Democrats & Liberals Archives

Thoughts on "The Change in the Weather"

Global Warming is often reduced to simple changes in temperature, but as anybody knows, temperature is just one part of climate, and things interlock. The Right has a tendency to jump on uncertainty as a means to trip up those who claim that temperatures are heating up on the planet. We must understand, though, that the uncertainty is ours, not nature’s.

Nature, not requiring intelligence to operate in the most complex ways, is in no way uncertain about the paths it takes. It is we who must be cautious about what we do with our environment.

The book starts in Chicago in 1995 and '96, respectively covering the lethal heatwave and the record deluge that followed the the next year. Both were uncharacteristic of the region in its recorded history. This start for the book goes to the heart of its argument: that global warming is about more than just rising temperatures and melting ice.

Heat is more than just the temperature we feel, it is the energy that drives our weather, especially in the temperate zones between the warm tropics and the cold polar zones. The storms, cyclones, fronts and other aspects of the weather are affected by that. The book goes into great detail about these elements, providing their history. They also provide a history of our understanding of greenhouse gases and oceanic temperature fluctuations.

The contrarians in this debate like to point out natural variations can create great differences in the weather. This of course is perfectly true. Changes in the climate like the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age figure greatly in their examples. They miss something very profound that should cause them more caution in their cavilier statements about the effects of Climate Change: these shifts have doomed cultures and brought on the collapse of civilizations.

Even if potential growing seasons increase up North, precipitation could become more extreme in both it's presence and its lack. A study described within the book says that over the last century, extreme weather has become stronger and more common. Worse yet, we can't predict entirely who will be the winners and losers, or even if there is any such animal.

What the naysayers should consider is that natural variability will not be exclusive or independent of human driven effects. Greenhouse Gas driven effects will add to and alter these oscillations and cycles.

And yes, greehouse gases do have their effect. This, in fact, is nothing new. These effects were known of these gases in the 1850s and 1860s. The Greenhouse effect itself (that is, the atmosphere's retention of heat), was hypothesized in 1827 by a scientist named Baron Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier. The heat trapping capabilities of these gases have never been in doubt. The question is, what is the effect of this added energy?

There is no doubt that carbon dioxide levels have increased significantly over time, especially since the industrial revolution. This has been measured quite thoroughly. Naturally, an increase in concentrations in this substance would increase the trapping of heat. The uncertainty in its effects, it should be noted, runs both ways when it comes to analyzing climate: natural and artificial variables (like soot from manufacturing in the atmosphere) can mask warming caused by the increase in greenhouse gases as easily as they might exaggerate them.

Other feedback effects might absorb or kick into high gear the rise of heat energy in the system. Believe it or not, greater amounts of snow in certain regions would come from global warming. This would occur because more heat would mean more moisture in the air masses moving north, and because the rising of temperatures up north would mean there were fewer places where it was simply too cold to snow, as the saying goes. Well, snow and ice have the effect of reflecting sunlight back, and decreasing the radiant heat that stays in the atmosphere.

That is, as long as it stays around. There's another feedback cycle at work in the same place: as temperatures rise, the glaciers, snow and ice sheets are melted, meaning that there is less radiant heat reflected, which serves to warm things further. The same kind of duality plays itself out all over the place. Some clouds reflect, some absorb. Sometimes the ocean encourages moderate temperatures, sometimes it hikes them up.

Many among the right wing pontificate about how scientists were predicting a global cooling earlier in the Seventies, a possible new ice age. They evoke the tentative nature of science to say that the scientist could be wrong again. They make a mistake there. First, Global Cooling was more pop culture theory than scientific. People were learning that climate had indeed made sharp turns into colder states in earlier times, and many in the media, as is their habit, were using the theory that got the most attention quickest.

The consensus on global warming is much more solid, and one would wonder how that would happen in a field as competitive as the sciences. It's interesting that the Right supposes that the consensus is built on political support, given all the support they give to the other side. If politics were the main concern, could somebody not do better to kiss up to the party in power? Perhaps its more complex than that, but seeing all the lengths Bush goes to appoint people and write policy that deny global warming is at hand, one could be forgiven for believing that the political pressures are at least as heavy for not acknowledging the reality of global warming.

Some point to heat island effects. Others point to Milankovich Cycles and orbital forcing. Others point to oceanic temperature oscillation, or local drops in temperatures. Others exploit the uncertainties of the models to make their points. Global Warming contrarians have no lack of arguments to make. It's the results that give them the problems.

Heat Island effects would be a problem if many temperatures reading stations weren't registering the same overall average rise in temperature in still rural areas or out at sea. An urban-restricted heat-island effect would not show up in the Atlantic. Milankovich cycles wouldn't be supportive of that theory if they indicated a cooling trend, apart from other variables. What about natural variability? Again, uncertainty goes in both directions, not merely towards global warming. The indications are, though, that many of these shifts, like El Nino, are happening with greater frequency than before, and with stronger results. As for local drops in temperature, we should consider the now famous thermohaline conveyor: sufficient meltwater caused by warming could cause local cooling in Northern Europe by interrupting the heat-carrying current. This is why folks talk about global averages in speaking of rises in temperature. It's the overall picture that's causing us concern.

