Blog Archive

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

1975 Newsweek article on global cooling still coming back to haunt science.

Nine paragraphs written for Newsweek in 1975 continue to trump 40 years of climate science. It's a record that has the author amazed.

by Doug Struck, The Daily Climate, January 10, 2014
BOSTON – Temperatures have plunged to record lows on the East Coast, and once again Peter Gwynne is being heralded as a journalist ahead of his time. By some.
Gwynne, now 72, is a bit chagrined that a long career of distinguished science and technology reporting is most remembered for this one story.
Gwynne was the science editor of Newsweek 39 years ago when he pulled together some interviews from scientists and wrote a nine-paragraph story [published on p. 64, not the cover!] about how the planet was getting cooler.
Ever since, Gwynne's "global cooling" story – and a similar Time Magazine piece – have been brandished gleefully by those who say it shows global warming is not happening, or at least that scientists – and often journalists – don't know what they are talking about. 
Gwynne-200Fox News loves to cite it. So does Rush Limbaugh. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has quoted the story on the Senate floor.
Gwynne, now 72, is a bit chagrined that from a long career of distinguished science and technology reporting, he is most remembered for this one story.
"I have, in fact, won prizes for science writing," he said, with just a whiff of annoyance, in an interview this week.

Popping up - again and again

His April 28, 1975, piece has been used by Forbes as evidence of what the magazine called "The Fiction of Climate Science." It has been set to music on a YouTube video. It has popped up in a slew of finger-wagging blogs and websites dedicated to everything from climate denial to one puzzling circuit of logic entitled "Impeach Obama, McCain and Boehner Today."
From the latest crop:
Lou Dobbs on Fox News: "This cycle of science… if we go back to 1970, the fear then was global cooling. "
Rush Limbaugh: "I call [global warming] a hoax… A 1975 Newsweek cover was gonna talk about the ice age coming. So they're really confused how to play it."
Sean Hannity on Fox News: "If you go back to Time Magazine, they actually were proclaiming the next ice age is coming, now it's become global warming… How do you believe the same people that were predicting just a couple decades ago that the new ice age is coming?"
Donald J. Trump: "This very expensive global warming bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing.…"

'Accurate at the time'

Most of the time, Gwynne, who still writes on technology and science from his home in Cape Cod, Mass., takes it good-naturedly.
"It's part of the game, once you get from science to politics, that's the way it's played," he said. "I just hope people don't think I think that way."
And still, Gwynne notes of his story, "I stand by it. It was accurate at the time."
The story observed – accurately – that there had been a gradual decrease in global average temperatures from about 1940, now believed to be a consequence of soot and aerosols that offered a partial shield to the earth as well as the gradual retreat of an abnormally warm interlude. 
Some climatologists predicted the trend would continue, inching the earth toward the colder averages of the "Little Ice Age" from the 16th to 19th centuries. 
"When I wrote this story I did not see it as a blockbuster," Gwynne recalled. "It was just an intriguing piece about what a certain group in a certain niche of climatology was thinking."

Pushing the envelope 'a little bit'

And, revisionist lore aside, it was hardly a cover story. It was a one-page article on page 64. It was, Gwynne concedes, written with a bit of over-ventilated style that sometimes marked the magazine's prose: "There are ominous signs the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically..." the piece begins, and warns of a possible "dramatic decline in food production."
"Newsweek being Newsweek, we might have pushed the envelope a little bit more than I would have wanted," Gwynne offered.
But the story was tantalizing enough that other variations – somewhat more nuanced – were written by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. The theory picked up support from some pretty reputable scientists: the late, esteemed Stephen Schneider of Stanford endorsed a book on the issue.
But there also was a small but growing counter-theory that carbon dioxide and other pollutants accompanying the Industrial Age were creating a warming belt in the atmosphere, and by about 1980 it was clear that the earth's average temperature was headed upward.
Even today, "there is some degree of uncertainty about natural variability," acknowledged Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education based in Oakland, Calif. "If it weren't for the fact that humans had become a force of nature, we would be slipping back into an ice age, according to orbital cycles."

