monsoons are serious

Reports from India are pointing to an intense Indian monsoon this year [Indian monsoon death toll soars], saying "the rain on Tuesday was the heaviest recorded in a single day in India... More than 65cm (26 inches) fell in Mumbai."

I just wanted to post this article as yet another reminder that global climate change doesn't just affect the temperature. As global warming progresses, it is extremely likely that regional monsoons will be affected (in different ways in different regions). Similarly, some studies suggest the intensity of monsoons, droughts, tropical and midlatitude cyclones will all be larger in a warmer climate, or at least that variability will increase.

This matters for more than forecasting weather. People's lives are at stake, especially for the millions of people (most of them poor, despite places like Malibu) who live in low-lying coastal areas that are impacted by seasonal inclement weather. In places like Mumbai (and Malibu, I suppose), severe weather events can cost millions of dollars in damages, affecting local and non-local economies. Climate change has far-reaching consequences, as you knew already.

Hush-hush Pacific climate agreement

Briefly looking at the news today, you will almost certainly have missed the announcement that the USA, China, India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have made an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century. That is, unless you are scouring the Australian news sites, like the Sydney Morning Herald, which ran the headline: Pact halves emissions by the next century. The agreement is tentatively called the "Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate."

I can't say that I actually know anything about this agreement. One reason for that is that it is not being covered anywhere, especially in the major USA news sources. This was also pointed out by Triple Pundit today. VOA did carry a story about it, by Scott Bobb [LINK], but it says no more than the SMH story.

Update/Correction: The big USA news agencies do in fact have the story. For example, I found the Reuters report buried in the NYTimes International section. I still don't see the story at all in the LATimes though.

Okay, so we see that the story isn't being covered very well. Why is that? Well there are two possibilities. First, it might be because no one cares about covering important climate-economic policy news, but that is unlikely. Second, it could be because it is a non-story. I'm ignoring the possibility that there is a vast conspiracy to hide the Bush administration's concern over climate change. I think the second possibility is most likely. According to the stories I have found about this agreement, it is focused on techonology and sharing technology.

The idea is that by using more efficient technologies, greenhouse gas emissions can be cut significantly. We've started to hear this from the GWB administration recently, despite Dick Cheney's well-known distaste for conservation. The agreement doesn't seem to set limits or goals for cutting emissions, which means there's nothing to enforce. Apparently there will be a fund into which each member state will deposit money for R&D of new efficient technologies.

Using more efficient technologies is a great idea! I think we should do it right now. Maybe we could pass a bill that says that all new power plants must meet specified minimum standards. We could even build in a grandfather clause so that old power plants could keep working, and just install new, efficient equipment when they need to replace old equipment. Let's call it the Clean Air Act. Oh, wait, didn't we do that in 1970? IT DID NOT WORK. There are loopholes, and as long as the government allows dirty energy to be cheaper than clean energy (through massive subsidies on oil and coal, and poor enforcemnent of the Clean Air Act and others), there is no way that better technologies will be able to compete. Add to that the new "energy bill" that may be making its way through congress right now [LINK], and we see that this new Pacific agreement is, for the USA at least, nothing but lip service and business as usual.

When will the USA government wake up to the realities of climate change? When will it understand that energy security is not about military action in the Middle East? When will the largest economy, most lawful democracy, and most technologically advanced country in the world take its responsibility to be a world leader in the arena of climate change and alternative energy seriously? As far as I can see, the answer to this last question is only, when it isn't the USA.


a small story

I saw this link on the front page of the BBC news website today:

BBC NEWS | Africa | Polygamy no fun, admits Ethiopian

I'm not going to say anything about it, you can come to your own conclusions.


Brazil, a land of contrasts

Another story out of Wired, this one dated 16 May 2005, reports on the success Brazil is having with ethanol and biodiesel [LINK]. Usually people say that using biofuel is a zero sum gain as far as climate change goes, since it takes carbon from the living biosphere and puts it into the atmosphere, only to be reabsorbed by the biosphere as new crops are grown. So, if this holds, as it should I guess, Brazil is starting to get it. Unfortunately, Brazil is also destroying the Amazon at an alarming rate [LINK].

Baby steps forward in Africa (Rwanda)

In a story sent to me today by Mel S., Cyrus Farivar writes for Wired about Rwandan prisons recycling the human waste to generate first energy for cooking and lighting and second fertilizer for the prison gardens [LINK]. Basically they collect the wast and ferment it, collecting the methane produced and burning it as fuel. It's a good idea, and has won an Ashden Award. I have a sneaking suspiscion that they could streamline the process for efficiency, though, and produce much more energy and probably lose much less of the very, very greenhouse gas, methane. Definitely a good idea though, and a great story out of the heart of Africa.


Just some links to keep you happy

Hell-O blog-readers!

After coming into the office this morning after a relaxing, news-free weekend, I started reading news and getting agitated. Not all of it is climate related (which, is supposedly this blog's theme, supposedly), but I thought I'd just throw out some of the articles I've read this morning.

So the big news in the atmosphere is Hurricane Emily, which has now crossed the Yucatan. I wonder how close the eye came to the impact site of the meteor that ended the dinosaurs' reign? I suppose that the diameter of the hurricane is bigger than the crater, but amazingly has less energy than that unleashed by the impact. That's a lot of energy. For up to the date information, see the National Hurricane Center.

