Category Archives: ACTIVISM

World Bank issues SOS for oceans, backs alliance

NewsDaily: World Bank issues SOS for oceans, backs alliance.


By David FogartyPosted 2012/02/24 at 12:41 am EST

SINGAPORE, Feb. 24, 2012 (Reuters) — The World Bank announced on Friday a global alliance to better manage and protect the world’s oceans, which are under threat from over-fishing, pollution and climate change.

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Oceans are the lifeblood of the planet and the global economy, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a conference on ocean conservation in Singapore. Yet the seas have become overexploited, coastlines badly degraded and reefs under threat from pollution and rising temperatures.

“We need a new SOS: Save Our Seas,” Zoellick said in announcing the alliance.

The partnership would bring together countries, scientific centers, non-governmental groups, international organizations, foundations and the private sector, he said.

The World Bank could help guide the effort by bringing together existing global ocean conservation programs and support efforts to mobilize finance and develop market-mechanisms to place a value on the benefits that oceans provide.

Millions of people rely on oceans for jobs and food and that dependence will grow as the world’s population heads for 9 billion people, underscoring the need to better manage the seas.

Zoellick said the alliance was initially committed to mobilizing at least $300 million in finance.

“Working with governments, the scientific community, civil society organizations, and the private sector, we aim to leverage as much as $1.2 billion to support healthy and sustainable oceans.”


A key focus was understanding the full value of the oceans’ wealth and ecosystem services. Oceans are the top source of oxygen, help regulate the climate, while mangroves, reefs and wetlands are critical to protecting increasingly populous coastal areas against hazards such as storms — benefits that are largely taken for granted.

“Whatever the resource, it is impossible to evolve a plan to manage and grow the resource without knowing its value,” he said.

Another aim was to rebuild at least half the world’s fish stocks identified as depleted. About 85 percent of ocean fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

“We should increase the annual net benefits of fisheries to between $20 billion and $30 billion. We estimate that global fisheries currently run a net economic loss of about $5 billion per year,” he said.

Participants at the conference spoke of the long-term dividends from ocean conservation and better management of its resources. But that needed economists, bankers and board rooms to place a value on the oceans’ “natural capital”.

“The key to the success of this partnership will be new market mechanisms that value natural capital and can attract private finance,” Abyd Karmali, global head of carbon markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told Reuters.

He pointed to the value in preserving carbon-rich mangrove forests and sea grassbeds and the possibility of earning carbon offsets for projects that conserve these areas.

“The oceans’ stock is in trouble. We have diminished its asset value to a huge degree and poor asset management is poor economics,” Stephen Palumbi, director of the Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, told the conference.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

How to make green steel

CultureLab: How to make steel go green – with songs!.

Michael Marshall, environment reporter


This is something you don’t see every day: a substantial, carefully-researched book on how to reform our manufacturing industries, paired with an album of songs on the same theme.

Let’s start with the book. Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open tackles a particularly thorny question: how can we cut our greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level, without shutting down essential industries? It focuses on steel and aluminium, which between them account for 28 per cent of all industrial emissions, although later chapters briefly consider cement, paper and plastics as well.

This is a follow-up book to David MacKay’s much-vaunted Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. Both feature academics from the University of Cambridge carefully working out how we can transform an emissions-heavy sector of the economy.

The eight authors, led by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen, first take a close look at how steel and aluminium are produced from their respective ores, asking “how much can the metals industry do to clean up its act?” The answer they come up with: “plenty, but nowhere near enough”.

So they take a second approach, asking whether we can redesign the things we make to use less metal, use them for longer, and recycle their components when they wear out. This also offer plenty of options. Reassuringly, when the two approaches are combined the total emissions cuts are substantial.


Some of the ideas they come up with are so simple, I wondered why no one thought of them before. For instance, the average fridge lasts about 10 years, and gets thrown out when the compressor fails. This is a small part, but it takes a lot of work to replace so it’s cheaper to buy a new fridge. If fridges were redesigned so that the compressor was easy to replace, they would last far longer. “You shouldn’t have to buy two fridges in your lifetime,” they say.

Of course, this is another example of a solution for climate change that involves huge numbers of people taking concerted action. The problem is people’s disinclination to get off their backsides.

It’s quite a technical book, so it may not have much popular appeal, despite its nicely chatty style. But for policy-makers trying to cut emissions, and anyone in manufacturing, it should be required reading.

And so to the album, a collaboration between Allwood and soprano Adey Grummet, which is much better than it has any right to be. Worthy music on eco-conscious themes can sound like Spinal Tap’s Listen to the Flower People, but With Both Eyes Open actually contains a couple of good tunes.

The strongest songs get away from the details of materials science and become universal. The opening track, You Gotta Start, is an up-tempo number extolling the virtues of having a go, even when you don’t know exactly what you need to do. It’s not just about sustainability.

Similarly, the title track is a passionate call to arms, urging people to move away from blind consumerism. The closing line – “the stuff of life is life and not just stuff” – is better and more relevant than anything Coldplay will write next year.

Given how specialist the subject matter is, I’m not sure how many people the album will really appeal to. Of the 12 songs, I only expect to keep the two I’ve highlighted on my MP3 player. Unfortunately, the rest just restate ideas from the book in a slightly less clear way.

I worry that the album will give people, particularly policy-makers, the impression that the book is somehow flaky and not worth paying attention to. That would be a crying shame, because the book’s lessons are clear, well-supported, and vital.

Book information
Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open
by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen
UIT Cambridge
Free online or £31.82

20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World

World Changing Ideas: 20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World: Scientific American.

What would happen if solar panels were free? What if it were possible to know everything about the world—not the Internet, but the living, physical world—in real time? What if doctors could forecast a disease years before it strikes? This is the promise of the World Changing Idea: a vision so simple yet so ambitious that its full impact is impossible to predict. Scientific American’s editorial and advisory boards have chosen projects in five general categories—Energy, Transportation, Environment, Electronics and Robotics, and Health and Medicine—that highlight the power of science and technology to improve the world. Some are in use now; others are emerging from the lab. But all of them show that innovation is the most promising elixir for what ails us.  —The Editors

The No-Money-Down Solar Plan
A new wave of start-ups wants to install rooftop solar panels on your house. Upfront cost: nothing
By Christopher Mims

The biggest thing stopping the sun is money. Installing a rooftop array of solar panels large enough to produce all of the energy required by a building is the equivalent of prepaying its electricity bill for the next seven to 10 years—and that’s after federal and state incentives. A new innovation in financing, however, has opened up an additional possibility for homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and lower their electric bills: get the panels for free, then pay for the power as you go.

The system works something like a home mortgage. Organizations and individuals looking for a steady return on their investment, typically banks or municipal bond holders, use a pool of cash to pay for the solar panels. Directly or indirectly, homeowners buy the electricity produced by their own rooftop at a rate that is less, per kilowatt-hour, than they would pay for electricity from the grid. Investors get a safe investment—the latest generation of solar-panel technology works dependably for years—and homeowners get a break on their monthly bills, not to mention the satisfaction of significantly reducing their carbon footprint. “This is a way to get solar without putting any money down and to start saving money from day one. That’s a first,” says SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive.

SolarCity is the largest installer of household solar panels to have adopted this strategy. Founded in 2006 by two brothers who are also Silicon Valley–based serial entrepreneurs, SolarCity leases its panels to homeowners but gives the electricity away for free. The net effect is a much reduced utility bill (customers still need utility-delivered power when the sun isn’t out) plus a monthly SolarCity bill. The total for both comes out to less than the old bill. SunRun in San Francisco offers consumers a similar package, except that the company sells customers the electricity instead of leasing them the panels.

Cities such as Berkeley and Boulder are pioneering their own version of solar-panel financing by loaning individuals the entire amount required to pay for solar panels and installation. The project is paid for by municipal bonds, and the homeowner pays back the loan over 20 years as a part of the property tax bill. The effect is the same whichever route a consumer takes: the new obligation, in the form of taxes, a lease or a long-term contract for electricity, ends up costing less than the existing utility bill.

“What we’re really seeing is a transition in how we think about buying energy goods and services,” says Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Kammen, who did the initial analysis on Berkeley’s financing model, believes that by turning to financing, consumers can overcome the inherent disadvantage renewables have when compared with existing energy sources: the infrastructure for power from the grid has already been paid for and, in many cases, has been subsidized for decades.

All three approaches are rapidly expanding across the country. Despite the Berkeley program being less than two years old, 10 different states have passed legislation allowing their cities to set up a Berkeley-style bond-financed loan program. With the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the option for cities to set up these programs would become federal law. SunEdison in Maryland is currently active in nine states. SolarCity, which has more than 4,000 customers, is active in California, Arizona and Oregon and has promised to announce additional states after the new year.

Right now it is not possible to lower the overall cost of rooftop solar to “grid parity,” that is, to the same price as electricity from local utility companies, without federal subsidies such as the investment tax credit, which lowers the tax bill of banks financing these projects. Those subsidies, which amount to 30 percent of the cost of a solar installation, are guaranteed for at least eight years. By then, SolarCity and its competitors claim they won’t need them.

“Grid parity is driven by multiple factors,” says Attila Toth, vice president of marketing at SunEdison, including the cost of capital, the cost of panels and their installation, and the intensity of sunlight in a given region. “It will occur in different states at different times, but, for example, we expect that California will be one of the first states in the U.S. to get to grid parity, sometime between three and five years from now.”

While the cost of electricity from fossil fuels has increased 3 to 5 percent a year for the past decade, the cost of solar panels has fallen on average 20 percent for every doubling of its installed base. Grid parity is where these trend lines cross—after that, solar has the potential to power more than just homes. It’s hardly a coincidence that Elon Musk, head of electric car company Tesla Motors, sits on SolarCity’s board of directors.

More Ideas to watch
by Christopher Mims

The Gasoline Garden
It is the next step for biofuels: genetically engineered plant life that produces hydrocarbons as a by-product of its normal metabolism. The result will be fuel—common gasoline, even—using nothing but sunlight and CO2. In July, Exxon Mobil announced plans to spend more than $600 million in pursuit of algae that can accomplish the task. Joule Biotechnologies claims to have already succeeded, although the company has yet to reveal any details of its proprietary system.

Hot Nukes
Uranium and plutonium are not the only fuels that can power a nuclear reactor. With an initial kick from more traditional fissile materials, thorium can set up a self-sustaining “breeder” reaction that produces uranium 233, which is well suited to nuclear power generation. The process has the added benefit of being resistant to nuclear proliferation, because its end products emit enough gamma rays to make the fuel dangerous to handle and easy to track.

Save Energy with Information
Studies show that simply making customers aware of their energy use lowers it
by 5 to 15 percent. Smart meters allow customers to track their energy consumption minute by minute and appliance by appliance. Countless start-ups are offering the devices, and Google and Microsoft are independently partnering with local utilities to allow individuals to monitor their power usage over the Web.

Wind Power from the Stratosphere
According to a Stanford University study released in July, the high-altitude winds that constantly blow tens of thousands of feet above the earth hold enough energy to supply all of human civilization 100 times over. California’s Sky WindPower has proposed harvesting this energy by building fleets of giant, airborne, ground-tethered windmills, while Italy’s Kite Gen proposes to accomplish the same feat using kites.

