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Global warming is threatening Bangladesh’s coast. But the area’s tens of millions of residents don’t want to move.

Emilie Raguso and Sandhya Somashekhar, Salon via Climate Ark
It is a despondent moment for Mondal, 29, who usually conveys a dogged optimism. As the head of a local environmental organization called Working for Coastal People, he spends much of his time trying to persuade people to stick by their ancestral homes. But as the planet warms at an alarming speed, optimism is becoming harder to muster. This is especially true with respect to Bangladesh — a poor country the size of Wisconsin, bursting with a population nearly half that of the United States. On top of rampant illiteracy, poverty and disease, the country suffers year after year from devastating natural disasters.

Now they’re also suffering from the effects of climate change. Experts say warmer global temperatures will increase the intensity of cyclones that form over the Bay of Bengal, sending more violent storm surges crashing into the coast. The saltwater front will crawl further inland, rendering farmland unusable and polluting much of the country’s drinking water. The Sundarbans National Forest, a wild swath of mangroves that plays an important role in the nation’s ecology, could be wiped out. Most alarmingly, as much as 18 percent of the land could slip into the bay in the next 100 years because of rising sea level, according to the World Bank. That would displace as many as 30 million people.

The country is scrambling to prepare for the impending disaster, but a lack of funding hampers their efforts. And because Bangladesh cannot independently finance its own climate-change preparations, it must rely on outside input and funding.

…Despite the lush appearance, development projects and shifting ideas about land use have scarred the southwestern landscape over the past few decades. Huge tree trunks from the Sundarbans are chopped down, pirated through the tidal waterways, and sold illegally at roadside markets. Many farmers have traded in their barren plots — where salinization has made it impossible to grow traditional crops — for low-paying jobs tending shrimp. Others, like Alal’s neighbors, move to the cities to pull rickshaws.

“If you look at the writings of the historians, anywhere between 800 years ago and 1,200 years ago, people who visited this area said, ‘This is one of the most prosperous regions in the world,'” says scientist and policy researcher Ahsan Uddin Ahmed. “Why? Because the population was much less, the land was the same, and very fertile. And people were having beautiful life other than from suffering from cholera and waterborne diseases. That was the only problem that our ancestors used to face.

“What has gone wrong? In 1951, the population was one-fourth what we have today. In 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent country. Our population was half what we have today. So in a very short span of time, man-to-resource ratio has changed completely.”
(2X April 2006)
Article at Salon can be seen after viewing an ad. Planet Ark also has posted the entire article.

No mention of resentment towards the industrialized countries whose greenhouse emissions are causing the catastrophe. -BA

Nova on “Dimming the Sun”

Nova, PBS
“Dimming the Sun” investigates the discovery that the sunlight reaching Earth has been growing dimmer, which may seem surprising given all the international concern over global warming. At first glance, less sunlight might hardly seem to matter when our planet is stewing in greenhouse gases. But the discovery of global dimming has led several scientists to revise their models of the climate and how fast it’s changing. According to one recent and highly controversial model, the worst-case warming scenario could be worse than anyone has predicted. “Dimming the Sun” unravels this baffling climate conundrum and the implications for Earth’s future.

To find out what global dimming means for the fate of the planet, NOVA reports on the findings of the world’s top climate detectives, including an American scientist who found a grim but crucial opportunity immediately following September 11, 2001, when the entire U.S. airline fleet was grounded for three days. This presented a unique opportunity to study the effects of airplane vapor trails on the atmosphere (see The Contrail Effect). Comparing changes in the daily temperature range showed that the absence of dimming from aircraft pollution alone made a marked difference to the temperature. This result hints at how much the effects of atmospheric pollution had been underestimated.

Working in Israel, Dr. Gerald Stanhill was one of the first to discover the surprising fact that less solar energy is reaching the Earth’s surface. While his measurements were met with skepticism, a review of worldwide data by Stanhill and a German researcher demonstrated that during the 1980s and early ’90s, sunlight reaching Earth’s surface had dropped just about everywhere. Halfway around the world, independent studies by Australian scientists confirmed this disturbing diagnosis. (For more, see Discoveries in Global Dimming.)

Scientists have long known that increasing air pollution—the smog that clouds urban skies—endangers our respiratory health. But they had underestimated the impact of pollution on the amount of sunlight reaching Earth. Some scientists now believe that global dimming may also disturb rainfall patterns such as the Asian monsoon. If they are right, global dimming may be one of many factors that contributed to severe droughts and famines in Africa during the 1980s.

