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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers: A Convenient Delusion

A Convenient Delusion

"Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
-Richard Feynman

The same sort of public relations wizardry that once convinced a sizeable portion of Americans that cigarette smoking was harmless, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet, and that John Kerry's war record was fraudulent, is now convincing an increasing number of our citizens that global warming is at least of little consequence, or, at most, a massive hoax.

This trend is reported by the Pew Research Center which, in August, 2006, found that 77% of the public believed that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming. In October, 2009, that number had dropped to 57%. In the same period, the percentage of those who denied that there is such evidence increased from 17% to 33%. An early Pew poll found that "global warming ranked dead last among 40 concerns ranked by the 1503 respondents to the poll."

Unfortunately, as John Adams observed, "facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." Here are some of those stubborn facts:
 Climate change skeptics have succeeded in convincing much of the public that global warming is a live issue of contention among climate scientists. The facts tell us otherwise. For example, in December, 2004, Science Magazine (AAAS) reported:
 The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the AAAS all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling.
... [While these reports] might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions, [that] hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change."

... Of all the [928] papers, 75% .. either explicitly or implicitly accept[ed] the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position. (My emphasis, EP).
 Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by Peter Doran of the University of Chicago 97% of climatologists active in research concur that global warming is real and that human activity plays a role in it.
While I could go on with this recitation, it is not my task to offer yet another argument that global warming is a fact. Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers support that conclusion. These papers are by qualified climate scientists, which I am not. No citation here of scientific data will persuade a single individual determined not to be persuaded. So instead, I pose a different question: how credible is the denialists' rejection of this scientific consensus?

No skeptic has ever offered me a plausible explanation as to how thousands of climate specialists from around the world -- the vast majority of such specialists -- can all be so profoundly mistaken about conclusions from research, both independent and coordinated, conducted at the cost of billions of dollars. Not that there is a shortage of implausible explanations.

For example, William Bennett (the Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration) recently told Sean Hannity on FOX that all those scientists were "driven by ideology," though he never identified the ideology that united the scientists from dozens of different nations and cultures. He did, however, compare all those scientists to the Nazi doctors who performed experiments on concentration camp prisoners.

A more common explanation is that climate scientists pretend to believe in global warming in order to get research grants. But clearly, if that is the researchers' motivation, there is much more cash to be found from the energy corporations and their foundations. Moreover, the "grant-search" explanation begs an even greater mystery: What could possibly motivate the funding agencies (primarily governments) into encouraging gullible scientists to conclude that the climate is warming due to human effects. Most governments, and especially the US government, have a stake in the status-quo and in placating international corporations and industries.

In a sense, however, William Bennett is correct: scientists the world over are united by an "ideology," though "ideology" is hardly the correct word. That "ideology" is what Jacob Bronowski called "the habit of truth":
 By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice or to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science. Individually, scientists no doubt have human weaknesses. . . But in a world in which state and dogma seem always either to threaten or to cajole, the body of scientists is trained to avoid and organized to resist every form of persuasion but the fact. A scientist who breaks this rule, as [Soviet agronomist, Trofim] Lysenko has done, is ignored. . .
The values of science derive neither from the virtues of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable conditions for its practice. (Science and Human Values, Harper and Row, 1972, pp. 59-60).

Is the scientific affirmation of anthropogenic global warming a "hoax," as Sen. Inhofe would have us believe. Possibly. But to believe this one would also have to believe either that (a) hundreds of millions of dollars of funded and peer-reviewed research have systematically led to a false conclusion, or (b) that thousands of scientists from around the world are engaged in a giant conspiracy, or (c) that all these scientists are simply fools. Sorry, but that is much more than I can swallow.

On a personal note, I am convinced that these scientists are neither knaves nor fools, for I know many of them and have worked with them. In 1991 I organized a scholarly conference on Environmental Ethics at Cal State Fullerton. Keynoting that event were Stephen Schneider (climate scientist, Stanford University) and John Holdren (now the President's Science Advisor). Previously I worked for two years under a National Science Foundation grant at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, where I got to know several climate scientists, including Steve Schneider (then at the National Center for Atmospheric Research) and John Birks, a collaborator with Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Laureate. While my work was in applied seismology, not climate science, I was nonetheless able to gain a moral measure of these individuals. They were neither knaves nor fools. They were, each and every one of them, scrupulous scientists. Moreover, they had families and hoped for a prosperous future for their children and their posterity. Accordingly, they were and are appalled at what their research was and is disclosing about the future prospects of the earth and of humanity.

And so should we all be.

How then do we explain the persistence of global warming denial? Upton Sinclair's observation is instructive: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.. Thus the behavior of tobacco industry executives when presented with laboratory and statistical evidence from cancer researchers, and the response of the chemical industry to the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the effect of CFCs on atmospheric ozone. Thus the proliferation of industry sponsored and scientifically trained "biostitutes" (to use Robert Kennedy Jr's term) many of whom, I am confident, sincerely and firmly believe what they are paid to believe. This enlistment of scientific "experts" has been effective for, as Ross Gelbspan noted in 1995:
 The people who run the world's oil and coal companies know that the march of science, and of political action, may be slowed by disinformation. In the last year and a half, one of the leading oil industry public relations outlets, the Global Climate Coalition, has spent more than a million dollars to downplay the threat of climate change. It expects to spend another $850,000 on the issue next year. Similarly, the National Coal Association spent more than $700,000 on the global climate issue in 1992 and 1993. In 1993 alone, the American Petroleum Institute, just one of fifty-four industry members of the GCC, paid $1.8 million to the public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller partly in an effort to defeat a proposed tax on fossil fuels....
These 1994 figures grossly understate the current industry PR expenditures. Continuing:
 For the most part the industry has relied on a small band of skeptics Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Dr. Pat Michaels, Dr. Robert Balling, Dr. Sherwood Idso, and Dr. S. Fred Singer, among others who have proven extraordinarily adept at draining the issue of all sense of crisis. Through their frequent pronouncements in the press and on radio and television, they have helped to create the illusion that the question is hopelessly mired in unknowns.
And what if brute reality raises its ugly head? Just suppress it. As Andrew Revkin of the New York Times reports:
For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.
The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood, the coalition said in a scientific backgrounder  provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that scientists differ on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied, the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The "biostitution" of climate science should come as no surprise. We've seen it with the tobacco, chemical, atomic, advertising and financial services industries. Why should the coal and petroleum industries be any different?

Nonetheless, the "stubborn facts" of atmospheric chemistry and physics are what they are, totally indifferent to public relations campaigns and their effect upon public opinion. "In nature," Robert Ingersoll observed, "there are neither rewards nor punishments. There are consequences." The world governments and multi-national corporations may choose to ignore those consequences. Nature will not.

That being so, "climate skeptics" are doing a great disservice to humanity as they obstruct and forestall urgent action in the face of a planetary emergency. Skepticism in science is, in principle, commendable, as long as it is conducted responsibly according to rigors of scientific method -- of Bronowski's "habit of truth.. But I find little if any such "responsibility" among the climate skeptics. Not William Bennett, not Sean Hannity and his FOX colleagues, most assuredly not Senator Inhofe, and not at such regressive think-tanks as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute.

