Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Business as usual could result in sea level rise of up to seven metres - Club of Rome

Only a complete overhaul of our economic growth and international negotiations can prevent sea level rises that will destroy coastal cities like New York and London experts warn

New York, USA, 28 April: Energy expert Ian Dunlop and policy-planner and scholar Tapio Kanninen delivered a stark message in New York at the end of April that even limiting global warming to 2°C could eventually produce sea level rises of up to 6 to 7 metres (23 feet), wiping out coastal cities like New York, London, Shanghai and Tokyo. They told shocked audiences at the United Nations that if we continue with current policies, temperatures could rise 4°C or more, leading to sea level rises of up to 70 metres (230 feet).

Kanninen and Dunlop were in New York to address a series of packed meetings and panel discussions, organised by the Finnish Mission to the United Nations,Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Club of Rome, the Temple of Understanding and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

They presented new evidence demonstrating the severity of the crisis of global sustainability and global survivability and discussed with diplomats, political decisionmakers, sustainable development experts and NGOs how to persuade the UN and other international institutions to take immediate emergency action.

Commenting on recent scientific findings, Ian Dunlop - with over 30 years experience at the Royal Shell Group as engineer and senior executive and a former leader of Australia's Emissions trading panel said: “Today’s leadersrefuse to accept that climate change science and the concept of peak oil condemns the international community to a catastrophic future. Why are we stillexploring for fossil fuels, since we can only burn of 20-30% of reserves if we wish to keep climate change to the 2 °C limit, while current policies will result in warming of4-6 °C?” he asked.

This level of temperature rise means that the globe can only carry 0.5-1 billion people, not the present 7 billion, leading experts evaluate.

Tapio Kanninen, a former long time UN staff member and policy-planner, said that scientists have determined a number of "tipping points" that exponentially and dramatically accelerate global warming trends. As they begin to kick in, in a matter of years not decades, we must take action before it is too late to avert a catastrophe.

The severity of the global crisis goes unrecognised: we need a global emergency response and newpolicy models

Dr Kanninen said current international and nationalinstitutional and political systems are incapable of preventing the increasing severe global crises; it requires a change in the entire system plus an emergency response. If runaway climate change leads to rising sea levels the next move has to be to urgently overhaul the UN and our global governance system so it is capable of dealing with rapidly changing global and regional conditions.

Ian Dunlop said that many scientists and practitioners are wrongly dubbed ‘alarmist’, but diplomats, politicians and the whole intergovernmental system have failed to grasp the severity of the crisis. If we fail to act we could find ourselves like a ‘ship of fools’ floating on rising sea levels.

Failing to institute a major global policy change will inevitably lead to the gradual implosion of the economic, ecological and social structures on which we depend, andthey called for “An urgent joint effort by member states, NGOs and scholars to improve the quality of global negotiations on climate change and sustainable development”.

The Club of Rome raised similar issues 40 years ago and recent research has confirmed that its projections ofindustrial collapse in the early 21st century aresurprisingly close to actually data gathered. In his recent book Crisis of Global Sustainability Dr Kanninen evaluates the Club's history and impact, as well as describing the future global crisis if no action is taken.

Setting up new structures

Faced with the reality gap between what scientists predict and what politicians are prepared to do, part of the solution to global inertia lies in creating an independent Global Crisis Network of regional, national and local centres with a global coordination unit that will interact with a revamped UN. Eventually, the UN Charter has to be totally rewritten to correspond to thenew global reality.

The Club of Rome is an international think-tank, based in Switzerland, with 1500 members and over 30 National Associations. Its mission is to undertake forward-looking analysis and assessment on measures for a happier, more resilient, sustainable planet. www.clubofrome.org

The Limits to Growth, a 1972 report to the Club of Rome was written by Denis Meadows, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens III. It used computer models to project possible future scenarios with different assumptions of how humans would react to earth’s physical limitations.

Dr Tapio Kanninen is Senior Fellow at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a Co-Director of the Project on Sustainable Global Governance. He was Chief of the Policy Planning Unit in the Department of Political Affairs (1998–2005) at the United Nations and worked earlier to set up a global environmental statistical framework in a UNEP-funded project in the UN Statistical Division. He is a member of the Club of Rome.

Ian Dunlop is an Australian Energy Expert, a fellow to the Centre of Policy Development and a former senior executive at the Royal Dutch Shell Group. He is Chair of Safe Climate Australia, Deputy Convenor of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil and a Club of Rome member.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is a German political foundation with over 100 offices around the world, including an active UN office. It is the Germany's oldest organisation to promote democracy, political education, and promote students of outstanding intellectual abilities.

