Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

satellite imagery for good

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

The Summer edition of Imaging Notes is all about satellite imagery for climate change. Nice article on Google Earth’s outreach program, or what do you do after flying to your home?, SPOT’s Planet Action, and some striking images on the reaction of oceans to climate change.

visualizing global warming

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

because people need to see the impacts to believe it.

Architecture 2030 … tries to bring attention to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the building sector contributes to global warming through inefficient electricity use, lighting, heating and cooling.

“The building sector is responsible for close to half of all energy consumption in this country and close to half of all greenhouse gas emissions,” [Edward Mazria, Architecture 2030’s founder] said. Buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming, he said, emitting more than even automobiles.

Architecture 2030 has teemed up with Google Earth to show dramatic images of the impacts on U.S. cities of climate change.

See prior post for Canadian examples and step by step instructions for creating your own seal level rise overlays on Google Earth.

Update: One satellite image is worth a thousand words. And hundreds of satellite images?

the European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, according to news reports. Ice was retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Using satellite data and imagery, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) now estimates the Arctic ice pack to cover 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles) — equal to just less than half the size of the United States.

y2k bug in climate change data: how much does it change the results?

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

I’ll let the computer and climate scientists speak for themselves.

I’ve great concern for communicating climate change to the public. Science simply doesn’t work that way that the climate change skeptics demand it to (i.e., someone wins and someone loses). We create falsifiable hypotheses and our data has error bars. Working with complex models means we have trouble asserting causality to individual components. Against the qualifications and uncertainties with which our scientist culture has grown accustomed, the public is buffeted by clear memes of what is accurate or (in the case of the y2k bug) inaccurate about the data. Once again, science doesn’t work that way.

(BTW, environmental students do not enter university accepting uncertainty of data and outcomes. They want the undeniable evidence that their view of the environmental calamity is correct and want us to supply them with the exact tools to fix the planet. Not to say all students are like that but many are dismayed that the world is far more complicated than that.)

Update: James Hansen responds.

shrinking ice

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

And you wonder why the Canadian government wants to establish two new military bases in Resolute Bay (and whether this is a benign scientific expedition)? Satellite image analysis tells the story:

Today the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area broke the record for the lowest ice area in recorded history. The new record came a full month before the historic summer minimum typically occurs. There is still a month or more of melt likely this year. It is therefore almost certain that the previous 2005 record will be annihilated by the final 2007 annual minima closer to the end of this summer.

The quote that the report’s author made to the media is rather more dramatic:

William L. Chapman, who monitors the region at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and posted a Web report on the ice retreat yesterday, said that only an abrupt change in conditions could prevent far more melting before the 24-hour sun of the boreal summer set in September. “The melting rate during June and July this year was simply incredible,” Mr. Chapman said. “And then you’ve got this exposed black ocean soaking up sunlight and you wonder what, if anything, could cause it to reverse course.”

geoweb and communicating climate change

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

More heartening news that the geoweb (GIS, digital earths) could aid in communicating climate change:

In the article, Satellite Images Bridge Understanding Gap between Climate Change and Individuals, Kevin Corbley reports on a meeting between remote sensing vendors and Google Earth to promote the idea that geoweb could connect people to what was happening at the Earth’s poles, where climate change is particularly severe.

Some interesting examples in the article:

An application that allows users to view multiple layers of geospatial data linked to locations on Google Earth images: Earth SLOT (Earth Science, Logistics, and Outreach Terrainbases)

SPOT Imagery’s initiative to get climate change related imagery to the public: Planet-Action

There is some irony in the article in a quote from a SPOT Imagery representative:

SPOT’s de Chassy pointed out that while Earth observation satellites have been extremely successful at identifying environmental change, the link with everyday citizens has often been difficult to establish because imagery historically has been too expensive to obtain and too difficult to analyze for anyone but a trained scientist.

Yes, and who was setting the high prices for the images?

Update: Sierra Club British Columbia uses Google Earth to show the impact of sea level rise on the lower mainland of BC.

Step by step instructions on using Google Earth to show sea level rise in the coastal community of one’s choice.

Geospatial Web for climate change

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

via geowanking, a content aggregation tool for climate change. GIS is a bit of a gimmick but it’s a good initiative.

To increase awareness and the availability of environmental information, the IDIOM Media Watch on Climate Change provides a comprehensive and continuously updated account of media coverage on climate change and related issues. The portal aggregates, filters and visualizes environmental Web content from 150 Anglo-American news media sites.