If global warming is as real and as serious as the consensus of climate scientists say that it is, then unconstrained free market industrialization has much to answer for, and mitigation of the dire consequences thereof will require the kind of coordinated action at the national and international level that free-market absolutists deplore (as I argue in my essay , "Climate Reality Bites the Libertarians"). What is required is a world-wide economic and industrial mobilization on the scale of that which took place in the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack. Instead, what we are offered are pipsqueak palliatives, too little and too late.

Today, as the Copenhagen fiasco indicates, the deniers and their corporate sponsors appear to have the upper hand. Thus the public belief in and concern about global warming continue to erode. Quite frankly, I am very pessimistic.

And yet, the aforementioned history of corporate abuse offers some hope. The public eventually got the message: cigarettes kill, and today the per-capita consumption of cigarettes in the United States is about a third of what it was in 1965. Eventually, Rachel Carson was vindicated, as DDT was removed from the market. Likewise, CFCs were eventually phased out.


Trouble is, if the climate scientists are to be believed, an "eventual" solution to global warming is no solution at all.

We face the acute urgency of NOW. The lost Bush/Cheney decade has already condemned humanity to untold misery. But it is not too late to avoid still worse catastrophes. Meanwhile, the carbon continues to be pumped into the global atmosphere, the seas are becoming still more acidic, and "peak oil" is upon us.


Joseph Romm: The hottest decade ends and since there’s no Maunder mininum — sorry deniers! — the hottest decade begins

The hottest decade ends and since there’s no Maunder mininum — sorry deniers! — the hottest decade begins

2009 ends with a "sunspot surge" as solar cycle 24 revs up, though the sun is increasingly a bit player in the global warming trend

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, December 31, 2009

The figure is from, in its “Sunspot Surge” post.

The 2000s were  the hottest decade in recorded history by far — even though we’re at “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.”  The 2000s were a full 0.2 °C warmer than the 1990s, which of course had been the hottest decade on record, 0.14 °C warmer than 1980s (according to the dataset that best tracks planetary warming).  Hmm.  It’s almost like the warming is accelerating.

There’s little doubt the 2010s will be the hottest decade on record, barring multiple supervolcanoes.  Yet when the anti-science crowd isn’t perversely spending their time trying to stop all efforts to cut global warming pollution that might slow warming, they are perversely trying to convince the public and policymakers we’re not warming at all.  That’s why many of them have been rooting for this deep solar minimum to become a Maunder Minimum, to mute the warming signal and hence the motivation for action for a few more years.  Yes, they have a self-destructive streak.

In fact, even if total solar irradiance (TSI) never recovered, we wouldn’t have entered a period of cooling since, “the negative forcing, relative to the mean solar irradiance is equivalent to seven years of CO2 increase at current growth rates,” as NASA noted in January 2009.  Heck, even with a La Niña and an unusually inactive sun, 2008 was almost 0.1 °C warmer than the hot decade of the 1990s as a whole.  And 2009 now seems likely to be the second hottest year on record after 2005.  Changes in the sun just ain’t the big dog anymore when it comes to driving climate change (see below).

When we last looked at the sun [please, don't try that at home], NASA was reporting that the sunspot cycle was about to come out of its depression, if a newly discovered mechanism for predicting solar cycles — a migrating jet stream deep inside the sun — proved accurate (see National Solar Observatory, NASA say no “Maunder Minimum”).

It now appears TSI is well on its way to recovering, as NASA and others had predicted.  Leif Svalgaard recently put up this figure (click to enlarge): says of its sunspot figure at the top of the page:
The dark line is a linear least-squares fit to the data. If the trend continues exactly as shown (prediction: it won’t), sunspots will become a non-stop daily occurrence no later than February 2011. Blank suns would cease and solar minimum would be over.

If the past two years have taught us anything, however, it is that the sun can be tricky and unpredictable. Stay tuned for surprises.
Even as Solar Cycle 24 picks up, it won’t affect global temperatures quickly.  Again, as  NASA explained in January:
Because of the large thermal inertia of the ocean, the surface temperature response to the 10-12 year solar cycle lags the irradiance variation by 1-2 years. Thus, relative to the mean, i.e., the hypothetical case in which the sun had a constant average irradiance, actual solar irradiance will continue to provide a negative anomaly for the next 2-3 years.
Also, Solar Cycle 24 has recently been predicted to be on the wimpy side.

The sun simply isn’t a big player in driving recent warming.  As a major 2009 study found (see Another long-debunked denier talking point is debunked again: Changes in the Sun are not causing global warming):
According to this analysis, solar forcing contributed negligible long-term warming in the past 25 years and 10% of the warming in the past 100 years.
And a major 2007 study concluded:
Here we show that over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.
Related scientific studies on the subject can be found on the excellent debunking website, Skeptical Science.  Here’s but a few:
  • Erlykin 2009: “We deduce that the maximum recent increase in the mean surface temperature of the Earth which can be ascribed to solar activity is 14% of the observed global warming”
  • Benestad 2009: “Our analysis shows that the most likely contribution from solar forcing a global warming is 7 ± 1% for the 20th century and is negligible for warming since 1980.”
  • Lockwood 2008: “It is shown that the contribution of solar variability to the temperature trend since 1987 is small and downward; the best estimate is −1.3% and the 2σ confidence level sets the uncertainty range of −0.7 to −1.9%.”
  • Lockwood 2008: “The conclusions of our previous paper, that solar forcing has declined over the past 20 years while surface air temperatures have continued to rise, are shown to apply for the full range of potential time constants for the climate response to the variations in the solar forcings.”
  • Ammann 2007: “Although solar and volcanic effects appear to dominate most of the slow climate variations within the past thousand years, the impacts of greenhouse gases have dominated since the second half of the last century.”
  • Lockwood 2007: “The observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanism is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified.”
  • Foukal 2006 concludes “The variations measured from spacecraft since 1978 are too small to have contributed appreciably to accelerated global warming over the past 30 years.”
By one recent estimate, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for “80 to 120% of the warming” in recent decades (see “What percentage of global warming is due to human causes vs. natural causes?“)

Human-caused emissions are simply driving climate change to dangerous levels with forcings that dwarf previous natural forcings both in speed and scale (see “Humans boosting CO2 14,000 times faster than nature, overwhelming slow negative feedbacks“).

And that’s why the time to act is now, so every decade this century isn’t the hottest decade on record, with unimaginably catastrophic consequences for the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.


Climate Ground Zero activists arrested on Dec. 29 for trespassing in October ‘Coal’s killing West Virginia’s Communities’

Climate Activists Jailed For Saying ‘Coal’s Killing West Virginia’s Communities’
Yes, Coal's Killing West Virginia Communities
by Brad Johnson, The Wonk Room, December 30, 2009

Four climate activists are being held in a West Virginia jail for protesting how coal mining is killing the people and land of their state. On Tuesday, December 29, four activists with Climate Ground Zero — a grassroots campaign of non-violent civil disobedience in southern West Virginia to address mountaintop removal coal mining — were arrested for trespass at their homes in Rock Creek, West Virginia:
Mat Louis-Rosenberg, Jacqueline Quimby, Kimberly Ellis and James McGuinness were taken to the Kanawha County Courthouse by State Police by West Virginia State Trooper Lt. Bowers. The charges stem from a October 10 demonstration at Walker CAT’s headquarters, which challenged Walker’s misleading pro-coal advertising campaign at which Gabe Schwartzman, 19, and David German, 18, were arrested by City of Belle Police and cited for trespassing on a structure or conveyance. The two had unfurled a banner which read, “Yes, Coal is Killing West Virginia’s Communities.”
According to Climate Ground Zero, the four activists remain in police custody in the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, WV. They have yet to see a magistrate and have not been informed of their charges, other than trespassing, which, if proven, would result in a maximum one-hundred-dollar fine.

