Other stories below: Michael Mann’s counterstrike in the climate wars; Algae biofuels now mocked by Republicans were once supported by them
Canada’s northernmost research laboratory is shutting down due to lack of funding.
The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, which made key measurements last winter used to detect and analyze the largest ozone hole ever detected over the Arctic, will cease year-round operations on April 30. At that time, its equipment will be removed and the building will remain available only for intermittent, short-term projects.
“When you run out of money, there’s no alternative but to close the lab,” Jim Drummond, a Dalhousie University researcher who is the principal investigator for PEARL, said Tuesday.
The station has been tracking ozone depletion, air quality and climate change in the High Arctic since 2005. But the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change, an informal network of university researchers that runs the station, hasn’t been able to secure the $1.5 million annual funding required to continue running the station all year round.
Climate change may have dropped off the national political agenda, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. As of January, the Earth’s atmosphere contained 393 parts per million of carbon dioxide. And rising.
To understand why that’s a very sad number, it helps to know that from the dawn of human civilization until the 19th century, the concentration was about 275 parts per million, and that many scientists believe 350 parts per million is a sort of tipping point: Irreversible impacts and feedback loops start to kick in, and the cost of repairing the resulting damage from such things as sea-level rise and droughts not only skyrockets, the cost of adapting to the changes does too. But we’ve already sailed past that point. And we’re heading inexorably toward another one that’s far worse: 450 parts per million, the truly scary level at which 3.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial global average temperatures is locked in. The predicted result: centuries of weather extremes, drought-fueled global famine, mass migration, the vanishing of low-lying islands and territories as sea ice melts away, wide-scale species extinction and other horrors too numerous and depressing to list.
An associate of the Heartland Institute, the thinktank devoted to discrediting climate change, taught a course at a top Canadian university that contained more than 140 false, biased and misleading claims about climate science, an expert audit has found.
The course at Ottawa’s Carleton University, which is being accused of bias, was taught for four terms from 2009-2011 by Tom Harris, a featured expert at the Heartland Institute.
Heartland’s core mission is to discredit climate change, and it is currently moving into the education realm. It plans to spend $100,000 on a project countering established teaching of climate change to American school children, an unauthorised release of documents showed.
But the audit report, released on Tuesday, suggests such efforts are already underway on college campuses.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it’s too early to say how quickly the State Department might decide on TransCanada Corp.’s revised plans to build the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
The company plans to file a new application soon for the controversial pipeline to bring oil sands from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, following the Obama administration’s rejection of a permit for Keystone in January.
Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday that she can’t yet estimate how quickly the review will occur.
Capitol Hill Republicans mounted an all-out offensive against President Obama’s energy initiatives Tuesday, even mocking him for an idea many of them used to like: using algae to create biofuel.
“Over the past few weeks the American people have begun to feel the painful effects of President Obama’s energy policy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared in a Senate floor speech that ridiculed an energy plan Obama detailed last week, which included the use of biofuel sources such as algae. “As millions of Americans groaned at the rising cost of a gallon of gasoline, the president took algae as a substitute for gas. Algae as a substitute for gas,” McConnell said in apparent disbelief.
Republicans continued an orchestrated campaign to pummel President Obama for rising gas prices in what has become a routine election-year standoff between the political parties over energy policy.
In the House and Senate, Republican lawmakers took aim Tuesday at the administration’s decision to shelve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and criticized its investments in renewable energy, including botched federal loans to the Solyndra solar equipment firm in California.
“The president says he’s for an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy — anyone seen it? I haven’t,” scoffed House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
In the New York Times, Joe Nocera says that natural-gas fracking is inevitable and just needs a few tweaks, like plugging methane leaks from wells. But that’s not as simple as it sounds. Recent research suggests that fracking could be disastrous, climate-wise, if those leaks aren’t fixed.
On the surface, natural gas looks like a relatively clean fossil fuel — burning the stuff emits about half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal. That’s why some environmentalists have lauded it as a “bridge fuel” en route to a zero-carbon future. But there’s a catch: Using hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale rock is bound to cause some methane to leak out. And methane is a potent heat-trapping gas when it escapes into the air, about 21 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. Some of this methane seeps out from underground wells. Some of it gets purposefully flared off or vented by the drillers. And some of it wafts out of loosely fitted distribution pipes. If enough of this methane escapes, then natural gas could, conceivably, cause as much global warming as coal does.
Although there is widespread agreement on the need for adaptation measures to limit the risks posed by climate change, there is no clear consensus on how much adaptation will cost or how it will be paid for. A recent World Bank report suggested that the price of adaptation in developing countries alone will be $70–100 billion a year between 2010 and 2050, while other studies suggest these figures are too low.
The overall bill for adaptation will depend on the severity of climatic changes and the range of measures chosen. The most expensive adaptation measures involve modifying infrastructure and improving coastal and flood protection, so costs will be highest not necessarily where vulnerability is greatest but in regions with a lot of infrastructure that needs to be climate-proofed. Lower-cost measures that can be used as part of an adaptation response include changing behaviours, shifting farming practices and making regulatory reforms.