Posts filed under ‘Climate Change’

The state of the climate

I’m going to be very busy over the next week, so posts will be more about pointing you in the direction of interesting stuff (rather than my usual ranting and raving).

I came across a very interesting debate between four scientists over climate change issues. Here are some snippets to whet your appetite before you trot off and read the full article:

  • the Earth is now 0.75 degrees Celsius warmer than it was a century and a half ago;
  • if we continue with our current trends in burning fossil fuels, the ocean will become more acidic than it has been at any time in the past 65 million years;
  • both poles are getting warmer and this is different from the past because both poles did not move together – one pole would lead and the other would follow. Now, ice is melting from both poles at an accelerated rate;
  • although the planet warmed in the past, it did so over millions of years and ecosystems could adapt. What we’re seeing now are rates of increase in greenhouse gases and warming that exceed natural rates by a factor of 100;
  • we are at a critical point in history – if we don’t stop stuffing up the planet, the scientists believe that geologists in 50 million years (if there are any!) will be able to pinpoint the exact time in history when civilization had developed advanced technology but didn’t develop the wisdom to use it wisely;
  • we will have to raise the food supply another two times to feed all of the people that we think will be alive by the latter third of the 21st century;
  • to address global warming, we’ll need US$500 billion to get going but ultimately trillions;
  • the stratosphere—the upper atmosphere—is cooling while the lower atmosphere and the land surface are warming. This is a sign that greenhouse gases are trapping energy and keeping that energy close to the surface of the earth.

All four scientists have serious academic chops and also address the contrarian view (that climate change is not happening). So if the above hasn’t scared you enough, go here to Discover magazine to read the full article.

And Happy Independence Day to all my US readers!

July 4, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Environmental stuff

I thought I’d share with you some interesting environmental stuff I’ve come across recently – in no particular order.  First up, the Swedes have just released some guidelines for climate-friendly food in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Jointly drafted by the Swedish National Food Administration and their Environmental Protection Agency, the guidelines will be circulated around the EU for comment. There are no surprises to the advice: eat meat less often; eat seasonal, locally-produced fruits and vegetables (remember when we used to do that?); and avoid bottled water (the plastic may contain chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A, which seep into the water).

It’s good to see the Swedes taking the lead in Europe and helping consumers think through their food choices. Given that one kilo of beef contributes up to 15-25 kilos of greenhouse gases and that Swedes’ meat consumption has grown by an average ten kilos per person over the past ten years and now totals 65 kilos, it’s a smart move promoting healthy food choice hand-in-hand with helping the environment.  And you only have to read this report (by the Joint Research Centre) to learn that meat and dairy products contribute on average 24% to the environmental impact of total final consumption in the EU 27, while constituting only 6% of the economic value. Click here to read the guidelines in English.

And speaking of things seeping into your water or food, if you want to freak yourself out, go here to find out what pesticides are on your food. I decided to use the site to check out if my favourite poached pears might be suspect. Holy Guacamole as they say! 28 pesticides are found on pears – 6 known or probable carcinogens; 13 suspected hormone disruptors; 8 neurotoxins; and 3 developmental or reproductive toxicants. I’m reading Paul Roberts’ book, The End of Food, and he goes through the history of when we lost the plot and starting growing our crops smothered by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and injecting animals with antibiotics so they’d grow faster. Frightening. I have no doubt that in 100 years (if humanity hasn’t knocked itself off by sheer stupidity), future generations will shake their collective heads and call us the “chemical age”.

Meanwhile, Houston is going to erect a dome over the city. Well, engineers are thinking about it anyway. The idea is that a giant geodesic dome, stretching over 21 million square feet, might protect the city from its grim environmental future of fierce hurricanes and baking heat. You can watch a video on the Discovery Channel and explore the dome. I’ve pinched the photo below from the Discovery Channel.

The dome won’t be made of glass as that would be too heavy. It may be built from a light polymer, called Texlon® ETFE, invented over 25 years ago and called the “climatic envelope”. It’s 99% lighter than glass and can withstand winds of more than 180 miles per hour (more than the strongest category 5 hurricane). Apparently, an army of dirigibles would be used to construct the dome since everyday city life in Houston could not be interrupted.  But what about insects, birds and rain – how would that work inside the dome?

