Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Via TUAW

Apple has come in last place among a list of tech companies in the latest Greenpeace tech report How Dirty is Your Data? [PDF]. While Apple has made some pretty big strides over the last few years in trying to eliminate environmentally unfriendly chemicals from its products, Apple placed last in this list due to its heavy reliance on coal power at its data centers.

The report compares energy consumption and sources made by Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, IBM, Microsoft, HP, Akamai, Amazon and Yahoo. In it, Greenpeace points out that Apple’s new North Carolina data center, which is set to open this year and will supposedly be primarily used for cloud-based computing services, will triple Apple’s energy usage and use the same amount of energy as 80,000 US homes. Of that energy, 62 percent will be provided by coal (one of the dirtiest energy sources), and 32 percent of it will be provided by nuclear power.

This isn’t the first time Greenpeace has expressed concern over Apple’s energy footprint regarding cloud computing. In March of last year, Greenpeace also expressed concern about the North Carolina data center that runs on “dirty coal power.

Marijuana grown indoors has a huge carbon footprint reports Huffpost Green. And it’s of course not surprising …

Pot-smoking environmentalists take note: Grass might not be green. A new study reveals that indoor marijuana production carries a shockingly large carbon footprint.

GOOD reports that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Evan Mills, Ph.D., has released a surprising new independent report, “Energy up in Smoke: The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production.” Mills reports that indoor Cannabis production uses 1% of the nation’s entire electricity consumption. This comes to energy expenditures of $5 billion per year.

While 1% may not seem like a lot, the report claims that smoking one single Cannabis joint is equivalent to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours. That Cannabis cigarette carries two pounds of CO2 emissions.

According to the report:

Each four-by-four-foot production module doubles the electricity use of an average U.S. home and triples that of an average California home. The added electricity use is equivalent to running about 30 refrigerators. Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in emissions. For off-grid production, it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators.

Is this report ideal material for anti-drug activists? Not exactly. Mills is clear to write, “This study does not pass judgement on the merits of Cannabis cultivation” and he states that cannabis production is not intrinsically polluting, but rather currently engages in inefficient production. Mills proposes that energy use for indoor production could be dramatically reduced, with cost-effective efficiency improvements of up to 75%. He also suggests that by shifting cultivation use outdoors, certain aspects of energy consumption would be eliminated (although other environmental impacts might be imposed instead).

Fast Company finds this report to be further evidence that marijuana should be legalized. Writer Ariel Schwartz says, “Marijuana production needs to be legalized, so people will actually cast a critical eye on its energy usage. All the industry has to do is follow in the footsteps of the commercial agricultural industry, which has made strides in energy efficiency in recent years.”

Mills writes in his report that criminalization contributes to inefficient energy practices. Compared to electric grids, off-grid power production often produced more greenhouse-gas emissions. He also describes how long driving distances and odor suppression measures take away from ventilation efficiencies.

Ultimately, Mills concludes, “It is up to others to decide how to respond to the findings.” Whatever the response may be, indoor cannabis production must somehow reduce its carbon footprint.

Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation (but notice the exception created for infrastructure projects)

Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.

But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.

Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials. “Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped draft the law. “It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia’s traditional indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change. “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values,” he said.

Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because President Evo Morales’s ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, enjoys a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.

However, the government must tread a fine line between increased regulation of companies and giving way to the powerful social movements who have pressed for the law. Bolivia earns $500m (£305m) a year from mining companies which provides nearly one third of the country’s foreign currency.

In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.

The draft of the new law states: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”

Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed its constitution to give nature “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”. However, the abstract rights have not led to new laws or stopped oil companies from destroying some of the most biologically rich areas of the Amazon.

Coping with climate change

Bolivia is struggling to cope with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and more extreme weather events including more frequent floods, droughts, frosts and mudslides.

Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in the capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising steadily for 60 years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are now on course to rise a further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years. This would turn much of Bolivia into a desert.

Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely within 20 years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.

