Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Claim that Arctic sea ice could disappear within 10 years as global warming increases speed of melting -- but so what?
It's junior school physics that the melting of floating ice has no effect on the water-level. And they are not comparing like with like below anyway. They are comparing data from submarines with recent satellite data
Arctic sea ice is melting at a faster rate than previously believed, a group of scientists have claimed. The European Space Agency say that new satellites they are using have revealed that 900 cubic kilometres of ice have disappeared over the last year.
This is 50 per cent higher than the current estimates from environmentalists, they claim.
It is suggested that the increase is down to global warming and rising greenhouse gas emissions. [Funny that there has been NO global warming for 15 years, though! Better suggestion, please]
The entire region could be eventually free of ice if the estimates prove accurate. This would trigger a 'gold rush' for oil reserves and fish stocks in the region.
'Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected,' said Dr Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), where CryoSat-2 data is being analysed, told the Observer.
The scientists launched the CryoSat-2 probe in 2010 specifically to study ice thickness. Until then most studies had focused on the coverage of the ice.
Submarines were also sent into the water to analyse the ice. The methods are said to have given a picture of changes in the ice around the north pole since 2004.
The study revealed that the depth of ice had also been decreasing in addition to the amount of sea it stretched across.
Data from the exploration shows that in winter 2004, the volume of sea ice in the central Arctic was approximately 17,000 cubic km. This winter it was 14,000 km, according to CryoSat.
Markets, not mandates, are the key to sustainable development
What exactly is sustainable development? Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, speaking at the United Nations' Stockholm Conference in 1972, described it as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Today's advocates of sustainable development, however, take a more short-sighted view of the concept. They believe resources are necessarily finite; thus, they call for caps on human activity. These advocates are asking for a return to a pre-industrial mindset - a path that will result in massive depopulation, poverty, and inequality.
The conventional interpretation of sustainability, proposed long ago by the Reverend Thomas Malthus, has since been translated into the simple equation I = PAT. Man's Footprint, I, equals P times A times T. P is population (the more people, the more stress); A is affluence (the more wealth, the heavier the footprint per person); and T is technology (the risks of innovation, which are greater than the risks of stagnation).
This Malthusian perspective is spectacularly wrong. Population growth is addressed through technological advances. More people do not increase the stress on resources since human advancement in technology makes us more efficient in our resource use. That is the ultimate resource - people's ability to adapt and innovate, which leads to an actual decrease in stress on the planet despite population increases.
Affluence frees individuals' time through technological breakthroughs. "Work-time" is the amount of time that people have to work in order to afford goods. As W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm of Southern Methodist University concluded, "over just the past 27 years, consumers have benefited from work-time declines of 60% for dishwashers, 56% for vacuum cleaners, 40% for refrigerators and 39% for lawn mowers." These tools increase our wealth and cost less time to obtain. Of course, new materials were required for these tools, but the result was more, not fewer overall resources.
Dr. Indur M. Goklany has noted that to produce the same amount of food in 1993 with the agricultural technology of 1961, we would go from using 34% to 61% of the Earth's land surface. Were that to occur, much of the world's wildlife and flora would be gone. The various green revolutions - mechanization, pesticides, and bio-engineered crops - all made the world far more productive, better fed, and more environmentally diverse, even as population exploded.
Economic growth and technological progress have lightened our environmental footprint in important ways. People do more than simply consume resources; they also create new wealth and resources where none previously existed. Sustainability emerges from these social interactions, which encourage firms and individuals to use existing resources more efficiently and find new ways of meeting human needs.
True sustainability comes from capitalism. Consider the role of energy over the last few centuries. Few companies will invest if they could only make a profit for one year. Firms owe their shareholders the responsibility to ensure energy will remain available as years progress. Therefore, firms continuously hunt for new resources while avoiding activities that might deplete all the oil at once.
