Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.
There has been a resurgence of alarmist claims regarding the pending extinction of a majority of Earth's lifeforms due to human misdeeds—clearing rain forests, polluting the oceans and, of course, causing global warming. Perennial crank and misanthrope E. O. Wilson leads the parade of doomsayers, claiming that biodiversity is dropping and a sixth major extinction event is just around the corner. What evidence backs these claims? Why, computer model projections, naturally. The facts are researchers have identified 1.4 million animal species so far, and recently a pair of Brazilian researchers estimated that there are estimated 5.4 million yet-to-be-discovered animal species alone. The truth is, scientists have no idea how fast biodiversity is falling because they have no idea how many species there are on Earth. And the researchers put a price tag on finding out that is simply stunning.
Beginning in 2008, sunspots almost completely disappeared for two years. Solar activity dropped to hundred-year lows and the Sun’s magnetic field weakened, allowing cosmic rays to penetrate the Solar System in record numbers. More troubling, Earth's upper atmosphere cooled and collapsed by an unprecedented amount. Solar physicists openly wondered what was happening to our neighborhood star. Now, an international team of scientists funded by NASA claims to have figured out what was going on. Their explanation was just published in the March 3, 2011, edition of Nature.
Given the ongoing controversy over global warming the question of whether humans can change Earth's climate is a familiar one. Lost in the fight over anthropogenic global warming is a more subtle and possibly more important question—how has climate changed people. In recent decades, the fossil record of hominin evolution and behavior, though still incomplete, has improved greatly. Triggered by a recent National Research Council (NRC) report, a perspective article in the journal Science poses the question, “did climate change shape human evolution?”
Fluctuations in surface melting are known to affect the speed of glaciers and ice sheets, while the contribution of glaciers and ice caps to global sea-level rise is uncertain at best. Much has been made of the “accelerating” loss of ice from the Greenland glaciers. Over the past decade, Arctic sea ice retreated substantially during the summer months, and some predicted that the ice loss could be irreversible, a tipping point that would boost global warming. A number of new papers in Nature, Geophysical Research Letters and Nature Geoscience, shed new light on these subjects, and the answers are not the ones usually heard in the media.
Around 19,000 years ago, oceanic conditions underwent dramatic changes that coincided with a shift in global climate, marking the onset of the Holocene warming. In the North Atlantic, major changes in the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC), which carries warm and highly saline surface water north to cooler regions, played a substantial role in regulating climate and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Scientists are now convinced that the ocean absorbed, stored, and released vast quantities of carbon in the past, playing a major role in the end of the last Pleistocene Ice Age glacial period. Understanding the ocean's role in the past is important to understanding how it may influence climate in the future. A new report in Science shows that the MOC experienced a series of abrupt changes that lasted from decades to centuries, and may have stored and released more CO2 than previously thought.
Denis Dutton, philosopher, academic, author, web entrepreneur and libertarian media commentator/activist, died on December 28, 2010. A professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, he died in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he lived. He was 66. Described by the New York Times as “an impassioned polymath, genial contrarian and native Californian,” Professor Dutton had taught at Canterbury since 1984. Blake Eskin, web editor for The New Yorker, wrote: “Denis helped prove that the Web could be a platform not only for fast-paced celebrity gossip and pictures of cute animals but for long and serious writing and the exchange of complex ideas.” We at The Resilient Earth morn the passing of an internet visionary, fellow skeptic and friend.
To ring in the new year, The Resilient Earth presents a collection of recent journal and news articles regarding climate science. Some are about actual science and others are more in the way of commentary on the state of global warming. New discoveries continue to be made, though the climate change faithful stubbornly refuse to abandon the party line: Earth's temperature is going to rise dangerously and humanity is to blame. Perhaps the most interesting development is that a number of green advocates have given up on avoiding global warming, deciding instead to stress the unfair social impacts that climate change will supposedly cause. At the end of 2010, here is a snapshot of the state of the climate change debate.