Evo Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, has become an outspoken critic in the UN of industrialised countries which are not prepared to hold temperatures to a 1C rise.

John Vidal in La Paz for the Guardian

John Vidal reports from La Paz where Bolivians are living with the effects of climate change every day Link to this video

The following Guardian article talks about another one of those half-cocked geo-engineering fixes: liming the world’s oceans. The guy who promotes the idea is a former management consultant, which immediately raises the question: what makes him qualified to design climate change solutions?

Apart from that minor detail, this band aid, like all the other ones, makes no attempt to determine any possible consequences of lime dumping for the complex web of interactions within the oceanic environment as well as between it and weather patterns.

Sometimes I feel these self-proclaimed geo-engineers are the modern equivalent of snake oil peddlers …

limestonequarry

Just add lime (to the sea) – the latest plan to cut CO2 emissions

• Project ‘could turn back clock’ on carbon dioxide
• Guardian conference will select top 10 climate ideas

Duncan Clark
The Guardian

Putting lime into the oceans could stop or even reverse the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to proposals unveiled at a conference on climate change solutions in Manchester today.

According to its advocates, the same technique could help fix one of the most dangerous side effects of man-made CO2 emissions: rising ocean acidity.

The project, known as Cquestrate, is the brainchild of Tim Kruger, a former management consultant. “This is an idea that can not only stop the clock on carbon dioxide, it can turn it back,” he said, although he conceded that tipping large quantities of lime into the sea would currently be illegal.

The oceans are a key part of the natural carbon cycle, in which carbon dioxide is circulated between the land, seas and atmosphere. About one-third of the CO2 released into the air by humans each year is soaked up by the oceans. This helps slow the rate of global warming but increases ocean acidity, posing a potentially disastrous threat to marine ecosystems.

Kruger’s scheme aims to boost the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 but to do so in a way that helps reduce rather than increase ocean acidity. This is achieved by converting limestone into lime, in a process similar to those used in the cement industry, and adding the lime to seawater.

The lime reacts with CO2 dissolved in the water, converting it into bicarbonate ions, thereby decreasing the acidity of the water and enabling the oceans to absorb more CO2 from the air, so reducing global warming.

Kruger said: “It’s essential that we reduce our emissions, but that may not be enough. We need a plan B to actually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We need to research such concepts now – not just the science but also the legal, ethical and governance considerations.”

Kruger’s plan was one of 20 innovative schemes proposed at the Manchester Report, a two-day search for the best ideas to tackle climate change staged by the Guardian as part of the Manchester International Festival.

A panel of experts chaired by Lord Bingham, formerly Britain’s most senior judge, will select the 10 most promising ideas. These will be featured in a report that will be published in the Guardian next week and circulated to policymakers around the world.

Climate change secretary Ed Miliband told the conference the biggest danger faced by campaigners was creating a sense of defeatism. “We need to show people how they can aggregate their individual actions and be part of a bigger whole,” he said.

Cquestrate is one of a number of so-called “geo-engineering schemes” that have been proposed to intervene in the Earth’s systems in order to tackle climate change.

Kruger admits there are challenges to overcome: the world would need to mine and process about 10 cubic kilometres of limestone each year to soak up all the emissions the world produces, and the plan would only make sense if the CO2 resulting from lime production could be captured and buried at source.

Chris Goodall, one of the experts assessing the schemes, said of Cquestrate: “The basic concept looks good, though further research is needed into the feasibility.”

Another marine geo-engineering scheme was presented by Professor Stephen Salter, of Edinburgh University.

His proposal is to build a fleet of remote-controlled, energy-self-sufficient ships that would spray minuscule droplets of seawater into the air. The droplets would whiten and expand clouds, reflecting sunlight away from the Earth and into space.

Salter said 300 ships would increase cloud reflectivity enough to cancel out the temperature rise caused by man-made climate change so far, but 1,800 would be needed to offset a doubling of CO2, something expected within a few decades.