Missing the point

But earth's glacial rhythms are "being overridden by human activities, especially burning fossil fuels," McCaffrey noted. The stories about global cooling "are convenient for people to trot out and wave around," he said, but they miss the point: 
"What's clear is we are a force of nature. Human activity – the burning of fossil fuels and land change – is having a massive influence. We are in the midst of this giant geoengineering experiment."
And, Gwynne protested: "I wrote this in 1975!"
Born in England, Gwynne has written for a slew of American and foreign outlets. He left Newsweek in 1981, he ran Technology Review at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, covered space for High Technology, worked for The Scientist in Washington, moved to Hong Kong to run Asia Technology for Dow Jones, and returned to the United States to freelance in 1994. 
He remains the North American correspondent for Physics World, based in England, from which perspective he views the "weird and wonderful" American relationship with science. "It's been American science and scientists – particularly NASA – that showed the climate is changing," he noted. Yet, unlike in most of Europe, American politicians remain divided over climate science.

Political vs. science reporting

The unsavory afterlife of his 1975 story clearly has not soured his journalistic fervor. "I've been able to write for a lot of different audiences, physicists, engineers and the general public," Gwynne said. "I've been willing to accept that some of that is misused and misinterpreted."
By and large, he added, the U.S. science press has done "a pretty good job" of covering climate change. But "the political press doesn't check. It tends to do 'on the one hand, on the other hand.' A lot of reporters simply will not go into issues like global warming with any understanding that the sides are not equal."
Journalists should not ignore climate deniers, he cautioned. "You have to give all sides a fair hearing." But that does not mean they have to be treated equally "if they don't have the data." To do so, he said, is false balance "that leaves readers out on a limb."
"Your job as a journalist is to give each side its best shot," said Gwynne. Even if the ammunition is four decades old.

Shall we call the next super El Nino "El Pillo" ?

Some friends and I have been brainstorming about what to call the next super El Nino.  If we get a super El Nino by late fall-early winter, on top of the global warming we already have, it ain't gonna be purdy.

So, I was pondering, "What could we call a malevolent El Nino?  A bad boy?  Maldito?"

So (everything begins with "So,..."), I went to Google Translate and found some options.

I know nothing of Spanish, so (again), I need some feedback.  My friends and I thought that "El Pillo" had a nice ring to it.  But how would we really know?

So (again), we are very open to criticisms and suggestions.

So, please leave comments, if you have any.

So, thank you!


Ah!  My friend, Leif Knutsen, has been composing ditties for the occasion:

Grab your hat. 
Mend your boots.
El Pillo is taking roots. 


El Pillos here, 
El Pillos there,
El Pillos popping everywhere. 


So, feel free to send in your own!

