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Breaking the silence about Spring

Filed under: — eric @ 11 April 2009

Did you know that in 1965 the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted a particular variety of lilac in more than seventy locations around the U.S. Northeast, to detect the onset of spring — in turn to be used to determine the appropriate timing of corn planting and the like? The records the USDA have kept show that those same lilacs are blooming as much as two weeks earlier than they did in 1965. April has, in a very real sense, become May. This is one of the interesting facts that you’ll read about in Amy Seidl’s book, Early Spring, a hot-off-the-press essay about the impacts of climate change on the world immediately around us – the forest, the birds, the butterflies in our backyards.

The brilliant title of Seidl’s book was one of the reasons that it caught my attention. The other was that I have realized I need to better educate myself about the impact of climate change on everyday life. I’ve been dismissive of the idea that the average person can really detect the impacts of recent warming on, for example, the timing of the apple-blossom season, but I’ve been taken to task by several of RealClimate’s readers for this. If you are paying attention, they have argued, the changes are actually rather obvious.

Of course, Amy Seidl is not the average person. Rather, she’s a trained ecologist with a Ph.D. (as well as an avid gardener) and she’s clearly paying extremely close attention. Her book is the first one I have read that effectively brings home the tangible impacts that global warming will have – is having – on our everyday lives. “We are increasingly familiar,” she writes, of images of melting glaciers, “but how do we give them relevance in our lives? From my window I see no glaciers.” She answers her own question with a series of vignettes, some from her own experiences, many more from her extensive research (well referenced throughout the book).

Cardinals, robins and cowbirds are all arriving earlier in Vermont than they did a century ago. Kingfishes, fox sparrows and towhees are not. Why the difference? The answer, as Seidl explains, is that the former group has the ability to respond ecologically to the changes, because these birds cue their arrival to temperature. The latter, it appears, respond more directly to temporal cues, that won’t change even as climate does. It’s obvious from this example that the make up of bird life in Vermont – the species distribution – will change over time. This may not necessarily be a bad thing of course. On the other hand, it turns out that the robins are the most important host for West Nile virus; the early bird gets the worm, so to speak, and passes it along to humans.

Maple seedlings need about 100 days of below-freezing weather. As this becomes rarer, fewer maples will populate the forests. This, Seidl explains, is why species-range models predict the decline and eventual loss of sugar maple (at least in New England) in the future. But, she notes, the models don’t take into account the full complexity of the system, such as the impact of competition among different species. So we don’t really know what will happen, or how fast. What we do know is that maple-sugar farmers have noticed – and documented – an earlier maple sugaring season over the last few decades.

There are many other examples in Early Spring both of clear climate-related changes (such as the early arrival of robins), and of less clear-cut changes (the maple sugaring season). Seidl doesn’t make the common mistake of assuming that the more ambiguous examples are necessarily due to climate change. For example, she quotes a maple-sugarer who points out that technological changes have allowed them to tap maples earlier, and hence that the timing of sugaring is a weak measure of climate change. The point though, is that even rather minor changes are, after all, being noticed. And if much larger changes do occur, as predicted, they will most certainly have impacts we can’t ignore, even if we don’t live in the Arctic or in Bangladesh. In other words, Seidl tells us, listen to the farmers and gardeners, and the observations of regular people: they are meaningful.

The soberness of Seidl’s approach to the subject of climate change impacts contrasts starkly with that of many books before it. It couldn’t be further, for example, from Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees, which is a truly alarming read. In my comments on Six Degrees, I said that it wasn’t an alarmist book. I stand by that characterization, because – and this is what I liked about it – it doesn’t go beyond what is in the scientific literature. However, while Lynas’s book is a straightforward reading of the scientific literature, it is a somewhat uncritical one, and hence tends to emphasize what might happen in the future over what will happen; this is a point that many readers of my review seem to have missed. Seidl’s book, on the other hand, is focused on the more certain – and often less dramatic — things, and on the impacts we are likely to see in our own lifetimes.

The calm demeanor of Seidl’s book, and the very personal nature of it, could lead one to think that it is primarily just a philosophical reflection on the climate change story. Indeed, Bill McKibben, in his introduction to Early Spring, says that in the face of changes we may not be able to prevent, “one of our tasks is simply to bear witness”. Certainly, the book is partly that. But Seidl’s voice, like Rachel Carson’s before her, has the authentic and authoritative voice of a scientist, made all the more compelling for being very much rooted in the author’s own story and experiences. And she doesn’t pull punches when she has something definitive to say: “One thing is clear:” she writes, “we will not be able to manage the climate”.

Early Spring has the potential to be immensely influential, a real turning point in the popular appreciation of climate change impacts among laypersons and scientists alike. Read it.

———-
Note that we review books on a fairly ad hoc basis. For earlier reviews of other books, see here.


347 Responses to “Breaking the silence about Spring”

  1. 51
    Mark says:

    “The warming also contributes to protecting the beetles larvae, but it’s not the only factor. Overpopulation and old age are issues in nature as well, and disease and fire is natures way of handling it.”

    If there are no larvae, there’s no beetle to kill the tree.

    All your proof shows is that maybe (though this isn’t shown by any data available) that these trees would have been devastated by something else, if these beetles had not been allowed to survive.

    But, apart from your supposition merely being “reasonable” with NO EVIDENCE, the simple fact is that these trees are being killed by a pest that would not be there AT ALL to affect these possibly weakened trees if there hadn’t been warming going on, letting the larvae survive.

