Archives for March 2009

Less smoke, more mirrors: Mojave Desert to generate enough energy to power Bristol

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Shanta Barley | 17:58 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Concentrated solar power technology is a cheap, effective way to generate green electricity from the sun's energy. It's particularly effective in the desert, where the sun is fierce and reliable, which is why Google-backed solar energy start-up, eSolar, has recently decided to build 11 solar farms in the Mojave Desert - one of the hottest places on Earth.
By 2011, just 0.7% of the Mojave Desert (that's the arid bit northeast of Los Angeles, for those of you who did geography) is forecast to be generating enough green energy to power 400,000 American homes, or a town the size of Bristol.

How? Using mirrors to focus sunlight onto a central tower 40-stories high, where the heat will be used to boil water, generating steam that turns an electricity-generating turbine.

The solar farms could have some adverse effects on the Mojave's fragile desert ecosystem, but it's probably a 'necessary compromise' according to California State University's Professor of Botany, Darren Sandquist. Loss of what I like to call 'Napoleon' plants (tiny but terribly important) in the Mojave could trigger huge dust storms, but Sandquist thinks that 'it's all part of becoming less reliant on oil, and more reliant on solar and wind power.'

No more Mr Nice Gaia: minister riles the Godfather of Green

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Shanta Barley | 11:40 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, has incurred the wrath of Professor James Lovelock, originator of the 'Gaia hypothesis' and elder statesman of the green movement.

What did he do? He suggested that opposing the construction of a wind farm in your area should be 'socially unacceptable ... like ... not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing.'

In a Guardian article under the title 'fascism in the wind', Lovelock says that Miliband's comments mean 'those who care for freedom should beware' because wind farms don't work and should be opposed.

'Global warming is real and deadly and we have to do our best to counter it but we must not be led astray by the special pleading of an industry made rich by over-generous subsidies paid for by your taxes and one that is bound to fail to deliver.'

Climate Change: Bloom similarly found that green electricity tariffs are not always all they are cracked up to be, so if you're thinking of switching, be selective.

'Since records began': a brief guide to who's taking the temperature

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Richard Cable | 19:35 UK time, Monday, 30 March 2009


Stories about climate change are frequently accompanied by the phrase 'since records began'. The 10 hottest years since records began have apparently all happened since 1997. But whose records and when did they begin?

The oldest ongoing instrumental record of temperature in the world is the Central England Temperature record, started in 1659. But it wasn't until the mid-19th century that we started to take the temperature 'globally', and not until 1873 and the foundation of the International Meteorological Organisation that we all started to try and take the temperature in the same way.

By global temperature, at this time we mean predominantly Europe, bits of the then-British Empire (India, Australia, South Africa) and North America. It's probably fair to say that 'true' global coverage of readings in meaningful densities around the entire planet didn't arrive until post-World War Two. (See diagram.)

This map shows the 7,280 fixed-temperature stations in the Global Historical Climatology Network catalogue, colour-coded by the length of the available record. (Created for Global Warming Art by Robert A Rohde.)


To this day, we still rely on a basic network of weather stations on land (many are still 'Stevenson screens' - those things that look like beehives on sticks) and ships at sea. But the sophistication and ambition of climate monitoring has literally sky-rocketed in the last 20 years, not least with the European Space Agency's Earth Explorers programme.

So there you have it. When someone says 'since records began', they probably mean 'since about 1880'.

Earth Hour: are you switched on or switched off?

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Shanta Barley | 17:31 UK time, Friday, 27 March 2009


At 8.30pm on Saturday 28 March, environmental campaign group WWF wants everyone to observe a symbolic 'Earth Hour' by switching off their lights for 60 minutes to show that they care about the threat of climate change.

'For the first time in history', says the WWF's website, 'people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote - switching off your lights is a vote for Earth ... leaving them on is a vote for global warming.'

Earth Hour 2008 2009 from the WWF YouTube channel

WWF already has 2,000 cities from 80 countries on board, in addition to a host of iconic landmarks such as the Egyptian Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.

