Monday, December 06, 2010

Art and the impacts of global change

This is a creative example of merging art and science.

As if it is not challenging enough to crochet a coral reef, the Institute for Figuring has developed a crochet version of a bleached coral reef (right).

The miniature reef is  complete with what appear to be a variety of species of bleached and dead corals. I believe that's a recently deceased  Acropora in the centre.

Their art installations also include a "toxic reef" made of a mixture of plastic and yarn. The jellyfish is impressive.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

2022 World Cup awarded to Qatar: Energy and carbon, phff?

Apparently, the carbon footprint is not one of the FIFA's criteria for selecting a World Cup host.

The desert nation of Qatar, where temperatures in the 50s Celsius are not unusual during the day, will be building and upgrading twelve, large air-conditioned soccer stadiums for the 2022 Cup.

I can't wait 'til the 2026 World Cup at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks and the CRU e-mail hack

The latest Wikileaks release presents an important ethical challenge to the climate change blogs and the community as a whole.

Is it ethical to read and blog about the leaked cables, when at the same time condemning the CRU e-mail hack or "Climategate"? In both cases, the subject matter are messages that were i) stolen, ii) intended to be private, and iii) written by government employees. Not to mention that in both cases many of the message can easily be taken out of content.

Is this a false equivalence, or a potential case of hypocrisy?


Monday, November 22, 2010

If a hurricane dies at sea, does anybody count it?

This post from the Capital Weather Gang is a reminder that the lack of Atlantic hurricanes which made landfall this year does not mean it was a tepid hurricane season. The year's tracks are shown at right.

The number of named Atlantic storms (19) and number of hurricanes (12) was twice the long-term average and higher than almost all of the predictions. The difference this year is that no powerful storms struck the U.S. thanks to the response of the upper-level air flow to the El Nino / La Nina oscillation in the Pacific, a subject discussed here before.

The Atlantic hurricane discussion tends to focus almost entirely on the U.S. It is important to remember that not every country was spared. Haiti (above) is still recovering from Hurricane Tomas, in particular the outbreak of cholera caused or exacerbated by the heavy rainfall and flooding just a few weeks ago.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Summary of Caribbean Bleaching in PLoS-One by Eakin et al.

The new paper by Eakin et al. in PLoS-One (open access) summarizes the extent of the 2005 coral bleaching event in the Caribbean, an event discussed at length on Maribo. The paper includes data from dozens of coral reef sites across the Caribbean that were affected by the prolonged period of water water in the late summer and fall of 2005, the same unusual warmth which helped promote the strong Atlantic hurricane season. 

The figures at right give an idea of the scale of the event, and the scale of the data collected by Eakin et al. The top panel shows the heat stress ("degree heating weeks") experienced by reefs across the Caribbean; the lower panel summarize the percent of corals in each region that bleached (data is collected in some cases by counting number of bleaching colonies, in others by estimating the percent of total coral cover that bleached). The figure shows that bleaching tended to be the most extensive in the areas that experienced the greatest heat stress, particularly the core of the "hot spot" in the Lesser Antilles.

We've seen a near repeat of this event in the past few months; the effect of the follow-up event on living coral cover won't be known for some time. From a climate standpoint. The fact that it has happened again five years later is, in itself, remarkable. Eakin et al. report that the sea surface temperatures in the fall of 2005 were the warmest since records began in the mid-1800s. The new record appears to have only lasted five years.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The forecast for climate blogs

The previous post drawing analogies between the state of climate blogging and cable news drew a wide variety of responses, some here, some over at the Energy Collective, and some in private e-mails (if such a thing exists). There's no right answer to the question of how to respond to skepticism about well-founded scientific findings. I'm arguing that we may all benefit from taking a deep breath before raising our voices, from thinking about the big picture and not overreacting to every event.

Jon Stewart, whose call for civility inspired my post, compared himself to a climate scientist in an interview last week (thanks Keith):

This is—I‘m not saying—look, I love the voices that I hear on MSNBC. And there‘s a difference between—here‘s what‘s unfair about what I do. This is really what‘s a great—here‘s a great thing that I think is unfair.

You‘re one person with one great voice and sincere—but I‘m a climate scientist. I study weather patterns and climate. You‘re talking about the weather. Maybe these networks are not meant to be viewed in aggregate, but there is an aggregate. There is an effect.

A perfect analogy. Are the climate blogs dealing with the "weather"? Or with the climate?

[UPDATE: to hear other views, Keith Kloor is also asking readers this question]


Monday, November 08, 2010

Climate blogs, cable news and some inconvenient truths

There is a storm brewing in the climate change world. Climate policy efforts are in disarray. There’s a chance that the Congress, energized by new leadership that questions the scientific evidence for climate change, will hold hearings to investigate scientific practices. Climate scientists are preparing to defend their field.

Will the climate blogs help mediate this coming debate? Or amplify it?

I began thinking about this after seeing highlights from the Rally to Restore Sanity. If there is one forum that needs some sanity restoration, it is the climate blogs (science and political ones). Blogs highlight the extremes of the other side. Bloggers call each other names. Bloggers get grandiose and self-righteous.

Yes, absolutely, you can blame the medium. It is impersonal. It is easy to be extreme when the opponent is a collection of pixels and text rather than a living, breathing person. Plus, blogging only works if you have readers. And more controversy equals more page views.

But add it all up, and what do you get?

Cable news. Steve McIntrye as Bill O'Reilly? Joe Romm as Keith Olbermann? Anthony Watts as Glenn Beck? (plus a lot of folks hoping to be Jon Stewart?)

