Category Archives: global warming

First-World Soap Opera Reduced to Third-World Propaganda?

How wild would it be if something once so fun and inspiring became a rejected afterthought due to all the cynical profit-mongering and slop attached to it?

Publics may finally be getting wise to the fact that the long-term economic benefits of hosting mega-events like the Olympics or the World Cup are usually negligible at best. This is going to mean that fewer democratic countries will make bids for them and the ones that do, like Brazil, will do so in the face of widespread popular opposition. For the Winter Olympics, where thanks to weather and geography, the number of potential hosts is small (and thanks to climate change getting smaller), the problem will be more acute.

Slate: How Come Nobody Wants to Host the Winter Olympics?

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No one saw it coming (Or: Miami was a place)

“What should I tell her?
She’s going to ask.
If I ignore it, it gets uncomfortable
She’ll want to argue about the past.”

–“If I Were Going,” Afghan Whigs

Well this is a fine how-do-you-do:

Two scientific papers released on Monday by the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters came to similar conclusions by different means. Both groups of scientists found that West Antarctic glaciers had retreated far enough to set off an inherent instability in the ice sheet, one that experts have feared for decades. NASA called a telephone news conference Monday to highlight the urgency of the findings.

[…]

Those six glaciers alone could cause the ocean to rise four feet as they disappear, Dr. Rignot said, possibly within a couple of centuries. He added that their disappearance will most likely destabilize other sectors of the ice sheet, so the ultimate rise could be triple that.

As usual, the believed causes are complex and multi-layered. Bu that doesn’t make for good sound bites.

And while the cause of the stronger winds is somewhat unclear, many researchers consider human-induced global warming to be a significant factor. The winds help to isolate Antarctica and keep it cold at the surface, but as global warming proceeds, that means a sharper temperature difference between the Antarctic and the rest of the globe. That temperature difference provides further energy for the winds, which in turn stir up the ocean waters.

Sorry, Mother. Sorry, daughter.

Power CEO: Stop me before I pollute again

David Crane, CEO of the tenth-largest power company in the U.S., takes an interesting tack: He pens (or has his PR flak pen) an Op-Ed in the Washington Post inviting government intervention and regulation of the CO2 emissions of power companies (and by extension, the CO2 emissions of us consumers and air-breathers).

Whatever his other motives (such as appearing to have been “proactive” when the $hit hits the fan), it’s of course the right move. Profit and markets dictate that power companies will keep selling — and consumers will keep buying — the cheapest and most profitable power source, planetary health be damned. Business is great at maximizing short-term profits. Not so much at maximizing long-term common good (except when it coincides with profit).

Now sure, a business that harms the collective good is theoretically at risk of profit-depleting lawsuits down the line, but those don’t tend to come around until after the Company Decider who amplified the harm has retired or died, and the golden parachute his company sent him away with is in the hands of his lucky descendants.

People, too, aren’t always so hot at the long-term thing. It’s taken several years for compact-flourescent bulbs to take off — and one reason is people’s inability to stomach the upfront cost that will nonetheless save them many times that cost down the line. (Speaking of which: man, it seems like I used to change a bulb every month; now I can’t remember the last time I changed a light bulb in the house.) But even when compact-fluorescents become the norm, will people think beyond the convenience of their own trash day to carefully dispose/recycle them? Probably not without some governmental messaging/stimulus.

The thing with our global CO2 danger is, by the time an unfettered free market sees profitable opportunities in correcting it, it’s too late. So even if he’s only #10, it’s nice to see an energy CEO support CO2 regulations. This appears to be a case where government mingling is virtually required. If the role of government does not at least include regulation and/or market stimulus against long-term harms that we market-loving short-term occupants would otherwise blissfully ignore, we might as well scratch the whole experiment.

‘This is really happening …’

…Happening.”

More inspiring news from the Arctic ice melt, where our world’s states are fighting to counteract climate chan– er, are fighting over “securing sea routes and seabed resources” once the much-sought, mythical Northwest Passage and Russian North Sea Route become realities. This year’s melt opened up “one million square miles of open water — six Californias — beyond the average.”

