Saturday, April 11, 2009

Add State of the World 2009 to the Climate Change Syllabus

Here's a free copy of Robert Engelman's chapter on Sealing the Deal to Save the Climate.  State of the World Chapter 6  I'd suggest adding SOW2009, which is devoted to climate change, or perhaps Worldwatch's Climate Change Reference Guide  (table of contents below) to your climate change syllabus.  Bulk rates for the latter are $50 for 10 or $100 for 25; SOW is $ 20 a copy.  Both are available as PDF.

Worldwatch's Climate Change Reference Guide covers five areas of climate change essential to experts and novices alike:

  • Sources of Climate Change
  • Measuring Climate Change
  • Consequences of Greenhouse Gas Buildup
  • Climate Diplomacy
  • Climate Change Glossary of 39 Key Terms

Table of Contents:

Sources of Climate Change

  • Global Emissions of Greenhouse Gases
  • Greenhouse Gas Sources, by Sector

Measuring Climate Change

  • The Carbon Cycle
  • Carbon, Carbon Dioxide, and Carbon Dioxide Equivalents
  • Global Warming Potential of Selected Greenhouse Gases
  • Top 10 CO2-Emitting Nations, Total and Per Person, 2008
  • Top 10 CO2-Emitting Nations' Share of Global CO2 Emissions,


  • Concentration of CO2 in Earth's Atmosphere, 1744-2008

Consequences of Greenhouse Gas Buildup

  • Average Global Temperature at Earth's Surface, 1880-2008
  • Climate Tipping Elements
  • The 10 Warmest Years on Record, 1880-2008
  • Expected Impacts of an Unstable Climate by Geographic Area
  • Expected Impacts of an Unstable Climate on Fresh Water, Ecosystems,

Food and Agriculture, Health, and Coasts

  • Avoiding Dangerous Effects of Climate Change

Climate Diplomacy

  • The Diplomatic Road to Copenhagen

Climate Change Glossary

  • Glossary of 39 Key Terms for Understanding Climate Change

April 11, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

65% see current economic crisis as opportunity for sustainability

I was browsing at Worldwatch Institute and saw these results from their poll.  By the way, I voted for reengineering the energy system:

What opportunities for sustainability may emerge in 2009
because of the current economic crisis?

The world could get a respite from surging carbon emissions.
8% (312 votes)
Significant steps will be made to reengineer the energy system in order to create jobs.
32% (1288 votes)
People will buy less stuff, and generally produce less waste.
25% (987 votes)
Opportunities will actually be hindered because bad economic times put the environment low on policymakers’ agendas.
35% (1387 votes)
Total votes: 3974

April 11, 2009 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Foreign Affairs "syllabus" on Climate Change

This is Foreign Affairs "syllabus" on climate change compiled by David Victor of Stanford.  If you ever wondered whether the Council on Foreign Affairs is hopelessly mainstream and slightly behind-the-times, this provides a good basis for analysis.  Geo-engineering is prominently mentioned, but the 350 ppm issue isn't.  Oh well, at least it is solid evidence that climate change is regarded by the biggest E "establishment" as a "real" policy issue.  CFA syllabus

Climate change is one of today's most important and far-reaching policy challenges, destined to affect the planet's future in various ways for generations to come. Although research continues on its extent, its causes, and the appropriate responses, more than enough is already known for interested citizens to familiarize themselves with the situation and the relevant policy debates.

Climate Change: Crisis Guide. By the Council on Foreign Relations. 2008.

This interactive crisis guide offers a useful summary of scientific research on the causes of global climate change and an analysis of the practical issues surrounding efforts to devise solutions. It reviews the main sources of emissions and the economic and political issues involved in cutting them (a response known as "mitigation") and also discusses the many ways societies must ready themselves for a changing climate (a response known as "adaptation"). The site includes narratives by experts on the main topics as well as detailed links to all the major treaties, data sources, and a host of useful reports, including the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nicolas Stern's The Economics of Climate Change.

Bali Road Map, United Nations Climate Change Conference, 2007.
A summary of the Bali Road Map. By the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. 2007.

