Loving the polar bears to death

“I thought I better come see the bears because the next time I am in this country they will be all gone.”
— Polar bear tourist in Churchill, Man.

ResearchBlogging.orgEcotourism. Sounds so responsible, or least, non-exploitative. But let’s face it: Anyone who flies long-distance to get close to some endangered piece of nature at risk from climate change is doing their bit to push those species that much closer to extinction. A paper published recently in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism tries to quantify the irony. “The carbon cost of polar bear viewing tourism in Churchill, Canada” (Subs req’d) looks at the carbon footprint of the polar-bear viewing industry in which, despite its remote location on the western shores of Hudson Bay, is still the cheapest option for almost everyone to see the species in its natural habitat. Jackie Dawson of the University of Guelph and her co-authors also ask the larger question:

Is there a long term future for tourism in globally peripheral destinations such as the Arctic?

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The credibility factor

ResearchBlogging.orgThe more peer-reviewed papers a climatologist has published and the more often those papers are cited, the more likely it is that the researcher supports the science underpinning anthropogenic climate change (ACC). That’s the conclusion of a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone working in or following the field. But scientists like to put numbers to things, and the paper, “Expert credibility in climate change” does a pretty good job of doing just that.
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Oops. The Sunday Times apologizes

Few stories about climatology generated as much attention, positive and negative as one by Jonathan Leake in London’s Sunday Times back in January. “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim” claimed that references to threats to the Amazon rainforest from global warming were “based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise.” As pretty much anyone without an ulterior motive who bothered to look into the matter quickly discovered, that wasn’t true. Now, more than five months later, the Times has apologized for the story.

Joe at Climate Progress and Gavin at Real Climate have all the details.

The most interesting part of the apology, from my perspective as a former editor, is this:

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Will Deepwater Horizon be the petro industry’s Three Mile Island?

What happened at Three Mile Island in 1979 led to a new regulatory environment that increased the costs of building and running nuclear power reactors in the U.S. The environment was so hostile to the industry that no new reactors have been ordered since then. There are several in the planning stages, but none have been approved. The question now being debated among energy analysts is whether or not what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment will lead to similar challenges for the oil industry.

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Obama’s speech

The most intelligent thing I’ve read so far about Obama’s speech Tuesday night, the one that included not a single mention of climate change, comes from Ezra Klein at the Washington Post. He’s talking about the assumption that fear doesn’t motivation people, only inspiration does.

But that strikes me as depressing evidence of how unlikely we are to succeed. I simply don’t believe you could’ve passed health care if you couldn’t have talked about covering the uninsured, and I don’t think stimulus would’ve worked without the spur of the unemployed. It’s not that people wanted to hear about either subject all day, but they got both problems on a visceral enough level that the action being taken at least made a sort of sense.

Making climate change visceral to the U.S. public is the challenge, to be sure.

The climate consensus: How to take a quote out of context

In a desperate bid to help staunch the propagation of a particularly insidious meme, I offer this attempt to help clear up any confusion:

Mike Hulme and Martin Mahony of the School of Environmental Sciences University at East Anglia have a paper forthcoming in Progress in Physical Geography that explores the IPCC, “its origins and mandate; its disciplinary and geographical expertise; its governance and organisational learning; consensus and its representation of uncertainty; and its wider impact and influence on knowledge production, public discourse and policy development.”

The paper does not say that only a few dozen scientists support the idea that humans are warming the planet, no matter what blogger claims. Thanks to a certain columnist at Canada’s National Post, the notion that a leading climatologist would say just that in a peer-reviewed paper is making the rounds.

Here’s what it does say:
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Beyond Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors:
Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century

By Burton Richter
Cambridge University Press, 218 pages.

Do we really another book summarizing the science of climate change and the available response options? Sure. Why not? What’s the harm? In this era of hyperfractionated audiences and echo-chambers, there’s no such thing as too many arrows in our collective quiver. This one, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter, doesn’t contribute anything new. But at this point in the conversation, there’s not much new to contribute, just novel approaches to making the argument that we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing for much longer without trashing the planet.

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A reprieve for the small island states?

ResearchBlogging.orgI’ve never been completely comfortable using the fate of small island states — places like Tuvalu and Kiribati and the Seycelles that might be the first to go under as sea levels rise — as poster kids for the consequences of climate change. For one thing, as difficult as it would be for their populations to abandon their homes, there’s just not that many people involved, and so there was never any real chance that their pleas would have much of an effect on industrialized countries. The reality is people react to threats to their own quality of life, not those facing a tiny group on the other side of the planet.

Now comes research in Global and Planetary Change that suggests small island states, many of which are coral atolls, aren’t as susceptible to rising sea levels as many had thought. In “The dynamic response of reef islands to sea-level rise: Evidence from multi-decadal analysis of island change in the Central Pacific,” Paul Kench of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Arthur Webb at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji look at how 27 atoll islands fared over a few decades during which sea level rose by 2 mm a year.

What did they find?
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