The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that global sea level will rise by up to 60 cm by 2100 due to global warming. The cause of this rise is twofold: expansion of ocean waters as they warm and additional water from glaciers melting. Despite nearly stable sea levels over the past 3,000 years, a number of low-lying and island nations have seized on the imminent flood as a reason to demand reparations from developed nations. In reality, most of the areas in the world that are suffering from inundation are threatened because of human actions, but not global warming. Damming and rerouting of rivers combined with over-pumping of ground water has led to subsidence in many areas—in other words, the seas are not rising, the land is sinking.
The ocean is Earth's largest single sink for CO2 outside of the planet's crust itself. Simple sea creatures depend on carbon dissolved in the ocean's water for their existence, and their actions create a biological carbon “pump” that removes vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. Large amounts are suspended in the water column as dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and each year the ocean's biological pump deposits some 300 million tons of carbon in the deep ocean sink. New findings have revealed that massive amounts of carbon are converted into “inedible” forms of organic carbon that remain out of circulation for thousands of years, effectively sequestering the carbon by removing it from the ocean food chain. According to Jiao Nianzhi, a microbial ecologist here at Xiamen University, the amount stored is tremendous: “It's really huge. It's comparable to all the carbon dioxide in the air.”
American politicians are falling over themselves to enact new energy legislation before the Gulf oil leak gets plugged. The sad fact is, the US is dragging its feet on the one proven source of reliable, emissions free power: nuclear energy. With some environmentalists likening the oil disaster to Three Mile Island—the nuclear accident that destroyed the US atomic energy industry—the Obama administration has given nuclear power little more than lip service in recent months. Now comes news that a New Mexico-based company that is doing pioneering work in miniature atomic power plants has signed a deal to manufacture small, modular nuclear reactors in China. Political indecision and agitation by green activists is once again conspiring to turn the US into a second rate technological nation.
Often a target for environmentalists and global warming alarmists alike, intensive modern agriculture has been demonized as the cause of many types of pollution, including those dreaded greenhouse gases. A study, soon to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reveals that highly productive modern agriculture actually reduces net greenhouse gas emissions when compared with using croplands less intensively. Furthermore, expansion of agriculture, needed to feed mankind's ever growing numbers, can help reduce future increases in CO2 emissions. Looks like the doomsayers got it backwards again, more intensive agricultural is a good thing for the environment. In fact, agriculture reduced total human carbon emissions from 1850 to 2005 by 34%.
With the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico emboldening all the denizens of the eco-underground, some voices are once again calling for increased production of biofuels—ethanol and biodiesel—and accelerated research into clean coal. Ignoring the fact that biofuels take as much energy to produce as they provide and that they are only competitive with heavy government subsidies, biofuel boosters are again trying to sell their snake-oil to the public. But the single most damning aspect of biofuel production is the exorbitant amount of water it takes to cook-up a gallon of the stuff. Now it appears that the other great energy scam, clean coal, will also increase water usage—by a whopping 80%. With the world facing a real water crisis in the near future, the last thing any government should be doing is wasting their citizens' money on are “green” energy scams that are really just subsidies for coal companies and big agribusiness conglomerates.
In the midst of the clamor over global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and world energy supplies another, perhaps more immediate, environmental catastrophe is gathering momentum—the world wide shortage of fresh water. Though eclipsed in America by pictures of oil-soaked pelicans and fouled coastal wetlands, this potentially more disastrous and more permanent problem has been ignored by politicians and the public for decades. Experts are warning that by 2050 fully 45% of humanity may be chronically short of water. Unlike the eventual depletion of the world's oil supplies, there is no substitute for H2O.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This unprecedented accident for the American offshore drilling industry, the first significant spill in 40 years, will certainly have a calamitous impact on the Gulf marine environment and surrounding coastal areas. What is less certain, but potentially even more dangerous, is the effect that this spill will have on the US domestic oil industry. While environmentalists clamor for a shut down of all offshore drilling in the Gulf, realists know that this will make the threat to ocean life even greater. What has not being told to the public is that nature itself leaks more oil into the ocean each year than mankind, and has been doing so for millions of years. What is even less known is that offshore drilling can actually reduce the amount of crude released into the seas.
