Global Warming

May 10, 2009

There seems to be an urge to question facts accepted by most scientists, governments and the general public. This discussion has led some to create very informative websites to oversee the present discussion (Ref 1). See for yourselves what is factual evidence. It is impossible to cite all news on global warming, climate change and on the melting ice caps (Ref 2). Yes, some are in German, talking of global. There are all sorts of curious anecdotes, one claiming that global warming can cause global cooling (Ref 3) Here is a nice resume of the global cooling debate dating back from 1975, when it was still fresh and not totally obsolete (Ref 4).

Starting in the USA, California is a leader in measures restricting carbon dioxide output, exactly because the major US state is convinced by the existence of the greenhouse-effect. Congratulations Mr Schwarzenegger, you got it. The Kyoto agreement has been signed by all nations, with one exception, the USA (Ref 5). The reason being purely economic. The USA is the major CO2 producer worldwide and the Bush administration maintained a negationist attitude in order to postpone an application that was judged potentially costly and damaging for the US economy. Now what damage can we still do, after the self-inflicted crisis ? So the obsolete attitude is being abandoned by the new administration, but public opinion seems to lag behind.

Scientists are unanimous in underlining the danger of the global warming for the animals living in cold regions, among them the polar bear (Ref 6), the melting ice leads to longer periods of starvation, populations are rapidly decreasing. Baby seals starve to death because the icepack is becoming too thin (Ref 7). For those still in doubt, look at the website of the http://www.ipcc.ch/. There is also a US authority that claims exactly the same, namely global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse-gases : http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ and http://www.climatescience.gov/ The BBC offers a cute slide show : //www.bbc.co.uk/climate/ The WHO is on the same line : http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ along with http://www.grida.no/ Finally, lets face it, the only global cooling we can seriously talk about is this : http://www.globalcooling.com/

Instead of clinging and perseverating in denying the overwhelming evidence of a global warming that is menacing ecological systems, food production and survival of fragile populations worldwide, let’s use our creativity to find efficient ways to reduce CO2 emissions and other activities detrimental to our common planet. We only have one and time is running out.

Ref 1 : climatedebatedaily.com/ Ref 2 : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/06/AR2009040601634.html http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2009/04/07/GR2009040700774.html http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/wissenschaft/ohne_eis_keine_eisbaeren_1.683315.html nsidc.org/news/press/2007_seaiceminimum/20071001_pressrelease.html http://www.taz.de/index.php?id=zukunft&art=4226&id=wissen-artikel&cHash=e04a7e3a8f http://www.stern.de/news/klimawandel-in-der-arktis-immer-deutlicher-21126650.html http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/510/314410/text/ current.com/items/89424378_rekordtemperaturen-in-der-arktis.htm http://www.wir-klimaretter.de/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1300&Itemid=256 nsidc.org/news/press/2007_seaiceminimum/20071001_pressrelease.html Ref 3 : http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/news/freeze.html Ref 4 : http://www.denisdutton.com/cooling_world.htm Ref 5 : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Kyoto_Protocol_signatories Ref 6 : arctic-council.org/article/2009/3/climate_change_threatens_polar_bears http://www.stern.de/wissenschaft/natur/:Arktis-Eisb%E4ren/650567.html Ref 7 : http://www.focus.de/panorama/vermischtes/klimawandel-massensterben-von-ringelrobben-babys-aufgrund-der-klimaerwaermung_aid_378907.html http://www.stern.de/wissenschaft/natur/:Klimawandel-Robbenbabys/613661.html

Global Cooling

May 8, 2009

But knowing that it is Global Warming. Belief or facts. Create confusion with apparent facts. Overnight experts claming to know what nobody else on this planet knows, or that is being hidden – the conspiracy feeling. There are bloggers insisting on the existence of global cooling (Ref 1). To prove this, a multitude of isolated facts are produced, going from periodic solar activity, the oceanic temperature to graphs showing seasonal variations of arctic ice. A luster of scientific seriosity impresses many readers not aware of the pitfalls.

