Ford addresses climate change, fails to take responsibility

I don't believe in using the "new year" as an opportunity for reflection. Instead, we should reflect on our lives and society every day, and try to make decisions that we can defend and be proud of. For those of you who might think of the new year differently, a recent press release by Ford might provide some hope for the coming year [LINK]. The corporation has issued a report about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and claims to be ready to do its part in minimizing emitted carbon dioxide. The report itself [LINK] reports on the progress Ford has made since 2000 in reducing GHG emissions, and says that they plan to do more. It seems like something to be optimistic about.

Don't forget though, that while Ford does now make the Ford Escape Hybrid, a SUV that gets a respectable 36 mpg (city, 31 hwy), it also produces the Lincoln Aviator (13 mpg city, 18 hwy) and the gigantic Ford Excursion for which I couldn't even find fuel economy numbers. I'm not saying this report is purely lip service, but like all giant corporations, Ford is mostly concerned with money, not carbon.

Just to end on an up note, it is nice to hear a corporation at least mention climate change as an important issue, and maybe that is a small victory that bodes well for the coming year.


Tropical storm Zeta, as in Catherine ... wuh?

Geez, I keep thinking the Atlantic tropical cyclone season is over, and new storms just keep forming. Tropical Storm Zeta formed recently [LINK] near the Azores. It's a weak, but pretty well organized. It's not supposed to strengthen much, and probably won't affect land in any important ways.

I am still having a lot of trouble believing that these horrendous hurricane seasons are really due only to something called the Atlantic multidecadal mode. The real upsetting part is that we won't solve the debate, at least not in a concrete way, for at least 10 years, and probably more like 25 years. Of course, if the hurricane "season" starts earlier and lasts longer every single year, some of the more skeptical hurricane experts might come around... we'll see.


the senate actually does something right?

While the House really dropped the ball by passing a bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, the Senate seems to have stepped up a little, at least blocking that part of the bill [LINK].

Just to get very political and very opinonated for a moment...

What is the deal with Sen. Ted Stevens? The republican from Alaska seems bent on railroading domestic policy by getting billions of dollars wasted on huge projects in his home state. Remember the bridge to nowhere? [LINK] I can understand him wanting to get money into Alaska, but has this man no shame, and even worse no sense of pride in the natural (relatively unspoiled) beauty of his state? How can a state that has almost no people demand so much attention in Washington, DC? It is amazing.

Also, if you've been listening to any of the pundits or Congressional hearings, have you noticed that people trying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling have stopped saying "wildlife" or "refuge?" They like to use ANWR as an acronym, pronounced AN-war. It is an old, but useful tactic. I hate marketing.

Sorry for the politics, but it's my blog.

A related blog

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at wunderground.com has blogged about the Atlantic multidecadal mode, with a figure showing the AMM index even [LINK]. Unfortunately he doesn't give his references, although I'm sure he isn't making anything up.

The weird thing is that he says, "One of the leading theories is that changes in the ocean's salt content causes a speed up or slow down of the Gulf Stream, due to the fact that density differences between lighter fresh water and heavier salty water drive weaker and stronger ocean currents, respectively. This circulation (called the "thermohaline circulation") is thought to cause the warm phase of the AMO and warmer Atlantic SSTs when it speeds up, and cooler SSTs and a cool AMO phase when it slows down." This doesn't actually make sense to me, and I think Masters just got a little confused about some terms. The gulf stream is a result of western intensification... also known as a western boundary current. It is almost entirely wind driven; basically the trade winds blow the water south and west over the tropical Atlantic and the Coriolis force, conservation of momentum, and the existence of the continent (stopping the water from going further west) all combine to make a very strong, narrow current, which we call the gulf stream. There are similar currents on all the major western boundaries. The thermohaline circulation, as its name tries to imply, is driven by density differences of sea-water that arise from differences in temperature and saltiness. Thus, the two currents are fundamentally different phenomena (wind (dynamics) versus density (thermodynamics) ). My guess is that Masters just shouldn't have said "gulf stream" at all, as the rest of the sentence seems to implicate the THC. Even so, it is a useful post, and a good blog.


exactly how a democracy should NOT work

Can you imagine a group of surgeons standing over a patient, arguing about how to operate? The patient is lying there, anesthetized and oblivious, while a group of highly trained doctors argue. One refuses to allow any procedure to be performed unless he is allowed to remove the appendix. Another demands a pacemaker be put in place, even though most of the doctors don't see any need for a pacemaker. The belligerence of the pro-pacemaker surgeons means that the other must accept this ridiculous "preemptive" procedure in order to even perform the originally intended work. So they argue through the night, with the patient lying there the whole time, chest open. Finally, as they all get a bit punchy, wired on caffeine, sleep deprived, they reach an agreement. They'll do it. Now that they've worn themselves out by arguing about what to do, they go to work. One goes toward the appendix, since he added it to the pacemaker agreement, and some others start installing a pacemaker, having won that battle. The rest go to work on the original procedure, only to realize that all the space in the operating room, and all the surgical tools, are being used by the surgeons who are doing the other procedures.

