Monday, November 30, 2009

From the archives, the chaos of the WTO

Hard to believe that my wife and I were in the middle of all this, ten years ago. It was glorious.

Rainforest Action Network climbers hang from a construction crane near Interstate 5 to protest what they called WTO's anti-democratic policies. Five activists climbed the crane No. 29, 1999, to unfurl their protest banner. (Photo by Jeff Larsen)

Ten years ago this week, Seattle was thrust into the international spotlight in a way that most people did not anticipate. Tens of thousands of protesters descended on our normally quiet corner of the United States. They brought with them their grievances and frustrations with the way our world was headed in 1999. …

From the archives, the chaos of the WTO

Before the 1999 WTO conference begins, Seattle police Lt. Daniel Whelan exchanges words with a protester in front of the Washington State Convention Center. It was a precursor of things to come: Tumultuous confrontations, with thousands of protesters, tear gas filling the air and mass arrests, toppled the booming city from a high point of civic confidence it hasn't felt since.

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle was the hot ticket, the cool place — everybody wanted to come here. Even the WTO.

Snagging the convention of the World Trade Organization, with more than 5,000 trade delegates from 134 countries, and some 3,000 journalists, capped a long run of successes in the late 1990s for a city that seemingly could do no wrong.

"We had it all," said Pat Davis, the Seattle Port commissioner who helped invite the WTO here. "We were in the middle of boom times; everyone said, 'Sure, why not, Seattle is a Pacific Northwest gateway. We will put Seattle on the map.'

"And we did." …

Five days that jolted Seattle

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Global warming is real: An extraordinary essay by a reformed climate-change denialist

Man wearing sandwich board sign on street. (Alan Powdrill)

By Bryan Appleyard

…Just a couple of weeks reading and watching and you can be out there, crushing dinner-party eco-warriors with devastating arguments based on cold, hard facts. You will be a stern, hard-headed denialist, your iron jaw set firmly against the tree-hugging, soft-headed warmists in their irritating hats.

That was me, once. I thought global warming was all bog-standard, apocalyptic nonsense when it first emerged in the 1980s. People, I knew, like nothing better than an End-of-the-World story to give their lives meaning. I also knew that science is dynamic. Big ideas rise and fall. Once the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then it wasn’t. Once Isaac Newton had completed physics. Then he hadn’t. Once there was going to be a new ice age. Then there wasn’t.

Armed with such historic reversals, I poured scorn on under-educated warmists. Scientists with access to the microphone, I pointed out, had got so much so wrong so often. This was yet another case of clever people, who should have known better, running around screaming, “End of the World! End of the World!” and of less-clever people finding reasons to tell everybody else why they were bad. And then I made a terrible mistake. I started questioning my instinct, which was to disbelieve every scare story on principle.

I exposed myself to any journalist’s worst nightmare — very thoughtful, intelligent people. …

Global warming is real

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Artificial mountains as green cities of the future

I’ve had this idea for a number of years, and my genetic algorithm project was the result. These designs are beautiful and quite different from what I had imagined.

China Hills. MVRDV

Dutch architecture firm MVRDV presents an interesting concept for a high density self-sufficient city of the future in China, at the Beijing Centre for the Arts and shown in Designboom. The architects call it "a scale model of a future Chinese city which offers alternatives to the current urbanization in China. The plan offers space to accommodate up to 100,000 inhabitants and a well balanced mix of urban program and nature, agriculture and energy production; all in the shape of a Chinese mountain landscape: realizable with today’s technologies." …

MVRDV Proposes Artificial Mountains as Green Cities of the Future

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Top French chefs take bluefin tuna off the menu

Scientists are calling for a ban on the trade of bluefin tuna. Photograph by: Herald Archive, AFP-Getty

By Gersende Rambourg, November 27, 2009

PARIS (AFP) – Top French chefs this week pledged to keep bluefin tuna and other threatened fish species off the menu, whatever the cost.

With half of the fish eaten in Europe dished up in restaurants, it was high time for the food-loving nation's leading chefs to take a stand, said one of the country's greatest chefs, Olivier Roellinger.

Roellinger, celebrated for his fish and seaweed fare in western Brittany, took bluefin tuna -- aka red tuna -- off the menu five years ago. "We have a responsibility towards all those who are in charge of feeding others, cooks but also mothers and even fathers, and must show them the way," he told AFP.

"They must be made aware that the sea, this natural larder, is in danger," added Roellinger, who a year ago threw in the coveted three-star rating awarded him by the Michelin Guide, the French food bible, on grounds of fatigue.

Environmentalists say bluefin tuna faces the threat of extinction because of overfishing and want its trade banned by CITES, the UN body that rules on wildlife trade. …

Top French chefs take bluefin tuna off the menu

Friday, November 27, 2009

Marine scientists issue call to arms after devastating report

November 28, 2009

MORE than 70 Australian marine scientists have called for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the release of the first report card on the impact of climate change on the marine environment.

Oceans around the continent have warmed and become more acidic and the East Australian Current has strengthened, bringing hotter, saltier water 350 kilometres further south than 60 years ago.

This has caused coral bleaching and is the likely cause of a 10 per cent reduction in growth rates of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, according to the report, Marine Climate Change in Australia, 2009 Report Card [pdf].

Other effects include a spread of destructive sea urchins in Tasmania, the death of sea turtles in Queensland and the spread of mangroves into freshwater wetlands in northern Australia. …

Marine scientists issue call to arms after devastating report

Forest area bigger than Canada can be restored

 Aspen trees in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Idaho are seen in this undated photograph. REUTERS / U.S. Forest Service / Handout

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) - Only one fifth of the world's forests remain but an area bigger than Canada could be restored without harming food production, a global alliance dedicated to restoring forests said on Thursday.