Just as political pundits focus on political maneuvering rather than actual policy debates, many bloggers focus on bashing each other rather than discussing the issues. We do so because it appears that shouting is the best way to get heard. So just as cable news channels have trended towards the extremes and trumped-up scandals to capture the dwindling audience and dwindling advertising dollars, many bloggers end up focusing on the controversies rather than the consensus in part just to stay afloat in a crowded online sea.

If you write nice, reasoned posts, you are less likely to get a gang of dedicated readers. If you insult the skeptics or question the scientists, the readers will come. Michael Tobis has been caught up recently; he wrote a very reasoned critique of misguided uncertainty discussion by another blogger – but it was the vitriol at the end that drew all the attention. The personalities become the subject. The medium becomes the... ok, a Canadian can never get far into a media conversation without quoting Marshall McLuhan. No particular person is to blame for the dynamic and no one is entirely immune. I’ve fallen in myself on a number of occasions.

The question we have to ask is this:

What do we hope to accomplish by blogging? Do we want to play “inside baseball”, or do we want more people to pay attention to the game? I may be wrong, but I’d guess that most of the science bloggers began their blog with an aim to educate people about climate change and to foster discussion on science and policy. Sure, there's some subconscious pleas for attention and what not at work, but I'll trust that bloggers of every stripe honestly believed their blog would improve the public discussion.

Is it working? I'd argue that the escalation of tone is not expanding the conservation conversation [thanks John!] on climate change. Everyone in the room is just shouting louder at each other. There’s no better way to alienate the broader public.

Behind the name calling and vitriol lies some neglected, one might even say inconvenient, truths.

You can think climate “skeptics” (or “alarmists”) are wrong, without thinking they are evil and/or in it for the money.

You can deconstruct an argument, without abusing the source.

You can trust the scientific consensus, but not be an alarmist.

You can agree with many of Joe Romm’s arguments, but disagree with his abrasive style.

You can disagree with Roger Pielke Jr. or Judith Curry most of the time, but agree with them sometimes.

You can know that the East Anglia e-mails have zero impact on the science of climate change and did not warrant one percent of the media coverage, but still be irritated with some of the scientists involved for the tone they used in a few of the messages.

You can agree with public statements by climate scientists about climate action, but think they are the wrong people to make such statements.

You can agree with the findings of a new study, but disagree that the findings are worthy of publicity.

You can trust the scientific consensus on climate change, but not believe that action is necessary. That may not be my personal judgment on the matter but I accept that the decision on climate action is about more than science.

And, yes, you can disagree with this post (and claim I've set up a straw blogger), but still give it some thought.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Investing in technology vs. pricing carbon

This quote from a story about a recent report on the challenge of integrating "green" cars into the marketplace contains an important policy lesson:

“While considerable interest exists among governments, media and environmentalists in promoting HEVs and BEVs, consumers will ultimately decide whether these vehicles are commercially successful or not,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power. “Based on our research of consumer attitudes toward these technologies - and barring significant changes to public policy, including tax incentives and higher fuel economy standards - we don’t anticipate a mass migration to green vehicles in the coming decade.”

In the wake of the failed U.S. Climate Bill, the proponents of increasing government investment in research and development like the Breakthrough Institute have been out in force. One example is the report "Post Partisan Power" released by the Breakthrough Institute and Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute.

Of course, investing in R&D is a fine idea. Unlike others, I'd hesitate to call the proposed R&D policies, particularly those in the Post-Partisan report, a climate policy (try searching the document with the phrases "climate change" or "global warming"). The Breakthrough crowd's central thesis of R&D investment rather than emissions controls has always struck me as a bit of dodge. Spending on R&D is presented as an alternative to carbon pricing, as if the two policies could not or should not or would not act in concert, when in fact, most pricing schemes assume some of the proceed with go to R&D. By presenting R&D investment as an either/or question, the Breakthrough folks make it seems as though proponents of carbon pricing are opponents of R&D. In reality, we find that the R&D may not have the desired effect without some policy instruments to aide the technology transition.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Climate change and the Caribbean coral bleaching, again

There's an upswing of skepticism about climate change of late, thanks in part to the crazy season in the US (and I'm not talking about the baseball playoffs, although they have been pretty surprising too). While the pundits argue, the climate keeps on moving.

When I give talks about climate change and coral reefs, I almost always use the two slides on the right. The first slide is a map of "degree heating weeks" (DHW), a measure of accumulated heat stress experienced by corals, in the Caribbean in mid-October in 2005. Severe bleaching and coral morality is typically observed when the values of DHW exceed 8 deg C-week. Basically, the same long period of warm water temperatures that helps spawn the destructive 2005 Atlantic hurricane season caused unprecedented coral bleaching event in the eastern Caribbean.

In 2007, my colleagues and I published a study examining of the likelihood of the 2005 "hot spot" occurring with and without human influence on the climate system. The study contrasted model simulations of the Caribbean with historical data and then computed the statistics of extreme ocean temperature events. The second slide summarizes some of the key results of from study. In a nutshell, our best analysis concluded the 2005 Caribbean "heat wave" would likely be on the order of a once in a thousand year event, had there been no human-generated greenhouse gas or aerosol emissions since the Industrial Revolution ("natural forcing"). By the 1990s, the human forcings increased the odds to once in 10-50 years. And continued warming under "business as usual" would make such heat waves happen in three out of every four years.

Five years later, a Caribbean "heat wave" has happened again. I've been writing for months that there was a strong likelihood of extensive coral bleaching in the Caribbean this fall according to NOAA's advance forecast of sea surface temperatures (in fact, we had a good inkling of this last summer). Now we're getting reports of bleaching from observers in the Caribbean. Add this to the observations (following predictions, once again!) from Southeast Asia and the Equatorial Pacific, and we have what may be the most, or second most, extensive "global" coral bleaching event in recorded history.

