Santa’s blues

Polarbear.jpg What’s a Christmas icon to do, when all the ice at the North Pole disappears in summer? This startling question is posed by the latest flush of media attention to events in the Arctic. First there was a National Geographic story on June 20th speculating that the North Pole would be ice free this summer (note: this is nothing to do with record minima, just do with ice around the pole itself). This was picked up by CNN, who went to Mark Serreze of the NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado for comment:

“We kind of have an informal betting pool going around in our center and that betting pool is ‘does the North Pole melt out this summer?’ and it may well,” said the center’s senior research scientist, Mark Serreze. It’s a 50-50 bet that the thin Arctic sea ice, which was frozen in autumn, will completely melt away at the geographic North Pole, Serreze said.

And then everything went quiet, until The Independent in Britain (referred to as The Indescribablyoverhyped on climate matters by Stoat) picked up the story and ran with it under the headline – Exclusive: no ice at the North Pole:

It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

They seem to be having problems with their choice of tense, and quite how they can justify the “exclusive” tag escapes me… The Drudge Report noticed, and then everyone in the world had to have a go [Telegraph, AP(*)]. Andy Revkin at DotEarth covers it well, and RealClimate chips in with its own analysis. It won’t be long before the usual denialist sites will be spluttering with indignation, despite the fact that the North Pole has a very good chance of being open ocean this summer – even if a new record minimum is not set.

None of this has any relevance to the odds of my winning my various sea-ice bets, but it does give me a chance to post a few interesting Arctic-related links from the last week… As part of its beat-up, The Independent went to Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, for his impressions on the changes in the Arctic, and the BBC’s been carrying a blog from Liz Kalaugher aboard a Canadian icebreaker that over-wintered near Banks Island. Interesting stuff – note Liz’s comments about the weather. Meanwhile, across the melting ice, the Russian defence establishment is beginning to get worried about the impact of melting permafrost.

(*) The AP story uncovers this truly remarkable and hitherto unnoticed fact: “That pushed the older thicker sea ice that had been over the North Pole south toward Greenland and eventually out of the Arctic, Serreze said. That left just a thin one-year layer of ice that previously covered part of Siberia.” So that ice has somehow left the land and started floating towards the Pole. Be afraid, be very afraid…

Sail on sailor

RoyalClipper01.jpg Pausing in my peregrinations in Nelson, where it rains (but not so much as in Golden Bay last weekend), I’m catching up on climate news. In Hot Topic I looked forward to the day when the first NZ wine clipper sailed into the Port of London, bringing the new vintage of sauvignon blanc to Britain’s drinkers (p156) – but I now find that the French have beaten us to it. The Herald reported (last month):

This month 60,000 bottles from Languedoc will be shipped to Ireland in a 19th-century barque, saving 22,680kg of carbon. Further voyages to Bristol and Manchester in England and even to Canada are planned soon afterwards. The three-mast barque Belem, which was launched in 1896, the last French merchant sailing vessel to be built, will sail into Dublin after a voyage from Bordeaux that should last about four days.

I like the words on the label: “Carried by sailing ship, a better deal for the planet.”
It’s a fast-moving world, this low-carbon image business. It would be a pity if the French beat us at more than the occasional rugby match…

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.”


 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 08 Homer-1Al Gore’s making most of the climate news at the moment. Winning a Nobel Peace Prize and having a British judge find nine “errors” in An Inconvenient Truth has generated a lot of copy, and more hot air. Others have done a lot of footwork on this story: Deltoid looks at the nature of the “errors” and RealClimate examines the underlying science, but New Zealand has its own band of stalwarts banging away. Former ACT MP Muriel Newman, who runs a web site titled the NZ Centre For Policy Research, not content with fulminating against “political indoctrination” in NZ schools, has now written to the president of the Academy Awards demanding that Gore’s Oscar should be removed:

“With the release of the British High Court judgement overnight that found that ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was littered with nine inconvenient untruths, it is clear that Al Gore embellished the truth to create dramatic effect (see the High Court Judgement Given that the Oscar Award was presented in the documentary category and not the drama category, the only appropriate action now is for the Academy to rescind the Award as it was clearly inappropriately classed as a documentary. The second Oscar for ‘Best Original Song’ is not affected by the Judge’s ruling. The truth, as inconvenient as it is to Al Gore, is that his so-called documentary contained critical distortions that are quite contrary to the principles of good documentary journalism. Good documentaries should be factually correct. Clearly this documentary is not.”

What a broadside. I’m sure the Oscar committee are quaking in their boots and rushing to consider such an urgent issue, raised by such an important and perceptive commentator. Set aside for a moment that “embellishing the truth for dramatic effect” is pretty much what film-making is all about, Muriel seems to have forgotten a few basic facts herself.

Continue reading “Crankwatch”

Clearing the decks

A few quick links before I post on the government’s just announced energy strategy: cleaning out the tabs in my web browser…

  • Professor Graham Harris of the University of Tasmania addresses the issues I raised in my “ecological overdraft” post a few days ago, in Sleepwalking Into Danger – an article for ScienceAlert: “It is time to admit how little we know and face the risks of planetary degradation – this goes way beyond climate change. Biodiversity isn’t just birds, primates and whales; it is planetary function and resilience.”
  • The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds is planning [Guardian, BBC] to allow the sea to reclaim 728 hectares of coastal land in the Essex marshes on Britain’s east coast to restore habitat for wildlife – and as a pragmatic adaptation to rising sea levels. Could we see the same sort of thing here?
  • The Andrill project – a sea floor drilling effort under the Ross Ice Shelf involving NZ and US scientists – is using nifty Apple computers, so Apple has posted an interesting perspective on the work being done. New drilling season starts soon.
  • Brian Fallow in the Herald takes a look at the cost of carbon in the new ETS and speculates about ongoing impacts on the government’s accounts.
  • Carbon emissions from shipping may be much higher than previously thought, according to The Independent (UK).
  • German solar power company Conergy is planning a 500 turbine windfarm near Broken Hill in New South Wales. Meanwhile, BusinessWeek (US) profiles entrepreneur John O’Donnell, who has bought into Aussie scientist David Mills solar thermal designs, and plans to build a lot of generation at costs competitive with coal. With Silicon Valley money, and soon.
  • The Dominion Post digs up some advice to government on dealing with “environmental refugees”. NZ will probably want to help small Pacific nations, but refugees from the Asian megadeltas might be another matter.