A study by the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), which includes the WWF, Britain's Forestry Commission and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said a billion hectares of former forests, equivalent to six percent of the world's total land area, could be restored.

Previous assessments estimated 850 million hectares had restoration potential.

"This is a first go at identifying the total scale of this opportunity. The next stage is to work at a country level to identify what we would restore in the real world," Tim Rollinson, GPFLR chairman and director general of the British Forestry Commission told Reuters in an interview.

Marginal agricultural land, where productivity was low, had the most potential for restoration, the study found.

"There are opportunities in almost every continent. The most potential is in Africa; there are substantial areas in China and India, as well as parts of Brazil," William Jackson, IUCN's deputy director general. …

Forest area bigger than Canada can be restored

Munich Re presses for progress on climate

Munich RE BERLIN—Next month's Copenhagen summit needs to make significant progress toward a new climate-change deal, a leading reinsurer said Thursday, arguing that global warming already is costing billions of dollars per year.

"Our statistics clearly show that the loss burden from weather-related natural catastrophes is increasing," said Torsten Jeworrek, a board member at Munich Re AG.

Munich Re said its statistics show losses from weather-related disasters increasing by an average 11 percent per year since 1980. …

"Even if an all-embracing agreement does not seem feasible in Copenhagen, at the very least fundamental framework conditions should be established," Jeworrek said. "We cannot afford a delay at the expense of future generations."

Munich Re said overall losses due to weather-related events, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, from 1980 to 2008 came to some $1.6 trillion, with insured losses totaling $465 billion. Between 2000 and 2008 alone, it said, total losses came to more than $750 billion, while insured losses totaled some $280 billion. …

Munich Re presses for progress on climate

Gennaro Senatore: Morphogenesis of Spatial Configurations

You may have heard me going on at length about my genetic algorithm project. Here’s a practical application by Gennaro Senatore, in which he programs my GA framework to evolve structures that have recognizably architectural features.

The best thing is that Gennaro’s thesis is largely the paper I would have written myself – now I don’t have to!

Evolved structure with a double-helix form. Senatore, 2009

Abstract: The thesis discusses the possibility to build a design methodology based on the utilization of generative rule systems, evolutionary techniques and performance evaluation tools. This is conducted through the implementation of a computational system in which spatial configurations can be defined by a set of instructions framed in hierarchical data structures. These are graphically interpreted to create their geometrical expression which is evaluated according to design criteria such as structural stability and accessibility of its basic components. String rewriting Lindenmayer systems and Genetic Programming are combined to first create the definition of the problem and afterwards evolve possible answers to it. The aim is to integrate the generation of forms and the evaluation of their performances in order to design spatial configurations whose morphology emerges out of a process of formation rather than imposed by a fixed and predetermined representation. The adaptation of such rules system under the pressure of encoded design criteria resolves in the emergence of forms which become, hence, the expression of high level of abstractions.

Morphogenesis of Spatial Configurations

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Scottish experiment increases carbon capture efficiency

By Channel 4 News, Updated on 25 November 2009 

It is an advance that could make cleaner coal more affordable.

The technology, known as carbon capture and storage, has been tested at Scottish Power's Longannet coal-fired plant in Fife, which is the third-largest coal-powered power station in Europe, pumping out 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. …

Until now, the process to separate carbon dioxide needed so much energy it would use a third of the power station's output to operate at full scale.

The new process diverts emissions from a chimney into a test unit where they are fed through a chemical solution which includes molecules called amines. …

Scientists say they have now found a chemical mix for the amine that is sticky enough to grab the carbon dioxide but does not need a large amount of energy to extract it.

That makes the whole process more viable commercially.

Scottish experiment cuts coal emissions

Some sensible reactions to the “Climategate” kerfuffle

Anybody who knows anything about how science works understands that “Climategate” is a desperate attempt by denialists and their pals at Heartland Institute and CEI to sow FUD. Mark Morano and Sen. James Inhofe, I’m looking at you.

Here are a few sensible reactions from around the science blogging community. Keep these in mind the next time you hear someone spouting off about the climate science “hoax” or “conspiracy.”


By Ian O'Neill | Wed Nov 25, 2009 01:25 AM ET

When discussing man-made climate change (or anthropogenic global warming), I often drift into unfamiliar (and sometimes disturbing) territory. That territory is what I call The Land of the Afraid, Ignorant and Lost.

In this weird alternative dimension there are doomsayers who are convinced the world is going to end in 3 years time, there are conspiracy theorists who totally believe the moon landings were faked and everyone seems to be taking a potshot at Al Gore.

As with my research into the 2012 doomsday phenomenon that continues to cause a stir (especially after Roland Emmerich's use of killer neutrinos in the movie "2012"), I have found that no amount of scientific evidence can change the minds of conspiracy theorists or individuals with a grudge.

And the subject of accelerated climate change always causes upset (and/or rage). …

"Climategate" and Other Nonsense

By David Biello, Scientific American Observations

Was Sen. James Inhofe right when he declared 2009 the year of the climate contrarian? A slew of emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit highlight definite character flaws among some climate scientists—including an embarrassing attempt to delete emails that discussed the most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—while also exposing what looks like a failure of scientists to acknowledge a halt to global warming in the past decade.

Sadly for the potential fate of human civilization, rumors of the demise of climate change have been much exaggerated. …

You can judge the emails for yourself at this wonderful searchable database. While the revelations about pressuring the peer review process and apparent slowness in responding to an avalanche of requests for information unveil something below impressive scientific and personal behavior, they can also be seen as the frustrated responses of people working on complex data under deadline while being harassed by political opponents.

