Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Global Warming’s Agriculture Impacts

Global warming is causing dramatic enough shifts in temperature and precipitation such that downstream effects are starting to show up across the globe.  I picked up the following from an economics blog, but wanted to focus on the likely underlying causality to make a point about the future (source):

Dry conditions extending to Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado may cut crop yields in the U.S., the world’s largest exporter, as too much moisture threatens fields in North Dakota and in Canada. Wheat futures in Chicago are up 50 percent in the past year, after drought in Russia and floods in Australia hurt output and sent global food prices surging. Wholesale beef reached a record this week, and the U.S. cattle herd in January was the smallest since 1958.

Texas is facing its worst drought conditions in 44 years.  Meanwhile, the northern plains have had too much moisture.  As I’ve pointed out before, the Russian drought helped spark the civil unrest that has erupted across the Middle East and northern Africa in recent months.  Floods in Australia, from “average” thunderstorms and some of the strongest landfalling hurricanes on record, have exacerbated the problem.  Now North American crops and meat stocks are suffering.

Part of the cause behind all of this is the effects of global warming.  This is what “just a 1F rise in global surface temperatures” means when the global trend manifests locally.  There is another 1F future warming that will occur, even if we stopped our greenhouse gas pollution problem tomorrow.  How much more warming; how many additional effects are we locking into the climate system because we’re addicted to dirty energy?

These stories will not stop or even meaningfully slow down any time soon.  Instead, the scope and magnitude of temperature and precipitation extremes will continue to increase.  The headlines of tomorrow will not look good, to put it mildly.


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Attempts To Delegitimize Science Will Lead To Higher Rates Of Illness, Death And Incurred Economic Costs

Republican Teabaggers in the U.S. House of Representatives are hell-bent on defunding important government programs that provide critical information regarding threats to U.S. citizens.  I’m not talking about the bloated “defense” department or the almost-as-bloated department of homeland security (whatever that’s supposed to mean).  I’m talking about NOAA and the NWS, two agencies that routinely provide forecasts of short-, medium-, and long-term weather-related forecasts.  Without common-sense funding, these agencies are going to lose capabilities to issue forecasts with the expected level of accuracy to mitigate costs to human lives and economies at all scales.

Think the “private sector” is going to step in and save Americans’ butts?  Think again – what private corporation has remote sensing platforms in place today that could provide the kind of data allowing for similarly accurate and responsive forecasts?  They don’t.  They’re as much in support of socialism as you can be: the American taxpayer pays for those platforms and the expertise held within public agencies to provide, without prejudice, timely information to all of the public equitably.  Even if some private sector entity had resources in place, what do you think they would charge for their information if the government didn’t provide the same information to all users for the same price?  Could you afford to pay the premiums for the best information?  No, the vast majority of Americans could not.  What they have right now is a system in which the costs are socialized and the benefits are just as socialized.

Do you think the government agencies don’t provide accurate or timely information?  Then take a look at what the loss of polar-orbiting satellites would mean for just one case: the February 5-6, 2010 snowstorm that impacted a large swath of high-population areas of the U.S.  Then think about all the storms (and other events) that happen in just one year; how many lives were positively impacted; how much money was saved by having the timely forecasts as accurate as they were.  Why would anyone want to negatively impact lives and drive up the costs of responding to extreme weather events?  Because, like I said, some folks are hell-bent to prove that their extremist ideology trumps everything else, including common sense and decency.  These nutjobs’ attempts to delegitimize science are going to have serious repercussions in the 21st century.


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Americans Would Rather See Economic Development than Environmental Protection

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it, Americans.

Americans Would Rather See Economic Development than Environmental Protection.

By the time Americans see enough economic development to satisfy them, the environment will no longer be able to support them, or the economy for which they wished so hard.  The time to act on the environment, especially related to global warming and all its attendant effects, was 30 years ago.  Today’s children won’t have a fraction of the economic potential their parent’s had and wasted.


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MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman’s U.S. Nuclear Plant Article Superb

[Updated 25 March 2011 to reflect Bill's association with MSNBC.com, not MSNBC.]

This is the first time I’ve identified an article about anything in the corporate media that I would rate as “superb”.

MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman has written an article about the potential dangers of an earthquake-caused nuclear power plant catastrophe occurring in the U.S. (The most dangerous plants are east of the Mississippi River, not in California, in case you were wondering).  The article truly does reflect the bio under Dedman’s picture: investigative reporter.  Mr. Dedman did some serious investigating for this article.  It doesn’t engage in the too-typical he-said/she-said b.s. that normally pollutes corporate media articles.  Nope, this is a well thought out and presented article that is designed to inform a curious public about the actual threat that U.S.-based nuclear power plants face from earthquakes.

The article presents the same information in a couple of different ways, ensuring that readers with a variety of backgrounds can all grasp the same base information.  It also includes a substantial list of resources where the information came from and which are available to the public.  This is quite simply an example of what more so-called journalists, but in practice act only as stenographers, should produce.