Making the act of switching off symbolic of a 'vote' against climate change is an inspired idea - just so long as the collective peer pressure works. If not, the event could potentially become a stark symbol of the scale of public indifference. The Independent's Gemma O' Doherty thinks green fatigue has well and truly set in, and celebrates the demise of a previous 'nag-athon tormenting viewers to take part in a mass "switch off" in their homes' (namely the cancellation of BBC's Planet Relief in 2007).

Incidentally, turning off the lights at home isn't, in itself, a particularly effective way to cut your emissions. Sure, light bulbs contribute to climate change, but they are small fry in the grand scheme of things. For example, Climate Change: Bloom knows that taking a return flight to Thailand removes 134 times more CO2 from your personal carbon footprint than replacing a light bulb with a more efficient model.)

Follow-up: BBC News: Earth Hour in pictures
Follow up: BBC News: Cities switch off for Earth Hour

Dominion or stewardship? Either way, God seems likely to stay out of it

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Richard Cable | 14:50 UK time, Friday, 27 March 2009


Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says we can't rely on divine help to avert catastrophe due to climate change. Speaking at York Minster, he said: 'I think that to suggest that God might intervene to protect us from the corporate folly of our practices is as unchristian and unbiblical.'

illustrated_bible226.jpgThe Archbishop reflects quite a lot about green issues and has also dealt with the biblical notion of mankind's 'dominion' over the Earth, which he interprets - as many theologians do - as meaning a form of 'stewardship'.

The Good Book itself is pretty descriptive about what it means by dominion. Here's a sample:

Genesis 1:28
'"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."'

Genesis 9:2
'The fear and dread of [man] will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.'

Psalm 8
'You made [man] ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:'

Stewardship is nonetheless pretty much the only acceptable interpretation in the 21st century, no matter which faith group you belong to.

But these biblical quotes - which appear to define dominion in much more adversarial terms - are a stark reminder that for most of human history, Nature has been a threat and a deadly competitor, extremely red in tooth and claw, which needed to be defeated and tamed. Looks like old habits die hard.

Are Chinese gerbils taking the rap for climate change?

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Shanta Barley | 13:47 UK time, Thursday, 26 March 2009


Debate rages about the declining state of China's prairies, which are known to soak up the greenhouse gas CO2. Research suggests that other factors, like climate change, are turning prairies into desert, but Chinese officials are nonetheless planning to exterminate the humble gerbil.

gerbil_cropped.jpgThis not-so-little mouse on the prairie binges on grass and digs up plants at the root, contributing to the decline of grasslands. With populations of the critter spiralling out of control, Chinese officials are apparently resorting to scattering morning after pills near the gerbils' burrows.

Will exterminating wild gerbils save China's praires? Not according to research published in the science journal PNAS in 2007(See a pdf of the PNAS paper by clicking here.). According to this, the real culprits are overgrazing by livestock and climate change, both of which damage grasslands by encouraging woody shrubs like Artemesia frigida to invade:

'A. frigida tends to increase under heavy grazing and other disturbances, is unpalatable to livestock, invades deteriorated grasslands, and is considered a weed ... Our results, which indicate that growth of A. frigida can be enhanced dramatically simply by increasing ... CO2, suggest that rising atmospheric CO2 already may be causing important changes in the ecology of the semi-arid grasslands.'

Exterminating the gerbil could even make matters far worse. Chinese governments have a track record of meddling with nature generally creating far more problems than it solves. Take Mao Zedong's 1958 - 1960 campaign to eradicate the sparrow. What Mao hadn't anticipated was that sparrows prevent plagues of the biblical crop pest, the locust. When he wiped them out, locusts ate all of the crops, contributing to a famine that killed 38 million people. The message is fairly clear: mess with nature at your peril.

Tata Nano: rock star or eco-monster?

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Richard Cable | 21:03 UK time, Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Unless you've been hiding under a stone, there is no way you can have missed the much-heralded arrival of Indian manufacturer Tata's new car, the Nano. Looking a bit like a cross between a biscuit tin and a shopping trolley, this tiny five-seater has been greeted in its native land with something bordering on hysteria.


