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How Wrong Is the IPCC?

Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones
What’s going at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? After a rash of stories about inaccurate data in the reports produced by the world’s preeminent climate science research organization, Kevin Drum wonders what impact the recent scandals have had on public opinion. The controversies over the IPCC’s data haven’t challenged the fundamental agreement among the vast majority of scientific bodies that climate change is happening and caused in large part by human activity. But they’re feeding public distrust of climate science and science in general, largely because they’ve provided plentiful ammunition for skeptics and climate change deniers. And it’s getting worse by the day.

The trouble for the IPCC started in November, with the so-called ClimateGate saga—the release of excerpts from emails between IPCC scientists that were used as evidence of insularity and secretiveness in the scientific community. The vast majority of those emails were innocuous; a thorough investigation found that while they showed scientists behaving badly, they didn’t discount the underlying science. And Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climatologist at the center of the email dispute, has been largely cleared of charges of scientific misconduct.

But the email incident has fueled skeptics, who are now picking apart the IPCC reports for any other evidence of misconduct. While the fundamental conclusions about warming temperatures are well-vetted, it seems the IPCC has been less than thorough in verifying some of the subsidiary findings. Indeed, specific regional impacts are among some of the most hotly contested questions for climate scientists.

And there seem to be a fair number of questionable claims, including:

The inclusion of inaccurate information about the decline of Himalayan glaciers. The glaciers are still receding, but not as fast as the IPCC report stated. More on that here.

There also appears to be inaccurate information on African crop failure—the report claims that global warming will reduce crop production by up to 50 percent by 2020. The claim was drawn from an 2003 policy paper that was not peer-reviewed. This one is particularly troubling, as it was referenced in the influential Synthesis Report and has been cited in public statements by IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Questions have also been raised over claims about sea-level rise in Holland…
(8 February 2010)

Methane: the quick fix for global warming?

Tom Levitt, The Ecologist
Its short lifespan and greater potency means tackling methane emissions now could have a dramatic effect on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations

It’s the ‘other’ greenhouse gas, regularly left out of the public discourse on climate change – one usually dominated by discussions of carbon dioxide.

Few talk about our ‘methane footprint’; still fewer about the need to achieve a ‘low-methane economy’.

Methane makes up a small (1.77 parts per million/ppm) portion of the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide (380 ppm), but is a significant component of the greenhouse effect.

Methane molecules absorb 20-30 times more infrared energy than carbon dioxide molecules in their respective lifetimes in the atmosphere, and their overall contribution to the greenhouse effect is estimated at 18 per cent compared to 63 per cent for CO2.

Add this potency to the fact that it has a short lifespan in the atmosphere of between 9-12 years (compared to 100 years for CO2), and you can start to see why cutting methane emissions now could make sense.

Dr Chris Jardine, author of a major report on methane emissions in 2005, argues that we are wasting precious time by not acting on methane:

‘We have been dithering around with Copenhagen and not achieving very much and while that is happening CO2 emissions are going up. You could actually do a whole load on methane emissions and get them down really quickly,’ he says…
(18 February 2010)
Long and significant article for the Ecologist with some good links. -KS

Bill Gates: the Most Important Climate Speech of the Year

Alex Steffen, Worldchanging
When We Talk Zero, We Sound Crazy. When Bill Gates Does It, Bankers Pick Up the Phone.

On Friday, the world’s most successful businessperson and most powerful philanthropist did something outstandingly bold, that went almost unremarked: Bill Gates announced that his top priority is getting the world to zero climate emissions.

Now, I’m not a member of the Cult of Bill myself (I’m typing this on a MacBook), but you don’t have to believe that Gates has superhuman powers of prediction to know that his predictions have enormous power. People who will never listen to Al Gore, much to less someone like me, hang on Gates’ every utterance.

And Friday, Gates predicted extraordinary climate action: zero. Not small steps, not incremental progress, not doing less bad: zero. In fact, he stood in front of a slide with nothing but the planet Earth and the number zero. That moment was the most important thing that has happened at TED.

What, exactly, did he say, and why is it so important?

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

Obviously, that’s a big goal. Because he is the world’s biggest geek, to explain how he plans to achieve that goal, Gates put up a slide with a formula (which we can call the Gates Climate Equation):…
(15 February 2010)
related: counter argument: Joe Romm on Gates

Team Finds Subtropical Waters Flushing Through Greenland Fjord

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, sciencedailly
Waters from warmer latitudes — or subtropical waters — are reaching Greenland’s glaciers, driving melting and likely triggering an acceleration of ice loss, reports a team of researchers led by Fiamma Straneo, a physical oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

“This is the first time we’ve seen waters this warm in any of the fjords in Greenland,” says Straneo. “The subtropical waters are flowing through the fjord very quickly, so they can transport heat and drive melting at the end of the glacier.”

Greenland’s ice sheet, which is two-miles thick and covers an area about the size of Mexico, has lost mass at an accelerated rate over the last decade. The ice sheet’s contribution to sea level rise during that time frame doubled due to increased melting and, to a greater extent, the widespread acceleration of outlet glaciers around Greenland.
While melting due to warming air temperatures is a known event, scientists are just beginning to learn more about the ocean’s impact — in particular, the influence of currents — on the ice sheet.
“Among the mechanisms that we suspected might be triggering this acceleration are recent changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which are delivering larger amounts of subtropical waters to the high latitudes,” says Straneo. But a lack of observations and measurements from Greenland’s glaciers prior to the acceleration made it difficult to confirm.
(17 February 2010)

UPDATE 3-Oil firms drop group lobbying for US climate bill

Timothy Gardner, Reuters
BP (BP.L) and ConocoPhillips (COP.N) will drop out of a group lobbying for the U.S. climate bill as proposed legislation would hurt the motor fuel and natural gas industries, the companies said on Tuesday.

The oil companies and Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) said they will not renew their memberships in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, or U.S. CAP.

The coalition of companies and moderate environmental groups formed a blueprint early last year outlining what they wanted in U.S. climate rules.

The blueprint helped steer climate legislation passed in the House of Representatives last June. But the bill has stalled in the U.S. Senate, amid opposition from oil and coal states, and faces an uncertain future.

BP said it still supports the blueprint which called for a cap-and-trade market on emissions blamed for warming the planet, but that the current legislation is plagued with problems that would penalize the petroleum industry…
(16 February 2010)