Archive for the ‘Arctic’ Category
With apologies for the delay, here is the latest email received from Greenpeace:
Right now, we have a huge chance to help save the Arctic.
To tackle the threats posed by the disappearing ice and the invasion of oil drillers – like Shell – we need to reduce the world’s thirst for oil. We can do that by making greener cars. And the good news is we’ve already begun.
We know this can be done. When we first asked VW to make their cars cleaner and more efficient, they said it wasn’t possible. Then 526,000 of us piled pressure on VW and helped persuade the biggest and most powerful car company in Europe that clean technology is possible. That’s something we can be proud of. Now it’s time to move the whole of Europe (and the world) forward.
This isn’t just about our continent. If we make these big wins here, the global car market will feel the pressure to keep up with innovation in Europe. That means we could see less polluting cars in countries like China and the US too. That’s better for the Arctic, the air we breathe and the stability of our global climate.
Over the next few months European politicians are making decisions that will affect every new car in Europe – this is a huge opportunity – so let’s make sure we send the strongest possible message. We know that these politicians aren’t used to getting thousands of messages from people like us, so this could really have an impact.
Together we can show the world what can be done,
Nic and all the Greenpeace crew
PS Of course, not everyone drives – I don’t – and your bicycle is the most efficient vehicle you can use. But cars are a big part of society today, so please help make cars cleaner in Europe (and the world).
PPS You may have heard about the No Dash For Gas heroes who shut down a polluting gas power station last year and were being sued by owners EDF for £5m in an attempt to stifle peaceful protest. This week, we heard the amazing news is that, after nearly 65,000 people signed a petition, EDF have backed down! The activists still face criminal charges and you can get the latest updates on their website.
This is great news but, what we really need is an International agreement (like that which protects the Antarctic from resource exploitation). If we need to despoil the Arctic to get fossil fuels, then we are very clearly far too dependent on them: The time has come to invest in and/or subsidise the pursuit of renewable (i.e. infinite) alternatives. Here is the appeal for help from Greenpeace.
Last night, Shell announced it’s giving up on plans to drill for oil in the Arctic in this year.
It’s amazing news, because it means no drilling in the pristine waters of Alaska this year. And the pressure you put on Shell helped make this possible.
Right now I’m thrilled, this is a huge success for the Arctic. But the fight isn’t over. We’ve got a real opportunity to stop industrial exploitation in the Arctic, forever.
Last month, President Obama ordered a sweeping review of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Shell was found to have 16 safety and environmental violations on their rig that ran aground in Alaska. Now it’s time for Obama to abandon the idea of Arctic drilling completely.
I’m sure you won’t want the good news to stop here, and that in the days ahead you’ll still be part of the movement to keep Shell out of the Arctic forever.
But for the moment it’s all about enjoying what we’ve accomplished together. Thank you so much for all the work you have done to protect the Arctic.
Greenpeace Executive Director
P.S. This is great news, but there is much more to do. Our Arctic campaign and all the work we do to protect the environment depends entirely on your support. Can you make a donation now to help make a protected Arctic a reality? (Link to Greenpeace UK website here.)
Thanks to Professor Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez (Transition Times blog), I have been alerted to an article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times, in which he takes A Closer Look at Moderating Views of Climate Sensitivity (where climate sensitivity is the amount of temperature change expected per doubling of atmospheric CO2).
This even includes an update wherein Revkin reports an exchange of emails with Gavin Schmidt (NASA), in which the latter suggests that Revkin has implied that “the wishful thinking of people like Ridley and Lindzen for a climate sensitivity of around 1 deg C is tenable”. For the record, I think this criticism was unjustified because, at the beginning of his article, Revkin clearly states that:
There’s still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a “benign” situation, as some have cast it.
However, with the greatest of respect to both Revkin and Schmidt, all this arguing about climate sensitivity (to CO2) may be moot, if, as many scientists are now saying, the warming that has already occurred is now very close to triggering widespread methane release:
– from permafrost (which is already happening); and
– sediments on the deep ocean floor (also already happening).
If these things are already happening, it is almost certainly too late to stop them. It is tantamount to trying to stop an avalanche that has already started. This is because, as a greenhouse gas (GHG), methane is over twenty times more powerful than CO2. Therefore, the warming effect of all this methane could be many times more than all the CO2 humans will ever emit as a result of burning fossil fuels. We could of course try and trap this methane and burn it. This would still not be good (but it would be better than uncontrolled release). However, trapping and burning all this methane would make the technological achievement of landing a man on the Moon look like child’s play by comparison.
