Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

carbon offsets–the new nigerian scam?

Monday, October 16th, 2006

The eco-consumer or community association has a new tool to assuage their guilt over riding an airplane or buying strawberries in January: the carbon offset. Purchase an interest in a tree planting project or fund R&D into climate development mechanisms and, voila, your carbon emissions have been compensated by good works. What with the £60m worldwide carbon market, however, this is becoming a prime area to rip off consumers. So how much do you know about that carbon offset scheme?

Francis Sullivan, a carbon offset expert who led attempts by banking group HSBC to neutralise its emissions, said: … “There are sharks out there who are literally just trying to get money off you. People were offering to sell us large chunks of the rainforest in Papua New Guinea. I don’t think it was theirs to sell.”

Concern is growing that the demand for offsets is allowing projects to claim savings they do not deserve, which are then sold on as “carbon credits”. A tree planting or windfarm project reckoned to save up 30,000 tonnes of carbon could sell an equivalent number of carbon credits for about £3 each. To provide a true carbon saving, the developers of such projects must demonstrate that it would not have happened without the investment raised by selling such credits, called additionality. The saving is then worked out against what would have happened, the baseline.

Mark Kenber of the environmental organisation the Climate Group said: “There are plenty of projects out there that are rigorous and have no problems at all. Then there are plenty that are not truly additional and you could question the baseline used. Then there are suspicions that people have sold the same ton of carbon to four or five different customers.”

Many of these mechanisms are available over the Internet. So you’re just a click away from feeling green. Perhaps you need to pause before you press the mouse.

your planet’s warming, but it sure is purty

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Climate change modelling, if nothing else, is poetic:

The gigantic super-computer in the basement of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is so big you can walk down the aisles inside it, the walls of the sleek black servers at either elbow, wrapped in the constant hum of air coolers and countless trillions of silicon chip operations working day and night to calculate the climate future over the next several decades of the only home we’ve got: Earth.

Sounds like the scientists are visualizing the results on NASA’s science on a sphere:

With green and blue for cooler temperatures, scientists and regular folks can watch the digitized projectors paint the globe, starting in 1870. Along about 1990, the globe grows yellower — warmer — and is entirely yellow by 2001.

Then comes the sobering part. Red, for much warmer, starts to appear in North America — and other continents — and by 2051 the United States is almost entirely red.

Update: like this addition from ABC News: “Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life? ABC News wants to hear from you.” Wonder what responses they’re receiving.

youtube astroturf

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Youtube and other sites have allowed activists to reach the world with amateur videos promoting their causes. Guess it wasn’t long before the videos were astroturfed.

One of the current top-rated videos on youtube is An Inconvenient Spoof, a play on Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. In it, a caricatured Al Gore is boring little (Linux!) penguins with his slide show, which attributes all sorts of silly things to climate change (e.g., David Spade dating Heather Locklear). It has a Flash animation home-made quality, like many of the videos on the site. Done by an amateur, Toutsmith, who’s disgruntled by the idea of global warming, right? In a great bit of investigative reporting, Wall Street Journal reporters asked a simple question: Just where did that video come from?

In an email exchange with The Wall Street Journal, Toutsmith didn’t answer when asked who he was or why he made the video, which has just over 59,000 views on YouTube. However, computer routing information contained in an email sent from Toutsmith’s Yahoo account indicate it didn’t come from an amateur working out of his basement.

Instead, the email originated from a computer registered to DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp.

A DCI Group spokesman declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video, or to explain why Toutsmith appeared to be sending email from DCI’s computers.

Chalk it up to the continuing battle among activists on the Internet. Then add the market.

Politicians and marketers already make wide use of email lists and blogs, and it has long been possible to distribute information over the Internet while disguising its origins. But Web video operates on a different level, stimulating viewers’ emotions powerfully and directly. And because amusing animations with a homespun feel can be created just as easily by highly paid professionals to promote agendas as by talented amateurs, caveat emptor is more relevant than ever.

Update: Almost as quickly as the spoof appeared, so did the anti-anti global warming videos.

Canadian math gurus falsify methods used to derive “Hockey Stick”; a revival emerges.

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

A prime example of the public bootlegging of science:

“…discussion of [the ‘Hockey Stick’ global warming curve] has been so polluted by political and activist frenzy that it is hard to dig into it to reach the science. My earlier column was largely a plea to let science proceed unmolested. Unfortunately, the very importance of the issue has made careful science difficult to pursue.” – R Muller, Technology Review – full article here.