“This is outrageous behavior on the part of the Kanawha County prosecutors.” said Climate Ground Zero campaign director Mike Roselle.

“These four people are guilty of nothing. They were simply present during a demonstration last October, and none of them were ever informed at any time that they were trespassing. Usually in this type of case they simply write you a ticket or mail you a summons. To drag them out of their homes and refuse to allow any bail violates their most basic constitutional right to due process.”

Climate Ground Zero is part of a growing international movement using nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the ravages of fossil fuel extraction and the global damages of climate change.


D. O. Breecker: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may have been lower in warm eras of the Earth's distant past than once believed

Nature News, published online 30 December 2009; doi: 10.1038/news.2009.1168

Soils give clean look at past carbon dioxide

It could take less of the greenhouse gas to reach a particular level of warming

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may have been lower in warm eras of the Earth's distant past than once believed, scientists reported this week.
Carbon dioxide coming from modern soils provides a glimpse into past climate. Mike T. Friggens/Sevilleta LTER site
The finding raises concern that carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel burning may, in the near future, be closer to those associated with ancient hothouse climates.

More immediately, the work brings one line of palaeoclimate evidence — that deduced from ancient soils — into agreement with other techniques for studying past climate.

"It makes a major revision to one of the most popular methods for reconstructing palaeo-CO2," says Dana Royer, a palaeobotanist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, who was not involved in the work. "This increases our confidence that we have a decent understanding of palaeo-CO2 patterns."

Dirty job

In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, Dan Breecker, a soil chemist from the University of Texas, Austin, and colleagues report studying modern soils from Saskatchewan to New Mexico2, to determine the conditions under which the mineral calcite forms.

Calcite occurs in limestone and can be produced by the action of carbon dioxide in arid soils. Scientists trying to puzzle out ancient climate conditions often use it as an indicator of amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Previous studies had concluded that calcite formation indicates atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as high as 3,000 to 4,000 parts per million. The new study, however, lowers the calcite-formation threshold in soil to about 1,000 parts per million.

Breecker's team reached the conclusion by studying the outgassing of carbon dioxide from modern soils during times when calcite minerals are forming. "You can just put a box on top of the soil and let it fill up with carbon dioxide," he says. "The rate at which the concentration increases gives you the flux into the atmosphere." That information, in turn, can be used to determine the conditions under which calcite forms.

The team then looked at what the new estimates of calcite formation would mean for fossil soils from warmer eras over the past 450 million years. "We plugged in our new conditions and out come new atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that are decreased by as much as four times," Breecker says.

The new result, he says, brings carbon dioxide calculated from fossil soils into line with results obtained from other methods, such as measuring the spacing of pores on fossil leaves. Estimates based on these other techniques have generally produced lower carbon dioxide concentrations than those derived from carbonate levels in fossil soils, Breecker says. But the higher levels derived from soil carbonates were thought to be more accurate, especially from eras when atmospheric carbon dioxide was high.

"I think they've made a persuasive enough case," comments Neil Tabor, a sedimentary geochemist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. "What is encouraging about it is that it comes in line with the other estimates."

Future steps

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising today, and the new finding suggests that climate might be considerably more sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide than previously thought. "This may have implications for near-future climate change," Royer says.

Breecker cautions that fossil soils reflect the Earth's adjustment to long-term climate changes, on scales of millions of years, rather than the more rapid, and possibly shorter-lived, changes likely to result from fossil-fuel burning. But, he notes, his study still indicates that the difference in carbon dioxide levels between ice ages and hothouse climates is less than previously believed.

"That's what makes this important," he says.

  • References

    1. Breecker, D. O. et al., PNAS , doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902323106 (2009).
    2. Breecker, D., Sharp, Z. D. & McFadden, L., Geol. Soc. Am. Bull., 121, 630-640 (2009). | ChemPort |


D.O. Breecker et al., PNAS 2009, Atmospheric CO2 concentrations during ancient greenhouse climates were similar to those predicted for A.D. 2100

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations during ancient greenhouse climates were similar to those predicted for A.D. 2100

D. O. Breecker**, Z. D. Sharp and L. D. McFadden (MSC03-2040, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, U.S.A.)


Quantifying atmospheric CO2 concentrations ([CO2]atm) during Earth’s ancient greenhouse episodes is essential for accurately predicting the response of future climate to elevated CO2 levels. Empirical estimates of [CO2]atm during Paleozoic and Mesozoic greenhouse climates are based primarily on the carbon isotope composition of calcium carbonate in fossil soils. We report that greenhouse [CO2]atm have been significantly overestimated because previously assumed soil CO2 concentrations during carbonate formation are too high. More accurate [CO2]atm, resulting from better constraints on soil CO2, indicate that large (1,000s of ppmV) fluctuations in [CO2]atm did not characterize ancient climates and that past greenhouse climates were accompanied by concentrations similar to those projected for A.D. 2100.

**Correspondence e-mail:
  • * Graphic, where R equals 13C/12C and the subscripts “sam” and “std” refer to the unknown sample and a standard (Pee Dee Belemnite, PDB), respectively.
  • Soil temperature (needed to calculate Graphic) is typically assumed; Graphic is either held constant (10) or is estimated from the δ13C value of contemporaneous marine carbonates (e.g., 12) or well-preserved organic material (e.g., 8); Graphic is either calculated from Graphic (e.g., 12) or taken to equal the δ13C value of well-preserved organic material (e.g., 8).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Under the icy north lurks a ‘carbon bomb’: scientists fear for boreal wilderness, too

Under the icy north lurks a ‘carbon bomb’

Tropical deforestation is a climate change crisis, but scientists fear for boreal wilderness, too

A lake in the boreal forest north of Ottawa. Peat in the forest has been absorbing and storing carbon for thousands of years. (Fred Chartrand/ The Canadian Press for The Boston Globe)


by Beth Daley, Boston Globe, December 13, 2009

OTTAWA -- North of Canada’s capital, underneath an endless expanse of spruce, pine, and birch, ticks what some scientists are calling a carbon bomb: Peat.

A thick layer of the black spongy soil, the remnants of ancient forests, wraps the globe’s northern tier. Deeper than 15 feet in places, the peat layer extends over more than 6 million square miles across Russia, Scandinavia, China, Canada, and the United States.

Carbon that those forests absorbed from the air over thousands of years is stored in the peat and suspended in waterlogged bogs or permafrost. When it is disturbed or drained - as is happening in some areas - the peat can start to decompose and dry out, unleashing greenhouse gases. In North America alone, the peat and the trees growing in it hold as much carbon as would be emitted worldwide by 26 years of burning fossil fuels at current rates.

