Monday, October 24, 2016

Can dinosaurs save us from Climate Change?

One of the recent developments in paleontology is the possible resurrection of the dinosaurs. As fascinating as realizing a Jurassic-Park scenario may be, I’m not so sure spending our time and money on such an ‘accomplishment’ is such a good idea. As our world quickly and disastrously warms, our best and brightest should be finding out exactly how Climate Change is most likely to unfold and how we can adapt to that. Stopping and maybe even reversing Climate Change would be good too.

This notion of bringing back dinosaurs isn’t as fantastic as you might think. Soft Tyrannosaurus Rex tissue has been discovered and may include some of ancient DNA we may use for reconstruction. Check this out:  

Dinosaurs: The Hunt for Life The hunt for life within the long-dead bones of dinosaurs may sound like the stuff of Hollywood fantasy, but one woman has found traces of life within the fossilised bones of a T rex. Dr Mary Schweitzer has seen the remains of red blood cells and touched the soft tissue of an animal that died 68 million years ago. Most excitingly of all, she believes she may just have found signs of DNA. Her work is revolutionising our understanding of these iconic beasts. (2013-14, BBC)

Besides being a mob of rapacious creatures that kept our ancestors rat-sized for millions of years, T-rex and the whole family of dinosaurs (actually of the clade Dinosauria) were victims themselves of a climate change. They didn’t adapt to the climatic changes that came as a result of a 10-mile asteroid plunging into our planet, blanketing the skies with sun-blocking soot. They died off wholesale. If anything, bringing the dinosaurs back to a world we are warming up would most likely make the world better fit for them, not us.  

This idea (albeit a remote one) of bringing back dinosaurs reminds me of the present attempts to bring back another fossil of sorts, a living fossil. In places like Rochester and around the state there is a concerted effort to bring back the large populations of lake sturgeons we used to have.

Comeback of lake sturgeon continues When determining water quality, scientists can study samples for things such as temperature, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, nutrients and toxic substances. Or they can just see how the sturgeon are doing. Dubbed “living fossils,’’ lake sturgeon with their bony backs and side plates are an ancient bottom feeding fish that once supported a robust commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes into the early 1900s. Overfishing, pollution and loss of habitat led to a drastic population decline and extirpation from many bodies of water. But what man ruined, man is fixing. (October 21, 2016) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Our state’s environmental officials are attempting to preserve and increase the Lake Sturgeon that can grow as large as “7+ feet and 300+ pounds.” This primitive fish is listed as ‘threatened.’

Lake Sturgeon Fact Sheet: The American Fisheries Society has listed the lake sturgeon as threatened in all the states where it occurs. Although it is difficult to determine the specific causes of lake sturgeon population declines, several factors have been blamed, including: over exploitation of stocks due to high demand for their eggs (caviar) and smoked flesh; construction of dams that cut off spawning and nursery areas; and possibly byproducts of urban and rural development such as pollution and channelization that caused degradation of habitat.” (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

I suppose it’s comforting to believe we can bring back the lake sturgeon in large numbers. However, is it even possible with Climate Change? Are we wasting our time trying to reestablish a creature that probably won’t survive very long anyway? Here’s what the National Wildlife Federation says: 

“Climate change is expected to further threaten this fish as rising water temperatures greatly decrease the quality and quantity of spawning and nursery habitats. Climatic variability could also disrupt the timing of sturgeon reproduction and length of optimal fish growth periods as environmental cues shift and warming waters affect stream ecological processes and ecosystem health. Lake sturgeon are also vulnerable to changes in water levels and increased runoff associated with extreme weather and climate change.” (Global Warming and the Lake Sturgeon)

And another thing, shouldn’t our media tell the whole story about reintroducing wildlife into our environment, an environment that is getting warmer and perhaps not suited for some species that used to thrive in our past environment?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to help the species we need to foster critical ecosystems by prioritizing efforts to provide passageways through our urban areas and infrastructures, so that they (and we) can adapt to Climate Change?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disparage either dinosaurs or sturgeons. They were very cool in their day. We can learn a lot about adaptation from these creatures, but our focus should be on the creatures we need to survive the great warming we have created. 

