Suicidal: Ice thaw leads to Arctic drilling rush.
Brian Merchant: Today, federal scientists confirmed that for the first time in millions of years, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. The pre-industrial level was 280 ppm, and the amount that top climatologists say is advisable for maintaining a stable environment is 350 ppm. The new carbon concentration signals that planetary warming will continue to accelerate—and that the rapidly melting Arctic will continue to thaw.
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” Pieter P. Tans, who runs the chief carbon-monitoring program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The New York Times, in a front-page story headlined “Carbon Dioxide Level Is at Highest in Human History.”
At about the same time that NOAA released its numbers, the White House—which has thus far not commented on the carbon milestone—published a press release called “Protecting Our Interests in the Arctic.” The release heralds the administration’s newly forged National Strategy for the Arctic Region, a document that contains the recommendations of military advisers, scientists, and policy analysts on how to cope with and exploit a slushier Arctic.
The strategy document notes that “dense, multi-year ice is giving way to thin layers of seasonal ice, making more of the region navigable year-round. Scientific estimates of technically recoverable conventional oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle total approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits, as well as vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore, and nickel. These estimates have inspired fresh ideas for commercial initiatives and infrastructure development in the region.”
Sometimes I worry we’re too stupid not to go extinct.
Overlooked Earth Day.
Given the awful week we just went through, it might be easy to overlook Earth Day. After all, terrorist bombings and exploding fertilizer plants and a congress more interested in saving gun manufacturers’ profits than in saving American lives aren’t problems to be solved by reducing carbon emissions. But the truth is that we need to remember Earth Day now more than ever. If we don’t have a survivable environment, none of these other problems will matter. Earth Day comes at a perfect time — just when we start to lose sight of the importance of the environment, we’re reminded that all other problems are of secondary importance.
Fortunately, we’re able to walk and chew gum at the same time — i.e., we don’t have to solve problems one at a time, in order of importance. We can deal with terrorism and corporate anarchy and gun fetishism and the environment at once. It’s really not that hard. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But our media makes it more difficult. It’s not that the media can’t walk and chew gum at the same time — newspapers prove the opposite. We don’t get a big log of paper devoted to one, single subject on our doorsteps every day. But the electronic media; now there’s an example of a one-track mind. The explosion in West, Texas proves that. In any normal circumstance, it would be the story of the year — but it was unfortunately overshadowed by another tragedy.
Now, I want you to consider how TV coverage of the Boston bomb attacks went. Think back. When you tuned into your favorite cable news network, you spent one helluva lot of time watching talking heads say nothing. They’d learn something new, take the few minutes it took to report that, then yack and yack and yack about nothing. In fact, if you remember correctly, you’ll remember that TV media mostly talked about their own coverage; “We’re hearing a lot of conflicting reports, so we’ll keep you up-to-date when things get clearer.” It’s an oddity that cable news won’t cut away from a story — even when they have nothing to say — but the purpose of that is to keep eyes on screens. If you turn on CNN to get news about The Big Story and they’re talking about something else, you’re switching over to MSNBC. Ratings bias kicks in and we all wind up watching big piles of nothing.
If the media can’t take a moment to celebrate Earth Day, if other news stories are “too big” to even spare a moment of air-time, we can do it here. Meet the “carbon bubble”:
International Herald Tribune: On Monday many people are celebrating Earth Day by admiring the beauty of our planet and by calling attention to the environmental dangers it faces.
While the focus is on the planet, economists are warning that carbon emissions could cause grave damage to something else green and dear.
The value of carbon-based investments — many traded publicly — could implode once governments start seriously curbing emissions, bursting what some have dubbed “the carbon bubble.”
The carbon bubble is a pretty simple concept; as it becomes clearer that excess carbon is a problem that must be solved, fossil fuels that release carbon become less attractive and, therefore, have less value. Oil, gas, and coal reserves are increasingly being seen as “unburnable,” which reduces demand and reduces price. The result is a bubble; a situation where investors see more value in something than reality does. When reality catches up to the investors, the market forces the price to crash as it falls down to real world levels.
But a carbon bubble is not unavoidable. Unwise commodities traders might take a bath, but investors wouldn’t have to — and probably won’t. Energy companies are diversifying their energy production, increasing investment in green energy. According to the US Energy Information Association, renewables are the fastest growing chunk of US energy consumption. Energy companies that ignore this trend would be asking for trouble. Part of the reason for this rise is simple; superior marketing. The green energy movement sells renewables for energy companies — at no cost. And they’ve been tremendously successful. People will go out of their way to buy a portion of their electricity from green production — i.e., people will specifically look for ways to buy green energy, but no one goes out of their way to make sure their electricity was generated with coal. Since only so much generating capacity is needed and people are demanding more and more renewable production, dirtier methods are increasingly being pushed out of the market.