“It’s like a great big stew of carbon percolating away for centuries,’’ said Janet Sumner, executive director of the Wildlands League in Ontario, a conservation group pushing to preserve the northern, or boreal, forests from development. “If we don’t protect the boreal, it will mean more emissions and climate change.’’

While a critical deal is being brokered at the Copenhagen climate talks this week to protect threatened tropical forests, a growing number of scientists and environmentalists say the world’s boreal forests need to be conserved too. A group of international scientists are planning to deliver a letter to Northern heads of state tomorrow urging them to formally recognize the importance of the boreal forest and find ways to finance its protection. And they say Canada, with 1.4 billion acres of intact forest and a majority of the world’s peat lands, is the place to start.

The pace of boreal deforestation from mining, dams, oil and gas drilling, and road building is glacial compared with the destruction of tropical forests. Still, scientists say development is beginning to accelerate and it needs protection before warming temperatures lure even more industries north.

Mining and similar operations can cause the release of carbon from peat because the land is often drained, exposing the material to oxygen, which is essential for decomposition. Poor logging practices, road building, and other development can alter water flows and expose peat as well, drying it out and making it vulnerable to fire. Dried peat burns so well it is used as a cheap fuel in parts of the world.

Many point to Indonesia - one of the few tropical forests with underlying peat - as a cautionary tale: Deforestation and draining is causing the peat to burn and pump enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.

To fly over the northern forest is to experience ancient, nearly-unbroken vastness. Swamp-like - it has been described as a kind of giant Everglades of the North - tiny aboriginal communities, logging roads, and clear-cuts stand out in its southern expanse. In the more frozen north, only icy lakes and rivers interrupt the thousands of miles of tree cover. Caribou and wolves roam underneath the evergreens, and every summer, millions of birds arrive to breed, including the white-throated sparrow and many species of ducks that winter in New England.

The boreal forest - with its hues of muted green, gray, and brown - once blanketed New England as well, but warming temperatures since the last Ice Age have transformed the forest, although some peat lands and boreal tree and wildlife species remain in northern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Unlike most of the tropics, where decaying plant matter decomposes quickly, the boreal forest accumulates dead sedges, mosses, grasses, shrubs, and trees in bogs or in permafrost, permanently frozen soil that can store it for thousands of years. About 30% of the carbon is stored in the trees - the rest is in the peat.

“For a long time, we failed to see the soil for the trees,’’ said Larry Innes, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative and adviser to the Pew Environment Group, a funding and advocacy group. Innes talked as he piloted his small plane over hundreds of tiny peat islands capped with spruce trees in lightly iced lakes about 150 miles north of Ottawa. Fluctuating water levels in a reservoir for a hydroelectric dam had eroded peat from the shorelines, allowing some of its carbon to be released and leaving sand behind. Enormous clear-cuts - miles across - opened the landscape nearby.

While the northern forest’s beauty is undeniable, it is tropical forests, with their towering tree canopies and enormous number of colorful and charismatic species that have riveted the world. And, scientists say, there is good reason for that: Agriculture and development are causing massive deforestation, totaling more than 20 million acres a year by some estimates, and the forests are being further degraded by illegal and shoddy logging practices and fire.

Because it is more valuable to cut trees than to preserve them in these areas, Copenhagen negotiators are trying to make it financially attractive to conserve trees in developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty that expires in 2012, largely ignored forests as critical tools in fighting global warming, though deforestation - and the resulting loss of carbon-absorbing capacity - accounts for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the boreal forest - holding twice as much carbon per acre as tropical forests - also needs a place at the table, scientists say. In Canada, deforestation - defined as permanently cleared land - is estimated at about 126,000 acres a year, although scientists say development and industrial uses alter far more of the forest. That figure also excludes logging. In Alberta, with its enormous mining effort to squeeze oil from tarry sands, only about 40% of its once vast forest is still considered intact, according to Global Forest Watch Canada, a research group.

In 2007, an international group of 1,500 scientists, some on the leading scientific advisory group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recommended that at least half of Canada’s forest be protected from further disturbances, both for its carbon storage and wildlife habitats.

While the Canadian government is facing deep criticism for backtracking on pledges to reduce greenhouse gases, the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba have promised to protect enormous swaths of forest from future mining and development - roughly half of Quebec’s and Ontario’s forest, which is largely publicly owned but can be leased to industry.

But paying for it will be challenging and there is no clear mechanism to do so. In Copenhagen, negotiators from developing countries and the United Nations are trying to win financial commitments from rich countries to protect tropical forests, or create a system where polluting industries pay to protect a swath of trees that would absorb the equivalent amount of heat-trapping gases they emit.

“It is only fair that developed countries pay’’ to protect both tropical and boreal forests “because they have created the climate change problem,’’ said Chris Henschel, senior conservation manager of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, but he said they should protect the boreal forests “without any payment from a Copenhagen mechanism.’’

Yet the advocates for the boreal forest say it is vulnerable because northern regions are heating up faster than more temperate areas, which could cause the peat to thaw and release its carbon. No one knows how quickly emissions will occur if that happens.

“It is under threat. . . . It is the last great intact place on earth for natural resources,’’ said Jeff Wells, director of science and policy for the Boreal Songbird Initiative, a conservation organization. “We need to ensure it can withstand the impact as best it can.’’

Beth Daley can be reached at

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly described a group that recommended the protection of Canada's boreal forest. It was a group of 1,500 international scientists, some on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who signed a 2007 statement to urge protection, not the IPCC itself.


M. M. Robinson, Stratigraphy (2009), New quantitative evidence of extreme warmth in the Pliocene Arctic

Stratigraphy, 6(4) (2009) 265-275.

New quantitative evidence of extreme warmth in the Pliocene Arctic

Marci M. Robinson* (U.S. Geological Survey, 926A National Center, Reston, VA 20192, U.S.A.)


The most recent geologic interval characterized by warm temperatures similar to those projected for the end of this century occurred about 3.3-3.0 Ma, during the mid-Piacenzian Age of the Pliocene Epoch. Climate reconstructions of this warm period are integral to both understanding past warm climate equilibria and to predicting responses to today’s transient climate. The Arctic Ocean is of particular interest because in this region climate proxies are rare, and climate models struggle to predict climate sensitivity and the response of sea ice. In order to provide the first quantitative climate data from this region during this interval, sea surface temperatures (SST) were estimated from Ocean Drilling Program Sites 907 and 909 in the Nordic Seas and from Site 911 in the Arctic Ocean based on Mg/Ca of Neogloboquadrina pachyderma (sin) and alkenone unsaturation indices. Evidence of much warmer than modern conditions in the Arctic Ocean during the mid-Piacenzian with temperatures as high as 18 °C is presented. In addition, SST anomalies (mid-Piacenzian minus modern) increase with latitude across the North Atlantic and into the Arctic, extending and confirming a reduced mid-Piacenzian pole-to-equator temperature gradient. The agreement between proxies and with previously documented qualitative assessments of intense warming in this region corroborate a poleward transport of heat and an at least seasonally ice-free Arctic, conditions that may serve as a possible analog to future climate if the current rate of Arctic sea-ice reduction continues.


