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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Who will stop/start the rain?

Media outlets both main and sidestream are abuzz (atwitter?) with the story that scientists are finally daring to link specific weather events with anthropogenic climate change. A pair of papers in Nature are to blame. One, Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes, concludes that the titular events “have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas.” The other manages to summarize the whole thing in its tile: “Anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to flood risk in England and Wales in autumn 2000.”

This is all very interesting, as it will almost certainly help convince European holdouts that the effects of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases are not just a problem for our children’s children, but something that could sway elections results today.

For U.S. audiences, though, I’d like to point out that something that most coverage so far hasn’t had room or time to mention: increased snow and rain are possible effects for only some regions. Others will experience the opposite. While the smaller the region at question the more uncertainty there is, most predictions for the southwest, for example, call for drier conditions. Residents of Phoenix and Las Vegas should keep this in mind when they think about their long-term future.
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Lomborg v Lomborg

Much is being and will be written about Bjorn Lomborg’s volte face on climate change. After a decade of denial — not of the reality of anthropogenic warming, but of the threat it poses to civiliation — the Skeptical Environmentalist now says:

“If we care about the environment and about leaving this planet and its inhabitants with the best possible future, we actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.”

Is this worthy of a blog post? In a perfect world, no. But then, in a perfect world, I would be kayaking, not blogging.
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Worst graph ever

ResearchBlogging.orgA couple of scientists at the University of Montana say they have detected a small but non-negligible decline in global terretrial “net primary production.” NPP is basically a way of measuring plant growth — how much carbon they’re removing from their surroundings and turning into biomass. To my mind, there are two noteworthy aspects to their research, which just appeared in Science. Both led to me to the phrase that is the title for this post, although each use carries distinct meanings.
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The Earth will survive

Stanford physicist Robert B. Laughlin shared a Nobel prize in 1998 for helping explain something called the fractional quantum Hall effect. That particular phenomenon has nothing to do with climatology, and neither does the rest of Laughlin’s c.v. Still, one might expect something cogent about the public policy challenge posed by anthropogenic climate change if it appears under the byline of such a scientific luminary. One would, in this case, be wrong.

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