Earth ChangesS

Che Guevara

The Political Philosophy of James Hansen

James Hansen of NASA has written an op-ed for the Guardian that, more than any other piece of his that I've seen, expresses his political philosophy. In a phrase, that philosophy can be characterized as "scientific authoritarianism." Scientific authoritarianism, as I am using it here, holds that political decisions should be compelled by the political preferences of scientists. It is a very strong form of the "linear model" of science and decision making that I discuss in The Honest Broker.

Hansen believes that the advice of experts, and specifically his advice alone, should compel certain political outcomes. He opens his op-ed in the Guardian with this statement:
A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders.
Collectively, Brown, Merkel, Obama and Rudd lead about 500 million people. The idea that one person's policy views should carry so much weight in democratic societies is an indication that Hansen believes that expertise should carry decisive weight in decisions. Hansen is not even a citizen of Germany, Britain, or the United Kingdom, so the mere fact that he is asking the leaders of these countries to act based on his say-so is an expression of scientific authoritarianism. Rather than making the case for his preferred policy, Hansen's argument includes his complaint that policy makers have not followed his advice, which apparently, Hansen believes should take precedent over all other views.

Bizarro Earth

Climate scientists blow hot and cold

Just about every major outlet has jumped on the news: Antarctica is warming up.

Most previous science had indicated that, despite a warming of global temperatures, readings from Antarctica were either staying the same or even going down.

The problem with Antarctic temperature measurement is that all but three longstanding weather stations are on or very near the coast. Antarctica is a big place, about one-and-a-half times the size of the US. Imagine trying to infer our national temperature only with stations along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, plus three others in the interior.

Eric Steig, from University of Washington, filled in the huge blanks by correlating satellite-measured temperatures with the largely coastal Antarctic network and then creating inland temperatures based upon the relationship between the satellite and the sparse observations. The result was a slight warming trend, but mainly at the beginning of the record in the 1950s and 1960s. One would expect greenhouse effect warming from carbon dioxide to be more pronounced in recent years, which it is not.


Edinburgh shivers during one of the coldest-ever Februarys

It's official - Edinburgh is in the midst of one of the coldest Februarys on record, and the icy conditions are set to stay with us for up to a month.

Weather experts say that with temperatures as low as -7C, and daily averages fluctuating between 2C and -3C, the city is in line to record its first sub-zero average February in more than a decade.

Yet while forecasters predict the mercury will struggle to climb above freezing for weeks to come, it is nowhere near Edinburgh's worst winter.

Records show that back in 1947, the average temperature for the area over February was a frosty -3C.

The closest the Capital has come to a February that severe since then was back in 1986, when the temperatures dropped to an average -1.9C for the month.

In recent years the trend has been for milder winters, making the current cold snap all the more unexpected.


US: Animal experts are baffled by Xanax drugged chimp attack

© AP Photo/The Stamford Advocate, Kathleen O'RourkeIn this Oct. 20, 2003 photo, Travis, a 10-year-old chimpanzee, sits in the corner of his playroom at the home of Sandy and Jerome Herold in Stamford, Conn. The 175-pound (80-kilogram) chimpanzee kept as a pet was shot and killed by a police officer Monday, Feb. 16, 2009 after it attacked a woman visiting its owners' home, leaving her with serious facial injuries, authorities said.
Stamford, Connecticut - Travis the chimpanzee, a veteran of TV commercials, was the constant companion of a lonely Connecticut widow who fed him steak, lobster and ice cream. He could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and dress and bathe himself.

He brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.

But on Monday, the wild animal in him came out with a vengeance.

The 200-pound animal viciously mauled a friend of his owner before being shot to death by police.

Investigators are trying to figure out why - whether it was a bout of Lyme disease, a reaction to drugs, or a case of instinct taking over.

"It's hard to say what exactly precipitated this behavior," said Colleen McCann, a primatologist at the Bronx Zoo. "At the end of the day, they are not human and you can't always predict their behavior and how they or any other wild animal will respond when they feel threatened."

Travis attacked 55-year-old Charla Nash as Sandra Herold frantically stabbed her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pounded him with a shovel. Nash was in critical condition Tuesday with "life-changing, if not life-threatening," injuries to her face and hands, Mayor Dannel Malloy said.

Bizarro Earth

Climate 'Flickering' Ended Last Ice Age in North Atlantic Region

Lake Kråkenes
© UIB/BCCRSediment cores were obtained from Lake Kråkenes in western Norway and from the Nordic seas in order to document the last part of the ice age.
An article published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that the period towards the end of the ice age was engraved by extreme and short-lived variations, which finally terminated the ice age.