Arctic Ocean surface waters and those of the surrounding seas have been warming since 1965, increasingly since 1995, even more rapidly since 2000, with 2007 and 2008 marking the first two sequential years of extreme summer minimum sea ice coverage (Comiso et al., 2008; Steele et al., 2008; Stroeve et al., 2008). In addition, autumn surface air temperatures during these two years were greater than 5 °C higher than the central Arctic average (Wang & Overland, 2009). Continuation of this trend could lead to a dramatic change in the Arctic ice-ocean-atmosphere regime (Johannessen et al., 1999). In anticipation of continued warming, climate model scenarios for the near future commonly feature Arctic warmth and sea ice retreat yet struggle to predict climate sensitivity and the response of sea ice in these high latitudes. In fact, model simulations of sea ice retreat compare poorly to observations (Stroeve et al., 2007), some underestimating sea ice minima by at least 30 years (Wang & Overland, 2009). Future projections of sea-ice cover vary wildly with some models simulating seasonal ice-free conditions by 2070 while others project virtually no change over the same period of time (Boe et al., 2009).

One way to refine climate models and to improve projections is to attempt to recreate known warm climates of the past from climate proxy data (Robinson et al., 2008a). A model’s ability to accurately portray a past climate state, both in terms of magnitude and spatial variability, increases confidence in climate projections based on that model. Due to the high sensitivity displayed by polar regions during the current warming trend, accurate reconstructions of paleo-conditions in high latitude regions during past warm intervals are integral to reliable model results, but data are rare due to the shortage of paleoclimate proxies in high latitudes, and high resolution temporal correlation between regions is complicated.

The most recent geologic interval of global warmth comparable to climate projections for the end of this century was ~3.3-3.0 Ma (IPCC 2007), during the mid-Piacenzian Age of the Pliocene Epoch. During this time interval, the positions of the continents and the patterns of oceanic circulation were similar to modern, but mean global temperatures were 2-3 °C warmer, and sea level was about 25 m higher (Dowsett, 2007). It was also during the Piacenzian (between 3.6 and 2.4 Ma) that restricted local scale glaciations transitioned to extensive regional scale glaciations on the circum-Arctic continents (e.g., Fronval & Jansen, 1996; Mudelsee & Raymo, 2005). Paleoclimatologists interested in this warm interval as a possible analog to future warming, as well as other climate researchers intrigued by the transition between this warm period and the subsequent onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation, recognize the potential of mid-Piacenzian climate reconstructions to reveal uncertainties regarding climate sensitivity. As a result, a wealth of paleoclimate data exists for this warm interval, but most is restricted to lower latitudes where traditional paleoclimate proxy methods (i.e., inferring  conditions from faunal assemblage data) work best.

The USGS Pliocene Research, Interpretation and Synoptic Mapping (PRISM) Project is charged with reconstructing global conditions during the ~3.3 to 3.0 Ma time interval (hereafter “the mid-Piacenzian”) in an effort to better understand past and possible future climate dynamics. PRISM reconstructions of sea-surface temperature (SST), based largely on planktic foraminifer assemblage data, indicate that temperature  differences between the mid-Piacenzian and modern increase with latitude in the North Atlantic (Dowsett et al., 1992). That is, mid-Piacenzian temperatures near the equator were similar to modern temperatures, but temperatures in the higher latitudes were several degrees warmer than at present. This reconstructed equator-to-pole gradient has been indeterminate at and above ~66° N, however, because temperature estimates from polar regions such as the Nordic Seas and Arctic Ocean have remained elusive due to the lack of geologic proxies yielding quantitative results as well as weak age control.

[Continued at link below...]



James Hansen on why he’s disappointed that we did not show more leadership at the Copenhagen, “Cap and Fade,” Climategate, and more

James Hansen on why he’s disappointed that we did not show more leadership at the Copenhagen summit, “Cap and Fade,” Climategate, and more

Democracy Now, December 22, 2009

We speak with the nation’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen. He wasn’t at the Copenhagen climate summit and explains why he thinks it’s ultimately better for the planet that the talks collapsed. We also speak with with Dr. Hansen about his new book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, and much more. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: We are just back from Copenhagen. Even as global criticism of the proceedings and final outcome of the two-week climate summit in Copenhagen continues to mount, the United Nations is trying to put a positive spin on the non-binding Copenhagen Accord. Speaking to reporters Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted the accord was “quite a significant achievement.”
    SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: While I’m satisfied that we sealed a deal, I’m aware that the outcome of the Copenhagen conference, including the Copenhagen Accord, did not go as far as many would have hoped. Nonetheless, they represent a beginning, an essential beginning. We have taken an important step in the right direction.
AMY GOODMAN: Today I’m joined by the scientist who first convinced the world to take notice of the looming problem of global warming back in the 1980s. Yes, I’m talking about the nation’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen.

But the outspoken director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies wasn’t at Copenhagen. He decided to sit out the climate conference, saying it would be better for the planet if the summit ended in collapse.

James Hansen also teaches at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. He’s just out with his first book; it’s called Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth [about] the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity..

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JAMES HANSEN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hansen, start off with why you weren’t at Copenhagen. I mean, this is your thing. It was the global warming summit of summits.

JAMES HANSEN: Well, they were talking about having a cap-and-trade-with-offsets agreement, which is analogous to the Kyoto Protocol, which was disastrous. Before the Kyoto Protocol, global emissions of carbon dioxide were going up one-and-a-half percent per year. After the accord, they went up three percent per year. That approach simply won’t work.

And I’m actually quite pleased with what happened at Copenhagen, because now we have basically a blank slate. We have China and the United States talking to each other, and it’s absolutely essential. Those are the two big players that have to come to an agreement. But it has to be an honest agreement, one which addresses the basic problem. And that is that fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy on the planet. And unless we address that and put a price on the emissions, we can’t solve the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go for a minute to a quote of Paul Krugman. Paul Krugman is the New York Times op-ed columnist. You had written a very interesting piece in the New York Times called “Cap and Fade.” The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said about your December 7th op-ed—his response was called “Unhelpful Hansen.” And he said, “James Hansen is a great climate scientist. He was the first to warn about the climate crisis; I take what he says about coal, in particular, very seriously.

“Unfortunately, while I defer to him on all matters climate, today’s op-ed article suggests [that] he really hasn’t made any effort to understand the economics of emissions control. And that’s not a small matter, because he’s now engaged in a misguided crusade against cap and trade, which is—let’s face it—the only form of action against greenhouse gas emissions we have any chance of taking before catastrophe becomes inevitable.”

Your response?

JAMES HANSEN: That’s not right. In fact, I’ve talked with many economists, and the majority of them agree that the cap and trade with offsets is not the way to address the problem. You have to put an honest price on carbon, which is going to have to gradually rise over time.

But what you need to do—and many people call that a tax, but in fact the way that it should be done is to give all of the money that’s collected in a fee, that should be across the board on oil, gas and coal, collect that money at the mine or at the port of entry from the fossil fuel companies, and then distribute that to the public on a per capita basis to legal residents of the country. Then the person that does—that has less than average carbon emissions would actually make money from the process, and it would stimulate the economy. It would give the public the funds that they need in order to invest in low-carbon technologies. The next time they buy a vehicle, they should get a low-emission one. They should insulate their homes. Such actions. And those people who do that will come out ahead. That’s—the economists agree that that’s the way you should address the problem, with a price on carbon. Otherwise, the emissions will just continue to go up.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what’s meant by “cap and trade.”

