The fate of the Amazon is in doubt

Last year much was made by climate-change deniers of a poorly referenced section of one of the IPCC reports of 2007 that said “up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall.” It turned out that the claim was based on solid science, despite the best efforts of those who just can’t bring themselves to trust professional climatologists. You can read the whole sordid tale here. I revisit the issue because of a new paper about to be published by the American Geophysical Union that bears on this question.

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Maximum meltdown

Just case you were wondering what was going on up North:

Arctic sea ice extent appeared to reach its maximum extent for the year on March 7, marking the beginning of the melt season. This year’s maximum tied for the lowest in the satellite record — NSIDC, March 23

The future of nuclear power = [null set]

I’m almost weary of blogging about nuclear power. But others are still going strong. Take the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders, who writes this week that we shouldn’t even think of abandoning the technology. Such enthusiasm is particularly curious because he glosses over the Achilles heel of nukes — the cost — and Canada has one of the most expensive varieties of nuclear reactors around.
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Whale of a whopper

James Delingpole’s relationship with what is commonly understood by the term “journalism” is not readily apparent.

1. PLOS One publishes a peer-reviewed paper by some of the world’s leading marine biologists with an interest in the effects of underwater noise pollution. The paper tests the idea that naval sonar could have an impact on whale behavior. It makes no mention of wind farms.

2. The Telegraph publishes a story, “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales” citing the paper, which has the conveniently precise title of “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar.”

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Nuclear boy has a stomache ache. I wonder why that could be?

There’s an amusing little video making the rounds, and receiving a largely positive response. Which is unfortunate, because it’s little more than government-industry propaganda that glosses over the colossal abrogation of responsibility that led to the Fukushima crisis.

At first glance, the cartoon does an exemplary job explaining the situation to Japanese schoolchildren too young to understand half-lives and the role of water as a coolant and moderator in boiling-water reactors. But there’s a gaping omission right at the beginning. Nuclear Boy has a stomach ache. No kidding. Why? This is never answered. Could it be because the government of Japan let the Toyko Electric Power Company build a series of nuclear reactors next to a seismically active fault line?

Sticking with the bowel-malfunction metaphor, perhaps the video’s creators could have produced a few frames testifying to the reality that Nuclear Boy’s parents fed him some poison because they forgot to read the label carefully. Something along those lines.

Is that too much for Japanese kids to swallow (so to speak?) I don’t think so. Responsibility is something we all try to teach our children as early as possible. It’s important that Japanese leaders acknowledge the real reasons why they (and their children) are going to have to spend tens of billions of dollars to replace the Fukushima reactors years earlier than expected. Reactors that require an independent source of electricity to maintain coolant levels are, of course, a bad idea, and one that today’s generation of reactor designers have abandoned. But building them in an earthquake zone is tantamount to lunacy.

That reduces the list of adequately safe sites for Japanese reactors, making the replacement task that much more challenging. But too bad.

Same applies to the reactors built in the U.S., of course.

Fukushima incident a “success”

The journal Nature inadvertently (I suspect) reveals why the nuclear power industry has a public-trust problem:

Robin Grimes, director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London … says that he believes the [Fukushima] event actually proves the safety of nuclear power plants. Despite being more than 30 years old, and having faced the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan and a towering tsunami, the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have, so far, largely contained their dangerous radioactive fuel. “Actually, it’s a success,” Grimes says, then adds: “Although do I think the general public will be able to see that? I think the answer is, sadly, no.”

The Fukushima legacy

At one end of the hyperbole scale we have Helen “If you love this planet” Caldicott, who raises the specter of “cancer and genetic diseases” if things get any worse at the growing list of nuclear power reactors crippled or destroyed by last week’s earthquake in Japan. At the other we have Republican congressman Mitch McConnell, who argues that we shouldn’t abandon nuclear power, especially “right after a major environmental catastrophe.”

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Peak Coffee? Could this be the wake-up call we need?

I don’t drink much coffee. So the news that some coffee producers are finding it tough to deal with changes in growing conditions that could be an early taste of what global warming will bring doesn’t strike close to home. And of course, “scientists are uncertain whether the peculiar weather patterns in the area are directly related to warming.”

Still, what if the fears are warranted? Is “peak coffee” around the corner? Given how much coffee Americans guzzle, I wonder what would happen if prices started spiking — just as they are about to do with the another habit-forming commodity.

It’s (not) funny, because it’s true: Ignorance on Capitol Hill

“What is the optimum temperature for man?” asked Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith at yesterday’s Congressional hearings on a bill that would remove the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions “Have we looked at that? These are questions that, believe it or not, I lay awake at night trying to figure out.”

ResearchBlogging.orgCall me crazy, but I don’t believe it. I worry about climate change every day of my life and this is not something that keeps me awake at night. Although, if I understood as little about the basic facts of human history as you, who knows what would keep me up night?

The truth is, we have looked at it. So in the interests of helping Mr. Griffith get some obviously much-need sleep (maybe that’s why he’s having trouble understood the science), here’s a precis of the answer for the benefit of Mr. Griffith:

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