Monday, April 21, 2014

US Produce Prices to Rise on Extreme CA Drought

from MNI, April 21, 2014 

--Updating With Comments From Penn State Climate Researcher Michael Mann--12% of Central Valley to Lie Fallow as Water Supply Dwindles--USDA Warns of 'Major Impact' to California's Farm Output This Year
PHILADELPHIA (MNI) - Joe Del Bosque has farmed tomatoes, melons, asparagus, almonds, and cherries in California's Central Valley since 1985 but this year he is cutting back because he does not have enough water.
Del Bosque has fallowed about 550 of the 2,000 acres he farms some 60 miles west of Fresno, and that's going to mean no tomato crop this year, and a 50% cut in the number of cantaloupes he grows.
Like many other farmers in the region that supplies a large proportion of America's fruit and vegetables, Del Bosque has been hit hard by a three-year Western drought that is depleting aquifers and surface water sources, and which in January caused California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.
For irrigation, farmers like Del Bosque depend on water from the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that supplies water to 140,000 Western farmers who together produce some 60% of the national vegetable supply, according to government data.
But this year, for the first time in almost 30 years, Del Bosque is getting no water from the bureau.
"We didn't know we would be at zero," he told MNI. "That's never happened before."
This season, his remaining crops will be grown with water he saved from last year's federal allocation, for which he paid three times the normal cost. He won't be getting much help from local rivers that are fed by the Sierra Nevada mountains, where the snow pack this winter was only 24% of normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Del Bosque, 65, predicted the surviving crops will allow him to stay in business but said he will lose a great deal of money - more than $100,000 in revenue from tomatoes alone.
"It's a big hit," he said. "Twenty-five percent of my business has just vanished."
Across the Central Valley, some 800,000 acres, or 12% of the total 6 million acres of arable land, has been or is being taken out of production in response to the drought, said Wendy Fink-Weber, a spokeswoman for the Western Growers Association whose members - in California and Arizona - provide half the national fruit and vegetable supply.
Statewide, 94% of California's agricultural sector was experiencing "severe, extreme or exceptional" drought by early March, according to the USDA.
Whether farmers like Del Bosque will continue to face crippling droughts in coming decades may depend on whether the current parched conditions result from climate change or are, as some scientists argue, simply the latest example of a historical pattern of reduced rainfall - such that which hit California in the mid-1970s - rather than the result of rising temperatures that come with climate change.
President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, argued in a February paper that drought was linked to climate change in ways that suggests droughts will be more frequent in future.
After being accused by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of misleading the public on a link between climate change and drought, Holdren said climate change is expected to reduce the amount of rain that is absorbed in soil; to reduce the amount of winter snow so that streams run lower in spring and summer; to melt any snowfall earlier in the year, further reducing the feed to waterways, and to increase evaporation from reservoirs and soil.
Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Pennsylvania State University, said there's growing evidence that climate change has exacerbated the California drought.
"The question isn't so much whether the California drought is a result of climate change as whether it was made worse by climate change," Mann told MNI. "And the answer to that latter question appears to be yes."
Mann also rejected an argument by Roger Pielke, a University of Colorado political scientist, who said at a Congressional hearing on the Obama administration's climate action plan that there is no evidence of a link between climate change and drought.
"Roger Pielke is simply wrong," Mann told MNI, arguing that Pielke lacks expertise in climate science. Among scientists who have linked the drought to climate change, Mann said, is Peter Gleick, a member of the National Academy of Science, who cites climate-related factors such as greater soil evaporation and decreased snowpack among causes likely to worsen drought in coming decades.
Meanwhile, the USDA warned the drought is likely to have a "major impact" on this year's farm production in California, the primary national source of many fruits such as strawberries, grapes and lemons, and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and lettuce.
"Because California is a major producer in the fruit, vegetable, tree nut and dairy sectors, the drought has potential implications for U.S. supplies and prices of affected products in 2014 and beyond," the USDA's Economic Research Service said on a new website on the effects of the drought, launched on April 16.
That followed two recent reports from the UN's International Panel on Climate Change, warning of an accelerating increase in global greenhouse gas emissions and a worsening threat from climatic effects such as heat waves, storms and rising seas.
Although the USDA's official forecast is for food-price inflation to rise at a "normal" rate of 2.5%-3.5%, the drought, combined with high meat prices resulting from an unusually cold winter, may boost the predicted rate, it said.
"Major impacts from the drought in California have the potential to result in food-price inflation above the historical average," the agency said.
The ERS also warned that the drought may drive up milk prices because of the decreased availability and increased price of alfalfa, the primary food for dairy cows. And it warned that California's livestock farms, though with a market value of less than half the crop sector, are more severely exposed to drought conditions than crops.
In the Consumer Price Index for March, meats, poultry, fish and eggs together posted the biggest rise, 1.2%, in the food index, while the fruits and vegetables index slowed to 0.9% from 1.1% in February.
Timothy Richards, a professor of agribusiness at Arizona State University, estimated that 10%-20% of the supply of some California crops could be lost, and that prices will rise by double digits for certain fruits and vegetables, especially those which are the least price-sensitive.
In a study published on April 17, Richards predicted the biggest increases will be seen for avocados and lettuces, 28% and 34%, respectively, because many shoppers are prepared to pay whatever is necessary to get them.
He predicted broccoli will rise by 10-20%; grapes by around 10%, and tomatoes by more than 10%.
"Shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices for those items," Richards said in a statement.
Still, shortages of some crops will be offset by supplies from other regions of the U.S. or from overseas, said Kathy Means, Vice President of Industry Relations for the Produce Marketing Association, a trade group for growers, distributors and retailers of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Means argued that growers outside the Western U.S. are likely to offset shortages of berries and broccoli, while avocados and other tree crops will be harder to substitute because they take longer to grow.
"There are going to be shortages from California that may or may not be supplemented from other areas," she said, adding that retailers are "eagerly looking everywhere" to ensure steady supplies of produce for their customers.
But the industry's traditional pattern of drawing supplies from different areas in response to local disruptions such as weather or disease is likely to be tested this time because of the magnitude of the California drought and the state's dominance in the national supply of so many crops, Means said.
"What's happening now isn't the same as just a single freeze," she said. "This drought has been going on for some time, farmers are fallowing their land, and some may sell. Once they sell that land for something else, we're not going to get it back."
Because the harvest season for many California crops hasn't yet arrived, the drought's impact on farm output is only just beginning, Means said. "It's going to ramp up from now going forward."
Even though retailers and consumers will for now be able to find different sources for the vegetables they normally buy from California, state and federal authorities need to find a long-term solution, Means argued.
"I don't want to minimize it," she said. "It is a serious issue, it's one that is going to have to be addressed politically and scientifically, figuring out how do we cope with this?"
Editors' note: Climate Check is an occasional series examining the effect of the changing climate on specific sectors of the U.S. economy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Solar's insane price drop may cause energy price deflation, stranded assets

