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Federal wildlife monitors oversee a boom in drilling
Energy programs trump conservation

Blaine Harden, Washington Post
PINEDALE, Wyo. — The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands.

Here on the high sage plains of western Wyoming, often called the Serengeti of the West because of large migratory herds of deer and antelope, the Pinedale region has become one of the most productive and profitable natural gas fields on federal land in the Rockies. With the aggressive backing of the Bush administration, many members of Congress and the energy industry, at least a sixfold expansion in drilling is likely here in the coming decade.
(22 February 2006)

Lost Mountain

Living on Earth
Author Erik Reece chronicles a year in the life of a mountain, destroyed by mountaintop removal strip mining. Reece tells Living on Earth host Jeff Young that the price we pay for inexpensive electricity powered by coal is offset by the cost of environmental degradation and injury to the lives of people who live and work in Appalachian coal country.
(19 Feb 2006)
Related: Interview with Eric Reece in BuzzFlash magazine.

Lights, Camera, Traction
Al Gore and electric car star in films unveiled at Sundance

Dan Bree, Grist
…One of the documentaries that seemed to generate the most buzz at Sundance was An Inconvenient Truth, a global-warming film starring Al Gore. The day before I saw it, I overheard two facts about the film: 1) it was so good, all the screenings had sold out; 2) it featured Gore giving a lecture with PowerPoint slides and charts.

Incongruous, yes, but sure enough, there’s more to this film than you might imagine. First of all, forget what you know about Gore. No longer the defeated candidate, he appears confident, witty, incisive, and fired up. Second, while the film makes no secret that it’s about a lecture — even showing Gore on stage in front of a massive screen — the presentation is sophisticated, entertaining, and visually appealing.

The compelling central speech highlights facts, photos, and anecdotes about our rapidly shifting global climate. It all points to a powerful conclusion: namely, that we’re almost out of time to address the problem. Within about 10 years, argues Gore, it will be too late to do anything about the most important challenge in human history.

That may seem like a lot to digest along with your popcorn, but director Davis Guggenheim — an experienced TV director (Deadwood, ER, NYPD Blue) — doesn’t clobber viewers with dry facts.
(2 February 2006)
Suggested by David Roberts at Gristmill.
Al Gore at the TED 2006 conference (play-by-play description of Gore’s presentation)
An Inconvenient Truth (film website)

Behind the curve: how we’ve consistently underestimated global warming

Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights
In 1896 Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, theorized that increasing or reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might trigger a change in climate worldwide. Cutting the amount in half, he surmised, could lower average temperatures by 5 degrees C and might bring on an ice age. But, was such a big change possible?

A colleague, Arvid Hogbom, had studied the carbon cycle extensively, calculating the amounts of carbon from various sources including those from industrial emissions. Using Hogbom’s numbers Arrhenius calculated that a doubling of carbon dioxide would increase global temperature by 5 degrees C, surprisingly close to modern estimates even though he was working under severe handicaps including relatively low calculating power–he used paper and pencil–and limited data.

He also estimated that it would take 2,000 years to get there. (The latest estimates place this event in the middle of the current century.) Of course, Arrhenius shouldn’t be blamed for this underestimate given the impossibility of knowing what lay ahead for population growth and industrialization. But, his was the first in what has turned out to be a consistent string of underestimates concerning the pace and severity of global.
(26 February 2006)

Book review: “The Weather Makers” (Flannery) and “The Winds of Change” (Linden)
(original headline: “Twin Paths to the Conclusion Climatic Change Is Real”)

Janet Maslin, NY Times
An irrefutable fact about climate change is this: The subject is heating up at a breakneck pace. Thanks to giant leaps in research techniques, most notably the extraction (completed in 2004) of a two-mile-long layered sample from the ice sheets covering Greenland, paleoclimatology has moved to the cutting edge of scientific research. This subject rewards close study not only because so little could be proven about it previously but because wild weather is so apparent to the naked eye.

How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.
By Tim Flannery.
Illustrated. 357 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $24.

Climate, Weather and the Destruction of Civilizations.
By Eugene Linden.
Illustrated. 302 pp. Simon & Schuster. $26.

The more intriguing and important this field becomes, the more we need clear, unbiased explications of what its evidence reveals. But writing about advances on this particular scientific frontier is problematic. First of all, the material is complicated: climate science is the study of shifting, interrelated and sometimes paradoxical patterns. For instance, although the melting of Arctic ice alters the salinity of the North Atlantic, it does not signal more warm weather. But the melting can slow down the Gulf Stream in ways that threaten a subsequent freeze.

Second, the subject is loaded: its scientific facts and hypotheses are difficult to separate from their political and religious implications, which are obviously fraught. Analysis of Antarctic ice trumps even Darwin, since it presupposes weather events dating back almost a million years. The phrases “global warming” and “greenhouse gases” lead directly to debate about government policies. And even for scientific writers caught up in the excitement of new breakthroughs, enthusiasm is difficult to ignite. The overview is simply too bleak.

But two overlapping new books do their best to intrigue and galvanize the armchair climatologist. “The Weather Makers,” by Tim Flannery, is the more volatile and flamboyant; “The Winds of Change,” by Eugene Linden, is more measured and takes a more penetrating historical view.
(27 February 2006)