Note the adjective there. Political, not scientific, opponents. Because the opposition here is not grounded in any robust scientific theory or alternative hypotheses (all of those, in their time, have been shot down and nothing new has been offered in years) but a hysterical reaction to the possibly of what? One-world government? The return of communism? …

Climate change cover-up? You better believe it

AllegationAudit: In the last post we saw that accusers are willing to quote mine the released CRU emails, selectively taking a choice phrase at face value and missing the preceding and proceeding context in the longer email.

Now we will see them doing similar with some of the released CRU source code. The released source code included source for some of CRU's surface temperature record and source code for some proxy work.  No climate model source code was released as far as I know, although that hasn't stopped many of the accusers rampantly assuming there has been - presumably either confusing or not knowing the difference between temperature records and climate models.

This post concerns the an accusation which is now spread far and wide all over the internet. …

Mining The Source Code

Tamino: Most of you are probably already aware that recently someone managed to hack into the computer system at CRU (the Climate Research Unit in Great Britain). They stole over 60 megabytes of personal emails, which was posted online.

The denialosphere has trumpeted the contents as proof of the fraudulent behavior of climate scientists, especially Phil Jones at CRU. But what’s most remarkable is that even the bits pointed to as a “smoking gun” really don’t support that idea. There are certainly phrases which seem incriminating when taken out of context — but when put into context are nothing of the kind.

Continuing to suggest that climate scientists generally, and Phil Jones specifically, are engaged in a conspiracy to deceive the world about global warming, when there turns out to be no real evidence of it in 10 years of personal communications (only words that can be twisted when taken out of context), demonstrates the idiocy of those who stand by that suggestion. If anything, the messages prove that there is not any conspiracy, and the scientists at CRU did not fudge data or engage in deceptive practices to push their “agenda.” …


Finally, if you’re interested in the real Climategate, read this:

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. By James Hogan

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Competitive Enterprise Institute to sue RealClimate blogger over moderation policy

Okay, this is striking too close to home – I post frequently at RealClimate and consider Gavin Schmidt to be a model of forbearance in the face of innumerable provocations.

Gavin Schmidt has done a wonderful job at RealClimate patiently explaining the context of the stolen emails. He’s made it perfectly clear that the claims of scientific malpractice are without foundation. He must be doing a really good job, because the Competitive Enterprise Institute intends to sue him.

That’s computer scientist Tim Lambert aka Deltoid explaining (here) the latest tactics the anti-scientific disinformers are pursuing to stifle real climate scientists from communicating with the public.  The CEI, of course, runs ad campaigns aimed at destroying the climate for centuries; generally spreads disinformation (see “Santer, Jones, and Schneider respond to CEI’s phony attack on the temperature record“) and embraces the efforts of other groups to sow confusion (see “Deniers go ape for Scopes climate trial“).

But CEI’s current tactics, which they proudly announce here, have become truly extemist in nature:

Yes they’re planning to sue Schmidt for the “inappropriate behavior” of moderating comments at RealClimate. Of course, the point of this vexatious suit isn’t to win — it’s to harass and distract Schmidt because he is being effective.

It’s not for nothing that I dubbed them the Completely Evil Institute.

I would add that essentially every factual assertion in the piece by CEI Fellow Chris Horner is false. …

Competitive Enterprise Institute to sue RealClimate blogger over moderation policy

Scottish invention promises wind power revolution

Dr Markus Mueller, above, of the University of Edinburgh, solved the engineering problem with Alasdair McDonald.  (Tom Main)

By Peter Jones

A radical new design of electrical generator that solves an engineering quandary and promises to be cheaper, lighter and more reliable than anything currently available has been unveiled by scientists at the University of Edinburgh.

The work by Markus Mueller and Alasdair McDonald at the university’s Institute of Energy Systems has solved one of the fundamental engineering problems faced by builders of offshore wind turbines.

A new company, NGenTec, was formed ten days ago to exploit the new design. It is chaired by Derek Shepherd, a former managing director of Aggreko International, a Glasgow-based supplier of mainly diesel-fuelled generators.

Mr Shepherd said of NGenTec: “Our technology has the potential to revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making wind power cheaper and more reliable and greatly increasing the efficiency of wind turbines for electricity companies.”

The blades of conventional turbines are connected to a generator via a gearbox. In harsh conditions at sea, this is prone to breakdown, leading to costly repairs which themselves are at the mercy of the weather.

The alternative is to dispense with the gearbox and connect the blades directly to a generator via an axle.

The institute’s design — through a novel arrangement of the magnets inside the generator and the copper coils that produce electricity as they pass the magnets — has succeeded in cutting the weight of direct-drive generators by up to half and made assembly much easier. A prototype installed on a wind turbine has proved that the design works. ...

Scottish invention promises power revolution

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Energy push spurs shift in U.S. science

Carbon-fiber researchers, above, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which has jump-started work on biofuels and magnetic-fusion technology.


OAK RIDGE, Tenn. -- The Obama administration's push to solve the nation's energy problems, a massive federal program that rivals the Manhattan Project, is spurring a once-in-a-generation shift in U.S. science.

The government's multibillion-dollar push into energy research is reinvigorating 17 giant U.S.-funded research facilities, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory here to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. After many years of flat budgets, these labs are ramping up to develop new electricity sources, trying to build more-efficient cars and addressing climate change.

In fiscal 2009, the Obama administration increased the funding by 18%, to $4.76 billion, to the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which oversees 10 national labs and funds research at another seven. The office will receive $1.6 billion in government stimulus spending, as well, much of which it will also channel to these laboratories.