A group of scientists at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research and the University of Bergen in Norway, together with colleagues at ETH, Zürich, combined terrestrial and marine proxy palaeo-data covering the latest part of the ice age to improve our understanding of the mechanisms leading to rapid climatic changes.

The Younger Dryas event, which began approximately 12,900 years ago, was a period of rapid cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, driven by large-scale reorganizations of patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Environmental changes during this period have been documented by both proxy-based reconstructions from sediment archives and model simulations, but there is currently no consensus on the exact mechanisms of onset, stabilization, or termination of the Younger Dryas. In contrast to existing knowledge, the Nature article shows that the climate shifted repeatedly from cold and dry to wet and less cold, from decade to decade, before interglacial conditions were finally reached and the climate system became more stable.


Nobody Knows How Dry We Are

What Does Economic "Recovery" Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?

It turns out that you don't want to be a former city dweller in rural parts of southernmost Australia, a stalk of wheat in China or Iraq, a soybean in Argentina, an almond or grape in northern California, a cow in Texas, or almost anything in parts of east Africa right now. Let me explain.

As anyone who has turned on the prime-time TV news these last weeks knows, southeastern Australia has been burning up. It's already dry climate has been growing ever hotter. "The great drying," Australian environmental scientist Tim Flannery calls it. At its epicenter, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever this month at a sweltering 115.5 degrees, while temperatures soared even higher in the surrounding countryside. After more than a decade of drought, followed by the lowest rainfall on record, the eucalyptus forests are now burning. To be exact, they are now pouring vast quantities of stored carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas considered largely responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere.

Bizarro Earth

California river conditions could starve killer whales

killer whales
© Sandra Cannon/Associated Press Lack of food caused in part by the effect of dams and other man-made obstacles on California rivers and streams that are diminishing food sources for killer whales has become a greater threat to the whales' survival.

Federal wildlife officials have concluded that killer whales are threatened by California's massive network of dams and water diversions, a development that could bring a massive shift in public opinion about the state's water issues.

Though the iconic orca never ventures into freshwater, its primary food source does. Salmon species in the Central Valley are in bad shape, in large part due to the damming and diversion of their habitat on numerous rivers in California's interior. Their decline threatens to starve the dwindling southern resident population of killer whale, which numbers less than 90 animals.


Huge oil slick threatens Irish coast

Oil Slick Ireland
© Independent.ieThe huge oil slick on the Celtic Sea, less than 40 miles off the Kinsale coast. The giant Russian aircraft carrier The Admiral Kuznetsov, which is 300m long, can been seen to the top left of picture, giving an indication as to the immense scale of the spillage

A massive oil slick moving towards Ireland and the UK is more than three times larger than originally estimated.

The spill, about 50 miles south of Fastnet Rock, off the west Cork coast, was discovered near where a Russian warship was refueling in the Celtic Sea.

It is now believed to be 1,000 tonnes, revised upwards from 300 tonnes, and could reach Irish and Welsh shores in just over two weeks.

A Russian destroyer, a British destroyer, an Irish Naval vessel and a Russian aircraft carrier are all at the scene, along with an ocean-going tug and two refueling tankers.


Asian elephants threatened by Vietnamese ivory trade

Increasing ivory prices on the Vietnamese black market threaten Indochina's declining elephant population, the World Wildlife Fund said on Monday, citing a study by a wildlife monitoring organization.

The study by Traffic found that illegal ivory prices in Vietnam could be the world's highest, with tusks selling for up to $1,500 per kilogram and small, cut pieces selling for up to $1,863 per kilogram.

Most ivory products on sale in Vietnam come from Laos, with small amounts originating from Cambodia and Vietnam itself.


Australian Bushfires - Some victims will never be identified

The gruesome reality of the search through the rubble of Victoria's bushfires has become clearer as police admit it is difficult to determine whether remains come from one person, or even if they are human.

Police on Monday announced the death toll from the savage fires had risen to 189, only eight more than their last update on Thursday, and would continue to rise.

The revised toll included 40 from the hamlet of Strathewen from its population of 200, while 36 have so far been confirmed dead in Marysville which is expected to lose 100 of its 500 residents.

While 10 more victims were identified in Strathewen and 21 more in Marsyville, the number of dead has gone down in some areas after remains were fully identified.