Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Global Warming/Climate Change Notes

I've been busy with a lot of freelance assignments and bamboo planting of late, and I'm trying to catch up on posting a number of articles relating to global warming/climate change (GWCC), so here's a bit of a scattershot look. First off, this article from last week's London Guardian:

England's soils have been losing carbon at the rate of four million tonnes a year for the past 25 years - losses which will accelerate global warming and which have already offset all the cuts in Britain's industrial carbon emissions between 1990 and 2002, scientists warn today.

The research dashes hopes that more carbon dioxide emissions might mean more vegetation growth and therefore more carbon removed from the atmosphere.

The unexpected loss of carbon from the soils - consistently, everywhere in England and Wales and therefore probably everywhere in the temperate world - means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which means even more global warming, and yet more carbon lost from the soil.

"All the consequences of global warming will occur more rapidly. That's the scary thing: the amount of time we have got to do something about it is smaller than we thought," Guy Kirk, of Cranfield University, told the British Association Festival of Science, in Dublin.
There was no single factor other than global warming that could explain such changes in non-agricultural soils, they said. "These losses completely offset the past technological achievements in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, putting the UK's success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a different light," said Detlef Schulze and Annette Freibauer, of the Max Planck Institute, in Nature.

In the past 25 years the average temperature has increased by half a degree centigrade and the growing season of the northern hemisphere has been extended by almost 11 days. Warmer soils will have encouraged greater microbial activity so more rapid decay of organic matter in the soil, leading to greater discharges of gases.

That article was followed up a few days later with this:

The classic English landscapes of Constable and Turner will be redrawn by the middle of this century as British farmers turn to mass crops of sunflowers, sweetcorn and elephant grass.

The UK and other northern European countries are expected to become one of the breadbaskets of the world, as commercial farming of once impossible-to-grow grain, fodder and beans is made possible by climate change.

Further south, however, landowners will struggle with water shortages and soil erosion, which could bankrupt them, resulting in a north-south European divide.

The dramatic picture of Britain in 2050 will be shown to European agriculture and environment ministers, who gather in London this weekend to discuss the revolutionary impact of climate change on farming.

Scientists predict that climate change, which is largely blamed on global warming, will lead to hotter summers and wetter winters. Such changes are already credited with making possible crops such as apricots, almonds and tea in southern England. Milder weather has encouraged 300 vineyards, and talk of a French champagne house crossing the Channel.

Finally, there's this op-ed from my hometown Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Chip Giller and David Roberts (two writers who are contributors to the Grist online environmental magazine):

It was slightly ghoulish how quickly some environmentalists reacted to Hurricane Katrina with fulminations about global warming, like an old phonograph with only one record, cranking out the same song no matter the occasion.

Ross Gelbspan, in a widely circulated Op-Ed piece for The Boston Globe, said flatly that global warming was "the cause," "the explanation" and "the culprit" for various severe weather events of the past year, including Katrina. Robert Kennedy Jr. even linked the hurricane to President Bush's failure to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and his disdain for the Kyoto Protocol, saying, "We are all learning what it's like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence."

These statements are, to put it charitably, misleading. Let's be clear about two things:

The assertion that climate change "caused" Katrina, or even that Katrina was made worse by global warming, is simply not supported by the currently available scientific evidence.

No conceivable Bush (or Clinton, or G.H.W. Bush ) administration energy strategy aimed at slowing or reversing global warming -- least of all ratifying the Kyoto treaty -- would have protected lives or averted property destruction on the Gulf Coast. Think of smart energy policies as you might of tobacco taxes: good idea, but they probably wouldn't have saved your Uncle Ned from lung cancer.

They go through a laundry list of things that did go wrong during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, then get to the larger point:

In the face of those insults to decency, it seems oddly impersonal, oddly knee-jerk, to fixate so intently on energy policy and climate-change mitigation.

And yet: Once the storm's victims are safe, the toxic lake in New Orleans has been drained, public officials have been held accountable for their failures and our immediate concern and fury have run their course, climate change will still be there. It looms over all our decisions now.

While scientists can't connect global warming to Katrina, or any individual weather-related disaster, they say the larger trend is crystal clear: We are entering an age of climate instability. In coming years, we can expect rising sea levels, more-intense hurricanes and monsoons and longer, drier droughts. Katrina is expected to drain the federal government of more than $150 billion.

How many more $150 billion hits can we take? How many climate evacuees can we house in sports stadiums? How much grief can we bear?

We urgently need to prepare on the ground for weather-driven upheaval, to restore our natural coastal buffer zones, push development inland and revitalize the agencies tasked with emergency response.

But along with that preparation -- no, as part of that preparation -- we need to get serious about doing what we can to stabilize the climate.

We must overhaul our power production systems, build smarter cities, drive less, conserve energy and re-engage international efforts to reduce emissions.

We need a second industrial revolution, built on clean energy and ecosystem sensitivity.

If we keep tackling one catastrophe at a time, as though it were a bolt from the blue or an "act of God," we have set ourselves the task of Sisyphus.


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