Delivering the U.S. from Oil
Plug-in hybrid trucks are improving the long view of the short haul
By Amanda Schupak

Cargo trucks gulp about 40 percent of the fuel pumped in the U.S. While most consumer attention focuses on improving the fuel economy of consumer vehicles, a major opportunity goes rumbling by. “Folks do not realize that the fuel use of even a small truck is equal to many, many cars,” says Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of Calstart, a clean transportation technology nonprofit, and director of the Hybrid Truck Users Forum. “A utility truck as a hybrid would reduce more petroleum than nine Priuses.”

Some 1,300 commercial hybrids on the road today get up to twice the fuel efficiency of their conventional counterparts. But these traditional hybrids are inherently limited. They make more efficient use of petroleum-based fuel by capturing some of the energy lost during braking.

Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, draw energy from the grid. They can drive for miles—in many cases, an entire day’s route—without using any fossil fuel at all. This shifts energy demand away from petroleum and toward grid-based sources. (Last year zero-carbon renewables and nuclear supplied 30 percent of all electric power in the U.S.)

In many ways, plug-in hybrid technology makes more sense for delivery trucks than for consumer sedans. A cargo truck runs a short daily route that includes many stops to aid in regenerative braking. Most of the U.S. Postal Service’s 200,000-plus mail trucks, for example, travel fewer than 20 miles a day. In addition, fleet vehicles return nightly to storage lots that have ready access to the 120- or 240-volt outlets required to charge them.

The Department of Energy recently launched the nation’s largest commercial plug-in hybrid program, a $45.4-million project to get 378 medium-duty vehicles on the road in early 2011. The trucks, which will go to 50 municipal and utility fleets, will feature a power system from Eaton, a large manufacturer of electrical components, on a Ford F-550 chassis. (For its part, Ford will wait for the market to prove itself before designing its own commercial plug-ins.) “These are going to start breaking free in 2011,” says Paul Scott, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California.

Start-up company Bright Automotive has a more ambitious plan. It aims to replace at least 50,000 trucks with plug-in hybrids by 2014. Bright’s IDEA prototype travels 40 miles on battery power before switching to a four-cylinder engine that gets 40 miles to the gallon. The streamlined aluminum body has the payload of a postal truck yet is far more aerodynamic. The truck weighs as much as a midsize sedan.

John E. Waters, Bright Automotive’s founder and the former developer of the battery system for General Motors?’s groundbreaking EV1 electric car, says that each IDEA would save 1,500 gallons of fuel and 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year over a standard utility truck. Waters says he is ready to begin assembly in his U.S. plant once a pending $450-million federal loan comes through.

Despite the appeal of the carbon savings, the fleet owners who are the trucks’ primary customers have more practical considerations. Bright’s executives are coy about the IDEA’s eventual price tag but assert that a customer with 2,000 trucks driving 80 miles a day five days a week could save $7.2 million a year. Right now that is probably not enough to justify large-scale purchases without additional rebates—or a price on carbon. Van Amburg estimates that going hybrid currently adds $30,000 to $50,000 in upfront costs per vehicle, although that figure should come down as production volumes increase.

Improved battery technology will also help. Today the IDEA’s 13-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack accounts for nearly a quarter of the vehicle’s total cost. Much of the research being done for the batteries going into the Chevy Volt? and other consumer plug-ins should also be applicable to commercial batteries. “For all the good we all want to do,” says David Lauzun, Bright’s vice president of product development, “these vehicles will not take over the world until it becomes the economic choice—‘I have to have them because it saves me money.’”

Bus Rapid Transit
Subwaylike bus lines mobilize the urban future
By Michael Moyer

For the first time in human civilization, more people now live in urban areas than in the countryside. This shift creates a number of dilemmas, not least of which is how to move people within the world’s rapidly growing metropolises. Pollution and traffic point away from car-based options, while light-rail systems are slow to construct and prohibitively expensive. One disarmingly simple—and cheap—possibility is Bus Rapid Transit, which is engineered to operate like a subway on wheels. In these systems, concrete dividers on existing roads separate high-capacity buses from the rest of traffic. Riders pay before boarding, then wait in enclosed stations. When a bus arrives, sliding partitions open to allow riders to board from a platform that is level with the bus floor. The traffic-free thoroughfares, quick boarding times, and modern, comfortable stations resemble light-rail systems more than the chaos of typical bus travel. In Bogotá, Colombia, which has had seven Bus Rapid Transit lines in operation since 2001, the buses handle 1.6 million trips a day. Its success has allowed the city to remove 7,000 private buses from the city, reducing consumption of bus fuel and its associated pollution by more than 59 percent.

Ocean Overhaul
Marine zoning is a bold remedy for sick seas
By Sarah Simpson

These days not even many politicians deny that the oceans are ill. Protecting the health of coastal waters is now a matter of national policy in dozens of countries, including the U.S., and world leaders are beginning to prescribe a revolutionary remedy that conservationists have been promoting for years: marine planning and zoning.

The idea is a natural extension of management policies that have guided the development of cities and landscapes for nearly a century. Porn shops aren’t next to preschools, after all, and drilling rigs aren’t the centerpieces of national parks. Similarly, zoning advocates envision a mosaic of regional maps in which every watery space on the planet is designated for a particular purpose. Drilling and mining would be allowed only in certain parts of the ocean; fishing in others. The most critically threatened areas would be virtually off-limits.

Whereas people can easily find maps telling them what they can do where on land, the marine realm is a hodgepodge of rules emanating from an army of agencies, each one managing a single use or symptom. In the U.S., for example, one body regulates commercial fishing, usually a single species at a time. Another group manages toxic substances, still another seabed mining, and so on—some 20 federal agencies in all. They tend to make decisions without regard to what the others are doing, explains Duke University? marine ecologist Larry B. Crowder. “Imagine all of the medical specialists visiting a patient in intensive care one at a time and never talking to one another,” he says. “It’s a wonder that the oceans aren’t in worse shape than they are now.”

Ocean advocates such as Crowder eagerly await the final recommendations of a special task force President Barack Obama charged with presenting a plan for overhauling management of U.S. waters, which extend 200 nautical miles offshore. The scope of such an undertaking is huge: the U.S. controls 4.4 million square miles of seascape, making the country’s underwater real estate 25 percent larger than its landmass. The committee’s preliminary report, released in September, suggests that the best way to minimize harmful human impacts on the oceans is to manage regions rather than symptoms.

Many environmentalists are hopeful that such plans will be implemented through the marine equivalent of municipal zoning, which would give them some influence in areas where they now have none. In zones where conservation is designated as the dominant activity, fishing and industrial activities such as mining would no longer have free rein. Under current rules, about the only way a conservation group can block a project it deems harmful—say, a new site for offshore drilling—is through expensive litigation.

So far, though, the president’s task force has been careful not to suggest that ocean zoning will be the only treatment plan, in great part because any effort to restrict commercial interests is bound to meet stiff opposition. “Zoning isn’t anybody’s favorite exercise,” notes John C. Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography at the University of South Florida at Tampa. “Someone’s ox is always getting gored.” Most resistant to such change will most likely be the traditional users of the open ocean—namely, commercial fisheries and the petroleum industry. “They’ve had the place to themselves for a long time,” Ogden says.

Ogden and others are quick to point out, however, that zoning practices can benefit commerce as much as conservation. By giving up access to certain areas, industries gain the security of knowing their activities would be licensed in a more predictable and less costly manner than they are today, explains Josh Eagle, associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Now an oil company can apply for permits to drill virtually anywhere, but it takes on a significant financial risk each time. The business may dump millions of dollars into researching a new facility only to have a lawsuit derail it at the last moment. When opposing parties have more or less equal voices early in the planning process, Eagle says, they are less inclined to block one another’s activities once zones are drawn on a map.

Whether the final report of the president’s task force will promote ocean zoning explicitly is uncertain. But the group has already promised to overhaul the structure of ocean governance by proposing the creation of a National Ocean Council, whose job it will be to coordinate efforts of the myriad federal agencies now in charge.

The move comes just in time. Just as society is beginning to appreciate the enormous efforts it will take to preserve the health of the oceans, it must ask more of them—more energy, more food, and better resilience to coastal development and climate change. The reason the oceans are in trouble is not what people put in and take out. It is a failure of governments to manage these activities properly. Says Crowder: “We have to treat the oceans holistically, not one symptom at a time.”

The Power of Garbage
Trapped lightning could help zap trash and generate electricity
By John Pavlus

Trash is loaded with the energy trapped in its chemical bonds. Plasma gasification, a technology that has been in development for decades, could finally be ready to extract it.

In theory, the process is simple. Torches pass an electric current through a gas (often ordinary air) in a chamber to create a superheated plasma—an ionized gas with a temperature upward of 7,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the surface of the sun. When this occurs naturally we call it lightning, and plasma gasification is literally lightning in a bottle: the plasma’s tremendous heat dissociates the molecular bonds of any garbage placed inside the chamber, converting organic compounds into syngas (a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and trapping everything else in an inert vitreous solid called slag. The syngas can be used as fuel in a turbine to generate electricity. It can also be used to create ethanol, methanol and biodiesel. The slag can be processed into materials suitable for use in construction.

In practice, the gasification idea has been unable to compete economically with traditional municipal waste processing. But the maturing technology has been coming down in cost, while energy prices have been on the rise. Now “the curves are finally crossing—it’s becoming cheaper to take the trash to a plasma plant than it is to dump it in a landfill,” says Louis Circeo, director of Plasma Research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Earlier this summer garbage-disposal giant Waste Management partnered with InEnTec, an Oregon-based start-up, to begin commercializing the latter’s plasma-gasification processes. And major pilot plants capable of processing 1,000 daily tons of trash or more are under development in Florida, Louisiana and California.

Plasma isn’t perfect. The toxic heavy metals sequestered in slag pass the Environmental Protection Agency?’s leachability standards (and have been used in construction for years in Japan and France) but still give pause to communities considering building the plants. And although syngas-generated electricity has an undeniably smaller carbon footprint than coal—“For every ton of trash you process with plasma, you reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere by about two tons,” Circeo says—it is still a net contributor of greenhouse gases.

“It is too good to be true,” Circeo admits, “but the EPA has estimated that if all the municipal solid waste in the U.S. were processed with plasma to make electricity, we could produce between 5 and 8 percent of our total electrical needs—equivalent to about 25 nuclear power plants or all of our current hydropower output.” With the U.S. expected to generate a million tons of garbage every day by 2020, using plasma to reclaim some of that energy could be too important to pass up.

More Ideas to watch
By John Pavlus

Cement as a Carbon Sponge
Traditional cement production creates at least 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but new materials could create carbon-neutral cement. Start-up Novacem, supported by Imperial College London, uses magnesium oxide to make cement that naturally absorbs CO2 as it hardens. California-based Calera uses seawater to sequester carbon emissions from a nearby power plant in cement.

The New Honeybee
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has killed more than a third of honeybee colonies since 2006. Farmers who depend on bees to pollinate such crops as almonds, peaches and apples are looking to the blue orchard bee to pick up the slack.

One efficient Osmia lignaria can pollinate as much territory as 50 honeybees, but the bees are harder to cultivate because of their solitary nature. These pinch hitters won’t completely replace honeybees, but as scientists continue to grapple with CCD, they could act as an agricultural safety net.

