U.S. Defense Review Serious About Climate Change

Sam Kornell, Miller-McCune
National security blueprint finds climate change “inextricably” linked to energy and economic concerns.

… The QDR, which is considered the most important long-term national security strategy document the military produces, was released this week. It’s remarkable for how much of it is dedicated to climate change and how directly the authors — who represent every branch of the military — address the issue.

“Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment,” the QDR declares. “Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

Echoing previous reports by scientists and defense-oriented think tanks, the QDR focuses special attention on climate change’s potential to sow violent instability by reconfiguring global weather and climate patterns:
(5 February 2010)

Climate Science Under Fire

Maria Margaronis, The Nation
… So what’s going on? Are these revelations part of an evil conspiracy by the deniers of man-made climate change to discredit climate science? Or do they show (as my learned colleague Alexander Cockburn argues) that anthropogenic warming is just one big snow job?

Science is a way of asking questions, but policymakers demand instant answers. On a subject as politicized as this, it’s not surprising that scientists have been found guilty of hoarding data, smoothing a graph or two, shutting each other’s work out of peer-reviewed journals; the same goes on in far less controversial fields, where what’s at stake is only money and careers. On this topic there’s pressure from both sides–from campaigners and politicians who believe that climate change is the most pressing threat to humankind and from sceptics (or deniers–all these words are loaded) who think it’s a left-wing fantasy, or a threat to the oil industry, or a mere misguided manufactured panic. Many of the CRU emails have a beleaguered tone, as if the scientists clutching secrets to their chests were protecting their work from misuse or unscrupulous attack–as they well may have been. Why, they might ask, do they have to be Caesar’s wife, always and impeccably above suspicion?

Unfortunately that response isn’t nearly good enough. Their sloppy use of data and fudging of evidence has set back efforts to understand climate change and harmed the wider cause of sustainable development. We know that the earth is warming; the evidence convincingly suggests that human activity plays a significant part in this. (Take a look at the blog www.realclimate.org for informed, accessible commentary on what we know so far.) But whoever released the CRU documents just before Copenhagen knew what they were doing: nothing makes people angrier than the feeling that they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. Every research paper and data set produced by climate scientists or cited by the IPCC is now fair game for the fine-toothed comb, whether it’s wielded honestly or with malicious intent. Nit-picking takes the place of conversation.

Some campaigners have called for a purge at the IPCC and heads may be sent rolling, but I’m not sure that will help, or even if it should. The deeper problem has to do with how science is practiced–not collaboratively but competitively, not following questions but seeking profitable answers–and with its skewed relationship to politics.

… The experts have to open up the research, be honest about the uncertainties, known knowns and known unknowns, and the rest of us have to stop expecting them to tell us what to do. The argument over global warming stands in for conflicts about many other things: the relationship between the developed and developing worlds, the economic model of infinite growth, extractive versus sustainable use of natural resources, who pollutes and who gets polluted. There is little to lose (except, perhaps, for oil and mining corporations) and everything to gain by switching to sustainable energy, gradually consuming less, leaving the odd tree standing. It is much easier to bicker about botched graphs–important as they are–than it is to confront the politics.
(5 February 2010)

Burning the biosphere, boverty blues (Part II)

Geoff Russell, Brave New Climate (Australia)

This is the second of a two part post by Geoff Russell. Part I sketched the quantitative features of the global fire regime, biomass flows, while this part looks primarily at Africa. – Brave New Climate editor

Boverty was defined in the previous post as the human impact of too many bovines overwhelming the local biosphere’s ability to feed them … the bovines are usually cattle and more than a few African countries have boverty induced poverty. Their livestock is a millstone around their necks and helping to keep them poor.

Western aid organisations, particularly those run by BBQ obsessed Australians, seem dominated by people haven’t woken up to the simple fact that the foods they grew up on when the planet had half its present population haven’t been sustainable globally for a very long time. Even in Australia, with its vast landmass and small human population, the production of these foods has driven and continues to drive water shortages, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Advocacy of such foods in Africa will benefit few and damage prospects of long term food security.

African reforestation

As outlined in the Part I, many grasslands on the planet are not the product of natural forces, but were cleared by people and kept as grasslands for livestock grazing by annual or occasional conflagrations. This is global burning on a massive scale as shown in the NASA firemaps presented in Part I. The continent with the most deliberate human burning is Africa. Over 200 million hectares and 2 billion tonnes of dry matter are burned annually in deliberately lit fires. Almost all of these fires are set by livestock herders to stop grasslands becoming forests. By comparison, burning by shifting cultivators for crops covered an area about 10 percent of this size. A recent study in Nature gives an idea of what could happen if the burning stopped. The reforestation potential is massive.

Consider the above image from the Nature article. The vertically hatched area has an average rainfall over 780mm and would, according to Sankaran and the large number of other authors, revert to some kind of forest if given half a chance. Its status as savanna is anthropogenic and not a product of natural attributes like soil type and climate.

How long can such regrowth go on adding carbon in the form of forests? Most additional carbon would be added during the first 3 decades but forests can go on adding smaller amounts for centuries. It’s worth noting that fire is probably always a suppressor of biomass production. The frequent claim that fire helps regeneration, making it some kind of friend of biodiversity, can be true but is highly misleading. I intend to do a post on this sometime in the future. But despite some plants benefitting from fire, the general impact is to reduce biomass production. Measurements under 2 rainfall regimes and 4 soil types in Africa always recorded higher biomass production in areas not burned.

Geoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.
(4 February 2010)
The first in this series is Burning the biosphere, boverty blues (Part I)

The website Brave New Climate is maintained by Professor Barry Brook, who “holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide.”

Dr. Brook is a proponent of Sustainable nuclear power.