The Temple of Understanding is an interfaith NGO working to promote global survivability, and an active member of the NGO community working on the inside of the United Nations to advance social justice.

Crisis of Global Sustainability is published by Routledge. Paperback: £18.99, $29.95
978-0-415-69417-9; Master eBook ISBN10 : 0203071867. Master eBook ISBN13 : 978-0-203-07186-1. To order copies go to: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415694179/

For more information about the ideas behind the book: www.crisisofglobalsustainability.com

Ian Dunlop's presentation on same issues as he spoke at the UN can be seen here:http://vimeo.com/53540204


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Water World: Sea Level Rise in Real Life

Sea levels have risen along the East Coast around 6 to 8 inches since 1960. Under different global warming scenarios, seas could rise 8 inches to several feet by 2100.

The longer term concern is that if warming causes the collapse of the Greenland and/or Antarctic ice sheets, seas could rise tens of feet, although it is thought a rise of that magnitude would take hundreds of years.

Nickolay Lamm, a 24-year-old researcher and artist from StorageFront.com, was motivated to gain a better idea of what such a devastating rise in sea level would look like. And so he created a set of surreal images showing treasured landmarks swallowed by sea water.

To create these visualizations, Lamm took stock photos of the different landmarks, used Google Earth to determine their exact location, and applied mapped sea level rise projections obtained from Climate Central.

In addition to the Jefferson and Washington monuments, he created visualizations from landmarks in Miami, New York City, and Boston viewable in a multimedia post at Mashable.com

“The inspiration for these sea level rise photos came from What Could Disappear from the New York Times,” Lamm wrote on his blog. “Because the maps shown were not in a high enough resolution to figure out exactly which places would be flooded, I got in touch with Remik Ziemlinski from Climate Central who gave me access to more precise versions of the same maps that New York Times used.”

Even if you’re skeptical of some of the more alarming and dramatic sea level rise projections from global warming, these visuals can give you a realistic sense of what hurricane storm surge flooding could do in these East Coast cities. Major hurricanes could bring double digit foot surges up and down the East Coast (although a 25-foot surge is probably unrealistic – in the current climate).

Hurricane Sandy swamped sections of New York City with a 14 foot surge, and, in 2003, Hurricane Isabel sent an 8-foot surge up the Potomac River.

Related: If Hurricane Sandy had come south: the dramatic storm surge scenario for Washington, D.C.

(Sources of images: StorageFront.com). More


Monday, April 22, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'All That Has Been Done Is Too Late'

GENEVA (AP) — Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev painted a dim picture of the world's environmental progress on Thursday, two decades after he and a former Swiss lawmaker founded Green Cross International.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Shortly before the Soviet Union's demise in 1991, then-leader Gorbachev proposed a Red Cross for the environment that could also tackle threats from a nuclear arms race and the over-consumption of the world' resources from runaway population and development pressures.

“A sustainable perestroika is needed to revolutionize how people value life: their own, those of their children, and critically that of the one planet we share.”

Reflecting on the 20 years since he and Roland Wiederkehr launched the Geneva-based organization, the 82-year-old Gorbachev admits to deep frustrations as an environmental crusader.

"All that has been done is too late, and it's not enough," Gorbachev, speaking in Russian, told reporters in Geneva by video link.

Gorbachev railed against governments for falling short on nuclear disarmament, broader security, waste, development and climate change.

He urged governments to use his policies of "perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness) — which ushered in democratic changes that led against his will to the collapse of the Soviet Union — to address climate change and overconsumption of resources.

Gorbachev said world leaders have largely failed to do enough to aid nations in ecological trouble by taking meaningful steps to reduce widespread suffering and poverty.

"Such population pressure, coupled with a crumbling world economy and unchecked exploitation of natural resources, will only foment human suffering, spread poverty, reduce human security, cause more conflicts, and further degrade the environment," he said. "A sustainable perestroika is needed to revolutionize how people value life: their own, those of their children, and critically that of the one planet we share." More



Speed-dating, solar panels and the importance of process

The sun has set on the Pacific Energy Summitbut will the heat generated be channelled into sustainable development? This is the 635 million New Zealand dollar question.

Co-hosted by New Zealand and the European Union, the Summit brought together donor agencies, Pacific Island leaders and renewable energy companies. The goal was to help Pacific Island countries and territories move towards a target of generating 50% of their electricity from renewables. If, like us, you weren’t at the summit in person, you can watch the sessions online here. In effect, the Summit was speed-dating of sorts, bringing together:

  • Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) in need of renewable energy but without the financial resources, or technical and policy know-how;
  • donors with the resources (in the form of concessional loans and grants) and the ability to offer policy advice; and
  • renewable energy companies with the technical expertise to create and build the infrastructure.