Solar’s dramatic cost fall may herald energy price deflation

by Giles Parkinson, RenewEconomy, April 11, 2014

We’ve seen and published many dramatic graphs about the fall in solar, such as this one tracing the fall over the past 30 years and this from Citigroup, but the following graph from investment bank Sanford Bernstein is quite stunning – not just for its simplicity but because it draws attention to the potential impact of solar to the $5 trillion global energy market.
As you can see, the cost of solar PV has come from – quite literally – off the charts less than a decade ago to a point where Bernstein says solar PV is now cheaper than oil and Asian LNG (liquefied natural gas). It does its calculations on an MMBTU basis. MMBTU is the standard unit of measure for liquid fuels, often referred to as one million British thermal units.
bernstein solar
“For these (developing Asian economies) solar is just cheap, clean, convenient, reliable energy. And since it is a technology, it will get even cheaper over time,” Bernstein writes in a newly released report.
“Fossil fuel extraction costs will keep rising. There is a massive global market for cheap energy and that market is oblivious to policy changes” in China, Japan, the EU or the US, it writes.
This has potentially massive impacts for the oil, gas and LNG markets, and therefor the massive investments in the LNG plants in Queensland, Australia, where tens of billions of dollars have been invested by Australian and international energy majors on the assumption that the demand, and the price, of LNG will rise ever upwards.
bernstein energy supplyAs Bernstein notes in its report, the share of solar PV in the global energy market is currently so small (see graph to the right) that “the idea that oil and gas is the “loser” in this formulation is laughable … in 2014.”
But that’s not the case a decade hence. Solar is already eating away at the margins of oil and gas demand.  Bernstein says the adoption of solar in off-grid areas in developing markets means less kerosene and diesel demand. The adoption of solar in the Middle East means less oil demand. The adoption of solar in China and developed Asia means less LNG demand. And distributed solar in the US, Europe and Australia means less natural gas demand.
And then Bernstein drops this bombshell – while solar has a fractional share of the market now,  within one decade, solar PV (plus battery storage) may have such a share of the market that it becomes a trigger for energy price deflation, with huge consequences for the massive fossil fuel industry that relies on continued growth.
“The behavior from here seems clear: the solar industry will expand. Retaliatory steps from distribution utilities will increase the market for cost-effective battery storage. This becomes – initially – a secondary market for battery technologies being developed for the auto sector. A failed battery technology in the auto sector (too hot, too heavy, too rigid a form factor) might well be perfect for the home energy storage market…. with an addressable end market of 2 billion backyards.
“And for some years, that will be the extent of the effect. We have previously calculated how large the solar sector would need to be in order to become a material share of incremental energy supply each year and therefore begin to displace high-cost oil and gas supply and start to depress prices.
“We estimate that the solar industry would need to be an order of magnitude larger than it is today to have this kind of impact. At the point where solar is displacing a material share of incremental oil and gas supply, global energy deflation would become inevitable: technology (with a falling cost structure) would be driving prices in the energy space. But even on an aggressive view, this could take the better part of a decade.”
But, the Bernstein analysts say, the risks are that they are being too conservative. The big oil and gas producers, and the investors that control the flow of capital, may not wait until energy prices do actually deflate, they will likely change their behaviour well before than in anticipation that it will happen.
“If the downward sloping forward curve is ever accepted as permanent, rational behavior from energy producers will guarantee it is so. Sitting on oil and gas reserves for the benefit of generations yet to come ceases to be a rational strategy if that reserve represents a depreciating rather than an appreciating asset.”
This, Bernstein says, is the hidden flaw with the idea that solar is “too small to matter.”  Ultimately, it says, what may kill the  energy market for equity investors is not the fact that renewable technology and battery storage will turn into behemoths, but the realisation of that future as inevitable.

