Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Global cooling hits Greece

Flights to Athens international airport were grounded on Sunday and more than 25 Greek villages were cut off after heavy snowfalls, which disrupted traffic as far south as the island of Crete. The snowstorm, the result of two cold fronts moving south from Russia and Scandinavia, struck Athens on Sunday, covering the Parthenon and the temple of Zeus in white. Some train and bus routes were cancelled, with snow ploughs struggling to keep main highways open. Flights to and from Athens international airport were grounded at least until 0100 GMT on Monday because of poor visibility, which was at less than 100 metres.

Temperatures in Athens remained at zero degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) while around the country temperatures ranging between minus 5C and minus 15C were reported. In the northern town of Trikala fire brigade officials rescued stranded passengers after their car stalled in an isolated part of town.

"We expect the storm to start weakening from the early hours of Monday," said meteorologist Panagiotis Yannopoulos at national weather service EMY. "By tomorrow afternoon it will be over."

More than 25 villages were reported to be cut off around Greece, many on the island of Evia. Several villages were also snowed in on the Peloponnese peninsula and as far south as the island of Crete.

Traffic piled up on some highways after cars slid off the road. Roads in various parts of the country remained closed. Heavy trucks were banned for the next 24 hours and authorities said they would close schools on Monday in various regions.


Heavy snow forces record closing of Kansas City airport

Heavy snow and slush closed the Kansas City International Airport for almost six hours, the longest in its 35-year history.

The closing Sunday led to the canceling of dozens of flights.Airport spokesman Joe McBride said the airport's runways were closed around 6:30 a.m. when friction testing showed conditions were too slick to safely operate aircraft. "A 150 mph aircraft hydroplaning is not a good thing," McBride said.

As of 10 a.m., the airport had registered 4 inches of snow. McBride said that the airport has closed only a few times in its history and never for more than four hours. Kansas City International sees about 440 flights a day.


Harsh and snowy winter prompts Colorado to feed starving deer for only 3rd time in 25 years

Because of a harsh and snowy winter, wildlife managers will start feeding starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time in almost 25 years.

The consistent, heavy snowfall that's been so good for the ski slopes has covered up the small plants and shrubs, like sage brush, that deer eat in the winter. Deer don't store as much fat as elk, so those plants that poke up through the snow are vital to their survival.

Now, the deer are hungry enough to start stripping juniper trees, which have almost no nutrition. It's a sure sign of desperation, says Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.The Division of Wildlife will only consider feeding animals if there's a chance more than 30 percent of adult female deer will die in a winter. This has only happened in the winters of 1983-1984 and 1996-1997, and it looks like that could happen.

So, deer will be feed at 20 locations around Eagle and Wolcott, and the Division of Wildlife will need volunteers and money to do it, Hampton said. The feed alone will cost around $120,000.TrappedNo matter how mild a winter may be, cold weather is always tough for animals. "Some animals will always die during winter, typically the very young, the very old, and the ones that may be sick," Hampton said.

But for the past 12 years, many of these deer haven't experienced a truly tough Colorado winter, Hampton said. So, when deer seek out those mountain valleys where they've found winter food in the past, they've found almost nothing this year and are often trapped in these valleys by towering snow drifts.

When the deer aren't trapped, they'll be venturing past their comfort zones looking for food, which means they'll be coming closer to roads, homes and humans. Seeing a starving, bony deer can be an unsettling sight to many people, Hampton said. "Some people are upset by it, and others understand it, but at that point, there's not much we can do about it," Hampton said.


Comment on the above by Prof. Tim Ball below:

In the late 18th century Vienna closed the city gates for the first time to keep out marauding packs of wolves attacking citizens on the streets because there was a paucity of game in the forests.

This idea of interfering with nature is problematic and shows lack of understanding of the extreme degree to which animal populations fluctuate naturally. The fallacy is that animal populations are relatively stable. I ran into this problem when doing an extensive study on the impact of hydrolelectric dams on nature and the aboriginal communities of the area.

Arctic ice regrowing

There's an upside to the extreme cold temperatures northern Canadians have endured in the last few weeks: scientists say it's been helping winter sea ice grow across the Arctic, where the ice shrank to record-low levels last year. Temperatures have stayed well in the -30s C and -40s C range since late January throughout the North, with the mercury dipping past -50 C in some areas.

Satellite images are showing that the cold spell is helping the sea ice expand in coverage by about 2 million square kilometres, compared to the average winter coverage in the previous three years. "It's nice to know that the ice is recovering," Josefino Comiso, a senior research scientist with the Cryospheric Sciences Branch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, told CBC News on Thursday. "That means that maybe the perennial ice would not go down as low as last year."

Canadian scientists are also noticing growing ice coverage in most areas of the Arctic, including the southern Davis Strait and the Beaufort Sea. "Clearly, we're seeing the ice coverage rebound back to more near normal coverage for this time of year," said Gilles Langis, a senior ice forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa.