Further Reading

New Geoengineering Scheme Tackles Ocean Acidification, Too (Wired Science)

Pleistocene Age

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Our political system sometimes produces such skewed results that it’s difficult not to blame bloviating politicians. But maybe the deeper problem lies in our brains.

Evidence is accumulating that the human brain systematically misjudges certain kinds of risks. In effect, evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.

If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the “threat.” Yet if somebody tells you
that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future — a portion of the prefrontal cortex — will glimmer.

“We humans do strange things, perhaps because vestiges of our ancient brain still guide us in the modern world,” notes Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and author of a book on how our minds assess risks.

Consider America’s political response to these two recent challenges:

  1. President Obama proposes moving some inmates from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to supermax prisons from which no one has ever escaped. This is the “enemy with club” threat that we have evolved to be alert to, so Democrats and Republicans alike erupt in outrage and kill the plan.
  2. The climate warms, ice sheets melt and seas rise. The House scrounges a narrow majority to pass a feeble cap-and-trade system, but Senate passage is uncertain. The issue is complex, full of trade-offs and more cerebral than visceral — and so it doesn’t activate our warning systems.

“What’s important is the threats that were dominant in our evolutionary history,” notes Daniel Gilbert , a professor of psychology at Harvard University. In contrast, he says, the kinds of dangers that are most serious today — such as climate change — sneak in under the brain’s radar.

Professor Gilbert argues that the threats that get our attention tend to have four features.

First, they are personalized and intentional. The human brain is highly evolved for social behavior (“that’s why we see faces in clouds, not clouds in faces,” says Mr. Gilbert), and, like gazelles, we are instinctively and obsessively on the lookout for predators and enemies.

Second, we respond to threats that we deem disgusting or immoral — characteristics more associated with sex, betrayal or spoiled food than with atmospheric chemistry. “That’s why people are incensed about flag burning, or about what kind of sex people have in private, even though that doesn’t really affect the rest of us,” Professor Gilbert said. “Yet where we have a real threat to our well-being, like global warming, it doesn’t ring alarm bells.”

Third, threats get our attention when they are imminent, while our brain circuitry is often cavalier about the future. That’s why we are so bad at saving for retirement. Economists tear their hair out at a puzzlingly irrational behavior called hyperbolic discounting: people’s preference for money now rather than much larger payments later. For example, in studies, most Americans prefer $50 now to $100 in six months, even though that represents a 100 percent return.

Fourth, we’re far more sensitive to changes that are instantaneous than those that are gradual. We yawn at a slow melting of the glaciers, while if they shrank overnight we might take to the streets.

In short, we’re brilliantly programmed to act on the risks that confronted us in the Pleistocene Age. We’re less adept with 21st-century challenges.

At the University of Virginia, Professor Jonathan Haidt shows his Psychology 101 students how evolution has prepared us to fear some things: He asks how many students would be afraid to stand within 10 feet of a friend carrying a pet boa constrictor. Many hands go up, although almost none of the students have been bitten by a snake.

“The objects of our phobias, and the things that are actually dangerous to us, are almost unrelated in the modern world, but they were related in our ancient environment,” Mr. Haidt said. “We have no ‘preparedness’ to fear a gradual rise in the Earth’s temperature.”

This short-circuitry in our brains explains many of our policy priorities. We Americans spend nearly $700 billion a year on the military and less than $3 billion on the F.D.A., even though food-poisoning kills more Americans than foreign armies and terrorists. We’re just lucky we don’t have a cabinet-level Department of Snake Extermination.

Still, all is not lost, particularly if we understand and acknowledge our neurological shortcomings — and try to compensate with rational analysis. When we work at it, we are indeed capable of foresight: If we can floss today to prevent tooth decay in later years, then perhaps we can also drive less to save the planet.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta][Original article published in the New York Times under the title “When our brains short-circuit“]

Three days ago, Oxfam released a 60-page briefing paper under the title: “Suffering the Science – Climate change, people, and poverty”. The report reveals that seasons which were once distinct are shifting, destroying harvests and causing widespread hunger – which is just one of many impacts taking their toll on the world’s poorest people.

bangladesh

The report’s release came ahead of the G8 Summit in Italy (which starts Wednesday) and the Major Economies Forum (Thursday). Combining the latest scientific observations on climate change with evidence from the communities Oxfam works with in almost 100 countries around the world, the report reveals how the burden of climate change is already hitting poor people hard.

