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NYT: Conversation with James E. Lovelock

Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times
Few scientists have elicited such equivalent heaps of praise and criticism as James E. Lovelock, the British chemist, inventor and planetary diagnostician who has long foreseen a clash between humans and their planet.

…In his latest book, “The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back — and How We Can Still Save Humanity” (Perseus, 2006), Dr. Lovelock says that any risks posed by nuclear power are small when compared with the “fever” of heat-trapping carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

In a review in the current edition of American Scientist, Brian Hayes, a senior writer, says the book contains “something each of us can admire and embrace, and also something each of us can disdain or ridicule.” He adds, “For me it’s pretty nearly an even mix.”

Opponents of nuclear power have started a counteroffensive to Dr. Lovelock’s call for a new nuclear age, arguing that mining uranium and building nuclear plants releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and that the danger from accidents or terrorism is too great. In an interview during a stop in Manhattan last week with his wife, Sandy, Dr. Lovelock, still fit and feisty at 87 and seemingly relishing his role as provocateur, said that such objections were baseless and dangerous.

He also offered a daunting prescription for avoiding utter catastrophe, while adding that something just short of that was clearly already under way.
(12 Sept 2006)

“Economist” says time to act on climate change

Original: The heat is on
Editorial, The Economist (UK)
The uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction. America should lead the way

… Since the costs of climate change are unknown, the benefits of trying to do anything to prevent it are, by definition, unclear. What’s more, if they accrue at all, they will do so at some point in the future. So is it really worth using public resources now to avert an uncertain, distant risk, especially when the cash could be spent instead on goods and services that would have a measurable near-term benefit?

If the risk is big enough, yes. Governments do it all the time. They spend a small slice of tax revenue on keeping standing armies not because they think their countries are in imminent danger of invasion but because, if it happened, the consequences would be catastrophic. Individuals do so too. They spend a little of their incomes on household insurance not because they think their homes are likely to be torched next week but because, if it happened, the results would be disastrous. Similarly, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the risk of a climatic catastrophe is high enough for the world to spend a small proportion of its income trying to prevent one from happening.

And the slice of global output that would have to be spent to control emissions is probably not huge. The cost differential between fossil-fuel-generated energy and some alternatives is already small, and is likely to come down. Economists trying to guess the ultimate cost of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations to 550 parts per million or below (the current level is 380ppm, 450ppm is reckoned to be ambitious and 550ppm liveable with) struggle with uncertainties too. Some models suggest there would be no cost; others that global output could be as much as 5% lower by the end of the century than if there were no attempt to control emissions. But most estimates are at the low end—below 1%.

The technological and economic aspects of the problem are, thus, not quite as challenging as many imagine. The real difficulty is political.
(7 Sept 2006)
Climate change is on the front page of The Economist’s current issue. Commentary and summary by David Roberts at at Gristmill.

Report links global warming, storms

Keay Davidson, SF Chronicle
Scientists say they have found what could be the key to ending a yearlong debate about what is making hurricanes more violent and common — evidence that human-caused global warming is heating the ocean and providing more fuel for the world’s deadliest storms.

For the past 13 months, researchers have debated whether humanity is to blame for a surge in hurricanes since the mid-1990s or whether the increased activity is merely a natural cycle that occurs every several decades.

Employing 80 computer simulations, scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and other institutions concluded that there is only one answer: that the burning of fossil fuels, which warms the climate, is also heating the oceans.

Humans, Ben Santer, the report’s lead author, told The Chronicle, are making hurricanes globally more violent “and violent hurricanes more common” — at least, in the latter case, in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The findings were published Monday in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hurricanes are born from tropical storms fueled by rising warm, moist air in the tropics. The Earth’s rotation puts a spin on the storms, causing them to suck in more and more warm, moist air — thus making them bigger and more ferocious.
(12 Sept 2006)

Global warming film unites preachers and politics

Carey Gillam, Reuters via AlertNet
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Coming soon to a movie screen near you: prayers, politics and a feature-length film, united in an effort to mobilize religious groups around global warming concerns in time for the U.S. midterm election.

With a new documentary titled “The Great Warming” as their chief campaign tool, a coalition of religious leaders, environmentalists and businesses are spreading copies of the film into churches around the country. Voter guides and themed sermons are also part of the plan.

The aim of the screenings, like one held in Kansas last week, is to turn the large and powerful conservative Christian constituency into a voting block united behind making the reduction of greenhouse gases a top priority among politicians.

Evangelical Christian leaders have embraced the cause and are now helping spur momentum before both midterm elections in November and the 2008 presidential election.
(10 Sept 2006)