Sunday, February 28, 2010

Carbon dioxide, mass extinction of species and climate change

ON LINE Opinion, 1 March 2010

Andrew Glikson

The release of more than 370 billion tons of carbon (GtC) from buried early biospheres, adding more than one half of the original carbon inventory of the atmosphere (~590GtC), as well as the depletion of vegetation, have triggered a fundamental shift in the state of the atmosphere (after Peter Ward, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future, HarperCollins). Raising atmospheric CO2 level at a rate of 2ppm/year, a pace unprecedented in the geological record, with the exception of the effects of CO2 released from craters excavated by large asteroid impacts, the deleterious effects of pollution and deforestation have reached a geological dimension, tracking towards conditions which existed on Earth in the mid-Pliocene, about 2.8 million years ago.

Lost all too often in the climate debate is an appreciation of the delicate balance between the physical and chemical state of the atmosphere-ocean-land system and the evolving biosphere, which controls the emergence, survival and demise of species, including humans. By contrast to Venus, with its thick blanket of CO2 and sulphur dioxide greenhouse atmosphere, exerting extreme pressure (90 bars) at the surface, or Mars with its thin (0.01 bar) CO2 atmosphere, the presence in the Earth's atmosphere of trace concentrations of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, nitric oxides, ozone) modulates surface temperatures in the range of -89 and +57.7 degrees Celsius and a mean of 14 degrees Celsius, allowing the presence of liquid water and thereby of life.

Forming a thin breathable veneer only slightly more than 1,000th the diameter of Earth, and evolving both gradually as well as through major perturbations with time, the Earth's atmosphere acts as a lungs of the biosphere, allowing an exchange of carbon gases and oxygen with plants and animals, which in turn affect the atmosphere, for example through release of methane and photosynthetic oxygen.

CO2 is 28 times more soluble in water than is oxygen. Above critical threshold CO2 becomes toxic for certain organisms. Marine organisms are more sensitive to changes in CO2 levels than are terrestrial organisms. Excess CO2 reduces the ability of respiratory pigments to oxygenate tissues, and makes body fluids more acidic, thereby hampering the production of carbonate hard parts like shells. Relatively modest but sustained increases in CO2 concentrations hamper the synthesis of proteins, reduce fertilisation rates, and produce deformities in calcareous hard parts. The observed pattern of marine extinctions is consistent with hypercapnia (excessive levels of CO2), with related extinction events.

When the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rises above a critical threshold, climate shifts to a different state. Any significant increase in the level of carbon gases triggers powerful feedbacks. These include ice melt/warm water interaction, decline of ice reflection (albedo) and increase in infrared absorption by exposed water. Further release of CO2 from the oceans and from drying and burning vegetation shifts global climate zones towards the poles, warms the oceans and induces ocean acidification.

The essential physics of the infrared absorption/emission resonance of greenhouse molecules is indicated by observations in nature and laboratory studies, as portrayed in the relations between atmospheric CO2 and mean global temperature projections (Figure 2).

During most of Earth history the oxygen-poor composition of the atmosphere resulted in dominance of reduced carbon species in the air and the oceans, including methane and carbon monoxide, allowing mainly algae and bacteria to exist in the oceans. It is commonly held that, about 0.7 billion years ago, in the wake of the Marinoan glaciation (so-called "Snowball Earth"), oxygenation of low-temperature water allowed development of new oxygen-binding proteins and thereby of multicellular animals, followed by development of a rich variety of organisms - the "Cambrian explosion".

The present state of the biosphere, allowing survival of large mammals and of humans on the continents, developed when CO2 levels fell below about 500ppm some 34 million years ago (end Eocene). At this stage, as well as following warm periods in the Oligocene (about 25 million years ago) and mid-Miocene (about 15 million years ago), development of the Antarctic ice sheet led to a fundamental change in the global climate regime. About 2.8 million years ago (mid-Pliocene) the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic Sea ice began to form, with further decline in global temperatures expressed through glacial-interglacial cycles regulated by orbital forcing (Milankovic cycles), with atmospheric CO2 levels oscillating between 180 and 280ppm CO2 (Figure 3). These conditions allowed the emergence of humans in Africa and their migration all over the world.