The vision of a Geospatial Web promotes the convergence of geographic information, Internet technology and social change. Taking a step towards this vision, the Media Watch on Climate Change uses automated content analysis to extract geospatial context and build a geotagged knowledge base. The interface provides various means to interactively access this knowledge base. It shows that geobrowsers are not only suited to explore geographic features, but can also render other types of imagery such as two-dimensional ‘Semantic Maps’ or three-dimensional Knowledge Planets.

Acquiring, managing and applying knowledge are crucial steps in addressing environmental issues effectively, and ensuring that change is conceived and implemented on both regional and society-wide scales. Over the next year, the Media Watch will be extended into an interactive “Collaboratory” that brings together the scientific community, the commercial world, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These stakeholders are often divided by differing worldviews, goals, and agendas. The collaboratory will provide matchmaking services for ad-hoc team composition, and support the day-to-day activities of online communities through content aggregation and advanced visualization services.

mashup to go Green

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

CBC embeds a mashup to show the efforts of Canadian municipalities to address climate change.

abcnews goes green

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Tonight’s reporting from World News Tonight

* Concern Soars About Global Warming as World’s Top Environmental Threat
* How to Address Global Warming: A Range of Tips
* EPA Carbon Footprint Guidelines
* San Francisco Goes Green
* Shrinking Your Carbon Footprint
* Fixing the Planet for Profit
* Limit Your Impact on the Environment
* Check Your Household’s Carbon Footprint
* Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

carbon offsets for server farms

Monday, April 30th, 2007

We tend to focus on carbon neutrality for previous centuries’ industries (cars, coal). But we can forget the gluttonous material and energy needs of our e-industries. I’m thinking specifically of the acres of computer servers needed to support e-commerce functions and search engines. These server farms deserve our climate change attention just as much as our concern about SUVs. A couple of examples show that organizations are beginning to address these concerns.

Yahoo, for example, is aiming to go carbon neutral this year.

Carbon Neutral consults with firms to determine their carbon footprint, assess possibilities for reduction, and then estimate offsets. Some high profile organizations have used the company–IUCN is one–although I don’t know the Carbon Neutral’s provenance in terms of the carbon-friendly projects it funds.

Two Steps Forward succinctly lays out both the problems and advances of energy consumption by data centers.

I, for one, would like to determine how much offset I require for my home computers, although I realize that purchasing offsets doesn’t obviate my need for reducing overall energy consumption and computer use.

unintended consequences of alternate energy policy

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Renewable energy sources that reduce our dependence on oil and gas and decrease the emissions of green house gases may unintentionally do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.
The campaign [for sustainable biofuel standards] is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans [as of 2005] to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

This is part of a hurried effort by The Netherlands to produce biofuels, which is not just an internal environmental decision but a reaction to stringent limits on carbon emissions imposed by the EU and a response to skyrocketing oil prices. To promote the use of biofuels, the Dutch government has created a basket of tax incentives. The government is rethinking the consequences of the push.

The Cramer Commission, which conducted the study, has recommended “a track-and-trace system to follow a [sustainably developed] product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package”. This may be a good test case for RFIDs. The original goods/packaging could be peppered with the minute ID tags. Enough should survive each step so the provenance of the goods could be determined. Not to say there wouldn’t be problems (e.g., diluting the ‘sustainable’ products with non-sustainable oil) but my experience with certificate programs suggests that they are quite difficult to enforce. Every bit helps.

grim visions

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Dire future from Britain’s Ministry of Defense, tasked with anticipating the challenge to its armed forces:

Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx’s proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe’s drops as fertility falls. “Flashmobs” – groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups.

Among the environmental problems they cite are water scarcity and climate change. All in all, it’s not too cheery.

take a bite out of climate change

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting annouced a new game that allows participants to take a wedge out of global environmental problems (Science 23 February 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5815, pp. 1068-1069).

In a darkened ballroom in the Hilton San Francisco, 413 people tap numbers onto slate-gray keypads, each the size of a thick paperback book. Around them, almost 600 others watch as two screens at the front of the room reveal the results of their manipulations: a selection of strategies for taking wedge-shaped bites out of a graph of projected levels of atmospheric carbon over the next 50 years. Their mission: to whittle future CO2 levels down to a plateau in time to avert intolerable greenhouse warming.

