Stories tagged climate change

Jun
13
2007

Snow job?: Researchers who study Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro acknowledge that its snow and ice cap is retreating, but they think other factors are at play other than global warming (Photo by mailliw)
Snow job?: Researchers who study Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro acknowledge that its snow and ice cap is retreating, but they think other factors are at play other than global warming (Photo by mailliw)
Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa has become a poster child in the world-wide climate change debate. But a group of scientists who study the mountain have spoken up to say that it’s probably not the fault of fossil fuels and carbon emissions in the atmosphere that the snows are melting.

In fact, they’ve been very careful to say that they believe climate change is a huge problem facing our globe. They just don’t see it as a factor on the top of the mountain.

In fact, the snow and ice fields at the top of the mountain have been retreating for at least 100 years, long before fossil fuels were being burned in a substantial amounts to impact climate change. Most other glaciers around the world have started their retreats in the 1970s.

Scientists point to two factors on why Kilimanjaro’s snows are diminishing. One is a simple lack of rainfall and moisture on the mountain. There’s little replenishment of moisture for the snows that have melted.

Second is sublimation. That’s sort of the same process that causes food in your frig to get freezer burn. In sublimation, sunshine and dry air change the snow and ice at the top of the mountain so fast that it goes from a frozen state to a gas state without a fluid state. It simply evaporates into the atmosphere.

Researchers who regularly go up on Kilimanjaro say that they see very little evidence of melting on the ice cap. If the snow and ice was melting, it would be soft around the edges. On Kilimanjaro, those edges are sharp and firm.

So, it just goes to show that you continually have to apply skepticism and scientific research principles in evaluating the claims made by the hot science topic of the day.

Apr
08
2007

Separation anxiety: Researchers are finding that thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean is leading to an increased number of walrus pups being separated from their mothers. The pups, which have no hunting skills, are in a jam to find food. (Photo by Adre Boffin)
Separation anxiety: Researchers are finding that thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean is leading to an increased number of walrus pups being separated from their mothers. The pups, which have no hunting skills, are in a jam to find food. (Photo by Adre Boffin)
The issue of global warming took on added significance in the eyes of many skeptics when reports came out that polar bears were drowning in the Arctic because ice sheets were getting too thin. Now, new news from the Arctic may up the ante on “animal emotion” meter.

Coast Guard icebreakers going through Arctic waters have found more “orphaned” walruses on ice floes than they ever seen before, report Science Daily. And the thinking is that walrus mothers have to abandon their pups on thinner ice as they follow the thicker ice that’s retreating north.

One recent Coast Guard unit reported seeing nine abandoned walrus pups in one trip. Years ago, it was a sight that was never seen.

Being abandoned is a almost always fatal for a walrus pup. The moms dive into the water to find food – bottom-dwelling aquatic animals – for the pups. But if the ice isn’t thick and strong enough to support the adults, they little ones go hungry. Adult walruses can dive as deep as 600 feet to find food.

“We were on a station for 24 hours, and the calves would be swimming around us crying. We couldn’t rescue them,” said Carin Ashjian, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

That same research crew found a large pool of warmer ocean water surrounding the area with all the abandoned walrus pups. That water has a temperature of 44-degrees, which is about six degrees warmer than water temperatures taken at the same spot at the same time of year two years earlier.

Mar
23
2007

The real cause of climate change?: A new film argues that the Sun, not people, is driving global warming.  Photo by NASA.
The real cause of climate change?: A new film argues that the Sun, not people, is driving global warming. Photo by NASA.

An earlier thread discussed the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Now, a British television network has produced a documentary of its own, entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle. (Streaming video; one hour and 13 minutes.) The film interviews many top scientists who disagree with the theory that human-produced CO2 causes global warming. It offers compelling evidence that climate change is driven by the Sun. And it ends with a rather disturbing look at how science and politics have influenced each other, with potentially dire consequences.

Regardless of how you feel about climate change and global warming, it's worth watching to film, to hear another side of the debate.

Mar
08
2007

Cows: The UN estimates that cows and other livestock are responsible for 18% of the global warming effect. Save the planet, eat a cow?
Cows: The UN estimates that cows and other livestock are responsible for 18% of the global warming effect. Save the planet, eat a cow?
Last night, I was curled up on the sofa reading an old issue of The New Yorker (January 22, 2007, to be exact). The book review feature ("Vegetable Love: The History of Vegetarianism") was about Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times. And one section, in particular, made me sit up and read a little closer. I quote:

"These days, the environmental argument [for vegetarianism] os not about maximizing the number of people that the environment can sustain but about sustaining the environment. Does producing a pound of lentils involve burning less fossil fuel than producing a pound of hamburger meat, or more? How many square miles of forest are cleared to graze cattle? How much biodiversity is lost both in grazing livestock and in raising the corn and soybeans to fatten them? A recent report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reckons that at least 18% of the global warming effect comes from livestock, more than is cause by all the world's transportation systems. It has been estimated that 40% of global grain output is used to feed animals rather than people, and that half of this grain would be sufficient to eliminate world hunger if--and it's not a small if--the political will could be found to insure equitable distribution.