Recent paleoclimate studies, using multiple proxies (soil carbonate δ13C, alkenones, boron/calcium, stomata leaf pores), indicate that the current CO2 level of 388ppm and CO2-equivalent level of 460ppm (which includes the methane factor), commit warming above pre-industrial levels to 3 to 4 degrees C in the tropics and 10 degrees C in polar regions, tracking towards an ice-free Earth.

Small human clans post-3 million years-ago responded to changing climates through migration within and out of Africa.Homo sapiens emerged during the glacial period preceding the 124,000 years-old Emian interglacial, when temperatures rose by about 1 degree C and sea levels by 6-8 metres relative to pre-industrial. The development of agriculture and thereby human civilization had to wait until climate stabilised about 8,000 years ago, when large scale irrigation along the great river valleys (the Nile, Euphrates, Hindus and Yellow River) became possible.

Since the 18th century mean global temperature has risen by about 0.8 degrees C. Another 0.5 degrees C is masked by industrial-emitted aerosols (SO2), and further rise ensues from current melting of the ice sheets and sea ice. The polar regions, acting as the "thermostats" of the Earth, are the source of the cold air current vortices and the cold ocean currents, such as the Humboldt and California current, which keep the Earth's overall temperature balance, much as the blood stream regulates the body's temperature and the supply of oxygen.

At 4 degrees Celsius advanced to total melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets leads to sea levels tens of metres higher than at present. Further rise of CO2-e above 500ppm and mean global temperatures above 4 degrees C can only lead towards greenhouse Earth conditions such as existed during the Cretaceous and early Cainozoic (Figure 3).

A rise of atmospheric CO2 concentration triggers feedback effects due to warming, desiccation and burning of vegetation, releasing more CO2. The onset of methane release from polar bogs and sediments is of major concern. Ice/melt water interaction proceeds as melt water melts more ice, ice loss results in albedo loss and exposed water absorb infrared heat, resulting in an amplified feedback cycle. Because CO2 is cumulative, with atmospheric residence time on the scale of centuries to millennia, stabilisation of the climate through small incremental reduction in emissions may not be sufficient to avoid runaway climate change and possible tipping points.

Climate change is appropriately described as a global oxygenation event affecting geological carbon deposits as well as the present biosphere. At 2ppm/year the pace of carbon oxidation exceeds the highest recorded geological rate of 0.4ppm/year at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary at 55 Ma, when about 2000GtC were burnt, triggering an extinction of species.

Sea level rise constitutes a critical parameter which reflects all other components of climate change. Since the early 20th century the rate of sea level rise increased from about 1mm/year to about 3.5mm/year (1993 - 2009 mean rate 3.2+/-0.4mm/year), representing a nearly four-fold increase since the onset of the industrial age (Figure 4).

The Earth poles are warming at rates three to four times faster than low latitudes. The most detailed satellite information available shows that ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica are shrinking and in some places are already in runaway melt mode. A new study, using 50 million laser readings from a NASA satellite, calculates changes in the height of the vulnerable but massive ice sheets and found them especially worse at their edges, where warmer water eats away from below. In some parts of Antarctica, ice sheets have been losing 30 feet a year in thickness since 2003.

The consequences of open ended rise in atmospheric CO2 are manifest in the geological record (Frontispiece). The world is in a lag period, when increasing atmospheric energy is expressed by intense hurricanes, increased pressure at mid-latitude high pressure zones and shift of climate zones towards the poles. With ensuing desertification of temperate zones, i.e. southern Europe, southern Australia, southern Africa, the desiccated forests become prey to firestorms, such as in Victoria and California.

There is nowhere the 6.5 billion of contemporary humans can go, not even the barren planets into the study of which space agencies have been pouring more funding than governments allocate for environmental mitigation to date. At 460ppm CO2-equivalent, the climate is tracking close to the upper stability limit of the Antarctic ice sheet, defined at approximately 500ppm. Once transcended, mitigation measures would hardly be able to re-form the cryosphere.