Slightly concerning for those of us with ties to environmental groups, the FBI has been keeping tabs on some groups that support environmental (or social or progressive) activism [LINK]. Why? More importantly than 'why?' is the more specific question, why are they doing so with anti-terrorism task forces and funds? This is blantantly politically motivated. This sort of behavior by the federal government is taking us back in time to more invasive and paranoid days, and simultaneously toward a very Orwellian future.

Getting less related, but still sort of following the lines of this blog, the solar car race is happening. There's a story in the SF Chronicle about it [LINK], with a focus on the Cal and Stanford teams. While racing this fragile little solar cars seems silly and just a diversion, the technologies and skills and press coverage that this race and these teams generate will help move away from the dirty hydrocarbon economy that we live in today. More information about the American Solar Challenge can be found at americansolarchallenge.org.

Moving away from environmental and climate issues completely, but staying in the realm of science, there's a news story about a new study of an extra solar planet that orbits three suns. None of the stories I read really do this story justice, but it sounds really interesting, and might have important ramifications for understanding how solar systems form [LINK].

And moving past hard science news, and into more murky waters, there's a column by Gina Piccalo in the LATimes about atheists in America. It's kind of a strange piece in the sense that it implies that there's a lot of stigma attached to being an atheist in today's USA [LINK]. No doubt there is in some places. No doubt that religious types feel various feelings ranging from confusion to pity to anger and hate and fear when confronted with real-life atheists. However, this probably isn't a serious issue for most atheists, at least in my experience. I'd guess that at least half the people I know are atheist or at least agnostic, and I don't think they are facing much difficulty due to non-belief. Well, I hope not. The column also mentions, and reminded me of, a great web site for those out there who don't invoke mystical forces in their world-view. It is called the Brights' Net, and I have to say that I think it is a clever and harmless site/idea. It is very non-confrontational, very pro-people, and doesn't condemn anyone.

So that's what's been on my mind today. Also, crude oil prices dropped this morning to about $57.20/barrel. However, as I understand it, today the whole market is adjusting to some kind of profit reports or something... so everything seems to have gone down a bit.


Oil... *sigh*

As I haven't really posted much lately, here's a little something from The End of Oil, which I'm just about done reading finally.

American cars and trucks burn two of verery three barrels of oil used in the United states -- and one of every seven worldwide -- a figure that is hardly surprising, given that economy standards have been frozen since 1988. Today, American cars need to achieve and average fuel economy of just 27.5 miles per gallon, while "light trucks," that hugely popular category that includes pickups and SUVs, need achieve only 20.5 miles per gallon. Even a modest improvement in fuel-economy standards -- say, 32 mpg for cars and 24 mpg for light trucks -- would by 2010 be saving 2.7 million barrels per day -- or nearly twice as much as could be pumped every day from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

While we can quibble over some of the numbers (and remember that this book is now about 2 years old, so things have gotten even worse), this is another in a big pile of examples out there about how we need to straighten up in terms of our energy consumption. Oil is going fast, and climate is changing faster. This is not a problem for the next generation or the one after that. These are issues that will be the MOST IMPORTANT IN THE WORLD in the next decade. This IS LIFE AND DEATH for thousands - maybe millions - of people who are alive today. Let's address things now and save the world... does that sound optimistic? Yeah, you didn't think I could do it, did you?


Are you callin' me out?

So, as my iMac continues to compile, I keep reading Nature articles to amuse myself. The editorial this week is about one Representative Joe Barton (R, TX), who has sent official-ish inquiries to several climate scientists asking for more information about their research [LINK]. Yes, that seems good, except we know that this is politically motivated, and Barton is looking for holes to exploit. He's not a very good environmentalist. Barton is using an article from the Wall Street Journal as his guide to understanding the science involved. Unfortunately, the WSJ is a right-wing rag, at least in its editorials. RealClimate.org has addressed a recent, related WSJ editorial (21 June 2005), refuting it's conclusions beyond a reasonable doubt [LINK]. The Nature editorial doesn't say too much, except that these are issues that are being exploited and politicized, and that they are too important to do that. The editors of Nature are correct.

Let's party like it's 2005!

Okay, one more while my iMac is compiling things...

This year we have an extra second to savour (yeah, it looks British, doesn't it) the sweet year that has been 2005. Yes, a leap second has been announced, to be added to the final moments of the year [LINK]. The extra second is added to make up for small variations in the length of day (i.e., Earth's rotation).

How will you spend your bonus time?

Crikey! ... oh, wait, Aussies don't really say that...

So this is just too cool not to post, despite it being off topic. Researchers from Australia have applied acoustic physics to understand how didgeridoos make those crazy sounds [LINK]. Apparently it's all about changing the position of the glottis (part of the windpipe), enhancing certain frequencies and getting a different resonance inside the didgeridoo. So neat!


The emperor has no clothes, Bush announces.

Will he actually do it? Will GWB actually say he believes in climate change? An article in the TimesOnline [LINK] suggests he might this week at the G8 conference. Of course, if we're to believe all the rumors and conjectures about the conference, all foreign debt will be forgiven, new energy sources will be developed, tested, and implemented, food sources will be secured, and all disease will be erradicated. But maybe, just maybe, GWB will finally say something like, "climate change is real, and it is a problem that we need to deal with. Let's smoke'em out!" Or something like that.