The Office of Science estimates its bigger budget allowed it to create nearly 1,400 research jobs at the 10 labs it oversees in the fiscal year ending in September, up 11% from the previous year's staffing levels. It estimates it created another 1,400 science jobs at universities. In addition, it says, funds from the Obama administration's stimulus package created hundreds more government lab jobs. As a result, the balance of U.S. science is shading a few degrees -- away from the pure research typically practiced at universities, and toward applied science.

These efforts mark a third wave of spending at national labs such as Oak Ridge, a vast complex of woods and research facilities not far from Knoxville, Tenn. Oak Ridge was one of three labs set up to help build the atomic bomb during World War II. It boomed again during America's energy-independence push in the 1970s.

Oak Ridge plans to increase its staff by 25%, or 800 positions, over the next 18 months -- even as its neighbor, the University of Tennessee, has lost state funding and pared back faculty searches. …

Energy Push Spurs Shift in U.S. Science

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Climate change email hacking to be looked into by University of East Anglia

Online publication seized on by denial bloggers
• No evidence that data was falsified, says Met Office

The WMO1999 figure with climate reconstructions and instrumental temperatures merged, with the climate reconstructions (coloured) and instrumental temperatures (annual & summer in black) shown separately.

By Leo Hickman, Suzanne Goldenberg and Caroline Davies, Monday 23 November 2009 20.42 GMT

The University of East Anglia is to launch a review into the theft and online publication of hundreds of emails sent by scientists in its climate research unit.

Selected and unverified extracts from the emails have been used by climate change deniers to claim that the scientists colluded to manipulate climate data, causing a storm on deniers' blogs. The charge is rejected as "despicable" by those involved and as groundless by leading scientific bodies.

With less than two weeks before the crucial UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, climate scientists and campaigners are assessing the damage the incident has caused to the public understanding of global warming. Opinion was split last night over how to deal with the fallout. …

The Met Office, which jointly produces global temperature data with the climate research unit, said there was no need for an inquiry. "If you look at the emails, there isn't any evidence that the data was falsified and there's no evidence that climate change is a hoax," a spokesman said.

"It's a shame that some of the sceptics have had to take this rather shallow attempt to discredit robust science undertaken by some of the world's most respected scientists. It's no surprise, with the Copenhagen talks just days away, that this has happened now."

Michael Mann, director of the earth system science centre at the University of Pennsylvania, and a long-term target of sceptics, agreed the timing was suspicious.

"What appears to have happened is that going into this monumental climate summit in a couple of weeks the other side, which does not favour taking action to combat climate change, resorted to an illegal smear campaign," he said.

"They are going through them and cherry-picking them for any word they can find that is cited out of context and can appear incriminating. I think it's despicable."

He told the Guardian the emails – though embarrassing – did not undermine the body of science. "This doesn't make any difference at all in degree of consensus on climate change," Mann said. "I hope it boomerangs back on the criminals." …

Climate change email hacking to be looked into by University of East Anglia

Scientists crack sustainable plastics puzzle

By Tom Young, BusinessGreen, Tuesday 24 November 2009 at 00:15:00

A team of South Korean scientists have produced the polymers used in conventional plastics through bio-engineering processes, in a breakthrough that promises to significantly cut the cost of so-called bioplastics.

The technique could allow the production of environmentally friendly plastics that are fundamentally the same as conventional plastics, but are biodegradable and do not use oil during their manufacture.

The research focused on polylactic acid (PLA), a bio-based polymer which can be used as an alternative to petroleum-based polymers to produce plastic.

"The polyesters and other polymers we use everyday are mostly derived from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process," professor Sang Yup Lee, who led the research, said in a statement.

"The idea of producing polymers from renewable biomass has attracted much attention due to the increasing concerns of environmental problems and the limited nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good alternative to petroleum-based plastics, as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans," he added.

Until now, PLA has been produced in a two-step fermentation and chemical process of polymerisation, which is both complex and expensive. …

Scientists crack sustainable plastics puzzle

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Very serious analysis of the greatest scientific scandal of all time

Over the weekend NASA's University of East Anglia has alleged hackers have "stolen and released" a bunch of scientist's emails.

However what makes me deeply suspicious is the complete lack of correspondence with Al Gore in these released emails. Where are all the emails showing Al Gore's involvement? Even more bizarrely there is no plotting and planning on how to raise taxes. I don't see any mention of the socialist new world order that these scientists are trying to bring about. Not once do they talk about how to best achieve wealth redistribution or world government. …

NASA Fakes Email Leak

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters. They suggest dubious practices such as:

Conspiring to avoid public scrutiny:

There is nothing which I desire to avoid in matters of philosophy more then contentions, nor any kind of contention more then one in print: & therefore I gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concern then that for truth: but what passes between friends in private usually deserve ye name of consultation rather then contest, & so I hope it will prove between you & me.

Newton to Hooke, 5 February 1676 …

Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’

So Solid CRU

- ride wid us

  • The Frame
  • Sun Tzu
  • Habeas corpus

The story so far:

  1. CRU research computer hacked, many emails copied, claims are made that they reveal broad scientific fraud;
  2. Emails released, much sound and fury told by idiots, claims seem to be all innuendo and speculation;
  3. More and more nothing as people search for something, anything of substance in the emails.

