Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why is there still any doubt about climate change?
“If you believe in Global Warming…” began Jane Wells, the West Coast CNBC business reporter the other day. A CNN anchor spoke similar words not long ago. And many TV interviewers still seem to be stuck at the “is Global Warming real?” stage and unable to move on to the “What should we do about it?” stage. They drag out someone to give “the other side,” and then give them equal time, which is no service at all to the viewers.

They don’t look for crazies who will say the Earth is flat or contrarians who deny that AIDS is a serious epidemic. So why are they still looking to present “both sides” equally on climate change? Are they as woefully ignorant as they appear or are they coddling the oil, gas and coal industries? Probably both. They certainly don’t point out if their guest gets funding from Big Oil.

We know Exxon Mobil has long financed groups to create confusion by publicly denying that Global Warming is mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Now we learn that the American Enterprise Institute has offered $10,000 (plus expenses) to scientists or economists who will refute parts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s comprehensive report released Feb. 2. Exxon has given AEI more than $1.6 million and its former CEO, Lee Raymond, is vice chairman of the board, reports The Guardian in England, which broke the story.

(The oil company’s new CEO, Rex Tillerson, after release of the IPCC report, acknowledged the Global Warming problem is real and said funding of such groups has stopped.)

The IPCC report is a review of scientific research, involving 2,500 scientists, from 113 countries, done over 6 years. It was vetted by more than 100 governments before publication, so if anything, you can bet it’s very watered down.

But this “rent-a-scientist” program is now likely to produce TV guests to espouse the “other side” for some time to come.

The IPCC report
The panel’s report, “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,” is a summary for policymakers, the first of several reports to be released throughout the year. It is not some sensationalist speculation about disasters to come. It is dully written and edited to death. Some parts of earlier drafts have been taken out – like the warning the Great Barrier Reef will die off. It carefully points out when there is enough evidence to predict a trend with certainty and when there isn’t. For example, in forecasting the rise in sea levels (7 to 32 inches by 2100), it doesn’t include uncertainties about feedback (like melting ice leading to more melting ice) or the full effects of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets’ role. (Though it does note that after 2100 contraction of the Greenland ice sheet is expected to contribute substantially to the sea level rise.)

The report, which builds on three earlier ones, the most recent in 2001, includes new observations, in part from satellites, and draws on many more simulation models, as well as some of the 2001 predictions that have come true. If you want to read the 21-page summary, you can find it at www.ipcc.ch.

What has changed so far
You’ve no doubt seen and read news accounts about the report’s predictions. Here are some of the its observations of what has already happened:
• Global concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide (all greenhouse gases) have increased markedly since 1750. Fossil fuels and agriculture are the main culprits.
• 11 of the past 12 years are among the warmest since 1880.
• The global average temperature increase from the second half of the 19th century to the period 2001-2005 is .76 degrees Celsius (roughly double that for Fahrenheit)
• Global average sea level rose 1.8 mm/year 1961-2003 and faster from 1993-2003, as oceans absorbed heat added to the climate system, causing sea water to expand.
• Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined in both hemispheres, contributing to the rise in sea level.
• Since 1978, Arctic sea ice shrunk 2.7% per decade, with summer ice shrinking 7.4% per decade. Temperatures at the top of permafrost increased as much as 3 degrees Celsius since the 1980s (important because melting permafrost can release methane, a potent GHG).
• The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased. Long-term trends from 1900-2005 show an increase in precipitation in eastern North and South America, northern Europe and north and central Asia.
• There are more intense and longer droughts in wider areas since the 1970s, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics.
• Mid-latitude westerly winds have strengthened since the 1960s.
• There are changes in extreme temperatures over the past 50 years. Cold and frost is less frequent, hot days and nights and heat waves more frequent.
• There’s an increase in intense tropical cyclone (hurricane) activity in the North Atlantic since 1970. Variability and lack of observation prior to satellites complicate long-term detection.

Most of the observed increase in global temperature since the mid-20th century is “very likely” (90-99% certainly) due to observed increases in human-caused GHG concentrations, the report said. Human influence now extends to ocean warming, continental average temperatures, temperature extremes, and wind patterns, it said. Volcanic activity and aerosols have offset some warming that would otherwise have taken place.

To quote the report: “The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion it is extremely unlikely that global climate change in the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing [human causes].”

Just in case there is still any doubt.

Congressional Round-up

• Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) reintroduced a bill to cut GHG emissions across the economy 65% by mid-century. It also mandates that 20% of energy come from renewable sources by 2020 and requires all gas stations to have E85 (an ethanol mix) available by 2016.

• Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) offered legislation to conserve energy in federal buildings by setting up an Office of High Performance Buildings in the General Accounting Office. GAO is the nation’s largest landlord, and its buildings use 40% more energy per square foot than the private sector. Others have introduced somewhat similar bills, including Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.)

• Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has a bill to require utilities to get 20% or their power from renewables by 2020.

• Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, may not have the votes to get strong legislation to cap GHG out of her committee. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said he’d vote “no” on an economy-wide bill today, and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is worried about the coal industry, wants to wait and watch California to see how that state fares with its 20% by 2020 law. Sen. Warner may be a swing vote and hasn’t said how he would vote on mandatory caps. “No” votes would include Sens. John Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has called Global Warming a media hoax, John Voinovich (R-Ohio), and 5 other Republicans. Boxer’s strategy will be to pass a series of small bills, starting with energy efficiency. Her own bill calls for an 80% cut by 2050 and would face very tough going.

• Al Gore has agreed to testify before both House and Senate committees on March 21. The former VP will appear before Boxer’s committee then testify at a joint hearing of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee and House Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
(Sources: Greenwire, E&E Daily, E&E PM)

News briefs

1. Efficiency and renewables could cut emissions 60-80%
Energy efficiency, wind, biofuels and other renewable energy sources could reduce GHG emissions 60-80% by 2050 given the right incentives, according to a new peer-reviewed report by the American Solar Energy Society. A far more coordinated effort to improve energy efficiency in homes, offices and industrial buildings could help keep U.S. carbon emissions stable over the next 20 years, the report says. And renewable sources, such as wind, biomass, solar panels and geothermal would contribute to the reduction. By 2030, renewables could displace coal-powered plants and provide about 40% of U.S. energy, up from 2.3% today, according to the report. It can be found at www.ases.org/climatechange/index.htm. (Source: E&E News PM)

2. Emissions still going up in Northeast, despite pledges
A report by Environment Northeast says regional leaders have failed to reduce greenhouse gases as promised 5 years ago. In 2001 New England governors and Eastern Canada premiers pledged to cut GHG to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, but with emissions still going up it appears they could be 50% higher by that date instead. The report recommends steps to get back on track, including identifying places to store carbon underground and creating and enforcing strict building energy-efficiency codes. Massachusetts, the biggest CO2 emitter in New England, will now join the effort under its new governor, Deval Patrick. (Source: Greenwire, Boston Globe)

3. Worldwide concert ‘SOS’ to encourage activism this July
Al Gore is helping organize concerts in 6 cities across the world, with the hope of convincing people to take action to fight Global Warming. The events, scheduled for London, Kyoto, Rio de Janiero, Shanghai, Cape Town and Washington, D.C., will include film and TV with the music to get their message across. Organizers say the July 7 ‘SOS’ concerts will be bigger than LiveAid or Live8 and could reach 2 billion people. (Source: Greenwire)

4. Poll of pols shows parties split on Warming’s causes
A poll of 113 members of Congress found that 95% of the Democrats and just 13% of the Republicans thought it had been “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Earth is warming because of man-made causes. The poll was conducted by the National Journal and released this month. Asked about solutions, 83% of the Democrats and 42% of the Republicans prefer a cap-and-trade system; both sides rank a carbon tax as the least preferred option. Alternative fuels got 95% support from Democrats and 71% of Republicans. Nuclear energy got more support from Republicans (80%) than from Democrats (58%). (Source: E&E News PM)

5. Virgin’s Branson offers $25 million prize for new technology
Virgin Corp. CEO Richard Branson, who earlier put up $3 million of his airline’s profits for research into new technologies to fight Global Warming, has upped the ante to $25 million for a scientist (or team) who can come up with a way to remove 1 billion metric tons of CO2 a year from the atmosphere. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen from NASA will head a judging panel. Al Gore was with Branson in London when he made the announcement.

6. British Petroleum to invest $6 billion in renewable energy
BP will launch a series of wind power projects this year as part of a
plan to put $6 billion into renewable energy. The company said it will produce 550 megawatts of wind power in Colorado, California, Texas and North Dakota. “This is a profitable business for us,” Bob Lukefahr, president of BP Alternative Energy North America, told the Houston Chronicle. Each megawatt can power about 800 homes. In related news, GE Energy Financial Services has invested about $1.5 billion into renewable energy, 70% of it in wind, and said it hopes to increase its commitment to $3 billion by year’s end. (Source: Houston Chronicle)

Do something

Check out www.StepitiUp007.org for information about a series of Global Warming rallies around the country planned for April 14. Sign up and get involved. Tell Congress to cut CO2 80% by 2050, the reduction that scientists advocate.