Environment Forum

Being on the Level About Sea Level

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone

Bjorn Lomborg is a Danish political scientist who makes a semi-career (if not career) out of countering claims about global warming.  His brand of writing tends to throw major counter claims out there on quite big climate issues, in short pithy sound-bites, often without data, letting the reader try and figure it out.

A recent Lomborg editorial is an example and has many claims in it that one needs to take time to carefully analyze. Here I will just react to one of Lomborg’s deceptive suggestions that sea level has suddenly stopped rising:

Since 1992, we have had satellites measuring the rise in global sea levels and they have shown a stable increase of 3.2mm a year: spot on compared with the IPCC projection. Moreover, over the past two years, sea levels have not increased at all; actually, they show a slight drop. Should we not be told that this is much better than expected?

Without seeing the actual data, readers of this passage will think sea level rise from 1992-2006 was smoothly monotonic and then suddenly this stopped and is reversing. Here’s a graph of the data Lomborg is referring to (I thank Gavin Schmidt for this graphic):

Baa baa green sheep, have you any grass?

Farming often gets a bad wrap for causing global warming but at least two sheep in Norway are doing their bit to go green.

Grass has been growing on the backs of the sheep on the island Vega off Norway’s northwest coast — apparently from seeds that fell onto them during the night when they were sleeping in a shed under some stacks of hay.

“Their backs are green as lawns,” farmer Arvid Olsen (pictured left) told Ingvar Andersen, who works for the Norwegian regional newspaper Brønnøysunds Avis and who took these two photos.

Carbon Footprint Calculators

Kenyan blogger Juliana Rotich is the editor of Green Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world, and is a regular contributor to this page. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Last month, GV environment looked at Maps, online communities and carbon footprint calculators. Since then there have been more calculators released, and in this post we list some of these new tools for the public to calculate their CO2 emissions.

PEIR – Personal Environment Impact Report
PEIR is not only a carbon footprint calculator, it is a more advanced version of it, giving you a detailed and personalized report about your environmental impact and also your exposure. It uses the GPS (Global Positioning System) capability and the accelerometers on the mobile phones to collect data. When speaking about the environment, particulate matter in the air (smog) and even other choices that we make about what food to eat can be influenced by what we see around. It helps the user to consider more factors than just CO2 emissions. If you were aware of the number of fast food restaurants in your area, would that affect the choices you make?

What’s nature worth? Financial crunch may bring rethink

Acehnese plant mangrove trees at the site of a former housing development which was destroyed by last December’s tsunami in Meuraksa near Banda Aceh April 11, 2005. The local government and Acehnese started planting thousands of mangroves in the area after the tsunami devastated the city. REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva en/KSWould you pay $1,000 a year for a remote patch of mangrove swamp?

Maybe not — but more and more environmental economists are arguing that you should.

And they say that the worst financial crisis in 80 years could be a good opportunity to overhaul the world’s economic system and put a price tag on what are often viewed as “free” services from nature, ranging from coral reefs’ role as nurseries for fish, to wetlands’ ability to purify water. See the story here.

Markets failed to regulate banks in the current crunch and they are doing even less to slow global warming that the U.N. Climate Panel projects will bring far bigger economic problems — more droughts, floods, heatwaves that disrupt food and water supplies and rising seas that could swamp low-lying coasts from Bangladesh to Florida.  A pair of scarlet macaws perch on a tree in Bolivia’s Machia Park in Villa Tunari in the Bolivian Amazon jungle 520 km (323 miles) southeast of La Paz August 17, 2005. The 38-hectare park, created in 1992, is now home to nearly 1,000 animal inhabitants, all rescued from captivity. It has become a popular destination for many foreigners traveling through Bolivia, with dozens of Europeans, Israelis and Bolivians working together for several weeks in close contact with the animals. These volunteers consider the experience therapeutic for both the animals and themselves, and aim to readapt the animals to their natural habitat and eventually release them into the wild. Picture taken August 17, 2005. REUTERS/David Mercado PP05080156 RR/KS

Refugees in Antarctica? Olympics in cyberspace?

