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…

Whispering wind

windturbine.gif A bit more on wind, and some worthwhile weekend reading. The British government has announced that it is planning a huge expansion in the use of wind power, building up to 7,000 turbines at a cost of up to £10bn, and expects renewable energy to account for 15% of all energy use by 2020. The BBC reports the somewhat lukewarm reaction, but Fred Pearce in The Guardian is cautiously optimistic that this time they might mean business. Electric vehicles are an important part of the package.

The Economist provides the weekend reading: an excellent overview of the energy options available over the coming decades, and why they look like the next big business opportunity. The leader’s here, and the special feature starts here. The sections on wind, solar and electric vehicles are especially interesting. Joe Romm at Climate Progress isn’t too keen on their enthusiasm for nuclear power, but read the lot and make up your own mind.

For a laugh, I refer you to a column excoriating electric vehicles in The Guardian by Matt Master, who is “a writer and road tester for Top Gear magazine” and who amply demonstrates how ignorance only makes you look like a tosser. Perhaps he doesn’t read The Economist, which headlines its article on EVs “The end of the petrolhead”.

The denial twist

hansen.jpg James Hansen [CV], the most outspoken climate scientist in the world, has been stirring up something of a furore. Invited by the Democrats to speak in Washington on the 20th anniversary of his famous 1988 testimony to Congress on the dangers of global warming, he used to opportunity to complain about the funding of climate disinformation campaigns by fossil fuel companies [full text]:

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children.

Prosecuted for “high crimes against humanity and nature”. That’s a pretty radical view and not surprisingly the climate disinformers have been hard at work trying to rubbish the idea – and Hansen and his work.

Continue reading “The denial twist”

Sight of the wind

windturbine.gif Time for me to front up on wind power. As I mentioned last year, our local lines company, Mainpower, is planning a windfarm on the ridge of Mt Cass above the eastern edge of the Waipara Valley. That’s a good chunk of the skyline visible from my veranda. Some of it will be hidden behind Mt Brown, but I’ll still have windmills to tilt at (though no donkey). The resource consent application has now been lodged with the Hurunui District Council [here]. Getting that together has been a major undertaking for one of HT’s regular commenters, Andrew Hurley, as he blogs at the Mainpower development blog (needs more posts Andrew!). There’s a lot of interesting stuff both in the application and in Mainpower’s resource pages.

Here’s the rub. I think global warming’s a huge problem, and subscribe to the view that we need to do more to encourage electricity generation from renewable resources. So can I overcome my latent nimbyism (what, big white things whirring on the skyline?) and welcome the windfarm? To that, the answer is yes. But then the issue becomes complex. Mainpower are asking for consent to build within a “design envelope” which stretches from a lot of little turbines, to a smaller number of really big ones. Which is the least visually intrusive? Depends where you’re looking from.

I’m pondering the options. The little turbines would be more or less invisible from my house – certainly not intrusive – but they would generate the least power and cover the largest area. I’m tempted to prefer the really big turbines, for a variety of reasons. Smaller ecological footprint and significantly greater power generation, but big 125m towers. That would mean making the most of the power available from a good site, and perhaps limit the need for a rash of sites in areas of greater visual beauty.

Submissions close on August 1st. I’m open to debate…

The ETS is back in town

NZETS.jpgThe ETS bill has been handed back to Parliament with over 1,000 amendments, but a recommendation that it be passed. No Right Turn has the details, the Herald runs with an NZPA story. Now the government has to try to cobble together enough minor party support to get it through before the election. David Parker has been making noises about coming up a scheme to protect low-income families from increased costs. Will this be enough of a bauble for Winston?

Apologies for not covering this in more depth. I’ll be away from my desk this week (in Tasmania, actually – more at On The Farm), and though I’ll be checking in from time to time, I may not be able to clear comments that get caught in moderation as often as normal.