The French energy company Total estimates that its North Sea Elgin field gas well is leaking about 200,000 cubic meters of natural gas per day, enough, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, to supply more than 100 average homes with natural gas for an entire year. Total estimates that it may take six months to stop the leak.
The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which was officially formed less than two months ago, is already working with five scientists who are defending themselves against lawsuits initiated by groups that doubt and deny the preponderance of climate science.
One of the scientists is Michael Mann, the internationally respected climate scientist who has been ensnared in two highly publicized legal battles seeking release of emails and other documents during his tenure at the University of Virginia. One of those cases was dismissed earlier this month by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Climate Science Defense Fund declined to release the names of the other four scientists it's working with. But Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which serves as the Defense Fund's fiscal sponsor, said two of the cases involve requests for voluminous amounts of public records similar to those in Mann's.
For three months last summer, temperatures in Texas soared higher than at any time in recorded history, and the state is still coping with the most expensive drought in its history. But can the 2011 Texas heat wave be attributed to global warming?
Most scientists are careful not to link specific weather events to climate change trends, but NASA's James Hansen and two colleagues from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University have taken that plunge. They've gathered data they say shows that the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave—as well as a deadly Moscow heat in 2010—were "a consequence of global warming because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming."
Their conclusions are based on more than 50 years of temperature data, Hansen told InsideClimate News. By comparing the recent shift toward extreme high summer temperatures with that data, he said his group was able to demonstrate that the record-breaking 2011 Texas heat wave wouldn't have occurred without global warming. This data also provides a broader context for the summer of 2011, which across the United States was the second warmest on record, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Extremes Index twice the historical average.
Factors contributing to climate change are moving faster than predicted and pushing us toward planetary conditions unlike any humans have ever known—this was one of the salient themes to emerge from this month's meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Some scientists think we've already crossed that boundary and are, as Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, said, "in a very different world than we have ever seen before."
What scientists are now witnessing as the earth responds to increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases presents many of them with a dilemma: How far should they go in expressing their concerns about how government and society are responding to climate change? This question is particularly charged given that efforts to undermine climate science have become part of the political debate on these issues.
Running through the meeting's scientific presentations were formal and informal discussions about the scientist's role in guiding society's response to climate change, including how to effectively communicate the certainties and uncertainties of the science—and how to respond to what Don Wuebbles, University of Illinois professor of atmospheric science and chair of the organization's Global Environmental Change committee, called the "confusionists."
After the meeting, InsideClimate News interviewed several leading climate scientists and a renowned science historian to get a sense of how they are navigating this difficult terrain. All of them have testified before Congress and several were contributing authors on the 2007 report of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), so all understand the challenges of working in the public spotlight.
“This is the one thing that could destroy our culture and I don’t want to see it happen,” says Grand Isle, Louisiana resident Karen Hopkins wiping at tears she’s clearly fighting. She's talking about this year's lost shrimp season, and the fear that it won't be the last.
A Louisiana native and long-time resident of Grand Isle, Hopkins runs the office at Dean Blanchard’s seafood, an operation that typically buys 13 to 15 million pounds of Gulf Coast shrimp annually. Her house sits across from what should be a busy loading area and no more than ten yards from a pier. Instead of gearing up for a night out shrimping, boats are coming in from a day skimming oil to change oil soaked boom.
It’s June 16th, in the midst of brown and inland shrimp season. Blanchard’s should be buying 400,000 to 500,000 pounds of shrimp a day. Most of the year’s catch comes in what’s typically a forty-five day season, but the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded just as the 2010 shrimp season was getting underway.
“Before the closures began, we took in about one-eighth, maybe one-tenth of what we should have,” Hopkins tells me. “But now we’re totally shut down. I should be working 80 to 120 hours a week this time of year,” she says. “But now I’m working on a no pay basis.”
When you turn on the AC, what’s cooling you off is heating up the planet.
As temperatures rise, so do air conditioner sales, and what makes most of these 4 billion-plus machines cool indoor environments worldwide are HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), gases with global warming potentials thousands of times greater than CO2.
HFCs started out as environmentally preferable alternatives to ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), now being phased out by the Montreal Protocol. Then scientists realized their true global warming potential. HFCs use is now increasing so rapidly that scientists warn that if not curtailed, greenhouse gas impacts of HFCs could undermine other efforts to curb global warming.
HFCs are so potent — atmospherically and politically — that the outcome of ongoing negotiations about their regulation could significantly affect both the rate of global warming and the course of international climate change legislation.
Like a household that has been living beyond its means, the world has been expending more greenhouse gas emitting energy than it can afford.
With the costs of profligate CO2 emissions increasingly apparent and less than 90 days until the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that will determine the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, early September has brought a number of new proposals for achieving carbon reductions.
Among these is a report from the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU) outlining what the council – an independent scientific advisory board – calls a “budget approach” to reducing CO2 emissions that in effect proposes putting the world on an emissions diet.
The budget approach, explains Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of ocean physics at Potsdam University and WBGU member, is based on the premise that there’s a limited amount – or fixed budget – of CO2 that can be released worldwide between now and 2050 if we’re to avoid raising global temperatures beyond a point that would cause irreversible climate change.
“The fundamental idea behind the budget approach,” says Rahmstorf, is that it ties reduction targets to total – or cumulative – rather than annual CO2 emissions.