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Don’t call it climate change – it’s chaos

Johann Hari, The Independent (UK)
This year, one news story makes all the scandals, suicide bombings and wars look like here-today, gone-tomorrow froth: 2005 is now officially the hottest year since records began. David Rind, one of Nasa’s chief scientists, explained simply, “We’re putting a lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and we’re getting a lot higher temperatures.” The results are visible all around us: the collapse of the Arctic, a huge increase in extreme weather events (remember New Orleans?), and inexorably rising sea levels.

The WWF sensibly says we should stop using the strangely soothing label of “global warming”. It makes these disasters sound like a planetary holiday in the Algarve. “Climate change” is even more innocuous, making people wonder what sort of retro-freak would be opposed to all change.
No; we should use the more accurate term “climate chaos”. We are destabilising the fragile balance of gases that has made settled human civilisation possible for the past 10,000 years.
(16 November 2005)
Systems ecologist Howard Odum noted a few years ago that the amount of global warming recorded was actually less than one might expect given the amount of greenhouse gases which had been added to the atmosphere.
He describes how instead some of the warming is effectively dispersed by ‘climate chaos’: “What, then is happening to the greenhouse heat from increased carbon dioxide? When the temperature of the tropical sea is
increased, a little more water is evaporated, absorbing the heat energy into water vapor. Later the energy of water vapor makes larger storms that return water as rain and snow, while releasing the heat to the top of the atmosphere, where it goes into space. Larger storms also cause longer dry periods between storms.” -AF

Global warming study forecasts more water shortages
Climate change already affecting Sierra snowpack

Carl T. Hall, SF Chronicle
A warmer world is virtually certain to be much thirstier, too, according to a new study by West Coast researchers of the impact of global warming on water supplies.

Climate change experts led by Tim Barnett at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla (San Diego County) found that at least one-sixth of the world’s population, including much of the industrial world and a quarter of global economic output, appeared vulnerable to water shortages brought about by climate change.

Details appear today in the journal Nature, along with a separate study suggesting climate models are proving to be an effective way of analyzing and forecasting disruptions in water supplies brought on by global warming.
(17 November 2005)
Similar stories in LiveScience: The Irony of Global Warming: More Rain, Less Water, and in the Christian Science Monitor: New studies forecast declines for rivers in the US and elsewhere.

Party Time in Montreal

Jason Anderson, Grist
Conference of Parties” sounds like a contradiction in terms: conferences are dull talkfests punctuated by free booze, and parties are free boozefests punctuated by dull moments of trying to talk over loud music. More of the former than the latter is likely to go on later this month in Montreal, during the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event is a typical U.N. phenomenon — a regular meeting of signatory countries to an international agreement, meant to chart progress and hammer out further commitments.

But this year’s UNFCCC COP is special, because it is also the occasion of the first Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol — which, despite being short of loud music and booze, and lacking peyote entirely, will be a veritable Burning Man for the climate-policy set.
(16 November 2005)
Related stories in Grist:
A refresher on the basics of climate conferences and Kyoto, in the WSJ: Panel Calls for Flexible Climate Treaty, and on ENN: EU Says New Deal To Replace Kyoto Must Have Specific Targets (AP)

Can global warming cause caterpillar outbreaks?

John Roach, National Geographic
Get ready—the killer caterpillars are coming.

As the weather gets wackier in response to rapid global warming, parasitism against caterpillars will decrease, biologists warn in a new study. This will free the caterpillars to devour agricultural fields and strip leafy forests bare. (11/17/05) National Geographic
(16 November 2005)

Rapidly Accelerating Glaciers May Increase How Fast The Sea Level Rises

Satellite images show that, after decades of stability, a major glacier draining the Greenland ice sheet has dramatically increased its speed and retreated nearly five miles in recent years.

These changes could contribute to rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet and cause the global sea level to rise faster than expected, according to researchers studying the glacier.
(14 November 2005)

Climate shift tied to 150,000 fatalities
Most victims are poor, study says

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
Earth’s warming climate is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030.

The data, being published today in the journal Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world.