According to Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Climate Impacts Institute and advisor to the German government:

"We're simply talking about the very life support system of this planet".

Humans can not argue with the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. What is needed are urgent measures including:

  1. deep cuts in carbon emissions;
  2. parallel Fast track transformation to non-polluting energy utilities - solar, solar-thermal, wind, tide, geothermal, hot rocks; and
  3. global reforestation and re-vegetation campaigns, including application of biochar.

The alternative does not bear contemplation.

About the Author

Dr Andrew Glikson is an Earth and paleoclimate scientist at the Research School of Earth Science, the School of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Planetary Science Institute, Australian National University.

Other articles by this Author

Grape expectations as climate change bears fruit

The Age, March 1, 2010
CONSUMERS will need to be educated in new wine varieties because the typical grape style grown in any given region is likely to have to switch because of climate change, warns a book on agriculture's future by 36 scientists.
Green oranges and yellow tomatoes may be another thing that consumers will have to get used to, as climate change affects the colour and nutritional value of horticultural produce, says the book, released today.
The CSIRO has published the book in an attempt to explain what agriculture can do to adapt.
Warming could change the areas suitable for cooler-climate wine grapes such as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, while more climate-adaptable varieties such as shiraz and chardonnay might become more widespread, said Mark Howden, a CSIRO chief research scientist and an editor of Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change.
Mediterranean wine-grape varieties such as tempranillo and viognier, with which winemakers were already experimenting to target market niches, might become more commonplace in South Australia and other places set to become hotter and drier, Dr Howden said.
Grapes normally grown in hotter areas would move to cooler locations, and some regions not used for viticulture may be transformed into wine producers, he said.
Grapes' ''internal clocks'', run by temperature, were already leading them to ripen in the hot part of the year, which potentially compromised the flavour by increasing sugar and alcohol production, he said.
''It's only the skills of the winemaker keeping them under control at the moment,'' he said.
Two CSIRO scientists, Leanne Webb and Penny Whetton, also say in their chapter on horticulture that the sugar content and colour of citrus fruit is affected by warmer seasons, as they tend to ''re-green'' and cannot be left on the tree as long. Capsicums and tomatoes can turn yellow if they experience high temperatures when ripening, they write.
''Higher temperature can inhibit the formation of anthocyanin, the pigment causing colouration of apples and increase sunburn damage.''
Leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach may have reduced yields and be of poorer quality due to ''bolting'', which means prematurely forming seed heads or flowers, they say. Lettuce may have a shorter shelf life.
There may also be reduced sugar content in peas, strawberries and melons if the nights are warmer, while fruits may have less vitamin C, they warn.
But there may be benefits for producing dried fruit, such as sultanas, by sun-drying them as humidity and rainfall decrease in some regions. Certain annual crops, such as lettuce, may also have their growing seasons extended, they say.
The areas suitable for growing apples, pears and stone fruit, which require chilling, may be reduced by climate change, while the land area for subtropical fruit, including bananas, pineapples and avocados is likely to expand, they say.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Climate scientists 'under cyber attack'

By Thea Cowie

ABC News Online, Feb 22, 2010
An organised cyber-bullying campaign, including abusive emails, is targeting Australian climate scientists who speak out on climate change, according to author Clive Hamilton.
The 2009 Greens candidate says the attacks are arranged by "denialist organisations" and are aimed at driving climate scientists from the public debate.
Professor Hamilton says aggressive, abusive and sometimes threatening emails are being sent to distinguished scientists each time they speak out on the subject.
"Apart from the volume and viciousness of the emails, the campaign has two features - it is mostly anonymous and it appears to be orchestrated," he wrote in ABC's The Drum.
Professor Hamilton quotes an email received by University of Melbourne Professor David Karoly which compares the scientist's actions to those of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.
"It is called treason and genocide," the email says.
"Oh, as a scientist, you have destroyed people's trust in my profession. You are a criminal. Lest we forget."
But some attacks are more personal.
Professor Hamilton says a young woman opened her email to receive threats against her children.
"Did you want to offer your children to be brutally gang-raped and then horribly tortured before being reminded of their parents' socialist beliefs and actions?" the email reportedly says.
"Burn in hell. Or in the main street, when the Australian public finally lynches you."
Journalists have also reportedly become targets of the cyber-bullying campaign.
"I have spoken to several, off the record, who have told of torrents of abusive emails when they report on climate change, including some sufficiently threatening for them to consult their supervisors and consider police action," he says.
"One or two of the cyber-bullies have hinted at the level of organisation, with one following an abusive rant with the comment, 'Copies of my e-mails to you are also being passed out to a huge network for future reference'."
Professor Hamilton's article is the first in a five-part series. Tomorrow he will explore who is behind the cyber-bullying campaign.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hydrogen taxi cabs to serve London by 2012 Olympics

