Friday, September 29, 2006

Stay the Same


I marvel at how we take in the almost daily news about climate change

and then shove it down into some compartment in the forgetting side

of our brains.

But sometimes, it bothers me that practically none of my friends

act like we actually need to do something to avoid a calamity.

Most of them just go on with their lives, hoping I guess,

that it will go away like Y 2 K.

Apparently, it's beginning to bother some smart people at MIT too.

Here's the story thanks to the Energy Bulletin.

A Dangerous Energy Climate

Panelists at the Emerging Technologies Conference voiced an urgent need for aggressive policies to promote energy efficiency, renewable power sources, and carbon sequestration.

Friday, September 29, 2006
Technology Review
By David Talbot

"The world's exploding energy demand--coupled with the growing risk of catastrophic rises in sea levels and climate change driven by greenhouse gases--create a singular challenge that demands urgent policy action, energy experts said at an MIT conference yesterday.

"If we don't throw everything we have at energy efficiency right now, and start to do things we know how to do right now [in fossil-fuel alternatives], we don't have a chance" of halting drastic planetary changes, said Nathan Lewis, a chemist at Caltech whose research interests include new solar-power materials. Lewis spoke yesterday as part of a panel on energy at the Emerging Technologies Conference.

Robert Armstrong, an MIT chemical engineer and associate director of the MIT Energy Initiative, said meeting a projected doubling of global energy demand in 50 years, while maintaining greenhouse-gas levels below twice preindustrial levels, would require adding another global energy infrastructure of today's scale--but with zero carbon-dioxide emissions.

Considering that, right now, around 86 percent of energy consumed by humans comes from fossil fuels, "certainly these are grand challenges," he said.

As a result, the world needs to massively implement conservation and efficiency measures, install renewable power sources, build new nuclear power plants, and sequester carbon dioxide underground, where possible, said Joseph Romm, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy and founder of the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions.

"Global warming is going to transform the lives of every single person in this room," he said.

"Within 20 years, if not 5 years, it will become the issue, the only issue.

It will require a massive redirection of capital."

Caltech's Lewis said the question has become one of risk management.

"If we don't cure cancer, the world will stay the same.

If we don't cure AIDS, the world will stay the same.

But if we don't solve this problem in the next 20 years,

from a scientific viewpoint,

the world is not ever going to be the same," he said. " more

Truth is, I don't want our world to stay the same.

I just wish we didn't have to change the outside world

just so we can change the insides of ourselves.

Perhaps it is just part of the necessary paradox,

If we stay the same,

it won't ever be the same.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Further global warming of 1 °C defines a
critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely
see changes that make Earth a different planet
than the one we know."

So says Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard
Institute for Space Studies in New York. Hansen
and colleagues have analysed global temperature
records and found that surface temperatures have
been increasing by an average of 0.2 °C every
decade for the past 30 years. Warming is greatest
in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere,
particularly in the sub-Arctic boreal forests of
Siberia and North America. Here the melting of
ice and snow is exposing darker surfaces that
absorb more sunlight and increase warming,
creating a positive feedback.

Earth is already as warm as at any time in the
last 10,000 years, and is within 1 °C of being
its hottest for a million years, says Hansen's
team. Another decade of business-as-usual carbon
emissions will probably make it too late to
prevent the ecosystems of the north from
triggering runaway climate change, the study
concludes (Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, vol 103, p 14288).

The analysis reinforces a series of recent
findings on accelerating environmental disruption
in Siberia, northern Canada and Alaska,
underlining a growing scientific consensus that
these regions are pivotal to climate change.
Earlier this month, NASA scientists reported that
climate change was speeding up the melting of
Arctic sea ice. Permanent sea ice has contracted
by 14 per cent in the past two years (Geophysical
Research Letters, vol 33, L17501). However,
warming and melting have been just as dramatic on
land in the far north.

A meeting on Siberian climate change held in
Leicester, UK, last week confirmed that Siberia
has become a hotspot of global climate change.
Geographer Heiko Balzter, of the University of
Leicester, said central Siberia has warmed by
almost 2 °C since 1970 - that's three times the
global average.