Experts predict that, over the long term, food security can't be achieved without energy security. Add in mechanization, storage, and transport and the energy impact of a typical meal in industrialized nations is many times the amount of energy the meal's consumer derives. Recently, researchers have been taking a close look at just how much energy it takes to produce even seemingly similar foods. The conclusion: Food choices can have a significant impact on energy use in agriculture, and by extension, on greenhouse gas emissions as well. Beef lovers beware! As the world diverts more of its grain harvests into meat production, some scientists are taking a closer look at more environmentally friendly sources of protein, including insects.
There have been a number of strange theories regarding the conditions deep within Earth's interior circulating around the internet. Claims that solar flares will cause nuclear reactions deep below our feet are perhaps the most ludicrous, but fairly easy to dismiss. More timely, perhaps, is the sudden conversion of global warming guru Al Gore into a geothermal energy booster. Evidently Gore thinks it's bad to drill for oil, but good to drill for heat. TV documentaries threaten mega-volcano eruptions and talk about mantle plumes underneath Hawaii, but just what does science tell us about our planet's interior?
In an essay adapted from his 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting keynote address, James J. McCarthy has produced a fairly concise statement of the anthropogenic global warming believer's world view. After a self-serving review of climate science history, McCarthy trots out the usual litany of climate change troubles: increased cyclones, rain and floods, rising sea levels and, of course, those pesky tipping points. The tone of the article is set early on, when research is cited stating that mankind's impact on Earth is “sufficiently profound to declare that we have transitioned from the Holocene era of Earth history to the Anthropocene.”
There is another contender in the alternate energy, renewable fuels sweepstakes that combines aspects of solar energy and biofuels. Most solar technologies are aimed at producing electricity, but a new class of solar chemical reactors aims to make liquid fuels from air, water, and sunshine. This could, in theory, provide a carbon neutral replacement for liquid fossil fuels. The catch? The process is costly and unlikely ever to compete with gasoline produced from fossil fuels without a punishing tax on carbon emissions.
Once again the leaders in the fight against anthropogenic global warming have come together to hold an international fear fest, supposedly to save mankind from the ravages of climate change—or to save the planet from mankind, depending on who you talk to. The predictable result: more strident warnings of disaster, pledges of more far reaching actions from politicians, and no real change. After jetting into Denmark, expending the carbon equivalent of more than 200,000 trees, the carping climate crowd has jetted back home until the next act of this farce takes place in Mexico City in 2010.
There are a number of scientists who disbelive the theory that an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs. They point to evidence that some species of sauropod may have survived the Chicxulub impact—widely hailed as the smoking gun in the dinosaur extinction—as proof that the event was simply not big enough to be a knockout blow. Now, according to Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University, new information reinforces his claim that a much larger impact that he has named Shiva, actually did the dinosaurs in.
A report out from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting, which was held in Barcelona, identifies peaty wetlands as a major source of CO2. Marshes, swamps and bogs emit about 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 a year as a result of human activity that drains them. If those dried out former swamps catch fire that amount can double and large amounts of aerosols can be emitted as well. With governments offering subsidies for growing biofuel crops the question is, how do we stop people from draining the world's remaining wetlands?
The search for ways to reduce carbon emissions has led to government grant money for schemes ranging from promising to wacky. Recognizing that there is no currently viable replacement for fossil fuels, with the possible exception of nuclear power, the US and other countries with large coal deposits are desperately looking for ways to continue burning coal without incurring the wrath of nature or the IPCC. Clear evidence of the seriousness of this effort is evident in this week's special edition of Science, dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.