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FOOTPRINTS #26 – November 2008
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The Methane Time Bomb And The Triple Meltdown - Andrew Glikson
Triple stands for: (1) ice sheets; (2) global economy; (3) trust in governments.
Recent reports of enhanced methane (CH4) leaks off the eastern Siberian coast and Norway have been overshadowed in the media by the collapse of the global credit bubble. At the root of both is a common thread, deregulation, including open-ended permits to pollute the atmosphere and the oceans, little-regulated financial systems and economic globalization, representing failure by governments to protect the life and welfare of their hapless populations. None can come as a surprise.
For some time now, climate scientists warned that melting of subpolar permafrost and warming of the Arctic Sea of up to 4 degrees C are likely to result in the dissociation of methane hydrates and the release of this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
Methane has 62 times the infrared warming effect of CO2 over 20 years and 21 times over 100 years.
The amount stored in Arctic sediments and permafrost is estimated as 500–2,500 Gigaton Carbon (GtC), as compared with the world’s total fossil fuel reserves estimated as 5,000 GtC. Compare with the 700 Gt of carbon already in the atmosphere, which regulate CO2 levels in the range of 180–300 parts per million and land temperatures in a range of about – 50 to + 50 degrees C, which allowed the evolution of warm blooded mammals.
For every 100 of these birds that graced our skies, just five remain – Scotsman
THE number of Arctic terns in Scotland has dropped by a shocking 95 per cent in the past two decades. The graceful seabirds, well known in Shetland and Orkney for zealously guarding their nests and letting out rasping cries, are suffering severe declines. It is believed they are struggling to cope with a lack of sand eels, their favourite food, which in turn are falling victim to warming seas and overfishing.
Climate - urgent challenge, great opportunity - Barrie Pittock and Andrew Glikson
Greenland and west Antarctica ice caps would at CO2-e levels of 450 ppm, very likely melt rapidly, raising sea-level on the scale of metres per century. Recent developments in the state of the Earth’s climate include increasing extent of spring melt of Arctic Sea ice, mid-winter breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica, and large methane leaks offshore of eastern Siberia, compel us to call for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the demise of Arctic Sea summer ice likely within the next decade, the global climate system is rapidly changing. CO2 emissions, currently rising at more than 2 per cent per year, should be decreasing at a similar rate if further adverse effects are to be avoided.
An important statement from two distinguished environmental scientists. The careful tone of their language should not distract you from the imperative urgency of their message. Each of the issues discussed will (without doubt) have disastrous impacts on us all unless we act now. Paradoxically, the economic crisis may contain the seeds for the salvation of civilisation on this planet.
Clean coal technology 'not progressing'
NOT enough progress is being made towards developing "clean coal" technology, the International Energy Agency has warned. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) - burying the pollution from coal-fired power stations underground - is held to be central to the future of Australia's massive coal industry. But not enough is being spent, the costs have risen too quickly, and the public does not like CCS, the IEA found. Though developed countries had endorsed its push to have 20 large-scale CCS demonstrations committed by 2010 current spending and activity levels are nowhere near enough to achieve these deployment goals.
Feds boost geothermal energy development
The Department of Interior on Wednesday announced plans to open 97 million acres of public land in 12 states to geothermal energy development. The plan could more than quadruple the U.S.'s current output of underground-heat power, potentially generating enough electricity to power 5.5 million homes by 2015 and 12 million by 2025. Some national forestland could be leased under the plan, though national parks, including geyser-full Yellowstone, are off-limits. Kempthorne praised geothermal energy as "a renewable resource that generates electricity with minimal carbon emissions ... [and] reduces the need for conventional energy sources." Indeed, you'll note that geothermal energy needs no qualifier, unlike "clean coal" and "safe, clean nuclear power."
The Mother of all Positive Feedback Loops? - John Cairns, Jr.