This was speed dating with a cause though. Aimed at tackling a very real problem. As the UNDP’s Helen Clark emphasised in her talk at the summit, “the Pacific has the highest petroleum fuel dependency of any region or sub-region in the world … This heavy reliance on fuel imports exposes the islands to a high degree of price volatility, and takes away resources from important development priorities.” What the Summit did was respond to PICTs’ need for capital and technology. PICTs brought along a total of 79 renewable energy project proposals, and then it was up to donors and companies to make a date, matching themselves to projects. By the close of the Summit, over half of these projects had been committed to. This is impressive.

The focus on investment was deliberate. NZ’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, opened the Summit with a reference to his impatience arguing that we have the resources, we understand what is needed, but we are taking too long to deliver solutions. This is fair enough and we share his desire for results on the ground. But impatience brings the risk of failure. In the complex contexts of developing countries hasty aid is often wasted aid.

Already the Pacific is littered with malfunctioning renewable energy projects: solar panels that don’t work in Kiribati health clinics; broken generators damaging solar batteries in Tuvalu. There is a lot to learn about how to ensure that investments in renewable energy are sustainable. Yet, the Summit’s emphasis on selling renewable energy technology meant that, although there were many policy and technical specialists in the room, public discussion of the most important questions was scant.

Questions like: What are the exact pathways from renewable energy to human development? What else is needed to make sure the former leads to the latter? What level of investment in renewable technologies is warranted in each country? Who needs power most, and will large-scale, grid-connected infrastructure really meet their needs? What are the best ways to deal with the maintenance issues that sustainability relies upon? And do PICT governments have the capacity to negotiate with private providers or to manage large scale technical infrastructure? The answers to these questions are important and the summit missed an opportunity in not affording them more prominence. It was encouraging to hear Dominican Ambassador Vince Henderson speak eloquently on his country’s experiences of some of these challenges, but there needed to be a lot more of this.

The Summit was also problematic in that its focus on the goal of achieving renewable energy targets meant it overlooked an issue inherent in such targets. The easiest way for a country to meet a target of having a high proportion of its electricity come from renewable sources is often to devote most of its resources towards replacing non-renewable with renewable technology on the already existing electricity grid. Such an agenda ignores the need to widen access to electricity through expansion of the grid or smaller-scale off-grid rural electrification. For many PICTs, this means neglecting people that live in rural and remote areas – the very people who are more likely to be poor and to whom aid should be directed.

The focus on renewable funding projects and meeting energy targets also distracts from other important issues. One is the need for sound regulatory arrangements that determine pricing, and which consider affordability for poor households. Success in this area requires the navigation of complex institutional challenges.

Also, focusing on enhanced renewable electricity sources via big infrastructure projects may well mean neglecting the need for more action on energy efficiency – often a far cheaper way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel consumption. More


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lockheed, Reignwood to Build Ocean Thermal Power Plant for China

The 10-megawatt facility powered by ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, may spur use of a technology that has the potential for billions of dollars of projects, Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed said on its website. The plant will produce power for a Chinese resort being built by Reignwood.

“Benefits to generating power with OTEC are immense,” Dan Heller, vice president of new ventures for Lockheed Martin mission systems and training, said in yesterday’s statement. “Constructing a sea-based, multimegawatt pilot OTEC power plant for Reignwood is the final step in making it an economic option to meet growing needs for clean, reliable energy.”

While OTEC systems are able to produce round-the-clock power, clean drinking water and hydrogen for use in electric vehicles, there are no commercial-scale plants in operation.

The agreement with Reignwood may be the foundation to develop OTEC power plants from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts, Lockheed said in the statement. A commercial-scale plant would have the capability to power a small city, it said.

Lockheed already has tested an OTEC plant that ran for three months and produced 50 kilowatts of electricity. It got $12.5 million from the U.S. Navy to develop a pilot facility. More



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sunday Dialogue: Tackling Global Warming

To the Editor:

President Obama has put climate change back on the national agenda, but actually doing something about it is famously difficult. This time will be no different if policy makers let the best become the enemy of the good.

Hoping for the best gets us in trouble in two ways. First, while science can make a strong case for starting now to control carbon dioxide and other gases that lead to climate change, it can’t yet say exactly how much to do when. Yet the game will be lost if we require that science nail down every uncertainty.

