Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Australia on the Front Line

Fascinating overview of Australia's record breaking temperatures. From The Guardian:

What is causing Australia's heatwave?

Does the country's record-breaking heatwave have something to do with climate change?
Australia has started 2013 with a record-breaking heat wave that has lasted more than two weeks across many parts of the country. Temperatures have regularly gone above 48°C, with the highest recorded maximum of 49.6°C at Moomba in South Australia. The extreme conditions have been associated with a delayed onset of the Australian monsoon, and slow moving weather systems over the continent.
Australia has always experienced heat waves, and they are a normal part of most summers. However, the current event affecting much of inland Australia has definitely not been typical.
The most significant thing about the recent heat has been its coverage across the continent, and its persistence.
It is very unusual to have such widespread extreme temperatures — and have them persist for so long. On those two metrics alone, spatial extent and duration, the last two weeks surpasses the only previous analogue in the historical record (since 1910) – a two-week country-wide hot spell during the summer of 1972-1973.
A good measure of the spatial extent of the heat is the Australian-averaged maximum daily temperature. This is the average of the highest daily temperature of the air just above the surface of the Australian continent, including Tasmania. The national average is calculated using a three-dimensional interpolation (including topography) of over 700 observing sites each day.
On Monday and Tuesday last week (January 7 and 8) that temperature rose to over 40°C. Monday's temperature of 40.33°C set a new record, beating the previous highest Australian daily maximum of 40.17°C set in 1972. Tuesday's temperature came in as the 3rd highest on record at 40.11°C.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Old Style Thinking in a New World

Lake Mead via Wikipedia

 Actually, that's a little misleading. Really, it's about American hubris and Las Vegas. The world hasn't changed, it's just that capitalist/technocratic thinking hasn't been in the real world for a century or more.
Tara Lohan writes about the water wars of Nevada, with Los Vegas slowly and deliberately destroying the rest of the state with its water demands. As she puts it:
The future that Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada face is one where climate change is likely to make life harder, water scarcer, and decisions about the future tougher. And it’s a future that will be shared across the Southwest. K. Kaufmann writes for the Desert Sun about the National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee’s findings on climate change will affect the country. In the Southwest, Kaufmann writes: 
Snowpack and streamflow amounts are projected to decline, decreasing water supply for cities, agriculture and ecosystems.
The Southwest produces more than half the nation’s high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold and heat. Reduced yields from increased temperatures and increasing competition for scarce water supplies will displace jobs in some rural communities.
Increasingly, wherever you live in the U.S. this will be a shared problem as water resources and potentially energy resources become strapped, if we continue unchanged on our current trajectory.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Murdoch Watch Day...whatever

Two of my favourite US political journalists (a list that includes Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone), Bill Moyers and Rachel Maddow had a chat the other day on Rachel's show. They were discussing the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal and its implications for the Murdoch empire in the US and about what it says about big journalism. Two very smart, very well informed people chatting about a topic both are familiar with--what a concept.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thanks to MSNBC for the clip.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If You Won't Stop Climate Change...

...then you should learn to love it. As it is becoming clear that we will not be doing a damn thing to stop global warming and the resulting chaos, we'd better plan on doing things differently in order to maintain our current capitalist lifestyles. Thus:
From the Daily Mail Online
The area around this house is expected to flood every 20 years or so, and so this house is designed to cut loose from its foundation and float when that happens. The house is nearing completion in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
The Guardian ran a short clip on the designers and the development that's been proposed.