Saltwater Crops
As the world’s freshwater supply becomes scarcer and food production needs balloon, salt-tolerant crops could ease the burden. Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide used genetic engineering to enhance a model crop’s natural ability to prevent saline buildup in its leaves, allowing the plant to thrive in conditions that would typically wither it. If the same gene tweak works in cereal crops such as rice and wheat—the researchers are testing them now—fallow lands destroyed by drought or overirrigation could become new breadbaskets.

The Omnipotence Machines
Tiny, ubiquitous sensors will allow us to index the physical world the way the Web maps cyberspace
By Gregory Mone

Earlier this year Hewlett-Packard announced the launch of its Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) project, a 10-year effort to embed up to a trillion pushpin-size sensors across the planet. Technologists say that the information gathered by this kind of ubiquitous sensing network could change our knowledge of the world as profoundly as the Internet has changed business. “People had no idea the Web was coming,” says technology forecaster Paul Saffo?. “We are at that moment now with ubiquitous sensing. There is quite an astonishing revolution just around the corner.”

The spread of versatile sensors, or “motes,” and the ability of computers to analyze and either recommend or initiate responses to the data they generate, will not merely enhance our understanding of nature. It could lead to buildings that manage their own energy use, bridges that flag engineers when in need of repair, cars that track traffic patterns and detect potholes, and home security systems that distinguish between the footfalls of an intruder and the dog, to name a few.

CeNSE is the boldest project yet announced, but HP is not the only organization developing the technology to make ubiquitous sensing possible. Intel is also designing novel sensor packages, as are numerous university labs.

For all the momentum in the field, though, this sensor-filled future is by no means inevitable. These devices will need to generate rich, reliable data and be rugged enough to survive tough environments. The sensor packages themselves will be small, but the computing effort required will be enormous. All the information they gather will have to be transmitted, hosted on server farms, and analyzed. Finally, someone is going to have to pay for it all. “There is the fundamental question of economics,” notes computer scientist Deborah Estrin of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Every sensor is a nonzero cost. There is maintenance, power, keeping them calibrated. You don’t just strew them around.”

In fact, HP senior researcher Peter Hartwell acknowledges that for CeNSE to hit its goals, the sensors will need to be nearly free. That is one of the reasons why HP is designing a single, do-everything, pushpin-size package stacked with a variety of gauges—light, temperature, humidity, vibration and strain, among others—instead of a series of devices for different tasks. Hartwell says that focusing on one versatile device will drive up volume, reducing the cost for each unit, but it could also allow HP to serve several clients at once with the same sensors.

Consider his chief engineering project, an ultrasensitive accelerometer. Housed inside a chip, the sensor tracks the motion of a tiny, internal movable platform relative to the rest of the chip. It can measure changes in acceleration 1,000 times as accurately as the technology in the Nintendo Wii?.

Hartwell imagines situating one of these pins every 16 feet along a highway. Thanks to the temperature, humidity and light sensors, the motes could serve as mini weather stations. But the accelerometers’ vibration data could also be analyzed to determine traffic conditions—roughly how many cars are moving past and how quickly. The local highway department would be interested in this information, he guesses, but there are potential consumer applications, too. “Your wireless company might want to take that information and tell you how to get to the airport the fastest,” Hartwell says.

All of this gathering and transmission of data requires power, of course, and to guarantee an extended life, the HP pushpin will not rely solely on batteries. “It is going to have some sort of energy-scavenging ability,” Hartwell says. “Maybe a solar panel or a thermoelectric device to help keep the battery charged.”

With the power hurdle in mind, other groups are forgoing batteries altogether. At Intel Labs in Seattle, engineer Josh Smith? has developed a sensor package that runs on wireless power. Like the HP pushpin, Intel’s WISP, or Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform, will include a variety of gauges, but it will also draw energy from the radio waves emitted by long-range radio-frequency ID chip readers. Smith says a single reader, plugged into a wall outlet, can already power and communicate with a network of prototype WISPs five to 10 feet away—a distance that should increase.

Smith cites many of the same infrastructure-related possibilities as Hartwell, along with a number of other uses. If WISPs were placed on standard household items such as cups, these tags could inform doctors about the rehabilitation progress of stroke victims. If the cups the patient normally uses remain stationary, Smith explains, then the individual probably is not up and moving around.

The potential applications for ubiquitous sensing are so broad—a physicist recently contacted him about using WISPs to monitor the temperature outside a proposed neutrino detector—that, as with the Internet, Smith says it is impossible to foresee them all. “In terms of the impact it is going to have on our lives,” Hartwell adds, “you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The Do-Anything Robot
Your PC can accomplish any computing task you ask of it. Why isn’t the same true for robots
By Gregory Mone

Robots have proved to be valuable tools for soldiers, surgeons and homeowners hoping to keep the carpet clean. But in each case, they are designed and built specifically for the job. Now there is a movement under way to build multipurpose machines—robots that can navigate changing environments such as offices or living rooms and work with their hands.

All-purpose robots are not, of course, a new vision. “It’s been five or 10 years from happening for about 50 years,” says Eric Berger, co-director of the Personal Robotics Program at Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley start-up. The delay is in part because even simple tasks require a huge set of capabilities. For a robot to fetch a mug, for example, it needs to make sense of data gathered by a variety of sensors—laser scanners identifying potential obstacles, cameras searching for the target, force feedback in the fingers that grasp the mug, and more. Yet Berger and other experts are confident that real progress could be made in the next decade.

The problem, according to Willow Garage, is the lack of a common platform for all that computational effort. Instead of building on the capabilities of a single machine, everyone is designing robots, and the software to control them, from the ground up. To help change this, Willow Garage is currently producing 25 copies of its model PR2 (for “Personal Robot 2”), a two-armed, wheeled machine that can unplug an appliance, open doors and move through a room. Ten of the robots will stay in-house, but 10 more will go to outside research groups, and everyone will pool their advances. This way, Berger says, if you want to build the robotic equivalent of a Twitter, you won’t start by constructing a computer: “you build the thing that’s new.”

Pocket Translator
The military, short on linguists, is building smart phone–based devices to do the job
By Gregory Mone

Sakhr Software, a company that builds automatic language translators, recently unveiled a prototype smart phone application that transforms spoken English phrases into spoken Arabic, and vice versa, in near real time. The technology isn’t quite ready for your next trip to Cairo, but thanks to recent advances in machine-translation techniques, plus the advent of higher-fidelity microphones and increasing processing power in smart phones, this mobile technology could soon allow two people speaking different languages to have basic conversations.

Before the 1990s automatic translation meant programming in an endless list of linguistic rules, a technique that proved too labor-intensive and insufficiently accurate. Today’s leading programs—developed by BBN Technologies?, IBM, Sakhr and others as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort to eliminate the military’s need for human translators—rely on machine-learning techniques instead. The software works from a database of parallel texts—for example, War and Peace in two different languages, translated United Nations speeches, and documents pulled off the Web. Algorithms identify short matching phrases across sources, and the software uses them to build statistical models that link English phrases to Arabic ones.

John Makhoul, BBN’s chief scientist, says the current technology is at its best when confined to subject areas with specific phrases and terminology—translating a weather report from English into French, for example, or helping soldiers gather basic biographical information from people in the field. Makhoul envisions the first consumer applications, five years from now, being similarly constrained. A tourism-related translation app on a smart phone could help an American in Florence get directions from a non-English-speaking local, but they won’t chat about Renaissance art. “It is not going to work perfectly,” he says, “but it will do a pretty good job.”

Know if Disease Grows Inside You
Complex diseases have complex causes. Luckily, they also leave a multitude of traces
By Melinda Wenner

With the exception of certain infectious diseases, few of humanity’s ailments have cures. More than 560,000 Americans will die of cancer this year, and despite the 250,000 coronary bypass surgeries doctors perform annually, heart disease is still the country’s number-one killer.

The hardest diseases to cure are the ones that take the longest to develop. They are the end result of decades of complex molecular interactions inside your body. Yet this complexity also pre­sents an opportunity. Scientists have discovered that these interactions leave discernible fingerprints on the body. By unweaving the complex tapestry of molecular clues—changes in the body’s proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites, collectively called biomarkers—doctors hope they will soon be able to not only detect disease but predict a coming illness in time to take action.

Biomarkers are not new. Since 1986 doctors have monitor­ed prostate cancer by measuring blood levels of the protein known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). But tests that rely on a single biomarker to detect disease are rare, because most disorders involve intricate changes in a collection of biomarkers.

Take schizophrenia: in January 2010 scientists will release a biomarker test that distinguishes schizophrenia from other psychiatric conditions. The test, which is being commercialized by Rules-Based Medicine, a laboratory in Austin, Tex., is based on the characteristics of about 40 blood-based proteins.

To find potentially useful biomarkers, researchers collect blood samples from thousands of healthy people and analyze them. Biomarker levels in these samples provide a baseline reading. Then they do the same for people with a specific condition such as diabetes or breast cancer. If reproducible differences emerge between the groups, scientists can use the patterns in the disease group to diagnose the same condition in others. By collecting samples over time, researchers can also go back and analyze early samples from individuals who later become ill to identify patterns indicative of early disease or high disease risk.

Biophysical Corporation, a sister company to Rules-Based Medicine, is one of several companies that has developed blood-based biomarker tests and marketed them to the public [see “The Ultimate Blood Test,” by Philip Yam; Scientific American, June 2006]. The company searches for up to 250 biomarkers suggestive of cancer, inflammatory conditions, heart disease and other illnesses. Mark Chandler, Biophysical’s chair and CEO, says that the real value of the tests lies in long-term monitoring. A person could “get a test monthly, just a finger stick, that would be able to say, we have had a serious change here that is indicative of an early-stage cancer,” he explains.

Yet not all experts are convinced that the age of biomarkers is at hand. Cheryl Barton, an independent U.K.-based pharmaceutical consultant who authored a Business Insights market analysis report on biomarkers in 2006, says she remains “a little bit skeptical about how clinically useful they are.” A study of 5,000 subjects published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2009 found that six cardiovascular biomarkers were only marginally better at predicting heart disease than were standard cardiovascular risk factors, such as whether the subjects smoked or had diabetes.

Adding to the overall difficulty, a person might suffer from two or more diseases—prostate cancer and heart disease, for example. No one knows how multiple diseases might affect overall biomarker signatures or how profiles will change as other diseases develop. “When you get to be 65 or 70, almost everybody has other conditions,” Chandler says. “We don’t know how to deal with that right now.” And scientists still need to discern which biomarkers are truly relevant to disease—a difficult task when working with blood, which contains tens of thousands of proteins at concentrations spanning more than 10 orders of magnitude.

Some companies have simplified the problem by avoiding blood altogether. LabCorp recently commercialized a biomarker test that analyzes colon cells in stool for the chemical signatures indicative of colorectal cancer. “The stool is in intimate contact with the lining of the colon, so it becomes much more highly populated with these rare molecules than would get into the bloodstream from colon cancer,” says Barry Berger, chief medical officer of Exact Sciences, a Madison, Wis.–based biotechnology company that developed the test technology.

In time, scientists are confident that they will eventually crack the more difficult problem of finding distinct disease signatures in the noisy data. “The evolutionary process, being complex and unknown, does not always give us an easy route,” Berger notes, “but it definitely gives us lots of opportunities.”