JAMES HANSEN: Cap and trade, they attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace. You know, the Europeans thought they actually reduced their emissions after Kyoto, but what happened was the products that had been made in their countries began to be made in other countries, which were burning the cheapest form of fossil fuel, so the total emissions actually increased.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play an excerpt of what the Australian scientist Tim Flannery says. He was speaking on Democracy Now! earlier this year in defense of cap and trade.

TIM FLANNERY: Look, cap and trade, by itself, is not enough, but it is essential in terms of these international negotiations. And one way of showing that is to look at the alternatives. Just say the US went with a carbon tax. That would leave the President in a position where he’d be going to Copenhagen and saying, “Look, we’ve got a carbon tax, but we’ve got no idea really what it’s going to do in terms of our emissions profile.” So, countries would just say, “Well, what are you actually pledging to? What are you—how are you going to deal with your emissions?” You know, the only method, really, to allow countries to see transparently what other countries intend to do and then share the burden equally is through a cap-and-trade system. So it’s not enough to deal with emissions overall, but it is an essential prerequisite for any global deal on climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: The Australian scientist Tim Flannery. Dr. Hansen?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, I guess I would turn Krugman’s comment around and say Tim is a great biologist, but he hasn’t looked at the data on emissions and the effect of a cap with offsets. In fact, it does not decrease emissions. And that’s one reason, in my book, I say that I’m going to update the graphs every month and every year, just showing what’s really happening, because, in fact, you have to actually decrease the emissions.

And the only way that will happen is if the price of the fossil fuels is gradually rising so that the alternatives—energy efficiency, renewable energies, nuclear power, the things that can compete with fossil fuels—begin to be cost-competitive. That’s the only way it will work.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back for a minute and talk about what we are actually facing. I mean, it’s amazing to come back from Copenhagen after two weeks there, where the entire discussion was about global warming, back to the US media, where there is almost no mention. It’s more the politics of what did it mean for President Obama to swoop in, did he save the talks, did he collapse the talks, whatever. But actually, what the stakes are. You begin your book, Storms of My Grandchildren, by talking about a tipping point. What do you mean by that, Dr. Hansen?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, there are tipping points in the climate system, where we can push the system beyond a point where the dynamics begins to take over. For example, in the case of an ice sheet, once it begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you’ve passed the point where you can stop it. So that’s what we have to avoid.

Another tipping point is in the survival of species. As we begin to put pressure on species and move the climate zone so that some of the species can’t survive because they can only live within certain climate parameters, because species depend upon each other, you can drive an ecosystem such that when some species go extinct, then the entire ecosystem will collapse. So you don’t want to push the system that far.

And these tipping points are not hypothetical. We know from the earth’s history that these have happened in the past, especially when we’ve had large global warmings. We’ve driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction. And then, over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, new species come into being. But for any time scale that we can imagine, we would be leaving a much more desolate planet for our children and grandchildren and future generations. So we don’t want to pass those tipping points.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you know that we are headed in that direction?


AMY GOODMAN: What, in your work, has told to this?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, in the case, say, of the ice sheets and sea level, we see. We began in 2002 to get this spectacular data from the gravity satellite, which measures the gravitational field of the earth with such a high precision that you can get the mass of the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheets. And what we see is that in 2002 to 2005, we were losing mass from Greenland at a rate of about 150 cubic kilometers per year. Well, now that’s doubled to about 300 cubic kilometers per year. And likewise, the mass loss from Antarctica has also doubled over that time period.

So we can see that we’re moving toward a tipping point where those ice sheets will begin to disintegrate more rapidly, and sea level will go up. And that’s one of the bases, and others, for saying that a safe level of carbon dioxide is actually less than what we have now. It’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Which is?

JAMES HANSEN: What we have now is 387 parts per million. But we’re going to have to bring that down to 350 parts per million or less. And that’s still possible, provided we phase out coal emissions over the next few decades. That’s possible. We would also have to prohibit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and oil shale.

But if you look at what governments are doing, the reason that you know that the kind of accords they’re talking about are not going to work is because, look at what they’re actually doing. The United States had just agreed to have a pipeline from the tar sands in Canada to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: In Alberta.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, so they’re planning on actually burning those tar sands, which we can’t do.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how that works. What are the tar sands? I mean, this was a major issue in Copenhagen, and we played a number of pieces, especially indigenous people, for example, marching on the Canadian embassy—


AMY GOODMAN: —to try to stop the drilling.

JAMES HANSEN: They’re among the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. There’s oil mixed in the ground with the sand. You have to cook that material to get oil to drip out of it. That takes a lot of energy to cook it. And then you end up with oil, which also has carbon. Then you burn the oil, and you get more carbon. So it’s much more carbon-intensive than oil itself.

AMY GOODMAN: We get more oil from Canada than anywhere else in the world, is that right?

JAMES HANSEN: I’m not sure about that, but the plan is, in the long run. There’s much more there in tar sands than even in Saudi Arabia.

So the point is, we’re going to have to move to the energy system beyond fossil fuels. We need to drive the economic system so that we move to a clean energy future. And there are many other advantages in doing that: cleaning up the atmosphere, cleaning up the ocean. You get—the mercury and arsenic and all these pollutants are coming from fossil fuels. So we need to get off this fossil fuel addiction. And the way you do that is to put a gradually rising price on the carbon emissions.

AMY GOODMAN: How many times have you been arrested protesting now the issue of coal and mountaintop removal?

JAMES HANSEN: A couple of times in West Virginia, with regard to the mountaintop removal, and in Boston, where we were sleeping out on the Boston Commons. But, yeah, trying to draw—

AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you go from being the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to getting arrested for these protests?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, these protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.

And our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem for future generations, but we do. The science has become very clear. And we’re going to have to move to a clean energy future. And we could do that. And there would be many other advantages of doing it. Why don’t we do it? Because of the special interests and because of the role of money in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you don’t just protest outside of, you know, these companies that do mountaintop removal; you were protesting outside the Natural Resources Defense Council, the NRDC.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah. They and some other environmental organizations have become too much of the Washington scene, and they’re trying to work on the terms that Washington now works on, in which the lobbyists are driving the legislation. We have to get the legislation designed in the public’s interest, not in the interests of the people who have the money to influence the process.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back. Our guest today is James Hansen. Storms of My [Grandchildren]: The Truth [about] the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity is his first book. He’s the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, teaches at Columbia University. He’s been arrested protesting coal mining and didn’t go to Copenhagen, because he wanted those talks to collapse, felt they wouldn’t save the planet. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Jim Hansen. Storms of My Grandchildren is his new book, The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.

