Thursday, March 27, 2008

Misleading Reports About Antarctica

The OVERALL ice cover in the Antarctic is in fact increasing. See graphic below

Last year when Antarctic set a new record for ice extent, it got no media attention. They focused on the north polar regions where the ice set record low levels. This summer when unprecedented anomalous cover continued in the Southern Hemisphere again no coverage. Then this report in the news today. You probably saw it on your favorite network or internet news site (pick one, anyone).
Vast Antarctic Ice Shelf on Verge of Collapse - Latest Sign of Global Warming's Impact Shocks Scientists

A vast ice shelf hanging on by a thin strip looks to be the next chunk to break off from the Antarctic Peninsula, the latest sign of global warming's impact on Earth's southernmost continent. Scientists are shocked by the rapid change of events. Glaciologist Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado was monitoring satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and spotted a huge iceberg measuring 25 miles by 1.5 miles (37 square miles) that appeared to have broken away from the shelf. Scambos alerted colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that it looked like the entire ice shelf - about 6,180 square miles (about the size of Northern Ireland)- was at risk of collapsing. The region where the Wilkins Ice Shelf lies has experienced unprecedented warming in the past 50 years, with several ice shelves retreating in the past 30 years. Six of these ice shelves have collapsed completely: Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and the Jones Ice Shelf.

Lets put this in perspective. The account may be misinterpreted by some as the ice cap or a significant (vast) portion is collapsing. In reality it and all the former shelves that collapsed are small and most near the Antarctic peninsula which sticks well out from Antarctica into the currents and winds of the South Atlantic and lies in a tectonically active region with surface and subsurface active volcanic activity. The vast continent has actually cooled since 1979.

The full Wilkins 6,000 square mile ice shelf is just 0.39% of the current ice sheet (just 0.1% of the extent last September). Only a small portion of it between 1/10th-1/20th of Wilkins has separated so far, like an icicle falling off a snow and ice covered house. And this winter is coming on quickly. In fact the ice is returning so fast, it is running an amazing 60% ahead (4.0 vs 2.5 million square km extent) of last year when it set a new record. The ice extent is already approaching the second highest level for extent since the measurements began by satellite in 1979 and just a few days into the Southern Hemisphere winter and 6 months ahead of the peak. Wilkins like all the others that temporarily broke up will refreeze soon. We are very likely going to exceed last year's record. Yet the world is left with the false impression Antarctica's ice sheet is also starting to disappear.


The hot air of hypocrisy

The European Union summit reveals plenty of hypocrisy over climate-change targets

Demand agreement on a divorce settlement before you marry, and the world may believe many things of you: that you are prudent, or cynical, or just a bit mean. What it will not believe is that you are a swooning romantic, moved only by the high ideals of love. You can boast you are an idealist, in other words, or you can make a pre-nuptial agreement: you cannot plausibly do both.

Just such a test faced European Union leaders at their recent summit, when they reviewed their year-old plan to lead the world in the fight against climate change. A year ago they were brimming with selfless idealism. They agreed to make deep cuts in carbon emissions (by a fifth from 1990 levels by 2020), even if other rich countries did not follow. The signal was clear: Europe will start saving the planet now, even if the selfish Americans (not to mention the Chinese and Indians) are not ready. Bigger cuts were promised if other countries joined in, prompting much self-congratulatory talk about the EU's "leading role".

That was then. A year on, with the world economy looking wobblier, the March summit was a less uplifting affair. Leaders from countries with powerful heavy-industry lobbies called for explicit measures to "protect" European firms in case talks on a global climate-change deal failed (and left the Europeans pushing ahead with tough curbs on their own). In a move that would make an American divorce lawyer proud, Germany, France, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic all asked the EU to plan for failure, insisting that defensive measures must be agreed before climate-change talks in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

Demanding "certainty" today for businesses that have to make long-term investment decisions, the heads of governments also asked for a list of energy-intensive industries "particularly exposed to international competition". Industries making steel, aluminium, paper, chemicals and bricks were all cited, as were others such as cement that are barely touched by imports (being cheap and heavy, cement is usually produced round the corner from where it is used).

EU leaders then asked for a range of protective policies to be spelled out. Germany backed a carve-out for the most energy-guzzling factories, giving them continued access to free carbon credits from the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS) after 2012, by which time other polluters will mostly be buying emissions allowances at auction. The worst idea came from France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who renewed calls for a carbon tax on imports from countries that "don't play the game" on climate change. The European Commission should find a way to "penalise" companies from such countries, he added-blithely ignoring the existence of firms that come from more than one country, source components from a dozen more and manufacture on every continent. Otherwise, he said, Europe would "get all the downsides [of fighting climate change], and none of the benefits". Other than the benefit of saving the planet, one might retort: the project in which Europe claims a "leading" role.

