its edges, which also decreases mass and raises sea level. This study focuses on the least well known component of change, which is glacial ice flow. Its results are combined with estimates of changes in snow accumulation and ice melt from an independent study to determine the total change in mass of the Greenland ice sheet.
Rignot said this study offers a comprehensive assessment of the role of enhanced glacier flow, whereas prior studies of this nature had significant coverage gaps. Estimates of mass loss from areas without coverage relied upon models that assumed no change in ice flow rates over time. The researchers theorized if glacier acceleration is an important factor in the evolution of the Greenland ice sheet, its contribution to sea level rise was being underestimated.
To test this theory, the scientists measured ice velocity with interferometric synthetic-aperture radar data collected by the European Space Agency's Earth Remote Sensing Satellites 1 and 2 in 1996; the Canadian Space Agency's Radarsat-1 in 2000 and 2005; and the European Space Agency's Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar in 2005. They combined the ice velocity data with ice sheet thickness data from airborne measurements made between 1997 and 2005, covering almost Greenland's entire coast, to calculate the volumes of ice transported to the ocean by glaciers and how these volumes changed over time. The glaciers surveyed by those satellite and airborne instrument data drain a sector encompassing nearly 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles), or 75 percent of the Greenland ice sheet total area.
From 1996 to 2000, widespread glacial acceleration was found at latitudes below 66 degrees north. This acceleration extended to 70 degrees north by 2005. The researchers estimated the ice mass loss resulting from enhanced glacier flow increased from 63 cubic kilometers in 1996 to 162 cubic kilometers in 2005. Combined with the increase in ice melt and in snow accumulation over that same time period, they determined the total ice loss from the ice sheet increased from 96 cubic kilometers in 1996 to 220 cubic kilometers in 2005. To put this into perspective, a cubic kilometer is one trillion liters (approximately 264 billion gallons of water), about a quarter more than Los Angeles uses in one year.
Glacier acceleration has been the dominant mode of mass loss of the ice sheet in the last decade. From 1996 to 2000, the largest acceleration and mass loss came from southeast Greenland. From 2000 to 2005, the trend extended to include central east and west Greenland.
"In the future, as warming around Greenland progresses further north, we expect additional losses from northwest Greenland glaciers, which will then increase Greenland's contribution to sea level rise," Rignot said.
Global Warming and Rising Sea LevelIn April of 2006, the National Geographic discussed the impacts of global warming on sea level. Global warming causes glaciers on Greenland and West Antarctica to melt which in turn cause the sea level to rise. The Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level? article by Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News is alarming.
Thermal expansion has already raised the oceans 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). But that's nothing compared to what would happen if, for example, Greenland's massive ice sheet were to melt.Greenland and Western Antarctica are the keys for sea level:
"The consequences would be catastrophic," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Even with a small sea level rise, we're going to destroy whole nations and their cultures that have existed for thousands of years."
Overpeck and his colleagues have used computer models to create a series of maps that show how susceptible coastal cities and island countries are to the sea rising at different levels. The maps show that a 1-meter (3-foot) rise would swamp cities all along the U.S. eastern seaboard. A 6-meter (20-foot) sea level rise would submerge a large part of Florida.
Glaciers and sea ice in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are already melting at a rapid pace, placing animals like polar bears at risk.
"Polar bears are entirely dependent on sea ice," Malcolm said. "You lose sea ice, you lose polar bears."
So far, the rise in sea level is because warmer water takes up more room than colder water, which makes sea levels go up, a process known as thermal expansion.
"The real question is what's going to happen to Greenland and Antarctica," Stouffer said. "That's where the bulk of all the fresh water is tied up."
A recent Nature study suggested that Greenland's ice sheet will begin to melt if the temperature there rises by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). That is something many scientists think is likely to happen in another hundred years.
The complete melting of Greenland would raise sea levels by 7 meters (23 feet). But even a partial melting would cause a one-meter (three-foot) rise. Such a rise would have a devastating impact on low-lying island countries, such as the Indian Ocean's Maldives, which would be entirely submerged.
Densely populated areas like the Nile Delta and parts of Bangladesh would become uninhabitable, potentially driving hundreds of millions of people from their land.
A one-meter sea level rise would wreak particular havoc on the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States.
"No one will be free from this," said Overpeck, whose maps show that every U.S. East Coast city from Boston to Miami would be swamped. A one-meter sea rise in New Orleans, Overpeck said, would mean "no more Mardi Gras."
Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Slip-Sliding AwayThe June 25, 2006 Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Slip-Sliding Away article in the Los Angeles Times talks about the impact Global Warming is having on Greenland. Robert Lee Hotz talks about the rapid changes we are seeing in Greenland.
The ice is so massive that its weight presses the bedrock of Greenland below sea level, so all-concealing that not until recently did scientists discover that Greenland actually might be three islands.
Should all of the ice sheet ever thaw, the meltwater could raise sea level 21 feet and swamp the world's coastal cities, home to a billion people. It would cause higher tides, generate more powerful storm surges and, by altering ocean currents, drastically disrupt the global climate.
Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.
By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February.
Zwally and other researchers have focused their attention on a delicate ribbon — the equilibrium line, which marks the fulcrum of frost and thaw in Greenland's seasonal balance.
The zone runs around the rim of the ice cap like a drawstring. Summer melting, on average, offsets the annual accumulation of snow.
Across the ice cap, however, the area of seasonal melting was broader last year than in 27 years of record-keeping, University of Colorado climate scientists reported. In early May, temperatures on the ice cap some days were almost 20 degrees above normal, hovering just below freezing.
From cores of ancient Greenland ice extracted by the National Science Foundation, researchers have identified at least 20 sudden climate changes in the last 110,000 years, in which average temperatures fluctuated as much as 15 degrees in a single decade.