The article is a summary of the high-calibre mathematic mystery – does the so-called “Hockey Stick” really portray history’s temperature spiking? No, not really. The standardization technique was blurred into the analysis itself, but the result’s “principal component will have a hockey stick shape even if most of the data do not.”

I would argue that no matter what degree of error was found in the original opus, the “Hockey Stick” concept has made an indellible impression. Public opinion on the matter will not likely let go – just the contrary, it seems that more and more agreement is emerging for rapid global warming.

However, there is a healthy backing from scientists who know more than mere journalistic perspectives: the blog “Real Climate” opened up an extensive back-and-forth that supports the initial findings and message.

conservationists, climate change and Google Earth

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Thanks to Howie for pointing this out. The Sierra Club of Canada, British Columbia Chapter has released a Google Earth application that shows what a 6m rise in water would do to the Greater Vancouver Area. The map shows that much of the lower mainland of Vancouver would be under water after climate change I like the combination of virtual and physical tools to demonstrate the problem:

Executive Director Kathryn Molloy will unveil the map outside the office of Liberal MLA Olga Ilich (Richmond Centre) at 8120 Granville Ave, Richmond, at 11:30 a.m.[, May 4, 2006]. The MLA’s office building is in an area that will be completely flooded according to calculations based on the Science article. Molloy will use a kayak paddle held against the building to illustrate how far the water will rise if global warming continues unchecked. [emphasis added]

sierra club google

impacts of climate change being felt now

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

The Associated Press reports on a recent paper in the journal Science that links wildfires in the Western US to global warming (notice the hedging in the AP article: Wildfires may be linked to global warming). According to the article:

Beginning about 1987, there was a change from infrequent fires averaging about one week in duration to more frequent ones that often burned five weeks or more, they reported. The length of the wildfire season was extended by 78 days.

The researchers said the changes appear to be linked to annual spring and summer temperatures, with many more wildfires burning in hotter years than in cooler years.

They also found a connection between early arrivals of the spring snowmelt in the mountainous regions and the incidence of large forest fires. An earlier snowmelt, they said, can lead to an earlier and longer dry season, which provides greater opportunities for large fires.

The paper is called Warming and Earlier Spring Increases Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity. In typical Science magazine style, it is quite readable, albeit brief so if you want further details you have to read other articles by the authors. The authors examined counter-explanations such land-use history (e.g., conversion of forests to grazing that would cause older trees to be cut down to be replaced by younger and skinnier trees called “fuels”) and cyclical changes in temperature (e.g., El-Nino). Their spatial models showed that climate change still was the culprit.

Note also, in the Science article, that climate change doesn’t just mean increasing temperatures but a whole host of interacting changes to the biosphere (FYI: numbers in parentheses below refer to citations in the bibliography):

climatic explanations posit that increasing variability in moisture conditions (wet/dry oscillations promoting biomass growth, then burning), and/or a trend of increasing drought frequency, and/or warming temperatures, have led to increased wildfire activity (13, 14).

On decadal scales, climatic means and variability shape the character of the vegetation (e.g., species populations and their drought tolerance (23), and biomass (fuel) continuity (24), thus also affecting fire regime responses to shorter term climate variability). On interannual and shorter time scales, climate variability affects the flammability of live and dead forest vegetation. (13–19, 25)

About the only quibble I have with the model is the assumptions in fitting different data sets together (technically, downscaling and interpolation) but that’s a problem you have with any large computer model, whether it models urban growth, national security risks, or climate change. (Also, they should have made use of a GIScientist because they would probably have seen even larger correlations if they looked at the data topologically.) Other than these issues, this is powerful evidence that climate change effects are being felt now.

(For those of you who’d like to point out that events, such as permafrost melting in Northern North America, are being felt now, let me amend the previous to be this is powerful evidence that climate change effects are being felt now in places where many people live.)

Update: Argh! CBC TV gets it wrong! CBC covered the article on the national news tonight. In the report, a university professor says that the article did not address the drivers of climate change. True, the authors do not address the issue of whether or not climate change is induced by humans. But then the reporter states that the authors don’t say whether the wildfires are due to cyclical weather patterns or from climate change. No. The article clearly rules out cyclical patterns. So much for our insightful reporters.

it’s getting hot in here

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

In the US, the National Academy of Sciences released its report to Congress today. The conclusion?

The Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400, maybe more.

