Sunday, July 27, 2008

A climate hero: The early years

Originally posted at


A look back at James Hansen's seminal testimony on climate, part one

The speakers at a Washington, D.C., climate rally this past Earth Day, April 22, showcased the range of the modern environmental movement. They included an activist who engaged in a hunger strike, an outspoken preacher from the Hip Hop Caucus, and a folk duo that performed, "Unsustainable," a parody of Frank Sinatra's "Unforgettable."

Yet it was a comparatively dry, 20-minute scientific presentation that brought the crowd to its feet. The speaker, introduced as a "climate hero," was James Hansen, a long-time scientist with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Hansen is not a revolutionary by character. He is a mild-natured man who speaks with a soft, Midwestern tone. Raised in southwest Iowa, the fifth child of tenant farmers, Hansen would later commit his life to studying computerized climate models. With human-induced climate change now widely regarded as the greatest challenge of this generation, Hansen is considered a visionary pioneer.

Theories of climate change first surfaced more than a century ago. But it was Hansen who forever altered the debate on climate change 20 years ago this month.

On June 23, 1988, in the sweltering heat, Hansen told a U.S. Senate committee he was 99 percent certain that the year's record temperatures were not the result of natural variation. It was the first time a lead scientist drew a connection between human activities, the growing concentration of atmospheric pollutants, and a warming climate.

"It's time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here," Hansen told reporters.

Scientists first expressed concern about possible climate change more than a decade before Hansen's testimony. The most-publicized report came from the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. It warned that average temperatures may rise 6 degrees Celsius by 2050 due to the burning of coal.

Around the same time, Hansen, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, began studying the effect of greenhouse gases on climate. His first paper on the subject, published in the journal Science (PDF) in 1981, predicted that burning fossil fuels would increase global temperatures by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius) by the end of the 21st century.

Click here to continue reading article and series at

Friday, July 25, 2008

The 'pope' of hope

Originally posted at Interfaith Power and Light


Can religion help prevent eco-catastrophe? The leader of the Orthodox Church thinks so - and as the spiritual guide for 300 million people, he has more influence than most politicians.
. . .

For the many pilgrims who stream into the lavishly decorated Church of St George, Istanbul, it is the crystal chandeliers, incense clouds, iconography and sombre, chanting, enigmatic bishops dressed in black that are the main attraction of a little-known district in the throbbing Turkish metropolis.

Yet this cathedral holds far greater significance than photo opportunities and a sliver of Christendom in a Muslim-majority country. Around the corner from dusty cafes and tat shops, up a cobbled street, you come to the office of one of the most influential figures in the fight against climate change and world poverty.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians and 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew. He is also extremely green, taking heads of church and state to areas beset with environmental problems - the Amazon and Arctic among them - and confronting them with the best science.

After announcing, on an Aegean island, that attacks on the environment should be considered sins, he called pollution of the world's waters "a new Apocalypse" and led global calls for "creation care".

The Guardian America has the rest.

Evangelicals and Global Warming

From the Interfaith Power and Light Blog


There's plenty of news out there about growing divisions among evangelicals over the science and the action required to address global warming. Although this video is a bit light on information, the young Christians here actually give a good sense of the debate and reveal some emerging generational, authority, and messaging issues.

Here's head of governmental affairs head for the National Association of Evangelicals Richard Cizik bringing his faith down to earth. Note: Interfaith Power and Light on that Sen. Boxer poster.

Interfaith Power and Light is beginning to work more closely with committed evangelicals who care deeply for creation and understand the science. Have you had any conversations with global warming skeptics? What have you said that's helped create common moral ground or explain the science? Share your experience and ideas below for all our IPL folks.

Report: Global Warming Has Changed Our Weather — Worse Heat Waves, Floods, Hurricanes, Storms To Come

From the Think Progress Blog


The traditional media rarely discusses extreme weather events in the context of global warming. However, as the Wonk Room Global Boiling series has documented, scientists have been warning us for years that climate change will increase catastrophic weather events like the California wildfires, the East Coast heatwave, and the Midwest floods that have been taking lives and causing billions in damage in recent days.

