The Week That Was
September 29 , 2007
NO TWTW ON OCT 6 AND 13: SEPP has organized a Climate Symposium in Vienna (Oct 8) and lecture in Prague (Oct 10), plus various discussions
NEW NEW NEW
A note to our subscribers: Format Change: The TWTW e-mail letters will carry only summaries, easy to print out. The full stories, in formatted form, are in the mailed Attachment.
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For quick access to summaries online, visit our NEW blog at < http://science-sepp.blogspot.com/ >
3. SCIENTISTS CALL FOR 80 PERCENT DROP IN US EMISSIONS BY 2050 TO AVOID DANGEROUS WARMING
Lubbock TX (SPX) Sep 26, 2007 By 2050, the United States must cut its emissions by at least 80 percent below those created in the year 2000 if the world is to avoid potentially dangerous impacts of human-induced climate change, according to a report released today by scientists at Texas Tech University, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Stanford University.
To avoid the most severe effects of climate change, the world must stabilize the concentration of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere at no more than 450 parts per million, said Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University, who performed the emissions-reduction calculations for the joint report.
This 450-parts-per-million limit aims to avoid a temperature increase exceeding 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels - a temperature-change benchmark, which Hayhoe and other scientists believe, could wreak increasing havoc on the environment as it is exceeded.
"The study assumes both developing and industrialized countries would have to converge to equitable per-capita emissions to stabilize the world's climate," she said. "However, even with other countries taking aggressive action, since the United States is responsible for nearly one-quarter of global emissions, it must act now to achieve the deep cuts in its energy consumption that will be required to meet this target."
The cost of delaying U.S. emission reductions could be high, said Michael D. Mastrandrea, a research associate at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. "If we wait until 2020 to start emission reductions, we'll have to cut twice as fast than if we start in 2010 to meet the same target," Mastrandrea said.
While an 80 percent reduction sounds daunting now, Hayhoe said that the sooner we start, the greater our chances of successfully meeting that target.
"We've got 40 years to radically increase the efficiency of the way we use energy," she said. "It's also time to start considering more extensive ways to harness renewable energy sources through solar panel arrays and wind farms, for example. It's worth it to put in the effort now to reduce our emissions. If we don't, there will be a lot more work to do just to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the future."
Stabilizing above this 450-parts-per-million level would likely lead to severe risks to both natural systems and human welfare, Hayhoe said. "Sustained warming of this magnitude could, for example, result in the extinction of many species and increase the threat of extensive melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets," she said.
Policies under consideration in the United States vary in the timing and levels of emissions cuts they call for and many fail to achieve the minimum pollution cuts needed.
"This report makes clear that the United States must make meaningful cuts in global warming pollution, and soon, to reduce the risk of severe climate impacts," said Alden Meyer, director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "President Bush should drop his opposition to mandatory emissions limits, and put forward a specific proposal to aggressively reduce U.S. emissions at the meeting of major emitting countries that he is hosting next week."
They advised that Congress must also act to help the world avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced that set mandatory reductions, but only two bills would keep U.S. emissions within the overall limits called for in the UCS study. One measure was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and the other by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
4. "VAMPIRE MEMO" REVEALS COAL INDUSTRY PLAN FOR MASSIVE PROPAGANDA BLITZ
Big coal -- in the form of the National Rural Electric Association, Koch Industries, American Electric Power, the Southern Company, the National Association of Manufacturers and others are planning a major blitz against efforts to fight global warming. (Read the memo.)
The plan is a retread of a similar campaign launched in the early 1990s by coal interests. The latest version is spelled out in what is dubbed a "Vampire Memo" because it resurrects an earlier campaign that was discredited and abandoned in the mid 1990s.
Among other initiatives, the memo notes that several of the participating companies are planning to finance a major film to counteract the influence of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
And, coincidentally or not, it concludes with conditions that are identical to those of President George W. Bush -- that any efforts to combat global warming include developing countries (specifically India and China), that all sources of CO2 be included in any such plan, and that it must not be permitted to damage the US economy.
According to the memo, environmentalists' efforts to combat global warming would realize the environmentalists' "dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population, eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equitably."
The memo notes that such an effort has strong allies in Washington and will receive help from people like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who has been leading a witch hunt against Dr. Michael Mann, one of the country's pre-eminent climate scientists.
SEPP Comment: Pitiful, isn’t it?
5. CHENEY: "BIG DEBATE" NEEDED TO FIND CAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE:
Sydney, Australia, Feb. 23, 2007 - In an exclusive interview today, ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Vice President Dick Cheney about the topic of global warming, a subject Mr. Cheney has rarely addressed in the past. The vice president agreed that the earth is warming but, like President Bush, maintained there is debate over whether humans or natural cycles are the cause-- a position that puts the administration at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- made up of thousands of scientists from around the world -- reported earlier this month they are more certain than ever that humans are heating earth's atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. In Australia, for example, the IPCC said that rising ocean temperatures brought on by global warming could make Australia's Great Barrier Reef "functionally extinct" by 2050.