For all those writing about this event, keep in mind the predictions. This is what the scientific community predicted was likely to happen. An event which we calculated would be a once in a millennium occurrence without human impact on the climate, happened again five years later.

There are caveats, for sure. There is uncertainty in the model simulations of interannual variability which can affect the specific calculations of odds (see the 2007 paper for some details). And once-in-a-thousand year events can in reality happen five years apart; we'd need to collect data for thousands and thousands of years to properly calculate the statistics. Obviously, that's not feasible, which is the very reason we have computers help us do the math on these problems.

The real climate doesn't care about the political climate.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Coral Reefs at SciFest 2010 in St. Louis

I'll be giving a talk about coral reefs and climate change on Saturday as a part of the annual SciFest in St. Louis. If you're in the neighbourhood, drop by and learn "about how climate change threatens coral reefs across the planet, and what we can all do to help them survive."


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Collaborating with industry on publications and climate solutions

The article Geoengineering: The Inescapable Truth of Getting to 350 from online hybrid magazine / academic publication The Solutions Journal appeared in my inbox today.

We can argue back and forth about the societal and ecological implications of geoengineering. That's not the point of this post. What struck me as unique in this particular article is the focus on "bioenergy" solutions, namely 'The Case for Algae', out of all the many possible geoengineering proposals. It turns out the article is written by two academics along with the chief technology and science officer of Cellana. From the Cellana website:

Cellana was established in 2007 as a joint venture between Shell and HR BioPetroleum to develop technology for the sustainable and commercial production of biofuels and animal feed from algae

Let's be clear. Developing and implementing solutions to climate change will require working with industry. We live in a capitalist system; it is willful blindness to ignore the efforts of profit-seeking outfits. So there's not necessarily anything unethical about working with industry - there certainly are cases where it will be unethical, but it is not absolute guaranteed ethical violation. Having worked on the ecological impacts of biofuels, I've certainly encountered academic scientists who consult with algae companies, because the scientists concluded algae is a far better feedstock than corn.

Does the same apply to publishing peer-reviewed articles? Is this a good example of academics working with companies to find solutions, or of a journal bridging the gap between the ivory tower and the real world? Or is this article example of "the literature" being sullied by industry influence?


Friday, October 01, 2010

Senate candidate in Wisconsin questioning climate change

Of all the elected and hoping-to-be-elected politicians openly questioning the evidence for climate change, I have personally found it most depressing to learn about the Republican Senate candidate in Wisconsin.

The state's flagship university in the capitol of Madison has a terrific Department of Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences, a place I was fortunate enough to do my PhD. There are many experts about the climate system walking to halls and the many stairs of the AOS Building.

There are reasonable arguments to make against federal climate policy.  I may disagree with those arguments. That is a personal judgment - I'd like to think an informed from years of thinking and working on the issue - but a personal judgment nonetheless. It is another to use flip analogies to argue against overwhelming scientific evidence. Especially when there are qualified people just around the corner that can help. That's 1225 West Dayton St.; at 15 stories with a big orb on the roof, quite easy to spot. I'd guess about a nice 20 minute stroll from the Capitol Square, not counting a stop at the Buraka food cart on Library Mall.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama and Chu on piecemeal climate policy

This is from US President Obama's interview in Rolling Stone:

When I ask him [Stephen Chu] how we are going to solve this problem internationally, what he'll tell you is that we can get about a third of this done through efficiencies and existing technologies, we can get an additional chunk through some sort of pricing in carbon, but ultimately we're going to need some technological breakthroughs

It is an interesting and rather pragmatic characterization of the solution. The pricing could, of course, drive efficiencies, use of efficient technologies and the development of new breakthrough technologies. But we're seeing how a comprehensive pricing scheme is a practical and political nightmare. Implementing a national or international pricing scheme that touches on a limited set of carbon-generating activities, let one alone taxes carbon across the board, has been hard enough (in the case of Waxman-Markey, you end up with a complicated bill that alienates even the supporters of action). 

Maybe people are finally coming to the realization that a piecemeal solution might actually work the best.   If we can use adopt "wedges" thinking, rather than one grand solution, to reducing emissions, why not do the same for the policy that encourages the emissions reductions?

In Obama's words:

We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we're going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it's good for our national security, and, ultimately, it's good for our environment.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Glacier melt and water supply in North America

We often here about glacier melt in Asia threatening the water supply for the downstream population. Faux controversies about a single line in the IPCC reports aside, the potential decline in South Asian water flows is certainly a critical concern given the hundreds of millions of people dependent on those rivers.

It is easy to forget that many North American communities, particularly in the Canadian prairies, also depend on water that originates in mountain glaciers. Case in point, the stunning figure at right.
The shows the model-calculated river discharge of the North Saskatchewan River (at Whirlpool Point), which flows across Alberta and Saskatchewan, with (light blue) and without (dark) blue the contribution from glaciers in the Rockies. The figure was reproduced by Natural Resources Canada from an article by Comeau et al. in Hydrological Processes.

The key change, obvious from the figure, is that without the glacial water source, there will be a huge decrease in summer water flows. The result is a more typical snowmelt-dominated hydrograph (chart of seasonal river discharge), similar to something you'd see in another part of the continent.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Response to Monkton's blustering about coral reefs

A group of scientists submitted a response to Christopher Monckton's testimony before the U.S. Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. The report, available here, responds to nine of Monckton's most egregious claims about climate change. This includes the oft-quoted and incorrect assertion that "Corals came into being during eras of high CO2, therefore high CO2 is not damaging."