NOAA's latest animation of Equatorial Temperature Anomaly to 450 meters depth, to April 13, 2014


"Climate Change War" is not a metaphor: Navy Rear Adm. David Titley

The U.S. military is preparing for conflict, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley says in an interview.

by Eric Holthaus, Slate, April 18, 2014

Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley
Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley sees climate change as a driving force in the 21st century.
Photo via
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just completed a series of landmark reports that chronicle an update to the current state of consensus science on climate change. In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it—but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.
But in addition to the call for cooperation, the reports also shared an alarming new trend: Climate change is already destabilizing nations and leading to wars.
That finding was highlighted in this week’s premiere of Showtime’s new star-studded climate change docu-drama Years of Living Dangerously. In the series’ first episode, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traveled to Syria to investigate how a long-running drought has contributed to that conflict. Climate change has also been discussed as a “threat multiplier” for recent conflicts in Darfur, Tunisia, Egypt, and future conflicts, too.
Climate change worsens the divide between haves and have-nots, hitting the poor the hardest. It can also drive up food prices and spawn mega-disasters, creating refugees and taxing the resiliency of governments.
When a threat like that comes along, it’s impossible to ignore. Especially if your job is national security.
In a recent interview with the blog "Responding to Climate Change," retired Army Brig. Gen. Chris King laid out the military’s thinking on climate change:
“This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems. You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”
In a similar vein, last month, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News:
The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking – and sobering. The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.
In short, climate change could be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century.
Earlier this year, while at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, I had a chance to sit down with Titley, who is also a meteorologist and now serves on the faculty at Penn State University. He’s also probably one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever spoken with. Check out his TEDx Pentagon talk, in which he discusses how he went from “a pretty hard-core skeptic about climate change” to labeling it “one of the pre-eminent challenges of our century.” (This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.)
Slate: You’ve been a leader when it comes to talking about climate change as a national security issue. What’s your take on the connection between war and climate?
Titley: Climate change did not cause the Arab spring, but could it have been a contributing factor? I think that seems pretty reasonable. This was a food-importing region, with poor governance. And then the chain of events conspires to have really a bad outcome. You get a spike in food prices, and all of a sudden, nobody’s in control of events.
I see climate change as one of the driving forces in the 21st century. With modern technology and globalization, we are much more connected than ever before. The world’s warehouses are now container ships. Remember the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name? Now, that’s not a climate change issue, but some of the people hit worst were flower growers in Kenya. In 24 hours, their entire business model disappeared. You can’t eat flowers.
Slate: What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?
Titley: There will be a discrete event or series of events that will change the calculus. I don’t know who, I don’t know how violent. To quote Niels Bohr: Predictions are tough, especially about the future. When it comes, that will be a black swan. The question is then, do we change?
Let me give you a few examples of how that might play out. You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.
Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.
Slate: That sounds incredibly daunting. How could we head off a threat like that?
Titley: I like to think of climate action as a three-legged stool. There’s business saying, “This is a risk factor.” Coca-Cola needs to preserve its water rights, Boeing has their supply change management, Exxon has all but priced carbon in. They have influence in the Republican Party. There’s a growing divestment movement. The big question is, does it get into the California retirement fund, the New York retirement fund, those $100 billion funds that will move markets? Politicians also have responsibility to act if the public opinion changes. Flooding, storms, droughts are all getting people talking about climate change. I wonder if someday Atlanta will run out of water?
Think back to the Apollo program. President Kennedy motivated us to land a man on the moon. How that will play out exactly this time around, I don’t know. When we talk about climate, we need to do everything we can to set the stage before the actors come on. And they may only have one chance at success. We should keep thinking: How do we maximize that chance of success?
Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a technology, water, food, energy, population issue. None of this happens in a vacuum.
Slate: Despite all the data and debates, the public still isn’t taking that great of an interest in climate change. According to Gallup, the fraction of Americans worrying about climate “a great deal” is still roughly one-third, about the same level as in 1989. Do you think that could ever change?
Titley: A lot of people who doubt climate change got co-opted by a libertarian agenda that tried to convince the public the science was uncertain—you know, the Merchants of Doubt. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in high places who understand the science but don’t like where the policy leads them: too much government control.
Where are the free-market, conservative ideas? The science is settled. Instead, we should have a legitimate policy debate between the center-right and the center-left on what to do about climate change. If you’re a conservative—half of America—why would you take yourself out of the debate? C’mon, don’t be stupid. Conservative people want to conserve things. Preserving the climate should be high on that list.
Slate: What could really change in the debate on climate?
Titley: We need to start prioritizing people, not polar bears. We’re probably less adaptable than them, anyway. The farther you are from the Beltway, the more you can have a conversation about climate no matter how people vote. I never try to politicize the issue.
Most people out there are just trying to keep their job and provide for their family. If climate change is now a once-in-a-mortgage problem, and if food prices start to spike, people will pay attention. Factoring in sea-level rise, storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy could become not once-in-100-year events, but once-in-a-mortgage events. I lost my house in Waveland, Miss., during Katrina. I’ve experienced what that’s like.
Slate: How quickly could the debate shift? How can we get past the stalemate on climate change and start focusing on what to do about it?
Titley: People working on climate change should prepare for catastrophic success. I mean, look at how quickly the gay rights conversation changed in this country. Ten years ago, it was at best a fringe thing. Nowadays, it’s much, much more accepted. Is that possible with climate change? I don’t know, but 10 years ago, if you brought up the possibility we’d have gay marriages in dozens of states in 2014, a friend might have said “Are you on drugs?” When we get focused, we can do amazing things. Unfortunately, it’s usually at the last minute, usually under duress.
This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and SlateFuture Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Record drought adds to Syrians' misery

by Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network, April 19, 2014

A Roman water cistern in Syria: Many reservoirs today are less than half full Image: James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA via Wikimedia Commons
A Roman water cistern in Syria: Many reservoirs today are less than half full, despite heavy winter snowfall. Image: James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA via Wikimedia Commons
Thousands have died and millions have been displaced by the conflict in Syria. Severe drought in the region – part of what many believe is an ongoing, climate change-related dry period – is heaping added misery on people.
LONDON, 19 April – The conflict in Syria has devastated much of the country’s agricultural sector. But while the fighting has left large tracts of farmland abandoned, irrigation systems smashed and livestock neglected, other forces have also been at work.
Syria – and much of the Eastern Mediterranean region – is in the grip of one of the longest periods of drought on record. The World Food Programme (WFP) says the recent rainfall season in Syria, which usually lasts from October to April, produced less than half the long term average precipitation.
When the harvest of wheat – the staple food – is brought in next month it’s likely to be 30% down on last year – and less than half its pre-conflict level.
“This is part of a wider pattern of drier than average conditions which has dominated across the eastern Mediterranean from southern Turkey to western Syria, Lebanon and Jordan,” says the WFP.
Ultra-dry stretch

With other agencies, it is trying to look after the food needs of more than four million people displaced by the fighting in Syria. It says the drought could mean that number increasing to more than six million. A poor harvest will also lead to yet more increases in food prices.
The present period of drought hitting Syria and the wider region – including large parts of Iraq – started in 2008: dry conditions persisted through 2009 and 2010. Despite heavy snowfalls over the recent winter, water supplies in many reservoirs are less than half their normal level.
“Going back to the last 100 years I don’t think you can get a five-year span that’s been as dry,  Mohammad Rafi Hossain, an environmental economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told Reuters news agency.
Many analysts say the drought – and a lack of action by the Syrian authorities to halt soaring food prices – was one of the factors driving the initial 2011 uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At special risk

With crops destroyed by lack of water, desperate farmers and their families were forced to move to cities and towns in search of work and food. There they combined with students and other activists in large-scale protests against the Government.
The Syrian drought and the role played by farmers in the protests against the  Damascus regime form one of the episodes in Years of Living Dangerously, a film series on climate change starring several prominent Hollywood actors now being aired on cable TV in the US.
The World Bank says the Middle East region is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others have repeatedly warned that a changing climate – particularly a “drying out” in some of the world’s most productive agricultural regions  – will lead to rapidly increasing food prices and create serious social and political tensions.