The climate change science community was caught off guard by this for obvious reasons. Initially most were quite understandably not willing to comment until they had at least seen the evidence. Now we have seen the evidence, or all that we know exists. …

CRU Hack, time to hit back … hard

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In nod to global warming, Navy preps for ‘ice free’ Arctic


By Katie Drummond Email Author, November 18, 2009

The dwindling Arctic ice cap has launched an international race for control of northern waters: Russia, Canada, Denmark, and even China are hustling to expand their military presence, plant flags and eye those 90 billion barrels of natural gas under the cap. Now the U.S. Navy’s getting ready for the thaw, with a strategic plan to maximize the U.S. stake up north.

The Navy’s Arctic Roadmap (.pdf), written by the recently launched Navy Task Force Climate Change (TFCC), opens with an acknowledgment that worldwide temperatures are on the rise — especially up north.  “The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. While significant uncertainty exists in projections for Arctic ice extent, the current scientific consensus indicates the Arctic may experience nearly ice-free summers sometime in the 2030s,” the document notes.

Then the Arctic Roadmap sets out a three-phase plan to secure U.S. interests in the Arctic. Because there’s a lot at stake under that melting cap: energy reserves, transport lanes and potential territory disputes.

It’s the latest in a series of efforts by the sea service to cope with climate change. Just last month, the Navy announced its intention to deploy “an energy-efficient ‘Great Green Fleet’ carrier strike group consisting of ships powered either by nuclear energy or biofuels with an attached air wing of fighter jets fueled entirely by biofuels,”’s Greg Grant reported. …

In Nod to Global Warming, Navy Preps for ‘Ice Free’ Arctic

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Illuminating the Lilliputian: 10 Bioscapes photo contest winners revealed

The unicellular alga, Penium, treated with the microtubule poison, oryzalin, and labeled with the antibody JIM5. Dr. David Domozych

We are approaching the millennial anniversary of the first meaningful written description of how lenses and light could be used to magnify objects. It was in 1011 that Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) began writing the Book of Optics , which described the properties of a magnifying glass, principles that later led to the invention of the microscope. The entrants in the 2009 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition provide fitting tribute to nearly 1,000 years of making the invisible visible.

Optical microscopy, energized by generation after generation of technological advance, continues to furnish dazzling proof that beyond the resolution of the human eye resides a sweepingly large world of small things, both around and within us. The artistic beauty of the microcosm can be witnessed in these photographs of the beadlike band of toxin-carrying compartments on the tentacle of the Portuguese man-of-war, the gemlike quality of row on row of single-celled algae and the red-and-yellow patterning of a Triceratops bone, reminiscent of a loud necktie. A selection of winning and honorable mention images that particularly appealed to us at Scientific American follows. …

Illuminating the Lilliputian: 10 Bioscapes Photo Contest Winners Revealed

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Cat brain-based computer: Scientists perform cat-scale cortical simulations and map the human brain

Skynet to follow.

lueMatter, a new algorithm created in collaboration with Stanford University, exploits the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information. (Credit: Image courtesy of IBM)

IBM has announced significant progress toward creating a computer system that simulates and emulates the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, while rivaling the brain's low power and energy consumption and compact size. Scientists have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses. …

Cat brain-based computer: Scientists perform cat-scale cortical simulations and map the human brain

Second law of thermodynamics may explain economic evolution

November 2, 2009 By Lisa Zyga

( -- Terms such as the "invisible hand," laissez-faire policy, and free-market principles suggest that economic growth and decline in capitalist societies seem to be somehow self-regulated. Now, scientists Arto Annila of the University of Helsinki and Stanley Salthe of Binghampton University in New York show that economic activity can be regarded as an evolutionary process governed by the second law of thermodynamics. Their perspective may provide insight into some fundamental economic questions, such as the causes of economic growth and diversification, as well as why it’s so difficult to predict economic growth and decline.

As Annila and Salthe explain in their study published in Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics was originally formulated to describe the flow of heat from hot to cold areas. However, when formulated as an equation of motion, the second law can be used to describe many other processes in energetic terms, such as natural selection for the fittest species, organization of cellular metabolism, or an ecosystem’s food web. In these systems, free energy is consumed; that is, energy is dispersed in a way to promote the maximal increase of entropy, which is the essence of the second law.

While economic activities are traditionally viewed as being motivated by profit, Annila and Salthe argue that the ultimate motivation of economic activities is not to maximize profit or productivity, but rather to disperse energy. From this perspective, a growing economy consists of entities (e.g. products, labor, etc.) that are assigned an energy density resulting from their individual production processes. These density differences are the forces that direct energy flows (e.g. manufacturing processes) to equalize energy density differences within the system and with respect to its surroundings. …

Second Law of Thermodynamics May Explain Economic Evolution

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Superfreakonomics authors abandon climate science

So embarrassing.

The authors of SuperFreakonomics simultaneously insist they accept the science — “Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon” — while at the same time labeling global warming a “religion” (see here).  And we’ve seen one award-winning journalist explain “Freakonomics Guys Flunk Science of Climate Change.”  But now, as this stunning Charlie Rose video shows, we have the clearest demonstration that both Levitt and Dubner don’t accept and don’t understand the science.  This is a Wonk Room repost. …

[JR:  I don't know what is more jaw-dropping -- Levitt's response backpedaling on basic climate science or Dubner's "explanation."  For the record, Dubner has the science exactly backwards: Removing the aerosols didn't show carbon dioxide was less important to warming -- it showed it was more important! …

Superfreakonomics authors abandon climate science

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Live-blogging Al Gore at Microsoft today


If the campus wifi permits, I’ll be live-blogging today’s presentation by Al Gore, starting at noon. Got my copy of An Inconvenient Truth for autographing, just in case.

11:29: Off to Building 33!

11:52: At Building 33, after some wifi fear, we seem to be up and running.