This claim appears every now and then. It is a good example of the problems with all of Monckton's arguments about climate change: i) it is based on an analogy, rather than an actual physical mechanism, ii) it ignores time scales, and iii) some of the "data" used to advance his argument is simply made up.

I've included the full responses from the three experts on the coral question (Jeffrey Kiehl, Charlie Veron and Nancy Knowlton) below. Their incredulity says enough.

Response from Dr. Jeffrey Kiehl

It is ironic that Monckton will accept that the geologic record clearly indicates that high CO2 leads to warm climates (thus CO2 is a driver for climate), but then uses the existence of life at these times to conclude that we need not worry. The point is that past warm periods developed over millions of years of time and lasted for millions of years. Thus, species could adapt to these changes. However, we also know that some species did not adapt. The concern about the future is that the rate of warming that is occurring and will continue to occur over the next century is unprecedented in the deep past. It took over 30 million years for CO2 levels to drop from 900 ppmv to their present levels, we are returning Earth back to this level in a mere 90 years. The accompanying rate of warming will also be unprecedented, certainly over the lifetime of our species. The issue is that our species and others will experience a rapid and large change that will have significant impacts on survivability. So both of Monckton’s arguments are flawed.

Response from Dr. John Veron

It is not possible for me to make any sense of Mr. Monckton’s assertions as they are not based on any scientific data or views that have ever been published. The levels quoted are higher than any spikes known to have existed. The time intervals quoted bear no relevance to the history of life.


Cambrian Era: Calcium carbonate (limestone) of the Cambrian, which abounds, has nothing to do with atmospheric carbon dioxide. Estimates of carbon dioxide levels at this time are not known with great certainty. There were no corals in the Cambrian, symbiotic or otherwise: they had not evolved then.

The Jurassic: There were high levels of carbon dioxide possibly reaching 2000 ppm for unknown time intervals with unknown effects on marine life. The spike immediately before the Jurassic caused the third great mass extinction. This extinction, which defines the Triassic/Jurassic boundary, was so drastic that it has been known
since the early 18th century.

Response from Dr. Nancy Knowlton

This paragraph completely ignores the fact that the seawater chemistry and the buffering capacity of seawater were very different during the times described from what they are today… The problem with CO2 emissions today is that the effects of burning fossil fuels on ocean pH first operate on the scales of decades to centuries, thus causing the acidification that has been observed. Eventually the pH of the ocean will be buffered again, but for hundreds of years ocean organisms will be affected by abnormally high acidity (low pH), and it is the damages associated with acidification over the “short” term (the next hundreds of years) that concern biologists. (see also Assertion 4)

Response from Dr. Lee Kump

One must carefully distinguish between conditions that were acquired and sustained over millions of years such as these, and abrupt events such as fossil-fuel burning that disturb these longer-term equilibria. Over long time scales the carbon cycle is balanced, and the oceans (and the life in them) can form limestone at essentially any atmospheric CO2 level. On these long time scales, rivers bring the building blocks for the calcium carbonate skeleton to the ocean; when CO2 levels are high, these compounds must accumulate to higher concentrations to overcome the increased acidity generated by the CO2, but this adjustment takes only millennia.


Monday, September 20, 2010

The second "global" coral bleaching event

The NY Times has an article on the observations of coral bleaching across the planet over the past 12 months, an subject I've raised here in the past few months.

The NY Times article calls the concurrence of events "only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs". Though the characterization is awkward and not terribly accurate, as the bleaching is not really "global", it does point to the right comparison. The spatial extent of coral bleaching in 2010 is likely to be second to that observed in 1998, which people have taken to calling the first "global bleaching event". It is no coincidence that these "global" events occurred during two of the warmest, if not the two warmest, years in observed history.

It is also no coincidence that both 1998 and 2010 began with strong El Nino conditions, which later flipped to La Nina conditions. In a simplistic sense, that "maximizes" the area of ocean which experiences anomalous warmth that tends trigger mass coral bleaching events. This year, the El Nino event causes anomalous warmth in the eastern and central Equatorial Pacific. The migration of the West Pacific Warm Pool back westwards, as El Nino subsided, helped cause the high temperatures and bleaching in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. Atmospheric teleconnections may be responsible for some of the anomalous warmth in the Caribbean, as has been suggested in past studies. And as the article indicates, the recent switch to La Nina conditions is increasing concern about bleaching in the southwest Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, over the southern hemisphere summer.

One area of uncertainty in the science community is to what extent can coral reefs which have experienced bleaching in the recent past, whether 1998 or more recently, can become more resilient to future temperature stress. The year 2010 may serve as a great biophysical experiment.

[UPDATE: The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment is inviting divers in the Caribbean to join them in "monitoring simple, ecosystem-
level pigmentation changes in live corals and any associated changes
in live coral cover using the newly updated BLAGGRA Line Transects
protocol ( Sites can be very quickly and
repeatedly surveyed by small teams of 1-2 experienced divers. A
representative assessment can be made of reefs in the area affected by
bleaching, and/or sampling can be focused on special-interest sites
(such as within and outside of MPAs)"]


Friday, September 17, 2010

Another example of the Canadian government "muzzling" scientists

From the Montreal Gazette:

The Harper government has tightened the muzzle on federal scientists, going so far as to control when and what they can say about floods at the end of the last ice age.

Natural Resources Canada scientists were told this spring they need "pre-approval" from Minister Christian Paradis's office to speak with national and international journalists. Their "media lines" also need ministerial approval, say documents obtained through access-to-information legislation.

The documents say the "new" rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply not only to contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago.