• New taxis developed by Lotus and Intelligent Energy 

• Hydrogen tanks can travel for 250 miles at up to 81mph

Alok Jha 

The Guardian,  Monday 22 February 2010

A taxi cab that runs on the latest hydrogen fuel cell technology is being developed with the aim of being ready for full road trials in time for the 2012 Olympics.

The car looks and drives just like a standard London black cab – but underneath the bonnet is some cutting-edge technology by sports carmaker Lotus.

The fuel cell taxi can hit a top speed of 81mph, go from 0-60mph in 14 seconds and has a range of more than 250 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. Like electric vehicles, the new taxi does not produce any emissions from its tailpipe but, unlike battery-electric cars, it will only take a few minutes to fill up from empty.

The widespread introduction of hydrogen cars has long been a goal of some green campaigners, because eventually they allow transport fuel to be generated from renewable energy. Wind and solar plants could be used to drive the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen – and the hydrogen piped to filling stations. Iceland has already begun constructing a hydrogen grid using plentiful geothermal energy. But in the short term, hydrogen vehicles in the UK are likely to be powered by fuel derived from oil.

Henri Winand, of Intelligent Energy, which makes the fuel cells used in the taxis, said they were an ideal way to begin building the infrastructure required for a hydrogen-based transport system – seen as one of the big stumbling blocks for the wider introduction of hydrogen vehicles. "With fleets you can deploy a little infrastructure, which you can build up with the more fleets you have, rather than going straight to consumers who might be wondering where the next filling station is."

London's deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, announced last year that by 2012 there would be six hydrogen filling stations in the capital. He said he wanted around 20-50 taxis in operation by then as part of the Black Cabs Go Green programme, as well as 150 hydrogen-powered buses.

"The intent is to take the taxis and retrofit a powertrain that has zero tailpipe emissions," said Winand. "But also it has to deliver some very important things: a reasonable range, very quick refuelling time and no modifying the passenger or driver space."

After modification, he said no one would be able to tell the difference between a hydrogen cab and a regular one apart from the lack of diesel fumes. The first few hydrogen taxis, which were funded in part by the government's Technology Strategy Board, have already been built at the Lotus headquarters in Norfolk.

Intelligent Energy, leading the consortium for the new hydrogen taxi, has designed and built the fuel cell, which uses hydrogen to make electricity. Lotus is responsible for integrating the fuel cell into the body of the taxi – in their design, pressurised hydrogen is stored in a tank where the internal combustion engine of a standard cab would be. The fuel cell produces electricity and feeds it to a battery pack under the floor of the taxi's passenger area. The batteries then drive motors in the wheels.

"To do that with a purely battery-electric vehicle, you would have to take up most of the space at the back with batteries, where the passengers are, or certainly you would constrict that space substantially," said Winand. "And you'd probably have to stop halfway through the day to plug in somewhere."

Mainstream manufacturers are also getting interested in hydrogen. Daimler, Hyundai, Honda and Toyota have all announced plans in recent months to have fuel-cell vehicles available for the consumer market by 2015.