The increasingly erratic behavior of the Greenland ice has scientists wondering whether the climate, after thousands of years of relative stability, may again start oscillating.
Scientists used to think that Greenland was safe but that is no longer the case.
The ice sheet seemed such a stolid reservoir of cold that many experts had been confident of it taking centuries for higher temperatures to work their way thousands of feet down to the base of the ice cap and undermine its stability.
By and large, computer models supported that view, predicting that as winter temperatures rose, more snow would fall across the dome of the ice cap. Thus, by the seasonal bookkeeping of the ice sheet, Greenland would neatly balance its losses through new snow.
Indeed, Zwally and his colleagues in March released an analysis of data from two European remote-sensing satellites showing the amount of water locked up in the ice sheet had risen slightly between 1992 and 2002.
Then the ice sheet began to confound computer-generated predictions.
By 2005, Greenland was beginning to lose more ice volume than anyone expected — an annual loss of up to 52 cubic miles a year — according to more recent satellite gravity measurements released by JPL.
The amount of freshwater ice dumped into the Atlantic Ocean has almost tripled in a decade.
"We are clearly seeing the effects of climate change starting to kick in," Zwally said.
Since Steffen started monitoring the weather at Swiss Camp in 1991, the average winter temperature has risen almost 10 degrees. Last year, the annual melt zone reached farther inland and up to higher elevations than ever before.
There was even a period of melting in December.
"We have never seen that," Steffen said, combing the ice crystals from his beard. "It is significantly warmer now, and it happened quite suddenly. This year, the temperatures were warmer than I have ever experienced."
The speed at which ice is moving towards the ocean is much faster than models predicted:
When Zwally started tracking the velocity of the ice with Global Positioning System sensors in 1996, the ice flow maintained a steady pace all year.
But he soon discovered that the ice around Swiss Camp had abruptly shifted gears in the summer, moving faster when the surface ice started to melt. By 1999, the ice stream had almost tripled its speed to about 3 feet a day.
In an influential paper published in Science, Zwally surmised that the ice sheets had accelerated in response to warmer temperatures, as summer meltwater lubricated the base of the ice sheet and allowed it to slide faster toward the sea.
In a way no one had detected, the warm water made its way through thousands of feet of ice to the bedrock — in weeks, not decades or centuries.
So much water streamed beneath the ice that in high summer the entire ice sheet near Swiss Camp briefly bulged 2 feet higher, like the crest of a subterranean wave.
"This meltwater acceleration is new," Zwally said. "The significance of this is that it is a mechanism for climate change to get into the ice."
To better track the seasonal movements, Zwally and Steffen set up two new GPS stations around Swiss Camp, while a team led by University of Vermont geophysicist Tom Neumann erected an additional 10 GPS sensors to map the changing velocity of the local ice.
At the same time, University of Texas physicist Ginny Catania pulled an ice-penetrating radar in a search pattern around the camp, seeking evidence of any melt holes or drainage crevices that could so quickly channel the hot water of global warming deep into the ice.
To her surprise, she detected a maze of tunnels, natural pipes and cracks beneath the unblemished surface.
"I have never seen anything like it, except in an area where people have been drilling bore holes," Catania said.
No one knows how much of the ice sheet is affected.
Since 2002, Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers have started moving faster, satellite data show.
On the eastern edge of Greenland, the Kangerlussuaq Glacier, like the Jakobshavn, has surged, doubling its pace. To the west, the Helheim Glacier now appears to be moving about half a football field every day.
In all, 12 major outlet glaciers drain the ice sheet the way rivers drain a watershed, setting the pace of its release to the ocean.
If they all slide too quickly, there is a possibility that, perhaps decades from now, they could collapse suddenly and release the entire ice sheet into the ocean.
Global Warming and Rising Sea LevelsAn Inconvenient Truth talked about the drastic rises in sea level if Greenland or parts of Antarctica melt.
Antarctica and Rising Sea LevelsThe July/August issue of Sierra said the following about the Antarctic:
Using satellite data, scientists have calculated that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing up to 36 cubic miles of ice each year. This comes as a surprise because the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted that Antarctica would actually gain ice this century, throgh increased snowfall, as the climate warmed. "The total mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet is in significant decline," professor Isabella Velicogna told the Guardian newspaper. And lost ice from Antarctica translates into even greater sea-level rises than previously predicted. The Sierra went on to discuss the Arctic Ocean's ice pack:
The Arctic Ocean's ice pack was smaller than usual last winter for the second year in a row, leading to predictions of yet another record expanse of open water this summer. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the winter-ice retreat was probably the largest this century. The loss of polar ice tends to be self-reinforcing because instead of being reflected by ice, the sun's rays are absorbed by open water, leading to further warming.
Greenland and Rising Sea LevelsThe July/August issue of Sierra said the following about Greenland being unstable:
Meltwater pours into a large moulin in the Greenland ice sheet. Water flowing through such cavities is believed to lubricate the slide of glaciers. Since 1993, researchers have notied increased earthquakes-like movements in Greenland's bedrock in summertime, a phenomenon best explained by the jostling of overlying ice.
Global Warming and Forest FiresThe July 6, 2006 Rising Temperatures Stoke Increase in Western Fires article in the Los Angeles Times talks about the impact of climate change on forest fires. Robert Lee Hotz discusses the fact that fires are on the rise:
Rising temperatures throughout the West have stoked an increase in large wildfires over the past 34 years as spring comes earlier, mountain snows melt sooner and forests dry to tinder, scientists reported Thursday.
More than land-use changes or forest management practices, the researchers concluded, the changing climate was the most important factor driving a four-fold increase in the average number of large wildfires in the Western United States since 1970.