The uncertainties of the models hide a very important point: the models, the more accurately we make them, confirm global warming, rather than deny it. As climate science has become more advanced, the models more sophisticated and realistic, the effect has been to banish many of the inaccuracies and uncertainties that once served as legitimate grounds for objection.

The arctic and sub-arctic have been a major factor in convincing people that the warming is real. It's hard to deny the profound change in climate up in the northern reaches. Tundra is thawing out, in some places leaving pits in a process called thermokarsting. Glaciers are retreating, continental ice sheets melting at alarming rates. Such melting and warming events would not be characteristic of a natural oscillation, not in the arctic.

Measures of sulphate aerosols are helping to demonstrate the link between human industrial emissions and the increases in carbon dioxide. As it is, that is more the scientific carefulness than anything else. We are one of nature's biggest sources of carbon dioxide, providing gigatons of it where things like volcanoes only pump megatons in. The oceans aren't absorbing as much of the gas as once was thought. Worst, the increased levels of CO2 might be acidifying it, reducing the pH by as much as a full point over time.

We are running a dangerous experiment in climate change here, and one side of the debate would have us gamble with a forces of incredible power, merely so they can preserve the status quo. Fact is, we are pretty much stuck dealing with results of our little climate experiment. The question is, how much do we want to add to the problem before we decide we have one?

Maintaining the fossil fuel status quo is a lose-lose proposition for us, politically and economically as well as environmentally. We have the technology to begin our withdrawal from our oil addiction. We have the motivation now. We also have the capability here to benefit from whatever clean technologies we develop. It's time to see the opportunity inherent in our current crises, rather than running scared from our problems. The right-wing in this country is afraid of change, afraid of disadvantaging its big supporters, afraid of acknowledging that we tiny little humans can have a disproportionate effect on our world.

Let's stop being afraid. Let's start doing something to face our problems. That to me is the much more American approach to our situation. Even if folks could be wrong on global warming, I would like our society to for once take the responsible mature route in policy and prepare against problems rather than being caught off guard. Our descendants should not have to look back and wonder how we could be so stupid, how we could fail to see the eventual declines coming. The story we should write is one where we wise up and prevent further damage, rather than one where we go screaming off the edge into economic and environmental collapse for our love of the status quo.

The Change in the Weather: People, Weather, and the Science of Climate
By William K Stevens
Delacorte Press (1999)

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at August 27, 2006 8:40 AM
Comment #177714
The right-wing in this country is afraid of change, afraid of disadvantaging its big supporters, afraid of acknowledging that we tiny little humans can have a disproportionate effect on our world.

you know, Stephan, what you wrote was a very interesting essay. i enjoyed reading it, that is, until i came to the part quoted above. you could have left that out and made it a topic to be discussed by all instead of making it a means to criticize the other side. reread what you wrote and mentally leave the sentence out and i think you’ll agree that it really adds nothing to your arguement.

Posted by: The Griper at August 27, 2006 10:50 AM
Comment #177715

Very well done article, and I like Griper’s comment too. It’s difficult because as I read articles like this I start mentally tabulating points against the right, but, I agree, we’ve got a broad scientific consensus, more and more people across the political spectrum are realizing this is for real, and now, I hope, we can move beyond political squabbles and talk about what to do now. In the red column there was a generally civil discussion about water and energy; I hope we can have a civil discussion about global warming here. I found Stephen’s article very thoughtful and the political slam relatively mild. The article is a good prompt for discussion, and I plan to contribute more on point comments as it goes.

Posted by: Trent at August 27, 2006 11:08 AM
Comment #177720

The Griper-
Sooner or later, it comes down to it. Strong opposition from the right, belittling of the science from that side of the aisle, and the influence of fossil fuel businesses on government have been the major stumbling block concerning addressing this problem.

There’s always this argument running about what an economic hit it would be to do the environmentally sound thing- a simple appeal to fear that does not address the opportunities that come from the development of technology. Sure we don’t have as much of a horse and buggy market as we once did, but would you buy the horse and buggy argument that cars aren’t the more economically productive vehicles?

Now fossil fuels are becoming the economically unviable technology, due to limits in supply, foreign policy problems with suppliers, and the likely fact that our use of these fuels is going to cause some quite expensive changes in climate.

We have two directions we could take here: give up on fossil fuels and work towards cleaner alternatives, using research and engineering to make it work economically, or stick with the status quo, making our problems worse on all sides and giving somebody else the opportunity to invent something to meet the demand for clean energy and transportation.

The Republicans have shown repeatedly that they are quite happy to stick with the industries, and toe their line. Even the ethanol support in Bush’s energy bill is a gimmee to the heavily subsidized agribusiness interests.

Let’s not repeat the mistake we made with Hybrid vehicles, or other technologies. Let’s make the decision and put forward the effort to lead once again.

Something else, too: let’s quit with this attitude that we can get by in this country while not learning math and science. Computers and technology have not relieved the average person of the need to know about these subjects. As a matter of fact, they’ve increased the needs there, as technology slips farther and farther away from the paradigms of our agrarian past. America is an urban and suburban nation now, founded on science and technology. We cannot use that technology conscientiously or intelligently without sufficient education. It’s just not going to happen.