12:04: And we’re off.

12:05: Standing O – “I used to be the next President of the US!”

12:06: I am streaming Gore live at

12:08: Mentions ocean acidification right out of the gate. Awesome.

12:12: I’m not in a favorable location for my Qik stream. :(

12:15: The new book is 99% about solutions.

12:17: Solar PV drives a new, distributed energy production system, similar to the internet for information.

12:18: Chapter Two is about wind. US wind production is expanding rapidly.

12:20: Geothermal is widely misunderstood. Now dominated by new drilling tech from the oil and gas industry.

12:21: Gore: The geothermal system for his house completely eliminated his nat. gas bill.

12:22: 35,000-year supply of energy in the US from enhanced geothermal.

12:23: Biofuels are controversial, but corn-based ethanol has been a disappointment. Competition with food prices is more perceived than real.

12:25: Nuclear and CCS have a limited benefit. Cost is prohibitive.

12:27: CCS carries a "burden of implausibility."

12:28: Gore used to represent oak Ridge, TN, where everybody is immune to radiation. "Homer sometimes makes mistakes."

12:29: Nuclear plants come in only one size: Extra large.

12:31: Gore sees nuclear weapons proliferation as a big drawback for nuke power.

12:32: We are burning and cutting and destroying so many of the forests, that 20% of CO2 emissions come from deforestation.

12:34: Industrial agriculture serves to decarbonize the soil.

12:35: Shout out to Bill and Melinda Gates, for funding a new global soil survey.

12:37: How many in this room had grandparents with five or six siblings? All hands go up. How many here have that many children? One. "Congratulations, sir."

12:38: Gore favors both a revenue-neutral carbon tax and cap-and-trade.

12:40: We have the capacity for multi-generational planning -- Medieval cathedrals, for example.

12:41: This is not a political issue. It is fundamentally a moral issue.

12:44: Q & A now: "Developing nations are following our bad development example. What can be done?" Gore answer: Developed nations must assist in "leap-frogging" to clean technologies.

12:45: China plants 2.5 times more trees than all the world together.

12:47: Steady stream of nonsense from one cable network in the US.

12:50: US in the only country where there's still doubt about climate science.

12:55: "What advice have you given Pres. Oama on climate change, and is he following it?" Gore laughs.

12:56: Praises Obama's and EPA's efforts so far. The US record on international negotiations has not been as stellar.

1:00: And now I’m trapped behind the book-signing line.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Climate change catastrophe took just months

Climate Change

By Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

Six months is all it took to flip Europe’s climate from warm and sunny into the last ice age, researchers have found.

They have discovered that the northern hemisphere was plunged into a big freeze 12,800 years ago by a sudden slowdown of the Gulf Stream that allowed ice to spread hundreds of miles southwards from the Arctic.

Previous research had suggested the change might have taken place over a longer period — perhaps about 10 years.

The new description, reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, emerged from one of the most painstaking studies of past climate changes yet attempted.

“It would have been very sudden for those alive at the time,” said William Patterson, a geological sciences professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, who carried out the research. “It would be the equivalent of taking Britain and moving it to the Arctic over the space of a few months.”

His findings, published at a recent conference, reinforce a series of studies suggesting that the earth’s climate is highly unstable and can flip between warm and cold very rapidly with the right trigger. …

Climate change catastrophe took just months

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Transparency: A graphical exploration of the data that surrounds us

This site is heaven for data geeks and graphic designers alike.

Transparency: The Change in Carbon Emissions

As the world gets closer to the COP15 Climate Change conference, it’s important to look at from where the emissions around the world are coming. In the last year, some countries have started  to clean up their act, while other countries continue to pump out carbon dioxide. Our latest Transparency is a look at the five highest emitters in each region of the world as of 2007 and whether they have increased or decreased both. …

Transparency: A graphical exploration of the data that surrounds us

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Lost puffins collected and released by Iceland youth

This is lovely, but couldn’t they just turn off the streetlights during breeding season?

Iceland boy releases a puffin chick. BBC

In a new series, BBC News focuses on aspects of life in countries and cities around the world. What may seem ordinary and familiar to the people who live there, can be surprising to those who don't.

At the same time every year in the Westman Isles, off the coast of Iceland, baby puffins start appearing on the streets - hiding in corners and behind rubbish bins.

It's all because of the street lights which disorientate and confuse the puffins as they begin their annual migration during the night.

And as Simon Hancock discovers, every night during the season hundreds of children gather during the evening to round up the lost puffins - then later, to release them back into the sea.

Close-Up: Iceland's lost puffins

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discovering the North American Afterculture: An Anthropology of the Future

Via reader cduhamel:

Hi-tension Kiva

Discovering the North American Afterculture is a glimpse of a future being shaped, and even lived, right now.

It imagines the culture that might emerge if we fully embraced a completely sustainable, sacred world-outlook. A diorama, crafted artifacts, paintings and photomurals show a New Native American people whose life-patterns are healing to a damaged land. They look like us: a mixture of races and backgrounds, and there are hints that much of the knowledge gathered in our time remains alive in oral tradition. But they are also profoundly unlike us. They know themselves as part of the web of life. Seeing the natural world as an expression of the sacred, they have simplified their lives the better to move in balance with it. …

This is not your usual end-of-the-century jitters. Future Shock has unnerved the planet. The great tectonic plates of civilization are adrift now, and the widening fault lines can be seen on the evening news every night. The Old Order still rumbles down the track, but it’s a train out of fuel. Staying the course now only guarantees disaster, because up ahead the bridge is out: Capitalism has mutated into vast, uncontrollable multinationals, while Big Science diverts our attention from its disasters with illusions of cool breakthrough-fixes just-around-the-corner. And a young, aggressive techno-elite is fastforwarding us into an information/genetic revolution which will have absolutely apocalyptic consequences if played out. …

Discovering the North American Afterculture

Friday, November 13, 2009

Big profit from nature protection

Fire clearing Amazon forest for cattle. Societies gain financially from leaving forests intact rather than clearing them.

