Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grim look at state's plant life (California, that is)

"If temperatures rise rapidly in California this century, up to two-thirds of the state's native plants might lose large swaths of suitable habitat, according to a new study. " ... this estimation comes from researchers at many universities who released maps showing effects on plant species from climate change. As the environment warms up it changes the conditions, and both plants and animals tend to have narrow ranges of environment conditions in which they will live. If a given plant's preferred temperature range is between 70-90 degrees F and the ambient temperatures are regularly above 100 degrees the plant is likely to die. Further the area which has the preferred temperature range will move, either uphill (higher elevations have cooler temperatures) or further north. An effect that's been observed is for plant and animal species to be found higher and higher up mountains, and that some species eventually can go no higher in elevation because there's no more mountain, meaning the species will completely die out.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

"All hands on Deck"

"How it all Ends" is an astonishingly great video series studying the climate change debate. It was put together by a high school science teacher, a truly excellent high school science teacher, using the props he had available in his classroom. He comes to a very interesting proposition that sidesteps most of the climate change debate. It's an logicians method, actually Pascal's Wager, that sets of a decision grid to help answer really tough problems. In the climate change debate there are multiple points of view and the naysayers have been able to create enough doubt that the population is frozen in indecision. But using Pascal's Wager this high school science teacher is able to show a way round the indecision, namely to say a) there are a ton of credible scientists who have put their reputations on the line saying man-made-climate-change is a huge problem, and b) the consequences of inaction look to be horrifying.

Anyway the videos caught the attention of a book publisher and now he's expected to create a book out of the material.

"All hands on Deck" is a call for volunteers to help collect the book material ...

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Can the ecohackers save us?

Geoengineering, or "ecohacking" - using science to change the environment on a vast scale - could become a reality faster than you think.... The article goes on to discuss several projects proposed by scientists to make global changes meant to mitigate the looming global ecological crisis. The article puts the problem as the roughly 385 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere today and quote a scientist saying "I think it's a good goal to not go over 450ppm".

If "The solution is mitigation," let's take a look at what they mean..

US firm Climos plans to seed the ocean with iron particles: This is a plan which would encourage the growth of phytoplankton by spreading "food" in the ocean. More food means more plankton, the plankton sequesters carbon into their bodies, eventually the plankton is either eaten by other fish etc to become part of the food chain, or the plankton dies and sinks to the ocean floor.

Atmocean plans to put large tubes in the ocean which will move vertically with the waves, pumping cool water to the surface from 200 metres down...bring more nutrients: They go on to claim that by cooling the surface temperature it could reduce hurricane intensity.

To mitigate the Greenland ice sheets from falling into the ocean and shutting down the "conveyer belt" Flynn proposed re-icing the Arctic using 8,000 giant floating platforms that would draw salty water from the ocean and spray it on to winter ice, dramatically increasing its thickness ...

To prevent light from hitting the earth, a mesh of tiny light refractors into space to sit between the Earth and the sun... The material would bend some of the sun's rays away from the planet..

The funding for these ideas would come from carbon credits. For example this idea to put refractors into space, it would require 16 trillion spacecraft and would cost a total of $1 trillion (U.S.). The only way to raise that much money is carbon credits, right?

The common aspect to all these proposals is they aren't addressing root causes, but instead acting as a kind of band aid covering up existing problems. Rather than address the real cause of increasing temperatures let's put a shield in space, or find a way to sequester the excess carbon, etc.. One of the proposals was to spray sulfur dust into the atmosphere because of an observation of global temperature decreases when volcanoes erupt spraying sulfur in the atmosphere. SULFUR!!!

The article briefly mentions complicated results. The global environment is a complex system and tweaking the system from the edges is clearly going to result in an effect like squeezing a balloon. That "mitigating" one problem tends to cause other problems, especially as scientists have only a partial understanding of the system.

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