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Living Large, by Design, in the Middle of Nowhere

Rick Lyman
WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – New River Township is, for the moment, the edge of beyond.

Its square mile of tightly packed homes is the outer crest of Tampa’s residential swell, four miles from the nearest grocery store and 30 minutes from the nearest major mall. Just down the road, beyond some orange groves, cattle graze languorously amid the insect hum of a sun-baked field, and only a few mobile home parks and a roadside stand selling tiki huts interrupt the vast sea of pine, palmetto and dense thatch.

But it will be a short-lived isolation. More than three dozen other communities in Pasco County, some bigger than New River, are in the works, promising 100,000 new homes in the next five years. A megamall is coming. And the first of the big-box stores, a Home Depot and a Sam’s Club, had their gala openings not long ago.

…America is growing. And it is growing the fastest here, at the farm-road margins of metropolitan areas, with planned communities sprouting up and becoming a prime focus, almost a fetish, for election strategists from both major parties.

…”What we wanted was a bigger house and a bigger master bedroom,” [Ms. Breuer] said. And they got it, moving from about 2,500 square feet to about 4,400, including a patio enclosed by a screen that stretches up two stories. They know they paid a price to live here. On a normal day, Ms. Breuer’s commute to work is 35 minutes, but it can balloon to more than an hour on a bad day. The rural roads are already choked at rush hour, and when the caravans of minivans make the daily pilgrimage to schools and soccer games. “Oh, it’s awful,” Ms. Breuer said.

first in a series of articles that will examine life in America’s most far-flung suburbs.
(15 August 2005)
Don’t anyone tell James Kunstler about this.

Permafrost is warming

Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News
FAIRBANKS — Interior Alaska’s permafrost has warmed in some places to the highest level since the ice age ended 10,000 years ago, its temperature now within a degree or two of thawing.

Earth frozen since woolly mammoths and bison wandered Interior steppes has been turning to mush. Lakes have been shrinking. Trees are stressed. Prehistoric ice has melted underground, leaving voids that collapse into sinkholes.

Largely concentrated where people have disturbed the surface, such damage can be expensive, even heartbreaking. It’s happening now in Fairbanks: Toppled spruce, roller-coaster bike trails, rippled pavement, homes and buildings that sag into ruin. And the meltdown is spreading in wild areas: sinkholes, dying trees, eroding lakes.

These collapses bode ill: They are omens of what scientists fear will happen on a large scale across the Arctic if water and air continue to warm as fast as climate models predict.
(14 August 2005)

Icy Greenland turns green

Richard Hollingham, BBC News
Greenland’s ice is melting rapidly. In some places, glacial levels have been falling by 10 metres a year and ultimately contributing to rising sea levels. Travelling to Greenland, Richard Hollingham sees the impact of climate change for himself.
(14 August 2005)

Error may have hidden warming

A dispute over the data for global warming may be down to the way sensors were placed on weather balloons when readings were taken in the 1970s. For years, experts sought to determine why temperature readings taken from weather balloons did not show the same increases as readings on the ground. The resulting mismatch has fuelled scepticism of global warming.

Researchers at Yale University in the US say exposed instruments on the balloons may be the problem. Weather balloons are sent up around the world twice a day and older versions of the balloons used temperature probes that were exposed.

The result, say the researchers, was higher readings on balloons sent up in daytime because of the exposure to sunlight. After correcting for the problem, the researchers estimate there has been a global temperature increase of 0.2C (0.4F) per decade for the last 30 years.

“Unfortunately, the warming is in an accelerating trend – the climate has not yet caught up with what we’ve already put into the atmosphere,” said lead author Steven Sherwood of Yale. “This has muddied the interpretation. There are steps we should take, but it seems that shaking people out of complacency will take a strong incentive.”

The research was funded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). The findings were published in an online issue of the journal Science.
(15 August 2005)

Ecologist: tropical life to be hardest hit by global warming

Vince Stricherz, University of Washington
The most serious impact [of global warming] in the next century likely will be in the tropics, says a group of researchers headed by a University of Washington ecologist, Joshua Tewksbury.

…The more dramatic impact could actually be in the moist tropics, despite modeling that indicates temperatures there will warm just 2 or 3 degrees by 2100 compared with 6 degrees or more at higher latitudes, Tewksbury said. That is because organisms in the tropics normally do not experience much temperature variation because there is very little seasonality, so even small temperature shifts can have a much larger impact than similar shifts in regions with more seasonal climates.

“Temperatures in the tropics don’t fluctuate that much, so the relatively small temperature shifts predicted by climate change models will be very large in relation to what organisms are adapted to tolerate,” he said. “It’s only going to be perhaps a 2-degree change, but in many tropical areas organisms have never experienced a 2-degree change.”

…The findings also imply that warming could forever alter life on Earth because the vast majority of species live in the tropics and many could be driven to extinction because of their inability to adapt.

“Evolution only happens if you don’t go extinct. From an evolutionary standpoint, a model of the climate change impact reflects a race between adaptation and extinction,” Tewksbury said.
(14 August 2005)