Fixing global warming will eventually require a global effort, since the main greenhouse gases are all global pollutants: they affect the world's climate regardless of where they're emitted. Moreover, because the pollutants are tied to energy -- the lifeblood of industrial economies -- countries are wary of enacting costly regulations unless their competitors make a comparable effort. This logic has led many to call for a global treaty, and the most visible diplomatic moves are pointed in that direction. The United Nations-sponsored Bali Road Map, crafted in 2007, lays out a framework for international negotiations that are slated to finish at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. Since the road map itself can be hard to parse, the Pew Center's summary of it is extremely useful. Pay particular attention to the deal struck between industrialized countries (which have caused most global warming to date and have the greater financial and administrative capabilities to do something about it) and developing countries (which are responsible for about half of the world's emissions and will soon account for much more).

Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World
. Edited by Joseph E. Aldy and Robert N. Stavins. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Purchase at B& | Purchase at

The Bali Road Map exists because the time has come to plan a replacement for the Kyoto treaty on global warming, which will expire in 2012. Not everyone, however, thinks that a binding global treaty is the best strategy. This collection explores a wide range of possible architectures for an effective climate-change agreement. Some of the authors defend a policy anchored, like Kyoto, in strict targets and timetables for regulating emissions because such an agreement would allow for a global system of emissions-credits trading. Others want to focus not on the quantity of emissions each country generates, but rather on how hard each country tries to control them -- measured, say, by the level of carbon taxes and other policies. Still others argue that global efforts are the wrong way to tackle the issue because they require too many countries with widely disparate interests to reach an agreement, and that better strategies could start with clubs of key members, such as the United States, China, India, and the European Union. A successor volume with the same editors, timed for the Copenhagen conference, will appear in 2009.

World Energy Outlook. By the International Energy Agency. 2008.
Facing the Hard Truths About Energy. By the National Petroleum Council. 2007.

Achieving deep cuts in emissions will require planning and building a new kind of world energy system. New technologies are needed so that fossil fuels can be burned for energy while yielding much lower emissions, and alternative systems may eventually be deployed that do not rely on fossil fuels at all. The energy system, overall, must also become a lot more efficient. With automobiles, for example -- from the oil wellhead to the eventual movement of wheels on the road -- perhaps 90 percent of the useful energy in a barrel of oil is wasted. These two studies outline the scale of the challenge and soberly assess the rate at which the system can change. The World Energy Outlook is published every year by the International Energy Agency; the 2008 edition deals with the oil markets and climate change, whereas the 2007 edition focuses on China and India, and the 2009 edition will center on the Copenhagen meeting. The National Petroleum Council report is the most recent independent and comprehensive look at the world's energy system, and it places special emphasis on the implications for U.S. policy. Among its conclusions is the need to integrate energy policy into trade, economic, environmental, security, and foreign policies.
"Geoengineering the Climate: History and Prospect." By David Keith. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25 (2000): pp. 245-84.
"Geoengineering Earth's Climate." By Ken Caldeira. Google Tech Talk, January 7, 2008.

What should happen if politicians fail to address the rise in emissions and the climate turns out to be very sensitive to the buildup of greenhouse gases? One answer is that societies must adapt, and under any scenario, quite a lot of adaptation will be needed. It might also be wise to develop an emergency option that could blunt some of climate change's catastrophic effects should they appear -- an option known as geoengineering, which could entail spritzing the stratosphere with reflective particles to cool the planet or other kinds of technological intervention. Although now a bit out of date, David Keith's 2000 essay remains the single best summary of the geoengineering idea. Keith outlines the major scientific concepts involved and offers a useful taxonomy for the many different types of geoengineering that have been proposed. He shows that the United States and the Soviet Union both had programs for weather modification during the Cold War that became starting points for thinking about engineering the climate, sparking discussions that did not lead to a sustained research effort but were part of a broader effort to master nature. Geoengineering is not a new idea, in other words, but an old one that is back in vogue today because some see it as a last-ditch way to address a climatic crisis. It raises tricky problems for diplomacy because no norms exist to govern its use and because, as with emissions, unilateral actions by individual nations could have global consequences. For a discussion of some of the research on geoengineering that has been done since Keith's article was published, watch Ken Caldeira's Google Tech Talk lecture.

