Environment Forum

In Antarctica, Wilkins Ice Shelf snaps

It’s not often you go to a part of the world that disappears from the map a few weeks later.

Luckily we weren’t on the Wilkins Ice Shelf (above) in Antarctica on April 4, when an ice bridge that may be holding ice the size of Jamaica in place shattered into dozens of giant pieces (story here).

The break-up was captured on satellite images by the European Space Agency  (below left from today, with an image of the ice bridge intact from April 2, below right)

But we were there in January — Stuart McDill of Reuters TV and I travelled with a group of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey who landed on the flat-topped ice in  sunshine in a bright red Twin Otter plane. (main photo above: the ice cliff at the front is about 20 metres high. Photo below left shows the plane on the ice).

 It was the first, and last, visit by anyone to an area that has now cracked into a chaos of giant icebergs. We landed just by the narrowest part of the strip that stretched from Charcot Island southeast to the coast of Antarctica.

Water! (gasp) California needs water!

The results are in and no surprise — California’s lean snowpack means a third year of drought for the state whose farms supply about half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.

The state’s survey clocks in at 81 percent of normal water content in the snow, with the state fearing early spring heat could melt the white stuff, leaving fewer reserves later in the summer when they are most needed. Plus a National Marine Fisheries Service report, called a biological opinion, may trigger more conservation measures to protect salmon and steelhead, cutting water left for farms and homes.

Things have improved a tinge since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency in February, but the state, eyeing climate change,  is preparing for a dry 2010 and says that statewide storage is about 5 million acre feet below average. Since one acre foot is enough for a household or two for a year, that’s a lot.

New clock ticks at sluggish U.N. climate talks

 A curious thing is happening at a U.N. meeting in Bonn this week on a new climate pact – countries least interested in a deal such as OPEC members are doing more and more of the talking.

Organisers of the talks have set up a new ”Countdown to Copenhagen” clock in the main hall (above left) to try to spur the sluggish negotiations. It shows 248 days left until the talks in the Danish capital in December.

But in many ways it’s misleading because, as U.N. climate change chief Yvo de Boer pointed out at the start of the 11-day meeting on March 29, there are only 6 weeks of formal negotiations left to work out a new global response to climate change.

from Shop Talk:

Did you power down for Earth Hour?

The Las Vegas strip (below) and other global icons went dark on Saturday for Earth Hour.

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McDonald's powered down in Chicago. Twitter was alight with Earth Hour tweets.

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The annual event, launched in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund, aims to encourage people to cut energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Is California really banning black cars?

Has it come to this in California? Is the Golden State really banning black cars from its famous freeways, as reported in various auto industry blogs – and even The Washington Post – on the grounds that they require more air conditioning to cool?

The answer, a slightly exasperated spokesman for air quality regulator the California Air Resources Board tells Reuters, is an emphatic “NO.”

CARB spokesman Stanley Young calls the story a “very unfortunate case of misinformation from the blogosphere” stemming from proposed draft regulations that have since been put on the back burner by the agency.  But even those draft regulations, he says, never contemplated a ban on black cars.

Al Gore’s new book: will you read it?

 When I attended a talk by Al Gore about global warming in Oslo in March 2007, I noticed that one of the people clapping loudest — about two rows in front of me — was the head of the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ole Danbolt Mjoes also joined in a minute-long standing ovation for the former U.S. vice president. “A very important message,” was all Mjoes would tell me of Gore’s speech afterwards when I went up and asked him if Gore had a chance of winning.

Gore of course went on to share the prize in December with the U.N. Climate Panel. The photo above shows Mjoes (left), handing the award to Gore in Oslo City Hall.

Home is where the CO2 cost is — or will be

Home electric bills could rise as much as 30 percent under a U.S. cap-and-trade plan to address carbon dioxide emissions, Moody’s estimates.

The tough part for households is that Moody’s expects industrial users to figure out a way to duck the cost with special rates, meaning residential electric customers will carry “the vast majority” of the cost burden. Check out our story here.

If Moody’s is right, and if the cap-and-trade plan slows global warming, is the price right?

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.

WSJ columnist rejects climate criticism

The following guest blog is by Holman Jenkins, a Wall Street Journal columnist and member of the WSJ editorial board, in response to a blog (here) by Stuart Gaffin, a climate researcher at Columbia University who is a regular contributor to these pages. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content — the views are the author’s alone.

By Holman Jenkins

Several of my emailers in response to my WSJ column were also perplexed what I meant when I wrote that climate science has managed to yield on the most important issue -– namely mankind’s actual impact on the climate — only a “negative finding.” In fact, clarification appears in the next sentence: Science hasn’t been able to how “an increase in the atmosphere’s component of CO2 is impacting our climate, though the most plausible indication is that the impact is too small to untangle from natural variability.”

I use “science” here to mean what most people mean by science: systematic study of the world in hopes of drawing reliable conclusions. I use “climate” the way everyone uses “climate.” Mr. Gaffin seems to read “climate” as “atmosphere” and my statement as suggesting we know nothing of any kind about how the atmosphere might behave in response to rising CO2 levels. But that’s not what I said. I’m talking about what everyone actually cares about, whether the net result is a warming climate that will continue to warm in detriment to the presumed interests of humanity.

Ice Age or global warming?

It looks more like an Ice Age than global warming.

There is so much snow in Oslo, where I live, that the city authorities are resorting to dumping truckloads of it in the sea because the usual storage sites on land are full.

That is angering environmentalists who say the snow is far too dirty – scraped up from polluted roads — to be added to the fjord. The story even made it to the front page of the local paper (‘Dumpes i sjøen’: ‘Dumped in the sea’).

In many places around the capital there’s about a metre of snow, the most since 2006 when it was last dumped in the sea. Extra snow usually gets trucked to sites on land, where most of the polluted dirt is left after the thaw. Those stores are now full — in some the snow isn’t expected to melt before September.

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