  2. 52

    Re #30 — David, would it help to stack the algae tanks so that they were getting air from the side as well as on top? Could you increase the efficiency on that basis? Or are you already taking that into account?

  3. 53
    Ike Solem says:

    Note on “mitigation and adaptation” i.e. Walt…

    Mitigation would involve the elimination of fossil fuel combustion and also of deforestation. While that would (hopefully) halt the growth of atmospheric CO2, we can’t be sure, because of feedback effects involving soil carbon, permafrost carbon, shallow methane hydrates and the basic fact that a warmer ocean holds less dissolved gas. To actually reduce atmospheric CO2 is very difficult; over periods of geological time the main factor is the burial of photosynthetic carbon. We can also do this using biochar – but all of the so-called “clean coal carbon sequestration” programs are fraudulent propaganda operations aimed at maintaining business-as-usual while projecting the image of change.

    Adaptation is going to happen, one way or the other – for example, reducing water allotments to California farmers is a form of adaptation. Fleeing un-inhabitable regions is also a form of adaptation – but these “adaptations” will not mean that things will be as pleasant as before. Another adaptation is learning to get by on one fifth of the water you used to – possible, but it represents a new kind of poverty – what good is money if it can’t buy you water, clean air and a livable space? That’s what we’re sacrificing so that our outdated fossil-fueled economic system can continue to limp along – which, we are told, is required for our prosperity. Fossil fuels are just cheaper than renewables, say the controllers of the monopolitic, anti-competitive coal fired electric utility system.

    Speaking of the free market, Walt, how do you reconcile that with the fact that the fossil fuel industry, both oil and coal, operates as a cartel system, not as a free market system? These cartels control media and academics in the United States, which is why there are no renewable energy research programs to speak of, and which is also why no media outlets in the United States are covering the International Renewable Energy Agency, or giving much time to the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference. It’s funny that the free-market fundamentalists (often in the pay of utilities and oil magnates) have such a huge blind spot – I think it’s called doublethink, defined as the ability to maintain mutually inconsistent viewpoints – such as working for a cartel while promoting free-market capitalism.

    You do see some reporting – but only from a limited number of outlets, for example, try this:

    Developer plans all-solar city
    Published: April 11, 2009 at 3:26 PM

    FORT MYERS, Fla., April 11 (UPI) — A Florida developer says he wants to build a 19,500-home city powered entirely by solar energy.

    Babcock Ranch will be developed by Kitson & Partners on 17,000 acres northeast of Fort Myers, Fla. The developer said it will be the “first city on Earth powered by zero-emission solar energy,” The Miami Herald reported Saturday.

    The city will include the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant, to be operated by Florida Power & Light. The facility will cost about $300 million.

    “We’re out to prove that it works economically,” developer Syd Kitson was quoted as saying. “And it’s the right thing to do for the long-term solutions in this country.”

    The newspaper said researchers are working to develop storage capability for sunlight-generated power since solar electricity is available only during daytime hours.

    Solar panels to power the city will sit on 350 acres within the development. The newspaper said more than half of the city’s 17,000 acres will be permanently protected as greenways and open space, and will adjoin the 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve, which has been purchased by the state.

    That’s what real adaptation and mitigation looks like.

  4. 54
    Ike Solem says:

    P.S. A little history… in 1993 the U.S. government and the National Academy of Sciences initiated a national biological survey program, which was immediately attacked by Gingrich and cohort. Then, as now, the change in government to one more open to examining concerns about climate and biodiversity lead to a huge increase in public relations efforts by the resource extraction and pollution industries – the “Wise Use Movement” set up by the coal lobby, i.e. the Western Fuels Association, is a good example. Perhaps as a result, the National Biological Survey never became an independent institution, as the NAS suggested:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=A4wrAAAAYAAJ&dq

    Now, when the next administration took over, the remnants of the National Biological Survey had been transferred to the USGS, and even that was deemed unacceptable – a USGS researcher was quickly fired for posting a map of caribou calving grounds in Alaska (happened to overlap with oil exploration wants). Here is the researcher’s description of the event:

    I strongly believe that the termination of my position by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was a gross over-reaction due to the political considerations USGS is currently operating under with regard to caribou and development for oil within Area 1002 in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    Over the last three years I created one of the largest global atlas collections on the Internet depicting animal distribution, vegetation, protected areas, and satellite images. This resource was removed from the Internet when I was dismissed.

    http://www.peer.org/docs/gs/anwr_maps.pdf

    Not exactly an industry with very much credibility, with their long track record of dishonesty, deception, bribery, environmental pollution, human rights abuses and fraud – which is why they need PR people to sell their lies to the public. I wonder how Edelman pitched it to the American Petroleum Institute…

    “You guys have zero credibility – opinion surveys show that your trust and approval ratings are about as low as they can go. If anyone ever needed our independent, “third-party services”, you guys do.”

  5. 55
    Jim Bouldin says:

    John (43):

    You’re probably wanting maps of the changes that have already occurred. I’m not aware of anything comprehensive. For current, and modeled future, distributions of the potential habitat (not the actual occurrences) of eastern U.S. tree and bird species, due to climatic changes alone, under different scenarios and climate models, check out Iverson and Prasad’s map atlases: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/atlas/

  6. 56
    Walt Bennett says:

    Ike,

    I see the same landscape you see. These are powerful interests, and let’s face reality: there are no economically feasible alternatives that can be snapped into place in the short term.