Much has be written and even more said about stopping climate change. The total foolishness of such a quest is obvious to anyone with even the most cursory understanding of Earth's climate over the Past 65 million years. The more science learns about the ever changing nature of climate the more capricious nature appears and the less significant the labors of H. sapiens are revealed to be. To place the ludicrous arguments and unsubstantiated fears of climate catastrophists in perspective, it is instructive to survey Earth's climate since the demise of the dinosaurs—the geological time period called the Cenozoic Era. During this long span of time, Earth's climate has undergone a significant and complex evolution. If one truth has been discovered by human science it is that Earth's climate is always changing, driven, as one set of researchers put it, by trends, rhythms and aberrations—the mechanisms of climate change.
You know, in science, there was once this thing we called the Theory of Multiple Working Hypotheses. Anathema (a formal ecclesiastical curse accompanied by excommunication) in modern climate science. So, in juxtaposition to the hypothesis of future global climate disruption from CO2, a scientist might well consider an antithesis or two in order to maintain ones objectivity. One such antithesis, which happens to be a long running debate in paleoclimate science, concerns the end Holocene. Or just how long the present interglacial will last.
While governments invest heavily in wind power something has been happening to the surface winds of the Northern Hemisphere—the winds have been slowing down. While the cause of this “stilling” remain uncertain, surface winds have declined in China, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, the United States and Australia over the past few decades. A new study, published online at Nature Geoscience, analyzes the extent and potential cause of changes in northern surface wind speeds over the past 30 years. In it, researchers have found that surface wind speeds have declined by 5–15% over almost all continental areas in the northern mid-latitudes, and that strong winds have slowed faster than weak winds. They also note that the observed decline of surface wind in many regions of the world is a potential concern for wind power electricity production.
The 21st Century may well mark the beginning of the hybrid age. New and exciting developments in transportation propulsion systems promise to deliver higher performance, be more efficient and unshackle human energy consumption from the burning of fossil fuels. Once the realization that oil won't last for ever is accepted, all sorts of intriguing possibilities suggest themselves: hybrid jet planes with electric motors helping to drive their high bypass turbofans; diesel electric locomotives that no longer simply throw away the energy captured by dynamic breaking; and a new crop of super cars from Lotus, Ferrari and Porsche that don't take a back seat to any gas guzzler. The future looks green, efficient and even fun.
That humans can alter the natural environment is well known. We have been hunting, fishing and clearing land for agriculture for tens of thousands of years. More recently humans have gained the ability to drain swamps, dam rivers, level mountains and pave over darn near anything. Environmentalists think this kind of activity is abhorrent, and go so far as to claim that H. sapiens are responsible for a new major wave of extinctions. In general, animal species can either move, go extinct or adapt to human caused environmental changes. Many biologists will tell you that species just can't evolve fast enough to deal with rate of human induced change. As it turns out, this isn't exactly true.
Tyrannosaurs, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, are the most iconic and most studied of the dinosaurs. Made famous by movies, television shows and books, T. rex is the image most people think of when they hear the word dinosaur. The popular image of a tyrannosaur is that of a gigantic meat eater, like the one shown in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, but this was not always the case. T. rex was initially described 105 years ago by H. F. Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. New fossil finds, including six new species during the past year alone, have shown tyrannosaurs to be a more diverse group that was first thought. A phylogeny that includes recently described species shows that tyrannosaurs originated by the Middle Jurassic but remained mostly small and ecologically marginal until the Late Cretaceous.
Even with all of the recent scandal surrounding the purveyors of climate change pap, many in the “news media” continue to crank out party-line articles blaming all of Earth's ecological woes on humanity. After decades of trying to alarm the public over a human caused “sixth mass extinction” and more recently, dwindling diversity, some in the media just can't let go of AGW as the root of all evil. A perfect example of this appeared recently in the font of misinformation that is Yahoo News. Blaming every human activity from hunting to climate change, science writer Jeremy Hsu has once again raised the specter of that old shibboleth, the Anthropocene Epoch. This is all a part of a developing trend to elevate falling species diversity to crisis level, mainly because the world's eco-activists need a replacement issue for climate change.