Satellites Diagnose Disease Outbreaks
Space-based data are helping to track and predict the spread of deadly diseases ?
By Katherine Harmon

Many contagious diseases spread through carriers such as birds and mosquitoes. These vectors in turn move with heat and rainfall. With this in mind, researchers have begun to use satellite data to monitor the environmental conditions that lead to disease. “Ideally, we could predict conditions that would result in some of these major outbreaks of cholera, malaria, even avian flu,” says Tim Ford of the University of New England at Biddeford and co-author of a paper on the subject published this past September in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Satellite data have already been used to map the advance of the H5N1 avian influenza in Asia. The domestic duck, a common inhabitant of Southeast Asia’s rice paddies, is one of the main carriers of the disease. Xiangming Xiao, associate director of the University of Oklahoma?’s Center for Spatial Analysis, uses satellite images to map agricultural patterns in the region. These maps show where the ducks are most likely to live and thus where the avian influenza is most likely to spread.

Migratory birds also carry the virus, but their travel patterns are more difficult to predict. Xiao and his colleagues combine the satellite imagery with satellite-gathered surface-temperature data to estimate the birds’—and thereby the virus’s—trajectory. Computer models then link these environmental drivers to the spread of the flu in human populations.

Of course, not all of the work can be outsourced to orbiting observatories. Xiao says that judging the severity of avian flu’s spread from satellite imaging required knowing details about the human populations as well—for instance, how likely certain communities were to raise ducks for poultry consumption. “Satellite monitoring has a capacity to provide consistent observation,” Xiao says. “On the other hand, the in situ observations are still very, very important, so the key is to combine those together. That is a real challenge.”

More Ideas to watch
By Melinda Wenner

Quick Clots
Emergency technicians could prevent up to 35 percent of prehospital trauma deaths if they had better and cheaper ways to prevent blood loss. Now a University of Maryland–affiliated start-up called Trauma Solutions has developed a synthetic hydrogel that can clot blood by prompting the body to make fibrin, a protein that seals wounds and stops bleeding. Future iterations could simultaneously release such medicines as antibiotics and painkillers. Each application will cost about $5, compared with some natural blood-clotting substances that cost upward of $500.

Liver damage is a major side effect of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis drugs, yet few developing countries have enough trained scientists or equipment to monitor it. Nonprofit Cambridge, Mass.–based Diagnostics For All has developed an inexpensive fingernail-size device made almost entirely of paper that monitors liver damage using a single drop of blood. Channels in the paper guide blood to regions that change color depending on the levels of two damage-related liver enzymes.

Bacterial Toothpaste
Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth decay teeth by converting sugars into enamel-eroding lactic acid. Florida-based Oragenics has genetically engineered a new strain of bacteria that converts sugars to trace amounts of alcohol instead. Because the new strain permanently displaces natural S. mutans, the therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, will be available as a one-time prescription that will protect teeth for life.

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Laundry Lint Pollutes the World's Oceans

Laundry Lint Pollutes the World’s Oceans – ScienceNOW.

There’s nothing subtle about dryer lint: Clean the fluffy, gray mat off the filter or risk a fire. Washer lint, however, is sneaky. Nearly 2000 polyester fibers can float away, unseen, from a single fleece sweater in one wash cycle, a new study reports. That synthetic lint likely makes its way through sewage treatment systems and into oceans around the world. The consequences of this widespread pollution are still hazy, but environmental scientists say the microscopic plastic fibers have the potential to harm marine life.

The existence of so-called microplastics in marine environments is not, in itself, a revelation. Larger bits of plastic, such as those in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, gradually break down into microscopic fragments. And minute plastic fibers have turned up before in treated sewage and on beaches. But no one had looked at the issue on a global scale, says ecologist Mark Browne of University College Dublin.

So Browne and his team recruited far-flung colleagues on six continents to scoop sand from 18 beaches. (The scientists had to wear all natural-fiber clothing, lest their own garments shed lint into the samples.) Back in the lab, the researchers painstakingly separated the plastic from the sand—a process that involved, among other things, hand plucking microscopic fibers from filter papers. A chemical analysis showed that nearly 80% of those filaments were made of polyester or acrylic, compounds common in textiles.

Not a single beach was free of the colorful synthetic lint. Each cup (250 milliliters) of sand contained at least two fibers and as many as 31. The most contaminated samples came from areas with the highest human population density, suggesting that cities were an important source of the lint.

Cities come with sewers, and Browne’s team thought the plastic fibers might enter the ocean via sewage. Sure enough, synthetic lint was relatively common in both treated wastewater and in ocean sediments from sites where sewage sludge had been dumped. In all the samples, the fibers were mainly polyester and acrylic, just like the ones from the beaches.

Finally, the researchers wanted to see how synthetic lint got into sewage in the first place. Given its polyester-acrylic composition, they thought clothing and blankets were a good bet. So they purchased a pile of polyester blankets, fleeces, and shirts and commandeered three volunteers’ home washing machines for several months. They collected the wastewater from the machines and filtered it to recover the lint. Each polyester item shed hundreds of fibers per washing, the team reports in the 1 November issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

A polyester sweater may seem cozy and innocent on a winter day, but its disintegrated fibers could be bad news in marine environments, Browne says. Other studies have found that microplastics in the ocean absorb pollutants such as DDT. And Browne’s own work has shown that filter-feeding mussels will consume tiny plastic particles, which then enter the animals’ bloodstreams and even their cells. If the same thing happens in nature, the plastic fibers could “end up on our dinner plates,” incorporated into seafood, Browne warns.

There is still no direct evidence that the fibers—pollutant-tainted or otherwise—harm marine life, but Browne says it’s worth figuring out. He argues that the fibers are “guilty until proven innocent” and says that textile and washing machine manufacturers, as well as sewage treatment plants, should be looking for ways to keep the fibers out of the ocean. Garments that shed less lint, or filters that trap the fibers, might help.

ScienceNOW sent a copy of the study to Patagonia, one popular maker of fleece sweaters. No one was able to review the study and comment before deadline, but spokesperson Jess Clayton said that Patagonia does intend to follow up on the findings with Polartec, its primary supplier of fleece.

Christopher Reddy, an environmental chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, says it’s still hard to tell where lint pollution fits in the spectrum of environmental problems. It won’t “trump CO2 in the atmosphere” as a priority issue, but he calls the new results “provocative” and says they should trigger follow-up studies that measure the effects of the fibers on marine life. “It never ceases to amaze me that we continue to find more pollutants entering the coastal environment,” he adds. “What else is out there we may be missing?”

EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater

EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater: Scientific American.



The EPA took another step toward tightening oversight of hydraulic fracturing today, announcing it would initiate a process to set national rules for treating wastewater discharged from gas drilling operations.

Until now, the agency has largely left it to states to police wastewater discharges. Some have allowed drillers to pump waste through sewage treatment plants that aren’t equipped to remove many of the contaminants, leading to pollution in some rivers and to problems at drinking water facilities.

Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s director of ground water and drinking water, told a Senate panel today that the agency has an important role to play in bolstering state standards.

“I wouldn’t say they’re inadequate,” she said of states’ regulations, “but they could use the help.”

When drillers frack a gas well, they inject thousands of gallons of chemicals, some of which are highly toxic even at low concentrations. When the fluid comes back up, it carries extremely salty water that can contain heavy metals and radioactive elements.

In Western states, most drilling wastewater is injected deep underground for permanent storage. There are fewer injection wells in the East, however, so much of the waste from drilling in the Marcellus Shale? was initially discharged into surface waters.

The EPA has the authority to issue permits for such discharges, but current rules allow shale gas drillers to pass their waste through public sewage plants even if those plants are not equipped to remove pollutants. (There are currently no rules covering wastewater from coalbed methane drilling, a type of gas production that drills into coal seams, so those wastes can be discharged without treatment.)

For years, Pennsylvania allowed growing volumes of wastewater to flow into the state’s rivers. As ProPublica reported two years ago, the water’s high salt and mineral content was believed to have elevated pollutant levels in some streams. It also may have clogged industrial equipment, killed fish and caused contamination in drinking water.

In March, the EPA sent a letter to environmental officials in Pennsylvania expressing alarm at high pollutant levels in the wastewater that was being discharged into the state’s waterways. The agency urged the state to increase monitoring. The next month, the state asked drillers to stop discharging waste unless it was properly treated. By June, state officials said that no waste was being discharged without full treatment.

In an email to ProPublica, the EPA said that concerns about releases in Pennsylvania and “other information” led the agency to initiate the process to set new national rules. The agency said about 22 billion gallons of wastewater from coalbed methane drilling go into surface waters across the country each year. The EPA does not have data on how much shale gas wastewater is being discharged nationwide.

“This is just a really good opportunity to be able to track the amount and the content of the waste at these wells,” said Jason Pitt, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. “You really can’t treat these chemicals as they come up without really knowing what’s in them.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America issued a statement today saying it would work with the EPA to develop new standards and noted that drillers are increasingly cleaning and reusing their wastewater. Officials in Pennsylvania and at the EPA have said that increased recycling has been an important factor in reducing wastewater discharges.

The EPA said it would propose wastewater rules for coalbed methane drilling in 2013. Similar rules covering shale gas will come a year later, after the agency gathers more data on discharges.

The plan is one of several recent moves to increase federal oversight of fracking. Earlier this year, the EPA proposed rules that would limit air emissions from fracking operations. The Interior Department?, which regulates drilling on federal lands, has said it will issue rules covering fracking within the month.


From (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.



Add Comment

  1. 1. JamesDavis 04:28 PM 10/21/11
    All of this drilling from wells and mines that is causing the waste water pollution should be shut down and not allowed to continue and no new permits issued until the EPA has these rules in place. It doesn’t make sense to wait a hundred years before regulating these dangerous polluting companies. Them dragging their heels as long as they have have cost many lives and ego systems. A job is not worth that many human and animal lives or endangering human health. They can wait until the EPA has these rules in place and when these companies disregard these rules, like they do in West Virginia, there should be at least a $50 to $100 million dollar fine or every rule they break or disreguard. I bet they will follow the rules then.

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  2. 2. David Russell in reply to JamesDavis 10:56 PM 10/21/11
    The EPA will be extinct shortly. The current congress has made it a mission to destroy the EPA and any other regulatory commission in place and because they hold the purse strings it will happen either overtly or covertly by simply not funding it. Meanwhile Republicans shed crocodile tears over the long overdue reduction of NASA which might actually cause jobs and allow for new and creative manufacturing in both vacuum and microgravity environments not to mention a possible venture in sharing space with the public.

    A lot of that will depend on us getting off our butts and start to use Carbon for more than burning and that included CH4. Two Nobel prizes were awarded for graphene and now quasi-crystals have taken another one. What else is happening but very under the radar is the growth of nanotubes, diamond seeding (creating 2K diamonds from small seeds in high pressure carbon rich atmospheres) and the use of carbon composites as both metallic type materials and ceramics that are more malleable and yet harder than steel, titanium etc.

    There was an article in Dec 2010 describing the creation of H2 and O2 at rates of 3000 times the input and in a just in time type of production based on knowledge that was presented in 1993. What was new is that the process is on demand, prolific and sustainable. The upside is that both products burn and oxidizing H2 creates water as the waste product.

    Artificial leaves are being developed using Si which is interesting but again Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron and Sulfur are abundant, cheap and could create fuels that burn clean, materials that are lighter, conductive, semi-conductive and non-conductive with the current materials science we have developed using nano tubes and graphine.