Others were more subtle than Mr Sarkozy, but even more hypocritical, dressing up calls for handouts as concern for the world. Endless bigwigs said heavy industry would move to countries with "lower standards" unless helped to stay (by letting factories observe, er, lower standards). This argument even has its own jargon: "carbon leakage", an ugly term gaining currency in Euro-circles, to convey the threat that carbon-spewing firms might move to places with weaker environmental laws.

Advocates of special favours for EU industry insist that factory owners will still have an incentive to install clean technology, because "free" ETS allowances will not really be free. They may be accompanied by benchmarks-eg, setting maximum carbon emissions for every tonne of steel produced-with free allowances given only to firms that meet the standard (and then only within a sector-wide cap). Another suggestion is to make importers enter the ETS and buy European emissions allowances to cover their products (though squaring this idea with fixed Europe-wide caps on allowances sounds a nightmare).

Yet listen to European industrialists, and they are saying something simpler: they may leave if carbon curbs make it more competitive to produce elsewhere. One can play with the details, but if carbon curbs bite at all, such a threat must remain. If they do not bite, it is hard to see how European production will become magically greener. (There is also the small detail, raised by countries such as Sweden, that investment may actually be more effective outside the EU: building a clean new plant in China to replace a Mao-era horror might reduce global emissions more than tweaking technology at a European factory, say).

As usual the summit ended in a fudge, after the dangers of pre-empting a global deal were pointed out forcefully by leaders from Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain and the European Commission. The commission will "analyse" and "address" carbon leakage in a directive on the next generation of the ETS, coming out in early 2009. But details remain vague.

Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, insisted that the summit was "not calling into question" last year's headline targets. One might wonder. As one senior official notes, if Europe lets favoured industries fight Chinese or Indian rivals with a "race to the bottom" on emissions, that means other bits of the economy must slash emissions even more, if Europe means what it says on overall caps. There was much talk in Brussels of ensuring a "level playing-field" for EU industries. But here is the rub: if you do the right thing, you will not be on a level playing-field with those doing the wrong thing. Like marriage, fighting climate change involves a leap of faith. Does Europe accept that? Like a blushing bride suddenly demanding a pre-nup, it is sending out rather mixed signals right now.



Japan will push for an easier target for reducing greenhouse gases in the next international pact on global warming than in the previous one, a top bureaucrat said Monday. The Kyoto global warming pact requires nations to cut emissions below 1990 levels, but critics say that is too difficult because emissions in many countries have risen dramatically since then. Instead, Japan will push to set the base year for 2005 in an agreement that is meant to take effect when Kyoto expires in 2012, said Takao Kitabata, vice-minister of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Kitabata argued 1990 levels are too easy to meet for industrial nations of the European Union, which has absorbed Eastern European countries whose emissions dropped in the 1990s. The EU backs continuing with 1990 as the base year. "Comparisons with 1990 levels are extremely unfair, and that is the Japanese government's stance," Kitabata told reporters. "It would be fair to set 2005 as the base year." Kitabata, the top bureaucrat at the ministry, also argued that Japan accepted unfairly tough conditions in the Kyoto accord in 1997. He called for a more equitable burden-sharing in the next pact. "What happened in Kyoto was that we were forced to swallow disadvantageous conditions for diplomatic reasons," he said.

Kitabata also said that having 1990 as the base year "would be also difficult to obtain support from China, India and other emerging nations because that would be an enormous burden for them."

The Kyoto Protocol requires 36 industrialized countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The United States is the only major industrialized nation to have remained outside Kyoto, arguing that such cuts would hurt its economy. Washington also says the pact is unfair because it doesn't oblige major emitters such as China to make reductions.

Japan is struggling to meet its Kyoto obligation of 6 percent cuts. While Tokyo has called for cutting global emissions by 50 percent by 2050, it has not yet set a firm base year for such cuts.

Nations have agreed at U.N.-led talks to put together a new climate change agreement by 2009 to take effect when Kyoto ends in 2012. The United States and Japan are calling on China and other emerging emitters to assume a greater burden for reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, but developing countries say wealthy countries should take more responsibility because they industrialized first.



It's obviously not their real priority

They like their weird analogies at Gristmill. The latest comes from scientist and Green oracle Joseph Romm, in an introduction to a tirade about geo-engineering by guest poster Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project: "Geo-engineering is to mitigation as chemotherapy is to diet and exercise"

Weird. Because chemotherapy is rather more useful than diet and exercise when it comes to, say, curing someone of cancer. It's even weirder for the fact that Gristmill's last weird analogy, by Romm's fellow scientist and Green oracle Andrew Dessler, likened the planet to a sick child in need of expert medical advice. Romm, it seems, would rather turn Dessler's sick child over to some TV nutritionist to get them jogging and eating more broccoli.