Moreover, we have to acknowledge that the easy times are likely over for us. We will continue to fall behind in competition for jobs, economic power, and foreign policy strength if we become mere consumers, rather than producers. Pioneering and producing greener technology, and becoming more inventive on other fronts will bring America to the forefront again. It’s time to renew America’s prominence, to forsake the fat, dumb, happy complacency of post-war America once and for all. We have work to do.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 27, 2006 11:52 AM
Comment #177724

Why should I read a book on this topic from 1999? The political climate differs, and the field of climatology has grown by leaps and bounds. Are you just citing it as a resource, or recommending it as a read?

Posted by: phx8 at August 27, 2006 11:58 AM
Comment #177730


I’m not disagreeing with anything you have said I was only pointing out the fact that by adding that one sentence you added nothing to your arguement. In fact by adding it you made it appear as a partisan argument and you can’t afford that.

whether you like it or not you need republicans on your side if you intend on making government rather than private enterprise the leader of this cause. Democrats may win the elections in november but they will not win enough seats to get things done as they want without republican support. and that means getting republican voters on your side.

and i’ll say one more thing too. if democrats do win this november it will be because the voters expect them to produce. they say they have the answer to problems but having answers and producing results are two different things. and in order to produce results republican support will be necessary. this is especially true in regards to issues such as this one.

Posted by: The Griper at August 27, 2006 12:55 PM
Comment #177745

Unfortunately Griper,

I is a partisian arguement. This is because the right or far right refuses to acknowledge global warming at all. So if only one side of a two sided puzzle recognises something to be true, how are you going to have a dialogue?

Its not the republicians fault really. Because if they were to recognise global warming, they would have to acknowledge the reason and take some major blame. That is not going to happen.

When you are in bed with big oil as your blanket. You are not going to thow them out when the wind starts to blow.

Posted by: PlayNice at August 27, 2006 1:44 PM
Comment #177752

It is not true that Republicans do not acknowledge the threat of global warming. Of course we can all talk about Kyoto and CAFE standards and the Cheney Energy Plan or the Energy Policy Acot of 2005 and point fingers and make partisan points, and if the thread devolves to that, then I’m out of here because discussion is useless.

As early as 2001 Bush began to acknowledge the danger. OF course you can read that statement and quibble with points and see its spin. Go the EPA or EIA websites to see what the Bush administration is saying now.

Believe me, there is plenty of blame to go around. I recommend that we all do a bit of reading on the topic.

Posted by: Trent at August 27, 2006 2:35 PM
Comment #177753

Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt where the head of the EPA was fired because he acknowledged the Global Warning, “myth”.

If you really want to do something and not blame someone, then advocate the use of renewable feuls.

Go ahead, just try, try to see if there is any room for renewable energy technologies, in a bed that has big oil and fosil feuls for a blanket.

Posted by: PlayNice at August 27, 2006 2:51 PM
Comment #177754

Ascribing “greed” and “stupidity” to nearly every move this administration makes is identifying the writer as lazy in their thinking. The administration and many in Congress have really great ideas for replacing oil. The President has proposed much more research to develope hydrogen as the fuel of the future. Proposals for wind energy, geo-thermal, tidal, etc are almost always shot down by libs simply because they are out of power and beieve the road to elective office must be paved with contrarianism. If Presiden Bush and the Republican Congress say Black, the opposition will in knee-jerk fashion insist on White. I understand the motive of every politican is to get elected. Problems arise however, when they get elected by merely saying I can do it better. Then they spend their term in office trying to justify why they can’t change things. Not long ago I viewed a program on NBC moderated by Tom Brokaw. I thought the program was very politicaly neutral with some great science presented. The last four or five minutes of the program gave suggestions that we, as Americans, and other all over the world could do to make a difference in global warming. Simply changing our light bulbs in every home to the energy efficient flourscent would make a huge difference. I have changed all my bulbs and have also followed some other suggestions. We don’t need some huge international spending program to affect change. If every single person would just make some minor changes, we can help tremendously.

Posted by: Jim at August 27, 2006 2:51 PM
Comment #177759

Minor changes aren’t enough. There was this green initiative by the Clinton administration to get New York Corporations to switch to flourescent lightbulbs, among other things. The book then describes how the SUV craze basically erased all of that.

Greed and stupidity do not describe all the things this administration does, but how does a big ole tax writeoff for getting one of those gas-guzzling tanks sound? How does consistent hiring of Global Warming contrarians, and consistent attempts to undermine global climate science abroad sound? It would be one thing if the worst of his sins were simply dragging his heels on greener, lower carbon emissions technology and standards. Bush, though, has actively pushed an energy agenda that has shot both energy prices and energy consumption through the roof.

I will allow that maybe he thinks he’s not doing much harm, and that he honestly believes the contrarians (or like some Christians on the Right, believes that the end will come soon, making things like global warming a minor concern at best). Nonetheless, we’re seeing solid scientific evidence that this is a problem, that we’re to blame, and that status quo is intolerable.

On the liberal side of things, here’s my suggestion to my brothers and sisters there: start thinking in terms of tradeoffs. We will not get any kind of power generation that doesn’t involve some environmental risk. Our task should be to minimize those risks, by refinement in the engineering of the technology, and by not being passive rejectionists.

Nuclear power is nothing to take lightly, and we should take steps to deal with the wastes it produces. At the same time we should acknowledge the reality of how dangerous the fossil fuel plants are becoming to our environment as well. We should also devote more efforts to developing clean Fusion technology. A breakthrough there could mean a safe source of energy for years to come.