The second problem is that solving the climate problem requires changing a vast energy infrastructure on a global scale. The scope and scale of this challenge far exceed any other environmental problem we’ve seen before. It’s no surprise that many existing government rules and institutions aren’t up to the job of managing climate policy.

Rather than waiting for settled science and perfected institutions, today’s policy should aggressively promote steps that will make useful progress at low cost. Energy efficiency is the prime example; we know that we can use energy more efficiently, yet we don’t.

As highlighted by the American Academy report “Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy Through Social Science,” social scientists can help resolve this paradox, and so energy policy makers should incorporate the social sciences into their thinking. It could be as simple as writing a clear energy-efficiency label or as complex as productively engaging local citizens about a fracking project.

But it’s also essential to invest in understanding what policies and institutions must come into being to manage the climate problem over the long term. Our scientific establishment should encourage this new and exciting area of research.

Bethesda, Md., April 1, 2013

The writer is chairman of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Alternative Energy Future project and a visiting scholar at Resources for the Future.


What America Will Look Like Under 25 Feet Of Seawater

If climate models are correct, then Hurricane Sandy, and the flooding it brought, gave us a gentle preview of the not-so-distant future.

A recent NASA study found that between 1992 and 2012, global sea levels rose, on average, a little more than one inch each decade or about 3 millimeters per year. That's much faster than climatologists had expected.

See what could vanish when sea level rises >

The trend is not reversing.

Sea levels rise because of melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica as a result of warming temperatures. The ocean also expands as it warms.

Rising sea levels make coastal areas, particularly those with dense populations, much more vulnerable to heavy flooding.

The day when continents are overtaken by seawater may seem far off, but the threat is very real.

Nickolay Lamm, from StorageFront.com, wants the world to know just how real.

The artist and researcher created sea-level-rise maps depicting what major U.S. monuments would look like over the next century if we continue on a business-as-usual track.

You may have have seen Lamm's work featured on Business Insider before. He recently illustrated how to make Google Glass look fashionable and what the child of Prince William and Princess Catherine will look like all grown up.

For his sea level project, Lamm collaborated with Remik Ziemlinski, who did research and created sea level maps for "The New York Times."

Real-life scenes

The hypothetical scenes show icons like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument, and depict four levels of flooding at each: 0 feet (today); 5 feet (possible in 100 to 300 years); 12 feet (possible by about 2300); and 25 feet (possible in the coming centuries).

"I want people to look at these images and understand that the places they value most may very well be lost to future generations if climate change isn't a bigger priority on our minds," Lamm told Business Insider. "These illustrations are not based off wild Hollywood scenarios, but sea level rise maps from Climate Central."

An artist at work

Each scene took anywhere from five to 15 hours to create, said Lamm. First, Lamm had to find a stock photo which, according to the sea level rise maps generated by Ziemlinski, would be affected by extreme flooding in the future. Then he used Google Earth to figure out exactly where the photo was taken in order to be able to label the streets, roads, and pathways visible in the photo.

Using the sea level rise maps, Lamm estimated where the flooding would be in the stock photo.

He used topography maps to determine the correct depth of the flooding in each scene. All of this was drawn by hand in Photoshop using a physical pencil that translates the brush strokes to a touch sensitive surface, Lamm said.

In the following slideshow, each sea level rise map precedes the "real-world view." A white triangle in the maps represents where the "camera" is positioned in the illustrations. The blue shading represents the amount of sea level rise. After these maps are shown, we see what this camera is viewing in real life.

For Lamm, these haunting images are more than just a fun project. "We are trying to show that 'Space is Limited,' he said. "Not just for our personal belongings, but for the places in which we live."

See what could vanish when sea level rises > More



Fidel Castro to North Korea: nuclear war will benefit no one

Retired Cuban leader sternly cautions North Korea and US of dangers of nuclear war in first column in nearly nine months.

Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro published his first column in nearly nine months on Friday, urging both friends and foes to use restraint amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In the brief piece published in Communist Party daily Granma and other official media, Castro warned of the impact that nuclear war could unleash in Asia and beyond. He said Havana has always been and will continue to be an ally to North Korea, but gently admonished it to consider the well-being of humankind.

"Now that you have demonstrated your technical and scientific advances, we remind you of your duty to the countries that have been your great friends, and it would not be fair to forget that such a war would affect ... more than 70% of the planet's population," he said.

Castro used stronger language in addressing Washington, saying that if fighting breaks out, President Barack Obama's government "would be buried by a flood of images that would present him as the most sinister figure in US history. The duty to avoid (war) also belongs to him and the people of the United States."