Health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who conducted one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to measure the impact of global warming on health, said the WHO data also show that rising temperatures disproportionately affect poor countries that have done little to create the problem.
(17 November 2005)
Related story: Global warming poses ethical challenge -scientists (Reuters).

The politics of climate change: it will happen and they will come

Andrew Lam, SF Chronicle via Common Dreams
The glaciers are melting and receding. The sea rises to swallow islands and low-lying nations. Factories spew toxic chemicals into rivers and oceans, killing fish and the livelihoods of generations. Where the forest used to be, rains cause the bare hills to slide down onto homes. And the hurricanes keep on coming and coming.

In their wake come millions who must flee house and home. Unprecedented mass movement defines our global age. But increasingly, among the displaced is a population whose status only in recent years has gained some legitimacy: environmental refugees. It categorizes people who suffer from a wide spectrum of environmental disasters, man-made or natural. Their homes have become inhabitable, veritable wastelands.

Until recently, what made a refugee in the world’s eyes was largely defined in political terms. The 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defined a refugee as a person with a genuine fear of being persecuted for membership in a particular social group or class. These days, the environmental refugee — not necessarily persecuted, yet nevertheless forced to flee — is gaining center stage. …

A decade ago, ecologist Norman Myers predicted that humanity was slowly heading toward a “hidden crisis” in which ecosystems fail to sustain their inhabitants and people are forced off their land to seek shelter elsewhere. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, however, as the world watched in awe and horror while hundreds of thousands of displaced Americans scurried across the richest nation on Earth searching for new homes, Myers’ “hidden crisis” is suddenly not so hidden. We can, with certainty, now add a million more to this growing population of environmental refugees.
(15 November 2005)
The position of some climate/enviro NGO’s is that first world nations have a moral obligation to take climate refugees in the proportion that a country pollutes. This is a fine moral argument, but a politically and practically implausible one – e.g. it would see Australia (population:20 mil) taking >100mil climate refugees. How many will support that? -LJ

The politics of climate change
Should we trust a novelist on global warming?

Sandy Tolan, John Harte; SF Chronicle
Tonight at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, members of the Platinum Circle of the Independent Institute will have the privilege, at $10,000 per table, to hear a fiction writer talk about one of the pressing issues of our time: global warming. “State of Fear,” the latest techno thriller by Michael Crichton, author of the science-fiction fantasy “Jurassic Park,” inspired the theme of this evening’s talk, “States of Fear: Science or Politics?”

If you belong to the Platinum Circle, or to the lesser Gold or Silver Circles — or simply paid $25 as a member of the Independent Institute or World Affairs Council, co-sponsors of the event — expect the author and a “panel of distinguished scientists” to lash out at the widely accepted notion among the vast majority of scientists that human activity is contributing to a warming planet, and that business as usual — doing nothing about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — will make things worse.
(15 November 2005)

Major dam projects ignoring environmental risks: WWF

ABC (Australia)
Major dam projects in Australia and worldwide continue to ignore environmental risks five years after an international move to lay down guidelines, conservationist group WWF say.

In a report in 2000, the World Commission on Dams (WCD), an independent body of international experts, issued advice on planning, design, construction and decommissioning of dams. The report has listed Queensland’s Burnett dam, which WWF said threatens already endangered fish.

Construction of the dam, 80 kilometres south-west of Bundaberg, began in late 2003. But dams were continuing “to cause excessive social and environmental damage”, WWF International said in a report. …
(14 November 2005)

Report: global warming may harm N.J. coast

Associated Press via Yahoo!News
PRINCETON, N.J. – Rising seas caused by global warming and other factors will have dire consequences for New Jersey, submerging sections of the state’s highly developed coastline by the end of the century, according to a report released Wednesday by Princeton University.
(17 November 2005)

Global warming models ‘biased’

Anna Salleh, ABC Science
The southern hemisphere cannot properly plan for the impacts of climate change as existing models have a northern hemisphere bias, Australian scientists say.

But that’s about to change, say scientists who are working on a new model to better account for factors specific to the south
(17 November 2005)