Other technologies should not be forsaken out of NIMBY interests, or out of a misguided quest for environmental purity, which merely puts the emphasis back on fossil-fuel related power generation.

Ultimately, this more than just teh efforts of single people. This is about efforts together, and efforts alone, working their individual magic on the situation. We must change as a civilization if we are to survive as one.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 27, 2006 3:34 PM
Comment #177761

Stephen Daugherty, Excellent post.
All of us whether democrat, republican or independent need to face up to this issue. There has been movement on the right to at least acknowledge the climate/energy issue as being valid. I say good better late than never. As the facts continue to develop I can only think the right will continue to reassess this problem and jump on board.
There are some people that have spent their working lives identifying the causes and developing solutions to the climate/energy problem. I say great, your time has come. Lead the way, but allow for new ideas to be brought into the process. Allow for people’s livelyhoods to be taken into consideration.
Lets relegate the naysayers to the “critical review” process as we continue to develop ways to combat this problem. They could prove to be valuable in the process of developing strategies to improve the means and methods we choose to accomplish our goals.
We need to come together as a country on this issue much more than any other issue facing our nation and the world today. Government, Industry and Labor need to recognize that not only is climate/energy a world changing problem, it is also a world changing opportunity.
My point is lets not continue to make this a partisian issue lets try to come together on this and work as a team. Concessions on both side are called for. Ideology must be put on hold to allow for our best effort to come to the front.

Posted by: j2t2 at August 27, 2006 4:03 PM
Comment #177762

Stephen. looks like you said the same basic thing I said, only better, while I was thinking mine , disregard my 4:03 post.

Posted by: j2t2 at August 27, 2006 4:13 PM
Comment #177763

Imo, we don’t need any more nuclear power plants. They are very costly, require subsidizing, and unless we create new plants on a massive scale won’t solve our problems.

We are already investing in many clean industrial processes, in clean power production, in nanotechnology, lots of other ways. We need to continue this sort of R&D so that when the market, either through itself or through our tweaking with it, makes more renewable energy and energy efficiency options cost effective, we have the stuff ready to go.

We need to mandate that every utility work toward integrating power grids with local producers of energy, including very small scale — homes pushing power back into the grid. This is already happening, but it’s not nationawide. Zero energy homes have already been demonstrated; we need to continue research to get their payback less than the current 30 year plus.

We need continue research into FutureGen power plants. We need to continue to get the cost of coal gasification down so that power plants can be more efficient and less enviornmentally deterimental. Coal is our big resrouce; it is possible to use it without damaging the environment, and the method is already being shown in demonstration plants.

We need to continue to increase CAFE standards which in turn make hybrids more attrative. We should know that ethanol is part of the solution, but can’t be the whole solution simply because we can’t grow enough crops. We should continue fuel cell research, work to get power up and cost down, but realize that our best source of hydrogen are hyrdocarbons, which means petroleum.

We need tax incentives for good environmental behavior and tax penalities for bad. The hybrid tax credit is to be phased out in the next 2-3 years; that’s incredible to me.

We will see continued breakthrough ins lighting technology — lighting is a huge huge energy expenditure. We need to continue materials research with solar panel implications.

Everything I’ve said here can be easily verified. The EIA website is a good place to start.

We do not need massive government programs — we need to tweak the market through taxes, regulation, and R&D. We are already doing this, but we still are in a time with oil companies receive subsidization to encourage new oil exploration and production. We need to forget about that. Not only does continued oil use contribute to envbironmental woes, it won’t reduce in any substative way our dependence on foreign oil. Full exploitation of ANWR, for instance, will reduce imports by just a few percentage points over the next 25 years. We need to at least double federal investment in R&D research for clean technologies; we don’t spend much now in relative terms.

We can do all this while maintaining a strong economy. The Japanese got a big headstart on the hybrid; that is because with government help they’ve been working on the problem for 30 years. We can’t simply condemn big oil companies— theire primary mission is to turn a profit for shareholders, but man in the industry or looking for federal guidance. Government/industry R&D i nthese topics has already proven beneficial in ways we don’t see on TV.

In short, we need leaders who understand the problem, are willing to educate the public, and create bipartisanship. What one administration can do another can undo: we have to change the minds of the people. If there is any good out of our current middle east woes, it could be a wakeup call for the public about the national security need to greatly lessen our dependence on oil. This should be sold as an environmental/national security issue.