Time passes. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Terrible ticking of the Climate Change clock goes on despite US elections

One of the more maddening characteristics of being human is that we don’t usually get our priorities straight until we’re past the age where we could have prevented the worst consequences of our actions. Youth is wasted on the young and all that. In my case, it took me too long to realize that it was far more important to lift barbells correctly rather than adding weights quickly. I’d like to go back and tell my younger self that keeping my back safe should have been my priority. Not how much weight I could lift in the shortest possible time.

Likewise, I suspect we will look back on this presidential election and wonder why we got our priorities so screwed up. Why wasn’t Climate Change the top priority? Many of those who will live to 2050, when there will be nine billion of us trying to thrive on a rapidly warming planet, will be wishing we could change the outcome of one of the last times in our history when we could have pivoted and saved ourselves from the worst consequences of Climate Change. One of those last moments would be now, 2016, as someone takes the helm from President Obama just as the Paris Agreement goes into effect.  

While our elections churn on in the most distracting and godawful way, the terrible ticking of the Climate Change clock goes on. We’ve reached the point (400ppm) where the lowest concentrations of carbon dioxide each coming year are the highest we have ever experienced. The glaciers are melting from above and below in ways our experts don’t completely understand, which may cause a devastating sea level rise much quicker than expected. And the closer we get to a price on carbon emissions, the less likely it will be nearly enough to address the problem. [See: Why We Need a Carbon Tax,  And Why It Won’t Be Enough by Bill McKibben]

Key in shifting our attention and actions to address Climate Change is leadership by the most powerful office in the world, the President of the United States.

But the opportunity to focus on Climate Change during this election season has been completely hijacked by the specter of placing a person in the highest office who lacks the basic standards of human decency. First Lady Michelle Obama totally nails this crisis and why it must be addressed now:
Michelle Obama Gives Powerful Speech Roasting Trump For Predatory Comments (VIDEO) "The fact is that in this election, we have a candidate for president of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign has said things about women that are so shocking. So demeaning," she said. "I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women. And I can't believe that I'm saying that." (October 13, 2016,

When something truly awful transpires (what if Hurricane Mathew had remained a level 5 all the way up the US eastern coast?) and bankrupts our government’s ability to recover, many will finally understand why years before this terrible calamity we should have put addressing Climate Change front and center of this particular election.  

As things get worse, ‘shoulda woulda coulda’ may be the epitaph chiseled on humanity’s gravestone.

Time passes.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Take note: Earth’s environment experiences our existence via our infrastructures

Humanity is frantically updating and building its infrastructures during Climate Change but not necessarily the right ones. Infrastructure—gas and oil pipelines, telecommunication networks, water pipes, roads and bridges, waste treatment lines, buildings etc.—is a boring term that describes human built systems that supply 7 billion of us with vital life-sustaining elements. Cave men and women didn’t need gasoline pumps, electric outlets, Internet connections, toilets, a kitchen sink with hot and cold running water, but now humanity does. However, despite the message from climate scientists and the Paris Agreement, we are still putting too much of our time and money into the very infrastructures that got us in this climate mess.

Our survival requires that we shift gears on infrastructure development immediately—if not yesterday.

World needs $90tn infrastructure overhaul to avoid climate disaster, study finds Report by Global Commission on the Economy and Climate says world needs ‘urgent’ shift away from carbon-heavy infrastructure over the next 15 years A gigantic overhaul of the world’s buildings, public transport and energy infrastructure costing trillions of dollars is required if dangerous climate change is to be avoided, according to a major new report. The study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which is co-chaired by prominent climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, found that the world is expected to invest about $90tn in infrastructure over the next 15 years, requiring an “urgent” shift to ensure that this money is spent on low-carbon, energy-efficient projects. Such smart investment over the next two or three years could help ameliorate the climate crisis, but “the window for making the right choices is narrow and closing fast”.  (October 6, 2016) The Guardian

This week the Paris Agreement got ratified and will go into effect soon. While not perfect, as it is not legally binding and it doesn’t press hard enough for realistic carbon emission limits, the treaty does demonstrate that the world is waking up to the existential threat posed by our use of fossil fuels. That is to say, we have a real chance now that the Paris Agreement officially puts climate denial to rest.