"There is a global drive to reduce CO2 emission levels and this is something we are dedicated to, for both Lotus cars and our engineering clients," said Simon Wood of Lotus Engineering. "The fuel cell hybrid taxi is a fantastic achievement for all the companies involved. The level of quality and professionalism that has been demonstrated is extremely high and the taxi is already running through a series of tests."

Scientist admits climate errors were 'embarrassing'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor, in San Diego

The independent, Monday, 22 February 2010

One of President Barack Obama's leading scientific advisers has criticised the UN body overseeing the science of climate change, describing the errors and sloppy mistakes which have affected public confidence in climate science as "an embarrassment".

Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the fundamental science of climate change had not been affected by the errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and the "totality" of the scientific assessments was still sound.

"[The IPCC] has had a wake-up call and it is taking steps to address the mistakes that were made and to ensure that they don't happen again," Dr Lubchenco said. "I think it is important to recognise there were errors ... but that those errors are very few relative to the thousands of conclusions that are in the report."

The 2007 report of the IPCC working group 2 said the Himalayan glaciers were likely to have melted by 2035, a statement based on speculation. Other parts of the report were based on non-peer reviewed literature.

"I think the existence of any errors at all is an embarrassment, and the leaders of the IPCC are absolutely committed to examining the processes and checks and balances that are in place to make it as error-free as is humanly possible. Scientists working on the next IPCC have had very intense serious discussions about how to improve the process, how to make it even better," Dr Lubchenco said.

"It's also important to note that despite those errors, the totality of the IPCC is robust and that the conclusions that the Earth is warming and that humans are largely responsible for most of the warming in the last few decades, those conclusions do not rest on any single analysis or any single dataset or any single [one] of the thousands of conclusions," she said. "The fundamental conclusions of the IPCC remain robust."

Methane levels may see 'runaway' rise, scientists warn

A rapid acceleration may have begun in levels of a gas far more harmful than CO2

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Atmospheric levels of methane, the greenhouse gas which is much more powerful than carbon dioxide, have risen significantly for the last three years running, scientists will disclose today – leading to fears that a major global-warming "feedback" is beginning to kick in.

For some time there has been concern that the vast amounts of methane, or "natural gas", locked up in the frozen tundra of the Arctic could be released as the permafrost is melted by global warming. This would give a huge further impetus to climate change, an effect sometimes referred to as "the methane time bomb".
This is because methane (CH4) is even more effective at retaining the Sun's heat in the atmosphere than CO2, the main focus of international climate concern for the last two decades. Over a relatively short period, such as 20 years, CH4 has a global warming potential more than 60 times as powerful as CO2, although it decays more quickly.

Now comes the first news that levels of methane in the atmosphere, which began rising in 2007 when an unprecedented heatwave in the Arctic caused a record shrinking of the sea ice, have continued to rise significantly through 2008 and 2009.

Although researchers cannot yet be certain, and there may be non-threatening explanations, there is a fear that rising temperatures may have started to activate the positive feedback mechanism. This would see higher atmospheric levels of the gas producing more warming, which in turn would release more methane, which would produce even further warming, and so on into an uncontrollable "runaway" warming effect. This is believed to have happened at the end of the last Ice Age, causing a very rapid temperature rise in a matter of decades.

The new figures will be revealed this morning at a major two-day conference on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, taking place at the Royal Society in London. They will be disclosed in a presentation by Professor Euan Nisbet, of Royal Holloway College of the University of London, and Dr Ed Dlugokencky of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, which is run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Both men are leading experts on CH4 in the atmosphere, and Dr Dlugokencky in particular, who is in charge of NOAA's global network of methane monitoring stations, is sometimes referred to as "the keeper of the world's methane". In a presentation on "Global atmospheric methane in 2010: budget, changes and dangers", the two scientists will reveal that, after a decade of near-zero growth, "globally averaged atmospheric methane increased by [approximately] 7ppb (parts per billion) per year during 2007 and 2008."

They go on: "During the first half of 2009, globally averaged atmospheric CH4 was [approximately] 7ppb greater than it was in 2008, suggesting that the increase will continue in 2009. There is the potential for increased CH4 emissions from strong positive climate feedbacks in the Arctic where there are unstable stores of carbon in permafrost ... so the causes of these recent increases must be understood."