Here is a portion of the transcript from Jonathan Karl's conversation with Mr. Cheney:
JONATHAN KARL: I want to ask you about another issue that's been a subject of controversy here in Australia, global warming. Did you get a chance to see Al Gore's movie?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have not seen Al Gore's movie.
JONATHAN KARL: Doesn't surprise me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He didn't invite me to the showing.
JONATHAN KARL: The premiere, huh?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not that I had planned to go anyway.
JONATHAN KARL: But what's your sense, where is the science on this? Is global warming a fact? And is it human activity that is causing global warming?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Those are the two key questions. I think there's an emerging consensus that we do have global warming. You can look at the data on that, and I think clearly we're in a period of warming. Where there does not appear to be a consensus, where it begins to break down, is the extent to which that's part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it's caused by man, greenhouse gases, et cetera.
But I think we're going to see a big debate on it going forward. But it's not enough just to sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that's going to "solve" the problem. Kyoto I think, was not a good idea -- not adequate to the task. It didn't cover nations like China or India. It would have done serious damage to our economy. We decided not to go down that road. The Senate had rejected it overwhelmingly anyway.
But what we're doing with research, we're spending more money on research than anybody else, probably the rest of the world combined in this area. We've set targets for ourselves in terms of increasing energy efficiency, that is, reducing the amount of energy per unit of output. And we're doing better at meeting those targets than I think virtually anybody who signed up with Kyoto. Most of the folks who signed up with Kyoto are not going to meet the targets.
But going forward, if we are going to have a policy, we've got to find ways to do that are not inconsistent with economic growth. You can't shut down the world economy in the name of trying to eliminate greenhouse gases. But there are some answers out there -- nuclear power, for example, is one of them. And getting the United States back into the nuclear power game I think would be a significant benefit -- both in terms of producing the energy we need, but at the same time not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
JONATHAN KARL: So you think the jury is still out about whether or not this warming we're seeing has been caused by human activity?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Some of it has, I think. But exactly where you draw the line? I don't know. I'm not a scientist. I talk with people who supposedly know something about it. You get conflicting viewpoints. But I do think it is an important subject, and it will be addressed in the Congress. I think there will be a big debate on it in the next couple of years.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures
6. EXXON ADS MOVE STANFORD DONOR TO STOP GIVING
Donor to Stanford: No Big Oil
San Jose Mercury News, March 11, 2007
It's an engaging TV commercial. Kids swinging golf clubs, and not very well. Balls flying everywhere. People taking cover. But to movie producer Steve Bing, the words that accompanied those pictures were horrifying - so horrifying that the prominent Stanford donor decided to rescind a promised $2.5 million donation to the school.
"Kids, they'll tackle almost anything. An approach we can all learn from," the commercial began. "So Exxon Mobil has teamed up with Stanford University to find breakthrough technologies that deliver more energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's a challenge. But we're getting there."
When the private university announced a partnership with the world's largest privately owned oil company in 2002 - Stanford will get up to $100 million from the company over 10 years to fund climate and energy research - critics questioned what Big Oil would be getting out of the deal. Now, they say, it's evident: a sweet public relations opportunity.
After seeing the Exxon Mobil commercial and several similar ads in the New York Times, Bing, who had already donated $22.5 million to the school, called Stanford President John Hennessy and said he would give no more. Bing also is asking other major philanthropists to reconsider their promises to give to the Stanford cause, broaching the subject in phone calls and at functions he attends. He hasn't had any takers yet, but expects that one day he will.
7. PLAN USES TAXES TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is proposing a recipe for dealing with climate change that many people won't like -- a higher gasoline tax, a carbon tax and scaling back tax breaks for some home owners, says the Associated Press.
Dingell also says he hasn't rule out a "cap-and-trade" system, but at least for now wants to focus on taxes:
o A 50-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline and jet fuel, phased in over five years, on top of existing taxes.
o A tax on carbon, at $50 a ton, released from burning coal, petroleum or natural gas.
o Phaseout of the interest tax deduction on mortgages for homes over 3,000 square feet.
o Owners would keep most of the deduction for homes at the lower end of the scale, but it would be eliminated entirely for homes of 4,200 square feet or more.
Dingell said he's not sure what the final climate package will include when the House takes it up for a vote. The taxes measures he's proposing, in fact, will be taken up by another House committee. And the Senate is considering a market-based system that would set an economy-wide ceiling on the amount of carbon dioxide that would be allowed to be released.
Source: H. Josef Hebert, "Plan Uses Taxes to Fight Climate Change," Associated Press, September 26, 2007.