    I’ll tell you one project that I think has to happen here in the U.S.: We need to completely upgrade the electric grid. Too much energy is lost in transmission, making it impractical to ship electricity from deserts, for example, to cities and suburbs, but deserts are where it makes sense to build the wind farms and solar arrays that will replace fossil fuels in the long run.

    I would also point to the Green Freedom project at Los Alamos (http://www.lanl.gov/news/newsbulletin/pdf/Green_Freedom_Overview.pdf) as evidence of the sort of forward thinking which will be needed.

    The “magic bullet”, if there is one, and which is well worth finding: to find ways to draw down atmospheric CO2 while at the same time, incremental changes in fossil fuel usage bring down the emissions. No need for shock therapy. Now, is such a thing possible? Sure. If we set it as a goal and put the resources behind it, could we get there? I would bet on that. Human ingenuity is a powerful resource.

    My point for some time now is that human history is not marked by great leaps backward – unless forced upon them, with attendant widespread misery. Human history is defined rather by great leaps forward – and fossil fuel combustion was one such leap.

    We need a new leap forward and we need it very soon. I have enormous confidence in our ability to accomplish that.

    At the same time, I have zero confidence in emissions reduction as a successful mitigation strategy, success being defined as warding off ice sheet instability.

    I think we need geo-engineering to avoid that. In fact, I’m certain of it.

  7. 57
    Karen Street says:

    I have seen more differences in summer where I live (Berkeley) than in spring. Sunrise became normal in the late 90s—in the “old days”, the summer sun would emerge from the clouds sometime after noon, except when it wouldn’t. Red fire warnings are posted in early June rather than late August. The end of fall, marked by strong winds from the east, is now in November, even late November, rather than early October, and the winds have been weaker.

  8. 58

    That’s what real adaptation and mitigation looks like.

    Actually, no, that’s called bulldozing the swamp that nurtures you. He’s a private developer. You’ll just have to trust me that he doesn’t have nature’s best interests at heart. But you can continue defending him [edit]

  9. 59
    Hank Roberts says:

    > pine beetles

    On my litte post-forest-fire revegetation project, after its first fire in over 40 years, we saw a lot of beetles — we also promptly saw a whole lot more fence lizards. I was collecting beetles for http://www.sbnature.org/collections/invert/entom/cbpfieldwork_db.php and the first year after the fire, when I’d peel up a strip of bark on a fire-killed oak looking for interesting beetles, the fence lizards would rush in and snap the beetles up before I could get to them. Fearless little lizards. Those, of course, fed a lot of hawks.

    We saw downy woodpeckers and flickers increasing in in the next few years, especially after a second little lightning fire, and saw more nest holes in the snags left standing (all around us they’d done ‘salvage logging’ — using a bulldozer, scraping and piling all the unsalable burnable material, burning it, and poking in little nursery Ponderosa pines, usual Dep’t of Agriculture farm protpcol — so the wildlife wasn’t as welcome there).

    Thank goodness for the DDT ban, or we wouldn’t have the birds to take care of the beetles.

  10. 60
    dhogaza says:

    “Many of the effects being witness in the natural world may not be completely caused by the burning of fossil Fuels.”

    As I’ve pointed out before, denialists seem to have this weird dichotomy (probably a projection problem) that they insist that the AGW proponents have CO2 as the SOLE FACTOR for warming

    Mark, chill, EL is no denialist, and he goes to pains to try to avoid being misunderstood.

    EL is simply pointing out that direct rape of ecosystems may be causing more ecological damage than CO2-forced warming. Eric’s reasoned inline response would indicate that Eric understood what was being said.

    EL, in addition to what Eric said, I’d add that mitigation efforts in the form of creating habitat reserves, etc, have been predicated on climate remaining more or less stable for a long time. Rapid warming is undermining this strategy, to the point where here in the US, at least, conservation organizations and federal agencies are scrambling to try to figure out just how bad the next few decades are likely to be.

  11. 61
    Dan Eldredge says:

    Eric,

    Recommend correcting paragraph 4 of your posting. The birds should be “Kingfishers,” not “Kingfishes.”

  12. 62

    Good to see people talking about CCS again. A friend of mine has been working in this area for years now. Lots of good info on his site.

    http://www.eprida.com

    We are trying to put together strategies for larger scale implementation.

    It is a very exciting area.

    I can’t resist this: Captcha: ‘New start’

  13. 63
    Jake Weltzin says:

    Slioch (45) et al.:

    There is indeed a new centralized effort to coordinate research, education and outreach on phenology in the United States. Though we are far behind the European nations, the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) went live in August 2007, and as of March this year started collecting contemporary data on phenology of plants across the nation; an animal phenology monitoring program is under development.

    We collaborate with existing science and observation networks (e.g., NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network), land management agencies (e.g., National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service), NGOs (e.g., The Wildlife Society, The Wilderness Society), citizen observations programs (e.g., Monarch Watch, Great Sunflower Project, Cornell’s programs), and the remote sensing phenology community to form a national database on phenology. Learn more about our structure, function and mission at

    http://www.usanpn.org/?q=national-phenology-network

    In short, we seek contemporary data on plant (and later animal) activity from volunteer observers across the country, but are developing a module to discover, ingest and serve historic (legacy) datasets that will provide a baseline for assessing impacts of climate change on natural ecological systems.