Professor Nisbet said at the weekend that the new figures did not necessarily mark a new excursion from the trend. "It may just be a couple of years of high growth, and it may drop back to what it was," he said. "But there is a concern that things are beginning to change towards renewed growth from feedbacks."

The product of biological activity by microbes, usually in decaying vegetation or other organic matter, "natural gas" is emitted from natural sources and human activities. Wetlands may give off up to a third of the total amount produced. But large amounts are also released from the production of gas for fuel, and also from agriculture, including the production of rice in paddy fields and the belches of cows as they chew the cud (which is known as "bovine eructation"). However, methane breaks down and disappears from the atmosphere quite quickly, and until recently it was thought that the Earth's methane "budget" was more or less in balance.

Global atmospheric levels of the gas now stand at about 1,790 parts per billion. They began to be measured in 1984, when they stood at about 1,630ppb, and were steadily rising. It was thought that this was due to the Russian gas industry, which before the collapse of the Soviet Union was affected by enormous leaks.

After 1991, substantial amounts were invested in stopping the leaks by a privatised Russian gas industry, and the methane rise slowed.

Methane in the atmosphere: The recent rise

Many climate scientists think that frozen Arctic tundra, like that at Sermermiut in Greenland, is a ticking time bomb in terms of global warming, because it holds vast amounts of methane, an immensely potent greenhouse gas. Over thousands of years the methane has accumulated under the ground at northern latitudes all around the world, and has effectively been taken out of circulation by the permafrost acting as an impermeable lid. But as the permafrost begins to melt in rising temperatures, the lid may open – with potentially catastrophic results.

Climate science alive and well, say experts

ABC News Online,  Sun Feb 21

Top scientists say climate science is alive and well despite the scandal of leaked emails in Britain and "glitches" in a report by the UN climate change panel.
"There's consensus that action is justified, indeed imperative, to reduce the problem of a really serious long-term global effect on the climate," said Lord Martin Rees, president of the British academy of science, the Royal Society.
"My personal take is the key bit of evidence is the rise in CO2 concentration plus simple physics. If we had no data other than that, that would be enough," Lord Rees said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Climate change sceptics seized on a leak of thousands of emails and other documents from researchers at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain, which appeared to show scientists saying global warming was not as serious as previously thought.
That scandal, dubbed Climategate, came just weeks before UN talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December.
Several weeks after the talks, another scandal rocked the world of climate science, when the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was accused of basing a report about ice disappearing from the world's mountain peaks on a student essay and an article in a mountaineering magazine.
But scientists were not out for the count - they just cannot ethically "go into the gutter" the way the media have in attacking the science world over the leaks, said Jerry North of Texas A&M University.
"It's easy to vilify scientists, but scientists cannot go into the gutter and turn the attacks the other way," he said.
"But the climate science paradigm is in fact quite healthy. We just have a lot of challenges about how we communicate."
Scientists may be good at crunching numbers and data, but they are bad at doing their own public relations, said Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences.
"There are a lot of smart people working on climate change right now, but we're not doing a good job of translating what we're learning to the public," said Cicerone.
"Instead when we have a major snowstorm on the east coast of the US, jokes are proliferating about how wrong all this global warming stuff was. And yet you turn on your television and look at the winter Olympics in Canada and you find no snow."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Think-tanks take oil money and use it to fund climate deniers

ExxonMobil cash supported concerted campaign to undermine case for man-made warming

By Jonathan Owen and Paul Bignell

An orchestrated campaign is being waged against climate change science to undermine public acceptance of man-made global warming, environment experts claimed last night.

The attack against scientists supportive of the idea of man-made climate change has grown in ferocity since the leak of thousands of documents on the subject from the University of East Anglia (UEA) on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit last December.

Free-market, anti-climate change think-tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in the US and the International Policy Network in the UK have received grants totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds from the multinational energy company ExxonMobil. Both organisations have funded international seminars pulling together climate change deniers from across the globe.