BBC News graphic showing the key features of the Nano.

Why? Well, it's the world's cheapest new car, retailing at an affordable 100,000 rupees (£1,366). For many Indian families it represents the transition from the indignity of the ubiquitous moped to the stately luxury of four wheels and a cabin to call your own. It's robustly basic, lacks standard European features like air bags and has a pokey two-cylinder engine, but is apparently nonetheless 'an amazing car'.

But a car all the same. Despite the Nano's claim to green credentials - it coughs up less CO2 than many motorbikes - the mere thought that it could shift as many as a million units a year in India alone (it won't hit the UK until 2011) has left many environmentalists choking on its tiny emissions.

The Nano provides a neat insight into one of the key issues of the climate change debate: who are the 'haves' who have reaped all the benefits of a fossil fuel economy to tell the 'have nots' they can't enjoy those same benefits? It's an argument neatly summed up in one user comment on YouTube:

'We all love our country and its various offerings of nature and we would like to preserve them. But we would also like to continue on the path of progress that we have taken and create new chapters in the development of our country.'

(For more about reducing your own driving emissions, take a guilt-free trip via the internet to Climate Change: Bloom's Fuel Efficient Driving action.)

What's the most effective way to kill fewer polar bears?

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Shanta Barley | 15:07 UK time, Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Polar bears are the 'poster-beast' of climate change, but the Independent's Jerome Taylor reports that you can actually hunt and shoot an Ursus maritimus for around £24,000 in the Canadian Arctic - the only place where hunting the big white bear is still a 'trophy sport'. You can even take the hide home if you have the right paperwork.

Bearing in mind that the polar bear has just been listed as threatened by the US, owing to its fast-disappearing habitat of sea ice, the idea of 'kill quotas' for polar bears seems at odds with conservation efforts.

This is a theme picked up by Bjorn Lomborg, author of 'The Skeptical Environmentalist':

"... at most ... 15 bears could be saved this year if we could stop global warming right now ... The Kyoto Protocol will cost $180 billion, yet will not affect temperatures by very much: it would probably save .06 of one bear each year. There are smarter alternatives. Hunters shoot between 300 and 500 polar bears each year ... Surely it makes more sense to save 300 to 500 polar bears at virtually no cost than it does to spend hundreds of billions of dollars saving just one."

The collective shrug: why isn't the climate change message getting through?

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Richard Cable | 11:12 UK time, Tuesday, 24 March 2009


The blogosphere is permanently rife with conspiracy theories about the power of 'the denial industry' - the coordinated debunking of climate change science by various oil companies, lobbyists, right wing commentators and rogue academics.

death226x226.jpgThe heat levelled at 'deniers' by those who oppose them is intense. Increasingly, 'denial' is characterised as a psychological condition (see Brendan O'Neil's Spiked article 'Pathologising dissent? Now that's Orwellian') and one site even maintains an online 'Hall of Shame'.

But, by and large in the UK at least, it's those who believe in climate change who are much more effective at getting their message across in mainstream media and to policymakers. If you really want hardcore dissent, you have to go looking for it, and the vast majority of people don't bother. So why the apparent public inertia in the face of armageddon?

Here are five reasons to start:
1. All climate change scenarios are based on predictions and we know at some fundamental level that forecasts of the future are made to be confounded, as experienced in other areas of our daily lives where predictions are concerned, such as the weather, share prices and ... errr ... horseracing.

2. These days, climate change debate is as much about politics as science. In Britain at least, the process of politics is often viewed with healthy scepticism. So when politicians start talking about 'hard choices and tough decisions', we get edgy. This is only reinforced when we're faced with rather more immediate hard choices, like redundancy and repossession, and climate change magically drops off the political agenda altogether.

3. Geography lessons. Anyone who sat through secondary school geography lessons during the 1970s and 1980s will remember that you learned more about the Earth's finite resources than you ever did about where things actually are. This is largely the fault of a highly influential book called 'The Limits to Growth' which encouraged a lot of erroneous estimates about when finite natural resources will run out. Combine this with global cooling, the principle of population, the hole in the ozone layer and other environmental catastrophes that were averted or otherwise never came to pass, and you have a whole generation with an inbred indifference to when the eco-boy cries wolf.