The cold is also making the ice thicker in some areas, compared to recorded thicknesses last year, Lagnis added. "The ice is about 10 to 20 centimetres thicker than last year, so that's a significant increase," he said. If temperatures remain cold this winter, Langis said winter sea ice coverage will continue to expand. But he added that it's too soon to say what impact this winter will have on the Arctic summer sea ice, which reached its lowest coverage ever recorded in the summer of 2007.

That was because the thick multi-year ice pack that survives a summer melt has been decreasing in recent years, as well as moving further south. Langis said the ice pack is currently located about 130 kilometres from the Mackenzie Delta, about half the distance from where it was last year.


Decimation of the polar bear: bearfaced lies?

A leading expert in forecasting says research into the impact of climate change on polar bears has been shockingly shoddy

Despite the steady growth of the polar bear population over the past 40 years - it now stands between 20,000 and 25,000 - there is no shortage of doom-laden reports about the bears' imminent demise on our warming planet. Some refer to polar bears as the `canaries of climate change'. Indeed, so strong is the misery-mongering about polar bears that the US is currently trying to list them as an endangered species; and its campaign has been aided and abetted by several pieces of US government-sponsored research into polar bear numbers. Yet according to experts in the field of forecasting methods, official rumours of the polar bear's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The forecasters' claims cast a very different light on the prevailing consensus on the inevitable decimation of the polar bear population. Towards the end of 2006, Senator Kempthorne, secretary for the United States Department of the Interior, announced America's plans to list `this Great Icon of the Arctic' as an endangered species (1). This assumed that rising temperatures were causing the polar bears' Arctic habitat to `literally melt away'. However, assumptions do not - well, not yet anyway - provide sufficient grounds for public policy. So, in order to support its case, the Department of the Interior commissioned the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to research the effect climate change would have on the Arctic region. And with this, they surmised, they could predict the future of the polar bear, too.

The conclusions were unequivocal. Steven Amstrup of the USGS Alaska Science Centre, co-author of one of the commissioned reports, stated: `As the sea ice goes, so goes the polar bear.' (2) Since then, matters have continued apace, and this January the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works convened to examine `Threats and Protection for the Polar Bear'. However, despite the best efforts of the pro-listing lobby, there is just one problem: the methods used to divine the fate of the polar bear due to climate change are not very scientific.

So argues Scott Armstrong, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, Kesten Green, senior research fellow at Monash University, and Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at Harvard, in a report commissioned by the State of Alaska: Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public-Policy Forecasting Audit. As international experts in forecasting methods, they examined the two main reports commissioned by the US Department of the Interior and failed to find `a single climate modelling procedure which was consistent with scientific methods' (3). On 30 January 2008, they presented their findings to the US Senate Committee (see their presentation here).

Armstrong and his colleagues are no strangers to controversy. Last summer, they launched the `Global Warming Challenge', betting Al Gore $10,000 that over the next 10 years global temperatures would remain about the same (see Put your money where your myth is, by Brendan O'Neill ). But while they are not averse to taking a contrarian line, this is not what drives them. As their audit makes clear, the forecasting principles contravened by the Department of the Interior reports are not esoteric points only of interest to mathematical pedants; rather, the Department contravened principles that are the scientific equivalent of common sense. For instance, according to Armstrong, the government-sponsored reports failed to `conduct experiments to evaluate forecasts,' `be conservative in situations of high uncertainty or instability', or `ensure that information is reliable and that measurement error is low'. These are just some of the 41 principles of scientific forecasting contravened.

If climate itself is difficult enough to predict, then attempting to predict the effect it will have on the polar bears' habitat is doubly so. Moreover, the interactions between the polar bear and their environment add another set of variables to an already confusing whirl of possible scenarios. It is unsurprising, then, that a chain of assumptions compensate for the want of unambiguous evidence. This chain runs something like this: global warming will occur; summer sea ice will reduce and thin; polar bears will obtain less food by hunting from the sea ice than they do now; there will be no supplementary food; the polar bear population will decline; the endangered species act will help; and no other policies would prove as effective.

Such a causal whitewash occludes factors that should temper the wilder assertions of forecasting. For instance, the pro-listing Amstrup report fails to consider the species' sheer adaptability. Having evolved from brown bears some 250,000 years ago, in that time, polar bears have experienced arctic conditions much warmer than they are now. As Amstrong told spiked: `Polar bears are adaptable - they've been around 250,000 years. They'll keep figuring things out.'

Or take the forecasting imperative to `be conservative in situations of high uncertainty or instability', an imperative that the government-sponsored researchers also ignored. Assuming that higher temperatures will lead to a decline in the polar bear population ignores the fact that lower temperatures have also had the same effect: for example, an abnormally high ice coverage during 1973-74 led to a fall in the polar bear population. Regional variability also sheds light on the difficulty of distinguishing correlation from causation. The Antarctic ice mass, for example, has actually been growing while the sea and air temperature has been increasing. At the same time, the depth-averaged oceanic temperature around the Southeastern Bering Sea has been cooling in 2006. And despite warming of local air temperatures by approximately 1.6 degrees the continental shelf of Canadian Beaufort Sea has seen no sharp decline in area. Such variability, indeed, uncertainty as to the precise environmental outcome of climatic changes has simply been eschewed in the reports Armstrong et al audited.

This gloomy prognosis for the polar bear is not surprising, however, when one considers that the secretary of the Interior employed the USGS to generate models to support the US Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the polar bear. In short, the science was always driven by political imperatives. Results that failed to lend unambiguous support to the desired outcome were always to be avoided. This indicates the role that science can play in political debate today. It becomes that which cannot be doubted, an instruction handed down from on high. In this context, the science always says `Thou shalt.'

But what of the object of all this research? Why has the polar bear itself become so politically significant? According to Armstrong `it's such an emotional issue - people just think what nice beautiful animals they are'. Indeed, as Armstrong told spiked, during the Senate Committee meeting, Senator Barbara Boxer, a key sponsor of the legislation, backed up her constant citation of the Amstrup report with one main ploy: pictures of polar bears. When invocation of the `science' fails to compel agreement, try emotional blackmail. Polar bears, the poster boys for man-made climate change, have come to symbolise man's degradation of the environment. Their plight acts as a contemporary morality play: that something so majestic, so beautiful can be brought so low shows the extent of man's unthinking folly.

Armstrong demands a slightly more robust attitude to fluctuations in the polar bear population. `The Eskimos regard it as "things change", that it's just the way things are', he says. From those who are used to hunting polar bears, such a lack of sentimentality is perhaps to be expected. We should also call for less sentimentality in the broader debate about climate change and the future of the planet.


New York Times warns fluorescent bulb 'dangers are real and growing'

Forgive me while I laugh. Did I ever say before that there's no such thing as a happy Greenie?

Across the world, consumers are being urged to stop buying outdated incandescent light bulbs and switch to new spiral fluorescent bulbs, which use about 25 percent of the energy and last 10 times longer. In Britain, there is a Ban the Bulb movement. China is encouraging the change. And the United States Congress has set new energy efficiency standards that will make Edison's magical invention obsolete by the year 2014.

Now, the question is how to dispose of these compact fluorescent bulbs once they break or quit working. Unlike traditional light bulbs, each of these spiral bulbs has a tiny bit of a dangerous toxin - around five milligrams of mercury. And although one dot of mercury might not seem so bad, almost 300 million compact fluorescents were sold in the United States last year. That is already a lot of mercury to throw in the trash, and the amounts will grow ever larger in coming years.

Businesses and government recyclers need to start working on more efficient ways to deal with that added mercury. Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is raising the cry about the moment when millions of these light bulbs start landing in landfills or incinerators all at once. The pig in the waste pipeline, she calls it.

Even when warned, public officials are never great at planning. [Rare wisdom from the NYT] The Environmental Protection Agency now focuses mostly on the disposal of one bulb at a time. If you break a fluorescent bulb, there is no need to call in the hazmat team, the agency says. Just clean it up quickly with paper (no vacuuming or brooms), keep the kids away and open the window for a 15-minute douse of fresh air. Tuck the debris into a plastic sack and, if there is no special recycling nearby, discard it in the regular trash.

Interestingly, one of the main reasons to use these bulbs is that when they cut down on energy use, they also cut down on mercury emissions from power plants. And even with their mercury innards, these bulbs are still better for the environment than the old ones.

For all that good, the dangers are real and growing. It is time to find more efficient ways of recycling these fluorescents or, better yet, to invent light bulbs that don't leave a toxic hangover.



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1 comment:

OBloodyHell said...

I find most people are utterly ignorant of the mercury issue with flourescent bulbs.

There is literally no effort to inform or advise people of the tradeoffs between floro and incandescent, and there should be. The tradeoffs are distinct and fluoros are not suitable for all usages.

There are also a lot of circumstances where the fluoro bulbs are likely NOT better, assuming they are similar to larger fluoro bulbs (I have never seen anyone comment on this, but I remember discussions with physics professors waaay back when about the differences).

Historically, at least, fluoro bulbs use up less power *only* when they have been on for a length of time -- I've heard five to fifteen minutes -- so they are generally not good for them to be the only light sources in bathrooms and kitchens, where lights can be on and off quickly as you go in to fetch something and then leave. Bathrooms and kitchens should have both types -- one switched by the entry ways (incandescent), and one switched in the middle of the room for sustained presence.

I'd assume the same is true of the smaller bulbs -- that they use less electricity only when on for more than a few minutes, and so should not be placed in constant on-off situations.

I'd like to see more on this, frankly, but that's clearly much, much too complex for anyone to actually be advised on, innit? God forbid anyone should be allowed to make their own informed decisions.