Posted by: Trent at August 27, 2006 4:19 PM
Comment #177765

Stephen…you mention the SUV craze as wiping out gains in energy efficiency in NY. George Bush did not cause or promote this “craze”. Tax law is written in Congress. Are you really sure that none of your liberal officials voted for this damn awful tax credit? Detroit makes gas guzzlers because people buy them, and people do not buy them for a tax write-off. And, why abandon a program that was working because of a craze in some other area? Obviously you did not watch the NBC program mentioned. Minor changes by “everyone” will make a huge difference without ruining the ecomony of the entire globe as proposals of the Kyoto agreement surely will.
A President, of any party, must not be swayed to commit the country to huge cash outlays and possible economic catastrophe until all the evidence is in. A great President will not be swayed by fickle, ever-changing public opinion or the most current poll. A great President does not indulge the luxury of making knee-jerk decisions. It is very easy to be critical after we have the historical evidence…any fool can do that. What’s tough is being in the driver’s seat when history is being made. Even then, a great leader will weight the pros, cons and alternatives. It is disgusting to read the writing of some people who lay nearly every problem in the world at the feet of conservatives. That is just hyperbole and doesn’t add anything to the solution. I vote for Democrats when their philosopy is conservative. Most Democrats of the 50’s and 60’s that I voted for would not recognize their party today. I admire many things about the Democrat Party when it comes to caring about people…all people. Not just poor people, or black people, or hispanic people or wage earners…but all people. The anti-business crowd is always blaiming business for something. Every business, big, small or medium is made up of people. General Motors is not an individual, but made up of hundreds of thousands of people just like you and me.
Conservatives are among the most caring and giving people in this country. For evidence, just look at the record of giving and caring during any national emergency. The religious people of this country, many of whom are conservative, regardless of the particular faith are always on the front lines helping with their time and money. They and I believe that we, as individuals should do more for ourselves and each other and the government should do less. Less government will always mean more freedom.

Posted by: Jim at August 27, 2006 4:28 PM
Comment #177766

Jim, yes the hyrid tax credit as a means to justify purchasing hybrid SUVs is just obscene. We need to devise policy that doesn’t simply encourage consumers to trade up in vehicles as fuel efficiency goes up.

Posted by: Trent at August 27, 2006 4:36 PM
Comment #177767

Very good post.

Posted by: KAP at August 27, 2006 4:38 PM
Comment #177779

Nuclear power can replace a great deal of coal and natural gas. I agree we shouldn’t build too many of them, but a few would take some of the pressure off of fossil fuels.

I have no argument with clean industrial process or power production, but I have to warn you about Nanotechnology: like any technology it’s got its environmental issues. Carbon Nanotubes, for example, can have a toxic effect in their pure form.

The notion of widespread power pushing back on to grids will have to wait until certain technologies mature enough that this can become a standard household expense. This will likely be some sort of fuel cell technology, but photovoltaics could play a role in sunnier regions.

Speaking of photovoltaics, the major hang-ups there have to do with the expense of creating solar panels and the relative inefficiency of energy generation by that method. You have to spread out the panels over a broad area to satisfy even the smallest fraction of energy required to run a house. Nanotechnology might be of use here.

In terms of light, they’re working on new kinds of organic and regular LEDs that can do these kinds of jobs. If you’ve noticed, many new cars, flashlights and stoplights feature them. I do recommend people go to flourescent bulbs in their houses. My family has them in almost every socket.

As for Government programs? It all depends. Some government programs are bad, but others have been the source of great advances. We might do well to fund things like a trip to Mars, and then encourage technological R+D to solve the various problems associated with that. Of course, sometimes just a straight program can be helpful. I think of Government waste as a management problem, not an inevitable result of government intervention. We should at least give such programs a shot before removing such an option from the table.

So, tax law is written in Congress. So was the Stem Cell Research bill that Bush vetoed. Bush is responsible for those bills he chooses to sign into law.

I’m pretty sure a number of Democrats have voted for less than green legislation over the past few decades. The motivation, though, for my posting and my comments is not some misguided notion that Democrats are angels on this subject.

I don’t write things like this to kiss up to the party. What I write is aimed at all policy makers, with special focus on the Republicans because of their historical resistance to recognizing the problem of global warming, much less doing something about it.

Minor changes by everybody will be helpful, but it’s sort of like the dilemma with things like electric cars. How green is an electric car, if most of the generators it connects to are fossil-fueled? We’re just kicking the problem down the road if we take that approach.

You seem fairly convinced of the economic ruination that might come of Kyoto or similar agreements. I think you miss one very important fact here.

I think somebody in the book I reference above put it like this: that as uncertain as Global Warming science might be, Economics is even more uncertain. As gas supplies dwindle, as climate effects multiply, the economy of sticking with gasoline, much less vehicles that guzzle it will be reduced. However, if we simply wait for that economic breakdown to take place, we’ll likely end up procrastinating beyond the point where we can do useful things to deal with it.

As my example with the SUVs indicates, minor changes for the positive will not necessarily do any good, if major changes in the opposite direction take place.

In terms of the president, here’s my take: confidence and integrity are fine, as well as the willingness to buck the public on things when it’s the right thing to do. This is a Democracy, though, and these people are not kings or lords: they are stewards, ruling in our place by our choice. Some deference to our opinions on big issues would be nice.

People haven’t laid all the problems of the world at the Republican’s feet. The GOP’s just has a problem with taking special interest’s side against the Public’s. Freedom comes with the right amount of government: not enough to be tyrannical over people’s lives, but not so little that others can do so either. Unfortunately, the Republicans have taken the side of a great many people who have intervened in our lives in negative ways.

Ultimately, big business has gotten a lot of flak lately for similar reasons. There use to be a more loyal, more respectful relationship between companies, their employees, and their customers. Unfortunately, you got this bunch of people in charge who took things in this social darwinist direction, and now people don’t earn enough, products don’t last or work the way they use to, and the companies are constantly fighting efforts by the public to bring their behavior under control.