The worldwide consensus regarding climatic change is this (Wikipedia)  : In February 2007, the IPCC released a summary of the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report. According to this summary, the Fourth Assessment Report finds that human actions are “very likely” the cause of global warming, meaning a 90% or greater probability. Global warming in this case is indicated by an increase of 0.75 degrees in average global temperatures over the last 100 years.
The phenomenon of arctic shrinkage has been observed since at least 1950 and it is accelerating, with the cold winter of 2007 marking an exception (Ref 2)
At least since the publication of the IPCC in 2007, global warming is a fact accepted by scientists and informed laymen (Ref 3).

I am a layman, but I know that the worldwide ecology is infinetely complex. Climate change, desertification, the polar melting, the migration of flora and fauna due to these factors, all this is being researched seriously and requires profound knowledge. Research has been conducted for decades and the conclusions are concordant. Computer programs extrapolating climatic changes can simply not be reproduced or invalidated by anybody during a commercial break, on his laptop.

The ongoing debate over the very existence of global warming has no scientific base, it is an ideologic one. Let’s recall the Bush administration. They systematically denied any human influence on the climate change, they boycotted the Kyoto agreement, systematically blocking all efforts of the worldwide community to take effective measures against the CO2-induced climatic change. One specifity of the US debate is a tendency to engage and perseverate in undefensable theories like : infallibility of a totally deregulated economy, creationism, worldwide menace through terrorism, feeling of superiority over all international laws and organisations etc.
The Bush administration preached low taxes, a lean state and the inexistence of any climatic problems for the simple reason that they did not want to spend any money for infrastructure, for international organisations, and among these was the Kyoto protocol – money was the motif. Behind a religious, almost ideologic façade, this administration simply and effectively directed all public and private financial resources towards their own lobbies and for specific objectives : finance sector, oil industry, military-industrial complex etc. The general public bought this smokescreen so well, because the average GOP voter was convinced that every tax $ was wasted. A certain avarice led people to vote not for their convictions, but for these reasons. In this way, the GOP administration has ransacked their countries resources and partly those of the worldwide economy and ecology.

After this small recapitulation lets get on with the climate debate. Based on pseudo-scientific facts presenting a fragmented and thus distorted view, the overwhelming positive evidence is simply eclipsed. Psychologically certain people might get a kick from convincing a group of adepts to believe a theory that is diametrically opposed to the conclusions of thousands of scientists. I would call this the conspiracy feeling : a group is formed by a hermetic belief that is contrary to the mainstream.  Negationism is a well-known subterfuge used in many contexts. Apart from the all-time classic (the shoa), it is very popular to displace the discussion, psychologically this is known als freudian repression. Creationsts build a complex system only to contradict the evident existence of natural evolution. The pope makes backwards contortions to avoid admitting that jews can go to heaven without being first converted to christianism, he creates arguments to deny priests a right of marriage, to deny the necessity of using condoms, just to cling to the holy scripture in the face of overwhelming evidence. In the US, politics has castrated scientific research for years only to please certain religious groups fighting against abortion etc. While forbidding stemcell research, use of embryos and red genetic technology, green genetic engineering was supported without any criticism, again using a tactic of denial, namely of it’s potential dangers. Denial is also used by adepts of sects believing in intelligent design, in the return of aliens … the list is endless.

I see this psychological trait of denial or negationism as quite characteristic of certain sections of the US population. It is quite remarkable to see such a degree of irrational thinking in a socienty claiming to be so rational and scientifically savvy. Of course, admitting that greenhouse-gases are the main culprit for global warming might be a confession too painful to make, since the US are the largest producer of CO2 worldwide. It could challenge the way of life of a nation.

Ref 1 : Wikipedia : Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere along with a posited commencement of glaciation. This hypothesis never had significant scientific support, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles, and a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s. Today, General scientific opinion is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but undergone global warming throughout the 20th century.[“Summary for Policymakers” (PDF). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007-02-05. http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Print_SPM.pdf. Retrieved on 2007-02-02.]

Ref 2 Wikipedia : Records of Arctic Sea ice from the United Kingdom’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research go back to the turn of the 20th century, although the quality of the data before 1950 is debatable. Still, these records show a persistent decline in Arctic Sea ice over the last 50 years.[2].
Reliable measurements of sea ice edge begin within the satellite era. From the late 1970s, the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) on Seasat (1978) and Nimbus 7 (1978–87) satellites provided information that was independent of solar illumination or meteorological conditions. The frequency and accuracy of passive microwave measurements improved with the launch of the DMSP F8 Special Sensor Microwave/Imager SSMI in 1987. Both the sea ice area and extent are estimated, with the latter being larger, as it is defined as the area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice.
In a modelling study of the 52-year period from 1948 to 1999 Rothrock and Zhang (2005) find a statistically significant trend in Arctic ice volume of −3% per decade; splitting this into wind-forced and temperature forced components shows it to be essentially all caused by the temperature forcing.
The trends from 1979 to 2002 have been a statistically significant Arctic decrease and an Antarctic increase that is probably not significant, depending exactly on which time period is used. The Arctic trends of −2.5% ± 0.9% per decade; or about 3% per decade[3]. Climate models simulated this trend in 2002[4], and attributed it to anthropogenic forcing.
The September ice extent trend for 1979–2004 is declining by 7.7% per decade[5].
Record Low Arctic Sea Ice in 2007 – Showing the Northwest passage open
In 2007 the ice melt accelerated. The minimum extent fell by more than a million square kilometers, the biggest decline ever. The minimum extent fell to 4.14 million km², by far the lowest ever. New research shows the Arctic Sea ice to be melting faster than predicted by any of the 18 computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in preparing its 2007 assessments.[6]
While the Northern Hemisphere sea ice reached new record lows, on September 12, 2007 the Southern Hemisphere sea ice area reached 15.91 million km², close to the maximum recorded of 16.02 million km².[7]
The Antarctic increase is 0.8% per decade[8] although this depends on the period being considered. Vinnikov et al.[9] find the NH reduction to be statistically significant but the SH trend is not.
Scientific parameter to quantify the extent of sea ice
In the overall mass balance, the volume of sea ice depends on the thickness of the ice as well as the areal extent. While the satellite era has enabled better measurement of trends in areal extent, accurate ice thickness measurements remain a challenge. “Nonetheless, the extreme loss of this summer’s sea ice cover and the slow onset of freeze-up portends lower than normal ice extent throughout autumn and winter, and the ice that grows back is likely to be fairly thin”[2].

Ref 3 : Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation. Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the last century.[1]A[›] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the twentieth century,[1] and that natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect afterward.[2][3] These basic conclusions have been endorsed by more than 40 scientific societies and academies of science,B[›] including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.[4]
Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century.[1] The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing climate sensitivity, and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Most studies focus on the period up to 2100. However, warming is expected to continue beyond 2100 even if emissions stop, because of the large heat capacity of the oceans and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[5][6]
Increasing global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, probably including expansion of subtropical deserts.[7] The continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice is expected, with the Arctic region being particularly affected. Other likely effects include shrinkage of the Amazon rainforest and Boreal forests, increases in the intensity of extreme weather events, species extinctions and changes in agricultural yields.
Political and public debate continues regarding the appropriate response to global warming. The available options are mitigation to reduce further emissions; adaptation to reduce the damage caused by warming; and, more speculatively, geoengineering to reverse global warming. Most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Introduction

After decades of disputes between warning scientists and reluctant governments, there might be a chance to make the world a less disastrous place, this historic moment might help. Can a dynamic US government, a global crisis and conscience of the impending ecological disasters help nations to finally adhere to reasonable scientific propositions ? Or will rhetoric prevail again ?

Melting pole caps, dying oceans, progressing deserts : carbondyoxide is starting to change earth into neighboring Venus. Disputes rage about final proof, about remedies and of their impact on the holy cow – global economy. For us all, the recipe is simple : consume less fossil energy, build houses with better insulations, consume local products. Lets live in modesty for the sake of future generations. Effective and boring.

Are there slightly more exciting ways to save the planet ? Ways for mere mortals to have a certain global impact ? Here is a proposition for those who are looking for something off the beaten track.

How it began, with my sincere apologies to all creationists

Let’s look at our earth shortly after its formation, 4.6 billion years ago. It was extremely hot, due to intense meteorite bombardment and radioactivity, a glowing lava sphere, but gradually a solid crust formed. The first continents appeared at 300 million. In the following 1.4 billion years, they fused into larger plates, the cratons. After 4 billion years, this process was almost complete.

The first gases to be liberated through volcanic activities were water vapor, nitrogen, methane, ammonia and immense quantities of CO2, forming a dense, light-impermeable atmosphere. Overall cooling initiated intense, incessant rains for 40 000 years that led to the formation of oceans. Gaseous CO2 was washed out and formed solid carbonate, it’s water solute being Na2CO3. Thanks to the disappearance of CO2 from the atmosphere, the initial global warming diminished, permitting the formation of live in the oceans. The first cyanobacteria appeared 3.5 billion years ago. They introduced photosynthesis, leading to the production of oxygen and further decrease of the CO2 concentration. This is how the present atmosphere formed.

Forest, more forest, reforest

Until the period of the dinosaurs, earth was covered with dense vegetation and swamps. After the Dino’s disappearance, vegetation changed, allowing the emergence of mammals and finally the human species. 8 million years ago, we left the protecting forests and started walking upright.

The expansion of mankind was inevitably accompanied by deforestation. Unfortunately, populations living in forests have been almost wiped out. We have lost our original relation to the forest ambient.

Forest has become agricultural surface and it is menaced by ever increasing destruction.

Do we need forests for our oxygen ? They do transform CO2 into O2, but the main source of O2 is the oceanic plankton.

What is their function ? Apart from harboring a large part of biodiversity, they help maintain CO2 low, preventing global warming. They also stabilize the world-wide water household, they serve as water-reserves on the continents. The list is by far not complete.

Globalized markets

Traditional communities living in intact amazonian forests were described by Alexander von Humboldt and Claude Levy-Strauss.

Indigenous people had learned over the millennia to live in harmony with their natural habitat, sustainability, yes, they knew that. Before the conquista, complex societies had built towns within forests of central and southern America. In Cambodia, the Khmers built sophisticated urban centers with astute irrigation-systems inside of a dense rain forest, around 1000 AD. Their knowledge regarding this remarkable cultural adaptation is almost lost by now.

Since the renaissance, man has started to exploit nature on a global scale. Fortunately, he was less numerous and did not have efficient technologies, then. In the last 100 years, this has radically changed. While demand is increasing, prices make exploitation of all natural resources ( is everything a commercial good ?) economically lucrative. Since intact forests tend to be located in third-world countries ( Europe got rid of it’s woods during the roman empire) and their importance is not recognized by most if not all governments, there is a Darwinian selection of the most ruthless exploiters in the name of maximized profit, be it resources, plants or animals. Inhabitants of the forests are regarded as a nuisance ( often people offering forests for sale specify : indigenous-free area !). The price for Soja, tropical woods, biocarburants are the effective pacemakers of this ongoing destruction, another genocide. Our friends in Wall Street and a certain Mr. Bush have given forests a breath of oxygen, thanks to their global crisis.

What are we doing now and : is it helping the forests ?

Of course we live in urban centers, forests are for holiday adventures. Every respectable university is conducting forestation, botanical, zoological etc studies, knowledge about the consequences of deforestation is accumulating rapidly. Satellites are recording every burnt and slashed territory. Most researchers of course cultivate their forest reserve.

Is this stopping the logging, the burning and slashing ? It isn’t.

What can be done ? Many NGO’s are promising to plant one tree for every $ you pay. I tend to believe them, but it is a black box concept.

Many forest activists all around the world are conducting valuable projects. Others like FSC oversee the sustainable logging of forests. In Brazil and elsewhere, courageous people are fighting for forest protection and for the indigenous people at the risk of their lives ( Chico Mendes). Catholic bishops are informing the general public about the local reality. There are numerous complementary approaches. Every project helps.

International organizations are trying to create an effective legal basis for this purpose. Apart from having insufficient control over remote rural areas, local administration is often corrupt. They prefer a gain from foreign firms than helping an idealistic goal. All odds of reality are against forest protection.

Some firms like Shell ( petroleum products) have bought huge forest territories in South East Asia. Rich benefactors have created large sanctuaries : www.parquepumalin.cl – congratulations. Yes, and even Sting has a forest. It is so good for the image and conscience.

I care for my car, because it is my car.

Why did the „real existierende Sozialismus“ fail so miserably ?

One important factor was the lack of incentive through property. The state functioned like one huge firm, owning everything. No one else could acquire anything, motivation for work, entrepreneurship, etc was gone.

People with a garden care for it. The others don’t understand what the heck they are doing out there.

In all capitalist societies the protection of property is very efficient. Laws, police, tribunals, prisons, the military can be involved.