Can you imagine that?

Well, that's pretty much how I view this weekend's marathon session of congress. I think the huge military spending bill is kind of like the pacemaker... unnecessary, but they had numbers so they get to do it. Drilling in the arctic national wildlife refuge is kind of like the appendix. Well, I suppose it would be more like removing the spleen. It's there and doesn't do anything, but if you go in and mess with it, all kinds of hell could break loose. Maybe my metaphor could use some work, but it's at least as good as the legislation that was being rewritten all weekend. How are laws passed in this manner ever going to do any good for our society? Anyway, a description of the proceedings is available in the NYTimes, or any other newspaper today. Here's a little taste:
"'A can't-pass measure has been added to a must-pass measure in order for the Republicans to give an early huge Christmas gift to the oil companies of the United States,' said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts." [LINK]

Great. Let's go get some oil!


America, hide your shame...

Today's NYTimes editorial, titled America's Shame in Montreal is an indictment of the behavior of the US delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal. Here's a short bit:
"For its part, the Bush administration deserves only censure. No one expected a miraculous conversion. But given the steadily mounting evidence of the present and potential consequences of climate change - disappearing glaciers, melting Arctic ice caps, dying coral reefs, threatened coastlines, increasingly violent hurricanes - one would surely have expected America's negotiators to arrive in Montreal willing to discuss alternatives." [LINK]

The UN is touting Montreal 2005 as a success, with "more than forty decisions that will strengthen global efforts to fight climate change." [LINK]

It's hard for me to really know if anything interesting or substantial has come from Montreal 2005, since it was hardly covered in the crappy mainstream media, which has been my only real source of news lately because I don't have much time to read the in-depth coverage that I'd really like to. My first guess though is that nothing particularly interesting happened at the conference. Most likely a few countries (Canada, Britain, etc) agreed to keep pushing for more responsible energy policies, but no one agreed to actually do more than they are supposed to already be doing. The US acted like a spoile child, "In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the United States finally agreed to allow new discussions, but only after everyone consented to a huge escape clause saying any talks will be 'open and nonbinding,' and 'will not open any negotiations leading to new commitments.'" [LINK]

In the meantime, prominent climate scientists are starting to think about real-life The Day After Tomorrow scenarios. James Hansen, NASA Goddard, has an editorial essay in Climate Change that goes through some rather dire scenarios [LINK]. Essentially, he's worried that the response time of large icesheets (Greenland mostly, but also Antarctica) is only 100-300 years, which is similar to the combined time it takes for humans to see the climate really changing and then do something about their climate-changing activity. Hansen sees a scenario where water pools on the tops of the ice, causing melting downward, lubricating huge chunks of ice sheet, which then break off and plunge into the ocean. Sea levels could rise by several meters in a few years, displacing many millions of people in a short amount of time. It isn't a likely scenario, but we can't yet rule it out.


A quick article about hurricanes and global warming

I just came across a nice article in The Independent about the possible link between global warming and tropical cyclones [LINK]. Steve Connor writes a good summary of this summer's hurricane season and scientific debate.


Harlan Watson, environmentalist

There's a little story in the Washington Post, by Juliet Eilperin, about Harlan Watson being potentially tied to ExxonMobil [LINK]. He's in Montreal right now as a "climate negotiator," where according to Eilperin he's "spent the past week in Montreal touting the administration's record on climate change." Apparently he's not that into talking about the Kyoto Protocol, or even what happens when it expires.

I'd like to be outraged, or even frustrated by these kinds of stories, but it is hard when we've had 5 years of it, with 3 more coming.

Ronald Brownstein is trying to keep spirits up by writing about state-level initiatives are getting greener [LINK], but it's a hard sell these days. I suppose we should all just start doing everything we can as individuals, and support these local and state-level efforts. Maybe that can do enough to get us to the next administration, which will hopefully be a little more environmentally conscious.