Meanwhile, Stuart Chapin of the University of
Alaska Fairbanks this week reported that air
temperatures in the Alaskan interior have risen
by 2 °C since 1950, and permafrost temperatures
have risen by 2.5 °C (Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, DOI:

In Siberia the warming is especially pronounced
in winter. "It has caused the onset of spring to
advance by as much as one day a year since
satellite observations began in 1982," says
Balzter. Similarly, Alaskan springs now arrive
two weeks earlier than in 1950, according to

The Leicester meeting heard that the rising
temperatures are causing ecological changes in
the forests that ratchet up the warming still
further. Vladimir Petko from the Russian Academy
of Sciences Forest Research Institute in
Krasnoyarsk says warm springs are triggering
plagues of moths. "They can eat the needles of
entire forest regions in one summer," he says.
The trees die and then usually succumb to forest
fires that in turn destroy soil vegetation and
accelerate the melting of permafrost, Petko says.

In 2003 Siberia saw a record number of forest
fires, losing 40,000 square kilometres according
to Balzter, who has analysed remote sensing
images of the region. Similar changes are
occurring in Alaska. According to Chapin, warming
there has shortened the life cycle of the bark
beetle from two years to one, causing huge
infestations and subsequent fires, which
destroyed huge areas of forest in 2004. "The
current boreal forest zone could be so dried out
by 2090 that the trees will die off and be
replaced by steppe," says Nadezhda Tchebakova,
also at the institute in Krasnoyarsk.

Melting permafrost in the boreal forests and
further north in the Arctic tundra is also
triggering the release of methane, a powerful
greenhouse gas, from thick layers of thawing
peat. First reports published exclusively in New
Scientist last year (13 August 2005, p 12) were
recently confirmed by US scientists (Nature, vol
443, p 71).

"Large amounts of greenhouse gases are currently
locked in the permafrost and if released could
accelerate the greenhouse effect," says Balzter.
Hansen's paper concludes that the effects of this
positive feedback could be huge. "In past eras,
the release of methane from melting permafrost
and destabilised sediments on continental shelves
has probably been responsible for some of the
largest warmings in the Earth's history," he says.

["The release of methane from melting permafrost
has been responsible for some of the largest
warmings in history"]

We could be close to unleashing similar events in
the 21st century, Hansen argues. Although the
feedbacks should remain modest as long as global
temperatures remain within the range of recent
interglacial periods of the past million years,
outside that range - beyond a further warming of
about 1 °C - the feedbacks could accelerate. Such
changes may become inevitable if the world does
not begin to curb greenhouse gas emissions within
the next decade, Hansen says.

Meanwhile, another new study underlines that the
boreal peat bogs, permafrost and pine forests are
not just vital to the planet as a whole, they are
major economic assets for the countries that host
them. A detailed study of the northern boreal
forests by environmental consultant Mark Anielski
of Edmonton, Canada, puts the value of their
"ecosystem services" at $250 billion a year, or
$160 per hectare.

["The value of the services this ecosystem
performs is more than twice that of the resources
taken from the region each year"]

These benefits include flood control, water
purification and pest control provided by forest
birds, plus income from wilderness tourism and
meat from wildlife such as caribou. Anielski
presented his findings to Canada's National
Forest Congress in Gatineau-Ottawa earlier this

The value of these ecosystem services is more
than twice that of conventional resources taken
from the region each year, such as timber,
minerals, oil and hydroelectricity, Anielski
says. "If they were counted in Canadian
inventories of assets, they would amount to
roughly 9 per cent of our gross domestic product
- similar in value to our health and social

You can add to that figure the value of having
such a huge volume of carbon locked away. "The
boreal region is like a giant carbon bank
account," he says. "At current prices in the
European carbon emissions trading system,
Canada's stored carbon alone would be worth $3.7

And if Hansen is right that the carbon and
methane stored in the boreal regions has the
potential to transform the world into "another
planet", then the boreal region may be worth a
great deal more than that.

From issue 2571 of New Scientist magazine, 27 September 2006, page 8-9

Posted by Tim

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:35 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

Thanks for the comment,Tim.

Since it duplicated, I took one out.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Charlie Loving said...

It is not that we don't care about this it is that we feel so helpless since the problem is so great. It is so scary that I think I will hide in the closet.

5:55 AM  

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