The team of researchers found that average spring and summer temperatures were more than 1.5 degrees higher in Western states between 1987 and 2003 than during the previous 17 years. In fact, the seasonal temperatures were the warmest since record-keeping started in 1895, the researchers said.
The article points out that researchers stopped short of linking increased fires to global warming:
While the researchers stopped short of linking increased wildfire intensity to global warming caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases, they were confident that they had documented a broad climate trend and not a fluke of natural weather variability.
There is plenty of evidence that fires are on the rise:
"It all fits together," said climate researcher Anthony Westerling, who led the research while at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. "The (fire) seasons do start earlier and run longer. It is consistent with a changing climate."
Some scientists were more confident that greenhouse gases from industrial activity, cars and pollution were to blame.
"I think this is the equivalent for the West of what hurricanes are for the Gulf Coast," said fire ecologist Steven Running at the University of Montana in Missoula, who was not connected with the research. "This is an illustration of a natural disaster that is accelerating in intensity as a result, I feel, of global warming."
All told, the average fire season has grown more than two months longer, while fires have become more frequent, longer-burning and harder to extinguish. They destroy 6.5 times more land than in the 1970s, the researchers found.
Last year was the worst wildfire season on record, with more than 8.53 million acres burned nationwide by the end of December. So far this year, more than 60,000 wildfires have charred almost 3.9 million acres -- twice the number of fires during the same period last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
"I see this as one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States," said Thomas W. Swetnam, an expert on fire history and director of the laboratory of tree-ring research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was part of the research team.
In the first detailed study of its kind, scientists at Scripps and the University of Arizona analyzed 34 years of wildfire activity, temperature records, snow-melt trends, stream flows and other climate-related data.
The research, published online Thursday by the journal Science, was funded by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Energy Commission.
The researchers studied more than 1,100 large wildfires between 1970 and 2003.
They reported that almost seven times more forested federal land burned between 1987 and 2003 than during the previous 17 years. During the same period, the length of the wildfire season increased by 78 days. The average time between a fire's discovery and its extinguishment also lengthened -- from 7.5 days to 37.1 days.
Wildfires cost more than $1 billion a year in federal firefighting expenses and untold property damages.
The article closes by talking about the fact that more fires mean even more co2 goes to the atmosphere:
Moreover, as more forests do burn, the destruction of so much biomass will release massive amounts of carbon dioxide, further accelerating the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and helping to further increase temperatures.
Western forests account for as much as 40 percent of all the carbon sequestered in the U.S.
"Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away," said research team member Swetnam. "But it's not 50 to 100 years away. It's happening now in forests through fire."
100 Greatest Discoveries - Earth SciencesOn July 5, 2006 the Discovery Channel aired the 100 Greatest Discoveries - Earth Sciences program. Here is how they describe the episode:
Studying the Earth's atmosphere help scientists to understand the weather and long-term climate changes. Top discoveries about our planet include continental drift theories, the composition of the inner and outer cores of the Earth and cosmic radiation.Early on the episode talks about Keeling taking carbon dioxide samples in Hawaii. We learn that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing by 3.3 billion tons per year. It is revealed that carbon dioxide levels are 30% greater than at the start of the industrial revolution. A picture says 1000 words and we are shown pictures of The South Cascade Glacier in Washington State. It is a vivid example of our warming climate(retreated 1.2 miles in the last century) The episode reveals that there is still debate over how much carbon dioxide is to blame for global warming. There is no question that humans are adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. We learn that 10 million tons of co2 were released by Mt St Helens when it blew yet 26 billion tons of co2 are realeased by humans every year.
The episode discusses other changes like the earth's inner core which is hotter than the surface of the sun. The heat is from collisions billions of years ago. Mars once had a hot inner core like ours but the one there has cooled off. Ours is cooling but it is a slow process. One interesting change is the earth's magnetic field, it has lost about 10% of its strength over the last century. We know that the magnetic field of the earth has reversed many times in the past. Hopefully the next reversal will come when humans are around so it can be studied.
January to June 2006 - Warmest on Record in USThe National Oceanic and Atmoshperic Administration or NOAA revealed that the average temperature in the US from January to June of 2006 was the warmest since records have been kept.
U.S. EXPERIENCED RECORD WARM FIRST HALF OF YEAR, WIDESPREAD DROUGHT AND NORTHEAST RECORD RAINFALL
July 14, 2006 — The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records began in 1895, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Last month was the second warmest June on record and nationally averaged precipitation was below average. The continuation of below normal precipitation in certain regions and much warmer-than-average temperatures expanded moderate-to-extreme drought conditions in the contiguous U.S. However, much of the Northeast experienced severe flooding and record rainfall during the last week of June. The global surface temperature was second warmest on record for June.
U.S. Temperature Highlights
The average January-June temperature for the contiguous United States (based on preliminary data) was 51.8 degrees F (11.0 degrees C), or 3.4 degrees F (1.8 degrees C) above the 20th century (1901-2000) average. Five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri) experienced record warmth for the period. No state was near or cooler than average.
The nation observed the second warmest June on record this year. In the West, 11 states were much warmer than average. Only five states (Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and South Carolina) were cooler than normal for the month.
The June statewide average temperature for Alaska was near average, and January-June was 0.55 degrees F (0.30 degrees C) cooler than the 1971-2000 average.
U.S. Precipitation Highlights The average precipitation for June 2006 across the continental U.S. was 0.3 in. (8 mm) below the 20th century average.
Record rainfall in parts of the Northeast during May and June contributed to the wetter-than-normal first half of the year for that region. Heavy precipitation along the East Coast from June 22-28 resulted in widespread flooding. For example, Washington’s Reagan National Airport reported 11.37 inches (289 mm) during that time and a record June total of 14.02 inches (356 mm). More than 10 inches (254 mm) of rain fell in Federalsburg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in a 24-hour period.