    We also hope to help coordinate the remote sensing phenology community; the paper by Michael White et al (Global Change Biology in press) referenced in #27 (and thereafter) above, is a first step. As it turns out, there are 10 algorithms that have been developed and used to ‘determine’ start of spring from times series of vegetation indices (e.g., NDVI); the intermodel comparison asked contributors to work with a consistent dataset (platform, time period). Early results suggest that we need to agree on standard terminology for assessments of start of season (not to mention end of season, etc.).

    We also plan to serve as a clearinghouse for images, and are developing a comprehensive bibliography for articles related to phenology.

    The USA-NPN is a community effort, but the activities of the National Coordinating Office of USA-NPN are supported by US National Science Foundation, US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and NASA, NOAA, EPA and several other organizations and agencies.

    Visit our web-site to learn more: http://www.usanpn.org

    Jake Weltzin
    Executive Director
    USA National Phenology Network

  14. 64
    James says:

    Walt Bennett Says (12 April 2009 at 10:30 AM):

    “Too much energy is lost in transmission, making it impractical to ship electricity from deserts, for example, to cities and suburbs, but deserts are where it makes sense to build the wind farms and solar arrays that will replace fossil fuels in the long run.”

    Instead, how about you damned urbanites build your solar arrays, wind farms, and nuclear plants in your own back yards, thus reducing transmission losses and saving money on power line construction, while at the same time not crapping on other peoples’ deserts, mountains, and seashores?

  15. 65
    Mark says:

    Well, dhgoza, EL shouldn’t use “there isn’t just CO2, you know” because that’s handing a hand-grenade to the denialists. And, in any case, is just wrong.

    It implies that the pro side only think of CO2.

    The implication is wrong.

    And it doesn’t matter WHOSE side you’re on, you should go around being wrong, unless you’re willing to learn from it when it’s pointed out.

  16. 66
    dhogaza says:

    Well, dhgoza, EL shouldn’t use “there isn’t just CO2, you know” because that’s handing a hand-grenade to the denialists. And, in any case, is just wrong.

    And you shouldn’t accuse people of saying things they don’t say, or holding views they don’t hold, though I won’t hold my breath, seeing as you’ve given me the same treatment in the past.

    He didn’t use those words. His post was far more nuanced, and not wrong. Read it more closely.

    It implies that the pro side only think of CO2.

    He says no such thing. He’s saying that he fears that rather than reduce CO2 emissions, governments may seek a geoengineering “magic bullet” for mitigation whose unintended consequences may be as bad or worse than the disease, because of a belief that significant cuts in CO2 emissions will be politically impossible.

    Nothing wrong with that statement at all, regardless of whether or not you agree with his judgement that political entities will try to take what they view as an easy way out of the mess.

  17. 67

    Re Eric’s in-line response (#47):
    “The problem is that climate change comes on top of everything else.”
    Perhaps also important is that climate change affects pretty much all ecosystems (though not all to the same extent), and that the effects of climate change are cumulative and expected to gradually get worse as the climate keeps warming.

  18. 68
    Mark says:

    I’ll quote it again, dhgoza:

    “Many of the effects being witness in the natural world may not be completely caused by the burning of fossil Fuels.”

    Why do you think that sentence does not carry with it “you believe incorrectly that the effects being witnessed in the natural world is completely caused by the burning of fossil fuels” as it’s message?

    Why start off with that?

    Maybe, being honest and truthful, it would read “The effects we see today are being added to by our technology”. Which is saying “yes, fossil fuels are a problem, but we’re doing more things badly than just that”.

  19. 69
    dhogaza says:

    Why do you think that sentence does not carry with it “you believe incorrectly that the effects being witnessed in the natural world is completely caused by the burning of fossil fuels” as it’s message?

    Because I can read. Because I don’t try to put words into people’s mouths, or assign beliefs to them that they don’t hold.

    Maybe, being honest and truthful, it would read “The effects we see today are being added to by our technology”.

    There’s nothing untruthful or dishonest about the statement “many of the effects we’re seeing may not be completely caused by the burning of fossil fuels”. Nada.

    Maybe, being honest and truthful, you might admit that you misread EL’s post, apologize, and move on.

    Which is saying “yes, fossil fuels are a problem, but we’re doing more things badly than just that”.

    That’s exactly what EL’s post says. Any other interpretation is either malicious or due to an inability to read.

    Quit being an ass. Apologize to EL for misreading his post and intention.

  20. 70
    Hank Roberts says:

    Would the silverbacks please consider stopping the huffing and puffing and tearing up the dandelions about who’s more right, quoting one another’s quotations of one another, and return to the topic, considering the return of spring?

    Yes, there are people who insist on being right all the time. I, for one, am one, from time to time. But repeatedly insisting on it each time one is challenged suggests insecurity. Say it, move on.

    I’m right you know.

    Now — what’s blooming where you are?

    Did you notice the phenology survey is using _dandelions_ as one of their criterion species? Dang, they started here weeks ago. Missed the mark.

  21. 71
    David B. Benson says:

    Lopa Brunjes (36) — Even with tilling to typical root d4epths, about 1/2 of the carbon re-enters the active carbon cycle with a few decades. For quite permanent sequestration one needs what amounts to carbon landfills; artificial coal seams if you like.