And finally, I was out in the garden the other day muttering about pests that had attacked some flowers. I don’t want to whip out chemicals so I hunted for some homemade recipes to beat them off and found this excellent FAQ sheet from Gardening Australia – a heap of recipes using things like soap flakes, bicarb and molasses to get rid of pests like caterpillars, grasshoppers and mealybugs. I tell you: it’s a war zone out there in the garden!

June 30, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Newsflash: polar bear stranded in Thames!

Newsflash! In more evidence of global warming, a polar bear has been stranded on an iceberg in the Thames. Our reporters were standing by and bring you dramatic first photos as the polar bear wonders how the hell it ended up floating by the British Parliament.

The stranded polar bear clung bravely to the melting iceberg as it continued floating down the Thames, reaching  Tower Bridge.

This is, of course, not a true story but it’s highly possible that one day very soon we will indeed find polar bears clinging for dear life to rapidly shrinking icebergs and read headlines like this.

In an effort to raise awareness around climate change, 15 artists produced a 5m (16 ft) life-like sculpture of a polar bear (and cub) stranded on an iceberg and sent the sculpture down the River Thames, pulled by a tug.  The sculpture was commissioned by Eden, a new natural history digital channel.

Image credit: BBC News

January 29, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The environment and the Long Tail

Two quite unrelated but equally interesting topics to bring you in this post. I liked Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail – a new economic model applied to consumer consumption, which suggests that low demand/low sales items (or niche items) collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the popular bestsellers. So for example you walk into a bookstore and you see thousands of books and think “ah, choice!”. But booksellers have limited shelf space and they offer only a small percentage of books that have the broadest possible appeal to readers. The majority of books are in the “long tail” with many different genres, obscure authors and appeal that don’t fit into the mass market. Anderson’s Long Tail (LT) theory examined online music retailers and suggested that the internet economy (with its vast choice of niche markets) would see a shift from the dominance of a relatively small market of mainstream products to the huge market of obscure products, businesses and an untapped audience. Because on the Internet, you need no shelf space. You can read his original article here.

A piece in The Times Online is challenging the LT theory. A study of digital music sales showed that more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year. So the suggestion is that the big hits still account for online sales success and that the niche music market remains largely untapped. The article doesn’t say what the source was for the data but reports that with the online singles market, 80% of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks, whilst for the 1.23 million albums available, only 173,000 were bought, meaning 85% did not sell a single copy.

Meanwhile, an article in New Scientist also looks at studies that question Anderson’s theory, with Anita Elberse being one of the dissenters. You might have read Elberse’s Harvard Business Review article, which suggests that the LT isn’t fat with choice but is flat, thin and filled with more and more products that sell few or no copies.

Turning to environmental news, Discover Magazine showcased the top 100 environmental stories of 2008, many of which I blogged about such as the migration of plants due to climate change and the huge population of lowland gorillas discovered in Congo. Afraid many of these stories make for sobering reading.

January 8, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Happy Holidays!

First of all: a very Merry Christmas to all ThinkingShift readers, that is if you celebrate it. If you don’t, maybe you’re just having a relaxing time off work and enjoying a Happy Holiday. I have one week and a bit off. I plan to produce my first photography book using a self-publishing site. Wish me luck as I will have to grapple with the software and fret about design.

But today, I am spending Xmas with a great friend of mine, her mother and brother and my husband. Hopefully, plenty of photo opps as there will be dogs, the beach and water involved.

Meanwhile, whilst we are coping with the GFHF (global financial hissy fit), let’s not forget the environment and global warming. Two stories caught my attention recently that offer evidence of climate change. In Southern California’s Santa Rosa Mountains, ten dominant plant species are migrating up the slopes because the weather at the foot of the mountains is now too warm. Comparing data from a 1977 study and new studies from 2006 and 2007, researchers found that nine of the 10 species moved up the mountain, altogether averaging a 213-foot gain in elevation.

And NASA’s satellites are revealing some pretty bad news. More than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003 and at least half of this loss has occured in Greenland. Of course, this is pretty serious as land-locked ice melting in Greenland would cause sea-levels to rise (approximately half a millimeter of sea level rise a year). Alaska has lost 400 billion tons of land ice. Between Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska, melting land ice has raised global sea levels about one-fifth of an inch since 2003.

Well, to cheer us up, I will leave you with some of my favourite LOLCats enjoying a kitty Xmas!