"Saving civilization is not a spectator sport." - Lester Brown
Well it had to happen! Humankind knew that “business as usual” would reach a tipping point after which climate change would be beyond human control. “New U.S. government data estimates that worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide have gone up 38% since 1992 . . . The Kyoto Protocol, which industrialized nations other than the United States have agreed to adhere to, aims to reduce emissions in those countries 5% below 1990 levels by 2012” (Shapely 2008). No robust evidence indicates that this goal will be reached. As a consequence, Earth’s assimilative capacity for greenhouse gases will continue to be exceeded, and humankind will move the climate closer to major, irreversible tipping points.
Revenge of the Electric Car
After years of false starts and failures, the electric car may finally be poised to go big-time. With automakers from GM to Chrysler to Nissan preparing to roll out new plug-in hybrids or all-electric models, it looks like the transition from gasoline to electricity is now irreversible.
Fertilizers: A Growing Threat To Sea Life - ScienceDaily
Changes to the nitrogen cycle, caused in large part by the widespread use of fertilizers, are damaging aquatic life. The combination of the increasing use of fertilizers, deforestation and the draining of wetlands to provide more land for crops, has led to an imbalance in the nitrogen cycle, in particular reduced opportunities for the natural removal of nitrogen that has affected the water quality and the fish populations.
New Energy Economy Emerging in the United States - Lester R. Brown
As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about climate change cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new energy economy is emerging in the United States. The old energy economy, fuelled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced by one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined even a year ago.
Texas was the leading oil-producing state, and is now also the leading generator of electricity from wind, having overtaken California two years ago. Texas now has nearly 6,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity online and a staggering 39,000 megawatts in the construction and planning stages. When all this is completed, Texas will have 45,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity (think 45 coal-fired power plants). This will more than satisfy the residential needs of the state’s 24 million people, enabling Texas to feed electricity to nearby states such as Louisiana and Mississippi.
Green Policies in California Generated Jobs
California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000. These policies lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry by an estimated $1.6 billion over that period, it improved compensation in the state over all by $44.6 billion. Built into that figure were increases of $1.2 billion in the light industrial sector, $11.2 billion in wholesale and retail trade, $7.3 billion in the financial and insurance sectors and $17.8 billion in the service sector.
1 billion migrants by 2050, as effects of climate change kick in - World Prout Assembly
The world is witnessing its biggest movement of people forced from their homes as a result of environmental disasters linked to climate change. Christian Aid says the number of forced migrants will touch 1 billion by the middle of the century. Compelled to leave their homes by the devastating effects of global warming on their environments, these people, most of them from the world’s poorest countries, will swell the ranks of the 155 million people already displaced by conflict, disaster and large-scale ‘development’ projects.
Britain ramps up action on carbon - the Australian
THE British Government has defied calls for slowing down climate change action in response to the global financial crisis, instead announcing it will ratchet up its goals for reducing carbon emissions. Ed Miliband, the newly appointed Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, told parliament that rather than "rowing back" on tough decisions Britain would increase its 2050 target from 60% of 1990 levels to at least 80%.
How our economy is killing the Earth - New Scientist
THE graphs climbing across these pages are a stark reminder of the crisis facing our planet. Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.
But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.
TVs and old trees pose threat to climate
Airborne levels of methane and nitrogen trifluoride from ancient plants and flat-panel screen technology are on the rise. The increase is not accounted for in predictions for global warming and comes as a nasty surprise to climate watchers. Methane comes from landfills, natural gas, coal mining, animal waste and decaying plants. Thousands of years ago, billions of tonnes of methane were created by decaying Arctic plants. It lies frozen in permafrost wetlands trapped in the ocean floor. As the Arctic melts this methane will be freed. After almost eight years of stability, atmospheric methane levels, measured every 40 minutes by monitors near remote coastal cliffs, suddenly started rising in 2006. The amount of methane in the air jumped by more than 25.4 million tonnes from June 2006 to October 2007. There are now more than 5.1 billion tonnes of methane in the air. "If it's sustained, it's bad news".
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