The good news is that pollution controls have slowed and possibly even halted global dimming during the last decade. The bad news—and the ironic twist in NOVA’s story—is that without pollution, more sunlight is reaching Earth, revealing the full impact of global warming. Although all climate models have important uncertainties, the unsettling implication is that, with dimming fading away in many regions, global temperatures may rise even faster than most models have predicted.
(18 April 2006)
Several people have commented favorably on this episode of Nova which recently aired. Background materials are on the website for the episode. A transcript should be available in 1 – 3 weeks.

Dust storms and pollution force Beijing to go greener

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
The Chinese prime minister has ordered the country’s vast bureaucracy to improve environmental protection, in a shift away from the government’s 25-year policy of economic growth at all costs.

The move comes as Beijing experiences some of the foulest pollution in years. Dust storms, exhaust emissions and grit from building sites have choked the skies, turning the streets yellow and prompting health warnings that children should be kept indoors with the windows closed.

In an unusually stinging critique, the premier, Wen Jiabao, said measures to conserve nature and improve air and water quality over the past five years had failed, resulting in severe ecological degradation.

“Environmental protection has become the weakest aspect in social and economic development,” the China Daily quoted him as saying. “The implementation of green laws is not strict at all.”

…Every six months local government will be obliged to release information on energy consumption, which should be cut by 20% by 2011, and emissions of polluting chemicals, to be trimmed by 10%.
(21 April 2006)

The ground we walk on: It’s part of global warming

Eric A. Davidson, Christian Science Monitor
Accelerated warming is not inevitable, but changing our course requires mindfulness.
FALMOUTH, MASS. – I recently explained to my son’s elementary school class that I do research on soil. What, they wanted to know, was the difference between soil and dirt? After some discussion, we concluded that soil is where most land plants grow, and dirt is the stuff that makes moms mad when it gets on the carpet and under fingernails.

As my son gets older, I’ll carry the lesson further and explain that soil is black because it contains carbon, and carbon is also something that we need to keep in the soil, rather than let loose in the atmosphere. Microbes that live in the soil eat the soil carbon, and they tend to eat faster when the soil is warmer. Already, global warming is causing microbes to decompose soil carbon more rapidly, thus releasing it into the atmosphere. Global warming feeds back upon itself by making soil microbes work faster, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and thus further accelerating global warming. The main culprit that has gotten global warming started is our seemingly insatiable burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, which releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Despite a few vocal holdouts, the debate about whether global warming is actually happening is essentially over.

…Accelerated warming is not inevitable, however. We could slow or reverse the process by making more efficient use of coal, oil, and gas, and by increasing renewable sources of energy, such as wind power, solar energy, and biofuels. Just as kids can be trained to wipe their feet to keep dirt off the carpet (at least most of the time), we could also train ourselves to curb our voracious appetite for burning fossil fuel. Mom’s wrath may suffice to keep dirt off the carpet, but we adults will most likely need strong economic incentives for learning how to conserve energy in our cars, homes, offices, and industries. What a great lesson it would be for our children, and one that they would thank us for for the rest of their lives, if we kept global warming under control and kept the dirt and soil carbon where it belongs.

Eric A. Davidson is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass.
(21 April 2006)

Latest forecast: stand by for a warmer, but not scorching, world

Richard A. Kerr, Science
While newly climate-conscious news reporters seek signs of apocalyptic change in hungry polar bears and pumped-up hurricanes, evidence-oriented researchers are working to nail down some numbers. They are concerned with climate sensitivity: how much a given increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide will warm the world. If it’s extremely high, continued emissions of greenhouse gases could ignite a climatic firestorm. If it’s very low, they might merely raise the global thermostat a notch or two.

Now two new studies that combine independent lines of evidence agree that climate sensitivity is at least moderately strong–moderate enough so that a really scorching warming appears unlikely. Even with the most conservative assumptions, says climate researcher Chris E. Forest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, the studies cool the maximum warming. And the reinforced low end of the range, he says, means continued emissions will fuel a substantial warming in this century.

The new studies use a technique called Bayesian statistics to gauge how adding new information improves past estimates of climate sensitivity. Most previous estimates used only a single line of evidence, such as how climate warmed as greenhouse gases increased during the 20th century or how climate cooled right after the debris from a major volcanic eruption shaded the planet. Lately, such analyses have tended to support a 25-year-old guess about climate sensitivity: If the concentration of CO2 were to double, as is expected by late in the 21st century, the world would warm between a modest 1.5°C and a hefty 4.5°C (Science, 13 August 2004, p. 932). The low end of that range looked fairly firm; the negligible warming claimed by greenhouse contrarians looked very unlikely. But no one was sure about the high end.
(21 April 2006)