December 25, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Global warming has a huge price tag

You know, one upside to the downside of the global financial hissy fit is that we might not have enough money to spend on The Brands, gas-guzzling cars, holidays or those things we call the little luxuries in life. So our planet might not get so bombarded with carbon emissions, strangled by plastic bags or have the oceans and rivers muddied and sullied. The trashing of our planet might be less.

I was just thinking too this morning – when I was about 10 years old (that would have been in 1850!), my great aunt was always busy squirrelling away money into a Christmas Club account at her bank. We might just see a return to lay-bys, Christmas Club accounts and other frugal strategies. But that’s another post.

Today, we need to think about the cost of climate change and the rise of green capitalism. An RSS feed alerted me to a report that has just been released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, entitled The Cost of Climate Change: What We’ll Pay If Global Warming Continues Unchecked. The report looks at four global warming impact categories – hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy and water costs. Here’s some scary stuff for us to digest. By 2100, if we continue on our reckless path, the costs to the planet and to us will be:

  • Hurricane damages: $422 billion in economic losses caused by the increasing intensity of Atlantic and Gulf Coast storms.
  • Real estate losses: $360 billion in damaged or destroyed residential real estate as a result of rising sea levels.
  • Energy costs: $141 billion in increasing energy costs as a result of the rising demand for energy.
  • Water costs: $950 billion to provide water to the driest and most water-stressed parts of the United
    States as climate change exacerbates drought conditions and disrupts existing patterns of water supply.

Where’s the calculator? Okay, that adds up to a staggering US$1,873,000,000,000, which according to my cunning maths ability is almost $1.9 trillion in today’s dollars! And according to the report, that will be 1.8% of US GDP per year by 2100. This humungous amount of money is only the cost of the four categories the report examines in detail.

Alternet pointed out recently that the Green Wave is about to engulf us. Entrepreneurs, authors and scam-artists ready to pounce and take advantage of a planet in crisis. With economies in turmoil, do you think that serious money will be devoted to protecting the environment or finding new sources of energy? Nope. We will see the rise of green capitalism – companies will talk green but still earn profits using fossil fuels and pillage the environment. And we’ll see pale-green consumerism – products and companies yapping on about how they are “all natural” whilst, at the same time, they are exploiting poor workers in developing countries or spewing petrochemicals into the environment (sorry: cynical day for me!).

What I worry about is how “greenism” will be complicit with capitalism as we know it and to what extent capitalism will influence green capitalism. Is green capitalism just capitalism’s response to environmental issues?

I’ll need to reflect more. It’s just that I’m starting to worry about all the whacko schemes I’ve been reading about to save the planet (and which cost millions) and everywhere I go there are products pronouncing themselves as all natural. I used to be a huge fan of The Body Shop until I read Jon Entine’s great article “Shattered Image: Is The Body Shop Too Good to Be True?” – I promptly gave up buying any of their products. You might want to check out Entine’s site as there are some good articles.

So how will we know in the future whether “green” products are not just the brainchild of exploitative capitalism, hip branding and sexy marketing?

October 30, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Permafrost and methane

You might have caught sight of this disturbing piece of environmental news last week. Seems the Arctic Sea is bubbling with methane, in an area to the west of the Norwegian island of Svalbard. British scientists have just discovered that millions of tons of this greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is being released into the atmosphere.

Methane chimneys (areas of sea bubbling away with methane gas) have been spotted rising from the seabed. What’s causing the churning? Well, if correct, it’s bad, bad news for the planet. Global warming is causing the Arctic region to warm up leading to the ice retreating. The Arctic has experienced a 4C rise in average temperatures in the last few decades. This is causing the permafrost to melt and up until now the permafrost has been sealing the methane gas under the seabed.

The British scientists are not alone in observing the methane chimneys. A Russian research ship also detected bubbling methane breaking through the melting permafrost off the Siberian coast. Apparently, the British scientists spotted 250 methane plumes in a 30 square mile area off Svalbard, with deeper plumes at depths of about 1,200 metres at a second site near by.

Some scientists are suggesting that the methane chimneys have been evident for 15,000 years. If so, the question is whether it has exacerbated to the point where the methane gas emissions are contributing to climate change and potentially would cause higher temperatures.

This is a really serious situation because the total amount of methane locked up is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon contained in global coal reserves. And if it’s released….

September 30, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Blog fog

Not sure about other bloggers but occasionally there is so much I want to talk about – I end up a tad paralysed and in a blog fog!  That’s happening to me now, so today, I thought I’d answer some of the personal questions a few of you have asked me via email.

(1) From Sherry B, the question to me is: are you intending to live off-the-grid and how will you be going about this?

Sherry: I really don’t like what I’m seeing in the world these days. Global warming, destruction of forests and animal habitats, the selfishness of people and so on. I do believe that the future will be one of water shortages, food scarcity, urban distress as people increasingly move into cities looking for water and food, increasing conflict between different ethnic groups. And I think ultimately this will lead to human extinction. There is no reason to believe that humans are exempt from extinction, especially if the world population numbers continue to explode.

So I am fully intending to withdraw from mainstream society. We are currently looking for land in Europe. Anywhere on this stressed out planet is likely to suffer from global warming but the indications are grim for Australia. Prof Ross Garnaut just released a new paper on carbon pricing and emissions as part of his Climate Change Review. You can read it here.  Indications are that parts of Europe won’t be so badly hit by climate change, so we’re looking for land that has its own water source, where we can grow vegetables, generate our own power and live a quieter life.

(2) From PaisleyDays comes the question: Are you paranoid about everything or just biometrics?

PaisleyDays: Love your name! I’m sure some people might answer, yep she’s paranoid about everything. But actually I’m reasonably laid back. I don’t fret about being attacked by strangers. I never really worried about the Communists invading during the Cold War. I don’t believe that the CIA, FBI or ASIO is tracking me or listening in to my phone calls (and dudes, if you are – you would have found out by now that I’m a pretty boring person who leads a relatively quite life!). So no, I’m not totally paranoid.

I do subscribe to the odd conspiracy theory now and then. I reckon that Lee Harvey Oswald was set up and that dark forces probably knocked off Prez Kennedy (dark forces being US Government types). I’m 50/50 on whether an alien was ever autopsied.

Biometrics and the erosion of our civil liberties though is a conspiracy for sure. The State/Government is attempting to control us and we are submissive sheep going along for the ride bleating the mantra “if you have nothing to hide, then why worry about having your fingerprints, irises and face scanned”. That mantra is a cop out if you ask me. The essence of the State/Government is that it is to serve you. But particularly since 9/11, we have seen an expansion of executive power in Western democracies, a detachment from the rule of law and a full-frontal attack on civil safeguards. Our relationship with the very Governments that are supposed to serve us has altered – and not in our favour.

(3) From ConstantCravings comes the question: why don’t you talk about KM more?

ConstantCravings: true to say my “day job” involves me in Knowledge Management. I’ve been in this field/discipline/profession (depends on your view as to which it is!) for about 12 years now. Do I ever get tired of it? Absolutely!  It’s a tough field to be in because organisations still don’t “get it”. Some places I’ve worked in have equated KM with IT. Others are very hierarchical and bureaucratic, so it’s still about “who you are and what you know”. Some organisations I’ve been in say they are innovative/adaptive/flexible but when it comes to trying to implement something fresh like a particular KM strategy, suddenly they’ve lost that  desire to be innovative.

So I guess like most KM practitioners, I go through phases. Some days, I think it’s a great job to be in and I’m making some headway or contributing to change; other days, I wonder why I’m bothering!

I could blog a lot more about KM sure but there are some sharp minds out there doing this already – Dave Snowden and Patrick Lambe to name two. And frankly, what keeps me energised and engaged is ranting and talking about all the stuff that ThinkingShift is about – from aliens, to LOLCats, to privacy, to the environment and climate change. When you’ve got the planet to fret about and bizarre things happening in this world of ours, why worry about KM!

Thx for your questions!

September 6, 2008 at 2:08 am Leave a comment

New climate change report

Kim photo Thirsty WorkA new report on climate change has just been released and posted at climatescience.gov. It’s called The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources and Biodiversity in the the United States. And it’s a pretty sobering look into the future. The report was put together by experts in the fields of agriculture, biodiversity, and land and water resources – scientists and researchers from universities, national laboratories, non-government organisations and government agencies.