In June, 45 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate-to-extreme drought (based on the Palmer Drought Index), an increase of 6 percent from May, while 27 percent was in severe-extreme drought (up from 20 percent in May). Additionally, from January through June, warm, dry conditions spawned more than 50,000 wildfires, burning more than 3,000,000 acres in the contiguous U.S. and Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
It was the second warmest June on record for global land- and ocean-surface temperatures since records began in 1880 (1.08 degrees F/0.60 degrees C above the 20th century mean) and the sixth warmest year-to-date (January-June) (0.90 degrees F/0.50 degrees C).
In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.
DISC Discovery Channel: Global Warming: Need to Know, June 16, 2006 with Tom BrokawI enjoyed watching Tom Brokaw talk about global warming on the discovery channel. Here are my notes:
The icefilelds of Patagonia is where we start. It is the largest ice front after Antarctica and Greenland. In the last 7 years these glaciers have lost 10 percent of their mass. Climate change is now happening at a historically fast rate.
Glacier National Park in Montana may soon lose what it was named for. There were more than 150 glaciers there before and now there are less than 40.
From the Andes to Alaska glaciers are melting at alarming rates.
A massive ice sheet on the east end of Antarctica collapsed in 2002. A chunk the size of Rhode Island fell into the sea.
Dr. Harrison finds melting ice everywhere. The ice is a log book of the earth's climate going back hundreds of thousands of years. Serreze has 600k years of the earth's climate history. Serreze says that changes we've seen in the last decade are alarming. In the last 100 years the earth's temperature has risen 1 degree. Dr Pacala puts it in perspective by saying the depths of the ice ages were only set by a few degrees. Every 100k years or so the earth's orbit is more ellptical taking us farther away from the sun.
January 1, 2006 - Sydney temperatures are extremely high. After the hottest year in history, the new year brings more of the same. Bush fires are part of Australia but they are changing. Chicago, 1995 - temperatures kill over 700 people. Of the 21 hottest years on record, 20 have been since 1980. How can experts be so confident that the current warm-up is unusual? The atmospheric gases can be measured in the layers. CO2 and temperature go hand in hand. CO2 today is higher than anything we've seen in the last 600k years. CO2 is one of the gases in the atmosphere that helps keep things warm. CO2, methane, water vabor and other gases in the greenhouse make up only 1 percent of the earth's atmosphere. Never since human beings first walked the earth have co2 levels been this high. The question is, why?
The amazon is roughly the size of the continental US. The amazon plays a critical role in the health of the planet. The billions of trees in the amazon help absorb co2. Loggers, farmers and drought are attacking the amazon. 2005 is the driest year the amazon has ever seen. When the rain goes away so does the rain forest. Some leaves have to do a vertical draw of 100 feet. These trees extend roots down to 40 feet. Even the very deep soil will run out of water at some point during droughts. When trees die and decompose co2 is released into the atmosphere.
An open coal mine in China is studied. 55 million years ago this coal mine was a broad, flat swamp covered with trees. Eventually the swamp turns to coal, oil or gas. Oil, coal and natural gas make excellent fuels. We're taking ancient carbon and converting it to co2. The Keeling Curve proved that human beings are increasing the levels of co2 in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels that took millions of years to form, we are now burning and releasing in a few decades. The global scientific community no longer quesions how we got to this point, it worries that we are pushing the planet to the point of no return.
Canada's Hudson Bay is studied. This team sedates the polar bears found and collects data. The population of polar bears has gone from 1200 in the 1980s to 950 today. The decline is directly related to the lack of ice. The ice is melting earlier in the year and at a faster pace. The bears no longer have the ability to find all the food (seals) they need to survive. The Churchill population is declining as bears starve and mothers fail to provide enough milk. Soon female bears may not have enough body fat to reproduce. It wasn't until recently that scientists worried about Arctic sea ice. In 1979 it covered 1.7 billion acres. Lately we have lost ice by an area the size of Texas. Soon there may not be sea ice in the summer. About 10 percent of the earth's surface is covered by ice. If enough of that ice melts the sea will rise dramatically. Scientists are keeping a watchful eye on Greenland and Antarctica which house about 75 percent of the earth's fresh water. Hansen talks about the increased rate at which the ice sheet in Greenland is collapsing. The oceans could rise by as much as 3 feet by the end of this century. The Greenland icecap contains about 23 feet of sea level water. The west Antarctica sheet contains about 20 feet of sea level water. Miami could soon be 50 miles out to sea. Water could soon reach central London. This could all happen 50 years from now or 100 years from now.
Many parts of the world are in danger of becoming a modern day Atlantis. The abnormally high Tuvalu tides are now prolonged. The country is drowning. The islands of the South Pacific will soon vanish into the sea if things continue. There are few records on sea level before the 20th century. Tasmania does give us long term records. Since the 1840s there has been a sea level rise of 6 inches. In the last 100 years the level has gone up 4 to 10 inches. Scientists think that global warming is warming the ocean temperature which makes the water expand and rise. The beach may disappear before our eyes. Half of our coastal wetlands in the US are in danger. Like the air, the temperature of the ocean water has risen a degree lately. There is no better example of the relationship between the water and the atmosphere than El Nino. The Pacific Ocean could be turned into a permanent El Nino state. The increased heat in ocean waters helps feed hurricanes.
Hurricane Katrina was a disaster. Many scientists are now making connections between global warming, rising sea temperatures and the strength of hurricanes. 2005 also set records for the Gulf of Mexico where Katrina built up. Some believe it is not the frequencey of hurricanes that is increased but the intensity. Scientists say that we can expect severe weather to be the norm rather than the exception. In northern China rainfall has been decreasing for 3 decades. Every year almost 1k miles of farmland in China turns to desert. Southern Africa and India are having similar problems.