4. Less is more when it comes to selling the dangers of inaction in the face of climate change, but some folks can't shake the Chicken Licken reflex. Faced with news like 'The worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised' you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking: 'Oh why bother?'

5. Student syndrome. This is the practice of delaying the start of a task until the last possible moment before a deadline. Imagine that on a global scale. Until I'm getting sunburnt while clinging to a church spire so I don't get my feet wet, what's the panic?

In the psychology of motivating people to do things, it's essential to establish: a) the necessity of the thing you're asking people to do; and b) the credibility of those doing the asking. Clearly we haven't quite nailed it just yet, so answers on a postcard (or in comments) please.

(If, however, you are one of the proactive few, then please allow a blatant plug for Climate Change: Bloom's 75 excellent actions to reduce your carbon emissions.)

Iron: a solution to climate change?

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Shanta Barley | 20:53 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009


Scientists have traditionally viewed our oceans as 'weapons' in the fight against climate change because they soak up CO2. But new research suggests that we may be wasting our time trying to force the oceans to store the extra carbon humans produce by burning fossil fuels.

ironing.jpgBut first, some basic biology. Tiny organisms that teem in our seas reduce climate change because they extract CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. When these organisms die they sink to the sea floor, taking the carbon with them. The more of these organisms (phytoplankton), the cooler our climate.

So if we encourage phytoplankton to flourish (say, by bombarding anaemic waters with iron, which is crucial for phytoplankton growth) then we can cool the climate, right?

Wrong. All that time scientists spent sprinkling eddies with iron in the notoriously stormy Southern Ocean (a doughnut of water circling Antarctica) didn't make a blind bit of difference to the amount of carbon that was eventually removed from the atmosphere, according to new findings.

A joint expedition of the Alfred Wegener Institute and the National Institute of Oceanography found that this was because predators scoffed the phytoplankton, dead or alive, before they had time to sink.

Dr Wajih Navi, co-chief scientist of the expedition said: 'To our surprise, the iron-fertilised patch attracted large numbers of ... predators belonging to the crustacean group known as amphipods ... the increasing grazing pressure ... prevented further growth of the phytoplankton bloom.'

Is that it, then? Is it the end of the line for this particular climate fix? Not necessarily. The technique could work with the right species of phytoplankton. Some species come encased in a snazzy sort of armour made from silica (basically glass, to you or I). These warriors of the phytoplankton world are less likely to be ambushed by predators, and so they're more likely to sink to the sea floor, where the carbon stays. The trick is to find them. Note: They don't hang out in the Southern Ocean.

BBC News: Setback for climate technical fix

Climate Feedback Blog: Hello ocean seeding, goodbye

Extinction: science journos driven to the brink, bloggers to fill their ecological niche

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Shanta Barley | 13:45 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009


Dodos, dinosaurs and now... science journalists. According to a survey in the latest edition of the journal Nature, mass extinction could be on the cards for reporters of science throughout the world.

Overworked and strapped for time, science journalists are increasingly turning to blogs for news stories, says the accompanying story by Nature's Geoff Brumfiel. They also apparently rely heavily on the press releases issued by scientific organisations. Neither source of information, according to Robert Lee Hotz (a science journalist for the Wall Street Journal, quoted by Brumfiel) can 'fulfil the additional roles of watchdog and critic that the traditional media at their best aim to fulfil'.

It could be worse, perhaps. Blogs may be quick and dirty, but they're also a very powerful way to share new ideas. Plus, some of the most popular blogs are penned by scientists about their own research, so the experts are actually getting a voice for themselves.

Brumfiel goes on to say: 'As journalists become more dependent on scientific public relations, scientists themselves have begun reaching out to mass audiences through the Internet ... The most successful sites are drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each month.'

(Take the intriguing video blog site 'Climate Central', for example.)

