Understanding bathtubs and climate change

October 31, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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Photo by Bombardier, Creative Commons.

Photo by Bombardier, Creative Commons.

It’s been common to blame the media and global-warming “deniers” for the public’s confusion about climate change.  

The media, it has been said, feel they must always represent opposite sides of opinion. It’s a laudable goal, but not if it results in a distorted picture of scientific consensus.

I.e. two “experts” presented as equals, one whose statements represent a position a hypothetical 90 percent of the scientific community would agree with, and another whose statements represent the thoughts of a spare 5 percent.   

In such cases, media efforts to produce balance lead to accidental misrepresentations. The “denialists,” on the other hand, are accused of deliberate distortions. 

A new article in the most recent issue of Science, however, suggests there may be more to blame for public confusion about climate change than inaccurate portrayals of scientific opinion. 

The article – “Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance” – links a failure to perceive the urgency of reducing carbon emissions to a poor understanding of stocks and flows.

Stocks and flows, as the author John D. Sterman points out, are all about the concept of accumulation, which is a common everyday experience:

“Our bathtubs accumulate the inflow of water through the faucet less the outflow through the drain, our bank accounts accumulate deposits less withdrawals … Yet, despite their ubiquity, research shows that people have difficulty relating into and out of a stock to the level of a stock …,” Sterman writes.

Sterman, along with colleague Booth Sweeney, tested a group of highly educated MIT students’ understanding of stocks and flows as it relates to climate change. 

Continue Reading Understanding bathtubs and climate change…

Burying CO2 – solution or pipe dream?

October 26, 2008 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Climate solutions | Leave a comment
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We like to bury things we don’t know what to do with below the ground: garbage, toxic waste, nuclear waste, chemical waste and now carbon dioxide. 

Carbon capture and storage – often referred to as CCS – has been hailed in some quarters as the solution to climate change.  And why not?  The largest source of carbon dioxide emissions are fossil fuels, which are literally the remains of carbon-based life forms from ages and ages ago that are found underground.

So, if we can find a way to capture carbon dioxide emissions once they’ve been released, why not return the carbon from whence it came?

It’s a question that will be the focus of an upcoming conference in Washington, D.C., when scientists meet to discuss the latest research into CCS technologies.  The conference, taking place November 16 to 20, is a biennial event that was started in 1997.  It’s being organized by MIT and the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), with support from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. 

The viability of CCS technologies – both whether they can work and whether they can be deployed in time – is controversial.

Recently the IEA called on the Group of Eight industrialized nations to spend $20 billion over the next decade on CCS demonstration projects.  Although the G-8 countries agreed to build 20 large-scale demo projects by 2010 at a July meeting, the IEA has said that current investment levels fall far short of what’s needed to get there.

Continue Reading Burying CO2 – solution or pipe dream?…

Artists tackle climate change

October 26, 2008 at 4:26 am | Posted in Climate and art, Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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If art is a medium through which a culture communicates with itself about topics it is struggling to understand, then the meaning of climate change is now on a lot of people’s minds. 

In the last few weeks alone, news has surfaced about a number of climate-themed art projects and exhibits.

Perhaps coolest of all – no pun intended – is Cape Farewell, an organization that sponsors expeditions of scientists and artists into the Arctic to promote a cultural understanding of climate change.  The latest expedition came to an end on October 6, after bringing some big name stars face to face with the first front of climate change. 

Musicians KT Tunstall, Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Laurie Anderson and Martha Wainwright, among others, were on the crew list.  Check out Jarvis Cocker of Pulp describing his experience:

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more about “Jarvis Cocker“, posted with vodpod

Huge institutional efforts that look to art and artifacts to educate about climate change are also underway.
Continue Reading Artists tackle climate change…

PBS Gets “Heat”

October 22, 2008 at 5:44 am | Posted in Climate and economy, Climate and politics, Climate solutions | 1 Comment
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This is so HOT. 

And I almost missed it.  But I took a minute to visit SolveClimate, an excellent blog about climate change, earlier tonight and found a notice about the new PBS documentary “HEAT” just in time to tune in. 

The full program, which was produced by the Frontline producer Martin Smith, is available to watch for free on the PBS Web site. 

“I have reported on the Cold War, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the rise of Al Qaeda, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Smith. “But nothing matches climate change in scope and severity.”