The thrust of Becker's piece is that the planet might be screwed, but that efforts to mitigate global warming through geo-engineering - giant mirrors in space, the injection of aerosols into the atmosphere, carbon sequestration, seeding oceans with iron oxide, and that sort of thing - are unethical and impractical. "Intergenerational ethics argue against us leaving massive, intractable problems for future generations, forcing them to deal in perpetuity with nuclear waste, carbon sequestration sites, and geo-engineering systems - all subject to human error and to failures that would be deadly."

Apparently, however, leaving future generations without infrastructure and energy supplies to withstand the ravages of future climate, is perfectly acceptable. Moreover, it's hard to imagine any human endeavour - apart from jogging and eating broccoli, perhaps - that would meet Becker's ethical criteria. Ultimately Becker's is an argument against progress, because pretty much all human activity is geo-engineering. As William M. Briggs puts it, "It is trivially true that man, and every other organism, influences his environment, and hence his climate." And as Becker continues, his antipathy towards humanity's efforts to improve its lot shines through: "Think of dams and levees designed to control rivers so that people can live in natural floodplains - sometimes with disastrous results ... Geo-engineering is born of the dangerous conceit that human engineering is superior to nature's engineering ... Lacking regard for natural systems, we have upset them ... we lack humility."

The Greens' resistance to geo-engineering sits very uncomfortably with its message that the planet is screwed and we're all going to die. It suggests that Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations. It suggests that they don't actually believe their own press releases, and that they know the situation is not as dire as they would like the rest of us to think it is. And that Environmentalists are cutting off their noses to spite their faces - "we'll save the planet our way or not at all." It suggests that Environmentalists regard science and engineering as the cause of problems, and not the solution.

"Even if [geo-engineering] were able to stabilize climate change - which is doubtful ... We still would be addicted to imported oil, still would be subsidizing terrorism with our gas dollars, still would suffer the cost and supply traumas that are inevitable with finite resources, still would send our children off to die in resource wars, still would pollute the air and cause respiratory problems for our children, and still would wipe out species, many of them beneficial to us, as we invade their habitat."

As if reducing CO2 emissions would stabilise the climate. The weather will continue to pick off those who are not buffered against it regardless of whether climate change predictions are realised or not. As if a stable climate would prevent resource wars or global terrorism. If anything creates resource shortages, Environmentalism does. Indeed, by drawing on the dangers of terrorism to justify environmental politics, Becker merely demonstrates how Environmentalism and the War on Terror are united in their deployment of the Politics of Fear.

There are good reasons to think that geo-engineering cannot stabilise the climate either. Control of the climate might well be too much to ask of a strategy that manipulates a single variable in a hugely complex system. And yet the tweaking of a single variable - CO2 emissions - is precisely what the Greens are demanding.

Contrary to Romm's analogy, the Greens' efforts to save the planet are far more like chemotherapy than diet and exercise. After all, it is the Greens who liken humanity to a plague, virus or a cancer infecting planet Earth. And their insistence that we batten down the hatches, tread lightly on the Earth, ration our energy and bow to the superiority of Mother Nature would leave us even more vulnerable to her whims than we are already. Engineering fixes for global warming are, says Becker, "born of desperation". Quite possibly. But what he should be asking himself is who created the climate of desperation in the first place.


Global warming: Just deal with it, some scientists say

The 'non-skeptic heretic club' says it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change. Critics say the flaw in the theory is that the effects will be unpredictable

The disastrous hurricanes of recent years have become the poster children of global warming. But Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental policy expert at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wondered whether the billions of dollars of damage were caused by more intense storms or more coastal development. After analyzing decades of hurricane data, Pielke concluded that rising levels of carbon dioxide had little to do with hurricane damage. Rather, it boiled down to a simple equation: Build more, lose more. "Everything has been put on the back of carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide cannot carry that weight," he said.

Pielke's analysis, published last month in the journal Natural Hazards Review, is part of a controversial movement that argues global warming over the rest of this century will play a much smaller role in unleashing planetary havoc than most scientists think. His research has led him to believe that it is cheaper and more effective to adapt to global warming than to fight it. Instead of spending trillions of dollars to stabilize carbon dioxide levels across the planet -- an enormously complex and expensive proposition -- the world could work on reducing hunger, storm damage and disease now, thereby neutralizing some of the most feared future problems of global warming.

Hans von Storch, director of the Institute of Coastal Research in Germany, said that the world's problems were already so big that the added burdens caused by rising temperatures would be relatively small. It would be like going 160 kilometers per hour on the autobahn when "going 150 . . . is already dangerous," he said.

Consider a United Nations estimate that global warming would increase the number of people at risk of hunger from 777 million in 2020 to 885 million by 2080, a 14% rise, if current development patterns continue. That increase could be counteracted by spending on better irrigation systems, drought-resistant crops and more-efficient food transport systems, said Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in England. "If you're really concerned about drought, those are much more effective strategies than trying to bring down greenhouse gas concentrations," he said.