A view of the leading edge of the remaining part of the Larsen B ice shelf that extends into the northwest part of the Weddell Sea is seen in this handout photo taken on March 4, 2008. To the left is the front of the ice shelf with a height of about 30 meters above the sea. An outcrop of Cape Disappointment is seen in the background. On the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches out from Antarctica toward the South Atlantic Ocean, some of the huge ice shelves that line its coasts have now disintegrated and are floating in chunks in the ocean. A large part of the Larsen Ice Shelf broke up in 1995. Picture taken March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mariano Caravaca/Handout (ANTARCTICA). NO COMMERCIAL SALES.. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS..Antarctica’s population is rising because of climate refugees.

The European Union agrees to let Morocco join in return for exclusive rights to solar power from its part of the Sahara desert.

The Olympics are held only in cyberspace because it costs too much for athletes to travel around the world.

These are some of the scenarios in a report on Monday by British-based think-tank and charity ”Forum for the Future” with Hewlett Packard Labs, imaging how climate change might affect the planet by 2030.  climate.jpg  

Renewables investor Khosla: “I’m a Republican, but…”

khosla.jpgVinod Khosla is a card-carrying Republican. But, the billionaire venture capitalist and alternative energy entrepreneur said, Democrat Barack Obama would be better for green businesses.

“I am a Republican, but I do believe Barack Obama will be a much bigger supporter of clean tech and renewable energy than John McCain will,” Khosla said at the Reuters Global Environment Summit in San Francisco. To see a video of the interview, click here.

Khosla stopped short of saying whom he would be casting a ballot for on November 4th, but added of McCain: “Unfortunately over the election cycle he’s gotten very beholden to some of the traditional energy interests. ”

Will the financial storm blow climate action off course?

This National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, taken August 28, 2005 and released August 28, 2006, shows Hurricane Katrina as the storm’s outer bands lashed the Gulf Coast the day before landfall. Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 and killed more than 1,500 people in four states, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, where entire neighborhoods are still nearly empty. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY REUTERS/NOAA/HandoutIt took Hurricane Katrina’s battering of New Orleans in 2005 to alert many people to the risks of climate change.  Will the storm in financial markets make them forget all about global warming again?

The financial crisis that may cost the United States $700 billion to fix is likely to shift actions to fight climate change towards cheaper, sure-fire winners such as energy efficiency — such as better insulation for buildings – rather than more exotic long-term projects such as trapping and burying carbon dioxide from power plants. Read the story  here.

The U.N. Climate Panel insists that the world has to act now to avert ever more droughts, floods, heatwaves, more powerful cyclones and rising sea levels. Fixing the problem now will be a lot cheaper than suffering the consequences. A man walks past an electronic board displaying share price movements in Tokyo September 30, 2008. Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell nearly 5 percent on Tuesday to touch a three-year after U.S. lawmakers rejected a $700 billion financial bailout plan, fuelling fears about lasting damage to markets and the economy. Exporters and banks were particularly hard hit, as Tokyo followed the lead of the Dow Jones industrial average, which posted its largest point decline ever and its biggest daily percentage slide since the 1987 stock market crash. REUTERS/Issei Kato (JAPAN)

Save money, cut CO2 and lose weight cycling to work

Peter Jebautzke cycles to workBy Peter Jebautzke

Getting caught speeding changed my life — for the better.

It inadvertently turned me into a devoted bike commuter, has saved me lots of money, aggravation — and even saved the world a little bit of carbon dioxide to boot. Since giving up the car for my daily commutes by bike to work in August, I’ve also lost about 2 kilos and now look forward to my daily 16 km journeys each way to and from the office.

Other colleagues who cycle to work had long tried to encourage me to try out commuting by bike. We’ve even got a little shower here where I work in the centre of Berlin. But it was always so much easier to jump into the car.

In April, I jumped into the car and stepped on the gas a bit too hard. I got a late-night call from the office and had to get there in a hurry. The motorway was clear so I got up to 117 kph. That was 37 kph over the 80 kph limit. The police caught me — and I lost my driver’s licence for a month.

Life greener in cities than in the countryside?

