Climate Change Articles

The current issue of California magazine focuses on climate change.

Extreme Science
looks at results from Inez Fung on models and the new data coming in:

[A]ll these signals, she suggests, demonstrate that the fragile balance that keeps the earth’s ecosystem functioning properly—a complex and finely regulated series of homeostatic effects that tends to maintain its stability for generations at a time—may…now be spiraling out of control.

Fung is among the group of leading climatologists who have signed the amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of eleven states suing EPA for not regulating greenhouse gases.

Some detail on what is happening.

Synthetic Solutions
examines aspirations for biofuels, using plants to make fuels. The science is currently at a primitive, how do things work? stage, but Jay Keasling has big aspirations, creating fermenting microbes that can create ethanol, and butanol, say, rather than ethanol:

It’s easier to ship, has more energy (per gallon), and is less corrosive.

Plug and go describes advantages of plug-in hybrids, cars that operate totally on batteries for short trips, so they require less oil (or biofuels, eventually). Instead of an expensive electricity sector requiring nuclear power plus wind (or that dreaded coal) for base load plants, with natural gas (plus solar) peak load plants for times of high usage, most of the grid could be run on some combination of nuclear plus wind plus solar. The electricity that would be wasted at night today could charge cars in the plug in hybrid future. During times of electricity needs, the cars could be discharged to help the grid.

Sounding the Alarm
has a few choice quotes you may want to use on what is happening, how easy and how hard it is to make change, and the morality of emitting more than our fair share.

Global Warning displays what we are already seeing on a world map. What we will soon see. Or may see.

Kilimanjaro shows changes in glaciers over the years, both in Tanzania and in Glacier National Park. People in Tanzania depend on both the water collected by the forest they are destroying and the glacier melt that will soon be no more.

Tuvalu is a Pacific Island state, where the average elevation is less than half of the height of an SUV. Emigration has begun.

Leaders in Bangladesh, with a population almost half that of the U.S. on land area about the same as Wisconsin, are trying to find ways to adapt, such as gardens that float on water. But a half-meter sea level rise would displace 10 million people. [Dhaka, the capital far inland, has an elevation of only 8 meters.]

Tanganyika, the longest fresh water lake in the world, contains almost 1/5 of the world’s freshwater. It has warmed by 0.8 C over the past 80 years, slowing down the growth of algae, thus affecting the entire food chain.

Residents of Churchill near Manitoba, Canada, are already shifting from an economy that depends on polar bears to a more diversified tourist industry. Sometime soon, enough ice will be gone that Churchill can act as a seaport.

Flower Power is the story of John Harte’s work warming up a part of the Rockies. In the slightly warmer environment, sage replaces flowers, doubly bad. The current ecosystems in the Rockies hold more carbon than the new warmer ecosystems, so a warming releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a positive feedback. The sage is darker than the flowers, so more sunlight is absorbed, another positive feedback.

The frightening thing, [Harte] says, is that, for lack of understanding, biological feedbacks like those in the meadow are not factored into our current global warming models. While the models anticipate increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide from future fossil fuel emissions and from some feedbacks like increased water vapor and lower ice reflectivity, they don’t account for the carbon that will be unleashed from the ground, and the oceans as the world warms. If they did, Harte says, the upper-limit increase in global temperature by 2050 would not be 8 degrees Fahrenheit, as is currently projected, but closer to 12 degrees [almost 7 degrees Celsius].

California at Risk describes climate change effects expected for California. California is likely to see big changes, detrimental changes, in agriculture (the wine industry alone is worth $45 billion/year to California). A rise in sea level could overwhelm already fragile levees in the Delta, which supplies drinking water to 22 million [of 36 million Californians; it also supplies much of the agricultural water in California.] A continued increase in forest fires (nationwide in 2005, a total area larger than the state of Maryland was burned), plus changes in precipitation, temperature, and pests, could reduce forest size by 1/5 this century. See the temperature change and agriculture map, and the sea level rise map.

China’s sorrow provides a picture of the harm done by the large increase in fossil fuels in China—the author didn’t see the blue sky or yellow sun during a 1,000-mile (car) trip through China. The blackest market shows more.

Unforbidden cities details the kind of gated communities China is building at the rate 10 – 15 per day. Harrison Fraker, Jr. and his students spent a semester designing an alternative community that depends less on cars, is able to supply most of its energy needs through photovoltaic (solar) panels, wind, and biogas (natural gas from plants), and reduces energy need through good design. It also collects rainwater; clean water is a precious commodity in China. If the design can be modified to meet Chinese standards, or vice versa, the Chinese government is able to implement the new design immediately. There is interest now:

several cities are vying for the opportunity to build one of these prototypes, resource-self-sufficient, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Can we adapt in time? describes one way of dealing with imminent environmental catastrophe: the destruction of fishing in Gloucester, Massachusetts by denial and fighting all attempts at regulation. There are reports on the large effects that climate change has already wrought, but we ignore them. [how many changed their behavior or their messages to their legislators as a result of, and after, this summer’s heat?] We may not be wired to respond to long-term threats, we are more likely to notice the moment.

There are a few errors. Estimates of sea level rise this century differ from author to author. The 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report assumes a maximum increase of 33 inches, but points out great uncertainties in understanding ice sheet stability. The 2007 IPCC report is expected to predict larger sea level rise, perhaps as much as 2 meters increase this century, and 3- 4 meters/century afterwards. The U.S. does not emit 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases, though it once did, decades ago. The current figure is 21%. Errors are few.

Overall, this provides a perspective on the changes we are seeing, and expect to see. The editorial says that people don’t appear to respond to fear messages. But we need to know what is happening, what may happen, if we are to change the future.

Note: not all links are up, will update later.

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