    Barton Paul Levenson (52) — Algae obtain CO2 from the water; a typical arrangement when flue gas is availble is to bubble the flue gas through the tank; production goes way up. I know of no studies bubbling ordinary air, but I suppose this would help; there is a fuel cost for the bubbling, of course.

    I’m sure additional research, GM of appropriate species of algae, etc., will all enhance the productivity. I was just attempting to point out the scale of the required effort to mitigate by air capture alone; even if it could be made to require only 1/4 the land area, it is still an immense undertaking.

  22. 72
    Nick Gotts says:

    “We need a new leap forward and we need it very soon. I have enormous confidence in our ability to accomplish that.

    At the same time, I have zero confidence in emissions reduction as a successful mitigation strategy, success being defined as warding off ice sheet instability.

    I think we need geo-engineering to avoid that. In fact, I’m certain of it.” – Walt Bennett

    Walt, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that your subjective feelings of confidence and certainty are evidence or arguments for your views. To convince people here, you’re going to need something more than that.

  23. 73
    John Mashey says:

    re: 55 Jim
    Thanks, even if they aren’t the punchy historical maps I’m looking for, thsoe area really nice atlases.

    re: 63 Jake
    Your efforts look promising, and I’ll take a look at your presentations (After taxes).

  24. 74
    Theo Hopkins says:

    “One swallow doesn’t make a summer”. An expression in England. English swallow migrate to here.

    I’m in Cornwall, South West England.

    My partner says she saw her first swallow today. She thinks this is “far too early”.

  25. 75
    sidd says:

    “…success being defined as warding off ice sheet instability.”

    Disagree. What about ocean acidification ? Monsoon failure ? Permafrost methane release ? Tsunamis from underwater clathrate methane release ? Anoxic ocean stratification ? …

    There are more things on heaven and earth…

  26. 76
    Theo Hopkins says:

    Here in Southwest England there seems to be the view among sheep farmers – if anecdotal – that lambing is getting earlier and earlier.

  27. 77
    P. Lewis says:

    Swallows: Around 11th April is probably not unusual that far south. As the swallow flies, I’m about 80-90 km north of Cornwall, perhaps, and our swallows arrive in our barn on/around 18th-23rd April usually. Anything from around 25th March onwards according to this slightly out-of-date link is normal, but it does seem to have been getting earlier.

    (The cuckoo’s a “day or two” late so far this year compared with last year.)

    Sheep: Well, the gestation period of sheep is well known. If the lambs are coming earlier then its surely because the ewes have been tupped earlier. And it’s likely they’re coming earlier because they’ve been tupped with a view to lambing in giant lambing sheds so that “spring” lambs can be got to the table earlier with, presumably, a price premium for the UK farmer.

  28. 78

    A lot is known about phenology [the study of the timing of natural events in the lives of living things in relation to climate.] at Kew Gardens, UK: ‘ . . Snowdrops opened around the end of February in the 1950s, but over the decades flowering has gradually become earlier, and since the 1990s they’ve opened in January. The flowering of the wild daffodil has advanced from March to January – by 41 days since records began . . ‘ : http://www.kew.org/ksheets/pdfs/K36-black.pdf

    This universal experience of British gardeners and growers explains why the reality of climate change is accepted here as it is not yet in the U.S.

  29. 79

    Walt Bennett, still channeling the collective overmind of the fossil fuel industry, writes:

    I have zero confidence in emissions reduction as a successful mitigation strategy, success being defined as warding off ice sheet instability.

    I think we need geo-engineering to avoid that. In fact, I’m certain of it.

    Let me get this straight — you think we can’t possible convince the public to stop burning fossil fuels, but we can convince them to pay for some cockamamie geoengineering scheme that has never been tried before?

  30. 80

    James writes:

    Instead, how about you damned urbanites build your solar arrays, wind farms, and nuclear plants in your own back yards, thus reducing transmission losses and saving money on power line construction, while at the same time not crapping on other peoples’ deserts, mountains, and seashores?

    Who says those areas belong to YOU?

  31. 81
    Mark says:

    “If the lambs are coming earlier then its surely because the ewes have been tupped earlier.”

    And why are they tupping earlier?
    If they could have done it before, why didn’t they do it before? I.e. what’s changed?

  32. 82
    Mark says:

    “Quit being an ass. Apologize to EL for misreading his post and intention.”

    Nope.

    As I see it, you’re wrong and EL was being either disingenuous or careless with his wording.

    Stop being an [edit] yourself and let EL talk.

  33. 83
    Mark says:

    dgoza, whist you’re fixating on the black and white, please tell me where in post 49 where I called EL a denialist.

    It ain’t there, son.

    You going to apologise to me?

    Didn’t think so.

  34. 84
    P. Lewis says:

    And why are they tupping earlier? If they could have done it before, why didn’t they do it before? I.e. what’s changed?

    My initial point, perhaps slightly poorly phrased, was that if the lambs are arriving earlier, then it is not likely for phenological reasons (at least per se), since the lambing time is managed by the farmer putting the ram in with the ewes.

    Actually, January to February is the natural time of year for the ewe to lamb. It’s not a lot to do with hard winters; sheep are hardy.

