Monday, August 31, 2009

Bubble, bubble toil and trouble - feedback loops kick in

The permafrost problem is potentially a large one and is one of the feedback mechanisms that could kick in if the climate goes past the "tipping point".

More research is needed but this is one of the more believable "climate catastrophe" stories.

Troubling bubbles [Columbia Tribune]

MACKENZIE RIVER DELTA, Northwest Territories — Only a squawk from a sandhill crane broke the Arctic silence — and a low gurgle of bubbles, a watery whisper of trouble repeated in countless spots around the polar world.

“On a calm day, you can see 20 or more ‘seeps’ out across this lake,” said Canadian researcher Rob Bowen, sidling his small rubber boat up beside one of them. A tossed match would have set it ablaze.

“It’s essentially pure methane.”

Pure methane, gas bubbling up from underwater vents, escaping into northern skies, adds to the global-warming gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And pure methane escaping in the massive amounts known to be locked in the Arctic permafrost and seabed would spell a climate catastrophe.

Is such an unlocking under way?

Researchers say air temperatures here in northwest Canada, in Siberia and elsewhere in the Arctic have risen more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 — much faster than the global average. The summer thaw is reaching deeper into frozen soil, at a rate of 1.5 inches a year, and a further 13-degree temperature rise is possible this century, said the authoritative, U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

In 2007, air monitors detected a rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere, apparently from far northern sources. Russian researchers in Siberia expressed alarm, warning of a potential surge in the powerful greenhouse gas, additional warming of several degrees and unpredictable consequences for Earth’s climate.

Others say massive seeps of methane might take centuries. But the Russian scenario is disturbing enough to have led six U.S. national laboratories last year to launch a joint investigation of rapid methane release. And in July, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri asked his scientific network to focus on “abrupt, irreversible climate change” from thawing permafrost.

The data will come from teams such as one led by Scott Dallimore, who with Bowen and others pitched tents here on the remote, boggy fringe of North America, 1,400 miles from the North Pole, to learn more about seeps in the 25,000 lakes of this vast river delta.

A “puzzle,” Dallimore calls it.

“Many factors are poorly studied, so we’re really doing frontier science here,” the Geological Survey of Canada scientist said. “There is a very large storehouse of greenhouse gases within the permafrost, and if that storehouse of greenhouse gases is fluxing to the surface, that’s important to know. And it’s important to know if that flux will change with time.”

Permafrost, tundra soil frozen year-round and covering almost one-fifth of Earth’s land surface, runs anywhere from 160 to 2,000 feet deep in this region. Entombed in that freezer is carbon — plant and animal matter accumulated through millennia.

As the soil thaws, these ancient deposits finally decompose, attacked by microbes, producing carbon dioxide and — if in water — methane. Both are greenhouse gases, but methane is many times more powerful in warming the atmosphere.

Researchers led by the University of Florida’s Ted Schuur last year calculated that the top 10 feet of permafrost alone contain more carbon than is now in the atmosphere.

“It’s safe to say the surface permafrost, 3 to 5 meters, is at risk of thawing in the next 100 years,” Schuur said by telephone from an Alaska research site. “It can’t stay intact.”


“If we lost just 1 percent of the carbon in permafrost today, we’d be close to a year’s contributions from industrial sources,” he said. “I don’t think policymakers have woken up to this. It’s not in their risk assessments.”

How likely is a major release?

“I don’t think it’s a case of likelihood,” he said. “I think we are playing with fire.”


Friday, August 28, 2009

Chinese Copenhagen poker

Apologies for the long absence. Large administration jobs are surprisingly time consuming.

I have missed lots of important events not least Copenhagen and the China factor. Here are some early quotes from Benny Peiser.

China must reorient its economic development to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a legislative resolution passed Thursday that, however, made no mention of any reduction targets. China maintains that rich countries ought to shoulder the main responsibility for mitigating global warming as they have historically emitted most of the greenhouse gases at the root of the problem. The resolution is the latest in a series of recent public statements laying out China's position against mandatory emissions cuts as the world prepares for key climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December.
--AFP, 27 August 2009

China's proposed climate change legislation will give the country more negotiating power in the upcoming international climate change treaty talks, and also make emissions control mandated by law, environmental experts say.
--Li Jing, China Daily, 27 August 2009

Chinese observers at least figure the non-binding political statement will give China more leverage at the big climate summit in Copenhagen in December. And Chinese legislators hope the new statement will derail U.S. talk of slapping Chinese exports with "carbon tariffs."
--Keith Johnson, WSJ Environmental Capital, 27 August 2009


Saturday, August 15, 2009

A map to success - where are the acadmics?

This map is an environmental free zone but it great nonetheless.


I know a lot of academics who seem to get stuck in the right hand corner of this map who enter under the illusion that they are a "born genius".