The Paris climate agreement is entering into force. Now comes the hard part. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ratify the Paris climate accord, a move that will make the sweeping international agreement a legal reality long before even those who negotiated it expected. “We made the deal in Europe, and we make it a reality in Europe,” Miguel Arias CaƱete, the E.U.’s climate and energy commissioner, said on Twitter after the vote. The Paris agreement enters into force when at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, have joined it. Before Tuesday, those numbers stood at 62 nations and just shy of 52 percent of emissions, thanks to ratification by India over the weekend. (October 4, 2016) The Washington Post 

Our infrastructures, a great serpentine extension to our existence, are our environmental footprints. We are a great beast upon the planet. We share in our environmental impacts via our built conduits as we drink in humongous amounts of water from our lakes, streams, and aquifers, then excrete back contamination. We breathe in the life-giving by-product of our planet’s flora and exhale dangerous pollution that is killing millions. Our transportation systems trample and bifurcate innumerable ecosystems so we can get around.  Thousands of miles of fossil fuel pipelines network through land and water, oftentimes bleeding their contents into their hosts and poisoning them.

At the same time, all these critical infrastructures are vulnerable to the very forces they unleash— ecosystem destruction, contamination, and warming. (If you’re having a hard time envisioning how our infrastructures are impacted by Climate Change, you need to look no further than Hurricane Mathew which is (as I write) chewing up communities, highways, homes, businesses, and farms.)

To sustain our existence, we need to quickly transform our infrastructures into benign systems that operate in harmony with life. Not in a warm fuzzy way but in a scientifically rigorous way.
In part, the Paris Agreement is an attempt to shift our energy infrastructures to renewable energy, ones that don’t heat up the planet. 

In Rochester last Thursday, there was a press conference, part of a state-wide effort to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the Geothermal Tax Credit Bill A9925/S6249. It was an excellent opportunity to hear about the importance of this renewable energy option from an exceptional group of speakers—our representatives, installers, environmental leaders, and geothermal business people--who articulated the importance of this pivotal moment in saving a crucial part of our renewable energy mix in New York State.

But only one local media showed up so you might not have heard about this conference.

Call for tax credit bill to support the geothermal industry and jobs in New York There is a mandate in New York State to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent by Some New York State Senators, geothermal installers, and other supporters, are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a tax credit bill to support the geothermal industry and jobs in New York.    The group came together today at a building on Russell Street in Rochester. That building is being retrofitted with geothermal heating and cooling. (October 6, 2016 WROC Rochester) 

Heating your home or business with geothermal energy can be expensive if there isn’t a tax credit to help offset the costs of installation. After an installation you’re good to go on a very inexpensive, non-polluting, non-greenhouse gas producing, and non-controversial renewable energy source for years and years. Those trying to save geothermal businesses in New York are trying to reach the public but that’s going to be very difficult if the press doesn’t show up. Our present media is an infrastructure also, an eclectic system of message magnifiers who are supposed to amplify what we need to know, not what the media wants us to know.   

The fossil fuel industry still gets billions of dollars in yearly subsidies to continue an energy option that is warming up the planet, while the geothermal renewable energy option, which can alleviate much of the greenhouse gases emissions (up to 35% in NYS) that come from warming buildings with fossil fuel, are dangling from a precipice, struggling to survive.

Alliance for a Green Economy invites you to sign a postcard asking Gov. Cuomo to sign the bill for a geothermal heating & cooling tax credit: Postcard request: Geothermal Heating and Cooling tax credit for NYS

Our infrastructures are now the way our life support system experiences our existence. This great beast, extending so many tentacles into our planet’s life-giving systems, must not be allowed to kill the host.

Time passes. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) launches Writing Group to help members reach media

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” ― James Madison

Loosely based on the Niagara Sierra Club’s successful Writing Group, the RPCC is starting a Writer’s Group of its own. This group will help all RPCC member organizations amplify and accelerate its mission by assisting them in working out the best possible language and strategies for reaching the mainstream media. We’ll also leverage all the possible social media aspects of the Internet to get our member’s message to the public.