A man wearing a bowler hat cycles during the morning rush-hour in central London July 17, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN)City-dwelling, bike-riding recyclers are finally getting the recognition they deserve for their environmentally friendly lifestyles.
A researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development argues in a journal article published on Friday that many city residents actually pollute less than families in rural areas.
“People who live in the suburbs or commute actually have much higher greenhouse gas emissions per person than people living in (the London district of) Chelsea for the same income level,” David Satterthwaite told Reuters.
That’s because country-dwellers tend to have larger homes that need to be heated or cooled and higher car use per household.
The study in the journal  Environment and Urbanization says cities are often blamed for producing most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but actually generate just two-fifths or less.
Satterthwaite argues that cities in wealthy nations can set an example for low carbon living by providing good public transport and energy-efficient buildings. He singles out Barcelona – which has a third of Spain’s average emissions per person – and other historic compact cities like Amsterdam which are easy to walk around. 
Culture is also an ally in the fight against climate change. “There’s so much in London or Paris that isn’t high greenhouse gas-emitting: the culture, the art, the buildings, the theatre, the music, the museums, the libraries,” Satterthwaite said.
But while cities are often unfairly blamed for producing 75 to 80 percent of the world’s greenhous gas emissions, their responsibility creeps back up when you look at it from a consumption perspective.  Vehicles drive past Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum area in Mumbai April 9, 2008. With one of Asia’s largest slums, congested streets and sometimes startling whiffs of human waste, Mumbai may not be everyone’s first choice for a world-class financial centre. Yet that is exactly what India hopes it will become in the next decade as it rises to the challenge of financing one of the world’s fastest growing major economies after China. To match feature INDIA-MUMBAI/ REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe (INDIA)
Satterthwaite believes it would be fairer to allocate greenhouse gas emissions according to the location of the people who consume the goods and services responsible for the emissions rather than to the place they are produced. 

So if you live in Berlin and buy a Chinese-made T-shirt or digital camera, the emissions caused by the manufacturing process would go into your city’s pot, not Guangzhou’s.
On this measure, Satterthwaite estimates city emissions would account for between 60 and 70 percent of the global total. Breaking that down, richer cities would be the clear culprits.
Some parts of poor cities – like the inner-city settlement of Dharavi in Mumbai where 600,000 people live and work crammed into an area around 2 km square – might even have a negative tally, especially if they’re home to poor people who survive by reclaiming and recycling waste. 
“Allocating emissions to consumers rather than producers shows that the problem is not cities but a minority of the world’s population with high-consumption lifestyles,” Satterthwaite said.
“But I can see the huge – or probably impossible – political difficulties of getting that accepted, if suddenly the responsibility of the rich world goes up even further,” he admitted.
What do you think? How could your city cut its carbon emissions? Should we measure emissions from the perspective of production or consumption?

Carbon emissions soar, despite curbs

Southern Company's Plant Bowen in Cartersville, Georgia is seen in this aerial photograph in Cartersville in this file photo taken September 4, 2007. One of the biggest coal-fired plants in the country, it generates about 3,300 megawatts of electricity from four coal-fired boilers. Democrats in U.S. Congress are pressing ahead with legislation to limit emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and plants like this are squarely in their cross hairs. Picture taken September 4, 2007. To match feature USA-UTILITIES/SOUTHERN REUTERS/Chris Baltimore (UNITED STATES)Emissions of the main greenhouse gas are rocketing — despite international efforts to slow them down, according to a study today.

Read my colleague David Fogarty’s worrying article about carbon dioxide emissions — China has definitely overtaken the United States as top emitter, India is catching up with third placed Russia.

What’s alarming is that the rate of growth of gases blamed for stoking global warming is quickening. And the fastest growth is in the developing world.   A man looks at 100-metre-tall (328-foot-tall) wind turbines during sunset at the Electric Power Development Co., Ltd's Nunobiki Plateau Wind Farm in Koriyama, north of Tokyo November 8, 2007. Overlooking a mountain lake a few hours drive from Tokyo, dozens of tall wind turbines spin in the breeze creating carbon-free power for the world's fifth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Picture taken November 8, 2007. To match feature JAPAN-WIND/ REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN)