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Review: “The Weather Makers” by Tim Flannery

Dave Pollard, “How to Save the World” (Salon blog)
Regular readers of HtStW know that I see the consequences of global warming being relative late-comers to the cascade of crises I think will befall our planet in this century. I expect that our preoccupation with economic depression, pandemic disease, the end of oil, the exhaustion of other resources due to overpopulation and waste, and nuclear, biological and chemical violence will distract us from paying significant attention to ‘natural disasters’ precipitated by CO2 until it is far too late. Such disasters may, however, be the icing on the cake that seals the fate of our civilization.

Scientist Tim Flannery’s new book The Weather Makers is a tour de force, an exhaustive and rigorous explanation of how even modest global warming produces dramatic climate change.

… In summary, this is an important book, a work of true science, and a must read for anyone who cares about future generations or the health and sustainability of our planet. But rather than instilling new hope and galvanizing billions into action to deal with this huge challenge, I suspect Flannery’s book may well be, a century from now, the final epitaph for our civilization.

I will of course act personally on the eleven voluntary personal actions hotlinked above, and encourage everyone to do likewise. Alas, as I’ve said before, our human nature is not to do what we can, but rather to do what we must.
(5 April 2006)

Climate researchers feeling heat from White House

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

These scientists — working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. — say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers — unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters — were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.

…The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States,” he told the crowd.
(6 April 2006)

Do nothing? You cannot be serious

Camilla Cavendish, UK Times
Climate change sceptics want more evidence. But this is a completely irrational view
… Given that greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere long after we have put them there, it makes no sense to wait until the fertile land has moved north or the Siberian permafrost has melted and released methane, the most powerful greenhouse gas, trapped beneath. The science is clear that such an event could tip us over into runaway warming. Measures taken today will have more impact than measures taken tomorrow. We should apply a lower discount rate and invest now.

An awful lot of intelligent people are devoting huge effort to selective fact-picking to support their prejudices. The problem is that we have not been here before. In war we mobilise our resources against a visible enemy. With climate change the enemy is not visible. The potential villains and victims are the same people. So we try to orientate ourselves by demonising each other. The NGOs rail against capitalism, trade, America, that have lifted millions out of poverty. The climate sceptics demonise the greens as wanting to wreck the economy. This is getting us nowhere.

We need a New Rationalism. One that considers what to do in the face of an unquantifiable risk of irreversible change. You don’t do a cost-benefit analysis before you go to war. The most peculiar thing about those who claim to be rationalists is their loathing of the assertion that so much of recent climate change is man-made. You would have thought they would be delighted, since that means we have a chance of controlling it. If we discovered that some asteroid was heading in our direction with a 5 per cent chance of collision, we would mobilise every missile, throw all our money at strategies to deflect it. But when scientists confront us with a threat that they believe is still within our control, we wish it away. Crazy.
(6 April 2006)

Fossil fuels threatening sea life, researchers say

Michael Milstein, The Oregonian
Scientists just back from a research cruise across the northern Pacific say the ocean has soaked up so much carbon dioxide from human burning of fossil fuels that it’s turning more acidic, disrupting growth of coral and the tiny sea creatures salmon and other fish rely on for food.

The chemical signature of the carbon dioxide makes clear it is from human and not natural sources, said Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the federal Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and chief scientist for the cruise.

Carbon dioxide is known as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Oceans help offset that effect by absorbing about a third of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, the researchers said.

But the new findings reveal that all the carbon dioxide is changing the delicate chemical balance of ocean water that lets coral, shellfish and forms of tiny plankton construct their vital shells.

The tiny life forms play vital parts in marine ecosystems by serving as food for larger creatures. Their disruption, coupled with other effects of greenhouse gases such as rising temperatures, could wreak profound changes on the diversity and productivity of oceans, the researchers said.
(6 April 2006)

New case for regulating CO2 emissions
A report finds progress in fighting air pollution and suggests that could hold for carbon dioxide, too.

Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
The nation’s big power companies are creating smaller amounts of gases that cause smog and acid rain than they were 15 years ago, but they’re producing more greenhouse gases.

That’s the conclusion of a joint industry- environmentalist report, released Wednesday, which offers a ray of hope in the battle against global warming.

If the American electric industry can cut its air pollution in response to toughened standards, the reasoning goes, then strict controls on greenhouse gases could do the same.

“What this report shows is that with careful government regulation, companies can lower the pollution coming from power plants smokestacks – and we should be doing this with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, too,” says David Hawkins, climate director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which coauthored the report with Ceres, a national coalition of environmental and investor groups, and Public Service Enterprise Group, a power company.
(6 April 2006)

Warm globally, act locally
Politicians, policymakers need grassroots impetus to do something about climate change

Geov Parrish,
…The urgency of the global warming crisis requires thinking creatively and radically. What infrastructure changes would be needed to create a metropolitan area of four million people that no longer consumes fossil fuels? Has anybody even seriously considered the question? Why are cities across the country investing massive amounts of taxpayer money subsidizing development of industries producing and distributing Stuff (and contributing to the rapid exhaustion of our planet’s supply of non-renewable resources in the bargain), with no real public benefit beyond the mythic pursuit of “jobs”? Why not, for example, invest public money instead creating industrial parks devoted to developing commercial businesses working to find ways to replace our fossil fuel dependency? We know for sure that sooner or later, probably sooner, there will be massive demand for such a transition, and hence a lot of money in it.

Not incidentally, we will also need to refine that technology, some of it already existing, in order to survive as a species. Global warming isn’t just about hotter weather, or even more extreme weather. It’s about rising sea levels, fresh water shortages, desertification, massive crop failures, widespread species extinction, the spread of virulent new diseases, and massive famines — and that’s just what we can predict now. The unforeseeable is likely to be worse. If ever there were a problem that required public investment of money, this is it.

There has finally, finally become something of a critical public mass in America (or at least in coastal states) acknowledging that something needs to be done, pronto, about global warming. Politicians like Nickels (and Gore, who will get a major boost to any 2008 aspirations from this movie) are out front not only because it’s good public policy, but because it’s good politics. But a lot more American politicians have to get on board, and all politicians’ thinking needs at once to attend to the minutiae of local policy and the vastness of revolutionary changes in our industries, our transportation systems, our homes, and our way of life.
(6 April 2006)

Environmental activist Laurie David takes global warming to the mainstream

OnPoint, E&E TV
Activist Laurie David says the environmental movement needs to do a better job selling its ideas to the general public, and is leading the way with a media blitzkrieg. From organizing a televised comedy special about climate change, to promoting the Stop Global Warming Virtual March by giving away a hybrid car owned by her husband — comedian Larry David — David is taking environmental policy to mainstream America. But are environmental groups overselling the threat of climate change? And will there be a backlash against the latest celebrity cause? During today’s OnPoint, David, producer of the upcoming HBO documentary “Too Hot Not to Handle,” discusses these questions and more.
(6 April 2006)