From the article:
They may lack the exotic ring of Venice's Piazza San Marco or Marrakech's Djemaa el-Fna, but Norwich's planned Rain Square and Flood Park may one day earn a little renown of their own in the epic battle with the weather.
After England's wettest year on record, planners this spring will be asked to grant consent to 670 homes by the confluence of the Wensum and Yare rivers featuring these new public spaces, where half the site has a high probability of flooding and its edge is only 45cm (18in) above sea level.
The project, described as a folly by opponents, is a bellwether for Britain's readiness to tackle the twin pressures of rising floodwaters – which the Environment Agency estimates put one in six homes at risk – and ever increasing housing demand in popular places such as Norwich.
In a counter-intuitive attempt to persuade homebuyers to set aside their fear of the rising tide, the scheme proposes homes around marshes, squares that are designed to become ponds, and parks that become small lakes.
So really, why bother to fix the problem when 1 in 6 homes may be at risk of flooding, when that just gives you the opportunity for business as usual selling these creations? From the same article:
The Guardian has learned that the government chose to delay the introduction of critical anti-flood measures until 2014 after lobbying by Britain's biggest house builders. Regulations to demand better drainage of new housing developments using wetlands, reed beds, drainage channels and porous driveways to help prevent run-off flooding that threatens an estimated 2.8m homes was postponed last year after the Home Builders Federation complained to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the cost.
Barratt Homes, Redrow, Bovis and other house builders were supposed to take responsibility for building systems to ensure water that drains from new estates soaks into the ground rather than running off to cause flooding locally. But they have written to Defra minister Richard Benyon saying the standards, which have been championed by ecologists and flood experts, are "flawed and would raise design, cost and other problems for house builders". They also warned the scheme would "present a significant risk to the delivery of new housing", and the government announced an 18-month delay.

This, this is why we're all going to die. Probably screaming.

Soot, Diesel, and the Black Carbon Problem

Image via Wikipedia

While the study  is not yet published and will probably be behind a paywall when it is, the abstract is pretty clear:
However, global atmospheric absorption attributable to black carbon is too low in many models, and should be increased by a factor of almost three.[...]
Thus, there is a very high probability that black carbon emissions, independent of co-emitted species, have a positive forcing and warm the climate. We estimate that black carbon, with a total climate forcing of +1.1 W m-2, is the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing.
 Some 7.5 million tonnes of soots are released into the atmosphere  each year, coming from cooking fires, open burning (like clearing land or wildfires) and diesel engines. This means that there's actually room to reduce soot production, with diesel engines producing about 70 percent of the soot emissions in Europe, North America, and Latin America. In Asia and Africa, wood burning domestic fires make up 60% to 80% of soot emissions. Coal fires are also a significant source of soot in China, parts of Eastern Europe, and former Soviet bloc countries.
Coal, one of the great evils in fuels, should already be seeing its use cut. Trimming diesel use would also provide other health benefits, as micro-particulates emitted from diesel engines have been linked to a number of respiratory ailments. And the whole cook-fire issue is another reason added to the heap of reasons for bringing the undeveloped world forward.
So bad news: soot is worse than we thought--by a whole lot. Good news? Soot production is something that could potentially be managed. Not that I expect we will....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One Hundred Plus Reasons

BC independent journalist Laila Yuile writes for community newspapers, 24, blogs for HuffPo and on her own blogsite. She has a pretty good group of people following her work, which is why, when she asked them to come up with reminders of the Liberal record here in BC, they responded quickly, efficiently, and in volume.
The Liberal Party, first under Gordon Campbell and now under Christy Clark, have weathered some pretty strong political storms. Through it all, they've managed to maintain a majority government, even though they haven't broadened their support. Then they ran a campaign that swore they wouldn't bring in a harmonized sales tax, folding the federal and provincial taxes together. Six months later: harmonized sales tax.
Campbell thought he was running the standard playbook--bring in massive changes all at once in the first year of your mandate, and then spend the rest of it managing for re-election. It worked a treat for Ralph Klein in Alberta, and has proved successful enough that it's been used in Ontario and at the federal level as well. But the HST was different.
First, it was egregious. Negotiations on harmonization had to have been taking place for months before the election. And while harmonization was going to be good for large corporations, it was going to be brutal on smaller, local enterprises--like restaurants. And that pissed off the small business community who thought they had a champion in the Campbell government.
But the small business community found a new champion--even though he wasn't really all that new. Charismatic politician Bill Vander Zalm, former premier of the province leading a Social Credit government (precursors to the Liberals who fouled their brand so thoroughly under Vander Zalm that the party folded itself into the Liberal brand), picked up the banner. Using legislation brought in under a former NDP government (under great pressure from the Socreds), Bill announced a referendum drive to repeal the legislation harmonizing the two taxes.
With Zalm leading the charge, the HST was no longer a purely partisan issue in the legislature, but became a populist movement transcending partisan politics. The HST probably wasn't the worst Liberal idea to come out (abusing the poor and indigenous populations, a perennial favourite, was clearly worse), but the people of BC decided enough was enough, and used the referendum push to spank the ruling class.
The NDP admitted during the campaign that the referendum legislation had been crafted so that it was almost impossible to successfully complete a recall campaign. But when the people gets riled up.....
The referendum ultimately called, passed. Meaning that the government was compelled to reverse course on the HST ( still not reversed, btw), and started a slide in Liberal popularity even among their traditional supporters. Campbell, his personal brand trashed as badly as Bennett's and Zalm's before him, took a powder. The party, taking a leaf from the Socred playbook, elected a woman to replace him--figuring that the public and media would have a harder time attacking a female premier. But Christy Clark has been up to the challenge, and it looks like the province will get at least one term of NDP government starting in 2013.
But just to make sure that the boobs in power get what's coming to them, laila Yule's crew have provided a reminder to the province  about the last decade of Liberal rule: 100 reasons the Liberals have to go.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Briony Penn Takes on Oilberta

