• JIM HANSEN ON BANKS AND CAP-AND-TRADE

    James Hansen, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has spent the better part of his career trying to get people and governments to recognize the consequences of climate change.  In an Op-Ed in the New York Times on 6 December, Jim wrote about the danger of the climate talks taking place right now in Copenhagen devolving into what he termed “cap and fade.” In a related essay, published here, Jim wrote a more pointed, acerbic piece about how cap-and-trade policy engenders a false interpretation of what the emissions problem really  is. He writes: “Cap-and-trade sets a nominal emissions cap by auctioning permits to pollute. This cap is a floor – if emissions went below the cap, permit price would collapse

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  • JIM HANSEN: THE FIGHTING SPIRIT

    In an essay in The Observer on 29 November, James Hansen, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, was asked to address the question: “Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis?” In a slightly different version of the same essay, which can be found here, Dr. Hansen recounts his visit with his grandson, Connor, over the Thanksgiving holiday. Connor, who is five, never gives up. “Such negative questions and attitudes are increasing. How refreshing, on cold, windy Thanksgiving Plus One Day, which we spend with our children and grandchildren, when I went outside to shoot baskets with 5-year-old Connor. Connor is very bright, but needs work on his hand-to-eye coordination. I set the basket at a convenient height

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  • SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DENMARK

    by Erica Rex Two days two go at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, and the fate of the world is less certain now than it’s ever been – actually, no, it’s more certain than it’s ever been.  This afternoon Scientific American’s David Biello sent along several tweets.  Among them: “navy expects sea level rise of 1 to 2 meters by 2100: rear admiral dave titley” and “sen. kerry admits world hostage to US Senate on climate @ #COP15… but if world strikes no deal, neither will Senate.” In an update in today’s Scientific American blog, Biello points out that without action toward a global agreement in Copenhagen, it will be difficult for senators from economically depressed states to reassure constituents that U.S. action won’t compromise economic opportunity. Says Kerry:  “Here in Copenhagen, it’s critical that people understand that one

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  • COPENHAGEN: GATHERING TOGETHER THE BEASTS OF CHANGE II

     by Erica Rex I’ve been following, via Twitter, the trail of my colleague, David Biello, during his coverage of the Copenhagen conference  for Scientific American, where he is Associate Editor for environment and energy. Aside from his brief reports of climbing a wind turbine “climbing a wind turbine is grueling but pop the top and enjoy spectacular view (at least on Samso) better if they didn’t sway though,” most of the reports I’ve been reading from Copenhagen are downright depressing. A late-breaking story from Reuters reported that the Copenhagen climate talks will put more carbon into the atmosphere than any previous climate conference – equivalent to the carbon output of over one-half million Ethiopians.  Ethiopa, however, and other members of the G77 delegation, disgusted enough with the profligacy of their fellow attendees from developed nations, protested by walking out of

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  • COPENHAGEN: GATHERING TOGETHER THE BEASTS OF CHANGE

    by Erica Rex I don’t think I’m alone in not being surprised about what has happened in Copenhagen so far.  The overwhelming impression I’m getting: hypocrisy is more contageous than vector-borne disease. These tidbits were noted by The Independent (UK) on opening day, December 8: The Angry Mermaid prize was to be “awarded to the corporate lobby groups undermining effective climate action”. The Fossil of the Day Award was given to the country which does most to hold up talks.  It was handed to… all 40 of the industrialised and transition nations. The so-called Annex 1 nations were cited for their “profound deficit of ambition” on the summit’s first day. Alas for idealism, yesterday (December 9) said mermaid was ejected from the chilly waters of diplomacy by summit organisers for – get this – being potentially upsetting to the corporate

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  • SEEING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    by Erica Rex Although we all like to think the world began the day we were born, and will end the day we die, in fact some of the very conservation issues being discussed in Copenhagen this week began life and were legislated about by political leaders very long ago. Dr. Roger Short, who originally trained as a veterinarian, is a leading expert in reproduction at Melbourne University in Australia. He also collects antiquarian books. One of his books, John Manwood’s book of 1615, A Treatise of the Lawes of the Forest (London: Societie of Stationers, 1615) contains an even earlier set of forest management rules: King Canute of Denmark’s forest laws. Among the interesting details of these laws, two in particular caught my attention. Law number 23, declares: “He that doth hunt a wilde beast & doth make him

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  • THE NIGHT BEFORE COPENHAGEN

    by Erica Rex Last night, I attended a panel and Q&A in Manchester, England, to hear Ed Miliband, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change speak and answer questions before his departure for the UN climate conference that has just started in Copenhagen. He was joined by Sir Richard Leese from the Manchester City Council, Len Wardle, CEO of The Co-op, and Mike Childs from Friends of the Earth.  The panel was captured real-time on video, if you want to view it here. But if you don’t want to watch the entire hour-plus video, here are some of the more salient points that captured my interest: Most of the impact of climate change is felt by the developing world, even though they’ve created a fraction of the problem. “There two truths at the heart of these negotiations,”

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  • THE BEST LAID PLANS

    by Erica Rex No matter how much data there are to substantiate climate change, there always seems to be some scrap somewhere which, when taken out of context can be blown out of proportion and used to change the subject. This happened again last week.  And once again, propaganda trumped science. On November 20, a set of email messages sent by the Director of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, Dr. Philip Jones to colleagues in the US were uploaded to a public Web site. In one of the now infamous emails, Dr. Jones seemed to be suggesting that climate data should be manipulated. Here, for the record, is the text of the email: Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm, Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed

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  • TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE: A LINGUIST WEIGHS IN

    by Erica Rex Last week, I wrote about how we can only really know things we can measure.  That’s true for scientific phenomena, such as the rate at which glaciers are receding, and amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  But for anything having to do with human behavior, all bets are off. Yesterday I spoke with a linguist, Professor Brigitte Nerlich at University of Nottingham’s Institute for Science and Society.  She’s been studying the incidence of phrases that include the word “carbon” in reference to the discussion of climate change.  Each stakeholder, she says, from a government to an NGO to a business, frames the issue of climate change differently.  She uses tools that search blogs and other Web-based texts to count the frequency of compound phrases as such carbon diet, carbon footprint, carbon budget and so on. Dr. Nerlich

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  • WE ONLY KNOW WHAT WE CAN MEASURE II

    by Erica Rex Last time, I wrote about the importance of accurate measurement.  We can’t measure some aspects of climate change because we don’t have the technology to do it.  Sometimes, applying technology we already have in a different way gives us new insight. Take glaciers, for instance. Some of the most graphic examples of global warming are found in pictures of receding glaciers. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is one of the most dramatic. Compare these photos from 1993 and 2000 to these from 2003 and 2004. Researchers at Ohio State University report that Kilimanjaro’s glaciers could melt away within two decades. When inland glaciers in tropical regions melt, they have an enormous effect on the environment. Species that rely on the habitat glaciers provide are threatened.  Communities down the mountain, whose agriculture depends on a steady, predictable water flow

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