I wanted to play for you, Dr. Hansen, the comment of the Prime Minister of Nepal. Days before the climate talks began in Copenhagen, cabinet ministers from Nepal held a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest, at the base, to send a message on the impact of global warming on the Himalayas. I spoke to the Nepalese Prime Minister in Copenhagen.
    PRIME MINISTER MADHAV KUMAR NEPAL: Global warming has its impact on the top of the mountain. And the snows are melting. Glaciers, many of the glaciers, Himalaya glaciers, has evaporated, has disappeared. Many glacial lakes are emerging, and many of the glacial lakes are the [inaudible]. So we have seen many landslides there and no regular land or rainfall there. Droughts and all these problems relating to the health of the people has been seen. And we have seen power plants that is damaging many of the villages. The natural calamities has been seen. And the impact on the mountainous region is much more in the downstream, where 1.3 billion of the population live in India, in Bangladesh. So the problem of Nepal is not only the problem of Nepal’s people, rather the problem of at least 1.3 billion of population.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Nepali Prime Minister Nepal. That is his name. Your response to that, Dr. Jim Hansen?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, we see the climate changes. It’s at the top of the mountains. The glaciers all around the world are melting. And those glaciers are actually very important, because they provide fresh water for the major rivers of the world. During the dry season, the rivers, such as the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers, more than half the water in the river is from melting glaciers. So once those glaciers are gone, it’s a real problem.

But the problems are also occurring at the other end of the rivers. The coastline of Bangladesh, for example, is going to be moving inward, and you’re going to have hundreds of millions of people who will be refugees. So it’s especially these poor nations around the world that will suffer from climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week I also caught up with the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. Now, this is a low-lying island, the Maldives, at the frontline of climate change. And I asked him what a three degree Celsius rise in temperature, because the IFCCC, the climate change conference—apparently there was this document that we exposed on Democracy Now! with the French news organization Mediapart, saying that their plans, what they were putting forward, wouldn’t actually increase the temperature by two degrees Celsius, but actually by three degrees. And I asked the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to describe what that would mean for his country.
    PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: That would mean that we won’t be around. That would mean the death of us. And that’s really not acceptable for us. We cannot survive with that kind of temperature rise. 
    AMY GOODMAN: For people who don’t understand climate change, which is probably most people in the United States, why wouldn’t you be around? What would happen?  
    PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Sea levels would rise. We are just 1.5 meters above the water. And if we have sea levels rising to seventy, eighty centimeters, that’s going to eat up most of our country. So we won’t be around.  
    AMY GOODMAN: Are you making preparations for a mass population removal to dry land?  
    PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, you know, we’ve been there in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the last 10,000 years, and we have a written history that goes back 2,000 years. I can move, but where would all the butterflies go, all the sounds go, all the culture go, all the color go? I don’t think it really is a feasible option to move. It’s going to be almost impossible for us to convince our people to move.
AMY GOODMAN: That is the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly the problem. And that’s what was happening in Copenhagen. The wealthy countries are trying to basically buy off these countries that will, in effect, disappear. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, and the danger is that these countries will see this money—that’s why the United States offered to promote $100 billion per year, which is imaginary money, because I don’t think that’s going to happen. The United States’ share of that, based on our contribution to the carbon in the atmosphere, would be 27 percent, $27 billion per year. Do you think that our Congress is going to vote $27 billion per year to give these poor countries? It’s not going to happen. What we—but that’s the danger, that these poor countries will say, “Gee, that’s a lot of money. Maybe we can get that.” What we actually have to do is solve the problem, not pay people off. And that requires reducing the carbon emissions.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the East Anglia controversy, the University of East Anglia, that the climate deniers, the climate change deniers, are using. Explain what happened, actually, the discussion between the scientists, what is being called Climategate, in emails that hackers got a hold of, and how it’s being used.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, well, obviously, this discussion between some of the climate scientists revealed frustrations that they have with the contrarians who continually will nitpick about “Is the station data good?” or “Is that one not?” And what they should have done is release their full data immediately, because there’s no question about the actual climate change. And by having—by this attempt to not be completely open, they opened themselves up to criticism.

But, in fact, the climate record is not debated, and it’s not debatable. If they give all the data, then they give the opportunity to somebody else to show, “Oh, it’s really not warming.” But, of course, they can’t show that, because the evidence is all over the place that the climate really is changing.

But unfortunately, this episode has been very confusing to the public, so now there are many in the United States, especially, who are skeptical about whether the climate change is real. So it’s been a public relations disaster, but it doesn’t change the science one iota. In fact, the science has become clearer and clearer over the last several years.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where the United States is versus Europe? I talked to people throughout Europe in Copenhagen. I mean, thousands of people came out. Whether you wanted those talks to collapse or not, the level of networking and of groups all over the world was truly remarkable that took place there largely outside of the Bella Center—


AMY GOODMAN: —but also inside, because in the last few days, civil society was really kept out of those talks. But they said the United States is years behind in just the discourse, because we are at the point of—


AMY GOODMAN: —if you even have a discussion in the US media, it’s about whether global warming exists.


AMY GOODMAN: Whereas in Europe, it’s about—the debates are about, well, what do we do?


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, carbon sequestration? Should there be cap and trade? What are the alternatives? That’s where the debates lie there. Here, we’re way behind.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, and for a very good reason: because of the effectiveness of the industries that don’t want to see change. They have had an enormous impact on the public’s perception of the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you see that with scientists, for example? We just did that piece on healthcare, the amount of money they’re pouring in lobbying on healthcare. What is it in—on global warming legislation that didn’t pass the Senate, $300,000 a day from coal, oil, gas?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, there are more than two-and-a-half thousand energy lobbyists in Washington, so that’s more than four per congressperson. And that’s—unfortunately, the public just doesn’t have that kind of representation. And it’s also a fact that the industry influences the media, so that you always see this presented as if it’s an either—there’s one side and there’s another side, as if they were equal. But, in fact, the science has become crystal clear. And we have the most authoritative scientific body in the world in the National Academy of Sciences. So all the President would need to do if he wants to make this issue clear to the public is ask the Academy to give him a clear report on this subject, and the answer would be very clear.

AMY GOODMAN: The effect of the EPA now announcing that carbon, methane, that they are threats to public health? Can the EPA just start regulating regardless of Congress passing legislation?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, they can. But then, when we have a new election and a different party comes to power, that their ability to do that might be changed. And so, that’s why it’s preferable to have laws written by Congress and signed by the President. But in the absence of that, EPA can get us moving in the right direction. And they are beginning to do that, for example, in vehicle efficiencies.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the level of suppression of science in the United States. You personally experienced it. There was this exposé in the Times where you first were talking to Andrew Revkin and explaining what was happening under the Bush administration, and even before that, the suppression of your work when you testified before Congress to, what, Senator Al Gore at the time.

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah. There are two major problems. One is that the public affairs offices of the science agencies are headed by political appointees, and they tend to try to control the information that goes from the science agencies to the public, if it is a politically sensitive topic. In many topics, maybe 99 percent, there’s no interference. But when it becomes a sensitive issue, as it was with global warming, there is that tendency.

So the solution to that would be to have professionals, career civil servants, head the public affairs offices. Otherwise, they are offices of propaganda. And it still—it doesn’t matter which, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans; as soon as there’s an election, a change of the party in power, they replace the heads of these offices. So they’re still offices of propaganda, in my opinion.