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jy4U7NW7RvEmdEbiadNKjj_Kko2Q h/t to NCPA
8. INCREASING THE OCEAN'S CAPACITY FOR CO2
Initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, on the understanding that this will mitigate projected future global warming, seem fraught with problems. The modest demands of the Kyoto protocol will almost certainly not be achieved by many apparently committed countries. There can be no certainty about the outcome of negotiations aimed to bring all countries - including the USA and major developing economies such as China - into a binding framework of far more stringent emission reduction commitments. If they are successful, there are absolutely no guarantees that targets will be met. If carbon dioxide levels really are as important as the IPCC believes, we need to look at more radical solutions.
One suggestion which has often been mooted is to fertilise the oceans with iron - the rate-determining nutrient - to boost algal growth and so capture larger quantities of carbon dioxide. Now comes a clever and perhaps neater way to achieve this: pump cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths to the surface, using the sea itself as the energy source.
This innovative approach has been put forward by two prominent scientists who are deeply pessimistic about the consequences of climate change if left unchecked: James Lovelock, perhaps best known for his Gaia hypothesis, and Chris Rapley, new head of the Science Museum and previously director of the British Antarctic Survey. It is also being developed separately by an American company, Atmocean.
Long vertical pipes would float in the tropical ocean, tethered to buoys. As they sink in the swell, cold water would enter the pipe from the bottom, but would be prevented from leaving as the pipe rises by a non-return valve. The net effect is to pump the cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface, which would encourage the growth of a range of organisms. All would sequester carbon and remove it to the ocean bottom, via their droppings and when they die. Algae would additionally produce dimethyl sulphide, which promotes cloud formation and would thus have a cooling effect.
The challenges would, of course, be huge. Atmocean calculates that 134 million pipes would be needed to sequester one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels each year. No-one knows about the life of the valves, or the effect on the marine environment. Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea which deserves some thought. Many environmentalists will object to the very idea of a 'technical fix', but progress is most often made by way of ingenious ideas.
Source: Scientific Alliance
9. DID METHANE ONCE POWER RUNAWAY WARMING?
Discovery.com, Sept. 20, 2007
Methane released from wetlands turned the Earth into a hothouse 55 million years ago, according to research released Wednesday that could shed light on a worrying aspect of today's climate change crisis. Scientists have long sought to understand the triggers for an extraordinary warming episode called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred about 10 million years after the twilight of the dinosaurs. Earth's surface warmed by at least nine degrees Fahrenheit in just a few hundred or a few thousand years. The Arctic Ocean was at 73 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the same as a tepid bath -- before the planet eventually cooled.
Richard Pancost, a researcher at Britain's University of Bristol, seized an opportunity to dig, literally, into this mystery. Excavation of a site in southeast England to set down the Channel Tunnel rail link exposed layers of sediment from a bog that had existed at the time of the PETM.
Pancost's team sifted through the dirt to measure the carbon isotope values of hopanoids, which are compounds made by bacteria. They found that levels of these isotopes suddenly fell at the onset of the PETM, yielding a signature that can only be explained if the bugs dramatically switched to a diet of methane, a powerful, naturally-occurring greenhouse gas.
Reporting in the British journal Nature, Pancost believes that the methane had remained locked up in the soil for millions of years before warming released it into the atmosphere. As atmospheric methane levels rose, so too did Earth's temperature as a result of the famous "greenhouse" effect. In turn, that released more methane, and so on. In other words, it was a vicious circle (a "positive feedback" in scientific parlance), in which warming begat warming.
The study has relevance because of the gigatons of methane locked in the Siberian permafrost today. With the permafrost slowly retreating as a result of global warming, some experts fear a threshold whereby this huge stock of greenhouse gas may also be released, unleashing unstoppable climate change. But the temperature at which this could happen is unknown and the mechanisms by which the methane is released are unclear.
Co-author Andrew Scott of Royal Holloway University of London is cautious about making parallels. He said the onset to the PETM was far warmer than today, which makes it risky to compare then with now, especially as the data for the new paper comes from just a single site. However, "this does provide insight into how some ecosystems would respond to warming-induced changes in climate, and, therefore how they could respond to warming in the future," said Scott.
A study published last April in the journal Science attributed the methane to a tectonic rather than biological source -- massive volcanic eruptions in Greenland and the British Islands. Other hypotheses include "belches" of methane released from ice-bound bubbles in sea-floor sediment. Pancost, though, believes that a volcanic source provided the initial heat trigger that unlocked some methane stocks in the soil and thus launched the positive feedback.
He argues that the microbes' sudden switch to methane for their diet indicates they were swamped by a local source of the gas. The explanation for this is a snap release from terrestrial sources, rather than a longer release of methane from the sea or underground, according to Pancost.
Fossil and sedimentary records show that, by the time the PETM was over, around 100,000 years later, many species of fundamental life in the sea had been wiped out and there had been a ruthless culling among mammalian species on land, opening the way to the biodiversity we see today.