Hope for Esperanza in 2010


Today, right before the New Year begins, Esperanza and her two daughters came to visit my wife and me in our New York apartment. Thirty four years before today's visit, Esperanza was a runaway from a South American embassy in Manhattan that had virtually kept her a slave, having taken her to America from her native Peru to care for the Ambassador's children. They paid her no salary, gave her no days off, and confiscated her visa so she could not return home. She made her escape one night and, being homeless and penniless, began riding the subway, back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn, lost, frightened, and alone. She only spoke Spanish, and did not know where or how to reach out for help. It was her good fortune that Maria, a woman who worked as a housekeeper in our apartment building, was riding on that very subway car, and had heard that my wife and I needed a baby nurse for our infant son so that my wife could return to work. I've told some of this story before on the Huffington Post, but bear with me, it's worth retelling, and today I bring it up-to-date. Best of all we can all use a tale of hope in a time when so many feel hopeless.

Maria introduced herself to the frightened girl and told her of this chance for work, a decent salary and warm shelter working as a baby nurse for a family with two small boys. She advised Esperanza to keep silent, say yes when nudged, and let Maria do the talking. Maria introduced Esperanza to us as her "dear cousin" from South America, here on a visit and in need of work. Maria assured us that Esperanza understood English but was very shy about speaking it. Thanks to that wonderful lie we hired her. My wife spoke no Spanish, only high school French, and my high school Spanish, taught by the stern Senorita Pulaski, left me speechless after my first Buenos Dias. Nevertheless, we were drawn towards the small, bright eyed, intelligent-looking girl of eighteen whose profile might have been the model for a face on a Mayan ruin and whose long black braid gleamed like a raven's wings. So Esperanza arrived in our lives to take care of our two young sons, and we were privileged to watch the amazing development of a human being.  Continued...


Happy Holidays


Happy Holidays from The Environmentalist


The Temperature of Science


The following is the summary from Dr. Hansen's comprehensive article at this link:  http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2009/20091216_TemperatureOfScience.pdf

The nature of messages that I receive from the public, and the fact that NASA Headquarters received more than 2500 inquiries in the past week about our possible “manipulation” of global temperature data, suggest that the concerns are more political than scientific. Perhaps the messages are intended as intimidation, expected to have a chilling effect on researchers in climate change.

The recent “success” of climate contrarians in using the pirated East Anglia e-mails to cast doubt on the reality of global warming* seems to have energized other deniers. I am now inundated with broad FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for my correspondence, with substantial impact on my time and on others in my office. I believe these to be fishing expeditions, aimed at finding some statement(s), likely to be taken out of context, which they would attempt to use to discredit climate science.

There are lessons from our experience about care that must be taken with data before it is made publicly available. But there is too much interesting science to be done to allow intimidation tactics to reduce our scientific drive and output.   Continued...


COP 15: Accepting Responsibility


Imagine you’re a well-to-do person attending a dinner of your peers. The food is top-rate and there’s plenty of it. Course after course is laid upon the table.

A group of less-advantaged people has been watching from the sidelines. When the dinner is done, you invite them to join you at the table. After the restaurant staff has served coffee, the bill comes. You and your rich peers insist that everyone now at the table must share in paying the entire bill.

If that seems unfair, then you have just understood the position of the delegates from emerging economies, now negotiating with their wealthier colleagues from the North over a climate deal at Copenhagen.

Some poorer nations have taken the position that because the industrialized world is responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere – in effect exhausting the environment’s capacity to cope with carbon – rich nations must pay “damages” or “reparations”. These payments presumably would be used by emerging economies to cope with the climate changes that already are devastating some of them, and to increase their standards of living while minimizing their emissions.

But the United States’ chief negotiator, Todd Stern - an attorney and by all accounts a very good and moral man – rejects that argument. Speaking at COP-15, he repeated President Barack Obama’s recent promise that the United States will pay a “fair share” of financial assistance to emerging economies. But, he said: "We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere, up there, but the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just categorically reject that."  Continued...