The “Wedge Game,” based on “stabilization wedges”–a concept developed by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala of Princeton University (Science, 13 August 2004, p. 968)–was part of a town hall-like session for teachers and students at the AAAS Annual Meeting, held here from 15 to 19 February. The game, designed to convey the scale of the effort needed to stabilize carbon emissions and the pros and cons of possible options, was just one of some 200 sessions, ranging from “Addiction and the Brain” to “Education, Learning, and Public Diplomacy in Virtual Worlds.”

Perhaps influenced by Lovins, the Wedge Gamers voted for a deep-green mix of two parts increased efficiency and one part each solar electricity, wind power, driving less, switching from petroleum to natural gas, and “biostorage” (planting forests to absorb CO2). It’s far from current U.S. energy policy, but it reflects much of the thinking on display at many other sessions at this meeting.

More on The Stabilization Wedge, a concept and a game as well as the teachers’ guide. For those not computer inclined, the Wedge game is also available in colourful paper format.

latest IPCC report announced

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the pre-eminent group of climate change scientists, has started to release its 4th Assessment Report. This report, which took almost three years, is supposed to be the hardest hitting report on the effects of climate change. Its assessment:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea levels.

And unambiguously, humans are the cause.

Key findings:

  1. Concentrations of greenhouse gases have ‘increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values’;
  2. Understanding of the human impact on climate has greatly improved since the last IPCC report leading to ‘very high confidence’ (at least 90%) that the human activities since 1750 has caused the rise in greenhouse gas emissions
  3. These greenhouse gases are the most significant cause for global warming;
  4. This is based on a wealth of data, both from climate modeling and actual observation (current and historical);
  5. For the next two decades scientists expect a warming of about 0.2°C per decade up to approximately 4°C.
  6. Warming is likely to increase faster in this century than in the last century. Warming will increase even if greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized.

The IPCC produces conservative estimates. Actual effects are likely to be higher.

Download the executive summary for policymakers here.

And for fans of the hockey stick, you’ll see plenty on page 15.

If you’re interested in the current politics of the IPCC the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and ExxonMobil are giving $10,000US to scientists and economists who can poke holes in the report. This is not how science works.

Virtual and Physical Activism Report to the UNFCCC

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

I’m pleased to announce the final report of the McGill School of Environment’s UNFCCC research team, entitled Influencing Climate Change Policy: Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations Using Virtual and Physical Activism.

The executive summary is provided below. The full report, including details on the methodology, can be downloaded.


This research reports the way Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) use the tools of virtual and physical activism to influence climate change policies. ENGOs are well-positioned to influence these policies by developing expertise on global warming issues, representing the interests of impacted humans (and non-humans), and providing knowledge and information to decision-makers and the public.

ENGOs accomplish this through a variety of physical and virtual tools. Physical tools (or activities) include paper reports, face-to-face meetings, marches, and conference attendance. Virtual tools range from creating/updating websites to emailing to live webcasting. Virtual activism implies communication via the use of Internet tools; whereas physical activism suggests the tools of in-person communication that have little reliance on virtual means. Activism in this study comprises the advisory and advocacy tools used by ENGOs to transmit information.

With few exceptions, the unique value and contributions of virtual activism has not been considered in research on ENGO influence in policy negotiations; instead, research focuses on strategies and goals, and largely with traditional physical activities. However, nearly all ENGOs employ some form of virtual activism. Many argue that virtual activism embodies characteristics that match the urgency and global scale of climate change. It holds tremendous potential for ENGOs to reach large numbers of people inexpensively and immediately, but at a possible cost of decreased personal relationships and actual impact.

In research, the role of virtual tools and physical tools tends to be explored separately. In practice, an organization does not use one to the exclusion of the other. This research is unique in three ways. First, it explores the way ENGOs use virtual tools to substitute for or complement physical tools. Second, it investigates specific characteristics of tools relative to their application. Lastly, it outlines the relative advantages of implementing these tools to influence climate policy.

Research was conducted in the months preceding and during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/ 11th Conference of the Parties/ 1st Meeting of the Parties (UNFCCC/ COP-11/ COP/MOP-1), held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada November 28 to December 9, 2005. Researchers conducted interviews with ENGOs communication directors before the meeting and ENGO representatives during the meeting.