Hansen talks about supercomputers looking at climate modeling. All the variables that influence climate are taken into account. Can the models be accurate about the future given everything we don't know? More ground is exposed as glaciers melt. As the ground warms up the glaciers melt faster. These feedback loops are astonishing. Hansens says that in the history of the earth we have 5 or 6 mass extinction events associated with global climate changes.
We're telescoping the warming of thousands of years into one century. Some scientists say by the year 2100 the world will be a drastically different place. Many plants and animals we are now familiar with will disappear. Wildlife that can migrate will move. Some species can adapt, others cannot keep up. At the rate we're losing sea ice, polar bears don't have a chance to adapt to something else. The Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the world, is in danger. The corals are in trouble. Corals that are normally brown appear bleached, pure white, due to higher temperatures. Most of the algae left in the corals are severely damaged. Without the algae, the corals can't survive and neither can the surrounding species. More frightening still are the results of one of the more recent models by Hansen. We could lose by the end of the century half of the species on the planet. Species that do well in high temperatures (like insects) could thrive. Humans will struggle to survive in a changing environment. In the arid parts of the world there is almost a perfect relationship between rainfall and where people live. War could break out over remaining farmlands. Even in the US the farmlands could be pushed north. Winters may see more precipitation but they will be shorter. 75 percent of the fresh water in the west comes from fresh snow packs. The world is at a cross roads. When will we decide to make changes and slow things down?
The co2 emissions in China are rising rapidly. Right now the US makes up 5 percent of the world population yet is responsible for 25 percent of the co2. There will be legal responsibilities, the US has discouraged international plans to reduce co2. The US helped draft the treaty but Congress continues to reject it. In 2001 the current administration withdrew the US completely. The international community has criticized the decision by the administration. Emissions in the US have increased by 6 percent in the US. 100 miles off the coast of Norway we see Sleipner. co2 is captured before released and then moved to an underground seabed 3k feet down. Scientists aren't yet sure if the co2 will leak from beneath the ground. Wind farms in Great Britain are being used. Brazil is using sugar cane to produce ethanol. Brazil is the world's leading producer of ethanol, in fact they no longer need foreign oil. The destruction of rain forests needs to slow. Carbon credits are part of the treaty. South American countries want carbon credits due to the amazon. If the financial incentives to leave the rain forest can match the incentives to clear it then we have some hope. New York City is starting to reinvent itself.
New York City is often called the capitol of the world. Today New York is actually one of the most energy-efficient cities in the US. More than 25 percent of the co2 in the US comes from transportation. Some of the cabs in NY are now hybrids. NY has the largest hydro-electric bus systems in North America. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty now run on electricity from wind power. The Hertz Corporation just built a green building in NY. They began by recycling materials from the old building. The energy to make iron and steel emits high levels of co2. Almost everything in the building has an environmental purpose. Office furniture is made from sustainable wood. The building uses almost 25 percent less electricity than buildings around it. The Hertz Tower is just one of a number of green buildings in NY. The green trend in the big apple is fueled in part by tax credits.
Where do we begin in the US? We look at our own co2 footprints. Electricity comes from electric grids powered by coal etc. The energy for the appliances puts out as much energy as the gas guzzling cars. Transporting food around contents uses a lot of co2. Business trips add co2. The Smiths produce 50 tons of co2 every year. What are the alternatives? The good news is that the future by and large is in our hands. We can slow down the warming. Turning off lights at night can help. If every American family switched a regular light bulb to an energy efficient flourescent bulb it would be like taking 1 million cars off the road. Devices like televisions use up to 40 percent of the regular energy even when plugged in because of the stand-by factor. Trash is part of the problem. Using public transportation of changing cars can help a great deal. Replacing a gas guzzling suv with an electric hybrid car can help significantly. Millions of people in the developing world are becoming carbon copies of us. By 2025 China will produce 18 percent of the co2 emissions world wide. China has a fearsome air pollution problem due to their coal burning. Can the Chinese fuel their rapid growth and at the same time contribute to the solution? To have any chance of slowing the effects of global warming we must reduce the amount of co2 being released.
Global warming disputes heat up CongressOn July 20, 2006 JOHN HEILPRIN from the Associated Press revealed that members of Congress are looking at some issues with global warming in the Global warming disputes heat up Congress article.
An Inconvenient Truth talks about reports on global warming being edited, here is what John Heilprin said about the subject:
The House Government Reform Committee began an inquiry into allegations that White House officials edited reports on global warming to play down the threat it poses.
There are fears that the White House diluted scientific information on global warming.
The House committee chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, said they will request data from the White House and hold hearings into whether the White House Council on Environmental Quality intentionally diluted scientific information on the threat of global warming.
In an ironic twist, a bill to reduce greenhouse gases was discussed in an air conditioned building:
Retiring Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., announced his last hurrah, a bill to reverse the U.S. growth in heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases from burning coal and transportation fuels. He spoke at an indoor rally. The air conditioning was on.
The US Public Interest Research Group made a scary prediction:
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy group, predicted that energy companies' plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants will increase U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent above 2004 levels.
Hopefully Congress will get to the bottom of things and help us focus on this important issue.
Sen. Feinstein's speech on global warmingUnlike the Bush administration, Senator Feinstein treats the threat of global warming as a top priority. Here is her August 24th speech from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/08/25/MNdifitext25.DTL
This is the prepared text of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's speech on global warming, delivered Thursday evening 24 August 2006 to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be here tonight to discuss global warming -- the greatest environmental challenge facing this planet. So let me get right to it.
The first seven months of this year were the warmest since climate record-keeping began in 1895. (National Climactic Data Center)
And based on nearly every scientific projection, it's only going to get warmer. The question is how warm?