I'm always surprised by Canadian or American government efforts to limit or control public statements by scientists. Forget the logic of the communication policy itself. It goes without saying that controlling public appearances by scientists is bad policy in a democratic society. But it is even worse politics. Tales of muzzling always make it into the media. It's futile to attempt to hide such a policy in a world of Twitter, WikiLeaks and Youtube. And the eventual tale of "muzzling scientists" always makes the government look bad in the end. So why bother? Political masochism if you ask me.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Really, what does the Republicans "climate zombies" accomplish?

A colleague mentioned this list (also see Joe Romm) of statements about climate change by Republican candidates for Senate. With one exception, they all doubt that human activity is responsible for climate change.

Sure I agree with all the commentators that the stance of all these candidates is depressing. The similarity of their statements suggests that it has less to do with what the individual's actually think about climate change, than the fact that climate change has become so politicized in the U.S. that Republicans need to express doubt in order to win their party's nomination. From their vantage point, denial and doubt is the only viable option.

As such, what's far more depressing to me than the statements themselves is what those statements imply about the utter failure to communicate the science of climate change and the rationale for climate change solutions in a non-partisan way. Maybe this should serve as a lesson that years of doing things like calling people who question climate change "brain-dead zombies" hasn't accomplished anything but maybe "fire up the base" (which in itself, didn't accomplish much in the past two years!)

You can be right without being arrogant. I've said it before: rather than demonize people who question climate change, it's worth thinking about their motivation and their reasoning, faulty as though it may be. Otherwise, the water will be flooding the front steps here in Vancouver, and we'll still be having the same inane arguments.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Drinking to save the climate

This paper in Food and Nutrition research is nicely timed with the beginning of the academic year, when new students are being warned about the dangers of too much partying and excessive alcohol consumption (by their professors and administrators, people who most likely partied too much and consumed excess amounts of alcohol when they were students).

A group of Swedish scientists calculated the GHG emissions generated from the production of a number of different common beverages and the nutritional benefit of those beverages per unit emissions (left).

The verdict? If you want to minimize emissions, pas up on the wine and go for water, soy drinks and oat drinks (mmm?). Beer and milk are almost a dead heat in terms of emissions, though the authors caution against adding beer to your cereal in the morning [update: er, that's a joke. the paper doesn't venture into breakfast habits!].

If you want to maximize the nutritional value for each unit of climate damage (the "NDCI index"), it is milk all the way. The reason is that beer and wine offer basically zero nutritional value. Soft drinks too. Alas, it's true, there's no nutritional value to high fructose corn syrup!

With UBC being a sustainable university, milk and oat drinks will now certainly be a popular choice at all the undergrad parties and faculty functions.

The exact numbers should vary by city, region and country, based on transportation of the beverages ("drink miles"?) and production practices. I'd guess the general breakdown should be roughly similar in most locations, given that the nutrient densities are more or less constant from place to place and lower limits to the production emissions.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A year of extreme weather: Is more bleaching to come in the Caribbean?

This year, which is on pace to to be one the warmest years, if not the warmest year, in the instrumental record, has seen a number of severe heat waves like the intense event in Russia. 

The heat waves have not only been on land. I mentioned a few weeks ago that high ocean temperatures has led to widespread coral bleaching over the past year, including occurrences in the Central Equatorial Pacific and Indonesia.

More may be to come. This is the NOAA Coral Reef Watch bleaching outlook for the fall, based on current temperatures and an experimental long-term forecast. It calls for the possibility of "Alert Level 2" thermal stress, which in general tends to cause mass coral bleaching and some coral mortality (in reality: the response is highly variable in time and space). If the forecast is correct, observations of bleaching would probably start to happen sometime in September.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interview with Simple Climate

A couple weeks backs, I answered a few questions about coral reefs and climate for at Andy Extance's site Simple Climate.

At the end, he asked how I would explain the global warming situation to someone who had no previous exposure at all. Of course, like any scientist, my first instinct is to launch into a discussion about the radiative transfer, the carbon cycle, etc. But explaining the science without considering the context is pointless. Here was my quick answer for Andy:

I’d start with talking about how it can be hard to “believe” that people can change the climate. For thousands of years, we’ve assumed that only powers greater than us could possible influence something as vast as the atmosphere. That’s enshrined in most cultural and religious traditions. But today, there are so many people on the planet, and we’ve consume so much energy every year, that we generate enough waste products – greenhouse gases – to alter the climate.

I’d then stress separating the science from the politics. The science tells us that human activity is changing the climate. How you want the world to respond to that information is a value judgment. As a scientist working on this subject for a number of years, I can provide you a reasonably informed opinion on the costs and benefits of different responses. But the choice is not mine alone.

After all that, if the person was still awake and interested, I’d then talk about the scientific evidence.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Climate change education: A blast from the past

"Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate... If it remained, it would have a very marked warming effect on the earth's climate, but most of it will probably be absorbed by the oceans. Conceivably, however, it could cause significant melting of the great icecaps and raise sea levels in time."

From Planet Earth: The mystery with 100,000 clues, a brochure produced by the U.S. National Academy of Science as part of the first International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958.

The terrific, very 1950s, accompanying film "The Inconstant Air" describes the basics of weather and climate, including the greenhouse effect. What I find most fascinating is the film provides historical context to the viewer - i.e. mentioning that early human societies though that gods controlled the weather - something that is generally missing from education and outreach on climate change today. We are so buried in the politics, we forget and ignore history, and therefore fail to appreciate that the very premise (that humans are affecting the climate) is quite revolutionary.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Yes, this is the Environment Canada forecast for Vancouver

If you need any further proof that forest fire situation in BC is dire (description here), this little symbol to the right just made an appearance in the official Environment Canada forecast for Vancouver.

The text version includes the phrase "Local smoke", which usually has other connotations out here on the West Coast.

