Tag Archives: Climate Change

Tuvalu vs. ExxonMobil?

There’s an interesting piece on Mother Jones today, supported by ClimateDesk.org, about lawsuits against companies known to emit large quantities of greenhouse gases for damages caused by climate change. There seems to be a lot of thought in some circles that there will soon be a legal precedent to sue polluters not just for immediate acute effects like poisoning, but also for long-term effects like rising sea levels and increasingly violent weather.

The Prunéřov power station is the Czech Republic’s biggest polluter: Its 300-feet-high cooling towers push plumes of white smoke high above the flat, featureless fields of northern Bohemia. Prunéřov reliably wins a place on lists of Europe’s dirtiest power plants, emitting 11.1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. So when CEZ Group, the state-controlled utility, proposed an overhaul to extend the facility’s life for another quarter of a century, protests flared—including one from a place about as far from the sooty industrial region as you can get, a place of tropical temperatures and turquoise seas with not a smokestack in sight. This January, the Federated States of Micronesia, some 8,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, lodged a legal challenge to the Prunéřov plant on the grounds that its chronic pollution threatens the island nation’s existence.

Is that, well—legal, you might ask? In international law, there’s an established principle called transboundary harm, which means that if a Canadian factory belches toxic chemicals into a river, fouling a reservoir in Vermont, sooner or later the people at the Canadian factory will be hearing from some American lawyers. For the first time, Micronesia applied this tenet to climate change—arguing that its survival is jeopardized by any large power plant that doesn’t curb its carbon footprint. “They’re using a very creative approach to the international legal process,” says Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

Tuvalu vs. ExxonMobil? [Mother Jones]

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Economic Growth Cannot Buy the Planet More Time

Writing for the BBC, Andrew Simms argues very well that the notion of unlimited economic growth on a finite planet simply doesn’t work and a new model is drastically needed – before it’s too late.

Are alternative measures of success available? Yes, many. But politicians and the business press remain uncritically spellbound by the equation “all GDP growth is good”.

Here is an irony: the hard science of climate change is subjected continually to the most extraordinary degree of critical scrutiny in the media.

Given their actual number, informed sceptics are given disproportionate airtime and column inches.

But where the “dismal science” of economics is concerned, the daily reporting of its central tenet – growth is good – passes unchallenged.

The much vaunted journalistic balance is abandoned. Why? Perhaps it is because this type of economics is not science at all, but doctrine. To question doctrine makes you a heretic, and heretics get excommunicated.

Economic Growth Cannot Buy the Planet More Time [BBCNews]

Dr. James Hansen on Climate Change

Dr. James Hansen is the leading scientific expert on climate change. He discusses the causes, the magnitude of the problem (it’s worse than you think) and the path to the solution in this video. It’s really worth your time to watch this, especially if you’re not so familiar with the topic. Dr. Hansen’s new book is titled Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.

[via Dangerous Minds]

Better World

[Joel Pett]

SuperFreakonomics

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Elisabeth Kolbert tears apart SuperFreakonomics in the New Yorker this week. In the sequel to Freakanomics, authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner continue their trend of grossly misinterpreting statistics and misprepresenting the truth. They go so far as to suggest some geoengineering fixes for climate change. From the review:

One scheme that Levitt and Dubner endorse features a fleet of fibreglass boats equipped with machines that would increase the cloud cover over the oceans. Another calls for constructing a vast network of tubes for sucking cold water from the depths of the sea to the surface. Far and away their favorite plan involves mimicking volcanoes.

During a major eruption, huge quantities—up to tens of millions of tons—of sulfur dioxide are shot into the atmosphere. Once aloft, the SO2 reacts to form droplets known as sulfate aerosols, which float around for months. These aerosols act like tiny mirrors, reflecting sunlight back into space. The net result is a cooling effect. In the year following the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, in the Philippines, average global temperatures fell, temporarily, by about one degree Fahrenheit.

“Once you eliminate the moralism and the angst, the task of reversing global warming boils down to a straightforward engineering problem,” Levitt and Dubner write. All we need to do is figure out a way to shoot huge quantities of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere on our own. This could be done, they say, by sending up an eighteen-mile-long hose: “For anyone who loves cheap and simple solutions, things don’t get much better.”

Neither Levitt, an economist, nor Dubner, a journalist, has any training in climate science—or, for that matter, in science of any kind. It’s their contention that they don’t need it. The whole conceit behind “SuperFreakonomics” and, before that, “Freakonomics,” which sold some four million copies, is that a dispassionate, statistically minded thinker can find patterns and answers in the data that those who are emotionally invested in the material will have missed. (The subtitle of “Freakonomics,” published in 2005, is “A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”) In this way, Levitt and Dubner claim to have solved the mystery of why crime, after soaring in the nineteen-eighties, dropped in the nineteen-nineties. (The explanation, they say, is the legalization of abortion, some eighteen years earlier.) They also have proved—at least to their own satisfaction—that names like Ansley and Philippa will be popular for girls in the coming decade, that reading to your kids doesn’t matter, and that drunks should be encouraged to drive rather than walk.

“SuperFreakonomics” and Climate Change [The New Yorker]

Homemade Glaciers

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Chhewang Norphel in India is making his own artificial glaciers. The reason: the natural ones are melting and running away. His community in the Himalayas relies on run-off from the glaciers for water, which means that climate change poses a very real threat to their way of life. He’s come up with a brilliant way to adapt to a horrible situation:

Here, Norphel is using what is abundant – stone – to conserve what is precious – water. The idea is simple: Divert the unneeded autumn and winter runoff into a series of large, rock-lined holding ponds. As the days grow colder, the ponds freeze and interconnect into a growing glacier.

Global Warming: Indians Decide to Make Their Own Glaciers [CSMonitor]

Almost too Late on Climate Change

James Hansen, one of the first scientists to model anthropogenic climate change and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, now feels that the problem is much worse than we thought, and it’s almost too late to fix it.

Hansen has now concluded, partly on the basis of his latest modeling efforts and partly on the basis of observations made by other scientists, that the threat of global warming is far greater than even he had suspected. Carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already there. Unless immediate action is taken-including the shutdown of all the world’s coal plants within the next two decades-the planet will be committed to climate change on a scale society won’t be able to cope with. “This particular problem has become an emergency,” Hansen said.

He’s been attending protests worldwide, which is unusual for someone of his position. Apparently he’s been arrested at a demonstration in West Virginia coal country.

[via Kottke]