    Will this get funded? Probably not because the political system is bought and paid for by big oil, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street and not by the people that are doing this research. There was some very interesting science being done by MIT where viruses were being custom tipped to create all kind of materials that had the above qualities and the only known use I have heard of to date was the military using them for batteries.

    We have real science that is in the works and in some cases mature but will the EPA and other regulatory sectors will be starved to allow the crap to continue.
    So excuse my pessimism, but I am trying to save enough quarters to buy a congressman.

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  3. 3. JamesDavis in reply to David Russell 08:35 AM 10/22/11
    I know, David; it is a shame that we have all this science and the republicans are killing it all. You forgot to mention the nuclear auto that GM killed…GM is controlled by the republicans. That car could get over 300,000 miles on 8 grams of thorium. 100 or a 1,000 grams of thorium could power your house or business, probably, forever.

    There is great hopes for graphine batteries, but again it is being underfunded by the republicans.

    I have a whole jar of quarters if you want them.

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  4. 4. hallmen0601 09:52 AM 10/22/11
    Maybe, just maybe we should stop relying on the federal government to fix locally fixable problems and elect civil SERVANTS who will actually do their jobs for the pay they receive. Companies need to do the same and are much more easily controlled and FORCED to do business correctly, morally, ethically and monetarily feasible. The EPA is in way over their heads and in need of being controlled to enforce rules and gers already in place. They are not here to take over price fixing and negotiating FOR unions so the Federal Government may covertly rule through back-door politics and smile while stealing your empowerment that can and will develop the new technologies for peace and prosperity belonging to the many, not the few legal thieves in corporate dominance and political back-door payoffs scandals.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  5. 5. innovation 02:43 PM 10/23/11
    There are several problems with your line of reasoning. First, these shale fields extend over the area of several states. In order to compete with one another, states will face significant pressure to lower environmental standards. Second, the pollution caused by this practice, if allowed to continue in its current form, will continue to cross state lines as it contaminates entire river systems and watersheds. Finally, these fields, and the resources they contain, are arguably matters of national security as the represent large portion of our current reserves. Given these arguments alone, we’re faced with issues that are clearly in the federal domain.

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  6. 6. eco-steve 05:29 PM 10/23/11
    America has a big problem. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the environmental, and especially climatic damage done by US industries. They are just plain lazy and egoistical, expecting that God will take the necessary measures in their place. God only helps those that helps themselves, not those that help themselves to other people’s ressources…. It may well result in UN embargos on american exports….The world will not clear up the mess in their place!

    Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this

  7. 7. HowleyGreen 09:01 PM 10/23/11
    What about requiring all U.S. Senators and Congressmen to pass a basic, high-school level science exam before they can take their oath of office. They can pick their science: biology, chemistry, physics, geology. Doesn’t really matter. We don’t need them all to be scientists. Just familiar with the scientific method.

    John Howley

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geoengineers forced to proceed slowly

Would-be geoengineers must listen to the public – opinion – 03 October 2011 – New Scientist.

It is no surprise that a proposed test of a climate engineering technology has raised hackles despite being environmentally benign

The world’s first field test of a technology that might, one day, cool global temperatures has been put on hold for at least six months, amid disquiet.

In October, the skies above Norfolk in the UK were scheduled to host a giant balloon attached to a 1-kilometre pipe that would harmlessly spray water droplets into the air. The work could be the first practical step in combating the effects of climate change.

The test is part of a research programme that aims to evaluate the feasibility of Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE). This is just one of many proposals for technologies that could manipulate the climate through “solar radiation management” – if ever deployed, it would involve spraying reflective particles into the stratosphere to deflect a proportion of sunlight.

It is by no means clear that these ideas will ever become reality. The SPICE project has become a lightning rod for discussion and debate, however, because it is the first solar radiation management technology to be officially tested outside the lab.

Now the body overseeing all this, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, has decided it needs further consultation with “stakeholders”, such as environmental organisations, before going ahead.

Atmospheric liposuction

Writing in The Guardian, activist and writer George Monbiot described the project as a “complete waste of time” and geoengineering as “atmospheric liposuction”. The ETC group, an international technology watchdog, denounced the trial as an “unhelpful provocation” likely to undermine international climate negotiations.

The SPICE team are quick to point out that the test itself does not constitute geoengineering – they are simply testing a delivery mechanism for spraying particles, and observing the movements of the balloon. But although the process may be environmentally benign, it is proving somewhat toxic socially.

It may be tempting to dismiss opposition to SPICE as anti-scientific, but there are good reasons to scratch beneath the surface of these views. Experience with previous science-society controversies such as the genetically modified crops debate or the continuing concerns over nanotechnologies shows that public mistrust is only partly based on scientific grounds. When members of the public are given the opportunity to discuss emerging areas of science, they often bring perspectives to the table that the scientific community may have missed.

Beyond questions about the safety or unintended side effects of geoengineering, there are deeper issues outside the remit of a purely scientific investigation. Is the intentional manipulation of the climate acceptable in principle? Will geoengineering technologies be likely to cause international conflict? Whose voices will be represented in decision-making about research and deployment? These are questions that should not be restricted to scientific or political elites, and opposition to seemingly benign scientific tests must be seen against this backdrop. What the SPICE test represents is just as important as its physical effect.

Most people are not experts on the science of geoengineering, but we can all claim to have some expertise in making moral and social judgements. Opinions that may appear irrational from a scientific perspective often seem less so when considered through a social, political or ethical lens. Incorporating these broader public views into decision-making about research and development is essential when the stakes are so high and uncertainty so great.

Ideology and technology

Research by Dan Kahan and colleagues at Yale University has repeatedly demonstrated that public attitudes about science are coloured by an ideological filter. Risk perceptions are not simply a matter of weighing up the pros and cons of a particular technology: they are also judgements about the role of science in society. If you are generally predisposed – for entirely legitimate reasons – to be sceptical about the value of grand, high-tech solutions to societal problems, and dubious about the capacity of governments and industry to regulate them, then the SPICE test is likely to set alarm bells ringing.

This position is not irrational in any meaningful sense of the word. Whether or not to deploy geoengineering is clearly a value judgement. But so is the decision about whether to conduct research into it at all. Moreover, there are good reasons for taking these broader perspectives seriously. The lesson for scientists from the controversy over GM crop trials is that ignoring seemingly unscientific opposition is counterproductive. Public engagement should not be considered as an opportunity to “sell” new technologies. When the public perceives this to be the case, opposition is likely to harden.

Incorporating public perspectives is also unlikely to deliver easy answers. In research conducted recently by the Understanding Risk group at Cardiff University, UK, members of the public expressed a range of views about SPICE. Most were willing to entertain the notion that the test should be pursued as a research opportunity. But very few were unconditionally positive about either the idea of solar radiation management or the test itself.

When such a critical issue is at stake it is perhaps inevitable that debates will be characterised by hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric. But it is vital to remember that public attitudes towards science are not simply read off from scientific risk assessments. The SPICE test is a deeply symbolic development, and opposition towards it must be understood in this context.

Adam Corner is a research associate in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, UK, focusing on the communication of climate change and public engagement with emerging technologies such as geoengineering.

Arguments from Global Warming Skeptics and what the science really says


Arguments from Global Warming Skeptics and what the science really says.

Global Warming & Climate Change Myths

Here is a summary of global warming and climate change myths, sorted by recent popularity vs what science says. Note that the one line responses are just a starting point – click the response for a more detailed response. You can also view them sorted by taxonomy, by popularity, in a print-friendly version, with short URLs or with fixed numbers you can use for permanent references.