Weak morals seems to be a big bad slide in this picture. I wonder if that is entirely accurate.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dirty Money

Ever wondered where the money in your pocket came from? You will not be surprised to hear that it is a hole in the ground and that this said hole in the ground has its fair share of related environmental problems (with the standard pictures of little children and shanty towns).

Britain's dirty money: How the loose change in our pockets is costing the earth [Mail Online]


The town has become a ghost town after Codelco, the government company that runs Chuquicamata, used the land to dump waste material from the giant open-pit mine. The company was forced by environmental laws to move the population away from the hazardous emissions of arsenic and sulphur dioxide.


It's invasive in the extreme, it scars the landscape, it destroys the water table and it pollutes the earth and the local wells. It is destroying one of the most beautiful and unique places on Earth. Look at a photograph of the Atacama before the mines came here and then look at the area now.

'From the air the desert is unrecognisable - the oases are gone, the wildlife is gone, the wells are gone. This is too high a price to pay.'


Water has become such a problem in this part of the world that even Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, with all their money and resources, can no longer squeeze enough from the ground to feed the demands of the mine. They have recently invested £150 million in a desalination plant at Escondida. The aim is to pump seawater from the Pacific Ocean over a distance of 125 miles and up 10,000ft to satisfy the mine's needs.

Miguel Stutzin, president of Code, Chile's oldest environmental group, says: 'This is the apparent solution to our water crisis and what damage will this do to the coast and to the foothills of the Andes where the pipeline will penetrate, and how will it replace all the regional water these mines have used? Will it replenish the desert towns? Of course not.'


Monday, August 03, 2009

"Social Ecological Economics"

I think I agree with the abstract from the following paper. In fact I think I always thought like this.

Ecological economics = heterodox
Environmental economics = mainstream

I think I had better read the paper before commenting any more although I am not sure "social" is really needed.

Social Ecological Economics
Date: 2009-06
By: Clive L Spash (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia)

This paper introduces and explains how ecological economics has developed as a modern movement with its roots in environmentalism and radical environmental economics. Divisions and conflicts within the field are explored to show why material claiming to fall under the title of ecological economics fails to be representative of progress or the vision which drove socio-economic specialists to interact with ecologists in the first place. The argument is then put forward that ecological economics, as a social science engaging with the natural sciences, is a heterodox school of modern political economy.

Keywords: Ecological economics, methodology, ideology, politics, history

EU in carbon tax fraud shocker!

The only surprise about the story that carbon trading is up to its neck in fraud is that it is not a surprise.

Given my knowledge of how the EU operates stories of wide scale fraud are pretty much par of the course.

Traders Call For EU Response To Carbon Tax Fraud [PlanetArk]

ONDON - Britain's exemption of carbon emissions credits from value-added tax (VAT) is just a temporary fix for a tax fraud that will just resurface in other European Union countries, traders said, calling for an EU-wide response.

On Thursday, the UK Treasury said it was acting to prevent the risk of carousel tax fraud, alleged to have occurred on a French emissions exchange earlier this year. These allegations prompted the French government in June to make carbon credits VAT-free.

"While these moves will serve to flush out any criminal element that may have been operational in those countries, they do nothing to solve the problem for the EU carbon market as a whole," said James Emanuel, commercial director at brokers CantorCO2e.

"Any fraudsters will now simply set up camp in another EU jurisdiction."

Through carousel fraud, also called missing trader fraud, fraudsters import goods VAT-free from other countries, then sell the goods to domestic buyers, charging them VAT. The sellers then disappear without paying the tax to the government.

The European Commission said on Friday it had been informed by EU member states that there was a strong suspicion of carousel fraud in carbon credit trading.

"The Commission intends later this year to propose the application of reversed charge to the supply of certain goods or services on an experimental basis," a Commission spokeswoman told Reuters.

"This could be an opportunity to include carbon emission certificates in the list of services (if proved necessary)."

Earlier this month, the Netherlands applied a reversed charge approach to its carbon credit trading, meaning the buyer, not the seller, is liable to pay the VAT.

Other governments including Spain are reportedly looking into their own preventative measures.

Although the UK said it is engaged in discussions with the European Commission on establishing an EU-wide solution, tax experts said the unilateral moves by member states could be illegal under EU tax laws.

"We've applied to the EU for a derogation ... Though (our VAT exemption) may be outside of EU regulation, I think the Commission will understand," said a UK Treasury spokesman.

"The VAT revenue on this is marginal but the potential for fraud and the risk to the exchequer and the taxpayer is huge. We needed to act now."

Asked whether it would take legal action against Britain, France and the Netherlands, the Commission said it was examining the measures taken and that it was too early to say. (Editing by Sue Thomas)