Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ice Shelf Separates

A large part of the Canadian ice shelf has separated from the mainland, but remained trapped in offshore ice. Apparently, it splintered away to become an ice island last August, but one fear is that it will float into oil fields. I had always imagined some threats from this kind of event, such as the ice melting and making sea level rise. The idea of the danger presented to both shipping lanes and to fixed oil platforms had not crossed my mind directly. I don't think such things are easy to control, and truly hope we don't add oil spills and further contamination of the sea to the damage we're doing it by changing the climate. The sea is already reported as sick, and it doesn't need new ailments added.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Three Bears

Or at least, three global warming bits about bears.

Earthweek noted the potential listing of the polar bears. It also noted that bears in Spain have "stopped hibernating in the country's northern mountains in what may be one of the strongest signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world."

Discovery Channel article on bears being sleepless in Spain

That's two. The third is also the polar bears - a good editorial from the Seattle Times that basically says it took threats to a big icon like the polar bear to get movement out of the Bush administration.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The global warming conversation sometimes pursues chimeras (illusions, or mental fabrications). I came across one today on an email list I subscribe to (which actually has nothing directly to do with global warming). At any rate, one of the contributors was mentioning hailstones in Armidale, Australia as a sign of global warming. Turns out they are arther common, and seem to have a long history.

Noise in the conversation.

There is a lot more signal than noise, more real information than false, by far. At least as far as I can tell. But fear and fascination are likely to make more chimeras in the conversation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Polar Bears

The front page of today's paper suggests the US may be ready to list Polar Bears as an endangered species, and cite global warming as the cause.

Talk about a potential poster child for change.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like there has been a lot of pressure from a lot of people to get this to happen. I know how much money, energy, and actual change has happened has a result of salmon being listed. Nope - not enough - yet. But so much more than if they hadn't been....

Listing the polar bears - a top predator - and blaming global warming? Think about it.

There's bound to be a fight about the listing. Energy companies aren't likely to applaud. But people will want to save polar bears. Lets make sure they get listed.

It may be too late for the bears to win (define winning as getting out the other side and getting de-listed - the Bald Eagle won). Hopefully not.

An old article about this in National Geographic

Today's Seattle Times article

UN Works page about polar bears

Monday, December 18, 2006

Personal Changes

There was an article in yesterday's Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine about the family that is trying to be carless in Seattle. I'm impressed: that's tough here. It shows a commitment to real change.

At the core, this is a design issue. In the last few years, I have been in three cities where cars are pretty much more trouble than they are worth: London, New York, and Paris. They are denser than Seattle. They have much better public transportation systems than we do. More and more cities are starting to design for multi-modal and more public/shared transportation. We should consider accelerating those efforts.

I promised I'd report back on two of our family efforts: dry cleaning and windows. The new eco-friendly dry cleaner in turning out to be cheaper and the clothes softer. I don't feel like I'm wearing poison. They're slower, so I had to go get a few more pairs of work pants or cancel out my good by making more frequent trips, but I'm glad we did it. Easy.

I don't know how to tell if the windows really do a better job yet. The house was really cold without power and since we have no window coverings up yet, my guess is that it was not particularly a good thing to have brand-new windows (we would have closed the drapes on the other ones). But they are beautiful and once we get them covered, I think they'll be a lot better.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fragility and Preparedness

After just emerging from three days without power due to a windstorm in Washington, State, two things stand out.

One is how fragile the infrastructure of our civilization actually is. We mostly stuck together through this one, neighbors helping neighbors and not many deaths from cold, even with one million houses out of power at the height of the problem here. Sporadic and minor civil unrest did occur, mostly fights at the few gas stations that were open. But by the end of three days we were tired of it, and while we well prepared and basically fine our tempers were fraying a bit at the edges. I think it might have gotten tough around here if the outages had lasted much longer (and many customers are still cold). City-dwellers are just not used to being without major portions of the infrastructure that keeps us going. If you think back to Katrina, there were spots of heroism, community, and unrest there, too. For at least a while, it looked like civilization frayed to breaking in New Orleans. We should acknowledge the fragility of our civilization, even though there is also much to celebrate in its -- and our -- resiliency. The severe weather patterns may not all be attributable to climate change, but climate change will include severe weather (from drought to heat to cold to storms). We need to understand it may take a Herculean effort to get through the effects of the next decade and maintain a civil society at all times.