When: Thursday, October 13th, at 7PM
Where: St. Thomas’ Church of Rochester, 2000 Highland Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618

This group will meet monthly to discuss how RPCC member organization are addressing Climate Change and talk about how to reach local media most effectively. While we wouldn’t be actually writing articles and press releases for our member groups, we will be assisting in all other aspects of shaping the message and getting it to the media—both print and digital media. Neither will the Writing Group be speaking for the RPCC, we are a service of the RPCC for our members. (BTW: If your group isn’t a member of the RPCC, sign up here.) 

With almost 100 member organizations, the RPCC is already reaching many folks though their membership and has become an effective vehicle to bring the crisis on Climate Change to the media’s attention.

“The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition unites local organizations to address the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to a clean energy economy, and prepare for the impacts of global warming.  Through our coordinated, collaborative efforts, we will create a more environmentally just and sustainable community.”   

The Writing Group hopes to noodle through all the opportunities such a vast and diverse coalition can exploit to focus local media’s attention on RPCC’s actions, events, and positions on Climate Change.
Climate Change has metastasized past the point where only a few people can make a difference on this worldwide crisis; now it’s all hands on deck. Check out this recent article by Bill McKibben:

Recalculating the Climate Math The numbers on global warming are even scarier than we thought. The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new studyreleased Thursday are the most ominous yet. Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here’s the answer: zero. (September 22, 2016) Bill McKibben New Republic [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Writing Group will host ongoing presentations on the nuts and bolts of writing articles, discussions by experts on how to get articles published, meetings with member groups on what they’d already learned about reaching the public via the local media, and discuss new ideas on how engage the public on the crisis of our age. If you have experience or interest in editing, writing, teaching, communication, social media, or web editor skills, come on over.

I’ll be hosting these monthly meetings and try to keep them lively and informative. I was communications chair of the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club for many years, and for almost twenty years my website,, has offered me an opportunity to focus my message around the urgency of environmental issues and Climate Change. Your thoughts and experiences are pivotal to the success of this group.

The Writing Group will be fun and useful.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

US Military is compelled to address Climate Change, so should our potential leaders

When will mainstream media start grilling presidential candidates on how our next President will address Climate Change and direct our military’s role?

We should mitigate Climate Change by halting any more human-caused, greenhouse gas emissions; but we will have to adapt to the devastating consequences of more flooding, more extreme weather, and more social unrest.

President Obama’s “Presidential Memorandum -- Climate Change and National Security” makes it clear that our military must be prepared for what Climate Change portends by planning on a scale and time frame that will matter. 

Obama Just Tied Climate Change to National Security On Wednesday, President Obama took another step toward securing his climate legacy. This time his focus wasn’t on energypublic lands or international diplomacy. It was on national security and making sure the U.S. military is prepared for a more unstable future. The White House published a presidential memorandum setting up a timetable for more than 20 federal agencies to come up with a plan to put climate science into action when it comes to national security. “It’s not a new direction, but it is reinforcing and formalizing a direction in which the U.S. government was already headed,” Sherri Goodman, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center, said. “That’s how you turn concepts into action in the government. You have to have plans to get agencies to act.” (September 22, 2016) Climate Central

Our responsible political leaders and our military have long known that our military must be prepared for the heighten disruptions that will be caused by Climate Change and one must wonder why any leader would do any less than prepare the public for the worst.

Whatever a leader’s ideology or political position on Climate Change, he or she must fulfill their responsibility to address clear and present dangers to the US public.

The Presidential Memorandum is an amazingly clear description of how Climate Change affects our national security and the need for “… setting up a timetable for more than 20 federal agencies to come up with a plan to put climate science into action ...” (1)

With such a clear message about the actions needed to be taken on this climate crisis, shouldn’t our media press all our political leaders responsible to explain their support or lack of support for military preparation for climate actions?

How many scientists and military figures will it take for our media to wake up and do their job on the crisis or our age? 

US military issues climate security warning Senior military figures in the US warn of national and international security threats posed by the impacts of climate change A group of senior defence experts in the US has warned that climate change is a threat to the country’s security, with the stark message that “the impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to US military readiness, operations and strategy”. They are members of the Climate Security Consensus Project, a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts − many of whom have served in previous Republican or Democratic administrations. Meeting at a forum in Washington DC organised by the Centre for Climate and Security (CCS), the group said the effects of climate change “present a strategically-significant risk to US national security and international security”. (September 23, 2016) Climate Home 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where does Climate Change go in this year’s US presidential election?