Worse, to the surprise of experts, as much of the drastic change this year appears to be due to ice moving as melting, meaning the changes may continue faster than the worst-case models. Which I’m sure will turn up in some oil company or Bushian playbook as another example of how “scientists are uncertain of the causes,” fueling more distracting debate rather than actual policy action.

It reminds me of the former Exxon exec asshole [sorry, there is no other acceptable term] who now chairs the National Petroleum Council and President Bush’s alternative-energy committee — “Now isn’t that conveeeenient?” — in his recent Q&A with Newsweek, in which he repeatedly refused to discuss climate change. Because, you know, it has no relation to oil and energy policy. Best excerpt:

Newsweek: How serious a threat do you think global warming is?
Asshole: “That’s where we started this [interview, when I dodged the question because the massive growth in CO2 in our atmosphere has nothing to do with our policy of burning a whole lotta CO2-producing fuel] … I’m not going to comment on that.”  [my brackets]
NW: Your view on global warming as a citizen is “no comment”? [my italics]
AH: “My view on global warming is the purpose of this interview is not to talk about that.”

Thanks! Asshole.

“… women and children first, and the children first, and the children …
Ice age coming, ice age coming
‘–Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both–‘
Ice age coming, ice age coming
‘–Throw ’em in the fire
Throw ’em in the fire
Throw ’em on the–‘
We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening
Happening …

‘Here I’m allowed
Everything all of the time
Here I’m allowed
Everything all of the time‘”

    –Radiohead, “Idioteque

Ice fishing

Ice-ShantyAnother anecdotal case uncomfortably hinting at the elephant in the room (or globe, as it were): Northern ice fishing just hasn’t been the same in recent years.

With the usual disclaimer that weather patterns are cyclical and difficult to predict, small samples and data points are not reliable indicators of long-term trends, etc.…

Here we stand, like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls, The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love, so beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees are smiling upon them

From the age of the dinosaurs

Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone
Now? It’s nothing but flowers

There was a factorynow there are mountains and rivers
(You got it, you got it)
We caught a rattlesnake — now we got something for dinner
(We got it, we got it)
There was a shopping mall — now it’s all covered with flowers
(You’ve got it, you’ve got it)
If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower
(You’ve got it, you’ve got it)

Years ago, I was an angry young man
I’d pretend that I was a billboard
Standing tall, by the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway


This used to be real estate — now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now? It’s nothing but flowers

The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we’d start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots — Now it’s a peaceful oasis
(You got it, you got it)
This was a Pizza Hut — Now it’s all covered with daisies
(You got it, you got it)
I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
(You got it, you got it)
And as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention
(You got it, you got it)

I dream of cherry pies, candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
(You got it, you got it)
We used to microwave — Now we just eat nuts and berries
(You got it, you got it)
This was a discount store — Now it’s turned into a cornfield
(You got it, you got it)

Don’t leave me stranded here
I can’t get used to this lifestyyyyyle

–“Nothing But Flowers,” Talking Heads (Naked, 1988)

Things fall apart

“…How do we sleep while the beds are burning.”

Uh-oh, shelf go down and go boom.

Routine review of satellite images of the Canadian Arctic has revealed that a major ice shelf the size of Manhattan fell into the sea 16 months ago (Since the area isn’t what you would call “populated,” it usually takes a while to discover these things…unless someone happens to be there, in which case, it also takes a while to discover his body and his rabbit’s foot…and gear…perhaps his dog…).

Anyway: “The ice shelf was one of six major shelves remaining in Canada’s Arctic. They are packed with ancient ice that is more than 3,000 years old.”

The story continues: “Some scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in nearly 30 years and that climate change was a major element.

‘It is consistent with climate change,’ Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906. ‘We aren’t able to connect all of the dots … but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role.’”

But those are scientists, and scientists are just dark magicians practicing unholy voodoo. Surely the Center for Liberty and Freedom and Families can find scientists who disagree. It’s not like the glacier at Gletsch, Switzerland, is receding. And it’s not like Larsen B broke apart…right?

Ok, I admit it, in truth climate science is really tricky. Kinda like weather forecasting, only magnitudes more complex and uncertain and with less reliable (if any) historical data. The Earth has had Big Ice Ages and Little Ice Ages, and it has required warming to create the relativity that makes ice ages possible. (The preceding statement was what we call “The ability to recognize ambiguity,” and the our Prez should try it some time.) But we happen to have attained our comfy way of life during this age. And unfortunately, despite the uncertainties, the preponderance of “probablys” continues to build toward a wee bit frightening amount of climate change. Assuming we give a shit about who lives here in 2100, perhaps we should do what we can.