Skeptic Argument vs What the Science Says
1 “Climate’s changed before” Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing.
2 “It’s the sun” In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions
3 “It’s not bad” Negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, health & environment far outweigh any positives.
4 “There is no consensus” 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming.
5 “It’s cooling” The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record.
6 “Models are unreliable” Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean.
7 “Temp record is unreliable” The warming trend is the same in rural and urban areas, measured by thermometers and satellites.
8 “Animals and plants can adapt” Global warming will cause mass extinctions of species that cannot adapt on short time scales.
9 “It hasn’t warmed since 1998” For global records, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005.
10 “Antarctica is gaining ice” Satellites measure Antarctica losing land ice at an accelerating rate.
11 “Ice age predicted in the 70s” The vast majority of climate papers in the 1970s predicted warming.
12 “CO2 lags temperature” CO2 didn’t initiate warming from past ice ages but it did amplify the warming.
13 “We’re heading into an ice age” Worry about global warming impacts in the next 100 years, not an ice age in over 10,000 years.
14 “Climate sensitivity is low” Net positive feedback is confirmed by many different lines of evidence.
15 “Ocean acidification isn’t serious” Past history shows that when CO2 rises quickly, there was mass extinctions of coral reefs.
16 “Hockey stick is broken” Recent studies agree that recent global temperatures are unprecedented in the last 1000 years.
17 “Hurricanes aren’t linked to global warming” There is increasing evidence that hurricanes are getting stronger due to global warming.
18 “Glaciers are growing” Most glaciers are retreating, posing a serious problem for millions who rely on glaciers for water.
19 “Al Gore got it wrong” Al Gore book is quite accurate, and far more accurate than contrarian books.
20 “Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy” A number of investigations have cleared scientists of any wrongdoing in the media-hyped email incident.
21 “It’s cosmic rays” Cosmic rays show no trend over the last 30 years & have had little impact on recent global warming.
22 “1934 – hottest year on record” 1934 was one of the hottest years in the US, not globally.
23 “It’s freaking cold!” A local cold day has nothing to do with the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.
24 “Extreme weather isn’t caused by global warming” Extreme weather events are being made more frequent and worse by global warming.
25 “Sea level rise is exaggerated” A variety of different measurements find steadily rising sea levels over the past century.
26 “It’s Urban Heat Island effect” Urban and rural regions show the same warming trend.
27 “Mars is warming” Mars is not warming globally.
28 “Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle” Thick arctic sea ice is undergoing a rapid retreat.
29 “Medieval Warm Period was warmer” Globally averaged temperature now is higher than global temperature in medieval times.
30 “Increasing CO2 has little to no effect” The strong CO2 effect has been observed by many different measurements.
31 “Oceans are cooling” The most recent ocean measurements show consistent warming.
32 “It’s a 1500 year cycle” Ancient natural cycles are irrelevant for attributing recent global warming to humans.
33 “Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions” The natural cycle adds and removes CO2 to keep a balance; humans add extra CO2 without removing any.
34 “Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas” Rising CO2 increases atmospheric water vapor, which makes global warming much worse.
35 “IPCC is alarmist” The IPCC summarizes the recent research by leading scientific experts.
36 “Polar bear numbers are increasing” Polar bears are in danger of extinction as well as many other species.
37 “Greenland was green” Other parts of the earth got colder when Greenland got warmer.
38 “Greenland is gaining ice” Greenland on the whole is losing ice, as confirmed by satellite measurement.
39 “It’s not happening” There are many lines of evidence indicating global warming is unequivocal.
40 “CO2 limits will harm the economy” The benefits of a price on carbon outweigh the costs several times over.
41 “Other planets are warming” Mars and Jupiter are not warming, and anyway the sun has recently been cooling slightly.
42 “There’s no empirical evidence” There are multiple lines of direct observations that humans are causing global warming.
43 “Arctic sea ice has recovered” Thick arctic sea ice is in rapid retreat.
44 “CO2 is not a pollutant” Through its impacts on the climate, CO2 presents a danger to public health and welfare, and thus qualifies as an air pollutant
45 “There’s no correlation between CO2 and temperature” There is long-term correlation between CO2 and global temperature; other effects are short-term.
46 “CO2 is plant food” The effects of enhanced CO2 on terrestrial plants are variable and complex and dependent on numerous factors
47 “We’re coming out of the Little Ice Age” Scientists have determined that the factors which caused the Little Ice Age cooling are not currently causing global warming
48 “It cooled mid-century” Mid-century cooling involved aerosols and is irrelevant for recent global warming.
49 “Satellites show no warming in the troposphere” The most recent satellite data show that the earth as a whole is warming.
50 “CO2 was higher in the past” When CO2 was higher in the past, the sun was cooler.
51 “It warmed before 1940 when CO2 was low” Early 20th century warming is due to several causes, including rising CO2.
52 “It’s aerosols” Aerosols have been masking global warming, which would be worse otherwise.
53 “It’s El Niño” El Nino has no trend and so is not responsible for the trend of global warming.
54 “Mt. Kilimanjaro’s ice loss is due to land use” Most glaciers are in rapid retreat worldwide, notwithstanding a few complicated cases.
55 “There’s no tropospheric hot spot” We see a clear “short-term hot spot” – there’s various evidence for a “long-term hot spot”.
56 “It’s Pacific Decadal Oscillation” The PDO shows no trend, and therefore the PDO is not responsible for the trend of global warming.
57 “2009-2010 winter saw record cold spells” A cold day in Chicago in winter has nothing to do with the trend of global warming.
58 “It’s a natural cycle” No known natural forcing fits the fingerprints of observed warming except anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
59 “Scientists can’t even predict weather” Weather and climate are different; climate predictions do not need weather detail.
60 “IPCC were wrong about Himalayan glaciers” Glaciers are in rapid retreat worldwide, despite 1 error in 1 paragraph in a 1000 page IPCC report.
61 “2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts greenhouse theory” The 2nd law of thermodynamics is consistent with the greenhouse effect which is directly observed.
62 “It’s not us” Multiple sets of independent observations find a human fingerprint on climate change.
63 “It’s the ocean” The oceans are warming and moreover are becoming more acidic, threatening the food chain.
64 “IPCC were wrong about Amazon rainforests” The IPCC statement on Amazon rainforests was correct, and was incorrectly reported in some media.
65 “CO2 limits will hurt the poor” Those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by climate change.
66 “Clouds provide negative feedback” Evidence is building that net cloud feedback is likely positive and unlikely to be strongly negative.
67 “CO2 effect is saturated” Direct measurements find that rising CO2 is trapping more heat.
68 “Greenland ice sheet won’t collapse” When Greenland was 3 to 5 degrees C warmer than today, a large portion of the Ice Sheet melted.
69 “Sea level rise predictions are exaggerated” Sea level rise is now increasing faster than predicted due to unexpectedly rapid ice melting.
70 “Volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans” Humans emit 100 times more CO2 than volcanoes.
71 “Corals are resilient to bleaching” Globally about 1% of coral is dying out each year.
72 “Greenhouse effect has been falsified” The greenhouse effect is standard physics and confirmed by observations.
73 “The science isn’t settled” That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
74 “It’s methane” Methane plays a minor role in global warming but could get much worse if permafrost starts to melt.
75 “Global warming stopped in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010, ????” Global temperature is still rising and 2010 was the hottest recorded.
76 “CO2 has a short residence time” Excess CO2 from human emissions has a long residence time of over 100 years
77 “Humidity is falling” Multiple lines of independent evidence indicate humidity is rising and provides positive feedback.
78 “Neptune is warming” And the sun is cooling.
79 “Springs aren’t advancing” Hundreds of flowers across the UK are flowering earlier now than any time in 250 years.
80 “Jupiter is warming” Jupiter is not warming, and anyway the sun is cooling.
81 “CO2 measurements are suspect” CO2 levels are measured by hundreds of stations across the globe, all reporting the same trend.
82 “It’s land use” Land use plays a minor role in climate change, although carbon sequestration may help to mitigate.
83 “500 scientists refute the consensus” Around 97% of climate experts agree that humans are causing global warming.
84 “CO2 is not increasing” CO2 is increasing rapidly, and is reaching levels not seen on the earth for millions of years.
85 “Record snowfall disproves global warming” Warming leads to increased evaporation and precipitation, which falls as increased snow in winter.
86 “Scientists tried to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperature” The ‘decline’ refers to a decline in northern tree-rings, not global temperature, and is openly discussed in papers and the IPCC reports.
87 “Pluto is warming” And the sun has been recently cooling.
88 “CO2 is coming from the ocean” The ocean is absorbing massive amounts of CO2, and is becoming more acidic as a result.
89 “Solar Cycle Length proves its the sun” The sun has not warmed since 1970 and so cannot be driving global warming.
90 “Arctic was warmer in 1940” The actual data show high northern latitudes are warmer today than in 1940.
91 “Southern sea ice is increasing” Antarctic sea ice has grown in recent decades despite the Southern Ocean warming at the same time.
92 “IPCC overestimate temperature rise” Monckton used the IPCC equation in an inappropriate manner.
93 “CO2 limits will make little difference” If every nation agrees to limit CO2 emissions, we can achieve significant cuts on a global scale.
94 “It’s microsite influences” Microsite influences on temperature changes are minimal; good and bad sites show the same trend.
95 “CO2 is not the only driver of climate” Theory, models and direct measurement confirm CO2 is currently the main driver of climate change.
96 “Peer review process was corrupted” An Independent Review concluded that CRU’s actions were normal and didn’t threaten the integrity of peer review.
97 “It’s albedo” Albedo change in the Arctic, due to receding ice, is increasing global warming.
98 “Tree-rings diverge from temperature after 1960” This is a detail that is complex, local, and irrelevant to the observed global warming trend.
99 “Lindzen and Choi find low climate sensitivity” Lindzen and Choi’s paper is viewed as unacceptably flawed by other climate scientists.
100 “It’s soot” Soot stays in the atmosphere for days to weeks; carbon dioxide causes warming for centuries.
101 “Humans are too insignificant to affect global climate” Humans are small but powerful, and human CO2 emissions are causing global warming.
102 “Dropped stations introduce warming bias” If the dropped stations had been kept, the temperature would actually be slightly higher.
103 “Renewable energy is too expensive” When you account for all of the costs associated with burning coal and other fossil fuels, like air pollution and health effects, in reality they are significantly more expensive than most renewable energy sources.
104 “Phil Jones says no global warming since 1995” Phil Jones was misquoted.
105 “They changed the name from global warming to climate change” ‘Global warming’ and ‘climate change’ mean different things and have both been used for decades.
106 “Roy Spencer finds negative feedback” Spencer’s model is too simple, excluding important factors like ocean dynamics and treats cloud feedbacks as forcings.
107 “Hansen’s 1988 prediction was wrong” Jim Hansen had several possible scenarios; his mid-level scenario B was right.
108 “It’s global brightening” This is a complex aerosol effect with unclear temperature significance.
109 “Sea level rise is decelerating” Global sea level data shows that sea level rise has been increasing since 1880 while future sea level rise predictions are based on physics, not statistics.
110 “It’s too hard” Scientific studies have determined that current technology is sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
111 “It’s a climate regime shift” There is no evidence that climate has chaotic “regimes” on a long-term basis.
112 “It’s not urgent” A large amount of warming is delayed, and if we don’t act now we could pass tipping points.
113 “Less than half of published scientists endorse global warming” Around 97% of climate experts agree that humans are causing global warming.
114 “Arctic sea ice loss is matched by Antarctic sea ice gain” Arctic sea ice loss is three times greater than Antarctic sea ice gain.
115 “Solar cycles cause global warming” Over recent decades, the sun has been slightly cooling & is irrelevant to recent global warming.
116 “Ice isn’t melting” Arctic sea ice has shrunk by an area equal to Western Australia, and summer or multi-year sea ice might be all gone within a decade.
117 “Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project” The ‘OISM petition’ was signed by only a few climatologists.
118 “Earth hasn’t warmed as much as expected” This argument ignores the cooling effect of aerosols and the planet’s thermal inertia.
119 “Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were ignored” An independent inquiry found CRU is a small research unit with limited resources and their rigour and honesty are not in doubt.
120 “It’s ozone” Ozone has only a small effect.
121 “IPCC ‘disappeared’ the Medieval Warm Period” The IPCC simply updated their temperature history graphs to show the best data available at the time.
122 “The IPCC consensus is phoney” 113 nations signed onto the 2007 IPCC report, which is simply a summary of the current body of climate science evidence
123 “Trenberth can’t account for the lack of warming” Trenberth is talking about the details of energy flow, not whether global warming is happening.
124 “Ice Sheet losses are overestimated” A number of independent measurements find extensive ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland.
125 “Naomi Oreskes’ study on consensus was flawed” Benny Peiser, the Oreskes critic, retracted his criticism.
126 “Climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted” Weather is chaotic but climate is driven by Earth’s energy imbalance, which is more predictable.
127 “Melting ice isn’t warming the Arctic” Melting ice leads to more sunlight being absorbed by water, thus heating the Arctic.
128 “Climate ‘Skeptics’ are like Galileo” Modern scientists, not anti-science skeptics, follow in Galileo’s footsteps.
129 “A drop in volcanic activity caused warming” Volcanoes have had no warming effect in recent global warming – if anything, a cooling effect.
130 “Renewables can’t provide baseload power” A number of renewable sources already do provide baseload power, and we don’t need renewables to provide a large percentage of baseload power immediately.
131 “Breathing contributes to CO2 buildup” By breathing out, we are simply returning to the air the same CO2 that was there to begin with.
132 “Satellite error inflated Great Lakes temperatures” Temperature errors in the Great Lakes region are not used in any global temperature records.
133 “Soares finds lack of correlation between CO2 and temperature” Soares looks at short-term trends which are swamped by natural variations while ignoring the long-term correlation.
134 “CRU tampered with temperature data” An independent inquiry went back to primary data sources and were able to replicate CRU’s results.
135 “Sea level is not rising” The claim sea level isn’t rising is based on blatantly doctored graphs contradicted by observations.
136 “Water vapor in the stratosphere stopped global warming” This possibility just means that future global warming could be even worse.
137 “CO2 emissions do not correlate with CO2 concentration” That humans are causing the rise in atmospheric CO2 is confirmed by multiple isotopic analyses.
138 “We’re heading into cooling” There is no scientific basis for claims that the planet will begin to cool in the near future.
139 “The sun is getting hotter” The sun has just had the deepest solar minimum in 100 years.
140 “Mauna Loa is a volcano” The global trend is calculated from hundreds of CO2 measuring stations and confirmed by satellites.
141 “It’s waste heat” Greenhouse warming is adding 100 times more heat to the climate than waste heat.
142 “It warmed just as fast in 1860-1880 and 1910-1940” The warming trend over 1970 to 2001 is greater than warming from both 1860 to 1880 and 1910 to 1940.
143 “An exponential increase in CO2 will result in a linear increase in temperature” CO2 levels are rising so fast that unless we decrease emissions, global warming will accelerate this century.
144 “Record high snow cover was set in winter 2008/2009” Winter snow cover in 2008/2009 was average while the long-term trend in spring, summer, and annual snow cover is rapid decline.
145 “Murry Salby finds CO2 rise is natural” Multiple lines of evidence make it very clear that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is due to human emissions.
146 “Venus doesn’t have a runaway greenhouse effect” Venus very likely underwent a runaway or ‘moist’ greenhouse phase earlier in its history, and today is kept hot by a dense CO2 atmosphere.
147 “Antarctica is too cold to lose ice” Glaciers are sliding faster into the ocean because ice shelves are thinning due to warming oceans.
148 “Water levels correlate with sunspots” This detail is irrelevant to the observation of global warming caused by humans.
149 “CO2 was higher in the late Ordovician” The sun was much cooler during the Ordovician.
150 “It’s CFCs” CFCs contribute at a small level.
151 “Scientists retracted claim that sea levels are rising” The Siddall 2009 paper was retracted because its predicted sea level rise was too low.
152 “Warming causes CO2 rise” Recent warming is due to rising CO2.
153 “Coral atolls grow as sea levels rise” Thousands of coral atolls have “drowned” when unable to grow fast enough to survive at sea level.
154 “Greenland has only lost a tiny fraction of its ice mass” Greenland’s ice loss is accelerating & will add metres of sea level rise in upcoming centuries.
155 “Positive feedback means runaway warming” Positive feedback won’t lead to runaway warming; diminishing returns on feedback cycles limit the amplification.
156 “DMI show cooling Arctic” While summer maximums have showed little trend, the annual average Arctic temperature has risen sharply in recent decades.
157 “Skeptics were kept out of the IPCC?” Official records, Editors and emails suggest CRU scientists acted in the spirit if not the letter of IPCC rules.
158 “It’s internal variability” Internal variability can only account for small amounts of warming and cooling over periods of decades, and scientific studies have consistently shown that it cannot account for the global warming over the past century.
159 “It’s only a few degrees” A few degrees of global warming has a huge impact on ice sheets, sea levels and other aspects of climate.
160 “CO2 limits won’t cool the planet” CO2 limits won’t cool the planet, but they can make the difference between continued accelerating global warming to catastrophic levels vs. slowing and eventually stopping the warming at hopefully safe levels
161 “Renewable energy investment kills jobs” Investment in renewable energy creates more jobs than investment in fossil fuel energy.
162 “CO2 increase is natural, not human-caused” Many lines of evidence, including simple accounting, demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to human fossil fuel burning.
163 “Royal Society embraces skepticism” The Royal Society still strongly state that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming.
164 “It’s satellite microwave transmissions” Satellite transmissions are extremely small and irrelevant.
165 “CO2 only causes 35% of global warming” CO2 and corresponding water vapor feedback are the biggest cause of global warming.
166 “We didn’t have global warming during the Industrial Revolution” CO2 emissions were much smaller 100 years ago.
167 “Hansen predicted the West Side Highway would be underwater” Hansen was speculating on changes that might happen if CO2 doubled.
168 “Ljungqvist broke the hockey stick” Ljungqvist’s temperature reconstruction is very similar to other reconstructions by Moberg and Mann.
169 “Removing all CO2 would make little difference” Removing CO2 would cause most water in the air to rain out and cancel most of the greenhouse effect.
170 “Postma disproved the greenhouse effect” Postma’s model contains many simple errors; in no way does Postma undermine the existence or necessity of the greenhouse effect.
171 “Sea level fell in 2010” The temporary drop in sea level in 2010 was due to intense land flooding caused by a strong La Nina.