Yet the energy-cost argument is formidably complicated and cannot by itself support refusing all forms of meat in favor of all forms of plant matter: shooting and eating the deer chewing up the tulips in your garden may turn out to be more environmentally virtuous than dining on tofu manufactured from Chinese soybeans, and walking to the local supermaket for a nice hanger cut steak cut from a grass-fed New Zealand steer may be kinder to the planet than getting into your Toyota Prius to drive five miles for some organic Zambian green beans."

(This issue continues to befuddle me. Is it better to buy all local produce when I can, regardless of organic status (which, I must admit, I don't really care so much about)? Or does the bulk production and transport of the run-of-the-mill produce at the big-box grocery cancel out some harmful environmental effects?)

The article continues:

"The number of vegetarians in developed countries is evidently on the increase, but the world's per capita consumption of meat rises relentlessly: in 1981, it was 62 pounds per year; in 2002, the figure stood at 87.5 pounds. In carnivorous America, in increased from 238.1 pounds to 275.1 pounds, and the practice is spreading in traditionally herbivorous Asia. Indians' meat consumption has rised from 8.4 to 11.5 pounds since 1981; in China, it has increased from 33.1 to an astonishing 115.5 pounds. This result has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with prosperity."

(275.1 pounds! Crazy! My family eats a lot of vegetarian meals, not on principle, but just because we like them. I wonder how we compare?)

The article ends with an awesome quote from Ben Franklin, who flirted with vegetarianism but didn't quite make it stick. He was 16, and on his first sea voyage from Boston, when his ship was becalmed off Block Island in the Narragansett Bay. He wrote:

"Our Peopl set about catching Cod, & haul'd up a great many. Hitherto I had stick to my Resolution of not eating animal Food; and on this Occasion, I consider'd . . . the taking every Fish as a kind of unprovok'd Murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any Injury that might justify the Slaughter. All this seem'd very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great Lover of Fish, & when this came hot out of the Frying Pan, it smeled admirably well. I balanc'd some time between Principle & Inclination: till I recollected, that when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their Stomachs: Then though I, if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you. So I din'd upon Cod very heartily and continu'd to eat with other People, returning only now & then occasionally to a vegetable Diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do."

Indeed! :)

Nov
21
2006

Join us to learn about the impacts of global warming on Minnesota's treasured Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The program--"The late, great Boundary Waters forests? Addressing the risks of rapid forest decline"--is part of the 2006 Sigurd Olson lecture series, and is free and open to the public.

Featured speakers:

  • J. Drake Hamilton, science policy advisor, Fresh Energy;
  • Paul Douglas, meteorologist, WCCO-TV; and
  • Dr. Lee Frelich, director, University of Minnesota Center for Hardwood Ecology.

Monday, November 27, 2006
Science Museum of Minnesota Discovery Hall
120 West Kellogg Boulevard, Saint Paul, Minnesota

6:30 - 7:00 Pre-program special event
Guided tour of Science-on-a-Sphere, the museum's new whole-Earth visualization system

7:00 - 9:00 Main program

Sponsored by Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. For more information, contact J. Drake Hamilton at 651-726-7562 or hamilton @ fresh-energy.org.

Apr
12
2006

Global warming has been in the news a lot lately. First, 60 scientists signed a petition asking the Canadian Prime Minister to open a scientific debate on the Kyoto Treaty. (The Kyoto Treaty is an international agreement to reduce global warming by reducing industrial emissions. Some people think the treaty has too many loopholes, and even if the loopholes were closed, it would still not be effective. The US has not signed the treaty. Science Buzz has had its own Kyoto debate.)

The scientists argue:

Much of the billions of dollars earmarked for implementation of the protocol in Canada will be squandered without a proper assessment of recent developments in climate science. …

It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. …

The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

Next, a climate researcher in Australia has looked at current climate data and found that global temperatures have been holding steady since 1998:

Two simple graphs provide needed context, and exemplify the dynamic, fluctuating nature of climate change. The first is a temperature curve for the last six million years, which shows a three-million year period when it was several degrees warmer than today, followed by a three-million year cooling trend which was accompanied by an increase in the magnitude of the pervasive, higher frequency, cold and warm climate cycles. During the last three such warm (interglacial) periods, temperatures at high latitudes were as much as 5 degrees warmer than today's. The second graph shows the average global temperature over the last eight years, which has proved to be a period of stasis.

Finally, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that there is a vicious circle between climate scientists who find evidence of global warming; environmental activists who use those findings to advance their cause; and policy makers who respond to the activists by giving more money to… the climate scientists.

(He also claims that scientists who raise doubts about global warming and human impact on climate are sometimes shut out of the debate. Science Buzz has had it’s own discussion on disagreements within the scientific community.)

So, what to make of all of this? I think the MIT professor said it well:

[L]et's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred.

This all illustrates the dynamic interaction between science and politics. Science is about facts. Politics is about opinion – what should we do in the fact of those facts? But the distinction is not always clear. Science influences political debate; and political decisions influence what science gets support. The best thing to do is to keep an open mind, remembering that most people have some sort of agenda, and that new information is coming out all the time.

(The Science Museum of Minnesota did an exhibit on global warming. You can find the website here.)