Survival of Tibetan Glaciers


Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, sometimes called Earth's "third pole", hold the largest ice mass outside the polar regions. These glaciers act as a water storage tower for South and East Asia, releasing melt water in warm months to the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and other river systems, providing fresh water to more than a billion people. In the dry season glacial melt provides half or more of the water in many rivers.

Map of five ice core sites on the Tibetan plateau
Figure 1. Five ice cores were extracted from the indicated locationson the Tibetan plateau. The white dashed line is the northerly boundary of the Indian monsoon. (View larger image)

Tibetan glaciers have been melting at an accelerating rate over the past decade. Glacier changes depend on local weather, especially snowfall, so glacier retreat or advance fluctuates with time and place. Thus it is inevitable that some Tibetan glaciers advance over short periods, as has been reported. But overall, Tibetan glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate.

Global warming must be the primary cause of glacier retreat, which is occurring on a global scale, but observed rapid melt rates suggest that other factors may be involved. To investigate the possible role of black soot in causing glacial melt, a team of scientists from Chinese research institutes extracted ice cores from five locations on the Tibetan Plateau (Figure 1).

Black soot, which includes black carbon (BC) and organic carbon (OC), absorbs sunlight and can speed glacial melting if BC reaches values of order 10 ng/g (nanograms per gram) or larger. The ice core data revealed that BC reached values of 20-50 ng/g in the 1950s and 1960s for the four stations that are downwind of European pollution sources. BC and OC amounts decreased strongly in the early 1970s, probably because of clean air regulations in Europe.

However, the ice cores also reveal that in the past decade BC and OC began to increase again.   Continued...


Saboteurs at Copenhagen


COPENHAGEN – With the announcement that a delegation from the Congressional Republican Flat Earth Caucus will show up to embarrass President Obama in Copenhagen next week, we hope the White House finally decides to man-up on climate change.

What manning up means in the present context is that the Obama Administration must get serious about using its regulatory authority to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions well below the levels being considered on Capitol Hill.

So far, Obama has been scrupulous in not “getting out ahead” of Congress on climate change. He has announced he will appear in Copenhagen on Dec. 18 to commit the United States to the goal passed by the House – a reduction in emissions of only about 4 percent by 2020. That is embarrassingly low compared to the European Union’s goal of 20 percent and to the opinion of leading climate scientists that industrialized nations should be shooting for 40 or 45 percent below our emissions in 1990.

With EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s formal finding Monday that greenhouse gases endanger public health and safety, the Administration now has the legal tool to establish a goal more in line with climate science, and to make sure the goal is met. The question is whether Obama plans to use regulation as a small crowbar to pry a bill from Congress, or as a game-changer in the economy.  Continued...


The Consequences of Climategate


In response to growing pressure following the release of hacked emails from the U.K.'s University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced yesterday that they would be conducting their own investigation:
The United Nations yesterday announced an investigation into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Critics of the scientific consensus on climate change claim emails from the unit’s servers show researchers manipulated evidence to support their theory.

Phil Jones, the director of the CRU, has dismissed the claims as “complete rubbish” but the scandal has thrown the scientific world into turmoil and has been raised by some countries as a reason not to strike a deal in Copenhagen.
British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has weighed in on the controversy, stating: "With only days to go before Copenhagen we mustn't be distracted by the behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-earth climate skeptics. We know the science. We know what we must do.”

The Union of Concern Scientists: "Unfortunately for these conspiracy theorists, what the e-mails show are simply scientists at work, grappling with key issues, and displaying the full range of emotions and motivations characteristic of any urgent endeavor. Any suggestions that these e-mails will affect public and policymakers' understanding of climate science give far too much credence to blog chatter and boastful spin from groups opposed to addressing climate change.  Continued...


Copenhagen climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'


Fifty-six+ newspapers will feature this editorial today.  Written by The Guardian's editorial staff after consultation with editors from 20+ news services, it is intended to send a message to the leaders gathering in Copenhagen that the time to act is at hand.

Tomorrow 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targetsby the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow* by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media Ltd 2009 - reprinted by permission.


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* Publish date: December 7, 2009