    Rather, more especially when you keep “lots” of sheep probably, it’s not the ideal time for a lamb to be born outside in the UK because the ground tends to get very wet at that time of year and then you end up with muddy fields if you put lots of sheep out to grass. This then gives a poor late spring/summer grass crop, which has a knock-on effect on lamb growth (and price to the farmer) because the ewes don’t get enough good grass to keep milk production up to a high level.

    And as I’ve already intimated, investment in large lambing sheds (even where I am, in a highland farming area), where feed is controlled, in order to supply fresh lamb to the spring/Easter market when prices are traditionally high.

    Some farmers where I am plan for end of Jan/early Feb and some plan for March/April. It all depends, as they say.

  35. 85
    Ike Solem says:

    Walt says:

    “There are no economically feasible alternatives that can be snapped into place in the short term.”

    Wrong, Walt. If you want an example of what can be “snapped into place in the short term”, just look at the history of the nuclear weapons and energy program in the United States – between 1945 and 1955 an entire industry was created out of scratch – with dozens of federal, state and private facilities and institutions involved – and when it comes to solar and wind, we are way past any “1945 moment” – we do not need a “Manhattan Project” for renewable energy.

    The clearest example of the political interference that prevents renewables from taking off is seen in the actions of the investor-owned coal-fired electric utilities – Southern Co. being the worst offender, but the others are not far behind.

    1) Every time a call for 15% renewable power generation is introduced, the electric utilities sabotage it in Congress.

    2) Likewise, every time Clean Air rules come up for review, the fossil fuel lobby tries to kill it.

    3) The U.S. press gives sole coverage to the coal-fired electric power lobby, and never allows equal time for renewable energy corporations to get their message across.

    You can see this last one at the New York Times and at the Washington Post, who tend to repeat your PR line:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/business/energy-environment/29renew.html

    Some experts not aligned with either camp estimate that wind power is currently more than 50 percent more expensive than power generated by a traditional coal plant. Built into the calculation is the need for utilities that rely heavily on wind power to build backup plants fired by natural gas to meet electricity demand when winds are calm….

    …For example, the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit consortium financed by investor- and publicly-owned utilities, predicted in November that even for plants coming on line in 2015, wind energy would cost nearly one-third more than coal and about 14 percent more than natural gas.

    What “non-aligned experts” is Matthew Wald talking about? Here you have the New York Times, the national paper of record, running one-sided propaganda on behalf of the coal industry and their private investors – EPRI is a coal front group. Where is the viewpoint of IRENA, etc.?

    In any case, the claim that you cannot build renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in a timely and economic manner is just false.

    Take the recent $1 trillion bailout of our banking system (much of that bailout went right into fossil fuel investments via Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley etc.).

    How much does a solar panel factory capable of 50 megawatt/year output cost? Answer: About 100 million. $1 trillion/ 100 million = 10,000. Of course, you’d want to spread the money around – so, $330 billion each for wind, solar and biofuel production.

    It is possible to build 1GW solar thermal plants, as well as home-scale rooftop PV systems – especially as efficiency of solar conversion is now approaching 20%.

    What is needed is a l-o-a-n program, obviously – how many new cars would ever have been bought without credit? Consider a bank that delivered $50,000 to a homeowner for the purchase of a stand-alone solar PV system. Instead of paying an electric bill, the homeowner pays a monthly fee to the bank – but with the advantage of fixed costs, meaning no Enron-style manipulation of the price of power is possible. The banks don’t do this because they are already major players in the coal mine-railroad-utility system – guaranteed monopolistic profits, as per the free-market enthusiasts at the New York Times and Washington Post. Suffer from cognitive dissonance, do we?

    Do we even need 3,000 solar PV factories? We only have about three in the U.S. right now, I believe – but then, we don’t have any academic programs – how many colleges in the U.S. have a nuclear engineering program? How many have a solar engineering program?

    The really interesting thing is how academics sidestep this question – they just don’t want to talk about it. Instead, they go around giving talks about climate change while ignoring the obvious solutions that are right under their nose.

    Academics really ought to sit down with a copy of Washburn’s “University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education” – and so should the general public. For example,

    In 2002, NYU also recruited eight prestigious economists thought to command salaries of $200,000 to $300,000 each – a coup that even made a splash in the popular news media

    There is not a single school in the U.S. that has eight renewable energy experts on staff – I mean technical experts, not policy wonks. There is not a single renewable energy program that has institution level status outside the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is managed by Battelle, the main sponsor of the fraudulent FutureGen project, and Bechtel, the global fossil fuel and water engineering firm.

    I don’t see anything “honorable” about that, despite all the “honors” that academics like to bestow on one another – there is no honor in hypocrisy, sorry. As we all know, academic freedom is a myth within the corporate university. There’s a world for scientists who keep their mouths shut about this trend out of fear of losing their own careers – “fellow travelers”, I believe. Am I breaking some rule? Perhaps – but I’d suggest reading this, and this, before complaining about that. “Public-private partnerships” are not exactly a new phenomenon.

    Yes, spring is arriving earlier. Yes, the poles are melting. Yes, biological diversity is plummeting and extinction rates are increasing. Yes, the U.S. government gutted the National Biological Survey and has said nothing about re-introducing it – at least not yet.

    And yes, we have all the technology needed to drop fossil fuels and switch to renewables, and yes, it is economically feasible, and yes, doing so will cause Warren Buffet to lose his shirt due to his large investments in tar sands oil and coal-fired electric utilites, and it’s unlikely that renewables will be anywhere near as profitable as fossil fuels, because with solar and wind, the fuel is free.