The Melting Gletsch

Wow, how the glacier at Gletsch, Switzerland, has receded!

undefinedBy 12-15 feet per day this autumn. And like all of the Swiss glaciers, by 15 percent in the last two decades.

To slow the melting, the locals have tried something that sounds bizarre but which I’ve heard of quite a bit: Spreading large tarpaulins of special fleece on the glacier’s edges during the hottest months (to reflect sunlight away).

But of course, it will still almost certainly be completely gone by the end of this century. Man, I wonder what Europe will look like in 2050.

The hotter it gets, the more we burn

No surprise that with a sustained heat wave upon us, air-conditioning use is at a high across the country. (The Pope is also still Catholic).

But as we live, so we burn. As William Saletan in Slate puts it in one of those killing joke, laugh-at-your-peril conundrum stories I happen to love:

“Thank goodness for air conditioning. To keep old folks alive, cities from Washington to Los Angeles are opening artificially cooled buildings to the public…

It’s a heartwarming—or, more precisely, a heart-cooling—story. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We’re cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that’s still habitable.

Reminds me of whenever I drive to my in-laws’ house on a hot summer day. As I leave the tree-depleted, interstate-paved urban suburbs to the “exurbs” where they live, I always notice the temperature drop as the trees provide cool shelter around me. And these issues inevitably come to mind.

But any fretting about wasted/abused/dwindling resources aside, I’m fascinated by what life may be like in 70 years, just as–in the midst of this broiling heat–I’m fascinated by what life was like before air conditioning. I know I for one would have been a lazy, heat-sapped sloth in the pre-air-conditioning 1920s. But then my shoddy immune system probably would have put me out of my misery, too.

But isn’t soot essential to the urban experience?

“Tesla girls, tesla girls

Testing out theories
Electric chairs and dynamos
Dressed to kill they’re killing me
But heaven knows their recipe”

–OMD

 

Now this looks interesting. A 100% electric (i.e. not hybrid) car in the works for 2007, that’s a sports car that goes 0 to 60 mph in ~4 seconds. And about 250 miles per charge (so not the 50 miles/charge that a lot of past experimental cars have gotten). Something you can actually drive around town for a few days without worrying about where you’ll plug in next. For about 1 cent per mile. And a silent “engine.” (Think of the aftermarket for faux-muffler-sound generators!)

 

What’s more, their business plan is to start off with this high-performance car for almost $90k — thus netting in the early-adapters and people who have money to burn on status and image, and then use the hype and word-of-mouth to drive demand for their less expensive family sedan and (hopefully) other models to follow.

 

Looks promising. Hopefully not another pipe dream. Hopefully the designers will not be shot by a deranged oil baron or the vice president (but I repeat myself).

 

Yes, electricity generation still uses fossil fuels–but with at least two huge differences from our “traditional” 20th century mode of getting around: 

1) it doesn’t depend on imported oil, and

2) it concentrates power generation (and exhaust) in single points (i.e. power plants) rather than out of every exhaust pipe carrying every American rear end. That means cleaner air to breathe for me and your children.

 

We can deny, or we can debate, or we can pretend…that global warming is a lie or at least human-activity-independent, that electric vehicle proposals are fantasy, or its a conspiracy of America-hating liberals jealous of oil barons’ ‘hard-earned’ money, but some factors should be obvious and give us pause:

–Our economy, and the success of any leading nation in the post-Industrial Revolution world, has depended first on its access to energy;

–Our access to energy is currently very oil-dependent, considering oil supply is close to peaking while demand (welcome to capitalism, Asia) is growing;

–The global fight for oil will only become a bigger and bigger part of each world power’s foreign policy, creating more chances for violent “run-ins” with China, Iran, India;

–Studies show the average human, if given a choice, prefers to breathe cleaner air rather than inhaling vehicle exhaust.

 

Certainly seems like reason enough to keep searching for an alternative. And fast.

 

We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior…Tesla Motors?