refutation of climate change deniers

Hi Hugh,

You say : “…the ten year cooling trend?…”

I say : What utter piffle ! Just look at this chart (link below). It’s
a very simplified form of the temperature charts, just to make it easy
for people like me to refute people like you :-

More charts that refute your statement are here :-

You’re clearly not up-to-date. One icy winter does not Global Cooling
make. In fact, there could be an excessive warming trend for a while
(as opposed to a badly warming trend for a while) :-
“Global warming and a hotter solar cycle will bump up average
atmospheric temperatures about a third of a degree by 2014, and then
flatten out for the rest of the decade, suggest climate scientists.”

You are wrong about Global Warming, but you’re in communication with a
group of people who would deny black is black, so I don’t expect you
to believe me.

Please don’t continue sending me Climate Change Denier myths. Please
only talk to me about Energy.


Thank you,

Jo Abess

The above in response to Hugh Sharman’s post below:
On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 8:34 AM, Hugh Sharmanwrote:
> ….continuing the ten year cooling trend?  We shall have to see!
> US Gas Market Watch
> NGW’s Gas Market Reconnaissance (Friday, Aug. 21, 2009) Full Story Pub Info
> Send to a Friend
> Natural gas prices fell nearly 4% Friday touching $2.776/MMBTtu, the lowest
> price since Aug. 12, 2002. Friday’s selling pressure was realized after
> hedge funds in the OTC market began pounding prices lower. Traders said the
> reality of a truly oversupplied market is creating an ultra-bearish
> sentiment throughout the gas market. However, Friday also marked the 12th
> consecutive losing session, so a rebound could be expected as September
> nears expiration on Thursday.
> Lucky US: Gas Storage Glut Could Meet Bone-Chilling Winter Loads
> Natural Gas Week (Monday, August 24, 2009) Full Story Pub Info Send to a
> Friend
> Some weather forecasting services are providing a preliminary glimpse at the
> upcoming 2009-10 winter … and the outlook is cold, very cold. In fact,
> some forecasters see the potential for the coldest winter in a decade. If
> these forecasts pan out, the US may need every molecule of natural gas being
> stuffed into its brimming storage fields.
> Hugh Sharman
> Box 39, Toldbodvej 12,
> DK-9370 Hals, Denmark,
> tel +45.9825.1760 fax +45.9825.2555
> cell +45.4055.1760
> MOMs (Danish VAT) DK.

Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense

On November 18, with the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Copenhagen fast approaching, U.S. Sen. James R. Inhofe (R–Okla.) took the floor of the Senate and proclaimed 2009 to be “The Year of the Skeptic.” Had the senator’s speech marked a new commitment to  dispassionate, rational inquiry, a respect for scientific thought and a well-grounded doubt in ghosts, astrology, creationism and homeopathy, it might have been cause for cheer. But Inhofe had a more narrow definition of skeptic in mind: he meant “standing up and exposing the science, the costs and the hysteria behind global warming alarmism.”

Within the community of scientists and others concerned about anthropogenic climate change, those whom Inhofe calls skeptics are more commonly termed contrarians, naysayers and denialists. Not everyone who questions climate change science fits that description, of course—some people are genuinely unaware of the facts or honestly disagree about their interpretation. What distinguishes the true naysayers is an unwavering dedication to denying the need for action on the problem, often with weak and long-disproved arguments about supposed weaknesses in the science behind global warming.

What follows is only a partial list of the contrarians’ bad arguments and some brief rebuttals of them.

Claim 1: Anthropogenic CO2 can’t be changing climate, because CO2 is only a trace gas in the atmosphere and the amount produced by humans is dwarfed by the amount from volcanoes and other natural sources. Water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas, so changes in CO2 are irrelevant.

Although CO2 makes up only 0.04 percent of the atmosphere, that small number says nothing about its significance in climate dynamics. Even at that low concentration, CO2 absorbs infrared radiation and acts as a greenhouse gas, as physicist John Tyndall demonstrated in 1859. The chemist Svante Arrhenius went further in 1896 by estimating the impact of CO2 on the climate; after painstaking hand calculations he concluded that doubling its concentration might cause almost 6 degrees Celsius of warming—an answer not much out of line with recent, far more rigorous computations.

Contrary to the contrarians, human activity is by far the largest contributor to the observed increase in atmospheric CO2. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, anthropogenic CO2 amounts to about 30 billion tons annually—more than 130 times as much as volcanoes produce. True, 95 percent of the releases of CO2 to the atmosphere are natural, but natural processes such as plant growth and absorption into the oceans pull the gas back out of the atmosphere and almost precisely offset them, leaving the human additions as a net surplus. Moreover, several sets of experimental measurements, including analyses of the shifting ratio of carbon isotopes in the air, further confirm that fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are the primary reasons that CO2 levels have risen 35 percent since 1832, from 284 parts per million (ppm) to 388 ppm—a remarkable jump to the highest levels seen in millions of years.

Contrarians frequently object that water vapor, not CO2, is the most abundant and powerful greenhouse gas; they insist that climate scientists routinely leave it out of their models. The latter is simply untrue: from Arrhenius on, climatologists have incorporated water vapor into their models. In fact, water vapor is why rising CO2 has such a big effect on climate. CO2 absorbs some wavelengths of infrared that water does not so it independently adds heat to the atmosphere. As the temperature rises, more water vapor enters the atmosphere and multiplies CO2’s greenhouse effect; the IPCC notes that water vapor (pdf) may “approximately double the increase in the greenhouse effect due to the added CO2 alone.”

Nevertheless, within this dynamic, the CO2 remains the main driver (what climatologists call a “forcing”) of the greenhouse effect. As NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt has explained, water vapor enters and leaves the atmosphere much more quickly than CO2, and tends to preserve a fairly constant level of relative humidity, which caps off its greenhouse effect. Climatologists therefore categorize water vapor as a feedback rather than a forcing factor. (Contrarians who don’t see water vapor in climate models are looking for it in the wrong place.)

Because of CO2’s inescapable greenhouse effect, contrarians holding out for a natural explanation for current global warming need to explain why, in their scenarios, CO2 is not compounding the problem.

Claim 2: The alleged “hockey stick” graph of temperatures over the past 1,600 years has been disproved. It doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of a “medieval warm period” around 1000 A.D. that was hotter than today is. Therefore, global warming is a myth.

It is hard to know which is greater: contrarians’ overstatement of the flaws in the historical temperature reconstruction from 1998 by Michael E. Mann and his colleagues, or the ultimate insignificance of their argument to the case for climate change.

First, there is not simply one hockey-stick reconstruction of historical temperatures using one set of proxy data. Similar evidence for sharply increasing temperatures over the past couple of centuries has turned up independently while looking at ice cores, tree rings and other proxies for direct measurements, from many locations. Notwithstanding their differences, they corroborate that Earth has been getting sharply warmer.

A 2006 National Research Council review of the evidence concluded “with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries”—which is the section of the graph most relevant to current climate trends. The report placed less faith in the reconstructions back to 900 A.D., although it still viewed them as “plausible.” Medieval warm periods in Europe and Asia with temperatures comparable to those seen in the 20th century were therefore similarly plausible but might have been local phenomena: the report noted “the magnitude and geographic extent of the warmth are uncertain.” And a new research paper by Mann and his colleagues seems to confirm that the Medieval Warm Period and the “Little Ice Age” between 1400 and 1700 were both caused by shifts in solar radiance and other natural factors that do not seem to be happening today.

After the NRC review was released, another analysis by four statisticians, called the Wegman report, which was not formally peer reviewed, was more critical of the hockey stick paper. But correction of the errors it pointed out did not substantially change the shape of the hockey stick graph. In 2008 Mann and his colleagues issued an updated version of the temperature reconstruction that echoed their earlier findings.