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Money invested in protecting nature can bring huge financial returns, according to a major investigation into the costs and benefits of the natural world.

It says money ploughed into protecting wetlands, coral reefs and forests can bring a hundredfold return on capital.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (Teeb) is backed by the UN and countries including the UK.

The project's leader says governments should act on its findings at next month's UN climate summit.

Teeb is the first attempt to evaluate the economic value of "ecosystem services" - things that parts of the natural world do for free, such as purifying drinking water or protecting coasts from storms - on a systematic and global basis.

"We have now evaluated 1,100 studies ranging across different countries and different ecosystem services," said study leader Pavan Sukhdev, a Deutsche Bank economist.

"And we find that with protected areas, for example, no matter how you slice the figures up you come up with a ratio of benefits to costs that's between 25-to-one and 100-to-one.

"Now we can say quite confidently that there is a solid benefit from investing in protected areas," he told BBC News. …

Big profit from nature protection

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Europe to greatly exceed Kyoto target — looks like the European Trading System has worked after all

From Climate Progress:

Europe made a major commitment under the Kyoto Protocol that U.S. conservatives have been telling us for years it would never achieve.  In fact, the Europeans are poised to surpass their targets under the terms of the Protocol. It is no longer plausible for those who don’t want a U.S. cap-and-trade system to point to the European Trading System (ETS) as a failure.  Quite the reverse.

A report by the European Environment Agency released today shows that the European Union and all Member States but one [Austria] are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Whereas the Protocol requires that the EU-15 reduce average emissions during 2008–2012 to 8% below 1990 levels, the latest projections indicate that the EU-15 will go further, reaching a total reduction of more than 13 % below the base year.

Looking further ahead, almost three quarters of the EU’s unilateral target to cut emissions to 20 % below 1990 levels by 2020 could be achieved domestically (i.e. without purchase of credits outside the EU).

The report highlights the importance of the EU ETS in helping Member States meet their targets.

That is today’s news release from the European Environment Agency.  The full report is here.  The report notes:

Five EU‑15 Member States (France, Germany, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom) have already achieved average GHG emission levels below their Kyoto target….

The EU ETS is expected to result in important reductions of domestic EU emissions. …

Europe to greatly exceed Kyoto target — looks like the European Trading System has worked after all

Karen Silkwood: an inspiration to fighters for environmental justice and workers' rights

Karen Silkwood

By Sharyn Jenkins

Thirty-Five years ago, on November 13, 1974, US anti-nuclear activist and trade unionist Karen Silkwood was killed in a car crash many suspect was deliberately caused. Karen Silkwood will be remembered as someone who fought an uphill and often unpopular battle against the ruthless nuclear industry. She is an inspiration to all who believe in environmental justice and workers' rights.

Silkwood grew up in Nederland, the petrochemical heart of Texas. Following an unhappy marriage and bitter divorce, in which she lost custody of her three children, she moved to Oklahoma City to look for work. In 1972 she began work in the Kerr McGee Metallography Laboratory.

Union militant

Work at Kerr McGee was not pretty. Silkwood discovered numerous violations of health regulations: exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment, plutonium samples stored in desk drawers and plutonium samples taken to local schools for show and tell.

Because the plant provided just two showers for the 75 workers on each shift and allocated no paid time for workers to shower, most workers left the plant unshowered.

Within a few months of being employed at the plant, Silkwood was elected as the first female committee member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union at Kerr McGee. Alarmed at the health risks faced by workers, she collected evidence to expose the poor health and safety standards. …

While she was collecting evidence, Silkwood's phone was bugged, her movements monitored and, worst of all, she was deliberately contaminated with plutonium. The contamination was so severe that after her death all the clothes and other belongings removed from her apartment were put into sealed drums to avoid contaminating others. …

Karen Silkwood: an inspiration to fighters for environmental justice and workers' rights

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Uracil made in the lab under simulated space conditions

Stefanie Milam, Michel Nuevo and Scott Sandford. Credit: Dominic Hart / NASA

NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life.

Pyrimidine is a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen and is the basic structure for uracil, part of a genetic code found in ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is central to protein synthesis, but has many other roles.

"We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space," said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth."

Scientists tested their hypotheses in the Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory. During their experiment, they exposed the ice sample containing pyrimidine to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions, including a very high vacuum, extremely low temperatures (approximately - 340 degrees Fahrenheit), and harsh radiation.

They found that when pyrimidine is frozen in water ice, it is much less vulnerable to destruction by radiation. Instead of being destroyed, many of the molecules took on new forms, such as the RNA component uracil, which is found in the genetic make-up of all living organisms on Earth.

“We are trying to address the mechanisms in space that are forming these molecules. Considering what we produced in the laboratory, the chemistry of ice exposed to ultraviolet radiation may be an important linking step between what goes on in space and what fell to Earth early in its development,” said Stefanie Milam, a researcher at NASA Ames and a co-author of the research paper. …

Uracil Made in the Lab

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pastor’s book tackles evangelicals' questions on climate change

By RENEE SCHOOF - McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- As an evangelical Christian living in Texas, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe found that many conservatives had questions about climate change based on things they'd heard on talk radio.