The National Academy of Sciences studied tree rings, corals and other natural formations, in part, to conclude that the heat is unprecedented for potentially the last several millennia.

Human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming, the Academy says.

The study was commissioned by Congress, in part to refute the attack by US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton on the climate scientists who created the long term model of global temperature change (the hockey stick). Is the debate over (or more importantly, the attack on scientists)? If you think yes, then I have some real estate in southern Florida that I’d like to sell you…

environmentalists take to youtube

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

First it was Flash animation and now this. From Greenpeace, which was also one of the first nonprofits on Google video.

(I’ll try to figure out how to embed youtube without it destroying the whole style sheet. OK, got most of it. Works when you click the play button below the image. If you click on the image then you’re transferred to youtube.)

Here’s another one that is a short alternative news piece on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Montreal last year.

so much for the US being the center of climate modelling

Friday, June 9th, 2006

A Boston Globe article reports that NASA has delayed or cancelled a series of climate satellites. To give you a complete picture of how much world wide climate change modelling will be impacted, consider that

The space agency has shelved a $200 million satellite mission headed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor that was designed to measure soil moisture — a key factor in helping scientists understand the impact of global warming and predict droughts and floods. The Deep Space Climate Observatory, intended to observe climate factors such as solar radiation, ozone, clouds, and water vapor more comprehensively than existing satellites, also has been canceled.

And in its 2007 budget, NASA proposes significant delays in a global precipitation measuring mission to help with weather predictions, as well as the launch of a satellite designed to increase the timeliness and accuracy of severe weather forecasts and improve climate models.

What this means is that less empirical data will be available for showing the human-induced effects of climate change. This also impacts weather monitoring over the US. Data from these satellites would also used by the US Department of Agriculture, so the loss of satellites will impact knowledge about US crops. Quite a bit of payback for complaining climate scientists like Hansen, isn’t it?

baked alaska

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

The USA Today has a fantastic multimedia presentation on the thawing of Alaska. In addition to a solid article on the subject, it shows an interactive graph of the temperature change (aka the hockey stick) from 200 A.D. – 2100 A.D. Move your mouse over the graph and you’ll see the what the temperature was/is/will be, how it was calculated, and what was happening at the time. For example, in 870 A.D., the average world temperature was 57 degrees (based on scientific analysis). During that time, the Mayan civilization was at its peak but eventually collapsed due to intense drought.

Click on the video player and you’ll see a map of Alaska and three small videos that illustrate retreat of glaciers, impacts on permafrost (including what permafrost is), and impacts on the forest as the summers get warmer. As each brief video plays, the locations appear on the background map.

I’m not normally a fan of the “McPaper” and the reporters are a bit too even-handed with the little ice age arguments (which translates as, “there’s some microscopic doubt that humans are causing climate change but let’s overinflate the counterargument so as not to upset the conservatives”). However, this elevates my respect of the paper. It’s an excellent presentation and well-worth a visit.

your 15 minutes of fame with climate change models

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Britain’s Open University and The British Broadcasting Company, BBC have teamed up to produce a series of documentaries on climate change. They will be hosted by veteran BBC nature documentarian, David Attenborough. The BBC links to a downloadable model that people can run on their PCs. (For more about the model see here and here). The results will be part of the documentary. Who knows, maybe your individual model run will be highlighted on the show.
Much information is available at a special section of the BBC site. The British news sites, BBC and Guardian have done spectacular jobs in educating the public on climate change. One wonders, what in the world is happening with North American news sites? Oh, that’s right, this much effort would suggest they’re taking a position on the science on climate change and we all know there’s conflicting evidence….

who knew Al Gore would be a celebrity?

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

I’ll let the entertainment reporters handle that one. Al Gore is at the Cannes Film Festival to promote his new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which offers compelling evidence for climate change. In the meantime the movie has a very nice web site containing a comprehensible digest of the science underlying climate change with RSS feeds of climate related articles and blog posts

fetch me my martini before the ice melts

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

In the latest issue of Science, researchers have combined a global climate model, a dynamic ice sheet model, and paleoclimatic data to issue new dire predictions on the rapidity of ice melt and water rise.

According to the Times UK, this is the first study,

to combine computer models of rising temperatures with records of the ancient climate [which] has indicated that sea levels could rise by up to 20ft (6m) by 2100, placing millions of people at risk.