Focus Magazine used to be this sleepy little mag read by seniors and, well, pretty much no-one else. But over the last couple of years, it has transformed itself into one of the most hard-hitting, deep-digging, and well-written magazines in Canada. And pretty much nobody outside Victoria knows about it.
We also have some of the smartest and most committed environmental activists in the world here. The local environment pretty much demands it of a person. There's Alexandra Morton taking on the fish farms of the Broughton Archipelago. David Suzuki just keeps getting smarter and more focused. And let's be frank; who else has elected a Green to Parliament? And then there's Briony Penn.
photo from The Province newspaper
Yes, Briony is not unwilling to use pretty much any means to get an issue attention. She rode through Vancouver as Lady Godiva to bring attention to logging on Salt Spring Island. And, if you've seen Salt Spring
Island, youll know why she did it.
Photo from findfamilyfun.com
Briony is also an adjunct professor of environmental studies at the University of Victoria, and continues to write--currently in Focus Magazine.  Where she has written this excellent article on the way the two sides are approaching the expansion of pipeline capacity through British Columbia.
Despite [Ian Anderson, CEO of Kinder Morgan}'s claim to be committed to more genuine consultation, it’s not clear that he or any of his colleagues in the oil patch understand British Columbians’ deep opposition to exposing their land, rivers and sea to the risks posed by oil pipelines and tankers and our even broader concerns. Many of us are sensing that we are on the verge of environmental collapse and that any one of these major projects could put us over the edge. Gerald Amos, past chief councillor of the Kitimaat Village Council, at the end of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline between the tar sands and the coast, articulates the crucial point around consultation: “The big issue for communities—one that really hasn’t been grappled with yet—is the cumulative impact of what we call progress.”
Whether it’s Jasper grappling with the cumulative impacts of man-made corridors on wildlife populations; or Kitimaat with the rising toll of logging, mining, hydro projects and the eight proposed liquefied natural gas plants; or Victoria facing another 300 oil tankers in our waters each year to service the expanded Kinder Morgan depot, the big issue for British Columbians is not just the next big project planned, but the sum total of where we are going as a nation with our energy needs, our distribution, and the rate of exploitation.
Anderson’s speech suggested that he believes it’s a waste of time trying to educate British Columbians about the importance of the pipeline to national security, that we’re simply concerned about our own backyard. In reality, though, it’s Anderson who doesn’t understand the big picture.
We get it that we are moving perilously close to the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, more aptly, in the case of the Rockies, the mountain caribou’s back. And on the coast, the southern resident orca’s (another species at risk) back. Environmental collapse cannot be addressed with such solutions as one discussed by the Heavy Oil club: saving caribou in the tar sands by fencing them into compounds to “mitigate” their decline.
“Cumulative impact” is the scientific term for what we intuitively sense is happening to our environment. While assessing such impacts is central to environmental assessments—and true national security—in jurisdictions around the planet, Canada’s policy on such matters, unfortunately, has regressed back to the 1950s.
Read the article. Particularly if you're an Albertan--the days of blithely assuming that oil will sell, the economy will expand, and "Alberta will be the  envy of the country," well, those days are over. BC is one of the reasons Harper decided to gut environmental protections in this country. We are squarely in the cross-hairs, and we know it. Ans still two thirds of BC residents are willing to flip him the bird. Harper's worried about bodies in front of bulldozers day after day on the news. He should be.