So Hayhoe and her husband, Andrew Farley, the pastor of a nondenominational church in Lubbock, Texas, decided to answer the questions in a new book from religious publisher FaithWords, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions.

"The observed increase in greenhouse gas levels, due to human production, is the only explanation we can find to account for what has happened to our world," Farley and Hayhoe wrote. "We've dusted for fingerprints. There's only one likely suspect remaining. It's us."

Although the leaders of other religious groups have been calling on the world to take action to prevent climate change from spinning out of control, evangelical Christians remain divided on it.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, for example, has taken a strong stand on protecting the climate. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, wrote in a commentary last month, "Climate change will only be overcome when all of us - scientists and politicians, theologians and economists, specialists and lay citizens - cooperate for the common good."

The National Association of Evangelicals, a group that represents millions of American evangelicals in about 45,000 churches, takes positions on other social issues but it hasn't taken a stand on climate change because there isn't a consensus among its members, said its director, Heather Gonzales.

The evangelical group Cornwall Alliance argues that concerns about global warming are unfounded and lobbies against legislation that would reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. The Evangelical Environmental Network, in contrast, accepts the scientific explanation of global warming and calls for reducing the pollution that's causing it.

This contrast in views prompted the Texas authors to write their book.

"When it comes to conservative Christians, I think the real question is who can we trust on this issue?" Farley said. "The scientist who has opposed us in the past, perhaps on issues such as evolution versus creation? Can we trust the local radio talk-show host on conservative radio who seems to be vehemently opposed to the idea that climate change is happening and speaks out quite passionately? Should I trust my local pastor who has a B-minus in high school biology?" …

Couple's book tackles evangelicals' questions on climate change

Friday, November 6, 2009

Map of human bacterial diversity shows wide interpersonal differences

ScienceDaily (Nov. 6, 2009) — A University of Colorado at Boulder team has developed the first atlas of bacterial diversity across the human body, charting wide variations in microbe populations that live in different regions of the human body and which aid us in physiological functions that contribute to our health.

The study showed humans carry "personalized" communities of bacteria around that vary widely from our foreheads and feet to our noses and navels, said CU-Boulder's Rob Knight, senior author on the paper published in the Nov. 6 issue of Science Express. The researchers found unexpectedly wide variability in bacterial communities from person to person in the study, which included nine healthy volunteers and which targeted 27 specific sites on the body.

"This is the most complete view we have yet of the microbial side of ourselves, one that our group and others will be adding to over the coming years," said Knight an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department. "The goal is to find out what is normal for a healthy person, which will provide a baseline for further studies to look at people with diseased states. One of the biggest surprises was how much variation there was from person to person in a healthy group of subjects."

Co-authors on the Science Express study, the online version of the journal Science, included CU-Boulder's Elizabeth Costello, Christian Lauber, Micah Hamady and Noah Fierer, as well as Jeffrey Gordon from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

There are an estimated 100 trillion microbes residing on and within each human being that are thought to collectively endow us with the essential traits we rely on for a variety of functions, including the proper development of our immune systems, efficient digestion of key foods and resistance to invasion by lurking microbial pathogens.

The CU-Boulder team looked high and low, analyzing microbial communities in places such as hair on the head, ear canals, nostrils, mouth, lower intestine, and 18 different skin sites ranging from foreheads and armpits, forearms, palms, index fingers, navels, the back of the knees and the soles of the feet. The team used the latest generation of massively parallel DNA sequencers and new computational tools developed at CU-Boulder. …

Map Of Human Bacterial Diversity Shows Wide Interpersonal Differences

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Scientists launch effort to sequence the DNA Of 10,000 vertebrates

Scientists have an ambitious new strategy for untangling the evolutionary history of humans and their biological relatives: Create a genetic menagerie made of the DNA of more than 10,000 vertebrate species. The plan, proposed by an international consortium of scientists, is to obtain, preserve, and sequence the DNA of approximately one species for each genus of living mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. …

Scientists Launch Effort To Sequence The DNA Of 10,000 Vertebrates

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Sen. Baucus (D-MT): “There’s no doubt that this Congress is going to pass climate change legislation.”

Contrary to reports from many in the media, the prospects for a climate bill are as good as ever now that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has finished its work.  E&E News makes that clear in a series of interviews with key Senate swing votes,”Senate moderates see an opening now that EPW gridlock is history” (subs. req’d):

Baucus insisted that the bill would cross the finish line, which would require both Senate passage and a successful conference with the House. “There’s no doubt that this Congress is going to pass climate change legislation,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be this year. Probably next year.”

As I had noted last week, while the media was quick to jump over some seemingly negative statements from the Montana Senator, in fact it was clear from his words that Baucus will be voting for the final bill. …

Sen. Baucus (D-MT): “There’s no doubt that this Congress is going to pass climate change legislation.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ares 1-Y is toast

From NASA Watch:

Pull the plug on Ares, editorial, Orlando Sentinel

"But even if the station gets a five-year extension, as it should, Ares I would be available to fly there for just three years under the best-case scenario envisioned by the Augustine committee. NASA has projected that developing Ares I and a crew capsule to accompany it will cost $35 billion, but the Government Accountability Office came up with an estimate of $49 billion. The Augustine committee predicted that the entire Constellation program, which includes Ares I, Ares V, the Orion capsule and the Altair lunar lander, will run $45 billion over budget."

Keith's 29 October note: Given that the Constellation Program's Control Board decided last Friday to recommend canceling Ares 1-Y, reality seems to be descending upon the Ares 1 effort - despite the spin Jeff Hanley is trying to put on it. …

Ares 1-Y is Toast

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