Many of these critics have broadcast material from the leaked UEA emails to undermine climate change predictions and to highlight errors in claims that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. Professor Phil Jones, who has temporarily stood down as director of UEA's climactic research unit, is reported in today's Sunday Times to have "several times" considered suicide. He also drew parallels between his case and that of Dr David Kelly, found dead in the wake of the row over the alleged "sexing up" of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Professor Jones said he was taking sleeping pills and beta-blockers and had received two death threats in the past week alone.

Climate sceptic bloggers broadcast stories last week casting doubts on scientific data predicting dramatic loss of the Amazon rainforest. All three stories, picked up by mainstream media, questioned the credibility of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the way it does its work. A new attack on climate science, already dubbed "Seagate" by sceptics, relating to claims that more than half the Netherlands is in danger of being submerged under rising sea levels, is likely to be at the centre of the newest skirmish in coming weeks.

The controversies have shaken the IPCC, whose chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was subjected to a series of personal attacks on his reputation and lifestyle last week. A poll this weekend confirmed that public confidence in the climate change consensus has been shaken: one in four Britons – 25 per cent – now say they do not believe in global warming; previously this figure stood at 15 per cent.

Professor Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and former chairman of the IPCC, said yesterday that the backlash is the result of a campaign: "It does appear that there's a concerted effort by a number of sceptics to undermine the credibility of the evidence behind human-induced climate change." He added: "I am sure there are some sceptics who may well be funded by the private sector to try to cast uncertainty."

A complicated web of relationships revolves around a number of right-wing think-tanks around the world that dispute the threats of climate change. ExxonMobil is a key player behind the scenes, having donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years to climate change sceptics. The Atlas Foundation, created by the late Sir Anthony Fisher (founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs), received more than $100,000 in 2008 from ExxonMobil, according to the oil company's reports.

Atlas has supported more than 30 other foreign think-tanks that espouse climate change scepticism, and co-sponsored a meeting of the world's leading climate sceptics in New York last March. Called "Global Warming: Was It Ever Really a Crisis?", it was organised by the Heartland Institute – a group that described the event as "the world's largest-ever gathering of global warming sceptics". The organisation is another right-wing think-tank to have benefited from funding given by ExxonMobil in recent years.

A large British contingent was present at the event, with speakers including Dr Benny Peiser, from Lord Lawson's climate sceptic think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF); the botanist David Bellamy; Julian Morris and Kendra Okonski from the London-based International Policy Network; the weather forecaster Piers Corbyn; Christopher Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher; and Professor David Henderson, a member of GWPF's advisory council. Speakers at the event also included two prominent climate bloggers who associate with Paul Dennis, a 54-year-old climate researcher at the University of East Anglia who has been questioned by police investigating the theft of climate data.

In a posting on the blog of the climate sceptic Andrew Montford on Friday, Mr Dennis insisted: "I did not leak any files, data, emails or any other material. I have no idea how the files were released or who was behind it."

But he confirmed that he had been in email contact with Stephen McIntyre, who runs – a site that was one of the first to receive an anonymous link to the original leaked data from UEA.

Mr Dennis said he emailed Mr McIntyre to alert him to a "departmental email saying that emails and files were hacked" and that "police had copies of my email correspondence with Steve McIntyre and Jeff Id [a pseudonym for the climate sceptic Patrick Condon]. They said it was because I had sent the emails that they were interviewing me."

The UEA researcher also has connections with another prominent sceptic, Anthony Watts, with whom he has posted and who spoke beside Mr McIntyre. Mr Dennis was not available for comment.

Bob Ward, the policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: "A lot of the climate sceptic arguments are being made by people with demonstrable right-wing ideology which is based on opposition to any environmental regulation of the market, and they are clearly being given money that allows them to disseminate their views more widely than would be the case if they didn't have oil company funding."

But Dr Richard North, a climate change sceptic and blogger, rejected claims of a conspiracy as "laughable" and denied having any links to vested interests. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm a loner. Nobody tells me what to do or dictates my agenda."