In essence then, the widespread release of geospheric methane back into the biosphere, which has already started, renders discussion of climate sensitivity to CO2 irrelevant; and means that significant climatic change is now inevitable and irreversible. Sadly, just as Bill McKibben noted over a year ago (thanks to Learning from Dogs for the reminder), we continue to be deafened by:
– climate change denial from the fossil fuel lobby;
– denial of the problem from our politicians.
Whichever way you slice the cake, it is not good news. With my thanks to another British blogger, Pendantry, for alerting me to it, here is the bad news in full from Guy McPherson (ecological biology Professor Emeritus at University of Arizona)…
I guess I should have called this post, “Confessions of an environmental alarmist” but, I do not see that I have much choice because… Denial is not a river in Egypt.
UPDATE (1500 GMT): Thanks to the fact-checking of Jules (see comment below), it has been pointed out to me that the release of methane from the seabed may not be the massive problem McPherson makes it out to be above, because:
Methane emitted at the seafloor only rarely survives the trip through the water column to reach the atmosphere. At seafloor depths greater than ~100 m, O2 and N2 dissolved in ocean water almost completely replace CH4 in rising bubbles (McGinnis et al. 2006). Within the water column, oxidation by aerobic microbes is an important sink for dissolved CH4 over some depth ranges and at some locations (e.g., Mau et al. 2007).
Ruppel, C. D. (2011) Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):29.
However, this does not change the fact that methane is already being released direct to the atmosphere across vast areas of formerly-frozen permafrost in the north of Canada and Siberia.
UPDATE (1845 GMT): In responding to my comment on the NYT website, Andy Revkin claims most scientists doubt that methane release is the game over scenario some claim it to be; and he refers to a David Archer piece on the Real Climate blog a year ago. My response to that would be: So what, this is not – nor was it ever – a reversible laboratory experiment!
Latest email from Greenpeace:
We’re making headlines. Our ad – which 1,269 amazing Greenpeace supporters helped pay for – has made a splash in the Telegraph, Britain’s most widely-read broadsheet. We’re also hoping to get the ad printed in the Times tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who has taken part in this campaign. Together, we’ve exposed Shell’s long list of costly Arctic blunders to investors, politicians and the public at large – and we’re not done yet.
Want to keep the pressure up until we’ve won this thing for good?
Right now, Greenpeace is looking for a few creative, eco-conscious youngsters to design a flag for all the world to see. The winning design will be taken to the North Pole, where it will join a scroll featuring millions of names demanding the Arctic be protected forever. We will plant it at the bottom of the ocean at the top of the world, where it will remain: a statement from people who care about the health of our planet and a symbol of the conscience of humanity.
Why? Because the Arctic belongs to everyone, yet young people today will most likely live to see a time when there is no more Arctic sea ice in the summer – a fate unthinkable just a few decades ago. We know that Arctic drilling to burn more oil will accelerate climate change and is a folly driven by greed, and as a movement we’re doing everything we can to stop it. Today that means inviting the youth of the world to be heard. Click here to find out more information, then get a young person involved – or send this email on to someone you know.
Thanks for being part of this,
Ian and the Arctic team
The latest email from Greenpeace/savethearctic.org,
Right now, one of Shell’s Arctic oil rigs with 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board, is being retrieved and assessed for damage after it ran aground within sight of Alaska’s fragile coastline. The Kulluk got into serious trouble after hitting a typical winter storm off the island of Sitkalidak, near Kodiak. The old rig was stranded just miles from an endangered sea otter and sea lions habitat, threatening the area with a potential oil spill. After this latest fiasco Shell’s reputation is now in tatters.
This isn’t the first time Shell has put their crew and the Arctic at risk this year. The grounding of the Kulluk is the latest in a series of embarrassing accidents that have plagued Shell’s attempts to find oil in the extreme Arctic. The company intends to try again next year and the decision about whether or not it gets that opportunity will be made soon. This is our chance to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic next year and beyond. Tell United States President Barack Obama to call ‘timeout’ on Arctic drilling and suspend Shell’s permits.
A Greenpeace team is in the area monitoring the situation. The 30-year-old Kulluk was being towed back from the Arctic when it hit heavy weather that caused the towing line to break. After a 48 hour rescue attempt the situation became too dangerous and the team was forced to let the rig drift free. The US Coast Guard evacuated crew members by helicopter, and the rig ran aground just miles from the Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge. After six days of struggling harsh weather conditions, the rig is now being finally towed away.
This is more proof of the recklessness and unchecked greed of corporations like Shell. We cannot let them put the most precious areas of our planet at risk in search of oil and profits. Tell President Obama that we cannot trust Shell’s assurances on safety. He must protect the Arctic and its wildlife and suspend Arctic drilling permits immediately.
This is the latest mishap Shell has suffered after an extremely rocky drilling season. Their woes included another grounding – this time of their drillship the Noble Discoverer – a flash fire on board this ship, an oil spill containment dome that failed spectacularly and “was crushed like a beer can” during testing, and warnings from the US Coast Guard for inadequate pollution prevention and safety equipment.
With Big Oil in the Arctic, disaster is not a question of if, but when. Shell’s top officials have admitted that “there will be spills”. It’s time for us to put a stop to this insanity before it’s too late, and right now with the media coverage of this accident we have a good chance of making our voices heard. Ask President Obama to suspend Shell’s permits and protect the Arctic for all of us, and please forward this email to friends and family.
Latest email from Greenpeace:
Our greatest fears about Shell’s incompetence in the Arctic are starting to be realised.
The Kulluk – Shell’s creaking Arctic oil rig – was being towed back to harbour for maintenance when it was hit by a storm. The tow line broke and despite several attempts to reattach it the onboard crews failed and it eventually ran aground. Shell’s crew was rescued by the US Coast Guard.
The rig now sits abandoned perilously close to the rocky shoreline of Sitkalidak Island in Southern Alaska. This part of the coast is home to endangered species of sea lions, otters and over 250 bird species.
This proves – yet again – that the company is simply not prepared for the hazardous Arctic conditions where any spill could take years to clean up.
So far the more than 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the Kulluk have not leaked into the fragile marine environment. The longer it remains near the cliffs the likelihood of a spill will increase.
But this is only the latest in Shell’s long list of Arctic failures. In the past year, it lost control of another one of its drill ships in a ‘stiff breeze’, crushed its safety equipment and had an on-board fire. The list goes on.
Shell cannot be trusted with the Arctic.
It’s essential that we get this news out to as many people as possible. Please forward this email to a friend who will join us in our bid to protect the Arctic.
Invite them to join us by signing here: http://www.savethearctic.org
We have a Greenpeace team on the way to Sitkalidak right now to monitor the situation closely and we’ll update you very soon.
I know I did not post anything about this particular facet of Greenpeace’s campaign against Shell drilling in the Arctic (and any company associated with Shell). However, I did post it on my Facebook page.
After Greenpeace launched just such a “guilty be association” campaign, 40,000 people emailed Waitrose asking them to re-consider their decision to link their brand with Shell. As a result, Waitrose has now declared its support for an Arctic Sanctuary; and are putting their plans to co-habit with Shell petrol stations on hold.
However, Greenpeace still need to stop Shell actually drilling for oil in the Arctic. Therefore, if you have not done so already, please sign up now to Save the Arctic! www.savethearctic.com
Climate change represents a clear and present danger to human civilisation (which we could have prevented). However, the volcanoes of Iceland actually represent a much greater – or at least a much more imminent – danger (which we cannot prevent). Here is how Jeremy Irons describes the threat in the opening sequence to the episode of the excellent Life on Fire television documentary series dedicated to looking at them:
Like many other islands, Iceland is a product of volcanic activity. However, Iceland is the most volcanically-active island on Earth; and many geologists consider it to be home to some of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet. Indeed, Iceland has at least 30 active volcanoes but concern is now focussed on about half a dozen of these, which are located beneath or in close proximity to ice. Of these, Grimsvotn, Hekla, and Katla appear to be the most dangerous.
Grimsvotn is the most active, erupting almost every year. Fortunately(?), it is buried beneath part of the largest permanent Ice Cap in Europe – Vatnajokull… Incidentally, we tend to describe these things as permanent but, I feel compelled to point out that bare rock of peaks in the Austrian Alps and the Rocky Mountains in the USA – previously considered “permanently” covered in snow or ice – are now being exposed as a result of global warming…
Anyway, to get back to Iceland, Grimsvotn is buried beneath several thousand feet of ice but it is remote; and the outpourings of glacial melt-water the eruptions cause do not seem to do too much damage. By contrast, Hekla is not so remote and is not buried beneath an ice cap (just a small glacier). However, although known to have a history of violent eruptions, Hekla is not thought to be ready to erupt (like all Icelandic volcanoes it is being routinely monitored for signs of activity). The really big concern is Katla, which is known have a history of violent eruptions and its underlying magma chamber is known to be full (rather than empty). Therefore, although it could erupt within weeks or not erupt for 10 years, it is considered – due to the regularity of its historic eruptions – to be ready to erupt and likely to do so in the near future (at least as one measures time in the context of the lifecycle of active volcanoes).