It is very hazy outside, but the situation is far worse across the world in Moscow.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Widespread coral bleaching over the past year

Maribo's been quiet the past few months because of field work, other research, the Canadian summer and a major case of blog exhaustion. I may be inspired to write more on the exhaustion issue later, we'll see.

In the meantime: Last year, I mentioned that several parts of the Indo-Pacific were at risk of coral bleaching in the coming year. The same El Nino event that melted the Vancouver Olympics and weakened last year's Atlantic hurricane season, did indeed cause coral bleaching across the Central Equatorial Pacific from October through the spring. We're still putting together the data for Kiribati (home of this whimsical coral).

The Pacific since sloshed back towards more neutral or La Nina conditions, the unusual warmth has been pushed to the western Pacific and Asia, leading to bleaching in Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia. Add it all up, and 2010, which the data shows may end up being the warmest or second year in the observed temperature record, may end up also having the most extensive bleaching since 1998.

The management response in Malaysia is impressive. The Department of Marine Parks has banned diving in several popular dive sites in order to give the reefs the best chance to recover (the Telegraph):

"We expect [the corals] to recover or at least improve." Mr Abdul Jamal said The Department of Marine Parks claimed the damaged coral was solely the result of rising sea temperatures and not tourism activities. 

However, Mr Abdul Jamal explained that by banning diving, the coral will be given time to regenerate naturally. The closures are likely to affect tourism revenue over the summer, but authorities argue the priority is to safeguard one of the country's main attractions – its coral reefs.

Will this ensure the coral reefs recover to the previous state? No, but it increases the odds. Short of covering the entire reef with a sheet, you can't really stop a bleaching event. But you can manage the system to encourage recovery. This is the type of management - of climate change adaptation - that many of us in the community have argued is necessary to help coral reefs survive the predicted warming over the coming decades.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"I think the sun has come closer to our island"

(why it is warmer and the copra dries faster than in the old days, according to a 97-year old Kiribati unimwane or elder)

The quote came to me second hand, via Kiribati religious leader I met while conducted a field project in the Central and Northern Gilbert Islands. It comes with the usual caveats about translation and the accuracy of anecdotal climate observations.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Record warmth continues in March

The unprecedented warmth across Canada stands out in the NOAA global temperature map for March. But Canada was not alone. According to NOAA's data, this was the warmest March and the fourth warmest January - March in recorded history.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Climate change and human rights

I had a nice long interview about different aspects of climate change with human rights expert Darren Thorne as part of a new podcast series Human Rights and Wrongs, hosted by the Mark. As always, feedback and comments are welcome.

[Update] On the podcast, we discuss the pitfalls of Canada relying on the US to determine climate policy. One of the problems is that it may be a long wait. From the Globe and Mail:

Environment Minister Jim Prentice is signalling further delays in imposing greenhouse gas emission standards on the oil sector and other industries, saying Ottawa does not want to lose jobs and investment by driving activity out of the country.

The Conservative government is waiting for the United States to decide how it will impose climate-change regulations before acting here. And the U.S. Congress could take up to two years to pass legislation that sets caps on greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Prentice told a Senate committee Thursday.

Add the delay to the fact that the whatever US legislation is produced will be tailored to the US economy (i.e. provide loopholes for industries that are more prominent in the US than in Canada), and there's even more reason to pursue a national strategy.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Mark: Why U.S. environmentalists should support offshore drilling

Last week, President Obama shocked environmentalists by opening millions of acres of the American continental shelf to oil and gas drilling. The announcement reminded me of a backpacking trip I took to Malaysian Borneo several years ago.

Read more at the Mark.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pod science: PRI's The World Science

For all those lamenting the decline of science journalism in print and on television, its worth checking out the growing number of science podcasts.

One great example is Public Radio International's The World: Science hosted by Rhitu Chaterjee. The show has a more global focus than most other programs, including some recent interviews with young inventors in India and this week's discussion of the international politics of geoengineering. The show also features a fun segment on the music that scientists listen to while they work. The music segment features yours truly this week, but don't hold that against the show!


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tongue-tied on global warming

A few days ago, I waded into the old "global warming" vs. "climate change" debate to demonstrate a simple point about public communication.

The issue at hand is not which term is most appropriate. Of course, there is a legitimate argument to be had on that question. Michael Tobis intelligently advocates for climate change, as do most scientists. Others argue that the two terms describe different phenomena and should not be used interchangeably.

These arguments highlight the very disconnect between scientists and the public that I was getting at in the initial post. I'll obnoxiously quote myself:

Rights and wrongs of the different labels aside, the fact is that there is a disconnect here. We use a term that means less to people. And it puts scientists and others communicating the real scientific consensus at a disadvantage.

Too often, we are oblivious to the way the public perceives science. And if we do see the disconnect between scientific and public language (or style), we tend to stubbornly insist that our language (or style) is the only correct option. This only exacerbates the problem. High-minded debates about semantics like the phrase-ology certainly won't diminish the common view that academics and scientists are disconnected from reality.

Should we suspend those debates? Of course not. But let's save our energy for the more critical issues. We also shouldn't allow semantic debate to get in the way of public communication, as the Google search history I showed suggests may be the case. Like many scientists, I not wild about the terms global warming or ocean acidification or ozone hole; but if the price of increasing public understanding of the science is occassionally having to say one term instead of another, well, that's a pretty good deal.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Coal ship runs aground on Great Barrier Reef

Ironic, yes. Why bother with that whole slow process of burning the coal and oil, then having to wait for the emitted CO2 to change the climate and alter the ocean chemistry, thus threatening corals that are the cornerstone of the Great Barrier Reef, when you can just ram a ship right into the reef itself?