Fossil fuel producers may squawk about this, but it’s just capitalism. Technologies get dumped in favor of better tech all the time — it’s called progress. Just as cars put the buggy whip industry out of business, so renewables will eventually bury fossil fuels. And we don’t notice market crashes and collapsing bubbles when this process of replacement happens over and over and over, because the jobs and market share of the new technology replaces those of the old. Will coal miners and natural gas drillers find themselves out of jobs? Eventually, sure. But new markets and new jobs will be opening up in the renewables sector to replace them. When people say that dealing with climate change will be bad for the economy, what they really mean is that it will be bad for them — the economy and labor will actually be fine. And it will only be bad for energy companies who refuse to diversify. In other words, it won’t be green energy that harms these companies, it’ll be bad business management.
It may seem like progress stops occasionally, as these big news stories suck up all the oxygen. But the fact is that the world chugs along whether or not anyone’s watching and the rest of the news unfolds just like always. “The world holds its breath” is a metaphor only. Other news develops whether it’s covered or not. And long-term stories like climate and the environment get pushed to the farthest back burner, where they simmer nonetheless. This Earth Day may not get much coverage, because of boredom and shinier baubles, but this Earth Day is happening all the same.
And progress is being made every day, whether the cameras are there or not.
[photo via Wikimedia Commons]
GOP Rep. “Smoky Joe” Barton: climate change isn’t real, because the Bible.
Buzzfeed: A Republican Congressman cited the biblical flood as an example of climate change that had not been caused by humans. Texas Rep. Joe Barton made those remarks Wednesday at the Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing on H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, a bill that would give Congress the authority approve the Keystone pipeline.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a proponent and supporter of the Keystone pipeline,” Barton said.
Barton continued to say he didn’t deny the climate was changing, but argued that the change was due to natural causes, as he has in the past.
“I would point out that if you’re a believer in in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”
First off, no. The Great Flood would not be climate change, it would be a flood (an impossible flood, by the way, since there isn’t enough water on Earth to submerge all land). That’s why it’s called “the Great Flood.” Second, what “natural causes” are you talking about? You actually have to be specific about this stuff, because the continued existence of the human species is kind of important. It’s a real crappy time to be vague.
The fact is that Joe Barton has earned the nickname “Smoky Joe” by being a trained monkey for polluters — the oil industry in particular. You might remember him as the guy who apologized to BP’s Tony Hayward after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Seems that turning the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic waste dump is no reason to be unpleasant to hapless oil execs.
Who keeps voting for these obvious clowns?
2012 a record-breaker for solar power.
It may not compare to the German solar market. But the U.S. is definitely becoming a major force globally when it comes to new installations.
According to the 2012 Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, America installed 3,313 megawatts of solar capacity last year — accounting for 11 percent of total global installations. That’s up from 7 percent in 2011.
“From 2004 until 2010, America’s global share had been stuck in a tight band. The U.S. significantly broke that in 2012,” said Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM Research. “Our forecasts put us at 13 percent in 2013.”
While there’s obviously a long way to go yet to get to where we should be, I’ll point out what I always point out when stories like this are reported: you didn’t notice a thing.
It didn’t cause roaming brownouts, it didn’t crash the American economy, it didn’t result in hardships for families. It’s just a different way of generating power — one that’s clean, renewable, and cheap. More photovoltaic generation is both a natural advancement in technology and a response to actual conditions in the reality.
Lo and behold, contrary to what you’ll hear from the right, green tech is not the end of the world. It’s just progress.
Climate warming faster than any time in human history.
Temperatures are rising faster today than they have at any point since at least the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, according to a new study.
The finding is based on a global reconstruction of temperature records inferred from ice cores, fossils in ocean sediments and other sources. While previous studies reached similar conclusions, they covered only about 2,000 years. The new reconstruction extends the global record through the Holocene, the most recent geologic epoch.
“Another way to think of it is the period where human civilization was born, created, and developed and then progressed to where we are now,” Shuan Marcott, a climate scientist at Oregon State University who led the study, told NBC News.
If you’re one of those who still think global warming is hooey, let me ask you a question: do you really believe we can literally spend a century pumping tons of chemicals into the atmosphere and have nothing happen? Poof! It all just disappears like crap down a toilet because… Well, because why, exactly? Does that really make any sense at all to you? As always, conservative positions seem reasonable — until you fucking think about them for a fraction of a second.
This is it, people. We’re standing at the edge of the cliff without a lot of room left between us and the open air. We can turn back or we can jump.
Think we’re spending money now? Wait until you see how much we have to spend to hold the seas back, to irrigate deserts, to fight wars over water. That’s spending money. In comparison, stopping the warming trend would be chump change.