    Anyway, Walt, enough of that – you seem to be well-informed, perhaps you could tell me how FutureGen works, technically speaking – I certainly can’t find anyone else willing to do so. The most likely explanation for that is that NeverGen is one of the largest frauds perpetrated on the public in the past few years.

  36. 86
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, you are advocating geo-engineering, but what kind? Ocean fertilization with iron–doesn’t work? Sulfate aerosols? Might work in the short term, but it will make ocean acidification worse and will require continual replenishment? Carbon capture from the atmosphere–might work, but requires a huge scale that may not be feasible.

    So, specifics, Walt. ‘Til then, you might as well be saying you want to rely on magic or space aliens.

  37. 87
    EL says:

    [Response: It is perfectly legitimate to ask whether climate change is the greatest threat to ecosystems. In many cases — perhaps most cases — the answer is no, at least in the short term. Clearcutting, pollution, damming of rivers, etc. are far more destructive. Scientists are perfectly aware of this. The problem is that climate change comes on top of everything else.–eric]

    I would completely agree with you that climate change is greatest threat in the long term, but some of the short term effects may be dramatic enough to warrant more discussion.

    RE-49-
    “As I’ve pointed out before, denialists seem to have this weird dichotomy (probably a projection problem) that they insist that the AGW proponents have CO2 as the SOLE FACTOR for warming.”

    What exactly am I in denial about? I’m a critical person by nature, and I look at problems from many different angles and standpoints. I personally think it’s a strength, not a weakness. While CO2 is a very important factor in global warming, there exist other factors that may be equally as important to mankind; however, that does not mean that CO2 doesn’t need to be dealt with, to the contrary. Our environment is getting flat out raped by technology and over population. We are completely depleting resources that have taken millions of years to develop, and the effects may be very severe.

    “As to your request that other elements are talked about, read the name of this site. If you want to talk about geoengineering and its results, ignoring the engineers themselves, that’s a political issue: what actions should be taken having been informed by the science (which is what this site is for, discussing what the science is telling us).”

    I think other issues that are relevant to climate change needs to be discussed. The proposal of Geo-engineering to control climate is a very important issue because it’s being taken far too serious by governments as an effective solution to this problem. It sounds like a simply solution to a profound problem, and I fear governments are going to buy into it. They are being lobbied by powerful oil companies, scientist are screaming, and a option exists on the table (in their view) to satisfy both groups. The consequences of Geo-engineering the climate could be astounding, and is a poorly understood area of science. If any engineers wish to debate the safety of this idea, I will more then happily put up an argument. If such a scientific experiment goes wrong, mankind has to live with the results.

    RE60 – “EL, in addition to what Eric said, I’d add that mitigation efforts in the form of creating habitat reserves, etc, have been predicated on climate remaining more or less stable for a long time. Rapid warming is undermining this strategy, to the point where here in the US, at least, conservation organizations and federal agencies are scrambling to try to figure out just how bad the next few decades are likely to be.”

    I live in a mountainous location that is called home by fireflies. They are very interesting insects that science knows very little of. When I was a child, these insects would come out and light up the night; however, they are now nowhere to be found. They are going extinct all over the world. Some people may regard the firefly as insignificant, I regard them as a very clear warning. Everything that depended upon the firefly is now in danger, and everything that partially depended upon the firefly is now more vulnerable. Over the last decade, I’ve seen large changes in nature first hand. Nature is sending a very clear message to mankind, and its message may be falling on deaf ears.

    RE67 – “Perhaps also important is that climate change affects pretty much all ecosystems (though not all to the same extent), and that the effects of climate change are cumulative and expected to gradually get worse as the climate keeps warming.”

    But some of the short term effects can kills us as well and possibly sooner. How many building blocks can we pull from the foundations of our ecosystems before it falls down? We may very well kill off our ecosystems before global warming has the chance.

  38. 88
    Chuck Booth says:

    Erratum: Fourth paragraph, second line: That would be Kingfishers – not Kingfishes. :-)

  39. 89
    Phillip Huggan says:

    Back when the world was warmer in the early Pliocene and especially pre-mid-Miocene, there may have been superhurricanes but we aren’t sure. With obvious implication for the future. Sea salt and plankton is transported inland by large hurricanes: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/04/030425071845.htm
    By examining prospecting soil cores it should be possible to determine if there is a fossil/sea-salt distribution that tails off the further inland of the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico coast you go.

    After a couple flaky posts I think I may have just made a genuine AGW science contribution :)

  40. 90
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Re: Lawrence Brown. I share your sence of urgency 100%. I am equally frustrated about all this senseless discussion on trying to prove with certainty that global warming is due to anthropenic means. With the likes of exxon et-al muddying the waters and trying to delude the public into thinking otherwise. With the fate of the arctic basin and associated wildlife..that’s pretty much a forgone conclusion. We have at least 60 years of global warming locked in. In those 60 years the antarctic continant and penninusla will be barely recognisable from today let alone 50 years ago. About the only ice shelf to survive would have to be the ross. Although if effects of warming ocean send an offshoot warm current past or even under the ross ice shelf then…??? We all know what this will do with all lowlying communities on the planet. This is why I am sick of all this dithering and polititions puting the economic cost of CC mitigation as an excuse to do virtually nothing. Without strong and immediate action NOW the world economies will collapse anyway. I am very pleased with china..the old argument was that it would follow what america is doing which since the last couple of months under dumbya was diddly squat..china is taking the lead and pushing ahead with an aggressive alternative energy program..It may well be that america will have to follow china to self sustainability (if we ever get there??)..Tell you what! that will be the best thing to happen to the giant american ego more than a century.