For the curious, here are the top-10 threatened U.S. nuclear power plants:

Rank. Reactor, nearby city, state: Chance of event each year from 2008 data. Old estimate from 1989. Change in risk.
1. Indian Point 3, Buchanan, N.Y.: 1 in 10,000 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 17,241. Change in risk: 72 percent.

2. Pilgrim 1, Plymouth, Mass.: 1 in 14,493 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 125,000. Change in risk: 763 percent.

3. Limerick 1, Limerick, Pa.: 1 in 18,868 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 45,455. Change in risk: 141 percent.

3. Limerick 2, Limerick, Pa.: 1 in 18,868 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 45,455. Change in risk: 141 percent.

5. Sequoyah 1, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.: 1 in 19,608 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 102,041. Change in risk: 420 percent.

5. Sequoyah 2, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.: 1 in 19,608 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 102,041. Change in risk: 420 percent.

7. Beaver Valley 1, Shippingport, Pa.: 1 in 20,833 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 76,923. Change in risk: 269 percent.

8. Saint Lucie 1, Jensen Beach, Fla.: 1 in 21,739 chance each year. Old estimate: N/A. Change in risk: N/A.

8. Saint Lucie 2, Jensen Beach, Fla.: 1 in 21,739 chance each year. Old estimate: N/A. Change in risk: N/A.

10. North Anna 1, Louisa, Va.: 1 in 22,727 chance each year. Old estimate: 1 in 31,250. Change in risk: 38 percent.


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A Few Thoughts On Nuclear Power After The Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami & Nuclear Disasters

The quickest way I can say this is the following: I’m not a proponent of nuclear power, for almost any problem because it carries too many problems in itself that other power sources do not.

Some climate activists have been pushing for more nuclear power as one tool of many to address global warming.  Citing no carbon or methane emissions, the power is claimed to be “clean”.   While the power might be cleaner than fossil fuels (no mercury or nitrous oxides, etc.), the fuel is most certainly not clean.  In fact, nuclear fuel is the most toxic substances to any living thing that you can find.  Radiation is not good for animals.  Period.  It doesn’t make sense to me to use the most toxic substances we can find and/or manufacture and use them to boil water to generate power.

Especially when cleaner forms of energy are available via solar, wind, geothermal and biomass sources.  Nuclear fuel requires mining, as does solar PV components – so that’s more or less a wash in my mind.  Talk about solar thermal and I think a distinct advantage appears for the renewable energy source.  I’ve heard some pundits whine about all the lost birds due to wind arrays.  Isn’t it interesting those same pundits don’t ever propose destroying skyscrapers or killing every domestic cat – those two bird killers currently and for decades have killed millions of birds annually.  It’s a nonsensical argument.  Combine wind and solar on nearly any measurable stretch of land where people reside and the potential to generate many times today’s current, extravagantly wasteful energy usage is there for the taking.  Add in geothermal to heat and cool buildings and biomass to help power transportation and there is absolutely no need for nuclear power.

After all, how many solar cells have exploded or melted down in the past 50 years?  How many wind farm mining accidents have taken workers lives?  How many biomass spills have ruined entire ecosystems for decades?  How many geothermal systems have increased mortality rates, respiratory problem rates, etc.?  How many trillions of dollars will we have to spend protecting solar or wind power lines?  How many corrupt, totalitarian regimes will we keep propped up to ensure a steady flow of biomass and geothermal energy to our shores?  How many greedy, overpaid dirty energy corporate bosses will we funnel our hard-earned money to instead of producing energy where it’s needed and producing even more in places nobody wants to live or work?

Nobody should have to struggle through one of the strongest earthquakes on record, followed by a tsunami that has wiped entire towns off the earth, that followed by an escalating nuclear disaster.  The Japanese people are enduring hardships I wouldn’t wish on people I loathe.  Of all the things I truly do hope come out of this triple disaster, I hope the Japanese take a hard, fact-based look at where they get their power from and how they use it.  Nuclear disasters last longer than earthquakes and tsunamis.  Is that risk worth being able to boil some water?


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February 2011 CO2 Concentration: 391.76ppm

February 2011′s CO2 concentration measured at Mauna Loa, Hawai’i was 391.76ppm.

That value is 1.92ppm higher than February 2010.  It is 0.57ppm higher than January 2011.

A rough extrapolation of February CO2 concentration values to May values, when the yearly maximum occurs, projects to ~395ppm.

Remember, we should be targeting 350ppm to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2C above pre-industrial values.


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2010: A Good Year For U.S. Solar Market

Good news on the solar industry front:

Solar electric installations reached 956 megawatts in the United States last year, including 878 MW of photovoltaic (PV) systems. More than 17 gigawatts of PV were installed globally.

Moreover, the U.S. solar market sector grew by 67% in 2010.  Unfortunately, as a result of our still immature renewable energy policies, the U.S. installed a smaller proportion of solar systems with respect to the rest of the world in 2010 than was the case in 2009: 5%, down from 6.5%.

Still, that 878MW  is 878MW more that is installed and generating power than there was in 2009.  Will it be enough to make a difference about global warming?

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