Because energy is integrated in the global market, firms have steadily improved their energy efficiency. According to the International Energy Agency, energy efficiency grew 0.9% annually from 1990 to 2005. That trend resulted in fuel and electricity cost savings of at least $180 billion by 2005 - despite massive increases in energy use during the preceding decade and a half. While experts continue to predict we've reached "peak production" of energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas, these "peaks" have yet to materialize.
Multinational corporations often happily carry the mantle of sustainability. It buys positive public relations, and, more importantly, it sometimes communicates publicly what the firm is already attempting to achieve. In markets, people cooperate and innovate to create sustainable supply for consumer demand. True sustainability has nothing to do with Malthusian doomsday predictions. Sustainability means progress: the onward and upward movement of a society that is making itself healthier, wealthier, faster and stronger.
Ooops! Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Damage Skin
The curlicue compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) oft touted as an Earth-friendly alternative to standard incandescent bulbs may cause skin damage, according to a new study by researchers at Stony Brook University.
The bulbs are already known to pose hazards from using mercury, a toxic element, though in very small quantities, as lighting manufacturers are quick to point out. Regulations in parts of the United States and in the European Union limit mercury to 3.5 milligrams per bulb, with the limit dropping to 2.5 mg next year.
Now researchers have found that ultraviolet radiation seeping through CFLs may damage skin cells. Miriam Rafailovich, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stony Brook, led the research after reading an article in an Israeli newspaper that reported a spike in skin cancer on a communal farm when residents switched to fluorescent bulbs.
"In the past two years some disturbing reports have surfaced mostly in the European Union literature, which indicate that exposure to CFL bulbs might be responsible for exacerbating certain skin conditions, such as photodermatoses and skin cancer in humans," says the paper, published last month in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology.
The issue comes from how CFLs are designed. Fluorescent lamps, large and compact, work by using electricity to excite mercury vapor inside the bulb. The excited vapor then emits invisible ultraviolet light that is absorbed by the bulb's phosphor coating. In turn, the coating re-emits the energy as visible light.
But researchers found UV light leaks more from CFLs compared to standard fluorescent tubes because the small diameter of the glass coupled with its twists and turns creates more spaces where the phosphor coating chips away, letting more UV light escape.
Past studies indicated that UV emissions from CFLs could harm previously damaged tissue and worsen chronic skin conditions, but researchers were curious about what these lamps do to healthy skin. To find out, the scientists studied two types of skin cells: keratinocytes, which make up 95 percent of the outermost layer of skin, and dermal fibroblasts, which form the connective tissue underneath.
Using CFL bulbs from different manufacturers purchased from retailers on Long Island, the team exposed cultured skin cells in a petri dish to the bulbs mounted in a desk lamp from different distances for varying periods. The team measured how much UV light was emitted and then assessed how the cells responded.
Under CFLs, the experiments showed cells stopped growing and changed shape. Dermal fibroblasts suffered worse than keratinocytes, since they are usually not exposed to light. This indicates these bulbs can damage skin in several layers.
Bureaucratic Green Chemistry
California bureaucrats recently released their proposed regulations implementing the state’s 2009-passed “green chemistry” law. The law supposedly will make life safer for California residents by ensuring that all products are designed to be “green.”
But it is destined to fail — costing consumers without delivering benefits — because policymakers foolishly assume that bureaucrats are better situated than business to decide what makes a product safe. It’s the same fatal conceit on which the Soviets once based their failed economic policies.
California’s green chemistry initiative goes beyond basic safety regulations. Regulators will impact product formulations and designs by listing both chemicals and products on “concern” lists based on largely political, rather than scientific grounds. Such listings will send signals to consumers and manufacturers to avoid these chemicals and products. In addition, regulators will force some companies to study alternative formulations and redesign products — even when there is no sound science demonstrating any serious health or safety risks.
In that case, rather than maintain focus on product performance, affordability, safety, and consumer demand when designing products, manufacturers will be forced to serve the political preferences of the regulators. The final products will be inferior, and ironically, potentially less safe.
Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to “be on the safe side.” They forget that every product on the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes will always be inferior.
Banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment that went into designing them, discourages innovators who fear similar repercussions, and diverts resources from useful enterprises into production of second, best substitutes.
The Jatropha mirage fades
There have been several corporate failures in recent months as the claims of some land grabbers – and of the people selling them land – have rubbed up against reality. Many involve the new supposed wonder-crop, jatropha, whose berries can be made into biodiesel. Native farmers have always regarded it as a weed – now it looks as if they were right.
In March last year, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien went to Mozambique to bang the drum for Sun Biofuels, a British company growing jatropha there, but the oil yields have been poor. Five months after the ministerial tour, Sun Biofuels went into administration.
There are plenty of rogues, too, ripping off investors here as well as African villagers. At their offices in Twickenham, West London, I met would-be jatropha profiteers Philip Peters and Lawrie Smith.
They told me about their 99-year lease on farmland in the tiny West African state of Togo. Heaven knows how they got the land, but their company, Greenleaf Global, was sub-leasing five-acre plots to small investors. I could have one for £6,000, they said. Greenleaf would plant my jatropha and harvest my profit for me.
I was right not to be tempted. In April, a British court ordered the company into compulsory liquidation after Government investigators found ‘a clear intention to mislead would-be investors’. The company had lied about its harvests. Promises of a 20 per cent return were ‘not evidence-based’. The scam had been nipped in the bud, but investors had lost about £8 million.
Greenies look forward to your "showering behavior" being monitored
In the future, don’t expect any privacy. Every move, every purchase, even every thought — as personality profiling becomes more sophisticated — will be observed, logged, and analyzed. Big Brother will certainly be watching us.
We might expect our shopping and showering behaviors to be tracked as part of our individual carbon budgets. As you drive around a city, your combined congestion and pollution charge could vary depending on which route you take, on the time of day, and on how much you add to local air pollution. Globally, important conservation sites might be guarded, not by fences or rangers, but by remote sensors and cameras, monitored by teams of volunteers on the other side of the planet.
On current trends, this surveillance society seems bound to happen. In some ways, it is already with us. The U.K. already has more CCTV cameras per capita than any European country — an estimated 4 million in total — and the government recently announced plans for radically increased internet surveillance in the Queen’s Speech.
What does this mean for sustainability? Will this monitoring capacity be used to improve stewardship of natural resources? Or to prompt more responsible lifestyle choices? Or will it result in a more passive population, for whom daily decisions are made by algorithms based on past personal preferences and current resource efficiency?
I think that more monitoring and data about ecosystems and biodiversity will largely be a good thing. Who wouldn’t want clearer information of what’s happening in our oceans, with every ship and ferry carrying a sampling device? Who would disagree with better tracing, verification and policing of commercial logging or fishing? Who would argue against using remote sensing for improved disaster prevention and response? Remember, the global climate change frameworks will require robust systems of verification for carbon markets to work.
Yet surveillance will also, inevitably, be directed at individuals — particularly since much of it is done under justification of the fight against terrorism. Government and business will get much better at correlating a lot of data from various sources in order to profile people in much greater detail. Given that it is, on the whole, our individual choices and behaviors that lead to environmental damage, there is a logical argument for using such data to encourage different choices.
Governments will certainly make use of surveillance — to maintain security and raise taxes, as well as to implement environmental regulation. Businesses will use it to guarantee their supply chains or know their customers better. And civil society, too, will draw on data to hold others to account.
Twenty-five years ago, in the U.S., the Toxics Release Inventory showed that disclosing information about chemical pollution could spur communities to campaign and pressure for improvements. Twenty-five years hence, citizens across the world could be using data to compare their environmental footprints, to interrogate company supply chains or to monitor compliance with global environmental agreements.
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Posted by JR at 12:42 AM