Downplaying the importance of emissions reductions has raised hackles among scientists around the world, who say that the planet-wide effects of global warming will eventually go beyond humans' ability to deal with it. "You can't adapt to melting the Greenland ice sheet," said Stephen H. Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University. "You can't adapt to species that have gone extinct."

Other scientists say that time is running out to control carbon dioxide emissions and that the call to adapt is providing a potentially dangerous excuse to delay. If adaptation were so simple, they say, it would have already been done. But the developing world remains wrought with hunger and disease and vulnerable to natural disasters.

Pielke acknowledges that there are enormous political hurdles to overcome with his strategy, and he recognizes that his views have made him and like-minded researchers the new pariahs of global warming. "I've been accused of taking money from Exxon or being a right-wing hack," he said. But unlike those who argue that humans are not warming the globe, the new skeptics accept the scientific consensus on the causes and effects of climate change. Their differences are over what to do about it. "The radical middle -- that's how we talk about ourselves," said Daniel Sarewitz, a public policy expert at the Arizona State University who has collaborated with Pielke on climate policy studies.

Pielke, whose career has focused on the politics of science, likes to describe the scattered collection of scientists and policy wonks as the "non-skeptic heretic club." The science of global warming was laid out in a series of reports last year by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. The reports said that temperatures were likely to climb 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by century's end if emissions continued to grow. They detailed a likely future of worsening famine in Africa, expanding floods as sea levels rise as much as 23 inches, and accelerating species extinction. To avoid the worst, the reports warned that emissions must be reduced 50% to 80% by mid-century, keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees. The cost, according to the U.N. panel, would amount to as much as 3% of world gross domestic product over the next 20 years, or more than $20 trillion.

The heretics support emissions cuts too, but warn that they have been oversold as a solution to coming catastrophe. Exhibit A is hurricanes. The spate of recent storms, particularly Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has come to be seen as a harbinger of a warmer world -- a view popularized by Gore's 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." Pielke's new analysis considered 207 hurricanes that hit the United States between 1900 and 2005. He looked at their strength and course and then overlaid them on a modern map that included all development over the years.

He found that the most devastating storm, had it occurred today, would be the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, popularly known as the Big Blow. Its path through the now heavily developed southern tip of Florida would have caused $157 billion in damage, followed by Katrina, whose toll was $81 billion. Six of the top 10 most damaging storms occurred before 1945. Pielke and his colleagues determined that with each decade, the damage potential for any given storm doubled, on average, because of development.

Malaria, another problem that may worsen with global warming, also has solutions. Higher temperatures could allow malaria-carrying mosquitoes to move into Africa's highland regions, where people have little natural immunity from the parasite. Still, the extra burden would be a fraction of the millions of cases that afflict the continent each year. "If you look at Africa, only 2% is above 2,000 meters," said Paul Reiter, an expert on mosquito-born disease at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He said that far more deaths would come from the malaria parasite's growing resistance to drug treatments. "We should be more concerned with controlling the disease than trying to change the weather," said Reiter, who recommended heavier use of pesticides to kill mosquitoes -- the same strategy that eradicated malaria in the United States and elsewhere. The World Health Organization estimates that over the next decade annual malaria deaths could be cut from 1 million to 250,000 for $3.2 billion a year, primarily for mosquito nets, drugs and indoor pesticide spraying.....

The heretics believe that time works to their benefit, arguing that technological advances over the next 50 years will ultimately make reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affordable. Pielke says that even if his critics are right, it is becoming clear that the world lacks the political will to enact global emissions cuts. China's growing emissions are on pace to double those of the United States in a decade, and the country shows little interest in slowing down. The United States has refused to cap its emissions, and much of Europe is failing to satisfy even the modest terms of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 landmark treaty on greenhouse gases. "I would characterize us as realists," Pielke said. "Realists on what is politically possible."



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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But what about the "global warming" of the Antarctic peninsula that juts up towards South America?

Unlike the rest of the continent, it has active VOLCANOS (!!!!). Antarctica has 33 of them, mostly inactive.

At the peninsula's very tip is an active one, aptly named "Deception Island", which is in the classic hollow shape of a volcano crater:

It has erupted two or three times in the last few decades, still offers a "hot springs" bathing experience between eruptions:

Not hard to spot on a satellite heat image is that SOMETHING in the mantel is going on right in the MIDDLE of the peninsula as well, which is not a surface volcano, which has HAS *UTTERLY* NOTHING TO DO WITH "ANTARCTICA" as a continent:

This is most likely due to liquid hot rock in the mantel about to form another volcano there. Or an alien spacecraft. Or both, but since UFOs are invisible we wont see the launch when the volcano erupts.

Along the west coast of South America, right down to the Antarctic peninsula is a well-known chain of hundreds of volcanoes: