Thursday, May 17, 2007

We've Changed Earth's Climate: Now What?

That which man acquires by contemplation he should spend in love.

---Meister Eckhardt

All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

---Mark Twain, August 27, 1897

Mark Twain's famous remark remained funny for about a hundred years. Then we began to wonder. With all our technology, why can't we change the weather in some places if we want to? But at the same time, gloomier forecasts were accumulating that in fact humanity, in that same hundred years of industrialization, was changing not only the weather but the very stability of the planet's current climate arrangement. We've had at least 10 years of raging argument about this, and still we have "scientists," mostly in the pay of corporations who can't find a profit motive yet, who tell us it all is too complicated for people to understand and it's better to do nothing. Most people, in the States anyway, seem to believe there's global warming or whatever we end up calling it, but feel it's too big for them to change any behavior about. I mean, what is one guy supposed to do?

On Tuesday, the government's NASA site called Earth Observatory put up the 2005 photo you see here with this comment:

"Perhaps the most visible sign that Earth’s climate is warming is the gradual shrinking of its glaciers. In North America, the most visited glacier is the Athabasca Glacier, one of six glaciers that spill down the Canadian Rockies from the Columbia Icefield in western Canada. Visitors who return to the glacier a few years after their first visit will notice the change wrought by warming temperatures. In the past 125 years, the Athabasca Glacier has lost half of its volume and receded more than 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles), leaving hills of rock in its place. Its retreat is visible in this photo, where the glacier’s front edge looms several meters behind the tombstone-like marker that indicates the edge of the ice in 1992. The Athabasca Glacier is not alone in its retreat: Since 1960, glaciers around the world have lost an estimated 8,000 cubic kilometers (1,900 cubic miles) of ice. That is approximately enough ice to cover a two-kilometer-wide (1.2 mile-wide) swath of land between New York and Los Angeles with an ice sheet that is one kilometer (0.62 miles) tall.

"Melting glaciers, dwindling sea ice, rising global temperatures, and rising sea levels. Little by little the evidence is adding up to show that Earth is getting hotter, and scientists are almost certain that people are to blame. A number of activities from burning fossil fuels to farming pump heat-trapping gases—greenhouse gases—into the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, these gases stay there for thousands of years, absorbing the heat that comes from the Earth and re-radiating it back to the surface, enhancing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. Between 1906 and 2006, the average surface temperature of the Earth rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.08 to 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit), while greenhouse gas concentrations reached their highest levels in at least the past 650,000 years. Most climate scientists believe that there is a connection and warn that if greenhouse gas emissions continue, temperatures are likely to go up 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 10.8 degrees F) by the end of the 21st century.

"While this might seem like a small change, it will probably lead to big changes in the environment. Warming temperatures will likely lead to more frequent heat waves, bigger storms, including more intense tropical cyclones (hurricanes), and more widespread drought. Since water expands as it heats, and melting glaciers and ice caps have dumped more fresh water into the world’s oceans, sea levels have already started to rise. Higher sea levels lead to more erosion and greater storm damage in coastal areas, many of which are densely populated. As much as 10 percent of the world’s population lives in vulnerable coastal regions that have an elevation less than 10 meters (32 feet) above sea level."

At that point, in a move not at all typical of this site---and I visit it everyday---the reader is referred to another page where begins a lengthy treatise on Global Warming. It is illustrated with many striking photos, maybe most of them taken from satellites circling the Earth. Well, it's a dot gov site, so where's the policy? Must we wait for the dot coms to sell us stuff to solve it? How organized are all the dot orgs? Is the species finished?

Groups are beginning to meet across the land, many of them in churches, and the concern seems to be the first issue since 9/11 that crosses all political boundaries. They've spent the last year looking at the videos and DVDs and hearing the speakers, and now comes the time to figure out what to do. At just this moment, a writer named Garret Keizer from up in Vermont has gotten an essay published on the Notebook page of the June Harper's. Put his name with "climate" into Google this morning, and stand back. I think the magazine arrived in our mailbox the same day Earth Observatory put up that photo, and already the Internet is buzzing about what this guy's got to say. Essentially his message is nothing could be worse than if liberals trot out their usual package of reforms, then go back to their decks and patios overlooking the manicured sward, and end up wondering in 20 years why everything is worse than before. Harper's undoubtedly will get this essay online, but they like to wait a couple weeks so that people actually give them some money at the newsstands. Bits and pieces already are emerging in the blogs and I'll give you a taste of those excerpts in a minute. But first, who is this Keizer dude?

A fairly detailed outline of his life appeared a couple years ago in the Vermont "alternate web weekly" called Seven Days. Here we learn he grew up in New Jersey, attended the University of Vermont where he got a master's in English, and settled around Burlington, where he taught the subject in high school for 17 years. In the meantime he married a Catholic girl and, not wanting particularly to abandon his Protestant perspective, he got her to attend the Episcopal Church. They asked him to give a sermon and then to take charge of some services, and eventually the church ordained him, even though he never went to divinity school, so he could manage activities in some outlying parishes. He quit teaching partly because of all this, and his own writing became increasingly involved with morality. Christianity Today has 35 articles by him."Garret Keizer"&x=10&y=5 In his mid 50s, Garret Keizer may find his quiet life around the Vermont town common suddenly disturbed by the kind of notoriety you get when you seriously rock the boat.

Here are some sections from his essay Climate, Class, and Claptrap~~~

This pretense of not knowing what every idiot knows has increasingly come to define our national discourse. To say, by way of example, that it has characterized the protracted denial of global warming is to understate the point. It also characterizes the burgeoning acknowledgment of global warming, the willingness to grant that a crisis exists even as our key players scramble to guarantee that every systemic cause of that crisis remains intact. It characterizes our farcical debate over the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq even as permanent bases are constructed in that country to oversee the flow of its denationalized oil to our national snout. More than anything else, it characterizes our official take on wealth and class, a blind spot as large as any hole in the ozone. ...


But I shall be accused of dancing around the most important issue of our time, the issue at the name of which every knee shall bow. Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the worlds' disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the world's disadvantaged; we need only care about global warming -- as mediated, of course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it ...


Am I too irreverent? Am I not aware that polar bears are drowning in the Arctic? I am very much aware, and very grieved as well. I am also aware, thanks to book after book by Jonathan Kozol, that children are drowning in our inner-city schools and have been drowning there year after year and decade after decade, but I do not recall anything like the universal lament that has met the drowning scene in An Inconvenient Truth. Then again, the polar bear depicted in that movie has two incontrovertible advantages over Kozol's kids: it's digital and it's white ...


The intestinal tipping point came for me when a contingent of students from Middlebury College (annual tuition and fees $44,330) found both the gas money and the gall to drive to the town of Sheffield (annual per-capita income $13,277) in order to lecture the provincials on their responsibility to the earth and its myriad creatures. Not to be outdone, a small private school in our area (annual tuition and fees $76,900) has challenged the wind projects as a source of noise disturbance for its special-needs students. This could actually turn the tide. Like a bookie assessing the hindquarters of horses, I've learned to place my bets with a sharp eye on tuition and fees. Don't tell me where you went to school; just tell me what it cost.


Gore speaks of the need for "a different perspective" ... But this is the old perspective: the race to the moon, the triumph of the will, the forward march of progress on a goosestep and a prayer. The unquestioned belief that the answer to every human dilemma and desire is a gizmo -- in short, the very attitude that gave us global warming to begin with. Those measuring the ice shelf in Greenland would do well to spend a few weeks measuring the time that typically elapses between any mention of conservation and the quick segue to something sexier; that is, to something you can buy or sell. The abolition of obscene excess, the equitable distribution of finite resources -- these have the same appeal for our movers and shakers as adopting a crack baby has for the infertile members of their club. We have all these wonder-working technologies, all these clever schemes for producing the golden eggs -- or you could always take home little Bernice. But that's going to be a lot of work.

The bottom line here is, as always, the bottom line, already being parsed out in prospectus form for the eco-savvy investor. ... Gregg Easterbrook, writing in the April issue of The Atlantic, is less of a prig. The question he invites us to ask in regard to climate change -- "What's in it for me?" -- is "neither crass nor tongue-in-cheek," he assures us. Much of what's in it for you (that is, if you happen to be affluent, educated, etc.) will come in the form of carbon trading, a shell game allowing polluters to purchase "offsets," in green-energy production, which may or may not come to include nuclear power ...


Presumably this is not the same greed that inspired ExxonMobil to wage a campaign of disinformation about climate change. Presumably we might also consider redirecting the primal human impulse of hate. We could get the Ku Klux Klan to buy "offsets" for lynchings in Mississippi ... It's the Devil's old remedy: If you're being poisoned to death, try taking more poison.


... It is not enough to acknowledge that global warming exists; we also need to ask what global warming means. Surely one thing it means is that a culture that has as its highest aim the avoidance of anything remotely resembling physical work must change its life

... But that is only half a meaning, less than half. We're told that "that science is all in on global warming" and that it's just about unanimous. ... But the science has also been in, and in for a while, and is every bit as unanimous in concluding that we are members of a single species, descendents of common ancestors -- family in every conceivable sense of the word. How can we imagine that we will address one overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion without having acted fully on the other? ...

To put that as succinctly as possible, the days of paradise for a few are drawing to a close. The game of finding someone else in some convenient misery to fight our wards, pull our rickshaws, and serve as the offset for our every filthy indulgence is just about up. It is either Earth for all of us or hell for most of us.


Those excerpts are taken from a blog that Grist runs, and as of this morning there are 46 comments raging there. Since other bloggers are having a similar experience, maybe a dialogue will start right here. Here's Harper's to watch for the post online .


jazzolog said...

I was reminded by a remark Father Bill Carroll made about deacons in a meeting last night that I meant to share statistics about some of the "world's most disadvantaged people." As we found out in New Orleans, if we didn't know it before, those are the folks displaced, killed, and easily forgotten apparently in both rescue and reparations. As for deacons, Bill said their job is to be a stone in the velvet slipper of the Church, constantly reminding clergy of what's out in the world. He had referred me the other day to a deacon's blog called Subversive Christianity, where a recent post contains a telling compilation of facts about the most vulnerable. I want to preserve that post because this particular deacon plans, with a bow to impermanence, to delete his whole blog day after tomorrow. Here we go~~~

Saturday, May 12, 2007
Chri$tian america: lay THIS on your altars tomorrow

Woe to you who are poor, because you're most likely going to stay that way. You might be compensated for your suffering in the hereafter, and more power to you if you are. But in this life, in these United States of America, you are royally fucked.

* Three out of four U.S. workers have experienced a decline in their standard of living over the last 20 years: either a drop in purchasing power, a loss of benefits, or a change in job security.

*Between 1996 and 2005, the total combined net worth of the Forbes 400 increased from almost $500 billion to $1.13 trillion--a 137% gain. During that same time, median weekly earnings for fulltime, non-supervisory workers grew at annual rates between 1.8% and 5%. But before you get too excited, keep in mind that the inflation rate during this same period ranged between 1.4% and 3.5%.

* In 1986, 95% of employees at medium-sized and large firms had employer-provided health insurance. Today, the percentage is 59.8%. Retirement benefits for the same group over the same time period dropped from 89% to 60%.

* Between 1979 and 2003, the real family income for the bottom income quintile dropped by 2%; the second quintile rose by 8%; the third quintile rose by 15%; the fourth quintile rose by 26%; the top quintile rose by 51%; and the top 5% of the top quintile rose by 75%.

* Almost 30 million children in this country live in low-income families, and they suffer from predictable health, educational, and developmental difficulties.

* The number of "severely" poor in this country is increasing. In 1975, they were 30% of the population living below the poverty line. Today, they're 43%.

* There are nearly 40 million people in this country who are food insecure.

* The number of "abjectly" poor in this country increased by 26% between 2000 and 2005.

* The average U.S. CEO makes 431 times the average salary of one of his or her employees; this is down from a high in 2000 of 525 times.

* The three richest people in the U.S. have assets that exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 57 poorest countries.

This, in the most powerful nation the world has ever known, and the one that has the most billionaires. This, in a country that spends way more on the military than any other country on the face of the planet.

This, in a country in which 82% of the population claims to be Christian.

"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker," says Proverbs (14:31). God sees, and God remembers. Do those of us who have too much--with "us" referring to individuals as well as institutions (with churches at the top of the list)--really think there will be no Day of Reckoning?
Unlinked data are taken from United For a Fair Economy's books Teaching Economics as If People Mattered and Economic Apartheid in America and from the Poverty in America project.

Posted by A deacon, by the grace of God, at 9:51 AM

jazzolog said...

Two environmental items this past week:

The "same old" is the White House queasiness around timetables and limits---apparently any limits. I guess eternal struggles must be the only interest inside the Bubble of Rapture and Warfare. Here, according to The Financial Times, Bush doesn't want to hear anything about temperature levels centigrading their way up~~~

US contests G8 climate communiqué
By Fiona Harvey in London and Hugh Williamson in Berlin
Published: May 16 2007 23:06

Attempts to step up international action on climate change among the Group of Eight industrialised nations are being strongly contested by the US.

A draft of the proposed communiqué from the G8’s summit in Germany in June, seen by the Financial Times, shows the US is trying to weaken some of the starkest language on climate change.

The US, which declined to comment, wants to remove all reference to the scientific prediction, contained in the original draft, that “beyond a temperature increase of 2°C, risks from climate change will be largely unmanageable”.

US officials object to setting a safe limit on the global rise in temperatures that will result from climate change but the European Union wants to use such a safety limit as the basis on which to work out the safe limit of global greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby impose emissions curbs on most countries.

Philip Clapp, president of the US National Environmental Trust, said: “This is another stonewalling tactic. The Bush administration is as out of step with the US Congress on climate change as with the G8 leaders. I hope Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and Prime Minister [Tony] Blair will stand their ground and not allow a watered down agreement to masquerade as real progress.”

The US would remove all reference to the emissions reduction requirements that the EU wished to include. A reference to the need to begin negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto treaty is also deleted, as is all reference to the United Nations.

The draft document has been weakened in relation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which this year produced the most authoritative scientific assessment of the problem to date, showing that the world has until 2020 to reverse the trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

In place of a paragraph saying the G8 leaders are “deeply concerned about the latest scientific findings confirmed by the IPCC”, the US wishes to insert: “We take note of the recent assessment of the IPCC that warming of the climate system is occurring.”

The US stance was in stark contrast to a joint statement issued yesterday by the national science academies of all G8 nations and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. It drew attention to the IPCC findings and urged a goal of confining global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. The academies said: “Our present energy course is not sustainable . . . The problem is not yet insoluble, but becomes more difficult with each passing day.”

The statement was published in Berlin where Ms Merkel said the appeal should encourage the G8 to take firm action.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

The other piece of news involves a revolutionary piece of legislation currently making the rounds in the US Senate, a bill that is so positive I scarce can believe my eyes! A special report on it has turned up at Scientific American's website...and as it is pretty lengthy, I'll give you just a teaser and hope you'll investigate~~~

In Focus
May 15, 2007
Special Report: Inspired by Ancient Amazonians, a Plan to Convert Trash into Environmental Treasure
New bill in U.S. Senate will advocate adoption of "agrichar" method that could lessen our dependence on fossil fuel and help avert global warming
By Anne Casselman

When Desmond Radlein heard about Richard Branson and Al Gore's Virgin Earth Challenge, a contest in which the first person who can sequester one billion tons of carbon dioxide a year wins $25 million, he got out his pencil and began figuring whether or not his company was up to the task.

Radlein is on the board of directors at Dynamotive Energy Systems, an energy solutions provider based in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is one of several companies pioneering the use of pyrolysis, a process in which biomass is burned at a high temperature in the absence of oxygen. The process yields both a charcoal by-product that can be used as a fertilizer, and bio-oil, which is a mix of oxygenated hydrocarbons that can be used to generate heat or electricity.

Because the charcoal by-product, or "agrichar," does not readily break down, it could sequester for thousands of years nearly all the carbon it contains, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Along the way, it would boost agricultural productivity through its ability to retain nutrients and moisture.
"I developed this rough back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would require if one were to [attempt the Virgin Earth Challenge] with the agrichar concept," Radlein explains. "One would need about 7,000 plants each processing 500 tons of biomass per day, which is a large number, but it's not outside the bounds of possibility." Such facilities would produce four parts bio-oil to one part carbon sequestered, so it would rake in money as well as carbon.

An International Movement

Radlein is not alone in his belief in this technology—last week in Terrigal, New South Wales, Australia, the newly formed International Agrichar Initiative held its first ever conference, which included 135 attendees from every corner of the globe. According to Debbie Reed, an environmental policy expert who organized the conference, keynote speaker Mike Mason of the carbon offset company Climate Care urged attendees to unify in an effort to apply for the Virgin Earth Challenge. He also encouraged them to submit their method to the United Nations's Clean Development Mechanism program, which is designed to transfer clean technology from the developed to the developing world.

Although no officials from the U.S. government attended the conference, there is a nascent stateside movement pushing for adoption of agrichar. "[Democratic Senator] Ken Salazar of Colorado is drafting a stand-alone bill on this, and he may also promote it as part of the Farm Bill," notes Reed. The Farm Bill, whose terms are decided every year, determines what agricultural initiatives can be funded by the U.S. government. Inclusion in the Farm Bill would virtually guarantee subsidies for research and application of the agrichar process.

A Technology with a (Potentially) Huge Upside

In 2100, if pyrolysis met the entire projected demand for renewable fuels, the process would sequester enough carbon (9.5 billion tons a year) to offset current fossil fuel emissions, which stand at 5.4 billion tons a year, and then some. "Even if only a third of the bioenergy in 2100 uses pyrolysis, we still would make a huge splash with this technology," remarks Johannes Lehmann, a soil biogeochemist at Cornell University and one of the organizers of the agrichar conference.

There are other perks: Increasing production of bio-oil could decrease a country's dependence on foreign oil. In the tropics, boosting soil productivity increases the number of growing seasons per year, which could help alleviate the pressure to deforest biodiversity hot spots. The new markets for agricultural crops, which would in effect become sources of fuel, could boost rural economies worldwide, just as the demand for ethanol has bolstered the price of corn.

One calculation by Robert Brown, director of the Office of Biorenewables Programs at Iowa State University, revealed that if the U.S. adopted a cap and trade program in CO2 emissions like the one already in place in the European Union, farmers in the Midwest could almost double their income by using corn stover—the leaves, stalks and cobs that remain after harvest—to fuel pyrolysis.

The use of char also promises to combat marine dead zones, like that in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich agricultural runoff. Char reduces the need for man-made fertilizers by helping the soil retain nutrients. In addition, it can be made out of the very same manure and sewage that would otherwise pollute the oceans.

Much more at the article itself