The midweek omnibus: #37 (Putney to Peckham)

There’s been some good news, and not too much bad news. Let’s start with some good NZ news.

  • The Hillary Institute of International Leadership, launched in Antarctica a year ago with Sir Ed in attendance, has announced that “Leadership in….Climate Change Solutions will be the topic for the Institute’s first four year work-cycle, 2008-2012.” The Institute will appoint annual Hillary Laureates who will give public lectures in the US and NZ (the first in Christchurch in June), and a major award, to be called the Hillary Step, in 2012. There will be substantial cash awards – they’re aiming for $1 million by 2012. Good interview on Radio Nz National earlier this week (scroll to 18:46) with an Institute spokesman. Meanwhile Helen Clark won an United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Champions of the Earth award, which recognises individuals from each region of the world who have shown “extraordinary” leadership on environmental issues. The cynic in me comments that if wishes (and good words) were horses, she’d be riding a virtual Melbourne Cup winner. Unfortunately, in the real world she’s stuck on My Little Pony.
  • Christchurch Airport has achieved carbon neutrality through Landcare Research’s CarbonZero programme, making it the second in the world to do so (behind one in Sweden). Good marketing, at the very least, though it would be better if the international tourists arriving were as well offset.
  • Mass market electric vehicles take a step closer with announcement of a deal between Project Better Place, Renault-Nissan and the Israeli government. “The Israeli government would provide tax incentives to customers, Renault would supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place would construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.” According to the launch press release, the scheme will use an “innovative business model” where drivers will not have own a battery, but will subscribe to the service on the basis of kilometers driven. This (and the tax incentives) will presumably keep the cost of the cars down. Over to Meridian… (Hat-tip: Joe Romm at Climate Progress). Meanwhile, Tesla are promising to (finally) deliver the first of their electric sportscars in March.
  • The EU has announced its climate plan, designed to reduce European emissions by 20% by 2020 [Economist, New Scientist, Guardian], and there will undoubtedly be a lot of fighting over how individual countries targets have been allocated. Meanwhile, the US has warned the EU not to use climate policy as a trade barrier, and the EU has warned the US that if it has no climate policy its products will face tariffs.
  • Technology Review has more on the Australian hybrid battery being successfully tested, and the BBC had a reporter on the Beluga as it began its transatlantic voyage to test the SkySail kite system.
  • Gar Lipow has made the full text of his book No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming available as a free download [PDF]. I’m looking forward to reading it.
  • The BBC has done a couple of good pieces on king tides in Tuvalu and sea level rise, and The Economist finds encouraging signs of the success of eco-labelling (especially of sustainably harvested fish).
  • More wind farms on the way: Meridian has announced it intends to proceed with a 31 turbine installation in Wellington’s Ohariu valley – the $420 million Makara development. Meanwhile the Herald prints poet Brian Turner’s thoughts on the impact of wind farms on the NZ landscape. I don’t necessarily agree with his take on wind energy, but it’s hard to disagree with his conclusion: “Our oft-warbled claims to be ahead of the game and clean and green are no more than self-congratulatory chitter. Sort out what you think our legacy ought to be, people, and stand up for it before it’s too late.”
  • Finally, Weather Channel senior meteorologist Stu Ostro continues his analysis of weather developments in the northern hemisphere, and how they could be (or already are) are sign of the impact of rapid climate change. Well worth a read if you are in the slightest weather literate, and worrying for those who are. And lest we relax, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder report that the ice cap on Baffin Island in the far north of Canada has reduced in size by at least half over the last 50 years.

Another Hot Topic, skiing’s future, batteries, kites, u.s.w.

There’s another Hot Topic on the bookshelves – not in NZ, but in the UK. Sir David King, the sometimes controversial scientific adviser to Tony Blair has (with Gabrielle Walker) penned The Hot Topic: How to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights On. Reviews in The Times and The Guardian. It will no doubt make its way over here eventually.