The other thing is, is if a government scientist testifies to Congress, he has to first show his testimony to the White House. Doesn’t make sense. Why should Congress not get the best opinion of the scientists? This is a power which is just taken by the executive branch, and the Congress has not objected to it. Again, it doesn’t make sense, because the scientific—the scientists are paid by the public, so they shouldn’t be under the control of the White House. They should be free to give the best scientific advice they can.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a young man, twenty-four years old, named George Deutsch, put in charge of you as the top scientist over at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies under the Bush administration. It turned out he hadn’t graduated from college, whatever. He was determining who you got to talk to in the media, what information you were putting out? He was—

JAMES HANSEN: Well, that’s the way the story came out in the New York Times. And it sounded as if this low-level person was responsible for the censorship. He was reporting to the highest level at NASA headquarters, the head of the public affairs offices. So, in fact, this was the problem I just described. It’s the fact that the administration in power feels that it gets to control the information that goes to the public. It doesn’t make sense in a democracy. A democracy doesn’t work right if the public cannot be honestly informed.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel your work is being suppressed now? You still work with NASA.

JAMES HANSEN: No, I don’t feel that it’s being suppressed now. But the fundamental problem has not been solved, in that the heads of these offices are still political appointees. But I’ve been—ever since this issue became open during the Bush administration, I’ve been allowed to say what I want, because I think the bad publicity of any censorship is not worth it, so they’re not trying to control what I say.

AMY GOODMAN: You were reporting to the top people. It was not only the top people controlling what you had to say. You were meeting with Dick Cheney, the Vice President, you were meeting with Colin Powell, to warn them about global warming. What was their response?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, I had the opportunity at the beginning of the Bush administration to speak to the energy climate task force, which was headed by Vice President Cheney and which had six cabinet members plus the EPA administrator and the national security adviser on it. But what I learned was—and we, I think, gave them a clear story about the dangers in continuing greenhouse gas emissions, but the decisions on what the policies were made were made a couple of weeks before they listened to the science stories, as I discuss in one of the chapters in my book. So the policies were based on other considerations rather than the scientific information.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what do you think needs to happen right now?

JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, what needs to happen right now—we have this great opportunity this spring, I would say, to have discussions in the House and Senate about what really needs to be done to solve this problem. And it’s not cap and trade with offsets. We can prove that that’s completely ineffectual. What we have to do is put a price on carbon, and the money that’s collected needs to be given to the public, not used for boondoggles, like Congress is taking—plans to take the money from cap and trade that’s collected in selling the permits to pollute and to use that money for things like clean coal or to give the money back to the polluters. That won’t solve the problem. We have to give the money to the public.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the Obama administration in any way going in this direction?

JAMES HANSEN: I think it’s possible. There were a couple of encouraging things in Copenhagen. For one thing, Al Gore made a clear statement that a carbon price is a better solution than cap and trade. And John Kerry also indicated that he had an open mind on that question. So that’s why I say the discussions in the next few months are very important, because the way the United States goes is going to determine the way the world goes, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. Dr. James Hansen is our guest. He is author of Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity and one of the world’s leading climatologists.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Plants and animals will need to move at an average rate of a quarter of a mile a year to escape climate change over the course of this century

Animals 'on the run' from climate change

Plants and animals will need to move at an average rate of a quarter of a mile a year to escape climate change over the course of this century, according to scientists

The Telegraph, December 23, 2009

For species in flatter, low-lying regions such as deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas, the pace of the retreat could exceed more than half a mile a year, it is claimed.

Creatures and plants only able to tolerate a narrow range of temperatures will be most vulnerable, said the researchers.

Those unable to match the migration speeds needed to escape the effects of global warming could vanish into extinction.

Plants in almost a third of the habitats studied were thought to fall into this category, the scientists reported in the journal Nature.

Fragmentation by human development made the situation more perilous in some areas as it left many species with "nowhere to go."

The researchers combined data on climate and temperature variation worldwide with projections to calculate the "temperature velocity" for different habitats. This is a measure of how fast temperature zones are moving across the landscape as the planet warms -- and how quickly plants and animals will need to migrate to keep up.

The expected temperature velocity for the whole of the 21st century was 0.26 miles per year.
Author Dr Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California, said animals will be forced to migrate while many plants will die out.

"Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals. These are the conditions that will set the stage, whether species move or cope in place," he said.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joseph Romm gives Citizen Kane Award to 10 worst in climate science journalism

And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …

Citizen Kane

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, December 22, 2009

Okay, I think it’s pretty obvious to regular Climate Progress readers who the winner is.  Indeed, I was originally going to ask readers to vote on the winner from the top 10 list below — but it’d be like asking readers to vote for which major sports figure fell from grace farthest this year.  As always, though, I welcome your thoughts on the “winners” and any omissions.

I do a lot of media criticism, so I thought I would end the year with an award for the major media outlet and/or reporter who has moved furthest from journalistic excellence.  Next year I might name the award after this year’s winner, but for now, it’ll be named after Citizen Kane’s “Declaration of Principles,” which publisher Charles Foster Kane idealistically enunciated early on in the film classic, but later on “Without reading it, Kane tears it up, throws it into the wastebasket at his side.”  And no, I’m not including any of the “new media” in the list because none of them has even one-tenth the impact of any of the major media outlets on this list nor do most of them claim to be journalists.

And yes the entire media deserves a dishonorable mention for its generally poor coverage of climate science, politics, and economics this year:
Skipping the musical number I had prepared for the awards ceremony, let’s dive straight into the top ten list:

10.  Nicholas Dawidoff, the author of the NYT magazine cover profile on Freeman Dyson — not just because the piece was deeply flawed (the media does bad profiles all the time) but because the author apparently didn’t care:
9.  Fox News — just because they are dreadful on every subject doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be on this list:
8.  NYT’s John Tierney — the main reason he isn’t higher is that I’m not certain many people take him very seriously and his output level in print is on the low side (the second bullet below is actually from 12/26/08):
7.  David Broder — uninterested in the gravest problem of our time (except, that is, when he writes nonsense about it), and more interested in quick decisions, than right ones:
6.  Rush Limbaugh — a buffoon, yes, but his remarks in this case are far beyond the pale even for his brand of extremism:
5.  Newsweek — they win a special award for the single worst story of the year, and make the top 5 here because it turns out they’ve been selling access to the subjects of that story:
4.  Andy Revkin — ’nuff said:
3.  The New York Times — the so-called paper of record publishees Dawidoff and Revkin and Tierney and much, much more that is inexplicable:
2 & 1.  George Will and the editors of the Washington Post.  The two are, sadly, almost inseparable.  Will is #2 for his disinformation dysentery.  The Washington Post’s senior editors are, easily, the winner of Climate Progress’s first annual Citizen Kane award for giving George Will an un-fact-checked platform again and again (while making a travesty of their letters to the editor) — as well as Lomborg and Palin and many, many others.  On the climate issue, the Washington Post editors have, shamefully, abandoned journalism:
UPDATE:  One final note.  I am not comparing Broder and Revkin with Will and Limbaugh here, or the New York Times with Fox News.  That would be comparing apples and oranges or perhaps airplanes and oranges.  Individual rankings are based solely on an individual curve compared to where these outlets/journalists aspire.  It is precisely because the New York Times aspires much higher than everyone else, to be the so-called paper of record, that its myriad failings — despite much outstanding coverage and an excellent editorial/opinion page — give it such a high rank.