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?

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.

Biggest California CO2 emitter is…

The biggest greenhouse gas emitter in California isn’t in California.

A string of PacifiCorp power plants are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide included in the state’s 2008 inventory of carbon sources tied to state use.

California aims to start a cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution in 2012, if it is not preempted by a federal plan, and emissions reports by big power plants and the like represent a step toward that goal.

In-state and out-of-state power plants are roughly equal in the amount of carbon dioxide they produce, and together account for about a quarter of the state’s emissions. A weak economy has raised the stakes for California’s energy plans, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed legislative renewable power goals that would have limited out-of-state supply. Instead he set a target with an administrative order that was less restrictive.

Bike commuting = less CO2 + cost savings + good mood

I wish I could report that “environmental reasons” were behind my decision to start commuting by bike. But the real motivation was much simpler: I’m a cheapskate and biking saves money.

Yet three years and some 24,000 kilometres after switching from the train to the bike, I’ve discovered a number of useful fringe benefits beyond being frugal and reducing greenhouse gas: the daily exercise from the 40-km round trip each day puts me in a good mood, makes me healthier, liberates me from the hassles of semi-reliable train timetables and makes me a bit lighter as well.

No matter how lousy or stressful or full of irritations the work day might have been, by the time I’ve arrived home on the western fringe of Berlin from the city centre after an almost always enjoyable 50-minute bike ride, I feel transformed back into a happy human being. It’s magic.

A speed limit for Germany?

In Germany, where many consider their cars sacred and most politicians on both the left and right refuse to consider tampering with the unlimited speed on the Autobahn for fear of hurting the car industry, the leader of the Greens party said it is high time for the country to join the rest of the civilised world and put an upper limit on Autobahn speeds — if for no other reason than to cut CO2 emissions

“The speed limit on German motorways will happen because it has to happen,” Cem Oezdemir, co-chair of the environmental Greens, said in an interview (click here for full story). “There will be an Autobahn speed limit as soon as the Greens are in power. We simply can’t afford it any longer to ignore any chance to reduce CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about a speed limit is that it would have an immediate impact on emissions. It would also save money, save lives and reduce the number of horrible injuries resulting from high-speed accidents. When you think about, it all the arguments speak in favour of a speed limit.”

Oezdemir, 43, said that aside from the powerful car lobby — which opposes a speed limit for fears it would damage the marketing mystique of carmakers like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — there are precious few reasons for letting cars continue drive at speeds of up to 200 kph and more: “The only argument against it is the pre-modern masculine dream of racing their cars at high speed.”

China quake leaves CO2 legacy

Last year’s horrendous China earthquake may have big, lingering effects on the atmosphere. Mudslides after the deadly May 12 quake in Sichuan province are likely to trigger a release of carbon dioxide equal to 2 percent of the world’s current carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, geophysicists say.

“Mudslides wipe away plants and topsoil, depleting terrain of nutrients for plant regrowth and burying swaths of vegetation. Buried vegetable matter decomposes and releases carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere,” according to a statement ahead of a report in American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The gases, along with nitrous oxide, another major greenhouse gas, should spew into the atmosphere over a number of decades, according to the report due out on March 4.

Germany’s ‘Sun King’ Asbeck explains solar power for Vatican

Every once in a while you run into someone with so much energy that you find yourself wishing you could plug something into them to tap a bit of that excess power. On a dark, cloudy December afternoon, I spoke to Frank Asbeck, the chairman of SolarWorld and dubbed the “Sonnenkoenig” (Sun King) by a leading newspaper in his native Germany for turning an idea (mass use of photovoltaic) into a multi-billion euro corporation with 2,500 employees — in little over a decade.

Asbeck, 49, easily the most entertaining chief executive I’ve met in Germany, lit up the room with a 90-minute surge of ideas, witty comments and untempered optimism about solar power — a delightful respite from the economic doom and gloom of the current era.

But what especially interested me about him was his trip a day earlier to the Vatican, where he donated 2,400 photovoltaic panels worth 1.2 million euros that will produce enough electricity for the equivalent of 100 households (300 Megawatt hours) each year. So I asked: “Did you donate the solar panels to the Vatican because:

Yellow Humvees and the UN Procurement Scandal

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. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone. 

 The use of SUVs by UN staff in Nairobi is rankling some bloggers. They are posting pictures on their blogs, and have even created a flickr pool called ‘Kick The Habit’. The title of the set of pictures borrows from UNEP’s (United Nations Environment Program) campaign from June of this year, which encouraged ‘countries, companies and communities’ to reduce their CO2 emissions.

The blogger on Sukuma Kenya started the flickr pool in June, after he noticed that many UN vehicles in Nairobi were SUVs, and felt that the UNEP campaign did not communicate how it was reducing carbon emissions while it was asking individuals to ‘kick the CO2 habit’.