Now that Bernie Sanders, who was the champion for addressing Climate Change, is out of the presidential race, where does this crisis go? (Bernie Sanders: Yes, Climate Change Is Still Our Biggest National Security Threat, 11/14/2015, Mother Jones) Does it get ignored because Clinton can’t or won’t use it to beat Trump over the head because neither Trump nor the media think it’s worth bringing up?

Does it get kicked down the road to another election because it still doesn’t have ‘legs’ in our electoral process? If so, that would put us into an even deeper existential plight.

Yes, existential plight.

However unfashionable using apocalyptic language with this crisis may appear, one cannot overstate the problem with Climate Change and our collective inertia. President Obama began his presidency with a very milquetoast policy on Climate Change and what evolved over his watch is a President far more engaged with this crisis: Obama on ‘Terrifying’ Threat of Climate Change (September 8, 2016, New York Times).  

We, humanity, the folks who caused Climate Change, haven’t been addressing Climate Change on a scale that will matter. Somehow we’ve fallen into the attitude that our political process is the sole measure of this crisis. This is nonsense on stilts as we can no more vote physics out of our existence than we can travel through time.

It’s eerie that much of our own inability to address Climate Change that is being addressed by our oceans. If it wasn’t for the oceans sucking up the heat of our Climate Change, we would have already cooked ourselves: “…the surface of the Earth would have warmed by a devastating 36C, rather than 1C, over the past century.” (See below.)  BTW: “Thirty-six degrees Celsius is equal to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit.”1.

Soaring ocean temperature is 'greatest hidden challenge of our generation' IUCN report warns that ‘truly staggering’ rate of warming is changing the behaviour of marine species, reducing fishing zones and spreading disease The soaring temperature of the oceans is the “greatest hidden challenge of our generation” that is altering the make-up of marine species, shrinking fishing areas and starting to spread disease to humans, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of ocean warming. The oceans have already sucked up an enormous amount of heat due to escalating greenhouse gas emissions, affecting marine species from microbes to whales, according to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report involving the work of 80 scientists from a dozen countries. (September 15, 2016) The Guardian

But the oceans are not providing this convenient service for us up until we get our act together. There’s a terrible price being paid for this stored heat and profound ecosystem changes where the piper will have to be paid by our children.

There is going to be a terrible procrastination penalty for not obeying the laws of physics—where the trapped heat from our greenhouse gas emissions must be accounted for. Increasingly, climate models are proving how sensitive all life on Earth are to every little change in energy passing through our life support system.

There has been no hiatus, no free ride, no time out, and no carbon budget where we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have more time before we have to act. It has long since past when we should have reversed our greenhouse gas emissions. 

We cannot put Climate Change on the ballot box and vote away physics. Time is running out and installing a climate denier leader will put Climate Change (ironically) in the forefront of our existence. But not in a good way.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Anthropocene epoch began …

It is important to define when the Anthropocene epoch began so we can model how humanity has affected our life support system. Climate modelers need a more complete record of what is actually going on to make accurate predictions. Though it may not matter whether this represents a new geological epoch (a line in the dirt filled with plastics, nuclear fallout, or transistor radios), we need some kind of demarcation that signaled our arrival.

Scientists to launch global hunt for ‘line in the rock’ marking the ‘scary’ new man-made epoch Declaring we now live in the ‘Anthropocene’ would reflect the impact of artificial changes to the Earth's climate, chemistry, lifeforms and even the rocks of the future A worldwide hunt for a “line in the rock” that shows the beginning of a new geological epoch defined by humanity’s extraordinary impact on planet Earth is expected to get underway in the next few weeks. The idea that we are now living in the Anthropocene epoch has been gaining ground in recent years. The surge in global temperatures by an average of one degree Celsius in little over a century, the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels, the extinction of many animal species, the widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers, the deluge of plastic rubbish and a number of other factors have all caused changes that will remain visible in rocks for millions of years. (August 18, 2016) Independent

What will matter is that we establish a realistic baseline from which to locate the point (or points) that our earth systems—the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydro-sphere, and the energy system—veered wildly from their ‘natural’ (or non-human influenced) state to our present state. How much more disturbance can our environment (the particular ecological constraints we need to thrive) take before things get dicey? Have we already burst pass Earth’s carrying capacity?

Our ecological footprints have been profound. Our greenhouse gas emissions have already dangerously warmed the planet. Our desire to get around on well-paved roads has bifurcated almost every land ecosystem, making it difficult for plants and animals to live and adapt. (Smugly, we often call animals that don’t respect our highway boundaries ‘road kill’.) Our need for more and more food has hijacked much of our planet’s land surface for our purposes, regardless of the natural dynamics needed to make ecosystems work. 

Even our economics have become a major environmental driver in our earth systems because they influence widespread human behavior. As we respond to (man-made) market prices, this has a profound effect on how many forests we destroy, or the amount of ground we disturb, or how much water we reallocate. 

If we just assume that our present way of life is sustainable and base our climate models on this present period of time only, we are going to fool ourselves into thinking that it’s healthy for seven billion people (going on nine billion by 2050 and maybe twelve billion by the end of this century), desiring a higher standard of living (and all the environmental resources that comes with that), to be a proper baseline from which to plan our future. That would be a dangerous delusion.

Whether we discover the Anthropocene as a particular strata in the ground will not matter as much as our accepting that the fact that that human behavior at some point (probably many, many points) began to seriously disturb a natural evolution that began some 3 billion years ago here on Earth. Then we can adjust accordingly.

My guess is that Anthropocene began when humans forgot that the things we discovered about how the world works also pertained to ourselves.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

The false nuclear energy option

The public should be concerned about aging nuclear power plants that are ‘struggling’ financially and operating with safety issues. If our energy future must have nuclear power, that does not mean that we should keep aging, unsafe power plants going. These are two different issues.  
Ginna owner taking over additional Upstate nuclear plant Exelon, which owns the Ginna nuclear power plant, has agreed to buy the FitzPatrick plant in Oswego for $110 million. That means that Exelon will own all three of Upstate New York's nuclear power generators. And all three are struggling.  In recent years, each of the plants has been flagged by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for non-critical mechanical or safety violations. Each has also been losing money, though the dual-reactor Nine Mile Point in Oswego has reportedly fared better than Ginna and FitzPatrick. (August 10, 2016) Rochester City Newspaper 

Proponents of the use of nuclear power to address Climate Change should distinguish aging nuclear power plants separate from next generation nuclear (which can reuse spent nuclear materials) and small nuclear power operations (which can be built for less money, pose less risk, and provide backup for renewable energy like wind and solar).

Four prominent scientists--James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley--feel so strongly about the need for nuclear power to address Climate Change they wrote an essay on this in The Guardian last year.

Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely. However, nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards. Most importantly for climate, nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation. (December 3, 2015 The Guardian)

But their plea does not address the problem of aging nuclear power plants.  Not to make the distinction between next generation nuclear power and old struggling power plants is to present a false energy option to the public.

The New York state Public Service Commission has recently adopted the Clean Energy Standard “that will boost renewable energy use while rescuing upstate nuclear power plants with a multi-billion-dollar subsidy.” (August 1, 2016 NY OKs energy plan with nuclear bailout, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

It would be helpful to the public and our ability to plan for the future if our media investigated how safe aging nuclear power plants are when these local nuclear power plants are struggling financially and continually having safety issues -- and keep that issue separate from next generation nuclear power. 

I suspect more folks would get behind the idea of including nuclear power in our energy choices if these old, aging nuclear power plants were closed down. Although these (local) old plants have provided power without any major incidents, and the folks keeping them going have been an important part of our community, the public needs to have a better picture of the safety concerns involved in keeping these nuclear plants operational. The statewide public comment meetings leading up to the decision on the Clean Energy Standard often included rooms full of local nuclear power employees pleading for their jobs. This was probably a great strategy for those employees keeping their jobs, but there were no discussions about the risks involved in keeping aging, struggling nuclear power plants running.

With nuclear energy there’s no room for error.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Monstrous Alligator Gar vs. Asian Carp Invasion!