But hypothetically, even if the hockey stick was busted… What of it? The case for anthropogenic global warming originally came from studies of climate mechanics, not from reconstructions of past temperatures seeking a cause. Warnings about current warming trends came out years before Mann’s hockey stick graph. Even if the world were incontrovertibly warmer 1,000 years ago, it would not change the fact that the recent rapid rise in CO2 explains the current episode of warming more credibly than any natural factor does—and that no natural factor seems poised to offset further warming in the years ahead.

Claim 3: Global warming stopped a decade ago; Earth has been cooling since then.

1998 was the world’s warmest year in the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre’s records; recent years have been cooler; therefore, the previous century’s global warming trend is over, right?

Anyone with even a glancing familiarity with statistics should be able to spot the weaknesses of that argument. Given the extended duration of the warming trend, the expected (and observed) variations in the rate of increase and the range of uncertainties in the temperature measurements and forecasts, a decade’s worth of mild interruption is too small a deviation to prove a break in the pattern, climatologists say.

Recently, Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein asked four independent statisticians to look for trends in the temperature data sets without telling them what the numbers represented. “The experts found no true temperature declines over time,” he wrote.

If a lull in global warming continues for another decade, would that vindicate the contrarians’ case? Not necessarily, because climate is complex. For instance, Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Germany and his colleagues published a paper in 2008 that suggested ocean circulation patterns might cause a period of cooling in parts of the northern hemisphere, even though the long-term pattern of warming remained in effect. Fundamentally, contrarians who have resisted the abundant evidence that supports warming should not be too quick to leap on evidence that only hints at the opposite.

Claim 4: The sun or cosmic rays are much more likely to be the real causes of global warming. After all, Mars is warming up, too.

Astronomical phenomena are obvious natural factors to consider [pdf] when trying to understand climate, particularly the brightness of the sun and details of Earth’s orbit, because those seem to have been major drivers of the ice ages [pdf] and other climate changes before the rise of industrial civilization. Climatologists, therefore, do take them into account in their models. [pdf] But in defiance of the naysayers who want to chalk the recent warming up to natural cycles, there is insufficient evidence that enough extra solar energy is reaching our planet to account for the observed rise in global temperatures.

The IPCC notes that between 1750 and 2005, the radiative forcing from the sun increased by 0.12 watt/square-meter—less than a tenth of the net forcings from human activities [pdf] (1.6 W/m2). The largest uncertainty in that comparison comes from the estimated effects of aerosols in the atmosphere, which can variously shade Earth or warm it. Even granting the maximum uncertainties to these estimates, however, the increase in human influence on climate exceeds that of any solar variation.

Moreover, remember that the effect of CO2 and the other greenhouse gases is to amplify the sun’s warming. Contrarians looking to pin global warming on the sun can’t simply point to any trend in solar radiance: they also need to quantify its effect and explain why CO2 does not consequently become an even more powerful driver of climate change. (And is what weakens the greenhouse effect a necessary consequence of the rising solar influence or an ad hoc corollary added to give the desired result?)

The most recent contrarian fad is based largely on work by Henrik Svensmark of the Technical University of Denmark, who argues that the sun’s influence on cosmic rays needs to be considered. Cosmic rays entering the atmosphere help to seed the formation of aerosols and clouds that reflect sunlight. In Svensmark’s theory, the high solar magnetic activity over the past 50 years has shielded Earth from cosmic rays and allowed exceptional heating; but now that the sun is more magnetically quiet again, global warming will reverse. Svensmark claims that, in his model, temperature changes correlate better with cosmic ray levels and solar magnetic activity than with other greenhouse factors.

Svensmark’s theory has so far not persuaded most climatologists, however, because of weaknesses in its evidence. In particular, there do not seem to be clear long-term trends in the cosmic ray influxes or in the clouds that they are suppose to form, and his model does not explain (as greenhouse explanations do) some of the observed patterns in how the world is getting warmer (such as that more of the warming occurs at night). For now, at least, cosmic rays remain a less plausible culprit in climate change.

And the apparent warming seen on Mars? It is based on a very small base of measurements, so it may not represent a true trend. Too little is yet known about what governs the Martian climate to be sure, but a period of heavy dust storms on the planet that made its surface relatively dark might have increased the amount of absorbed sunlight and raised temperatures.

Claim 5: Climatologists conspire to hide the truth about global warming by locking away their data. Their so-called “consensus” on global warming is scientifically irrelevant because science isn’t settled by popularity.

It is virtually impossible to disprove accusations of giant global conspiracies to those already convinced of them (can anyone prove that the Freemasons and the Roswell aliens aren’t involved, too?). Let it therefore be noted that the magnitude of this hypothetical conspiracy would need to encompass many thousands of uncontroversial publications and respected scientists from around the world, stretching back through Arrhenius and Tyndall for almost 150 years. (See this feature on “Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” by Gilbert N. Plass, from Scientific American in July 1959.) It is also one so powerful that it has co-opted the  official positions of dozens of scientific organizations including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Physics and the American Meteorological Society.

If there were a massive conspiracy to defraud the world on climate (and to what end?), surely the thousands of e-mails and other files stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and distributed by hackers on November 20 would bear proof of it. So far, however, none has emerged. Most of the few statements that critics claim as evidence of malfeasance seem to have more innocent explanations that make sense in the context of scientists conversing privately and informally. It is deplorable if any of the scientists involved did prove to manipulate data dishonestly or thwart Freedom of Information requests; however, it is currently unclear whether that ultimately happened. What is missing is any clear indication of a widespread attempt to falsify and coordinate findings on a scale that could hold together a global cabal or significantly distort the record on climate change.

Climatologists are frequently frustrated by accusations that they are hiding their data or the details of their models because, as Gavin Schmidt points out, much of the relevant information is in public databases or otherwise accessible—a fact that contrarians conveniently ignore when insisting that scientists stonewall their requests. (And because nations differ in their rules on data confidentiality, scientists are not always at liberty to comply with some requests.) If contrarians want to deal a devastating blow to global warming theories, they should use the public data and develop their own credible models to demonstrate sound alternatives.

Yet that rarely occurs. In 2004 historian of science Naomi Oreskes published a well-known analysis of the peer-reviewed literature on global warming, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” Out of 928 papers whose abstracts she surveyed, she wrote, 75 percent explicitly or implicitly supported anthropogenic global warming, 25 percent were methodological or otherwise took no position on the subject—and none argued for purely natural explanations. Notwithstanding some attempts to debunk Oreskes’ findings that eventually fell apart, her conclusion stands.

Oreskes’ work does not mean that all climate scientists agree about climate change–obviously, some do not (though they are very much a minority). Rather, the meaningful consensus is not among the scientists but within the science: the overwhelming predominance of evidence for greenhouse-driven global warming that cannot easily be overturned even by a few contrary studies.

Claim 6: Climatologists have a vested interest in raising the alarm because it brings them money and prestige.

If climate scientists are angling for more money by hyping fears of climate change, they are not doing so very effectively. According to a 2006 Government Accountability Office study, between 1993 and 2004, U.S. federal spending on climate change rose from $3.3 billion to $5.1 billion—a 55 percent increase. (Total federal nondefense spending on research in 2004 exceeded $50 billion.) However, the research share of that money fell from 56 percent to 39 percent: most of it went to energy conservation projects and other technology programs. Climatologists’ funding therefore stayed almost flat while others, including those in industry, benefited handsomely. Surely, the Freemasons could do better than that.



China's new forests aren't as green as they seem

China’s new forests aren’t as green as they seem : Nature News.

Impressive reports of increased forest cover mask a focus on non-native tree crops that could damage the ecosystem, says Jianchu Xu.


In the United Nations’ 2011 International Year of Forests, China is heralded as a superstar. Almost single-handedly, the country has halted long-term forest loss across Asia, and even turned it into a net gain. Since the 1990s, China has planted more than 4 million hectares of new forest each year.

Earlier this month, President Hu Jintao pledged that China would do even more. He told a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Beijing that the nation would increase its total area of forest by 40 million hectares over the next decade. China, he said, is ready to make new contributions to green, sustainable growth.

It sounds impressive, but we risk failing to see the wood for the trees. In China, ‘forest’ includes uncut primary forest, regenerating natural forest and monoculture plantations of non-native trees. The last of these accounts for most of the ‘improvement’ in forest cover.

The State Forestry Administration has claimed that total forest cover in China reached 20.36% in 2008. Most of this results from the increase in tree crops such as fruit trees, rubber and eucalyptus, not recovery of natural forest, yet Chinese data do not record this shift. The change threatens ecosystem services, particularly watershed protection and biodiversity conservation.

“I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew.”

Exotic tree species are being planted in arid and semi-arid conditions, where perennial grasses with their extensive root systems would be better protectors of topsoil. Plantation monocultures harbour little diversity; they provide almost no habitat for the country’s many threatened forest species. Plantations generate less leaf litter and other organic inputs than native forests, so soil fauna and flora decrease, and groundwater depletion can be exacerbated by deep-rooted non-native trees that use more water than native species. Afforestation in water-stressed regions might provide wind-breaks, and tree plantations offer some carbon storage. But these benefits come at a high cost to other ecological functions.

Why the intense focus on forest cover? China has long promoted the planting of tree crops. Since 1999, the Grain for Green programme has resulted in some 22 million hectares of new trees on sloping farmland. The programme began after the 1998 Yangtze River floods, which the government blamed on loss of tree cover, although reductions in riparian buffers and soil infiltration capacity probably also had a major role.

Since 2008, forest tenure reform has encouraged the privatization of former collective forests, with more than 100 million hectares affected. Privatization can benefit local economies. But in the absence of any management framework, it has also promoted conversion of natural forests into plantations: smallholders often fell natural forests for immediate income, then plant monoculture tree crops for long-term investment.

Although the Chinese government has shown that it understands environmental fragility, its scientific and policy guidelines do not adequately address the country’s diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew before. Local governments face the need to respond to the national imperative for increased forest cover by planting fast-growing species, while also generating the biggest local economic benefits possible. This explains why unsuitable species such as aspens are planted in north China, whereas eucalyptus and rubber trees proliferate in the south.

Perhaps the International Year of Forests can help decision-makers to focus on the various meanings of ‘forest’, and the trade-offs each type entails. Natural recovery is still the best way to restore damaged forests, but restoration requires targeted involvement using the best science.

Afforestation can restore ecosystem function only if the right species are planted in the right place. Further studies are needed on how the mix of species affects ecosystem functions. Sloping lands, for example, benefit from perennial root systems and associated soil microfauna, but trees are not the only, or necessarily the best, way to establish these root systems.

China’s forestry mandate should focus on enhancing environmental services, but policy-makers cannot ignore rural livelihoods. Technical know-how should be provided to local foresters and farmers. Doing away with narrow, one-size-fits-all management targets would also help. The country, with its state-managed market economy, can afford direct payments for forest ecosystem services, but they should only be offered for natural or regenerated forests with proven biological or ecological value.

As an ecologist and agroforestry practitioner, I would like to see China establish parallel forest-management programmes for recovery and restoration of natural forests, and for incorporating working trees into farmlands. Each should include best practices from ecosystem science; a clear definition of tree crop plantations for timber or non-timber products would clarify the separate systems. A dual strategy would require increased collaboration throughout China’s land-management ministries, well supported by interdisciplinary research. But it could ensure that China’s massive investment in forests provides maximum benefits, to both local livelihood and the environment. 

Jianchu Xu is a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.