ExxonMobil said in a statement: "We have the same concerns as people everywhere – and that is how to provide the world with the energy it needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

UN climate chief quits

ABC News online, 19 February 2010

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN's climate change convention, will resign as of July 1, his office announced.
De Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will join the consultancy group KPMG as global adviser on climate and sustainability and work with a number of universities, the UNFCCC secretariat said.
The announcement came nearly two months after the Copenhagen summit on climate change, seen even by its supporters as a disappointment and by its critics as a chaotic failure.
The UNFCCC, an offshoot of the 1992 Rio summit, gathers 194 nations in the search for combating the causes of man-made climate change and easing its effects.
Its key achievement is the Kyoto Protocol, the only international treaty that requires curbs in heat-stoking greenhouse gases blamed for disrupting the climate system.
In a statement Mr de Boer said it had been a "difficult decision" to step down.
"I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge, working on climate and sustainability with the private sector and academia," he said.
"Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms, but the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming.
"This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen."
A Dutch national, Mr de Boer was appointed the UNFCCC's executive secretary in September 2006.
He had pinned hopes on a breakthrough in Copenhagen that would unlock a new treaty on climate change that would take effect after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol's current pledges expire.
Instead, after nearly two weeks of talks, the summit was only able to yield a general agreement on limiting warming to two degrees Celsius.
The accord did not spell out the means for achieving this goal, and the pledges made under it are only voluntary.
The document did not gain approval at a plenary session of the UNFCCC, and it has so far failed to gain the official endorsement of major developing emitters which helped to craft it.

California gets all wired up for electric car surge

The Age, February 19, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO has adopted building codes that require all new homes and offices to be wired for electric car chargers, in an attempt to position itself as America's environmental car capital.
The move comes before the release this year of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, which promise to deliver driving distances of 65 kilometres or more on a single battery charge and are being marketed to middle-class families.
Local authorities are starting a lending scheme next month to encourage homeowners to install their own charging stations.
''If you want to put an electric charging station in your home in anticipation of all these electric vehicles, you can do it through this green financing program,'' San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, said.
Mr Newsom bought an electric car a decade ago and car charging stations were installed outside city hall last year.
The move confirms California's reputation as America's greenest state. Over the past 30 years it has led the country in putting limits on vehicle emissions and imposing higher efficiency standards for homes and appliances such as flat-screen TVs.
Few people are predicting widespread adoption of electric cars by Americans - at least in the immediate future. But the launch of the electric vehicles is concentrating minds in other cities, such as Houston, San Diego and Portland, which are expected to lead demand for the new technology.
Urban planners and electricity companies there are beginning to make preparations for charging stations and for contingency planning in case an ageing electrical supply grid is overloaded.
''I have talked to energy executives who are very fearful about what will happen even if you get past 1000 vehicles,'' said Terry Tamminen, who advises California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on energy and environment. ''People can't be trusted to charge only at night and discharge in the day.''
San Francisco's main supplier, Pacific Gas & Electric, is sketching out ''heat maps'' of neighbourhoods at risk of overloads and blackouts when suburban motorists begin plugging in their cars. It can take eight hours, drawing only on the domestic power supply, to charge an electric car, though dedicated charging stations take a fraction of that time.
The forward planning in such cities runs counter to the accumulating evidence in Washington that efforts by the President, Barack Obama, to green America's economy are sputtering to a halt.
There is also scepticism that Mr Obama will be able to deliver on his promise to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
But beyond Washington, a number of American cities and states are driving ahead.
The president of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, has predicted that by 2020 as many as 10 per cent of sales will be for electric vehicles.
Most of those new cars are expected to be clustered in a few cities to make it easier to supply dealerships and repair centres, and northern California motorists have already demonstrated a taste for driving green.
The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose pledged a year ago to make their metropolitan area the country's electric car capital.
One in five cars sold in the Berkeley area is a Toyota Prius. At the luxury end, Tesla Motors, makers of the $US100,000 electric sports car, has sold 150 models in the San Francisco area.
San Jose now has parking spots for electric vehicles and major employers are installing workplace charging stations.
Guardian News & Media