“There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.”1

Our present media, ravished by the Internet and desperate for advertisement bucks, are forever seeking stories that will engage the public. Not necessarily in a good way. Too often, rather than taking the time to inform the public about important stuff, our media tends towards outrageous, titillating tidbits of gobbledygook.  

Tackling thorny issues like invasive species in a time of Climate Change is going to be a herculean challenge, virtually on the level of the twelve labors of Heracles himself. Ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes, are going to be transformed by warmer waters, less ice cover, and the more extreme weather that comes with a warming climate—not to mention a myriad of pollutants like toxic flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, plastic bits, human waste (from periodic sewer overflows), and pesticides. On top of all that, some invasive species may well survive better than our endemic species under these conditions.

Much speculation by scientists about the invasion of the Asian Carp (actually, there are three species of these critters) anticipates the arrival of this crazy, leaping fish. Will the Asian Carp totally decimate our Great Lakes ecosystem by gobbling up endemic fish, or will all the ink spilled about this invasion come to nothing? Most folks seem to be leaning towards the prudent notion that given what we know about the Asian Carp in other waters, it wouldn’t be a good idea to allow them into our precious Great Lakes system. But they are coming. Continual sightings and DNA droppings throughout the Great Lakes are heralding their arrival. And, there are insufficient funds and efforts for keeping them out.

Asian carp ‘fatigue’ threatens Great Lakes Boat captains call on Congress to renew efforts to address potential invasion Great Lakes charter boat captains are calling on Congress to refocus efforts on Asian carp, the exotic species with a voracious appetite that many fish biologists fear would wreak havoc on the region’s $7 billion fishery if they ever became established in it. Those fishing captains are one of the groups with the most to lose, because they are highly dependent on a diverse mix of fish species to make their businesses more attractive. That’s especially true in Lake Erie, where more fish are spawned than the rest of the Great Lakes combined. (August 3, 2016) The Toledo Blade

What to do? It seems hopeless, like it did in the 1980’s trying to keep the Zebra Mussels out of our local waters. Some have suggested that we just learn to love and eat the prolific Asian Carp. Most others don’t think that’s a good idea at all—given the potential disruption to the greatest freshwater system in the world.

Enter the media. Recently, the media has seized onto the unsubstantiated idea of a monstrous-looking endemic species, once brought back to a sizeable population, could put the Asian Carp in its place—the lively carp would meet its match.

Once-hated fish now sought to combat Asian carp Persecuted by anglers and deprived of places to spawn, the alligator gar — with a head that resembles an alligator and two rows of needlelike teeth — survived primarily in southern states in the tributaries of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico after being declared extinct in several states farther north. To many, it was a freak, a “trash fish” that threatened sport fish, something to be exterminated. But the once-reviled predator is now being seen as a valuable fish in its own right, and as a potentially potent weapon against a more threatening intruder: the invasive Asian carp, which have swum almost unchecked toward the Great Lakes, with little more than an electric barrier to keep them at bay. Efforts are now under way to reintroduce the alligator gar from Illinois to Tennessee. (July 31, 2016 Detroit Free Press)

I know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that, but is reestablishing the monstrous alligator gar the way to curb the Asian Carp? What if, instead, both become our enemy?

Anyway, according to the biologist actually part of the team trying to reestablish the gar, “There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.”1

Alligator Gar Not Effective Weapon Against Asian Carp, Says Biologist A spate of recent news articles have suggested that reintroducing a mammoth fish called the alligator gar into Illinois waterways may help protect Lake Michigan from the invasive Asian carp. But not everyone believes this to be true, including Dan Stephenson, a longtime biologist and chief of fisheries at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That's the state agency that’s reintroducing the once-extinct alligator gar into Illinois’ waterways. “We’re just trying to bring back an extirpated species, a native fish that was here once and we’d like to have them back,” Stephenson said. “There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.” (August 3, 2016) Chicago Tonight WTTW 

The media, ya gotta laugh: Biologists trying to reintroduce monstrous alligator gar into the Great Lakes never thought they could handle the Asian Carp. Asian Carp would vastly outnumber the gars and the gars cannot even open their jaws wide enough to gobble up a humungous Asian Carp. But the media likes to publish stories about bringing back great big monster-bad fish to eat the hordes of a big invasive species—and save the day! Makes for good sales, I guess.  

Our media needs to evolve into an information system that will help us get through Climate Change, the mother of all problems (which will include dealing with invasive species). 

Time passes. 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Modeling Climate Change

For those who still think climate science and the scientific likelihoods for Climate Change are the stuff of dreams, they should focus for a while on climate modeling. Climate modeling (“quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the important drivers of climate, including atmosphere, oceans, land surface and ice” Wikipedia) is anchored deeply in the laws of physics, math, and all the accumulated data on weather and climate from around the world. Predicting climate has come a long way as the software and hardware of computing have advanced quickly, making it possible for climate scientists to assert, with a high degree of certainty, that global warming is upon us and Climate Change is a grave threat.

Here’s a more rigorous argument from climate modelers:

 “In the face of criticism of climate science, it is important to note that the physical science behind climate models and energy is based on physical laws known for several hundred years and is not new or subject to question. If the world did not work this way, cars would not run, airplanes would not fly, and everyday motions that we observe (baseball pitches, gravity) would not happen. As we demonstrate later, these underlying scientific principles are not cutting-edge science. The principles are not open to question or debate, any more than the law of gravity can be debated.” (Page 39, 2016) Demystifying Climate Models, A Users Guide to Earth System Models)

Scientists can factor in the energy from the sun and follow it through many of our planet’s systems, including ocean currents, our atmosphere, and even model energy as it passes through plant and animal life. Unlike economics (where, if you run out of money you just make more), there are strict energy conservation laws to which climate models have to adhere. If you follow the sun’s energy through one of the many systems in a climate model and the numbers don’t add up, you have to find the missing or additional energy.

With the new climate models, scientists can even factor in many of humanity’s influences on our climate—beyond the production of greenhouse gas emissions -- which our way of life releases.

“Changing water availability affects industry and also affects agriculture. Agricultural land (pasture and cropland) has very different surface properties than natural vegetation, which can result in significant differences in evapotranspiration, affecting precipitation, and albedo, affecting surface temperature. Changes in precipitation and temperature in turn feedback on crops: requiring changes to crop types or additional irrigation water if available. All of these feedbacks can be predicted and modeled, with varying degrees of fidelity.”(Page 130, ibid) 

The take home message is that the more climate scientists learn about global warming (a subset of Climate Change) and gather information for climate models, the more certain they are that we are heading for disaster.

Climate models are accurately predicting ocean and global warming A new study from my colleagues and I vindicates climate models, which are accurately predicting the rate of ocean heat accumulation For those of us who are concerned about global warming, two of the most critical questions we ask are, “how fast is the Earth warming?” and “how much will it warm in the future?”. The first question can be answered in a number of ways. For instance, we can actually measure the rate of energy increase in the Earth’s system (primarily through measuring changing ocean temperatures). Alternatively, we can measure changes in the net inflow of heat at the top of the atmosphere using satellites. We can also measure the rate of sea-level rise to get an estimate of the warming rate. (July 27, 2016) The Guardian

Someday perhaps we may be able to factor in many other features of modern life that are affected by and effect climate, like how our cities take in and release energy.

There are limits to climate modeling. If we don’t include all the data we need to know in order to understand how our climate works (like monitoring clouds’ effect on climate), our models will be limited. Already, climate modelers are learning that their knowledge about clouds and climate is severely limited:

“Perhaps most chillingly, the study reveals how inadequate our present observing systems still are when it comes to certain fundamental climate questions—such as whether the world is getting more or less cloudy, Stevens adds. “This work reminds us that if we really want to understand our changing climate … we need to do a much, much better job of watching clouds.”” (Cloud patterns are shifting skyward and poleward, adding to global warming; July 11, 2016, Science Magazine)

More importantly, there are a lot of unknown unknowns (things we don’t even know we don’t know) that come with something so incredibly complicated as our climate. For example, a climate model won’t ever be able to tell us how our climate will respond to the human peculiarity called climate denial—a refusal to accept science and reason. If we react to every indication that energy is being trapped in our climate system with hostility and distain towards climate modeling, we will be stumbling about blindly on a very warm world.

Time passes.