When Katla erupts it will make the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010 (which it normally follows; and which caused so much disruption to aviation) seem insignificant by comparison: The scientists estimate that Katla (with a 10km-wide Caldera buried beneath 750 metres of ice) will be 50 times more powerful eruption than
Eyjaf… that of its close neighbour in 2010. In December 2011, the BBC News website picked up on the increasing levels of seismicity around the summit of Katla, reporting that New Icelandic volcano eruption could have global impact. One thing seems certain, an eruption at Katla will send much larger quantities of ash much higher into the atmosphere – such that they will stay there for years and disprupt weather patterns on a global scale.
The last time anything remotely similar happened – the Laki fissure eruption of a dozen or more separate volcanoes – in 1783, it is estimated that 300,000 people died in Europe from the short-term effects (i.e. much of Europe was blanketed in a noxious mixture of poisonous and acidic gases). Furthermore, it has been estimated that 1 million people died as a result of longer term effects (i.e. the failure of harvests and colder-than-normal winters in each of the three years following the eruption), which are thought to have been partly responsible for causing the French Revolution.
Given that the global population at the time was less than 1 billion, it does not take a mathematical genius to work out that, notwithstanding the fact that this will not be a surprise when it happens (thanks to all monitoring being done), the effects of an eruption of this magnitude today will be somewhat greater than interrupting a few people’s business or holiday plans. Basically, our modern industrial globalised civilisation has not witnessed anything like it and it will affect the whole of the northern hemisphere if not the entire planet. Here’s how the British, normally-unflappable, Daily Telegraph newspaper reported the news to its readers on the second anniversary of the 2010 eruption (earlier this year):
So all I can do now is echo the famous words of Edward R Murrow, and say, “Good night and good luck!”
Or maybe, if I can be permitted a little gallows humour:
Armageddon out of here!
(i.e. I think it really is time I made good use of my Dual Nationality and emigrated to Australia!)
What is mostly blue, round, very old, retaining water, and not as cool as it used to be?
We used to think that the Earth was green but then we discovered it is mostly covered in salty water.
We used to think the Earth was flat but then someone pointed out that ships disappear over the horizon and come back again, so we decided it must be spherical.
We used to think that the Earth was only 6000 years old but had to re-think that idea when faced with overwhelming evidence that it is in fact very old.
We used to think that human activity could not possibly affect our environment but then we discovered that agricultural chemicals poisoned soils and rivers; and industrial pollution caused acid rain.
We used to think smoking heroin and tobacco was sophisticated but then we discovered that neither of them is actually very good for you; both of them being highly addictive and likely to kill you if you smoke either of them for too long or too often.
We used to think that hydrocarbons were the answer to all our problems and that they would provide us with cheap energy for ever but then the basic Laws of Physics intervened and we realised that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
OK, so here is the story (of reality) so far:
– The Earth is not flat; and it is not just 6000 years old.
– Businesses tend to invent things that make money; but that does not mean they are a good idea.
– Cheap energy is a myth; and if you doubt it then your government must be subsidising it too much.
Now things start to get a bit more “tricky”:
Here’s a question for you – Who is it that has a track-record of being found guilty of manipulating science in order to confuse people, perpetuate doubt, preserve the appeal of their product, and avoid taking responsibility for the adverse consequences arising from the use of their product – is it scientific researchers in dozens of the World’s top Universities or top executives of dozens of the World’s biggest multi-national corporations? (N.B. It is not a trick question – the most obvious answer is probably the right one.)
“May you live in interesting times” – An ancient Chinese curse
I really do think we are living through momentous days at present; we have the UK Government’s chief expert on climate science admitting for the first time that limiting average global warming to less than 2 Celsius may no longer be possible and we have the areal extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean reaching a record-breaking minimum… And yet, we have oil companies like Gazprom and Shell insisting that this is nature’s solution to our fossil fuel shortage… Are they insane or what?
As I said at the beginning of my previous post, our environmental problems are not the product of an over-active imagination; the result of a predisposition to being a doomsayer; or the fictional preamble to an insidious plan for worldwide authoritarian government – they are real.
When, against all the odds, the RAF managed to succeed in persuading Adolf Hitler not to invade the UK in 1940, Sir Winston Churchill famously remarked: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. If Churchill were alive today, I think he might say:
Never in the history of human commerce was so much… spewed to so many by so few.
It took nearly over 50 years to get tobacco companies to admit the truth they had suppressed – that their product is not good for you.
It has now been almost 25 years since the fossil fuel industry decided to pursue identical tactics to prevent harm to their business interests; and in so doing they have almost certainly guaranteed that the harm their industry has inflicted upon the Earth will be much greater, longer-lasting; and harder to mitigate.
Saying “we will adapt” is just not good enough. Anyone who says such a thing is at best guilty of wishful thinking and, at worst, probably on track to be eventually found guilty of crimes against biodiversity… For the record, although it would be rather poignant for it to be set up somewhere like Madagascar, I think it would be more practical for the International Biodiversity Crime Commission (IBCC) to be set-up on land reclaimed from the sea in the Thames Estuary (in place of the Mayor of London’s crazy idea for a new airport).
However, let us not get ahead of ourselves here: Before anyone can be accused of crimes against biodiversity, it will first of all be necessary for business leaders, politicians, and journalists to stop lying to themselves and anyone who will listen (and sadly a large number still do) – in a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to prevent the sunlight of reality from dawning upon the landscape of their scientific understanding.
The Earth is not flat, it is very old, and it has liquid water on its surface because the Greenhouse Effect is a reality. However, this greenhouse effect has now been enhanced by the addition of 40% extra CO2 and, since the Laws of Physics are – unlike historical performance of the Stock Market – a pretty reliable indicator of prospects for the future, the Earth is warming up.
This may well be the end of story but, unless you want it to turn into a nightmare, we need all people everywhere to accept the nature of reality; and start taking action to:
– Minimise our wasteful consumption of non-renewable resources and energy.
– Eliminate business and economic practices that encourage over-consumption.
– Live within our means and start paying-off our currently mortgaged future.
– Educate women in poor countries to eliminate excessive population growth.
So, yes, Turkeys will have to vote for Christmas.
This is Figure 1.4 on page 6 of David MackKay’s book, Sustainable Energy: Without The Hot Air (2008).
David MacKay has been criticised for a number of things including over-simplification but, as he makes clear in the book, his purpose was merely to sketch out what may and may not be possible. He has even been described a a shill for the nuclear power industry. However, is there any argument that can be made that is capable of subverting the message of the above image? As the author himself says:
“I think something new may have happened between 1800 AD and 2000 AD. I’ve marked the year 1769, in which James Watt patented his steam engine.”
The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution has been affected by economic output and wars etc., but overall it appears to be super-exponential – a J-curve – a Hockey Stick.
Whether it be the the number of bacteria in a petri dish or number of collisions in a nuclear chain reaction, unless or until raw materials run out (now there’s an interesting thought), the growth in numbers is exponential (i.e. it doubles in a fixed period of time). In some cases, super-exponential growth can occur (i.e. whereby the doubling-time gets shorter) – which is what has happened to the rate at which humans are pumping CO2 into the atmosphere (as shown above).
Exponential curves are everywhere in Nature. This is because positive feedback loops are everywhere too. Positive feedback loops cause rate of change to accelerate; whereas negative feedback loops cause any change to be eliminated. Therefore positive feedback loops can cause exponential growth (e.g. population) or exponential decline (e.g. sea ice).
Ice melting in the Arctic Ocean
Sea ice in the Arctic has been melting for over 30 years. However, it is not just extent that is important; volume, thickness and persistence (age) are all relevant also. With the benefit of measurements of all of these parameters it has become clear that the IPCC was wrong to ignore positive feedback mechanisms: In the case of melting sea ice; any reduction in ice cover means that ice (that reflects a lot of the Sun’s energy) is replaced by water (that absorbs much more of the Sun’s energy). The warming water makes the ice melt faster. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the disappearance of ice from the Arctic is now predicted to occur at an earlier date than was thought likely even 10 years ago. See: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/future/sea_ice.html
So, the reason we keep finding these Hockey Stick graphs is because they are there. They are not noise; they are signal. The are not the product of an over-active imagination or statistical trickery; they are real. Nature is sending us a message; and the message is Wake Up!