  41. 91
    Slioch says:

    #63 Jake Weltzin

    Thanks for that. Glad to see things are getting going at last.

    #21 Theo Hopkins

    “My partner says she saw her first swallow today. She thinks this is “far too early”.” Not so. See:

    http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk/map/current.htm?rsid=137&reid=12&ry=2009&rs=S

    Swallows have not got to me yet, but then I’m up in the Scottish Highlands.

    You should join:

    http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk/

    and start recording your observations.

    Giving greater attention to the changing seasons adds spice (not to say seasoning) to life, and provides useful information. My records already show that spring is coming earlier.

  42. 92
    Mark says:

    “My initial point, perhaps slightly poorly phrased, was that if the lambs are arriving earlier, then it is not likely for phenological reasons (at least per se), since the lambing time is managed by the farmer putting the ram in with the ewes. ”

    Well we still have the problem of why this change in procedure is taking place.

    Why didn’t the farmers put the rams in with the ewes this early before? If it would have worked, then farmers the world over would have worked out how early it was possible to do so and used it (in order to maximise profit).

  43. 93
  44. 94
    David Horton says:

    #77 and #93 – I have tentatively noticed a change in sheep/lambing behaviour also. It is, as pointed out above, complicated by management practices potentially masking natural cycles. But oestrus, cycling, in ewes, is controlled by environmental factors. Most notably day length, but with considerable input from nutrition and climatic conditions. I think that ewes (at least in the breed I am familiar with) are beginning to cycle earlier and are therefore (ram available) able to lamb earlier and earlier. This would be difficult to prove, but there must be many of these kinds of observations being made by farmers all over the world. Trouble is they may notice something on their own farm, or even in a whole district, but not be sure what is happening precisely, nor how it fits into a bigger picture.

  45. 95
    P. Lewis says:

    So far as I can ascertain, the “climate” references to sheep refer to whether they are species in cold, temperate or hot climes, rather than to changes in oestrus brought about by phenological progression.

    In most UK sheep, at least in my upland area, lambing time is all down to when the ram is put in with the ewes (which actually induces oestrus in the ewe in most cases). That is managed by keeping the ewes from sight or smell of a ram for about 2 months prior to tupping and to when the (usually hired) ram is available to do his stuff.

    One factor in insemination success by ram’s may be the temperature on the days the rams are in with the ewes, since rams’ sperm production is/can be susceptible to small changes in temperature. Given the vagaries of the British spring/summer/autumn weather, that is likely to be variable to say the least. This being so, then surely diurnal temperature effects will swamp any likely seasonal phenological progression in oestrus timing. And the other big factor in ewes entering oestrus is day length, as pointed out. That is the same, year in, year out.

    I will bend the year of a couple of my sheep farming neighbours, once they’ve finished lambing this season.

  46. 96

    For those who have been following the progress of the George Will debacle at the Washington Post, the Post has finally published its own editorial. It doesn’t mention Will, and it concerns itself with a single issue (Arctic ice), but still.

    Global warming is doing a number on Arctic Sea ice. The [NSIDC/NASA] report noted that the Arctic winter was 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average. This and other factors are causing the surface ice to melt. That ice is vital for reflecting the light and heat of the sun. Without it, the heat warms the Arctic Ocean, which then melts the ice below the surface of the water.

    It remains to be seen whether or not Will will begin his next column with “Morons!”.

  47. 97
    Danny Bloom says:

    CNN iReports has a good story here about a graduation speech to the class of 2099. It’s about all this, too, in a way. View it on CNN site here:
    http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-242455

  48. 98
    Bruce says:

    There is a northern-US folk phenomenon that some climate researcher should track more closely: many communities have “ice-out” raffles wherein people take bets on the time of ice-melt on local bodies of water (kinda like a football pool). Besides being an amusing way to celebrate the coming of spring, ice-out and ice safety is a big issue in northern communities. It’s been noted that the winning guesses have been trending earlier. There could be value for some researcher to survey the local papers for records of ice-out times over the years, and correlate that with other data.

  49. 99
    william says:

    #40 James
    I googled Sierra ski openings for this year (2008-9) and found that Mammoth opened Nov 3rd, Lake Tahoe opened Nov 5 and Boreal opened Nov 6th. That seems quite a bit closer to October than the December openings you reference in your post. Although some ski resorts are closing up shop in the next few weeks, it’s not for lack of snow. The economy has kept away skiers so it does not make economic sense to keep resorts open even though there is a plethora of snow.
    The Colorado Ski season has opened pretty consistently for the last 15 years on or about October 15th at either A-Basin or Loveland Pass.
    Thanks
    William

  50. 100
    william says:

    #90 Coleman
    In exactly what areas other than rice production is China self sustaining from a resource perspective? China is incapable of firing their coal plants and running their steel mills without huge imports of coal, coke, iron order and scrap from the USA and all over the world. In addition, China is the world’s second largest oil importer after the USA and will probably overtake the USA sometime in the next 10-15 years.


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