Ultimately, what both the GOP and the Corporate world need is a big dose of humility.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 27, 2006 8:04 PM
Comment #177781

Stephen:Nice piece.
Five or six years ago there was enough scientific doubt that reasonable people could question the conclusion that human activity is adversely affecting the atmosphere. That is not the case today.
We know what the problems are and we know many of the solutions. What we lack is political will although it is growing. Also developing is an opposition and yes Griper, it is developing from the right. CBN ,for example puts on oil company shills on a regular basis.The rightwing propaganda ststions spent a good deal of time ridiculing Al Gores serious movie.
There are very powerful forces in the world with a vested interest in keeping the world dependant on oil and gas. It has been the basis of the global hedgemony for a long time. We can and must change it but do not underestimate the opposition in tenacity,intelligence or certainly funding.
We will never get the leadership needed from the Bush regime. The touted hydrogen program mandates hydrogen from oil instead of ,say water.Alcohol from corn subsidies promote the use of natural as for distilation heat sources instead of alcohol. Bait and switch.
Hopfully we can elect an administration that is willing to put big oil in its place and bring about the changes needed to literally save humanity. With the right leadership the changes could bring in an unprecedented economic boom for America. We could actually have products to sell the rest of the world that did not blow up people for a change.

Posted by: BillS at August 27, 2006 8:21 PM
Comment #177787

Stephen and all,

Well, we have 104 commercial nuclear powered plants, and they produce about 19 percent of the electricity generated by power plants. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 contained cost-overrun subsidies, loan guarentees, tax credits, and other support for construction of new plants, and I think a few ultities and consortiums are biting, but given the huge expensive, regulatory hurdles, etc., I think we’re talking 2015 or so before they are online.

I don’t know. Nuke plants are relatively environmentally clean if nothing goes wrong — I live near one, and I’m always reading about accidental discharges etc. Supposedly minor. And then the waste. I guess I just think the money could better used in other ways.

Coal of course is the main fossil fuel used in power plants, accounting for about half of the electricity generated. Coal gasification dramatically reduces emissions and gets more energy out of each ton. During the gasificiation process, CO2 can be isolated and disposed of (hopefully safely, nothing is perfect) before emission. Threre are already some coal gasification power plants running, and they are quite a bit more efficient — and research promises to push that efficiency higher. One advantage is that these kind of plants can be converted/used to burn various biomass fuels, too. One advantage is that they can use dual turbines… the coal gas can fire turbines, and the heat generated by the turbines can be harnessed to power traditional steam turbines. But like everything else, it comes down to cost. One benefit of coal gasification is that it is also a way to capture hydrogen, good for fuel cells and fuel-cell powered cars. Anyway, I think we should push for increased R&D and incentives. Coal is going to continue to be important for awhile.

I think we need to use what we can. Wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, fuel cells running on methane until if and when hydrogen gets cheap — I’m not crazy about more hydropower plants because of environmental concerns and because I don’t think it can be a huge additional factor. I really don’t think we have a silver bullet. I think it’s going to come down to range of clean fuels and continued work on energy efficiency.

The Zero Energy Homes we have work because they incorporate the most energy efficient appliances, heating and cooling, and because they incorporate the best weatherization practices. Energy is capured through PVs and solar thermal units. But, yeah, the cost of PV versus the energy attained makes the payback on such systems pretty long term. Advanced materials research should lower cost and boost efficiency.

Policy promoting continued integration of power grids to local energy production is crucial, I think, because it also spurs investment in alternate energy power plants. Some projects never got off the ground because the power couldn’t be pumped into the power grid. And a home doesn’t have to be completely energy self sufficient — selling surplus back to the grid in hot summer months helps satisfy demand during peak periods. Anyway, I really do see local power production as a potentially huge factor in a clean energy future.

Nanotechnology is something that could revolutionize everything, but as you say there are real dangers. There is research in making extremely effiicient PVs using nanotechnology — you’d get waver-thin, flexible sheets easily applied anywhere.

We’ve made huge advances in lighting and more are on the way. I love compact fluoescents— they don’t pump out lots of heat, take less energy, rarely have to be replaced. I’ve got them all over my house, too. Anyway, energy efficient technology is crucial to cutting energy intensity and thereby reducing demand. We’re also making big steps in cutting energy intensity in a variety of industrial processes.

I think the jury is still out on ethanol. I’ve seen some studies that claim ethanol production is a net energy loss.

Here is a link to the EIA’s Annual Energy Forecast for 2006. It contains energy projections up to 2030 (but do look at the Issues in Focus section for some potentially important technologies on the way). It’s a depressing read. While energy intensity itself is projected to go down, oil consumption (indeed, fuel consumption of all sorts) is projected to go up. That’s because, I think, our policies, amount of R&D funding, etc., do not even hold the line. (We didn’t increase CAFE standards this year because of objections by the automobile lobby — I think that is accurate, just using memory here). Actual oil cost is not projected to go up dramatically, though this document doesn’t capture the recent price hikes. Anyway, renewable energy, clean energy, improved capturing of energy from fuel, energy efficiency — it all needs to be given a national priority, something akin to the Apollo program. The cool thing is thatas we continue to develop these technologies we can sell them to the world, thereby being a market leader and helping the rest of the world cope with global warming and energy issues.