No international ecological law is as strict and effective for the purpose of protecting forests as the one protecting domestic land property – it is a backbone of capitalism. I think that we should utilize this instrument in this context.

The concept : a sketch

Specialists from universities and other organizations form a preliminary panel. They should include forestry biologists, forest economists, hydrologists, zoologists, lawyers, all specialties needed for a complete assessment of the following project.

They elaborate a catalog of conditions needed to preserve a tropical forest or to reestablish it. These criteria are already well known and can be resumed with „ don’t touch it“.

This panel calls for a conference where a foundation is created with the purpose of mediating between owners / sellers of forests worldwide and philanthropists willing to buy those forests.

The foundation for the forests has several functions :

It provides a professional background and a reliable catalog of criteria to assess forests. The first task is to identify territories on sale regarding their size, location, hydrological, geologic conditions, how their potential regarding biodiversity is, larger context, political and other problems.

Potential buyers are then contacted. They don’t simply donate the amount, but become lifelong members of the foundation with the act of purchase.

After the forest has been bought, the foundation and the owner are responsible together for the protection of this territory, the cost is split. Ideally, both have an advantage.

The foundation can utilize the territory for any scientific project, for introduction of endangered species of plants or animals, for teaching etc. There has to be an organization on the ground to prevent illegal activities.

The owner signs a contract with the foundation, promising respect of the basic principles. If the territory allows it, sustainable exploitation and other activities may be allowed.

The baseline is that through the supervision and professional intervention of the foundation, the forest is being protected from the well-known damages. The owner accepts a certain limitation of his rights, but in compensation he knows that the forest will gradually improve and probably also gain in value. A growing investment. In my opinion, the present crisis should motivate people with sufficient financial means to evaluate this alternative possibility for a longterm investment that that is relatively immune from the fluctuations of international markets. Particularly organizations interested in ethic investments might find it interesting.

Of course, an intact rain forest is almost impossible to find. Usually people sell forest-territories, sometimes considerable areas ( 1 million hectares), because they need money or because the cultures are not profitable.

Brazil is allowing cutting of huge territories for Soja and sugarcane cultures. Large areas have been used for this purpose and are losing their soil, becoming infertile. Many areas are abandoned and cattle breeders or farmers move on into new forest land.

There are techniques of reforestation of such territories, but rapid action must be taken, before the soil is eroded.

Discussion and Outlook

This approach aims at guaranteeing a through scientific basis and control.

The foundation provides a longterm, transparent and non profit-oriented strategy. It provides the know-how and local infrastructure.

The buyer becomes a lifelong member of the foundation. He does not pay an additional overhead for the land, but contributes to the ongoing costs.

This approach is transparent for all participating parties. In this way there is a reasonable chance to receive support from international organizations, NGO’s, universities and most important, from the concerned governments. They are the stepping stone in this concept. International treaties and legislation exists. Since respecting such guidelines has no practical benefits for the local and central administrations, they tend to fall in the trap of illegal economic activities, corruption. It would be important to elaborate projects involving the local populations, offering them formation and jobs, soft tourism, help in schooling and elementary medical help in exchange with logistic and security help from police etc.

It is clear that such a concept must be discussed and elaborated by professionals competent in all involved areas. It should start as a pilot project. It should be as open and flexible as possible to allow it to adapt to all local conditions. Since time is running out, it should ideally be based on a light and fast organization.

The thought is rather simple and analogous to FSC : to guarantee a thorough quality standard for forest ecology and it’s protection, but without the foundation being the sole owner and administrator. A kind of franchising for forest owners with an ecological conscience. Let’s hope.

Counterarguments :

Yes, it takes 50 to 100 years for a forest to grow to maturity. How long does mankind intend to stay around ?

Is it sufficient ? Certainly not. It is intended as one measure among others. First, producing less CO2 is the cheapest and technolgically easiest measure. Just do it. Second, technology is offering ways to stock CO2 in the bottom of the sea, wood can be stored airthight in the soil, it can also pumped into space.

Where is the main problem ? Even so-called democratic societies are unable to develop effective strategies. Politics follows a logic of self-preservation that is totally undemocratic, I will elaborate on this. Economic interests in the short-term are easier to put into practise than longterm goals.

The alarming facts regarding CO2 emissions :

http://www.volker-quaschning.de/datserv/CO2/index_e.html