Which brings me to the second thing: preparedness. We fared pretty well, and had what we needed (ground coffee, creamer, flashlights, radio, emergency candles, extra blankets, available food that didn't need to be refrigerated). But how many people in the Pacific Northwest were less prepared? I bet it was a bunch. Another Katrina lesson: have seven days worth of emergency supplies. Not three (the old guideline) but seven. Be able to drag your supplies into your house or your attic or put them into your car.

Let's acknowledge our fragile infrastructure and the effort required to be prepared to live without it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A heartening conversation

I was talking about global warming to one of my staff, Gillian Bozanic, who does our TV reporting for the city channel. She said something like, "I feel a little hopeful. This is a problem that transcends our differences - it's not about racism or gender or what country you're from. To solve this, we all have to work together, right?"


Monday, December 11, 2006

Building Major Infrastructure? Plan well.

There's a full page paid advertisement in today's paper about the Alaskan Way Viaduct (an aging elevated road that runs along Seattle's waterfront). The advertisement making the case against an elevated viaduct and for a tunnel. Think Big Dig, but is soft soil on the waterfront.

I agree with the main point: a big elevated road is a silly thing to have as the largest single features on our waterfront. If we can figure out how to get rid of it, there's views and economic development and just plain beauty to be had.

I do not think we should bury it under the waterfront. Sea level rise is almost inevitable. How much is not clear, but it wouldn't take much to stress Seattle. Has anyone done the engineering to determine how well the road would do if we buried it, and then sea level rose five feet? Or ten?

That kind of sea level rise is actually possible in the short term, although I'm still on the side that thinks it unlikely to happen in the next few years. But in our lifetimes? You bet. The current viaduct is over 50 years old. I doubt sea level will remain static between now and 2057.

Planning for other large engineering projects should take climate change into account. At least mitigate the more likely issues in advance. Pick a sea level to engineer around. Build to withstand weather extremes and more frequent storms. Make climate change part of the conversation.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Today's news: All about biodiesel

Two interesting articles in the Seattle Times today. One suggests that an old scourge, prairie switch grass, might be a good fuel for biodiesel. Apparently switchgrass needs little in the way of fertilizer or insecticides, and it also bypasses some of the questions about corn's usefulness.

The business section has an article, Can Biodiesel Compete on Price. It supports my argument that higher gasoline prices will give alternative fuels more opportunity to get through the start-up phase and be able to make money. The article discusses a Seattle biodiesel startup, Imperium Renewables, in detail.

The largest users of biodiesel at this point appear to be fleets, largely government fleets. That's a good start.

I recall the CNG fuels (compressed natural gas) that we started using in local government years ago. We've now pretty much all phased out our CNG modified police cars and are adopting hybrids at this point. Unlike CNG and biodiesel, hybrids have no fuel distribution problem. Admittedly, the biodiesel distribution problem is much simpler than the CNG problem: CNG never made it to any even noticeable percentage of the consumer market since there were no corner gas stations for it. There are a few good things going for biodiesel: newer diesel cars and trucks can run on it and older ones can apparently be converted. Still, I can't use it without buying a new car, and I only recall seeing one station advertising it when I stopped for gas. I hope that rectifies itself, since like hybrids, biodiesel has a lot to recommend it. It can be produced domestically, it doesn't rely on a single sources of raw materials that can't be easily replaced, and it is cheaper to produce than oil has generally been to buy this year.

My belief? Biodiesel will be one part of the actual solution to getting us to switch to alternative fuels. Hard to tell how big a part yet, but enough to matter.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A fun way to get your global warming news

An offering that came from a comment on this blog - a fun little newsfeed on global warming. Be patient - it takes a few moments to load.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Businesses Need to Plan for Global Warming Now

I posted a blog entry at entitled "Why Businesses Need to Plan for Global Warming Now."

Part of why I started this blog is to have a place to talk more about global warming, since, the futurist site that I work on in support of Glen Hiemstra, is really a generalist site. But as I was wearing my futurist hat and thinking about predictions for 2007, one that I'm sure of is that global warming will be the single most defining political issue except for the Iraq war. So we have a responsibility to talk about it there, even though we also get to play in technology and science and business and other topics.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Post 2 on Global Warming Talk

First, a little contrast. I bought two tickets to the Seattle Arts and Lectures series this year - Steven King and Elizabeth Kolbert. The Steven King reading was packed, the patron section (the expensive seats) was at least twenty rows deep from the stage, and people had flown from all over the country to see him.
Seattle is the originating point for the US Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. Many people consider us one of the most activist cities in the US on global warming. Yet the auditorium was not full, and some of the people there were sleeping. It appeared to have been assigned as homework. The patron section was about seven rows deep.

It's too bad that the talk didn't sell out.

One of the most interesting parts of Elizabeth's talk was not new, but was very well-framed. Climate change had many positive feedback loops built into it. That means that global warming begets more global warming. Take, for example, the melting of arctic ice. Ice reflects sunlight and water absorbs it. More ice means cooler temperatures and more water means warmer temperatures. As the ice melts, and there is less ice and more water, the temperatures rises. She gave a number of other examples.

One of her quotes that I like a lot was "People think global warming is just beginning because we are just beginning to see it." The point is that global warming is, in fact, beginning to have consequences that we can see all around us. But those consequences are the result of Co2 level increases that began years ago.

When she went back to update her book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, in the one year that had passed from hardback to paperback publication, not one change was happening more slowly than predicted in the hardback, and many were happening faster.

I bought a copy of her book and I'll review it when I get it read. Since I'm in the middle of a research intensive novel, it make take a little while.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Post 1 on the Global Warming Talk

I'll do something a little more substantive on this tomorrow night, but I had a powerful image come up early in the talk that seems worth relating.

Elizabeth was talking about the Greenland Ice Sheet. It's too warm, now, for the ice sheet to form. It has sustained itself because it is cold enough that it doesn't melt away, and enough new snow falls onto it to actually build some parts of it each year (although we are suffering net loss of ice there). But in today's climate, and the climate of the last ten thousand years,it would not get built.

Last week, it snowed on us in Washington, and we experienced very low temperatures for a few days after that. Well, snow is rare for us, and so we played in it and with it, and made snow sculptures and snowballs. Some of that snow we'd sculptured -- and turned into ice balls -- stayed with us for literally days after the untouched surface snow was melted and rained off.

But it's not there now.

The ice sheet holds so much water that if it all melts away, we could see a twenty-foot rise in sea level.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Suggested Talk

Global warming actually hasn't been a topic in my life much for a few days, unless you want to count getting the house ready for new energy-efficient windows, or seeing copies of "An Inconvenient Truth" for sale at Costco. But tomorrow night, I'll be going to a talk on climate change at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It's part of the Seattle Arts and Lectures tour and features Elizabeth Kolbert. I'm quite looking forward to it, and I noticed that it isn't sold out yet. So maybe I'll see some of you there.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Today's News on Global Warming

In this week's Earthweek, Western Europe has had such a warm autumn that birds are not flying south, and frogs are not sleeping. I wonder if you could do a GlobalWarmingWeek? At least one of the items they pick for this seems to be related every week now.

This morning's Seattle Times has an editorial, Greenhouse innovation: bury the carbons in rock in support of carbon sequestration in rocks. A paragraph part way through the editorial says, "While many environmental groups support this technology, some worry its use will dampen the sense of urgency to reduce greenhouse gases."

This is the same argument I hear from people about carbon credits (investment in clean energy to offset personal or corporate creation of greenhouse gases). There is no single change to help with global warming. Its going to take personal changes on all of our parts, which are coming gradually. We are also going to have to apply scientific and technical tools that will help us transition from our carbon dependency. The best way to transition is going to be to both help the old industries that we still need for a robust economy --through solutions like this and through a strong mix of incentives and regulations -- and to actively foster investment in clean energy.

If there is a way to succeed in at least mitigating global warming, we need the resources to do it. And all of the tools available to us now, plus more that are in development. The Seattle Times editorial is a good one.