April 11, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Elizabeth Royte's new blog -- more on bottled water than you'd ever want to know

Go visit Elizabeth Royte's new blog: Water. waste. and whatever   She's got more information on bottled water than anyone else in the world -- remember, she's the author of Bottlemania.

April 11, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Food and Drink, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Pacific Northwest Climate Change

Phillip Mote, head of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, recently spoke about likely effects of climate change in the Pacific Northwest.  WaterWired recapped his comments.  For those of us who live on either side of the Cascades, he didn't bring good news.  Be careful of buying property at the coast: sea level is rising.  The already soggy west folks can expect it to get soggier.  The snow lovers face declining winter snowpack.  For the already crackling dry denizens of the east can look forward to more frequent and intense forest fires.  And for salmon lovers everywhere, we will lose more salmon runs.  Here are his predictions:  

  1. some increase in annual precipitation but a decrease in winter snowpack, leading to summer water shortages;
  2. more frequent and intense forest fires;
  3. some additional loss of salmon runs, particularly in the inland Northwest; and
  4. rising sea levels, if we are very lucky, we could have as little as 8 inches, maybe as much as 26 feet, and if both Antarctic ice and Greenland ice melt, up to 48 feet.

April 11, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Early Spring by Amy Seidl - the everyday impacts of climate change

RealClimate has posted a fittingly poetic book review of Early Spring by Amy Seidl, entitled "Breaking the Silence about Spring."  Real Climate   The excerpts below make the case for reading the review and reading the book:

Did you know that in 1965 the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted a particular variety of lilac in      more than seventy locations around the U.S. Northeast, to detect the onset of spring — in turn to be used to determine the appropriate timing of corn planting and the like? The records the USDA have kept show that those same lilacs are blooming as much as two weeks earlier than they did in 1965. April has, in a very real sense, become May. This is one of the interesting facts that you’ll read about in Amy Seidl’s book, Early Spring, a hot-off-the-press essay about the impacts of climate change on the world immediately around us – the forest, the birds, the butterflies in our backyards.....

Amy Seidl is not the average person. Rather, she’s a trained ecologist with a Ph.D. (as well as an avid gardener) and she’s clearly paying extremely close attention. Her book is the first one I have read that effectively brings home the tangible impacts that global warming will have – is having – on our everyday lives. “We are increasingly familiar,” she writes, of images of melting glaciers, “but how do we give them relevance in our lives? From my window I see no glaciers.” She answers her own question with a series of vignettes, some from her own experiences, many more from her extensive research (well referenced throughout the book).

Cardinals, robins and cowbirds are all arriving earlier in Vermont than they did a century ago. Kingfishes, fox sparrows and towhees are not. Why the difference? The answer, as Seidl explains, is that the former group has the ability to respond ecologically to the changes, because these birds cue their arrival to temperature. The latter, it appears, respond more directly to temporal cues, that won’t change even as climate does. It’s obvious from this example that the make up of bird life in Vermont – the species distribution – will change over time. This may not necessarily be a bad thing of course. On the other hand, it turns out that the robins are the most important host for West Nile virus; the early bird gets the worm, so to speak, and passes it along to humans.....

There are many other examples in Early Spring both of clear climate-related changes (such as the early arrival of robins), and of less clear-cut changes (the maple sugaring season). Seidl doesn’t make the common mistake of assuming that the more ambiguous examples are necessarily due to climate change. For example, she quotes a maple-sugarer who points out that technological changes have allowed them to tap maples earlier, and hence that the timing of sugaring is a weak measure of climate change. The point though, is that even rather minor changes are, after all, being noticed. And if much larger changes do occur, as predicted, they will most certainly have impacts we can’t ignore, even if we don’t live in the Arctic or in Bangladesh. In other words, Seidl tells us, listen to the farmers and gardeners, and the observations of regular people: they are meaningful.....

The calm demeanor of Seidl’s book, and the very personal nature of it, could lead one to think that it is primarily just a philosophical reflection on the climate change story. Indeed, Bill McKibben, in his introduction to Early Spring, says that in the face of changes we may not be able to prevent, “one of our tasks is simply to bear witness”. Certainly, the book is partly that. But Seidl’s voice, like Rachel Carson’s before her, has the authentic and authoritative voice of a scientist, made all the more compelling for being very much rooted in the author’s own story and experiences. And she doesn’t pull punches when she has something definitive to say: “One thing is clear:” she writes, “we will not be able to manage the climate”.