From the Onion New York Times:

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- A coal-carrying ship that strayed outside a shipping lane and ran aground in protected waters was leaking oil on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and was in danger of breaking apart, officials said Sunday.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Global warming trumps climate change?

So much of the online climate "debate" is about effective communication, not science. Earlier this week, I met with a public opinion expert who critiqued the way many scientists and environmental groups speak about, er, climate change, no global warming, maybe the climate crisis, global heating, countdown to a meltdown, springtime for CO2, waterworld, the greatest threat facing humanity, well, you know what I mean.

The expert raised example after example of scientists, NGOs, government, etc. shooting themselves in the foot while talking about, um, the impact of human activity on the climate system. Take the oldest argument of them all: global warming or climate change?

At right is the Google trends graph of average worldwide searches for global warming (in blue) and climate change (in red). The top graph is standard Google searches, the bottom graph is news references.

The graph shows that "global warming" is far more common a search term. The average person is more likely to use and recognize the label "global warming", as evidenced by the search volume. But  "climate change" appears more often in the news. Why? In no small part because all the writers, and especially all the people quoted in the articles, say "climate change".

Now, we can argue the semantics of the different terms. Generally, scientists reject the term "global warming", because it is not used in the literature and supposedly "less accurate" because the entire planet is not warming at the same rate. I've used that argument many times, and now wonder if it may be a mistake to do so (as has been pointed out to me, "global" simply implies the whole planet is warming, which is true!).

Rights and wrongs of the different labels aside, the fact is that there is a disconnect here. We use a term that means less to people. And it puts scientists and others communicating the real scientific consensus at a disadvantage. Do a Google search for "global warming" and "climate change". With "global warming", the term the public is more likely to use, a "skeptical" site comes up second [note: search is done from Canada, others may find different results].


Monday, March 29, 2010

An update to the provincial greenhouse gas targets

Here's a more up-to-date version of the provincial greenhouse gas targets. The difference between this version and the previous chart is Saskatchewan, previously noted as a wild-card in the opt-in federal policy proposal.

The government of Saskatchewan is working on a greenhouse gas policy that includes an target of a 20% reduction in emissions below 2006 levels by 2020. That translates to a 31% increase over 1990 levels (the Kyoto / UNFCCC baseline), because emissions increased 63% between 1990 and 2006 due primarily to mining and resource development. The target on the previous chart was calculated using older information.

This demonstrates that choice of base year for a federal opt-in program could be contentious, as Saskatchewan is unlikely to participate if the minimum acceptable target in the federal program is calculated using a 1990 baseline.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Climate policy on campus: UBC sets aggressive greenhouse gas targets

This is an example of how a climate policy framework can inspire the motivated.

The University of British Columbia (my institution) just adopted very aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets including a 33% reduction (below 2007 levels) by 2015.

Why? To set an example, for one. The other reason?

Under the province of British Columbia's system, all public institutions have to be carbon-neutral by the end of this year. That's virtually impossible for most institutions so UBC and other public institutions will be paying into a provincial offsets fund.

I do trust that independent of the BC climate policy, UBC is motivated to take action of greenhouse gas emissions. The policy gave the university the necessary nudge. That's the crux of my federal "opt-in" proposal. Nudge the willing.


The opt-in climate policy for Canada: Some details

Since people are asking, here's a little bit of background on my climate policy proposal in the Mark.

I trust that to many an "optional" climate policy smells fishy, like setting voluntary targets that companies or jurisdictions will then volunteer to ignore. There are three critical distinctions.

First, this policy is designed to mobilize willing participants.

The graph at right shows the provincial greenhouse gas targets that I discuss in the article. The majority of Canada has stated a willingness to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Ontario, are seriously pursuing those goals.

Second, the provinces in the program will each have set binding, not voluntary, targets. The participation is voluntary, but once a province opts in, it is bound to the target.

Third, a point echoed nicely by Barry Saxifrage, the provincially revenue-neutral carbon tax means that participating provinces, though bound to the federal system, would otherwise have some freedom (financially) in achieving the target.

The current government is quietly awaiting a decision from the U.S. Negotiations are ongoing in the US Senate. There is no guarantee that any of the Senate bills will a) pass given current disagreements, b) be any more acceptable to the provinces with carbon-intensive industries like Alberta than any previous federal or international proposals, or c) gel with current plans in the more active provinces. And many of the programs in the existing Senate bills would not take effect for several years. Why not set a Canadian policy, one that mobilizes the very real and current enthusiasm for action in much of the country, now? If the US does eventually pass a Bill that is in the best interests of Canada and the climate, we can adapt our program to be compatible with that of the US.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Mark: A new climate change policy for Canada

My proposal for a compromise deal that could break the long stalemate between Alberta and the other provinces on climate change appears in the Mark.

The compromise solution is an “opt-in” federal climate change program. The program would include a range of existing and proposed policy instruments, like a carbon tax that is revenue-neutral at the provincial level, targeted tax incentives or rebates for efficiency measures, and feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. 

The key is that in order to join the program, a province would need to adopt an emissions target that meets or exceeds some minimum federal target. If, for example, the minimum was the U.S. target adopted by the Harper government, nine of the ten provinces would be eligible.

The level of access to the federal dollars in the program would be pro-rated to that province’s emissions target. Failure to achieve the target would lead to reimbursement of the federal program. If Alberta, or another province like Saskatchewan, elected not to participate, there would be no direct cost or punishment. Provinces outside the system could still negotiate targeted federal investments to support emissions reductions, like support for carbon capture and storage research.

