Environment and Energy
Does the world's leading climate-science body need to be revamped? That's basically been the consensus position among observers over the past week (see, e.g., the Times). It all started when the Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council released its independent review of the IPCC. Prior to this, few people had ever heard of the InterAcademy Council—it appears to be an obscure organization that releases grand scientific pronouncements every now and again.
At this point, it's safe to say that the explosion on the Vermilion platform in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday won't be another BP disaster. The AP has a handy comparison of the two accidents. And, after talking to a few people about this, here's some more context. BP's Deepwater Horizon platform, recall, was a drilling rig, boring down and developing a well that was 5,000 feet below sea level. By contrast, Mariner Energy's Vermilion platform was operating in shallower water—340 feet—and it isn't a drilling rig.
Not good. Some updates from CNN: An oil rig has exploded 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana… The accident took place 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana on the Vermilion Oil rig 380, which is owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough tells CNN that all 13 workers involved in the rig explosion are accounted for, but one person is injured.
Here's a paradox for you. Most ecologists would agree that we're ravaging the Earth's natural resources at an unsustainable rate—and pushing up against some dangerous thresholds in the biosphere. (See my old piece on planetary boundaries for the gloomy version of this tale.) Broadly speaking, the planet's ecosystems are in terrible shape, and this is widely believed to have negative consequences for humanity. And yet, at the same time, human well-being has never been better. People are living longer, healthier, and richer lives.
First it looked like the Senate might pass a big comprehensive climate-change bill. Then we found out, no, there weren't 60 votes for any such thing. Well all right, greens muttered, why don't we just settle for a cap on utility emissions and a renewable electricity standard? Nope, not enough votes for that either. Ooookay, well how about a bill that at least regulates the oil industry, what with all that gook bobbing around in the Gulf? No, no, and… no.
Now this is a pretty striking about-face: The world's most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront", in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby. Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled "sceptical environmentalist" once compared to Adolf Hitler by the UN's climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans, and the
Of all the pet causes by climate skeptics, the obsession with Michael Mann has always struck me as one of the weirdest. Most of the broader public probably has no idea who Mann even is—he was one of the climatologists who created the "hockey stick" graph that used various bits of proxy data (such as tree-ring samples and ice-core measurements) to reconstruct global temperatures over the past 1,000 years. Mann and his co-authors found that the current spate of global warming is unprecedented during that time span.
Via Jon Hiskes, The Onion has the story: In what may be the greatest environmental disaster in the nation's history, the supertanker TI Oceania docked without incident at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Monday and successfully unloaded 3.1 million barrels of dangerous crude oil into the United States. According to witnesses, the catastrophe began shortly after the tanker, which sailed unimpeded across the Gulf of Mexico, stopped safely at the harbor and made contact with oil company workers on the shore.
Biochar has always sounded like a whimsical climate solution that's too good to be true. Simply stir a little charcoal into the soil and—voila—it's supposedly possible to suck thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide out of the air. Sounds suspicious, no? And yet it just might work. A new study in Nature Communications finds that the world could, in theory, sustainably offset a whopping 12 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions by producing biochar. The basic idea is easy enough to follow.
Yesterday, a massive ice island four times the size of Manhattan snapped off of Greenland's Petermann Glacier. Ominous, no? A disturbing sign of a warming planet? Well… actually, it's hard to say. It's true that, in a broad sense, Greenland has been losing ice faster than it has been accumulating snow in recent years. The thing's clearly melting. But linking this one specific glacier calving to global warming is more difficult, and something many glaciologists are reluctant to do.