The report warns that, without immediate action, 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost. It predicts that climate-related hunger could be the defining human tragedy of this century. Suffering the Science outlines evidence of how climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty and development today, including:

  • Hunger: Rice and maize, two of the world’s most important crops on which hundreds of millions depend, particularly in Asia, the Americas and Africa, face significant drops in yields even under mild climate change scenarios. Maize yields are forecast to drop by 15 per cent or more by 2020, in much of sub-Saharan Africa and in most of India. One estimate puts the loss to Africa at US $2bn a year.
  • Agriculture: New research based on interviews with farmers in 15 countries across the world reveals how once distinct seasons are shifting and rains are disappearing. Farmers from countries including Bangladesh, Uganda and Nicaragua, who are no longer able to rely on generations of farming experience, are facing failed harvest after failed harvest.
  • Health: Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that were once geographically bound are creeping to new areas where populations lack immunity or the knowledge and healthcare infrastructure to cope with them. It is estimated that climate change has contributed to an average of 150,000 more deaths from disease per year since the 1970s, with over half of those happening in Asia. In Singapore, Bangkok and the cities of Indonesia, dengue fever rates have risen continually over the past 20 years.
  • Disasters: Disasters including mega fires and storms are on the rise and could triple by 2030. Hurricanes and cyclones throughout the world in 2005 cost a record US $165 billion, and the insurance industry says that climate change will make the situation worse, particularly for poor people who have no access to insurance. Meanwhile, research shows that for every $1 spent on hazard reduction or disaster preparedness, an estimated $4 is saved.
  • Water: Water supplies are becoming so acutely challenged that several cities including Kathmandu and La Paz, which are dependent on the Himalayan and Andes glaciers, may soon be unable to function.
  • Displacement: An estimated 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change and each year a million more are displaced by weather related events. Island communities from Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Bay of Bengal have already been forced to move because of sea level rise.
  • Labour: Rising temperatures will make it impossible for people to work at the same rate on hot summer days without serious health impacts, with huge ramifications for labourers paid by the hour and the wider economy. Tropical cities such as Delhi could see a drop in worker productivity of as much as 30 per cent.

A survey of top climate scientists, also published by Oxfam today, said poor people living in low-lying coastal areas, island atolls in the Pacific, mega deltas and farmers throughout the world, are most at risk from climate change because of flooding and prolonged drought. The scientists, all contributors to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), named South Asia and Africa as climate change hotspots.

Many scientists are now sceptical as to whether the world can limit global warming to 2°C because they do not believe politicians are willing to agree the necessary cuts in carbon emissions, the report says. Two degrees of warming is considered to be “economically acceptable” to rich countries, however whilst all countries, including Australia, would suffer, it would mean a devastating future for 660 million people throughout the developing world.

Professor Diana Liverman, a leading contributor to three IPCC Assessment Reports and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee, which advises the US Government on climate change, said if countries did not make deep cuts in emissions now, the changing climate would bring heat stress, sea level rise and more extreme drought and floods.

“Organisations like Oxfam can try and help people adapt to climate change but without a serious effort to reduce warming, and in the absence of international funds for adaptation, the food, water, health and livelihoods of millions of people will be at risk,” Ms Liverman said.

Read the Oxfam report here

[Reposted from Climate and Capitalism]

climate-change

Reposted from Climate and Capitalism

A new book by economist Frank Ackerman, Can We Afford the Future?: The Economics of a Warming World (Zed, 2009), presents an important and startling thesis:

“As the climate science debate is reaching closure, the climate economics debate is heating up. The controversial issue now is the fear that overly ambitious climate initiatives could hurt the economy”(6).