If temperature increases are kept to 1 to 2 degrees, it is manageable. But if warming increases to 5 to 9 degrees or even more, the effects on our planet will be catastrophic. We must begin to take certain steps now.
So, each of us is confronted with a choice -- a choice that will impact not only our future, but the futures of our children and grandchildren.
Do we continue with a business-as-usual attitude? Or do we make the changes needed to prevent catastrophe?
How did we reach this point?
Quite simply, we are addicted to fossil fuels.
And it is the burning of these fuels – coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas and the resultant greenhouse gas emissions – that is the primary cause of global warming.
Carbon dioxide, the most plentiful of the greenhouse gases, is produced by power plants, cars, manufacturing, and residential and commercial buildings.
And here is the key: Carbon dioxide doesn't dissipate. It stays in the atmosphere for five decades or more – causing Earth's temperature to rise.
That means that the carbon dioxide produced in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is still in the atmosphere today. And the carbon dioxide produced today will still be in the atmosphere in 2050 and beyond.
Many of the world's most preeminent scientists – including those at the University of California, the Scripps Institute, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – all predict serious consequences for our planet unless we make major changes in our consumption of energy and strongly move away from energy sources that produce global warming – namely carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.
They say that to stabilize the planet's climate by the end of the century, we need a 70 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.
The Earth has already warmed 1 degree in the past century and we're seeing the dramatic effects:
* The 1990s were the hottest decade on record. * Glaciers are melting; coral reefs are dying; species are disappearing. * Extreme weather patterns have evolved – heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and floods – and they are occurring with greater frequency and greater intensity.
Global warming is also touching us closer to home:
* The Sierra snowpack is shrinking. * The scope and intensity of forest fires in the west is increasing. * And production is down at wineries and dairies as result of the recent heat wave.
Things will only get worse as temperatures rise. The question is how much will the increase be?
If temperatures increase by another 1 to 2 degrees over the next 50 years, we will see major -- but manageable -- shifts in the world around us:
* The Sierra-Nevada snowpack would shrink by 30 percent. * Sea levels would rise up to six inches. * Large wildfires would increase by 10 percent. * And electricity demand would increase by 3 percent. (California Climate Change Center)
These are significant changes – but it is possible to adapt to them.
But if nothing is done…if the Earth warms 5 degrees or more in the next 50 years, the face of our planet will change forever. According to scientific estimates:
* Three out of five species would become extinct. Oceans would rise. Flooding would occur. Hurricanes, tornadoes and weather would become more volatile than ever. Malaria would spread. * Here in California: Two-thirds of the Sierra snowpack would disappear -- equal to the water supply for the 16 million people in the LA basin. * Sea levels would rise more than 2 feet, leading to 100-year floods every 10 years. * Risk of catastrophic wildfire would more than double. * Energy demands would increase 10 to 20 percent. (California Climate Change Center)
We got a mild taste of that future in July. Here in the City, temperatures spiked to 97 degrees. And it was far worse in other areas of California. More than 160 people died. Death Valley temperatures soared to 126 degrees.
So, we're at a tipping point.
Refuse to act, or act too slowly, and humans will have caused the most sudden temperature shift in the history of the planet.
But, if we act soon and decisively, global warming can be limited to 1 to 2 degrees. This, I contend, should be our goal.
America emits 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, though we have only 4 percent of its population.
This makes the U.S. the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
Yet today, the federal government is doing nothing to stop global warming. We should be leading the charge.
Here in the United States, the two most significant pieces of the puzzle are:
* Transportation – cars, trucks, planes, cargo ships – which accounts for approximately 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions; and
* Electric generation – largely from coal-fired power plants – which accounts for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions;
If we were to clean up these two areas, we would go a long way toward our goal of containing temperature increases to 1 or 2 degrees.
Let's begin with transportation. Fundamentally, there are two ways to reduce transportation emissions.
1. improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles.
2. move away from oil and gasoline-based fuels and toward alternatives.
Cars and trucks in the United States produce nearly 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year -- 20 percent of U.S. emissions, and half of global passenger-vehicle emissions. (EPA)
The good news is that the technology exists to significantly improve the fuel economy of these vehicles.
The bad news is that Detroit and many foreign auto manufacturers refuse to utilize available technologies to produce increased mileage and better fuel economy.
I have introduced legislation that would require the mileage for all cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs be increased from 25 to 35 miles per gallon over the next 10 years. Twelve Senators have cosponsored the legislation.
If this bill becomes law:
* 420 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2025, the equivalent of taking 90 million cars off the road in one year.
* 2.5 million barrels of oil a day would be saved by 2025. By coincidence, this is the amount of oil imported daily from the Persian Gulf.
So, if the fuel economy of vehicles is increased, it will be a major step in the right direction.
The other side of the coin is alternative fuels.
As long as our nation continues its addiction to oil, we cannot sufficiently slow the warming trend. Rather, we quickly need to get up and running on developing new, clean technologies and alternative fuels.
This includes the electric plug-in hybrid, bio-diesel fuels, hydrogen power, and E-85 made from cellulosic ethanol.
Thirty-seven million gallons of biodiesel were produced in 2004 in the United States. And that number more than doubled to 75 million gallons in 2005.
But additional incentives are still needed in both the public and private sector to move much more aggressively toward producing and using alternative fuels.
The second major piece of the puzzle is the generation and consumption of electricity. And the biggest culprit here is pulverized coal.
Today, coal-fired power plants in 38 states are the largest source of carbon dioxide in America. Coal, alone, produces about 30 percent of annual carbon-dioxide emissions, or 2.1 billion tons every year.
Globally, coal produces 9.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year – or one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
It's absolutely critical that we find ways to clean up coal or find alternatives.