[Much more below the fold]

Continue reading “Another Hot Topic, skiing’s future, batteries, kites, u.s.w.”

Two gigs

hot-topic-cover.jpg I’ve been asked to take part in two conferences on climate change in Wellington in a couple of months time. The first is Climate Change – What To Do? (Westpac St James Theatre, Saturday 29 March), otherwise known as the World Peace Summit for Sustainable Development 2008, and is being organised by the Yoga In Daily Life organisation founded by His Holiness Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheswarananda (known as Swamiji). Speakers include Swamiji, David Wratt, Rod Oram, Rachel Brown, Andrew West and Nick Collins – programme here. The web site says I’ll be talking about “The issues for New Zealand: What are the predicted changes; what might it mean for our lifestyle; in terms of responsibility towards other nations? What can be achieved by a strong leadership role?” Tickets cost $60 until the end of January, then $75, and are available from Ticketec.

The following week I’ll be back in town for a two day legal conference organised by LexisNexis. The Environmental and Climate Change Legal Symposium is on April 2/3, and also features some very good speakers. I’ll have to put my best foot forward to keep up with the likes of Dave Brash, Jonathon Boston, Roland Sapsford and Karen Price. It’s a bit more expensive: $1095 + GST for the two days.

Here come the warm jets

Hot Topic has devoted a lot of posts to events in the Arctic over the last northern hemisphere summer. The loss of sea ice was dramatic – there was 25% less ice in September than the previous record, set in 2005. The little graph to the left shows just far off the trend line last year’s September area really was. And as I posted yesterday, recent studies suggest that the Arctic is primed for more significant losses in the near future. If the reduction in summer sea ice continues, there are some pretty major implications for the climate of the northern hemisphere and for our modelling of the global climate, and it’s those things that I want to consider in this post. Please note: I am not a climate scientist, and there are a lot of ifs and handwaves in this argument, but bear with me…

Continue reading “Here come the warm jets”

Ice in the sun

Time for an ice update. There’s more bad news about the Arctic sea ice, some interesting video from Greenland, and confirmation that the Antarctic is losing significant amounts of ice. A team lead by James Maslanik of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Astrodynamics Research has tracked the age of perennial Arctic sea ice (the stuff that survives through summer), and found that since the 1980s the ice has become thinner and younger. Of the ice that survived last year’s melt back, 58% is thin and only 2 to 3 years old:

The portion of ice more than five years old within the multi-year Arctic icepack decreased from 31 percent in 1988 to 10 percent in 2007, according to the study. Ice 7 years or older, which made up 21 percent of the multi-year Arctic ice cover in 1988, made up only 5 percent in 2007, the research team reported. [Science Daily, UC release]

This sets the Arctic up for more rapid ice loss, and makes it much harder for the sea ice to recover to its historic size. Meanwhile, Andy Revkin at the New York Times describes what’s been happening in Greenland [you might have to register, but it’s worth it]. The video from a camera being lowered down a moulin is amazing. That’s our world going down the gurgler (as I said at the HT launch). More from Revkin (and more video) at his Dot Earth blog supporting the article.

In our neck of the woods the news isn’t flash, either. A new study confirms that Antarctica has been losing ice over the last 10 years, and finds that the rate of loss has increased by 75% over that time [Herald]. The East Antarctic ice sheet remains more or less stable, but the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula are losing significant amounts of ice mass – a total of 192 billion tonnes of ice in 2006. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the mass loss is down to increased glacier flow:

Changes in glacier dynamics are significant and may in fact dominate the ice sheet mass budget. This conclusion is contrary to model simulations of the response of the ice sheet to future climate change, which conclude that it will grow due to increased snowfall.

The Christian Science Monitor provides a good overview of what’s going on south of us here.

Meanwhile, to quote a Prebble, I’ve been thinking, and before too long I shall blog about the implications of what’s happening in the Arctic. More questions than answers – but perhaps we can start thinking about how to get the answers we need. More soon…