Suggestion that the credit crunch is trumping the environment Stateside

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Richard Cable | 17:10 UK time, Friday, 20 March 2009


wall-street226x226.jpgFor the first time in 25 years of asking, pollsters Gallup have reported that the majority of Americans would prioritise economic growth over the environment, 'even if the environment suffers to some extent'.

This stacks up with other poll findings that suggest the squeeze on people's pockets is making Americans less considerate of things green. Support for nuclear power has reached a new high with 59% in favour, while a record 41% believe the media exaggerates the seriousness of global warming.

(That said, there have been some recent Damascene conversions to nuclear power among leading environmentalists. So is nuclear now green? I think we should be told.)

On the flipside, a majority (admittedly shrinking) still believe that global warming is 'correctly portrayed' or even underestimated in the media, while 77% of US citizens would like to see more investment in alternative sources of energy, like solar and wind power.

So why does this matter to us in dear old Blighty? Because the US is still the world's largest economy, so what they think over the Pond could ultimately affect us all. Stay tuned.

Digging the dirt on soil

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Shanta Barley | 12:04 UK time, Friday, 20 March 2009


Soil could play an important role in tackling climate change, according to a European Commission report published this week. The study says that we need to stop clearing forests and grassland to grow crops if we want to ensure that the huge amount of carbon it contains isn't released into the atmosphere.

The report says: 'Europe's soils are an enormous carbon reservoir, containing around 75 billion tonnes [of CO2], and poor management can have serious consequences: a failure to protect Europe's remaining peat bogs, for example, would release the same amount of carbon as an additional 40 million cars on Europe's roads.'

In full: European Commission report on soil and climate change

A new Age of Exploration lifts off with Goce

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Richard Cable | 17:28 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009


The launch of the European Space Agency's gorgeous, pouting Goce satellite on 17 March represents an exciting new era in the exploration of planet Earth.

At a billion euros a year and with 24 satellites already commissioned - of which Goce is the first - the Earth Explorers programme will lead to 'a global system for the observation of the Earth ... for a better understanding of the processes which survive thereon," said Stephen Briggs, the head of Earth observation science at the ESA.

Goce will map variations in Earth's gravity, while its successors will look at everything from soil moisture to ice cover, and ocean salinity to wind patterns (the latter using a cool-sounding laser).

Why should we care? Because the better we understand what the planet is doing, the better we understand climate and other forms of global change and their potential impacts. Then, just maybe, we can figure out what it is we need to do about it.

ESA Web TV: Behind the scenes of the Goce mission

Link: ESA's You Tube channel

Which is going to kill you first - climate change or cycling to work?

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Shanta Barley | 13:31 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009


goodies226x226.jpgThere's no doubt that cycling is a cunning and cost-effective way to tackle Britain's twin problems of climate change and obesity. But most Brits say that until safety conditions improve on the road, they won't be caught dead cycling. Happily, a new mash-up by Times Labs maps the location of every cycling accident reported in Britain over a year (2007), thereby helping potential pedal-pushers avoid the blackspots.

Blackspots-wise, the map makes one thing particularly clear: exercise extreme caution on roundabouts, where 10% of all reported accidents involving cyclists occur.

As the Department for Transport's 'Cyclists at roundabouts' report puts it (not exactly forcefully, mind): "As part of a range of actions to increase cycle use, highway authorities may like to consider engineering measures to improve the safety, convenience and attractiveness of roundabouts to cyclists." Quite.

Tongan volcano spectacular, but small fry all the same

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Shanta Barley | 11:26 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009


An undersea volcano spectacularly erupted earlier this week near the main Tongan island of Tongatapu, propelling steam, ash and other volcanic gunge a hundred metres into the air.

It may be common knowledge to geologists, but it never fails to surprise exactly how much CO2 is generated by volcanoes. Take Mount Etna. When active, this volcano belches up to 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, daily. You'd have to fly to Thailand and back every year for 33 years to emit anywhere near as much greenhouse gas as Etna can produce in just 24 hours.

