Environment Forum

What will they say in 2100 about what (didn’t) happen in 2009?

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber can speak eloquently and at length in English, German, French or Spanish about the perils of climate change. But the cold language of science in any of those languages melts away when the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 59, mentions his 18-month-old son and the impact that global warming will have on  the toddler’s life. 

“I’ve got a young son,” Schellnhuber says, pictured at the right with the boy, his wife and Britain’s Prince Charles on a visit to Potsdam in April. “I hope this all turns out to be wrong. I would be delighted if it turns out that we haven’t understood the system as well as we think we do, and that we might get a 20- to 30-year ‘breathing period’ when global warming slows or is even halted,” Schellnhuber said in an interview.

“I hope my son can live in a world where there won’t be massive conflicts because the sea level rises by a metre in his life time. I hope he’ll be able to have a happy life. But I’m growing increasingly worried.” 

I’ve had the chance to listen to Schellnhuber on several occasions in recent weeks and his infant son regularly comes up.

It is, for me at least, the drop-dead argument about climate change: What will our children or grandchildren say in the year 2100 about our generation and what happens, or does not happen, to slow climate change in 2009? What will they say about us when the world’s median temperature is 2 to 6 degrees higher and problems abound because of what didn’t happen in 2009?

Catching rays + cutting emissions

The phrase “catching a few rays” might conjure up images of lying on a sunny beach.

But Germany’s Renewable Energy Act has given that phrase a whole new meaning. I’ve discovered that you can get paid for capturing the sun’s energy on your roof, converting it into CO2-free electricity with the help of special equipment, and feeding it into the grid — and watch the investment yield handsome long-term returns.

The German feed-in tariff system is as simple as it is successful – which is probably why Germany produces as much solar power as the rest of the world combined. German utilities are obliged under the Renewable Energy Act to pay above-market feed-in tariffs to producers of photovoltaic or wind energy for a period of 20 years. Germany will add up to 3 gigawatt of PV electricity this year. 

Global warming accelerates; Climategate rumbles on

A report by a group of leading scientists that global warming is accelerating and that world sea levels could rise at worst by 2 metres by 2100* is grim reading.

But sceptics are using a flood of leaked e-mails from a British University — dubbed “Climategate” – to question the findings.

You can read the Copenhagen Diagnosis here, by 26 researchers worldwide.  It says a thaw of summer sea ice around the North Pole, for instance, has far outpaced projections in a report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) two years ago. They say world emissions must peak by 2020 to avoid the worst of climate change.

Pole-to-Pole air trek collects valuable air samples

A three-week tour from the Colorado Rockies to the Arctic Ocean, the tropics, Antarctica and then back again to the Arctic again can give a new perspective of the world.

“You get a feeling of how small the earth is,” said Pavel Romashkin, project manager for a scientific mission that just completed such a trek. “All of us are on a really small place, this little planet of ours.”

The HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observation mission, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, takes researchers aboard a highly modified Gulfstream jet to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases in the atmosphere at nearly all the earth’s latitudes.

Could denying bedroom privileges save the planet?

There will be a record number of side events at the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen next month, but one woman’s one-woman show could give the delegates, most of whom will be men, the incentive they really need to agree a new global warming treaty.

In “The Boycott“, Kathryn Blume plays Lyssa, First Lady of the United States and climate crusader.  Loosely borrowing from a play from ancient Greece, Lyssa launches a nationwide sex strike to fight global warming. As the play unfolds, Lyssa is forced to take on her indifferent husband, a hostile press and a romantic rival who’s not only in bed with the President, but with the oil industry as well.

Blume is co-founder of the Lysistrata Project, named after the Aristophanean comedy on which The Boycott is based.  Originally performed in ancient Athens in 411 BC, Lysistrata tells the tale of one woman’s attempt to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing all women to withhold bedroom privileges from their husbands.

from The Great Debate UK:

A freakonomic view of climate change

Ahead of a U.N. summit in Copenhagen next month, scepticism is growing that an agreement will be reached on a global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

The protocol set targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are believed to be responsible for the gradual rise in the Earth's average temperature. Many scientists say that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is key to preventing climate change.

But authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argue in their new book SuperFreakonomics that humanity can take an alternative route to try and save the planet.

Antarctica’s wandering ice shelf

GPS markers usually pinpoint a spot on the earth’s surface to help everything from map-making to navigation.

This one (left) spectacularly didn’t.

In fact, it wandered hundreds of miles (km) this year on an iceberg, blown by winds or carried by ocean currents in huge pirouettes off the coast of Antarctica.

When glaciologist David Vaughan (above) of the British Antarctic Survey stuck the pole holding the GPS (global positioning system) tracking device into the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica in January, the ice felt solid as rock.

from The Great Debate UK:

Government intervention key to low-carbon economy

Scientists argue that rich nations must make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change. The way energy is used, priced and created would have to change in order to institute these cuts.

Ahead of elections in Britain, which must be held before June 2010, Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth shared his thoughts with Reuters on what the group thinks the next government needs to do in order to build a low-carbon economy.

The view from the Arctic: on Sarah Palin and caribou soup

While the world gets ready for December’s climate meeting in Copenhagen, a group of native Arctic women traveled to Washington this week to talk about what climate change is doing right now in places like Arctic Village, Alaska, and Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon.******Five of the women talked emotionally about how much harder it is to hunt for traditional game animals like caribou in a time of global warming, and how important these traditional foods are to their culture and health. They also took aim at some of Sarah Palin’s statements, especially her push for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.******Watch below as Norma Kassi, a member of the Gwich’in nation — sometimes translated as “People of the Caribou” — talks about her practices as a hunter, and her take on Palin and her “drill baby drill” strategy. (It’s a fairly long video; her comments on Palin start about halfway through):************Now watch Sarah James, of Arctic Village, talk about the plain fact that “Western” fare like pizza, meatloaf and fast food simply can’t satisfy her son like a soothing caribou soup:************Kassi, James and other members of the Arctic delegation are telling their story on Capitol Hill and to members of the Obama administration. Some are planning to attend the Copenhagen conference, despite dampening hopes of a major agreement from that gathering.******They have an invitation for President Barack Obama: they’d like him to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next year, the 50th anniversary of this far-north protected area where caribou herds have their calves and where some energy companies have hoped to drill.******Video credits: REUTERS/Deborah Zabarenko (Washington, November 11, 2009) ******Photo credit: REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder (Sarah Palin outside the Mocha Moose Espresso after voting in Wasilla, Alaska, November 4, 2008)

The golden, melting, re-freezing and ultimately disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro

Papa Hemingway probably didn’t see this coming.

When he wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in the 1930s, Ernest Hemingway described the summit of that African mountain as “wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun.”

It’s still wide, but may not be white much longer, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that says the remaining ice fields atop Kilimanjaro in Tanzania could be gone in 20 years or less, a casualty of climate change. Changes in clouds and precipitation play a minor role but the scientists say it’s mostly due to global warming.

Here’s the trail of data released by the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the research:

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