The unfortunate truth is that everything we are talking about has to compete with low oil prices. (I know they don’t seem low, but they are, relative to other energy sources.)Commercialization is dependent on cost. For some (not all) of these technologies, there widespread adoption is dependent on there becoming more cost effective. That is an area where R&D can be beneficial, but the EIA projections already presume R&D at the levels we are currently funding.

Jack in the red column proposed higher gas taxes. I think if we think along those lines, we need to talk of higher taxes on crude so that we don’t just affect the transportation sector. The goal of course is to make other energy sources more attractive. But then we get to the harsh reality of who will suffer the most. Higher end-use costs seem necessary to encourage energy efficiency and adoption of other energy sources. It’s a tough issue for we liberals concerned about single mothers and the average working guy.

I don’t know. We have some hard things to face.

Posted by: Trent at August 27, 2006 10:24 PM
Comment #177788

I agree with everything contained in this article. I’m not an expert, but had weather and climatology classes and worked in the Ball State University weather station for two years. I did graduate, but they do not have a degree for meteorology. I’m very interested in this field of study and it should not be about politics, but the survival of the Human Race. I was in college when ozone depletion was discovered in Antartica (the hole). Scientist were on top of it, the sad thing was that the satellite responsible for finding this, did so around 1980, but so much data is coming from this source, there are not enough scientist to examine all the data and it was overlooked for 6 years, until around 87-88. R-12 was the main source and the whole world banned its production within a few years. Life could not survive without one, like Mars for example with the only exception of the deep ocean around sulphur vents. It was amazing how the whole world got together on this one, it was going to kill the wealthy, poor, democrates, republicans, dictators and communist. I’m just fearful there could be chemicals doing damage other than Chloroflorocarbons and we have yet to find them. Just look at the skin cancer rates around the world and in particular, Austrailia. Yes, it could be lifestyle changes such as spending more time in the sun, but look at the evolution of sun screens and the rates continue to climb. For any David Letterman fans, he is a alumni from BSU and I had the same weather professor as Letterman. He started on TV as a weather forcaster for one of the Indy networks. I like the movie “The Day after Tomorrow Ends.” It is highly fictional, but the Gulf Stream conveyor could be slowing down due to the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet changing the salinity of the North Atlantic ocean, which could lead to an Ice Age. It could be responsible for the water at the equator and Carribbean being warmer than normal, because the Gulf Stream has slowed and Hurricanes feed of this extra heat energy and they are an attempt at creating equilibrium which is what weather is all about. Taking warm water from the tropics and distributing it to northern and southern lattitudes. A movie I need to see again which is far fetched in some ways, but is kind of scarry considering it was made in the early 70’s. It is Soylent Green, starring Charleton Heston. Everything with the exception of using people for food. Everyone take care, with our current administration we need all the help we can get!

Posted by: Brian at August 27, 2006 11:03 PM
Comment #177801

—- Stephen— I hope all these anti-enviromental
folks are infested with all the fleas from 100
camel backs, especially the people who want
to cut more of the three thousand year old Red
wood trees!

Posted by: DAVID at August 28, 2006 4:58 AM
Comment #177813

The Thermohaline Conveyor may not be the Ice Age maker it might have been back at the beginning of the most recent Ice Age. With that, you didn’t merely have the Greenland Ice Sheet melting into the ocean, you had the Laurentide Sheet as well (Which melted at the beginning of our current interglacial.) Long story short, both the current heating and the lesser amount of potential meltwater will likely prevent a new ice age.

As for the Hurricanes, the slowing of the conveyor might have that effect, but the rise of heat would do that anyways.

This season has turned out to be pretty slow. I might be wrong, but I think the huge number Hurricanes and Tropical Storms of last year took a great deal of energy out of the system.

That said, the real concern is the heat of the water along the shorelines and within the gulf. We may not get one storm after another, but that doesn’t mean that more local heating might not kick the storm up to greater strength.

The Day After Tomorrow is a nice bit of action movie/drama, but it’s not that scientifically accurate. Overall, I think it’s value is in telling people that there’s more at stake here than merely who wins the policy battles. The long term consequences of what we do today may spell the subtle difference between America’s survival and its collapse in the coming century. We have the scientific perspective and the knowledge of the history of the fall of other civilzations to understand how precarious a position we are in. We should respond accordingly.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 28, 2006 11:10 AM
Comment #177817

I consider myself a liberal. I consider myself a scientifically based thinker. I do not agree on the general hysteria over global warming. There is not a general consensus among climatologists that global warming is a done deal. Sound climatology, in my opinion recognizes our extremely limited knowledge on this subject.

That said, it is imperative that we address fossil fuels for reasons of preventing global war over a diminishing resource. The other subject that we should be addressing as Brazil, India and China begin to become industrial economies, is population growth. Even America is feeling the stress on resources due to increasing population. Population bomb? Maybe not. But as the world population has doubled since the 60’s, common sense understands our impact is increasing and diminishing our enviroment.

We can’t expect others to forego economic gain for enviromental benefit, as we have not done in the last 200 years, but we can be both leaders and benefit ourselves as Americans, by taking a balanced approach to enviromental impacts and economic costs.