North Korea has issued a series of escalating threats in recent weeks as the United States and South Korea have conducted joint military exercises beginning in March, and expressed anger over U.N. sanctions imposed after it held a nuclear test in February. Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons for self-defense, and on Tuesday it announced it would restart a plutonium reactor that was shut down in 2007.

Analysts say the elevated rhetoric is probably calculated to push for concessions from South Korea, prod Washington into talks and bolster the image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Castro called the situation "incredible and absurd," and said war would cause terrible harm to the people of both Koreas and benefit no one.

"This is one of the gravest risks of nuclear war since the October Crisis in 1962 involving Cuba, 50 years ago," he wrote, a reference to what is known in English as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Castro last published one of his columns known as "Reflections" on June 19, 2012. In October, amid the latest round of rumors of his purportedly dire health, he said he had stopped writing them not due to illness but because they were occupying space in official newspapers and state TV news broadcasts that was needed for other uses. More


Friday, April 5, 2013

Three years after BP oil spill, USF research finds massive die-off

The oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon disaster three years ago killed off millions of amoeba-like creatures that form the basis of the gulf's aquatic food chain, according to scientists at the University of South Florida.

The die-off of tiny foraminifera stretched through the mile-deep DeSoto Canyon and beyond, following the path of an underwater plume of oil that snaked out from the wellhead, said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with USF.

"Everywhere the plume went, the die-off went," Hollander said.

The discovery by USF scientists marks yet another sign that damage from the disaster is still being revealed as its third anniversary looms. Although initially some pundits said the spill wasn't as bad as everyone feared, further scientific research has found that corals in the gulf died. Anglers hauled in fish with tattered fins and strange lesions. And dolphins continue dying.

The full implications of the die-off are yet to be seen. The foraminifera are consumed by clams and other creatures, who then provide food for the next step in the food chain, including the types of fish found with lesions. Because of the size of the spill, the way it was handled and the lack of baseline science in the gulf, there's little previous research to predict long-term effects.

The disaster began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010. It held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil, but the spill has largely faded from national headlines. The oil is still there, though.

Weathered particles of oil from Deepwater Horizon are buried in the sediment in the gulf bottom and could be there for as much as a century.

"These are not going away any time soon," Hollander said.

USF researchers dug up core samples from the gulf bottom in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and they plan to return this year and next to compare what they found. Their examination uncovered the massive die-off, according to researcher Patrick Schwing. They also noted an absence of microscopic worms that are normally seen in those areas. The researchers could not estimate how many square miles the die-off covered.

In the core samples, they could see that most of the grayish sediment on the bottom built up gradually over centuries, said Isabel Romero, a researcher working with Hollander. But on top they found a large, dark clump of sediment from the time of the 2010 disaster. The amount registered as 300 times the normal amount of oil-based particles found on the bottom.

The oil in the sediment samples definitely came from the 2010 disaster, Hollander said. The substance bears the same chemical signature as Deepwater Horizon oil.

Effects on fish

That's also the chemical signature of the substance that has clogged the livers of red snapper and other fish found with lesions. The fish livers were trying to screen out the impurities but could not cope with the quantities, he said.

"We're seeing lots of connections with fish diseases," Hollander said. "We're seeing compromised immune systems."

The diseased fish began turning up a few months after BP was able to shut off the flow of oil in July 2010. The discovery of fish with lesions faded out the following year, said Steve Murawski, a USF fisheries biologist who has overseen a project that examined 7,000 fish caught in the gulf.

Scientists are now looking for more subtle effects in red snapper, such as reductions in the number of large fish and a decline in the total population, Murawski said. They are looking for any genetic mutations, too, he said.

"If they get sick, that's one thing," Murawski said. "But if it changed their genes so that they're less resistant to disease or have lower weights, that's a big deal. That would be a real game-changer if true."

BP spokesman Craig Savage said, "No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010. As a result of our $14 billion cleanup effort, BP-funded early restoration projects as well as natural recovery processes, the gulf is returning to its baseline condition — the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred."

But USF oceanographers and biologists are finding lingering effects of Deepwater Horizon. That's no surprise to the biologists, who recall that eight years passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill before the herring population crashed from immune system problems.

"I spent a lot of time in the marshes in Louisiana," Murawski said. "You can still find a lot of oil in there." More


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Whats up with sea level rise - NASA

Earlier today, in a NASA Google+ Hangout on Air on these questions and more:

How much and how fast will sea level rise in the coming decades? What makes sea level rise hard to predict? Who will be affected?

You can watch it above.

There was a Twitter discussion, as well, centering on the #sealevel hashtag.