Steve Horn: "Russia with Love": Alaska Gas Scandal is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

by Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog, April 18, 2014

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska's statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.
It's not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.
The question of who owns Alaska's natural gas and where they're from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.
At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010, via House Bill 369 for the “purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects.” AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers. 
AGDC was initially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.    
Photo Credit: TransCanada
Things have changed drastically since 2010 in the U.S. gas market though, largely due to the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. And with that, the Lower 48 segment of the Alaska Pipeline Project has become essentially obsolete.
Dreams of exporting massive amounts of Alaskan LNG to Asia, however, still remain. They were made much easier on April 14, when the Kenai LNG export facility received authorization to export gas from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Enter the latest iteration of AGDC. This phase began in January 2014 after Governor Sean Parnell, formerly a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, signed Senate Bill 138 into law. 
The bill served as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Alaska, the AGDC, ConocoPhillips, BP, ExxonMobil, and TransCanada, with the four companies now serving as co-owners of the South Central LNG Pipeline Project.
Gov. Parnell also announced who would serve on the AGDC Board of Directors in September 2013, which began meeting in October 2013And that's where the story starts to get more interesting. 

Meet Richard “Dick” Rabinow

Under Alaska state law, you have to be a state citizen to serve on state commissions like AGDC. But one of the seven Board members, Richard “Dick” Rabinow, is a citizen of a state far from Alaska: Texas. 

Richard “Dick” Rabinow; Photo Credit: Alaska Gasline Development Corporation
Rabinow is the former president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (where he worked for 34 years) and former Chairman of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) Owners Committee. TAPS is co-owned by ExxonMobil, BP, Unocal and ConocoPhillips. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas, and runs his own consultancy called Rabinow Consortium, LLC.
Because Rabinow isn't an Alaskan, major backlash ensued when watchdogs discovered he's from Texas, which nearly caused him to step down from AGDC's Board. Alaska's Senate Democrats wrote a letter on March 21 calling on Rabinow to step down because his appointment flew in the face of state law. 
“Mr. Rabinow is a resident of the state of Texas. Mr. Rabinow is not registered to vote in the state of Alaska. Mr. Rabinow is not qualified to serve as a board appointee here,” read the letter. “[O]ut of respect for the law, we demand that you withdraw Mr. Rabinow’s appointment.”
Importantly, only 4 members of the 20-member Senate are Democrats.
So just three weeks after the Senate Democrats wrote their letter, the Senate passed HB 383 in a 13-7 vote, which also passed in the House in a 27-12 vote.
Immediately signed by Gov. Parnell on April 16, the law now says that AGDC Board members are “not required to be a registered voter or a resident of the state.”
Democratic House Leader Rep. Christ Tuck was none too pleased with the bill's passage.

Rep. Christ Tuck. Photo Credit: The Alaska State Legislature
“Alaskans are tired of multinational corporations coming up here and our government catering to them at the expense of Alaskans,” Tuck told the Alaska Dispatch
Multinational corporations in general are one thing.
But in the case of Rabinow's former employer ExxonMobil — coined a “private empire” by investigative journalist Steve Coll — it also has ties in Alaska to an out-of-country multinational corporation from Russia: Rosneft. 

ExxonMobil: “From Russia with Love”

In February 2013, ExxonMobil offered Russian state-owned oil and gas company Rosneft a 25% stake in its portion of the Point Thomson oil and gas field. 

Point Thomson Oil and Gas Field. Map Credit: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
“The agreements signed today bring the already unprecedented scale of Rosneft and ExxonMobil partnership to a completely new level,” Igor Sechin, President of Rosneft said of the deal in a press release at the time. “Participation in the Point Thomson project will increase Rosneft’s access to the latest gas and condensate field development technologies used in harsh climatic conditions.”

Stephen Greenlee, President of ExxonMobil Exploration Company (L); Russian President Vladimir Putin (C); Igor Sechin, President of Rosneft (R). Photo Credit: Rosneft.
Sechin is thought to be high up on the list of potential persons to face sanctions by the U.S. for Russia's ongoing occupation of Crimea in Ukraine. Easier said than done, of course, given the ties that bind U.S. companies to Russia's oil and gas industry. 
“[I]f anyone apart from Sechin himself is anxious about the prospect of his arrest if he travels to the West, it could be oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil,” wrote investigative reporter Steve Levine recently. “In other words, the US will be going after Sechin, but also a house that the West itself helped to build.”
Given this wheeling and dealing and geopolitical wrangling between the U.S. and Russia resembles something straight out of a James Bond film, perhaps it's only appropriate that one of the most famous Bond flicks is titled, “From Russia with Love.”
In this ongoing “Great Game,” the controversy that erupted over Rabinow's appointment appears minor by comparison. 
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons