Fighting the “he said, she said” cowardice

Don’t get me wrong. I love NPR. I listen to it for at least four hours a day. But lately I’ve found the network’s embrace of “he said, she said” journalism a little too difficult to swallow. This morning’s report on censorship of a scientific report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality isn’t perhaps the most egregious example, but it does concern climate change, so it’s worth examining.

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Change is the one constant

Fill in the blanks:

It is customary in the popular media and in many journal articles to cite a projected _________ figure as if it were a given, a figure so certain that it could virtually be used for long-range planning purposes. But we must carefully examine the assumptions behind such projections. And forecasts that ________ is going to level off or decline this century have been based on the assumption that the developing world will necessarily follow the path of the industrialized world. That is far from a sure bet.

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Another blow to the natural gas alternative

ResearchBlogging.orgA letter in Climatic Change looking at the life-cycle greenhouse warming potential of natural gas raised a lot of hackles a little while back. If, as the authors posit, replacing coal and oil combustion with gas-fired turbines could actually accelerate global warming rather than slow it down, then we have a serious problem, given the investments being made in gas.

Much the skepticism about that study could be traced to the background of the lead author, Robert Howarth, who happens to have a history of opposing gas fracking. Of course, Howarth’s scientific credentials, or his activism, have no real bearing on the math that produces some very daunting numbers about the practical impact of drilling for gas and burning it. But it is unavoidable that any scientist who dallies even tangentially with political activism will run into problems convincing skeptics that he or she hasn’t got some ulterior motive. So what this debate needed is an unimpeachable scientific authority to weigh in.
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Celebrity worship

Number of hits returned when Googling news sources for “James Hansen” (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and perhaps the world’s best-known climatologist, who was arrested in front of the White House this week as part of a coordinated climate change campaign) and “Keystone” (XL, the expansion of a continental oil pipeline that will bring Canadian oil sands product to refineries in the southern U.S.): 208

Number of hits returned when Googling news sources for “Daryl Hannah” (Splash and Blade Runner actress) and “Keystone”: 659.

(Searches carried out Aug. 31, 2011 at 8:50 a.m.)

The last word (for now) on shale gas

Debating the merits and dangers of fracking shale gas has become a major obession of those who worry about energy and the climate. Yale’s e360’s latest contribution comes in the form a forum that includes a wide variety of perspectives pro and con.

For me, the wisest observation, and the one that really trumps all others, comes from Kevin Anderson, who directs the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research’s energy program:

… the only responsible action with regard to shale gas, or any “new” unconventional fossil fuel, is to keep it in the ground — at least until there is a meaningful global emissions cap forcing substitution. In the absence of such an emissions cap, and in our energy hungry world, shale gas will only be combusted in addition to coal — not as a substitution, as many analysts have naively suggested.

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A roadmap to clean living

ResearchBlogging.orgWhat if we could avoid hundreds of thousand of deaths, billions of dollars in crop losses and trillions of dollars in healthcare expenditures simply by spreading off-the-shelf technology and industrialized-world regulations to developing nations? Oh, and along the way, we’d mitigate a fair bit of global warming. Sounds like a plan?

I’d say such a plan would be worth considering. Such a plan is outlined by a team led by NASA’s Drew Shindell in Nature Climate Change, which has generously made their paper, “Climate, health, agricultural and economic impacts of tighter vehicle-emission standards,” freely available. Here’s the abstract:

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The natural gas question: A best-case scenario

ResearchBlogging.orgProponents of shale gas extraction are not particularly pleased with the attention drawn this week to a new study in Climatic Change that found widespread development of Marcellus natural gas may actually accelerate climate change rather than slow it down. Unfortunately for them, their primary argument rests on a lack of hard data on 1) the actual greenhouse-warming potential of methane; and 2) how much methane finds its way into the atmosphere during drilling and transmission of natural gas. You can find a good summary of the defense’s case at something called the Marcellus Shale Coalition. And it is unfortunate for them, because most opponents of the industry, and the author of new study, use exactly the same argument.
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