Earlier this year, the Senate Energy Committee held a conference on the way forward on global warming.
The clear consensus was that a mandatory cap-and-trade system was the most effective way to prompt changes in energy production, especially with regard to pulverized coal plants.
I'm working on legislation to do this – creating a national framework for coal plants, utilities and other carbon dioxide producers to reduce greenhouse gases.
Here's how it would work:
A cap on the amount of critical global warming gases – including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – would be established on all major emitters.
In all likelihood, the cap would remain at present levels for a period of time to allow companies to change their operations.
Gradually, these caps would be tightened, until the desired level is reached.
Coal plants would have two ways to meet the cap: either implement new technologies, or purchase credits from other companies that have reduced their emissions below the target cap.
(A credit essentially is an allowance to emit a ton of greenhouse gases.)
So, the cap would be met—and national levels of carbon dioxide would be reduced.
Peter Darbee, the CEO of PG&E, agrees that we need to act now, and PG&E is helping us with the necessary modeling and analysis of a practical and doable program.
One of the key elements of our program is that it allows farmers and foresters to participate and earn credits for emission reductions through green practices.
These include: * tilling land less frequently; * planting trees on vacant land; and * converting crops into bio-fuels.
Farmers and growers would be able to earn dollars for acres converted to carbon sequestration and reduction.
Details are still being worked out, but a properly implemented cap-and-trade program can work. Here's an example:
Using the Clean Air Act, cap and trade was implemented in the 1980s to target sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from electric utility plants in the northeast, the primary culprits of acid rain.
In the 16 years it has been in place, sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by about 34 percent (5 million tons) and nitrogen oxide emissions have been reduced by 43 percent (3 million tons). So cap and trade has been used and it has been effective.
But cleaning up electric generation is not enough. America needs to become much more energy efficient.
Residential and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use. And an aggressive energy efficiency program could prevent as much as 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide going into the air.
For example, if all new construction and major retrofits were required to incorporate energy efficient building materials – such as insulation, more efficient windows, and renewable technologies like solar or wind, a significant reduction of carbon dioxide would result.
Green construction is also cost-effective. An initial $100,000 investment can result in a savings of $1 million or more over the life of the building. (California Sustainable Building Task Force)
Another example: incentivizing the purchase of energy efficient appliances.
ENERGY STAR home products, such as air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators, dishwashers, phones, DVD players, and televisions, must become a standard buying practice for all Americans.
In 2005, these products saved consumers $12 billion, and reduced emissions by nearly 5 percent, an amount equal to taking 23 million cars off the road.
Energy Efficiency Can Make a Difference
In California, energy use per person has not gone up in the past 20 years, while national energy use has skyrocketed by 50 percent. To be specific, Californians use 6,000 kilowatts a year per person, while the national average is 12,000 kilowatts. (California Energy Commission)
Last September, the State announced a $2 billion energy efficiency and conservation program to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 3.8 million tons by 2008.
That is equivalent of reducing California's electricity emissions by 3.5%, or taking 650,000 cars off the road.
California's program can and should be replicated on a national level.
Individuals can also make a difference. Here are a few suggestions, all of which save energy and retard carbon dioxide emissions:
* Cool the hot water heater down by 10 degrees. That would save 660 pounds of carbon dioxide per household from being emitted into the air. If every household were to do it, California alone would avoid emitting 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide.
* Wash four out of five loads of laundry in cold water. That avoids 460 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted per household per year, or 2.7 million tons for all of California.
* Run the dishwasher only with a full load. That avoids 200 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted per household per year, or 1.2 million tons for all of California.
* Turn the air conditioner thermostat up a single degree. That avoids 220 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted per household per year, or 1.3 million tons for all of California.
* Carpool 2 days a week. That avoids 1,590 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted per household per year, or 9.2 million metric tons for all of California.
* Keep car tires properly inflated. That avoids 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted per household per year, or 1.5 million tons for all of California.
All of these are easy to do and they can make a difference.
Global Warming Legislation
It is doubtful, in the short time remaining in this legislative session, that we will see action on global warming.
So in January, on the first day of the new Congress, I plan to bring to introduce these three bills:
* A sound mandatory cap and trade program, which could reduce emissions by 10 percent or more by 2025;
* A mandatory requirement that all passenger vehicles – cars, SUVs and light trucks – have increased mileage of 10 percent within the next 10 years. That means mileage would go from 25 miles per gallon today to 35 miles per gallon by model year 2017.
* A national energy efficiency program -- modeled after what California has achieved, including strict appliance and building standards and requiring utilities to use energy efficiency measures to meet a portion of their demand.
Finally, the U.S. should make addressing global warming a top priority and join the European Union and other nations in reducing emissions.
Kyoto is certainly not perfect, and it will expire in 2012. But the U.S. needs to be a leader to ensure that there is a framework in place after 2012 to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The U.S. should also lead an effort with China to raise a public-private partnership fund of $100 billion to prioritize global warming projects that can be conducted bilaterally.
Today, the U.S. and China are the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. For China, reliance on coal remains chiefly responsible for its carbon dioxide output.
In fact, China's coal use outpaces that of the U.S., EU, and Japan combined. Coal accounts for 70 percent of China's energy needs. And consumption is increasing by 14 percent annually.
So a private/public partnership that funds key carbon dioxide reduction projects on a bilateral basis would be an effective way for our countries to work together. This proposal was made at the Aspen Strategy Group symposium a few weeks ago and it had a very positive response.
Example of Great Britain
Taken together, the policies I've outlined tonight can make a significant difference. You have to look no further than across the Atlantic Ocean to see what can be accomplished.
Already Great Britain has brought its emissions to 14 percent below 1990 levels.