Early Spring has the potential to be immensely influential, a real turning point in the popular appreciation of climate change impacts among laypersons and scientists alike. Read it.

April 11, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Refuge regulations limiting commercial fishing operations are not a taking

Palmyra Pacific Seafoods, L.L.C. v. U.S., No. 08-5058 (Fed. Cir. April 09, 2009) PDF

Yesterday, the Federal Circuit decided a takings case where the U.S. created a wildlife refuge around an island on which the plaintiff had acquired contractual rights to operate a base and pier for its commercial fishing operation. The refuge regulations prohibited commercial fishing within the refuge and allowed limited sports fishing to facilitate operation of a camp owned by the Nature Conservancy.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the
Court of Federal Claims' dismissal for failure to state a claim.  The Federal Circuit reasoned that the government's regulation of activities in the waters surrounding Palmyra may have adversely affected the value of plaintiff's contract rights, but did not take the contract rights themselves.  The plaintiff is left with an ability to fish beyond the 12 mile limit of the refuge.  Even if the government regulation targeted plaintiff's contract rights in order to promote the interests of another party, creation of the refuge and its regulations  still did not constitute a compensable taking as those actions regulated conduct in which plaintiff had no protected property interest.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity, Cases, Constitutional Law, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spotted Owl Taking a Dive

The Justice Department has signaled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revisit the northern spotted owl recovery plan and the reduced critical habitat designation issued last year at the end of the Bush administration. The Bush administration's plan opened 23 percent of 1.6 million acres designated as critical habitat in Oregon to increased logging.

The recovery plan may be too little, too late.  Even as the Fish and Wildlife Service revisits last year's controversial plan, there is scientific concern about whether the owls can recover in light of continued loss of habitat from logging, a shrinking gene pool in some areas, increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires due to climate change, and competition from barred owls invading spotted owl habitat. 

Northern Spotted Owl
  U.S. Geological Survey.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wildfire Future

Wildfire map

ScienceNOW Daily News reported today on the paper by Moritz, et al. analyzing global fire activity published on PLos ONE, which reports on the variability of probable wildfire impacts from climate change over the next 30 years.  About 20% of the world, including the southern United States, central Africa, and much of Canada, will see fewer fires.  About 10% of the world, including Scandanavia, the western United States, and the Tibetan plateau, will experience more wildfires.Science story on wildfires

April 10, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Global Warming Reduces Capacity of Ocean to Store Carbon

An article by Wohlers, et al. published yesterday on-line in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) indicates that increasing ocean temperatures associated with global warming reduce the ocean's capacity to serve as a carbon sink.  This establishes one of the positive feedback mechanisms that will accelerate global warming over time.Full text PDF: requires subscription   The abstract:

The pelagic ocean harbors one of the largest ecosystems on Earth. It is responsible for approximately half of global primary production, sustains worldwide fisheries, and plays an important role in the global carbon cycle. Ocean warming caused by anthropogenic climate change is already starting to impact the marine biota, with possible consequences for ocean productivity and ecosystem services. Because temperature sensitivities of marine autotrophic and heterotrophic processes differ greatly, ocean warming is expected to cause major shifts in the flow of carbon and energy through the pelagic system. Attempts to integrate such biological responses into marine ecosystem and biogeochemical models suffer from a lack of empirical data. Here, we show, using an indoor-mesocosm approach, that rising temperature accelerates respiratory consumption of organic carbon relative to autotrophic production in a natural plankton community. Increasing temperature by 2–6 °C hence decreased the biological drawdown of dissolved inorganic carbon in the surface layer by up to 31%. Moreover, warming shifted the partitioning between particulate and dissolved organic carbon toward an enhanced accumulation of dissolved compounds. In line with these findings, the loss of organic carbon through sinking was significantly reduced at elevated temperatures. The observed changes in biogenic carbon flow have the potential to reduce the transfer of primary produced organic matter to higher trophic levels, weaken the ocean's biological carbon pump, and hence provide a positive feedback to rising atmospheric CO2.

April 10, 2009 in Climate Change, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)