Unlike a lot of reports that focus on 100 or 200 years from now, this one takes a shorter time-horizon: the next 25 to 50 years. Here’s some stuff in the report I found interesting (if not alarming):

  • during the 20th C, the global average surface temperature increased by about 0.6°C and global sea level increased by about 15 to 20 cm
  • global average temperature will rise another 1.1 to 5.4°C by 2100
  • western states in the US will face substantial challenges because of growing demand for water and projected drops in supplies
  • from 2040 to 2060, water flows from rainfall in Western US are likely to be 20% less than the average from 1901 to 1970
  • as farmers battle changing weather conditions and exurban development spreads to previously undeveloped areas, new risks will emerge – invasive insects and species, non-native plants. The resulting ecosystem will be quite different with invasive grasses, for example, being able to survive in hotter conditions. Trees and crops will be stressed by the presence of invasive pests.
  • by mid-21st C, areas of the US that used to irrigate land from a steady flow of water from mountain snow will find that tap is turned off, replaced by rainfall patterns that are perhaps irregular or make it difficult to grow crops
  • warmer temperatures will stuff up bird migration patterns
  • with increased CO2 and temperature, the life cycle of grain and oilseed crops will likely progress more rapidly. But, as temperature rises, these crops will increasingly begin to experience failure, especially if climate variability increases and precipitation lessens or becomes more variable.

So if you live in the US, might be prudent to read this report to see what’s in store for the area you live in. For the rest of us – it’s yet another sobering reminder of what’s to come. Along with news coming out of Spain – Barcelona is running out of water and has been forced to ship in water from the Tarragona region (they were less than impressed) and from France (quell horror!).

20 million litres of water brought from Tarragona in mid- May were scoffed within minutes by 180,000 thirsty people. The Catalan region has been drought affected and Barcelona’s fountains have been turned off and restrictions placed on filling up swimming pools (which is frankly a vain waste of water – go off and bathe in the sea or local lake).

What is really unnerving about the Barcelona situation is the appearance of an 11th C church, hidden under water in the village of Sant Roma. This village was submerged when an artificial lake was created in the 1960s to provide the Catalan area with water. For the first time in 40 years, the whole church can be seen because water levels have fallen so dramatically.

I really don’t think it’s much of a stretch imagining a future in which we fight over water not oil. If you want to freak yourself out, read this interview with one of the world’s leading experts on water struggles, which includes stories of people protecting their water.

Just imagine the future: you might decide to live off-the-grid because you can’t afford skyrocketing energy prices or because you want to live more simply. You grow your own food, which you need to protect from natural predators and human predators as food supplies become a problem or people can’t afford the basics. You have your own water supply but you have to protect this from people swooping on it in the middle of the night because the planet has water shortages. Maybe you decide it’s better to live with others in a gated, protected community with armed guards patrolling the perimeters. They’re there to protect the community’s food supply (goats, chicken, cows etc) and the community’s water supplies.

If the ThinkingShift blog is revisited in say 50 years, people will probably say “yep, she sure was right about that”.

June 2, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Climate tipping points

Kim photoHow fast is our Earth cooking up? Scientists have identified 9 tipping points that could hurl our planet into a future catastrophic climate state during the 21st Century. And they make for 9 pretty scary scenarios. The scientists have reported their findings in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and warn that anthropogenic climate change is very likely to result in sudden and dramatic climate changes.

And here are the 9 scenarios:

* Arctic sea ice: already seems to be shrinking and some scientists believe that the tipping point for the total loss of summer sea ice is imminent. No doubt we’ll see more photos of poor polar bears swimming endlessly around looking for some shrinking ice floe to rest on.

* Greenland ice sheet: total melting could take 300 years or more but the tipping point that could see irreversible change might occur within 50 years.

* West Antarctic ice sheet: scientists believe it could unexpectedly collapse if it slips into the sea at its warming edges.

* Gulf Stream: scientists are predicting a collapse possibly in the 21st Century.

* El Niño: warmer seas could affect the southern Pacific current, resulting in far-reaching climate change.

* Indian monsoon: relies on temperature difference between land and sea, which could be tipped off-balance by pollutants that cause localised cooling.

* West African monsoon: more monsoonal trouble – the West African monsoon has led to the greening of the Sahara in the past but in the future it could cause droughts.

* Amazon rainforest: I read recently that more than 20% of the Amazonian rainforests have disappeared. Couple this with a warmer world and further deforestation, then the rain system that supports this beautiful ecosystem could be kaput.

* Boreal forests: as the world heats up, trees suited to the cold climates of Siberia and Canada are dying as temperatures rise.

Source: Alternet

March 1, 2008 at 2:00 am 2 comments

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