Planet on Fire

High Park Fire

I just finished Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben in the Rolling Stone. It begins:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

…Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

So Climate Change Deniers, in case you missed that, the chance that our hellish weather pattern is the result of chance is statistically ZERO. It’s time to stop arguing about whether or not climate change is a reality and to start working as frantically as Bruce Willis at the end of an action flick to avert our destruction. This is due to some very stark math:

  • 2 degrees Celsius – the amount nations agreed to in Copenhagen as the maximum rise our biosphere could tolerate and still (maybe) maintain civilization as we know it. We’re at 0.8 C increase right now and computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees … and 2 degrees C might actually even be too high.
  • 565 Gigatons of carbon – how much can be burned before we hit that 2 degree number – 16 years is how long it will take at the current rate.
  • 2,795 Gigatons of carbon – how much is already on the books of energy companies, enough to raise temps 11 degrees Fahrenheit and create a planet straight out of science fiction. Energy companies are already treating that as extracted, borrowing money and setting value and it’sFIVE times what’s necessary to destroy our way of life.

McKibben continues with a look at what strategies have failed and what might possibly work. It’s clear that to have any chance, we must treat this issue as the single greatest threat to our society we’ve ever faced … because it is.

The photo is High Park Fire by The National Guard. See more in their 2012 Wildfire Response slideshow.

March (Mercury) Madness: It’s almost like science fiction at this point

Bud Fun

Jeff Masters of Michigan-based Weather Underground is hands-down writing some of the best articles on the March Madness that we probably should be paying the most attention to, what he calls Summer in March:

A spring heat wave like no other in U.S. and Canadian history peaked in intensity yesterday, during its tenth day. Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many temperature records broken for spring warmth in a one-week period–and the margins by which some of the records were broken yesterday were truly astonishing. Wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, commented to me yesterday, “it’s almost like science fiction at this point.” A few of the more remarkable records from yesterday:

Pellston, MI: record high broken by 32°F
Pellston, Michigan in the Northern Lower Peninsula is called “Michigan’s Icebox”, since it frequently records the coldest temperatures in the state, and in the entire nation. But the past five days, Pellston has set five consecutive records for hottest March day. Yesterday’s 85° reading broke the previous record for the date (53° in 2007) by a ridiculous 32°, and was an absurd 48°F above average.

Low temperatures beat the previous record high for the date at two stations
The low temperature at Marquette, Michigan was 52° yesterday, which was 3° warmer than the previous record high for the date!

Read on for much more including Canadian cities breaking all-time records for March and April. Also definitely see his thoughts on the statistical likelihood of breaking 100+ year-old record highs this many days in a row. Hint: the answer sounds a lot like “climate change.”

The photo is Bud Fun by LadyDragonflyCC. She’s got some great stuff.

Cabbages, Cows & Carbon Free Current

I keep hearing an argument against wind farms is that they are ugly. I can’t understand that. To me, ugly is more like this.

What is it going to take for us to invest in wind and other alternative energies the way we do in fossil fuels. How much is that, you ask? According to The Ecologist:

Subsidies for oil, coal and gas sectors were six times higher than those for renewable energy in 2009, the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) assessment has revealed

Ending government subsidies for fossil-fuels is the best way of cutting demand and stopping rising carbon emissions from the energy sector, says the Paris-based IEA, which urged the money to be switched to supporting the renewable sector.

Total subsidies paid to support fossil fuels amounted to more than $312 billion in 2009 in comparison to $57 billion in support for renewables. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India and China accounted for more than half of all the coal, gas and oil subsidies.

The photo was taken by southgeist, and is awesome. See the whole photo right here.

tiny islands are people too

Via the Michigan Land Use Institute blog:

One of the most inspiring developments this week is the way the small, underdeveloped island nations now stand up for themselves in the global climate talks.  It’s a big change: At previous climate talks, smaller countries were often pushed aside and forgotten by the superpowers.

…In a speech today, at a press conference here in Copenhagen, the president of Tuvalu explained how tough it’s been to hold their ground:

“There are some countries, like Australia, who have been trying to arrange a meeting with us to probably water down our position on 1.5 degrees Celsius. We did not attend that meeting, but I heard from other small islands that Australia was trying to tell them if they agree to the 2 degrees limit, money would be on the table for adaptation process. That’s their choice to accept the money and back down. But Tuvalu will not. As I said in my speech, 1.5 degrees Celsius is our bottom line…

As a human being, I feel that the leaders that are pushing their countries to adopt this 2 degrees should know from science that that will be killing a lot of people around the world. That should change their position. I will not sign anything less than 1.5.