Our client was Équiterre, an ENGO based in Montréal. Équiterre coordinated ENGO activities during the 2005 UNFCCC meeting in Montréal. Équiterre was interested in assessing which activism tools are most effective in achieving their ENGO goals and furthering their cause. We were assisted by members of Équiterre in this study. We were further assisted by Barbara Black, NGO liaison officer of the UNFCCC.

We found that physical activism has an overriding importance in establishing personal relationships and networks, which were found to be among the most effective ways to influence decision-makers and gain public and media attention. Virtual tools evince greater potential to facilitate information transmission globally and are commonly employed to enhance physical activism. Specifically,

  • Physical tools are considered to have more impact for the ENGO resources expended and are superior to virtual tools in influencing policy makers, although they are more expensive than most virtual tools
  • The personal contact characteristic of physical activism is essential to influencing climate change; physical tools are perceived to be interactive, engaging, and direct, and they build personal relationships, trust, and commitment
  • Virtual tools allow for greater information availability and accessibility, possess larger scope and scale, and are considered relatively inexpensive in time and cost, although they are less capable of establishing personal contact than most physical activities
  • Virtual tools are possible substitutes for physical tools if personal relations are first built sufficiently with physical tools. Virtual tools may gradually replace physical contact. Virtual tools can substitute for intra-organizational management and inter- ENGO coordination
  • (e.g., webcasts and webconferences including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), emails to maintain contact with distant policy makers)

  • Virtual tools are possible complements for physical tools if used in tandem, as in supporting online resources or providing support in coordinating physical tools
  • (e.g., webcasts of live events, emails as reminders of prior conversations, wikis for organizing and coordinating physical activities, websites to archive background briefing papers to prepare for conferences)

Based on this research, we recommend that our client choose activism tools on a strategy-specific basis. Strategies involving decision makers require personal interaction afforded by physical tools, although they can be complemented by virtual tools. Indirect strategies, such as generating media attention and public awareness, may allow greater integration of virtual and physical tools.

a sweet consequence of climate change

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Climate change means that Quebec now produces 75 percent of maple syrup.

Due to changes in both sap collection technology … and climate … the maple syrup industry is migrating from New England into Canada,” concluded the New England Regional Assessment Group in a 2001 report. The study, spearheaded by University of New Hampshire researchers, also predicted that if current climate projections hold true, New England forests will be dominated by oak and hickory trees – not maples – by the end of the century.

satellite images and climate change

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Not the nicest use of satellite photos but highly illustrative of climate and weather change:

Giant Ice Shelf Breaks Off in Canadian Arctic and Arctic Ice Isn’t Refreezing in the Winter, Satellites Show


China chokes on a coal-fired boom: Toxic cloud of progress can be seen from space

This isn’t just a single snapshot but a longitudinal examination of photos to see the magnitude of change.

it’s not easy being green

Monday, November 6th, 2006

It’s easy to suggest countries become greener in terms of energy, reduce consumption and increase renewable sources. It’s far more difficult to balance the environmental and economic costs with that shift. The BBC developed a simple energy calculator, which allows people to play UK politicians who have to “make the tough decisions needed to keep the UK’s lights on in 2020, while balancing environmental concerns and cost”

The energy calculator is very easy to use– it has a nice user interface and graphical output. It explains how the calculations are made, in case you want more information. Obviously the calculator is not meant to be an accurate model but to visualize the impacts of being green.

I tried it a number of times and each time exceed energy demand. This means that I’ve either picked the wrong career or I assume that I can get the public to reduce consumption a lot more than they will.


Monday, November 6th, 2006

Just to remind you that the UN climate change conference starts today in Nairobi.

the economics of climate change

Monday, October 30th, 2006

The Stern report that we blogged about last week was released today. The actual report is here.

The debate in blogosphere is now raging, with 26,113 posts so far.

another kind of climate modelling

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

A UK report will be released on Monday that predicts the economic effects of climate change. It was commissioned by the UK Treasury and conducted by Nicholas Stern, who was a chief economist with the World Bank. The message of the report: Climate change will have disasterous effects on the world’s economy. However, the investments now to turn it around are relatively small and will actually boost countries’ ecnonomies.

Speaking at a climate change conference in Birmingham, [David King, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser] said: “All of [Stern’s] detailed modelling out to the year 2100 is going to indicate first of all that if we don’t take global action we are going to see a massive downturn in global economies.” He added: “If no action is taken we will be faced with the kind of downturn that has not been seen since the great depression and the two world wars.” Sir David called the review “the most detailed economic analysis that I think has yet been conducted”.