They've done this through a comprehensive program requiring commercial electricity suppliers to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2010, making grants available for the installation of renewable sources, and providing incentives for the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative fuels.
The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but, unfortunately, it was dropped in conference by the Republican majority. I will work with Senator Bingaman, the bill's sponsor, on moving this again next year.
California Leading the Way
The good news is that California has entered into a groundbreaking partnership with Great Britain to address climate change by sharing of best practices on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
And this is just one part of the State's efforts to take the lead on global warming.
Additionally, the State has enacted a law requiring a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the tailpipes of passenger vehicles by 2016. This will help the State reduce emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Ten other States have followed California's lead, and Canada has adopted similar regulations.
California is also considering legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions further -- to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020.
And earlier this month, Los Angeles joined the Clinton Climate Initiative, along with 21 of the world's largest cities to create an international consortium to reduce costs on energy-efficient products and share ideas on cutting greenhouse gas pollution.
With every challenge comes a new opportunity, and California is well positioned to take advantage of a new low-carbon economy.
The State has already begun to reap the economic benefits of cleaner, greener, and more efficient technologies and standards.
For example, substantial venture capital funding is available today for clean energy projects. And these new start-ups are expected to generate between 48,000 and 75,000 new jobs over the next five years. (Environmental Entrepreneurs Study)
Here are just a few of the most promising:
* A Silicon Valley start-up -- Ion America -- has raised $165 million to develop clean fuel cells that will produce both electricity and hydrogen to fuel our vehicles.
* Bill Gates has joined with venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla -- who as I previously mentioned is in the audience tonight -- to spearhead investment efforts in ethanol plants which, when completed, will produce 220 million gallons by 2009.
* And others are investing in new ideas – inexpensive solar panels, windmills that can be built in your backyard for $10,000, and geothermal energy that harnesses the heat of the Earth.
So California is leading the way, but as large as California is, we need to see national leadership and strong national mandates and incentives to do what needs to be done.
Time to Act
Working together, I believe we can reduce our emissions sufficiently to stabilize the Earth's climate, to minimize warming, and slow global temperature increases to 1-2 degrees to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Here is what I ask of you.
Be energy conscious.
Bring pressure on your utility, your government, and commit yourself and your family to reduce energy consumption.
Don't shift the burden to the next generation.
The choice is clear.
It is time to stop talking and to begin acting.
California is the First State to Limit Greenhouse GasesOn August 30, 2006 the Los Angeles Times reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top Democrats agreed on a bill that would make California the first state to slap strict limits on the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Schwarzenegger is a Republican but he is a moderate and his wife is a Democrat. Schwarzenegger differs from fellow Republican Bush on many key issues like global warming and stem cell research. From Marc Lifsher's LA Times Article:
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top Democrats in the Legislature agreed today on a bill that would make California the first state to slap strict limits on the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The measure, AB 32, is expected to win passage from the state Senate this evening and by the Assembly on Thursday.
The bill is designed to cut the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 25% by 2020.
The Republican governor, who has made combating global warming the centerpiece of his reelection campaign, immediately announced he would sign the measure.
"The state is the 12th largest carbon emitter in the world despite leading the nation in energy efficiency," Schwarzenegger said in a statement released by his office. "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an issue we must show leadership on."
The bill authorizes the California Air Resources Board to begin a process of measuring the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases coming from electric power plants, oil refineries, cement kilns and other industries. Once a tally is taken, regulators would set limits for each facility and industry that would take effect beginning in 2012.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the co-author of the bill, predicted that creation of a pioneering program in California would be followed by similar initiatives in other states and in Washington.
"We're the first to step up to the plate in a real way," he said.
Environmentalists praised the agreement with the governor for providing the state with a range of tools for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators will be able to enforce limits with financial penalties as well as provide market-based incentives to industry. The bill creates a new market that would allow industries that reduce emissions to below their limits to sell credits to other companies that need to exceed their caps.
Major business groups, however, said they were concerned that the requirement to create a system of market-based pollution credit trading is not strong enough.
Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn., also said her members are worried that the legislation gives too much power to the Air Resources Board.
"The authority given the agencies is vast," she said.
CO2 Highest in 800,000 Years!From http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/science_co2_dc on September 4th:
NORWICH (Reuters) - Air from the oldest ice core confirms human activity has increased the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to levels not seen for hundreds of thousands of years, scientists said on Monday.
Bubbles of air in the 800,000-year-old ice, drilled in the Antarctic, show levels of CO2 changing with the climate. But the present levels are out of the previous range.
"It is from air bubbles that we know for sure that carbon dioxide has increased by about 35 percent in the last 200 years," said Dr Eric Wolff of the British Antarctic Survey and the leader of the science team for the 10-nation European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica.
"Before the last 200 years, which man has been influencing, it was pretty steady," he added.
The natural level of CO2 over most of the past 800,000 years has been 180-300 parts per million by volume (ppmv) of air. But today it is at 380 ppmv.
"The most scary thing is that carbon dioxide today is not just out of the range of what happened in the last 650,000 years but already up 100 percent out of the range," Wolff said at the British Association Festival of Science in Norwich, eastern England.
CO2 was close to 280 ppmv from 1000 AD until 1800 and then it accelerated toward its present concentration. Wolff added that measurements of carbon isotopes showed the extra CO2 coming from a fossil source, due to increased human activity.
The ice core record showed it used to take about 1,000 years for a CO2 increase of 30 ppmv. It has risen by that much in the last 17 years alone.
"We really are in a situation where something is happening that we don't have any analog for in our records. It is an experiment that we don't know the result of," he added.
Professor Peter Smith, of the University of Nottingham in England, said the study showed more needed to be done.
"There is an urgent need to find innovative technologies to reduce the impact we are having on our climate," he told the science conference.