The report, split into four chapters, investigates how governments and major companies, such as Exxon Mobil and General Motors, are responding to the threat of climate change. 

Continue Reading PBS Gets “Heat”…

A biodiversity roundup

October 20, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Climate impacts, Climate science research | Leave a comment
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Polar bears may be the most high profile of the animals facing a loss of habitat in a warming world, but it’s safe to say they’re hardly alone. 

Just how many plant and animal species would be impacted by a changing climate, however, and in what way, are tough questions to answer. 

In fact, both questions have been in the news a lot the last few weeks, so read on if you’d like a biodiversity news roundup.    

Continue Reading A biodiversity roundup…

Florida releases a climate-change action plan

October 19, 2008 at 11:46 pm | Posted in Climate and economy, Climate solutions | Leave a comment
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While the U.S. Congress has failed to pass legislation that would establish CO2 emissions reduction goals, individual states have been getting busy. 

According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, at least 31 states have created plans that outline climate-change “mitigation” goals.  The plans outline a mix of policies directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, from forest restoration efforts to energy-efficiency improvements. 

Last week, the state of Florida became the latest to jump on this new climate-planning bandwagon.

Continue Reading Florida releases a climate-change action plan…

Going green with an economy in the red

October 18, 2008 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Climate and economy | 2 Comments
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With the markets in the midst of a crisis that many are comparing to the Great Depression, some environmentalists are starting to worry that the go-green wave may lose its momentum in the face of more pressing economic concerns.

From bloggers to scientists, a new speculative trend has now begun, with thinkers placing their bets on just what the economic downturn will mean for the environment.  And in the truly free market of ideas, there are always a lot of answers to choose from:

It will be bad: how will we ever find the capital to invest in green technology after handing out $700 billion to the financial industry?

It will be good: people will start wasting less, recycling more, and using less energy.

It will be bad: commodity prices are plummeting and, without a pinch at the gas station, interest in alternative energy sources will flag. 

It will be good: green jobs and the green industry will lead the rebirth of our economy. 

It’s about as much of a yo-yo as the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been in the last few weeks.  To get some perspective on the issue of how economic policies and the environment – specifically climate change – are related, I recently sat down with the University of Chicago geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert.

A geophysicist, you ask?  It’s true, Pierrehumbert is not an economic expert, but he is a climatologist who is involved in a new effort to bring scientists and economists together to talk about climate, energy and economics at the University of Chicago. 

Continue Reading Going green with an economy in the red…

Little funding for study of climate change impacts

October 12, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Climate science funding, Climate science research | Leave a comment
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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, the earth’s average surface temperature will very likely increase by 2 to 11.5 degrees over the next century.

Knowing this range for average surface temperature, though, doesn’t give people a whole lot of information to go on about the future.  In the first place, it’s a range, and small differences in degrees can change what plants will grow well in a region. 

Add in the fact that projections for future precipitation have an even wider span, in part because of climate models’ inability to deal with clouds very well, and the unknowns multiply even more.  Not to mention that changes in climate will likely manifest differently by region. 

So, the question remains: what will climate change mean? And how do we prepare for it if we don’t understand what it will look like?

It’s a question that a story in the most recent issue of the journal Science reports has been neglected by the Bush administration. 

Continue Reading Little funding for study of climate change impacts…

Fixing the climate with big ideas?

October 12, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Climate solutions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wrapping Greenland in a giant blanket, putting trillions of lenses in space to deflect the sun’s rays, using seed-bombs to replenish forests – these are just a few of the wild ideas examined in the new series “Discovery Project Earth.”

The series, which launched on the Discovery Channel in late August, looks at possible technology fixes for our current climate woes. 

Unfortunately, the last episode aired on September 19. But you can still learn all about these ideas through an interactive Web project that was created as a complement to the series. 

Continue Reading Fixing the climate with big ideas?…

A survey of climate literacy

October 10, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Posted in Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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According to the blog RealClimate, a new survey about the state of climate science is making the rounds.  The survey – the third of its kind – is being sent to scientists in an effort to assess the state of climate science.

Obviously, its relevance will depend on how widely it’s distributed, as well as on the validity of its questions and multiple-choice answers.  If done well, it could point out areas where more research needs to be done and more funding needs to be provided.

Looking over some of the questions, though, got me thinking less about how the scientists will respond to the questions, and more about the state of climate literacy in general. 

Continue Reading A survey of climate literacy…

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