Take a look at the whole issue of Science, dedicated to ice and climate change.

culture jamming and climate change

Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Chevrolet and Donald Trump’s The Apprentice teamed up to produce a website so that anyone can create their own ad for Chevy’s new SUV, the Tahoe. According to Autoblog, readers are able to choose from varied backgrounds, video shots, and input text to create their very own ads. I guess because they’re offering prizes Chevy thought all the ads would be “pro” SUV. They were very wrong.

Check out the ads before they’re taken down (my favourites are #1 and #6). Feel free to make one of your own.

see glaciers disappear before your eyes

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

New photos show that we don’t have to wait till some distant future to see the effects of climate change. Watch glaciers recede with your own eyes!

ruin your day…

Friday, February 17th, 2006

This will do it:

Greenland’s glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth’s oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.

The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.

(A summary of the article in Science is here.)

If this wasn’t depressing enough, Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist who’s been prevented from speaking out about dramatic acceleration of climate change, had to publish his article in a newspaper in the UK:

a few weeks ago, when I – a NASA climate scientist – tried to talk to the media about these issues following a lecture I had given calling for prompt reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, the Nasa public affairs team – staffed by political appointees from the Bush administration – tried to stop me doing so.

climate predictions

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

British Scientists are making use of various media to publicise and popularise their climate prediction project. Scientists have teamed up with the BBC online as well as BBC television to try to get global participation in a distributed computing program. This project should not only increase scientific knowledge of climate change, but also increase public awareness of issues…the new program is different from the old one (which has beeen running for two years) in that it represents ocean cycling as well as atmospheric cycling, allowing for more realistic predictions.

Dueling models: the temperate forest edition

Sunday, February 12th, 2006

Creating mechanisms to capture carbon was one of the major topics of this past climate change conference. One way to do this is through forests: trees in forests capture, “sequester,” carbon dioxide by absorbing it as part of photosynthesis. In the Kyoto Protocol, countries can offset their greenhouse gas emissions by planting forests, so called ‘Kyoto forests’. There is strong incentive for countries that signed on to Kyoto to do afforestation, the planting of trees in areas where there previously were no trees, or reforestation, the planting of trees in areas where there used to be trees.

Instead of sequestering carbon, now it’s been shown that the expansion of forests in temperate climates might actually increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Why such a radical change in viewpoints? It may be a result of re-examining the assumptions of the computer simulations of climate change.

Johannes Feddema of the University of Kansas and six colleagues from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research report in Science journal that they looked at changes in land use – the growth of cities, clearing of forests for agriculture, and draining of marshes – and their impact on climate change in the next 100 years. They confirmed something environmentalists have predicted for decades – the destruction of the Amazon forest would make the local climate 2C (4F) warmer because trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and burning them releases it. But then the scientists looked at temperate zones and found the opposite.

Simulations predicted the conversion of north American and European forests and grassland to agriculture would cool the region and counteract the effects of global warming by 25%-50%. This is because ripening corn and other staples would reflect more sunlight back into space, and release more moisture into the air, while dark forests would absorb sunlight and send thermometers soaring. Ken Caldeira and a Carnegie Institution team backed the finding in Geophysical Research Letters. “We were hoping to find that growing forests in the US would help slow global warming. But if we are not careful, growing forests could make global warming even worse.”

So is this model correct? Plenty of carbon models still show carbon sequestration occuring more uniformly across forest types. This latest model demonstrates that considerable uncertainty persists in understanding role of forests in lessening climate change and certainly calls into question the use of forestation to remediate climate changes.

Feeling guilty about your car?

Sunday, February 12th, 2006

Then offset your car’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with a Terrapass. The idea is that you make a donation, equivalent to your car’s emissions, to the Terrapass people. They promise to invest it in “clean energy projects that reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions.”

According to the website, Terrapass started out as a class project where the professor asked the question: how do we allows individuals, as opposed to firms, to participate in the carbon trading market? This is what the students came up with (pretty good, I’d say).

What you do is plug in your car make and model and year. The site calculates your car’s GHG per year. Here’s an example from the site:

To offset 6,800 lbs of CO2, I could purchase a $40 yearly pass. Terrapass sends the money to a number of alternate energy companies.

Terrapass recently started a blog to discuss all things environmental, particularly when they concern energy conservation.

blogging about a blog

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

Here is a blog about climate change, it is “Brief commentary and analysis of climate change issues by Dr. Glen Barry.” This entry is about climate change activism occurring both physically and virtually during the COP. Pretty interesting comment… the march as only a small step.