Today, the federal government has released a report that assembles this knowledge in stark and unequivocal terms. “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” by the multi-agency U.S. Climate Change Science Program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the lead, warns that changes in extreme weather are “among the most serious challenges to society” in dealing with global warming. After reporting that heat waves, severe rainfall, and intense hurricanes have been on the rise — all linked to manmade global warming — the authors deliver this warning about the future:

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

Unfortunately, some of the cautions in this long-delayed report have come too late for the victims of the Midwest Flood:

Some short-term actions taken to lessen the risk from extreme events can lead to increases in vulnerability to even larger extremes. For example, moderate flood control measures on a river can stimulate development in a now “safe” floodplain, only to see those new structures damaged when a very large flood occurs.

Climate change is threatening our health, our lives, our economy, and our security already. Now the only question is when our media will take notice, and when our leaders will respond. Our future depends on it.

From the accompanying brochure comes this chart summarizing the findings:

(Click here to continue reading this article at Think Progress / The Wonk Room)

BREAKING: Bush Asserts Executive Privilege To Hide Global Warming Documents

Orginally posted on ThinkProgress / Wonkroom


With a contempt of Congress vote looming by Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) House Oversight Committee, President Bush asserted executive privilege this morning to block the committee’s subpoenas for documents relating to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to override scientific recommendations on ozone standards.

Waxman’s committee had scheduled the 10 am business meeting to hold contempt votes for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and White House Office of Management and Budget regulatory administrator Susan Dudley. On May 20, Johnson appeared before the committee, without the subpoenaed documents and evading questions about Bush’s involvement.

Stephen Johnson has been compared to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his mishandling of the EPA. Susan Dudley and her husband Brian Mannix, an EPA administrator, are products of the Mercatus Center, a right-wing pro-industry think tank.

From TPMMuckaker, Waxman’s blistering response:

I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president
. When the President of the United States, may have been involved in acting contrary to law and the evidence that would determine that question for Congress, in exercising our oversight, is being blocked by an assertion of executive privilege. I would hope and expect this administration would not be making this assertion without a valid basis for it, but to date I have not seen a valid instance of their executive privilege.

Waxman’s written statement from the committee website: “Today’s assertion of executive privilege raises serious questions about Administrator Johnson’s credibility and the involvement of the President.”

This is the fourth Congressional investigation Bush has impeded by asserting executive privilege. He invoked the privilege repeatedly in the US attorneys scandal that brought down Alberto Gonzales last summer: to prevent Josh Bolten from turning over documents; and to protect Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor and Karl Rove and Scott Jennings from testimony. Rove, Gonzales, and Jennings resigned from the White House soon thereafter. Considering the assertions of executive privilege improperly made, this February the House voted to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt of Congress, but Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to investigate.

As the Washington Independent notes, Bush also claimed executive privilege to block the Pat Tillman investigation and a 2001 investigation into the FBI corruption scandal fictionalized in “The Departed.”

The last time the full Congress found an administration official in contempt was in 1983, against EPA official Rita Lavelle for her cover-up of Dow Chemical’s dioxin poisoning in Midland, Michigan. Twenty-five years later, EPA regional administrator Mary Gade was fired by Johnson when she tried to clean up the pollution.

In an email, Daily Kos contributor Kagro X notes further parallels between today’s scandal and the 1983 EPA scandal: “Reagan’s EPA Administrator, Anne Gorsuch, refused to testify or turn over documents on the advice of White House counsel Fred Fielding.”

Fielding replaced Harriet Miers
as Bush’s White House counsel when she resigned last year.

Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’ Donnell writes in to the Wonk Room:

This is basically an admission that the White House did indeed tamper with EPA’s decisions
. Executive Privilege only applies to actions taken by the President or his top aides.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our government. This isn’t a matter involving national security. This is really about a very political White House helping special interests by interfering with an agency’s responsibility to carry out the law.

Global Boiling: Rush Versus Reality

From the Think Progress Blog

Last week, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assailed the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s “Global Boiling” Progress Report, which explained that the extreme weather events causing death and destruction across the United States “are consistent with the changes scientists predicted would come with global warming.” He called it a “piece of propaganda” by “wackos” but refused to read any of it — “You can imagine what it says.” He continued:

You know, it is a crying shame to have to sit out here and just do nothing but refute a bunch of lies that are repeatedly told by leftist activist groups and then amplified and promulgated by willing accomplices in the Drive-By Media.

The “leftist activist groups” Rush is attacking now includes not only us but also the Bush administration, whose multiagency Climate Change Science Program has released two reports this week on the damage climate change is doing to the United States.

The first, released Thursday, said:

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

Friday’s report on the effect of global warming on our continent’s ecosystems finds that “Climate change has very likely increased the size and number of forest fires, insect outbreaks, and tree mortality in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska, and will continue to do so.”

Its warning for the future?

The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land-use change, pollution).

To conclude: the U.S. Climate Change Science Program — comprised of the Agency for International Development, Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, Department of State, Department of Transportation, US Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution — has found that global warming has likely or very likely worsened:

  • Intense rainfall
  • Heat waves
  • Winter storms
  • Hurricanes
  • Wildfires
  • Insect outbreaks
  • Coral bleaching

The future, in addition to the above, will see worse:

  • Droughts
  • Ocean acidification
  • Storm surges
  • Wildlife disruption
  • Extreme coastal erosion

It’s important to note that none of these are new findings — these are simply summaries of thousands of works of scientific research from the past decades. And even with the release of these long-delayed reports, the Bush administration continues to violate its lawful mandate to take action on global warming, as the president’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege on Friday makes clear.

So, despite Rush’s attacks, these “wackos” at the Center for American Progress Action Fund will continue to report the truth and hold his friends accountable.

Science: Greenland can warm 2-4°C in one year!

From the Climate Progress Blog


A new article in Science Express, “High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in Few Years” (subs. req’d) examines “The last two abrupt warmings at the onset of our present warm interglacial period.” The article explores the underlying causes of

… abrupt shifts of northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation resulting in 2-4°K changes in Greenland moisture source temperature from one year to the next.

The article concludes that

… polar atmospheric circulation can shift in 1-3 years resulting in decadal to centennial scale changes from cold stadials to warm interstadials/interglacials associated with astounding Greenland temperature changes of 10°K. Neither the magnitude of such shifts nor their abruptnesses are currently captured by state of the art climate models.

The time to act is yesterday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Video - Crude Impact

U.S. driving down 4.5 billion miles in April

Originally posted at Climate Progress


April 2008 saw another sharp drop in vehicle miles traveled (aka VMT) according to the Federal Highway Administration’s monthly report on “Traffic Volume Trends.” This follows “the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history” in March (see here).

I was compelled to blog on this because of the incredibly astute media coverage by AFP, “worldwide news agency,” which wins the “Duh!” award for the month:

Observers surmise a possible link between the declining number of miles driven and rising US gasoline prices.

Wouldn’t want the ever-cautious media to leap to any conclusions. [Note to AFP: Observers surmise a possible link between the declining number of readers for big media and the rising blandness of your/their coverage.]

As it becomes increasingly clear that high gasoline prices are not a fluke, Americans are adjusting their driving habits. The longer prices stay high — or go even higher — the more people will start to make permanent adjustments in their driving — and then, ultimately, in where they live and so on.

Here are the details from the April report:

In April 2008, Americans drove 245.9 billion milles, compared to 250.3 billion in April 2007. Indeed, the April 2008 figure is lower than the April 2004 figure. To see just how remarkable that is, look at the annual vehicle-distance traveled data (in billions of miles) since 1983 (this is a moving 12-month total):