Posted by: gergle at August 28, 2006 12:14 PM
Comment #177831

I think the evidence is pretty consistent, especially in the arctic and antarctic. We have all kinds of temperature-sensitive populations of animals and plants migrating northward in the Northern Hemisphere. We have a marked rise in temperature worldwide, even when allowing for urban heat islands and other factors. We have the boundaries of permafrost moving North, less pack ice, melting glaciers, etc. Heat driven processes are beginning to speed up, phenomenon like El Nino appearing more frequently. More extreme weather patterns are showing up, an indicator of an unnatural rise in temperature, and this all coincides with a recorded rise in Carbon Dioxide levels that just happen to occur as the industrial revolution kicks in, and as fossil fuel usage kicks into high gear.

The jury will never be completely in on the models, since even the best model would always face the problems of chaotic interaction, but based on the studies of carbon emissions and our knowledge of CO2’s action as a greenhouse gas, we can safely say we’re having some effect.

Some effect may be enough of an effect to spell trouble. Systems like the weather and the climate are emergent and metastable.

The elements of an emergent system, it could be said, work as a team, doing things together that would not occur if they were observed in behavior individually. One example of this would be the interaction of CO2 and Water Vapor. The whole of their activity together is greater than the sum of their influence on the heat alone. They feedback into each other. So do elements, like albedo(the reflectiveness of the earth’s surface), chemical decay and precipitation rates, geographical barriers, winds, ocean currents, and others.

There’s a passage in the book about the Monsoons, and how the rains interact with the different pressures and temperatures created by the winds, the currents and the air masses, and how El Nino was discovered on account of the fact that every so often this system would fail, and drought would remain in the Indian Subcontinent.

A change in currents can bring rain to places that don’t usually get it, or keep it from places that tend to get it all the time. It can mean tons of hurricanes, or it can mean just a few in a season. We, even at our advance stage of civilization, are at the mercy of these systems.

The Metastability here comes in terms of the character of the team’s interactions. If one member of the team pushes things far enough, it can rearrange the stable working order of things, and what was once inhibited, before the critical threshold was reached, is now kicked into high gear. We might be nearing a point now, or sometime in the future where there is no turning back, where nature will reinforce the change, and where bringing things back to the old order may be a hell of a lot tougher.

I believe we can be certain enough of our effect on the climate to recommend caution. Not knowing the full shape of our situation, uncertainty is no cause for dispensing with caution; rather it is a reason to exercise it. We are gambling nothing less than the future of our civilization on what we are ignorant of. I would think we have a lot less to lose by reducing carbon emissions and being wrong about global warming than we do by maintaining them, and suffering the consequences of the theory being correct.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 28, 2006 2:02 PM
Comment #177836

Yes. If the 1 percent doctrine ever applied, it is here. I wish, though, I thought there was only a 1 percent chance.

I remember the media hype about the Jupiter Effect in the mid-’80s. This ain’t the same thing.

Posted by: Trent at August 28, 2006 2:26 PM
Comment #177958

Can someone who doesn’t believe in global warming please tell me why there are reports of diamond back nests in southern Minnesota?

p.s. The article was very good.

Posted by: NG at August 28, 2006 9:00 PM
Comment #178075

Global warming is real. It is happening.
Yes, there is and always has been a cycle of climate and temperature change on Planet Earth, but not like this. We are FAAAAAR outside of the norm. That is the point Gore’s movie was making.

Also, Bush has only recently recognized global warming. One of the first things when he took office was to cut all research into alternative fuels. That set us back at least five years. Because he did that, it is necessarily a partisan argument. However, for whatever reason, be it Gore’s movie or the renewed energy and examination that it spawned among the scientific community, even Bush is finally coming around. Therefore, we should make this as non-partisan as possible and genuinely look for answers.

One of the things I liked about Gore’s movie was that he ended a note of hope. Here is what else gives me hope: : check this out. This is group led by a visionary architect. They are designing houses that are capable of providing an off-the-grid lifestyle that actually exceeds most on grid houses. The houses even have indoor gardens that produce most if not all the necessary food for the inhabitants. This stuff is amazing!

Eco-fuel and Wille Nelson : Willie Neslon is now involved with an alternative diesel fuel being marketed to truckers and to anybody with a diesel engine. There are also a growing number of stations across the Southwest that are selling fuels that ordinary cars cars and diesel engines can run on that are cutting the consumption of gas tremendsously. I use a eco-fuel that is 10% ethanol, now. My vehicle actually runs BETTER on it and I am cutting my gas consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as well. Great stuff and a move in the right direction. Look for this in your area. It isn’t a total solution but it is a significant contribution if more and more of us do this.

Wind energy : I am seeing more and more places that are taking advantage of this. West Texas has miles and miles of mesas topped with massive wind power generators now. What could create more hope than to see a place like West Texas, once the beating heart of the domestic oil production industry, investing so heavily in wind energy! It’s great.
I am also seeing more and more people shifting to wind energy supplementally to support their own private needs. Building your own wind gernerator is fairly easy and their are many articles out there in magazines and on the web. Go for it!

Hybrids : Hybrids were once considered exotic and were too expensive. The prices are coming down and I am seeing more and more of them on the road wherever I go. Fantastic. Honda Makes one called the Insight that gets 66 on the Hwy and 60 in the city! I want one badly!

The shift that needs to take place in this country is already happening. There is hope. We just need to get more people involved, back it with our usual American ingenuity and energy, and make it work. It will put us on top again if we can all pull together on this. I am certain of that.

Posted by: RGF at August 29, 2006 11:16 AM
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