February 1, 2007

Acronym Days for Global Warming

Acronym Days for Global Warming

melting snowmen

Modern art?…Or global warming? [Rob Lee / Flickr]

It’s been a busy, acronym-filled — SOTU, USCAP, WEF, IPCC — fortnight in the global-warming world (and in the warming, global world). Here are the highlights and a tour through our climate archive.

Last Tuesday, George W. Bush finally did it: in his State of the Union (SOTU!) speech, the President acknowledged, however briefly, in a very public forum, the fact of global warming — without obfuscation.

A day earlier, the new United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP!) — a coalition of businesses and NGOs — pressed President Bush to back mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The USCAP members include Caterpillar, GE, and Alcoa, all giants of American business. They’re catching on.

In the not-so-snowy Alps last week, at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF!) Annual Meeting, the business-world glitterati decided that, of all the world’s trends and changes, global warming will have the biggest impact on our future — and that it’s the challenge we’re least prepared to meet.

Today in Paris the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC!) wraps up a meeting of the world’s foremost global-warming scientists. The forthcoming report — the first of its kind since 2001 — will tighten the noose on climate-change naysayers.

Old Shows Made New

If you’re curious to know more about the interplay of climate change, politics, and business, you could check out Politics of Climate Change and Businesses Take On Climate Change. Or a variety of other shows in our global warming series.

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  • 1st/14th

    Here we go again …… the sky is falling and we will ruin you – strip you of your credentials if you dare say otherwise. Despite our ability to make highly accurate forecasts of short and medium term weather events, we will rely on these same numeric models to predict climate events 50-100 years in the future. Just because they have not yet shown themselves to be reliable predictive tools, is no reason to believe that they will not work time around. And they WILL work, because after all, we would not make decisions effecting the lives and livelihoods of every man woman and child on the planet unverified software (I can see images of the blue screen of death).

    But fear not peasant, for while you have to turn the thermostat down and trade in your Civic for a bicycle, your overlords and their celebrity chums will be hard at work teleconferencing from their Gulfstream 550’s while on their way to a humble villa in the Alps where they will drink Champaign and cognac while working hard to save you from the impending doom.

    The end is nigh! Only Al Gore can save us now!

  • Ben

    Speaking of Al Gore, two Norwegian parliamentarians have nominated former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of climate change. Conservative MP Boerge Brende teamed up with a political opponent from the Socialist Left party, Heidi Soerensen, to nominate Gore for the peace prize by the February 1 deadline for nominations.

    They also nominated Inuit campaigner Sheila Watt-Cloutier of Canada for her work to show how climate change is affecting the lives of the Arctic indigenous people.

  • herbert browne

    Perhaps this isn’t news to some… but it really got my attention!

    Livestock production = more greenhouse emissions than cars!

    The UN Food & Ag. Org. (FAO) has sent tremors through the livestock industry

    with a new report that states, “the livestock sector generates more

    greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent than

    transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.”

    For every calorie of meat consumed, at least ten calories of fossil

    fuels were required to produce that meat. Animal agriculture takes up

    70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the

    planet. Today, 70% of “slash-and-burned” Amazon rainforest is used

    for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder. The

    ultimate ramifications of the report suggest that the average Americans

    can do more to reduce global warming emissions by adjusting their meat

    eating habits than by switching to driving the most fuel-efficient car

    currently on the market…

    http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html

    (from Sustainable Agriculture Working Group newsletter) ^..^

  • Tom B

    It’s interesting that in a world with an estimated 20,000 nuclear weapons in existence, folks are so complacent about nuclear warfare — and so hysterical about global warming. With global warming (assuming rising sea levels), cities simply need to be slowly abandoned over decades, as their populations gradually migrate to higher areas. And as agricultural lands are lost yet other lands become agriculturally viable — over a period of decades. Certainly humans are not so wedded to the past they can’t simply adapt, right? I keep hearing the words of Charles Darwin running in an endless loop inside my brain: ‘The biggest, the smartest, and the strongest are not the survivors. Rather, the survivors who are the most adaptable.’ Try adapting in an hour to the effects of a nuclear explosion. Then compare a series of nuclear exchanges aimed at large cities to a slowly warming environment… Humans truly do have a mind-boggling ability to ignore the elephant in the living room, and obsessively worry about the ant on the TV screen.

  • cpaynter

    herbert brown wrote:

    “Perhaps this isn’t news to some… but it really got my attention!

    Livestock production = more greenhouse emissions than cars!”

    That does surprise me. The popularity of the meat diet is certainly spreading throughout the world. When a billion people elsewhere decide eggs and meat is a good thing they absorb the equivalent of the entire grain crop of Canada out of the global grain markets.

    The primary greenhouse gas component of beef farming is methane. It is 28 times more insulating than CO2. (Or something close to that.) So it is a significant issue. A great deal of methane is produced by the anaerobic decomposition of the manure wastes. I had heard about several cogeneration systems that were installed in farms across the Midwest a few years ago. They capture the methane and power internal combustion generators. The electricity generated is fed onto the grid to power 600 or more surrounding homes as well as the farm itself. The excess heat is used for heating the farm buildings, which is particularly useful for dairy operations. And the final post-biodigested waste product is still an effective fertilizer.

    One side benefit of these installations is that the odor from the manure retention ponds is radically reduced. As the sprawl of suburban areas collides with the beef farms that feed those growing populations, there are many contentious situations where the stench upsets the downwind urbanites.

    On a related note, there is also a growing market competition between cars and livestock/meat. The president declared that ethanol is the preferred choice for reducing our oil consumption. That wouldn’t have been my first choice, or even my 2nd or 3rd choice. Even at the very early stages of this expanding ethanol market, corn is being diverted into ethanol energy. The rising price of tortillas in Mexico is already creating a bit of a crisis there.