With climate-change skeptics losing influence, mainstream economists—always the ultimate ideological defenders of the capitalist system—are stepping into the breach to ensure inaction on global warming. Armed with cost-benefit analyses, they report that saving the planet for its inhabitants may be all very well and good … but it is simply too expensive for the capitalist economy to afford.

A prime example is William Nordhaus at Yale, the doyen of climate economics in the United States, who argues for an “optimal” climate policy ramp that could eventually lead, according to Nordhaus himself, to levels of carbon concentration in the atmosphere of 700 ppm CO2. This is a level that most climate scientists would characterize as absolutely catastrophic, since it is associated with a jump in average global temperatures approaching 6°C (10.8°F). Nordhaus builds into his conservative cost-benefit model such notions as a subjective preference for warmer weather in Northern countries, automatic technological progress, and a high discount rate that drastically reduces the present value of future lives. On economic grounds, he recommends reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions by a mere 25 percent by mid-century—less than a third of what most climate scientists see as necessary. Nordhaus seems oblivious of the magnitude of the planetary ecological disaster that such weak efforts to reduce emissions would generate (see Richard York, Brett Clark, and John Bellamy Foster, “Capitalism in Wonderland,” Monthly Review, May 2009).

Nordhaus’s chief rival within mainstream climate economics is Nicholas Stern. Stern was the author of the British government’s 2007 Stern Review, often characterized as a “radical” approach to climate economics. In his new book, The Global Deal (2009), Stern has retreated from the 550 ppm CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) target he advocated in The Stern Review. Instead, he argues for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at 500 ppm CO2e—associated with a rise in global average temperature rise of 3°C (5.4°F). Nevertheless, he openly acknowledges that the 500 ppm target could potentially prove cataclysmic. As he states in The Global Deal:

There are a number of scientists, the most prominent being Jim Hansen, who have raised strong and serious arguments to suggest that the target should be no larger than 350 ppm CO2 (or around 400 ppm CO2e) given that would bring concentrations back much closer to those in which humankind evolved. The evolutionary processes and the ways in which the physical and human geography have developed give rise to living and settlement patterns for humans and other species which are governed by a particular climate. They point also to the possibility of tipping points such as the collapse of ice sheets, the dying of the Amazon forest, or the release of methane from the permafrost, which could lead to an accelerated process of climate change. (150-51)

In addition to such “serious scientific concerns” raised by climatologists, Stern is clearly aware of human and natural costs of climate change already becoming apparent. Thus, he points to increased flooding in Bangladesh, presumably partly induced by climate change. According to a report in the May 16, 2009, issue of the Lancet, a sea level rise of 0.5 meters would engulf 10 percent of the complex delta region in Bangladesh, which is home to 120 million people.

Indeed, the dire effects of climate change will hit populations in the global South—those with the lowest carbon footprints—the hardest. More than a sixth of the world’s population lives in glacial-fed water catchments. The Bihar flood in India in August 2008, which affected over 4 million people, was partly due to glacial melting. Impending loss of healthy life years due to global environmental change, the Lancet tells us, is predicted to be 500 times higher in poor nations of Africa than among European populations.

Still, despite the growing warnings of scientists and clear signs of impending catastrophe, Stern insists on a climate stabilization target of 500 ppm CO2e. His reason: to push for a lower target that would fully protect the earth and its inhabitants would be to call for more than the capitalist economy with its pursuit of accumulation and profits could possibly deliver. Indeed, a deeper cut in emissions would suggest, “an abandonment or reversal of growth and development” (The Global Deal, 150).

Stern thus opts for an altogether inadequate 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century (far below what climatologists are recommending), consistent with his 500 ppm CO2e target.

In contrast, Ackerman urges us to adopt a genuinely radical stance to climate economics, based on four slogans:

  • Your grandchildren’s lives are important
  • We need to buy insurance for the planet
  • Climate damages are too valuable to have prices
  • Some costs are better than others.
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