Tales from the Trail

Amidst the shivering in Washington, the case for global warming

WEATHER/OK, it’s cold in Washington. It’s really cold. And snowy. And blizzardy. It’s hard to recall that long-ago moment — what was it, six days ago? — when you could go for a walk without cross-country skis and a flask of brandy. But just because it’s winter doesn’t mean global warming is a myth.

But the storms gave conservatives fresh fodder for mocking former Vice President Al Gore and his efforts on global climate change.  Senator Jim DeMint tweeted “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’,” Politico reported.

For decades, scientists have struggled to explain the difference between weather, which changes in the short term, and climate, which changes over the long term. There’s a good explanation at the new government Climate Service Web site called “Short term cooling on a warming planet.” The new site went up this week, between blizzards, and is supposed to guide consumers and businesses so they can adapt to climate change. The Climate Service itself is expected to be up and running by the start of the next U.S. fiscal year that begins on October 1.

The last decade was the warmest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United Kingdom’s Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization. “The bottom line is that current temperatures are way above the long-term average,” NOAA’s David Easterling says.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is certainly not backing away from its 2007 report that global warming is occurring and human activity is causing it. But climate change skeptics have focused on what they see as problems with how some of the data that led to this conclusion were collected and reported. To most scientists, though, this is all beside the point.

Doomsday Clock rolls back — what would you do with an extra minute?

BRITAIN-PARLIAMENT/GREENPEACEGood news! We’re one symbolic minute further away from total annihilation!

The Doomsday Clock, created  in 1947 to dramatize the nuclear threat, was reset today to six minutes before midnight, back from five minutes before midnight — midnight being the symbol of the Ultimate Big Kaboom. Or as the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists puts it, “the figurative end of civilization.”

The board, which includes 19 Nobel laureates, has only adjusted the clock’s virtual hands 18 times, most recently in 2007 when the board moved it forward by two minutes. They cited North Korea’s test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama gets a bit of credit for the latest move away from midnight. So do developments on nuclear weapons control and climate change. Learn more about it here.

“Heroism fatigue”: another hurdle for U.S. climate change action?

GERMANY/Could “heroism fatigue” be yet another bump in the road for any U.S. law to curb climate change? And what is “heroism fatigue” anyway?

To Paul Bledsoe of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, heroism fatigue is what happens when the Congress has spent most of the year doing something heroic, like trying to hammer out an agreement on healthcare reform, when what lawmakers might rather be doing is naming a new post office. Following one big, gnarly piece of legislation with another — like a bill to limit climate-warming carbon dioxide — can seem daunting.

“Especially Democrats want to get  back to some meat-and-potatoes job-creation stuff,” Bledsoe says. “They’re going to need a little time after healthcare.”

Sarah Palin, climate science and e-mail

USA/Sarah Palin’s bylined opinion piece in today’s Washington Post drew fire from the Center for American Progress, which also took aim at the Post for publishing “falsehood-filled … tabloid nonsense.” Take a look at the liberal think-tank’s take here.

Like others who question the scientific evidence for human-generated climate change, Palin — former Alaska governor, ex-Republican vice presidential candidate and now best-selling author — targets hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain. Climate skeptics have cited this correspondence as a sign that the science of climate change has been tainted with politics and maintain the e-mails show repression of data that does not fit the climate change case. The scientists themselves, and others around the world, have said the e-mail comments were taken out of context and reflect an open exchange of ideas.

The e-mails came to light in the weeks leading up to the climate conference in Denmark. Since then, the scientific journal Nature defended the scientists at East Anglia in an editorial that called the hack-attack and the subsequent heated rhetoric by climate deniers “harrassment.”  The Guardian newspaper reported that the climate scientists have received torrents of abuse and even death threats.

Boycott Copenhagen, Palin urges Obama

USA/

 If Sarah Palin had her way, President Barack Obama would be staying away from this month’s global climate change talks in Copenhagen and “sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices.”

The summit will hear from scientists like those from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, where recently revealed e-mails showed information that raised questions about climate change was suppressed, writes Palin.

“Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen,” she wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

What trumps a car bomb, a blizzard and a trip to Kabul?

GOLF-PGA/If you watched U.S. morning television or went online early today, you already know the answer to this media riddle. Top stories — a deadly car-bombing in Baghdad, a massive winter storm rolling across the United States and an unannounced flight to Afghanistan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates – took a back seat to a new development in the tabloid tale of Tiger Woods.

The latest turn in the super-golfer’s travails occurred overnight, when a Florida television station reported an unidentified woman was taken by ambulance from Woods’ home to a nearby hospital.

WESH-TV showed footage of a blond woman on a stretcher.

UPDATE: The woman wheeled out of  Woods’ home was identified as his mother-in-law, who was suffering from stomach pains.

Could it be just a case of climate change coincidence?

Maybe it was just a case of cosmic karma…

USA-CLIMATE/EPAClimate skeptics around Washington wondered whether it was really a coincidence that the EPA announced its long-awaited “endangerment finding” — which clears the way for the agency to regulate greenhouse gases as a harmful pollutant –  on the same day that a big international climate change meeting opened in Copenhagen.

It looked like suspicious timing to some in Congress, and in the media. Why now? Could it be that the Obama team wanted to curry favor with the climate crowd a week before the president heads for the big conference in Denmark? Or was it really just one of those things?

At the daily White House press briefing spokesman Robert Gibbs was peppered with questions about the strangely timely timing of the EPA ruling ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to the climate conference next week.

The First Draft: What if Congress turned Republican on Obama?

A Republican-controlled Congress could be a real possibility for the second half of President Barack Obama’s four-year term, according to the latest Gallup poll.
OBAMA/
The poll of 894 registered voters suggests Republicans would win the U.S. House of Representatives by 48 percent to 44 percent if the 2010 congressional election were held today.

The Republican lead is well within the poll’s 4 percentage point margin of error. But the results indicate that Republicans might have some momentum after gaining steadily on Democrats since July.

People who participated in the survey were asked only about their local House districts, so the results mean little for that other congressional chamber, the U.S. Senate. US POLITICS

The First Draft: off-year election day could spell trouble for Obama

It’s been a year since Americans have gone to the polls, but as they do on Tuesday President Barack Obama may be less excited than he was last year, particularly in Virginia and New Jersey where his fellow Democrats are facing trouble.

Republicans are hoping to capture the governors’ mansions in those two states to rebuild some momentum after being trounced by Democrats last year. They also are trying to make it a referendum against Obama’s agenda to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and financial regulatory structure as well as his plans to address climate change.OBAMA/

In Virginia where Obama won narrowly in 2008, Republican Bob McDonnell has built a sizable lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds while in traditionally Democratic-leaning New Jersey Republican Chris Christie is neck and neck with Democratic incumbent Governor Jon Corzine.

The First Draft: Team Obama’s Full-Court Press on Climate

OBAMAAs a drippy day dawns in Washington, Team Obama is suiting up for a full-court press on climate change. Three cabinet secretaries — from Energy, Transportation and Interior departments — the head of the EPA and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Five — are headed for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the first of three full days of hearings.

As those hearings go forward, President Barack Obama is announcing a $3.4 billion program to build a “smart” electric grid, which would among other things carry solar and wind power, which are free of carbon emissions.

It’s all meant to convince international climate negotiators that Washington is serious about tackling climate change. A global gathering set for Copenhagen in December aims to set up a system to curb climate-warming carbon emissions after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. For months, environmental activists have looked to the Copenhagen meeting as a deadline for action. But now, the deadline is looking a bit blurry.