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/01/18/mexico.tortilla.ap/index.html

    There are going to be many of these unforeseen competitions for resources. That is a considerable benefit of solar and wind which once installed have virtually zero material inputs, and thus don’t have the same conflicts with existing markets. Many farmers with a good wind resource are leasing land out for the 180 foot diameter wind turbines, (Eg. Vestas), and are still planting their crops right up to the base of the towers.

  • herbert browne

    (from Tom B) ..”It’s interesting that in a world with an estimated 20,000 nuclear weapons in existence, folks are so complacent about nuclear warfare — and so hysterical about global warming..”-

    I don’t think “complacent” is quite the adjective I’d use, Tom… quietly watchful, maybe. It’s got to be a world community initiative, at some point- hopefully without an incident- but I’m mildly pessimistic in the near term. It seems most likely that if there IS a “nuke incident” that it will be the result of an accident- which might be what it takes to get people riled up- but not a tactical, purposeful use. (I have to say that, every time I think about the name of the Navy base where the nuke subs reside in the NW- Bangor- it forces a rueful chuckle.) Maybe to the Darwin mantra of “most adaptable” one might add “lucky”…

    (from cpaynter) ..” the popularity of the meat diet is certainly spreading throughout the world. When a billion people elsewhere decide eggs and meat is a good thing they absorb the equivalent of the entire grain crop of Canada out of the global grain markets..”-

    Wow… it seems like that wouldn’t be necessary, if the chickens and quadrupeds were fed primarily by grazing & foraging… but I know that’s not “the model” that one gets from the USDA or the land-grant Ag schools. In my own experience, eggs were pretty cheap to produce- but I DID cheat, of course (scrounging restaurant scraps and other sources).

    A talk with my father a few years ago was very enlightening on this subject. He spent a bit of his boyhood on a small farm outside Tacoma, Wa, and said that they nearly always had eggs and some dairy (they had a cow). But the principal meat that was eaten was rabbit- and chicken– and those things were not daily events. I asked about hamburger & he laughed and said “the only times I remember eating any kind of beef was when a cow died in the neighborhood.” They did fish, and hunt, and got clams & oysters at certain times, but meat wasn’t a big part of his diet until he joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. Then, he says, there was meat at least once a day- and beef at least half the time. After the war he saw a real change in grocery store offerings (of course); and meat- especially beef- became plentiful and ubiquitous- and affordable. He recalled that an early radio comedy show (that I also remembered), “Fibber McGee & Molly”, was sponsored by the Beef Board (but I haven’t been able to determine if that was the case). In any event, the ramping up of beef production during WW2 may be one more legacy from those times.

    Re the methane processing- I remember seeing these domelike in-ground tank structures in pictures from India in the Last Whole Earth catalog- in the 60s- but it was maybe a wee bit too primitive to suit the modern American farm model. I bought a methane regulator (from an ad in the back of the Organic Gardening magazine in the early ’70s- from England) that was an item researched by some old coot who had a truck with a “manure still” on the back, from whence his truck was propelled down the road. I got as far as sealing the gases emanating from my septic system, and running it to a burner, but never attempted to use it beyond that… Farmers (and rural people, generally) have done many innovative things, and cobbled together some mechanical marvels… the stimulus (or crisis) is there, and they respond (and there are lots of resources… people in the country didn’t throw anything away).

    Re the misuse of corn- I wondered about the “why” when I listened to some of that story on the radio, a couple weeks ago- the ‘ethanol’ angle didn’t register, I guess. There aren’t many good reasons to throw the ears in, when the plant, itself (cut for silage, sometimes), and grass clippings (esp in Spring), and lots of things have fermentables inside. I have no link, but a story from Canada last year- about a methanol producer, using straw (& other plentiful materials) was convinced that the $2./gallon was his “break-even” point. The beauty of fermentation is that it’s easy to localize. Many small producers are the most efficient model- for a great many things- if it’s about real accounting (ie “energy in/energy out), and not about making money… ^..^

  • herbert browne

    Tom B, here’s a convergence on the subjects you mentioned:

    http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070203/bob8.asp

    A few nukes,followed by a chill… ^..^

  • Tom B

    Thanks, herbert, for the link… It’s reassuring that the elephant in the living room has not been TOTALLY ignored!

  • plnelson

    Human beings are omnivores so most of us enjoy meat once in awhile. I love a good beef steak or venison from time to time but I try to limit that to 2 or 3 servings a month, at which level there is no significant health risk. But most Americans eat way more than that, with many of them feeling that a meal isn’t complete without a meat portion. The levels of meat consumption of most Americans are associated with higher risks of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease. This suggests that Americans could contribute to the health of the planet as well as their own health by reducing their meat consumption.

    I agree with Tom B that humans are highly adaptable and should have no major problem adjusting to, or even benefitting from, climate change.

    BUT the problem is this: humans can use culture, technology, planning, civili engineering and other tools to adapt. THOSE tools work fast. There’s almost nothing we can’t do in terms of moving populations, protecting cities, etc over a few years or decades.

    But other species have only ONE tool to adapt and that tool is evolution. And major evolutionary changes happen very slowly, like over 10’s or 100’s of thousands of years. So, for example, even lengthening the growing season by a couple of weeks can cause species of insects to emerge too early for migratory birds to eat, thus killing off that species of bird. Ocean acidification could destroy coral reefs before the species that depend on them can evolve changes to their life-cycles to eliminate that dependence.

    The earth has had plenty of natural climate change in the past, but except in catastrophic incidents such a big meteor strike the changes happend much more slowly that what we’re doing, so the rest of nature could adapt.