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The Vapor Chase
On water vapor and climate change

Umbra Fisk, Grist
Q: Coming from a scientific background, I was under the assumption that water vapor was the worst — or you could say the best — at causing global warming. Do you believe this to be false, and if not, why is no one talking about it?

A: … Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by mass and volume, but scientists don’t seem to agree on a quantification. It provides maybe 35 to 70 percent of the natural greenhouse effect, 80 percent of the greenhouse gases by mass. But these numbers can be misleading, because the way gases combine is an important component of the greenhouse effect; if water vapor accounts for, say, 55 percent of the effect, that doesn’t mean the rest of the gases make up 45 percent. If you are interested in more exactitude, check out this post on the RealClimate blog.

From my understanding of others’ understanding, the reason “no one talks about it” — i.e., the reason we focus on carbon dioxide — is that we are not directly creating water vapor. We are loading the atmosphere with carbon, resulting in the many metaphors — adding an extra blanket to the atmosphere, overheating the well-managed greenhouse — and the techno-speak, “direct forcing.” We release the carbon by burning it, the carbon goes into the atmosphere, the atmosphere retains more of the sun’s radiation. That is a direct impact we have and should stop having.

…Basically, our “take-home learning” (hee hee, I love these horrible corporate gerunds) is that increased water vapor will amplify anthropogenic carbon emissions. Water vapor is not “the best” at causing global warming, because it has a short life in the atmosphere. Also, we are causing global warming and we have found the easiest, best way to do so is to burn fossil fuels and deforest. No, we don’t need to worry about lids on pasta pots. We should, however, feel very sober about the avalanche of climate changes we are bringing upon ourselves.
(26 April 2006)

NRDC’s David Hawkins looks at the state of global warming science

OnPoint, E&E TV
Opinion polls show that the American public is increasingly concerned about climate change. But will the issue resonate with voters during the mid-term elections this fall? And are environmental groups oversimplifying the science behind global warming as they take their message to the masses? During today’s OnPoint, David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discusses growing awareness of the issue and the challenges facing policymakers. He also talks about NRDC’s position on coal gasification, and the potential for new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
(27 April 2006)

Defrost, drill, guzzle
Oil companies have a recipe for the Arctic. Enjoy!

Rafe Mair, The Tyee
Attention all! I bring you great tidings! We’re all saved. For there it was on the front page of the Guardian Weekly under the headline “Scramble Is on for Arctic Oil” and our homegrown favourite, Petrocan, is in the hunt with the other biggies in the business.

It’s interesting how this all got started. It was strictly in the interest of science whereby the US Geological Service teamed up with the British oil giant BP and Statoil, a huge Norwegian oil conglomerate, to do a survey on global warming, especially in the Arctic. Since they believe they might find some oil under the ice, they decided, apparently as an afterthought, that as long as they were there anywhere, they might as well look for a little oil while they were at it. (If you believe that, I have a lovely bridge just waiting for you to buy.) The US Geological Survey estimates that a quarter of the world’s petroleum reserves lie under the Arctic Ocean. And there are other players like Russia involved, big time. When I heard about the scientific front for this undertaking, I couldn’t help thinking of Japan slaughtering hundred of whales each year for “scientific purposes.”

Here is the good news. Oil exploration will become more and more feasible in the Arctic as the ice cap recedes and the companies can do their drilling on dry land. And in fact, the news here is very cheery because it’s estimated that the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice in summertime by 2060. Now here’s where you come in. Global warming, as we know, is dependent on emissions from cars and others exploiting the universe as a huge garbage dump so conveniently put there for the consequences of our greed. Think of what we could do if we all just added, say, 10 percent to our fossil fuel consumption and waste expulsion! Why I bet we could lower the time for an ice free Arctic back to 2050, or maybe, 2040! All we need to do, really, is concentrate on buying all those SUVs that GM and Ford have overstocked. We could have bumper stickers saying “Save the Arctic from the bears and Inuit – buy a gas guzzler.”
(1 May 2006)

Debate on global warming helps produce a brisk seller

Ian Austen, NY Times
Canada’s Conservative government, which was elected in January, has been distancing itself from the greenhouse gas emission cuts the country promised to make under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty requiring reductions.

And along the way, the environment minister, Rona Ambrose, has helped turn an obscure science-fiction novel about global warming into a widely known book title in Canada.

“Hotter Than Hell” describes a war between Canada and the United States over fresh water in the wake of a global-warming catastrophe. The author, Mark Tushingham, is a climatologist at Environment Canada, the government department now headed by Ms. Ambrose.

Last month, DreamCatcher Publishing, the small house in St. John, New Brunswick, that published Mr. Tushingham’s book, organized a lunch at the National Press Club of Canada in Ottawa.

But shortly before the event began, Elizabeth L. Margaris, the publisher, received a call from Mr. Tushingham telling her that Ms. Ambrose’s office had ordered him not to attend the lunch or to discuss his book with the news media.

“When I told the lunch that he wasn’t able to speak, the whole place went wild,” Ms. Margaris said. “This is a democratic country, and we have freedom of speech.”

Ms. Margaris and many Canadian environmentalists say they believe that Mr. Tushingham has been effectively gagged because his novel does not mesh with the government’s attempts to play down the potential impact of global warming.

…the incident may be paying off for the book. The initial 2,000 copies of “Hotter Than Hell” are now more or less sold out. Ms. Margaris is about to complete a second printing that should run to 10,000 copies.
(1 May 2006)