Canada has been arguing about climate policy since the mid-1990s, and there is still no federal plan. This compromise could get the willing provinces working together to reduce emissions.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The warmest, driest winter on record in Canada

According to Environment Canada, the winter of 2009/10 was the warmest and the driest since national records were kept in 1948. The country was 4.0 C warmer and 22% drier than "normal", which for those of you scoring at home, is the 1971-2000 1951-1980 mean.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meditations on climate change "skepticism"

The radio program "Are we alone?" from the SETI Institute does a regular series on skepticism in science. This week's show looks at climate change skepticism and features a terrific interview with Steve Schneider, as well as some thoughts from Naomi Oreskes. Former Apollo astronaut Phil Chapman offers his reasons for being a "skeptic", including the rather crazy unscientific claim that the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be natural. Rather than present climate scientist and skeptic as a journalistic he-said, she-said, the show lets the scientific experts on the subject explain where the less informed "skeptic" is wrong. As I've argued many times, it's worth thinking about the motivation behind skepticism and the genesis of skeptical arguments, faulty as they may be, in order to improve outreach and communication.

I'm on later in the program discussing coral bleaching and ocean acidification.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Results from AAAS Symposium

The Guardian has a short summary of some of the presentations in our Sunday symposium at AAAS organized by Joan Kleypas. The headline "World's coral reefs could disintegrate by 2100" comes out of field and modeling work presented by Jacob Silverman about the balance of calcium carbonate production through coral calcification of corals and dissolution through bio-erosion (fish, urchins) and higher CO2 levels. Silverman's work is described in this 2009 paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

The talks on the role different bioeroders, carbonate budgets, and a Bermuda case study, lent support Silverman's results. Aline Tribollet's work on "microborers" that erode reefs and Kim Yates work on carbonate sediments suggested that Silverman's model could be a bit conservative. Andreas Andersson's work showed that Bermuda's high latitude reefs may be one of the canaries in the carbonate coal mine.

The headline may give the mistaken impression that there could be absolutely no coral rock left on the planet in 2100. Under the high CO2 conditions, the results suggest reefs would be dissolving faster than they build, leading to reductions in habitat complexity ("flattening" of reefs) over time. Add in the warming-induced bleaching reducing the living coral cover, and by 750 ppm CO2, reached in 2100 in a business-as-usual scenario, the area of living, calcifying reef will be negligible. If theses projections are correct, there will still be dead reef - i.e. rock - but it will be on net weakening and dissolving.

In the Guardian article, I'm quoted as saying "Even if we froze emissions today, the planet still has some warming left in it. That's enough to make bleaching dangerously frequent in reefs worldwide". That line comes from the results of this study published in PLoS-One last year - it's open access, so anyone can download a copy. The important caveat is that acclimation and adaptation by corals could postpone the forecast. For more on those dynamics, I recommend reading this post or the article itself.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Highlights of AAAS: Communicating science

The best line at the AAAS meeting came from Steve Schneider in a talk on science communication:

“Science is not a democracy. Quality trumps equality.”

It is a fantastic accurate description of the difference between the practice of science and the “balanced” approach to media coverage, from one of the best at coming up with analogies to explain climate science.

The fact that it took me three days to decide to post that line because of fears it would be misconstrued or abused – "Breaking News: Top climate scientist is a socialist" or "Fascism at top science conference" – says as much (about the current media environment) as the quote itself.

More highlights to come.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Symposium on Sunday at AAAS

The symposium Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Separating Fact from Conjecture takes place on Sunday at 1:30 pm at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This session examines the chemical, biological, and physical factors that control reef growth, and how climate change and ocean acidification are likely to affect these processes. I'll be delivering a talk on climate change and coral bleaching events, touching on the impacts on coral cover, potential for adaptation, and whether coral communities learn from past experience.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Olympics: Vancouver is not always this mild

For all the East Coast-ers thinking that January and February in always spring-like in Vancouver:

This is a highly unusual winter, warmer than most would expect from a moderate El Nino event. So far this year, every single day in Vancouver has been warmer than "normal", using the Environment Canada definition of normal. Every day in January exceeded the 1971-2000 January mean temperature is 3.3 deg C. So far, every day in February has exceeded the 1971-2000 February mean temperature of 4.8 deg C. When the Canadian athletes paraded into the snowy white BC Place last night, it was 9 degrees and raining.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Vancouver Winter Olympics: A climatic photo essay

Welcome to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Spring Olympics. These photos were all taken by yours truly this week. Enjoy the cherry blossoms and crocuses, courtesy of our changing friend El Nino.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Groundhog Day: six more weeks of climate change debates?

Thank you for sticking with Maribo during the unannounced hiatus over the past seven weeks or so.

This blog started a few years back as an effort to reach people who were not otherwise actively reading or thinking about climate change. I'd imagined the audience as people like the old friends and family that don't follow the climate news but do pepper me with questions about the state of the science or the politics whenever I'm visiting. Over time, Maribo, like most other climate-focused blogs became enveloped in the online game of whack-a-mole between the 20% of the internet-savvy population that is actively concerned about climate change and angry about the lack of action, and another 20% who see climate change as conspiracy cooked up by Al Gore. The battles may be necessary to stamp out the egregious mistakes and misrepresentations that permeate the internet and the daily news (*). The battles are also tiresome.

I'd like to get back to thinking about the other 60% of the population. I've been working on new ideas and venues for outreach which may involve a re-imagining of Maribo and/or a venture into other media. Keep checking Maribo for updates and feel free to send along ideas and suggestions.



* The mistakes and misrepresentations, I should add, can come from the "skeptics" and the irrational "alarmists" among the climate change activists; human-created emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the planet, despite what the "skeptics" might say, but it is not going to drive us to extinction, as I hear far too often.