But even volcanoes are small fry when it comes to emissions, according to the US Geological Survey: 'volcanoes ... release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This seems like a huge amount of CO2, but ... while 200 million tonnes of CO2 is large, the global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes.' That's 134 times larger.

Scientists discover link between The Sun and climate change

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Shanta Barley | 08:55 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009


papers226x226.jpgAccording to a new study by the Environmental Change Institute, UK tabloids are far less likely than their broadsheets counterparts to accurately reflect the scientific consensus on climate change.

The study found that a fifth of climate change stories in the tabloids diverge significantly from peer-reviewed (i.e. properly scrutinised) scientific research.

And of all the tabloids in the study - Sun, Express, Daily Mail, Mirror and their Sunday sister papers - the Mail was found to be the most sceptical about whether humans play a role in climate change.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this is due to a wicked tabloid conspiracy to misrepresent the science, it's worth bearing in mind that there may be another, less glamourous, explanation. According to the same report, just 1.8% of climate change stories reported in British tabloids are penned by a qualified 'science' or 'environment' correspondent.

Climate change vs fishing: what is the world's greatest environmental threat?

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Shanta Barley | 18:34 UK time, Tuesday, 17 March 2009


Al Gore has told the Guardian's Leo Hickman that America's changing political landscape 'means that there is now enough political momentum to tackle the world's greatest environmental threat', namely (in his view) climate change. But while climate change may be very bad for the environment, is it actually the biggest thorn in Mother Nature's side?

Based on species extinction - a common scientific measure of environmental threat - the answer has to be, categorically, no.

According to eminent geologist Professor Anthony Hallam's book 'Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities' (page 192, if you have it handy) overfishing is responsible for far more extinctions than climate change:

'On the basis of an extensive review of palaeocological, archaeological, and historical data Jeremy Jackson and his American colleagues have put forward the hypothesis that humans have been disturbing marine ecosystems since they learned to fish. Extinction by overfishing outstrips all other pervasive human disturbances, including pollution, degradation of water quality, and anthropogenic climate change ... turtles, whales, dugongs, manatees, cod, swordfish, sharks, and rays were formerly very abundant in most coastal ecosystems ... oysters were so abundant in British coastal regions in the nineteenth century as to constitute food for the poor; now that count as a luxury, despite their being widely farmed ... Severe overfishing drives species to ecological extinction because overfished populations no longer interact significantly with other species in the community.'

Fact meets fiction: will climate change lead to more terrorism?

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Shanta Barley | 14:47 UK time, Tuesday, 17 March 2009


In Val Kilmer's latest flick, 'The Steam Experiment', a frustrated university professor turned terrorist locks six people in a Turkish bath. He threatens to slowly 'cook' (in chef's lingo, estouffade) his victims unless the newspapers publish his research on climate change.

So is there a link between terrorism and climate change? As if on cue, British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell has suggested it might be on the cards, although for slightly different reasons.

Speaking at a climate security conference in Japan, he said: 'It's not difficult to imagine how the "have-nots" could be radicalised by someone saying: "those rich western countries created global warming, and now they are buying up the world's food stocks, leaving us to starve". We know all too well that it doesn't take many radicals to disrupt our way of life - and that borders, or even oceans, are no barrier to those bent on killing innocent people and damaging our way of life.'

Article: Read Bill Rammell's speech on climate change in full

Al Gore on the slide

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Richard Cable | 15:28 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009


Former presidential candidate and globetrotting green Al Gore has removed a contentious slide from his presentation on climate change after it was found that it did not, as he stated, depict a sharp rise in 'weather related' disasters.

The data from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows that the rise is attributable in large part (but not exclusively) to better reporting. After being challenged by Andrew C Revkin of the DotLife blog ('Gore Pulls Slide of Disaster Trends'), Gore's office confirmed that the slide would go.

It's not the first time the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been in trouble for iffy science. In 2007, a high court judge criticised nine significant scientific errors in Gore's Oscar-winning film 'An Inconvenient Truth' and labelled it a 'political film'

Denier, sceptic or creationist? How about none of the above?