We just have to prepare ourselves for the worst. We have nowhere to run to. We must prepare ourselves individually, family-wise, so that we know what to do when a cyclone comes or the hurricane blows. There is no mountain we can climb up, no inland we can run to. We just have the face it. And that’s why we’re making noises around the world … We don’t want to disappear from this Earth.
We want to exist as a nation. Because we have a fundamental right to exist alongside yourselves.”

The fact that the lives, livelihoods and homes of millions upon millions of people of this earth are treated with such casual disregard is simply appalling.

The picture above is one of a number of photos from Tuvalu by Leigh.

Getting Naked for Wine

naked-for-wine

Treehugger says:

This past weekend 713 hardy French men and women stripped down to send a message about climate change. They posed nude in French vineyards to warn the world about the impact of global warming on the French wine industry.

In Burgundy, the heart of the French vineyards, on a sunny day (luckily), Spencer Tunick posed the happy participants in 4 different poses; one with women alone, one with men alone and two more in different vineyards. Organised with Greenpeace, it’s all part of the campaign to urge political leaders to take action in the lead up to the U.N.’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Definitely check out the article, Spencer Tunick’s site and also the Unofficial Spencer Tunick Experience Website which has some pretty cool links. I think that stuff like this is ultimately what will turn the tide on this climate madness. People – from snowboarders & skiers to teachers to farmers to people who eat shrimp I guess – will have to campaign against climate change in their own way. It has to be seen not as an esoteric maybe/maybe not issue of ivory tower dwelling people named Al Gore, but rather what it really is: the single most dangerous threat to our survival as a civilization and species.

Thanks Kathy for the pointer! Let’s close with Spencer Tunick at the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland.

Cutting through the Babel with Google Fusion Tables

Circle of Blue has an article about last week’s launch of Fusion Tables by Google. The new system allows users to upload and manage huge databases of information and access aggregated data through a common format

“The biggest potential is to build an ecosystem of data on the Web,” said Alon Halevy, the senior Google engineer who led the Fusion Tables development team. “This means making it easy for the people to upload, to merge data sets, to discuss the data, to create visualizations and then to take these visualizations and put them elsewhere on the Web so that there’s better data on the Web.”

…Fusion Tables, a breakthrough application of online research and communications capacities, goes beyond traditional database systems because it allows users to share and merge data in real time with other contributors wherever they work. It also allows users to apply visualizations, and discuss discrepancies of specific data points. Multiple users can cross-check and discuss individual rows, columns or even cells as easily as right-clicking on the spot.

Users can also display their data through a variety of visualizations: as a timeline, a graph or a map. The “fusion” of the data sets can link dissimilar information from the far corners of the Web to reveal patterns and trends that might be impossible to spot otherwise. This makes Fusion Tables a central hub for data collaboration, as anyone can publish and access files, which were formerly locked away in Excel spreadsheets, PDF reports, and hard-cover textbooks.

I know from scientist friends who I’ve talked with that one of the biggest barriers to collaboration is the fact that Lab A can’t communicate with Lab B … fortunately there’s Google to allow them to speak the same language. Check out the article for more and some created images and watch this interview with Halevy.

The photo is The Last Drop by lepiaf.geo and it’s part of her Water set (slideshow).

Green is the Colour … of beer!

More about green from Michigan in Pictures.

I think that for St Patrick’s Day next year I will brew some green beer.

I looked all over for information about how to make green beer. I found that (gasp) you could use a few drops of green food coloring. Much as I love food coloring, I thought there had to be a better way. I searched and searched and mostly found out about green (as in energy) breweries.

It’s surprising to me that I couldn’t find a recipe for naturally brewing green beer, considering how many foods are green. I thought about a number of options, but settled on using something I only learned about yesterday. Wikipedia sez that Matcha is a variety of fine, powdered green tea used particularly in the Japanese tea ceremony, as well as to flavour and dye foods such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream and a variety of wagashi. I got mine from Angela at Light of Day Organics and I plan to use it in the same way that I used to use when brewing coffee beer.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Steep about 100-150 grams (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of matcha in a quart or so of water. I will use 150 I think to be sure about the color.
  2. Brew beer as normal (I will try for a lighter ale with lots and lots of hops).
  3. At the end of the mash, strain the steeped tea into the wort and then hope it’s green enough.
  4. If not, there’s always the food coloring and the next year!

Until then it’s probably a Guinness or a fine Michigan microbrew!

The photo is After Work…?! by Jim Crocker and I think that it probably is.

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!