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Richard Cable | 13:11 UK time, Friday, 6 March 2009


david_bellamy.jpgJames Randerson of the Guardian's Environment blog has attempted to coin the phrase 'climate change creationists' for those who 'deny evidence that human-induced global warming is occurring'.

He's rightly uncomfortable with the term 'deniers' because of the indelible link to Holocaust denial, arguing that it allows the debate to be characterised as 'political'. He doesn't much like the term 'sceptic' either, writing: '[Christopher] Booker and David Bellamy do not deserve the honourable mantle of "sceptic".'

In the end, he struck upon 'creationist': 'Think about it,' writes Randerson, 'They operate in very similar ways. They have a fixed position and ignore evidence that does not fit their case. And they cherry-pick shreds of data that do appear to back them up.'

OK, here's an alternative suggestion. Why the need for name-calling? Surely it's a tactic that can only make the debate less scientific rather than more? Does lumping everyone you disagree with under a single label make your views more compelling or simply make your opponents easier to stigmatise? Discuss.

Follow up: Climate change deniers: failsafe tips on how to spot them
Follow up: Monbiot's royal flush: Top 10 climate change deniers

Mandelson in (green) custard-y battle

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Richard Cable | 12:43 UK time, Friday, 6 March 2009


peter_mandelson.jpgSorry. Terrible headline. Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has been doused in green custard by a climate protester. Leila Dean from the campaign group Plane Stupid said she decided to take 'direct action' after the democratic process to stop a third runway at Heathrow failed.

This inspired a mixture of stern rebuke and hilarity over at BBC News's 'Have Your Say' with Matt F volunteering the inevitable 'It's a trifling matter'.

Video: The moment custard was thrown at Lord Mandelson

Cool animation of warm polar ice cap

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Richard Cable | 12:13 UK time, Friday, 6 March 2009


sea_ice_uni_of_illinois.jpg'Cryosphere Today' sounds like something that Have I Got News For You would feature in their missing words round. In fact it's a site dedicated to visualisations of polar sea ice data from the University of Illinois' Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Not hopping up and down with excitement yet? OK, so go to the site and have a look at the 'sea ice animations: 1978-2006'.

We haven't linked you directly to it (the link is just to the right of the fabulously gothic header) because it's a 46Mb Quicktime movie, but it's definitely worth a look. Thrill to the flow of the sea ice as it expands and contracts in a frenzied fashion since 1979. They even have a pack ice app for your iPhone.

Website: Cryosphere Today

A car made from seaweed - why didn't we think of it sooner?

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Richard Cable | 18:35 UK time, Thursday, 5 March 2009


Japanese car manufacturer Toyota is planning to build a car from seaweed, and it could be in a showroom near you within ...oooh... 15 years?

According to the report in Wired: 'A kelp car is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Bioplastics are being used for everything from gift cards to cellphone cases. Demand for the stuff is expected to hit 50 billion pounds [22.7 billion kilogrammes]annually within five years.'

Full story: 'Toyota Wants to Build Car From Seaweed'

Arctic explorers go in search of sea ice-free summer

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Richard Cable | 16:44 UK time, Thursday, 5 March 2009


arctic.jpgA British team has just set out to deploy what are 'usually considered bizarre or socially irrelevant skills' to discover the 'ground truth' in the Arctic. In English, this means they will be repeatedly dragging a mobile radar unit across bits of the Arctic in a bid to work out how quickly the sea ice is disappearing. In the process, they will be chomping through 6,000 calories a day and swimming the bits where the ice has already gone.

Arctic ice modeller Professor Wieslaw Maslowski, a science adviser to the survey, hopes the expedition will tell him when the first ice-free summer will be. He's currently pegging it around 2010 - 2016, dramatically bringing forward estimates placing it somewhere around the end of the century.

Why should we care? Because scientists believe that the ice tends to reflect heat back into space, while darker bodies of water tend to absorb heat, thereby accelerating global warming.

The expedition finishes in May and you can follow it on the BBC News site's 'Arctic diary'.

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