Cham cham (Indian sweets). Place of production: Kolkata, India. Production method: Factory production. Time of production: All-season. Transporting distance: 6.851 km. Means of transportation: Aircraft, truck. Carbon footprint per kg: 8.26 kg. Price: $13.74 (€11)/kg. Klaus Pichler 

By George Webster, CNN
27 June 2012

(CNN) – At first glance, Austrian artist Klaus Pichler's spell-binding photographs could be mistaken for a set of stylish advertisements. It takes a moment to digest -- excuse the pun -- that you're staring at pictures of rotting food.

Among them, a pineapple hangs suspended in negative space above an antique gold dish -- its formerly yellow flesh having given way to luminous green mold; Deep purple beetroots sit snugly in an elegant porcelain vase with thin films of gray fur accumulating on their skin.

The idea is simple: "To expose the contradiction between the beauty of food products -- particularly as presented in the media -- and the ugly reality of overconsumption and waste," explained Pichler.

The title of his new series -- One Third -- derives from a 2011 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report. It revealed a chilling statistic: A third of all food products worldwide go uneaten.

Depending on the type of food in question, this figure ranges from between 25% and 75% and, altogether, it amounts to 1.3 billion tons of edible goods discarded each year.

The transportation routes of the food photographed for the 'One Third' project offer an insight into the food production industry's north-south divide. Klaus Pichler

In a world where approximately 925 million people suffer chronic hunger, the overarching moral implications are stark. But the less documented environmental consequences are almost as alarming.

According to a Greenpeace report, the food industry is responsible for creating up to 30% of the world's total annual carbon emissions.

"The dominant food production system is based on fossil fuel at every level," said Dr Martin Caraher, Professor of Food and Health Policy at London's City University. "It needs oil to make the fertilizer, oil for the farm, oil for the food processing, oil for the packaging and oil to transport it to the shops."

But wasted food doesn't just entail all the embedded carbon released during production and transportation. It generates more emissions once it's discarded on the trash heap.

"A significant percentage of the household food that is wasted ends up in landfill, where it produces CO2 and methane gas," explained Richard Swannell, director of waste prevention at the UK-based Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). "Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas," he added.

As such, WRAP calculates that every ton of food and drink wasted roughly equates to 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions that could otherwise have been avoided.

"Applying this factor to the quantity of food waste in the UK, leads to an estimated 17 million tons of CO2 in 2010 -- the equivalent to the emissions of 1 in 5 cars on our roads," said Swannell.

And yet a recent study revealed that up to 40% of food thrown away by consumers in Europe is still in its original packaging when it lands in the dustbin. This all begs the question: Why do we squander so much? […]

Moldy matters: How wasted food is destroying the environment

Near-infrared satellite view of the Waldo Canyon Fire, captured 28 June 2012. NIR via

By Matt Peckham
29 June 2012

As an uncontrolled “super fire” near Colorado Springs rages, feeding off parched terrain and forcing tens of thousands from their homes and businesses, high-tech mapping tools are dishing up highly detailed, bird’s eye views of the fire’s scope.

Such tools offer everything from perimeter reports and pictures of the devastation to evacuation areas and shelters for both people and pets in the fire’s path.

(PHOTOS: Wildfires Whip Through Colorado)

Visit something called Google Crisis Response — an official Google website designed “to make critical information more accessible around natural disasters and humanitarian crises” — and you’ll find a Google Crisis Map of 2012 wildfires stippled with bright red and yellow markers signifying environmental flashpoints around the country.

There’s one southwest of Spearfish, South Dakota, for instance: a fire started by lightning that’s grown to 125 acres and has some 170 people, including helicopters, fire engines and bulldozers, working to contain it. It’s currently listed as 65% contained.

And there’s another spread across over 46,000 acres near Mt. Pleasant, Utah that’s so far consumed 56 structures, forced evacuations of multiple rural areas and killed one civilian. It’s listed as only 15% contained as of Wednesday morning.

Hover over Colorado on the map and you’ll find a state awash in red and orange, with additional alert markers indicating recovery centers and shelters for both humans and animals. If you drill down on Colorado Springs itself, to a zoom level of one mile, your screen fills with a red jag-line outlining the Waldo Canyon fire currently grabbing news headlines.

It’s been referred to as a “super fire” because of the area’s extremely dry conditions, which coupled with high-speed winds — up to 60 mph — cause the flames to hurtle from treetop to treetop and burn so hot that firefighters can’t get close.

It’s forced some 32,000 people to evacuate so far (and likely more, since precise evacuation numbers are unknown). The fire overlays more than 15,000 acres, according to Google’s map, and it’s listed as only 5% contained. That’s serious enough, given its proximity to such a major residential area, that President Obama plans to visit the region today. […]

How to Track Colorado’s Waldo Canyon ‘Super Fire’ (and Others)

[Usual apology for the ad.]

By Moni Basu, Fabi Rodriguez, Nick Valencia, Melissa Abbey, and Jake Carpenter
30 June 2012

(CNN) – Millions of people across nine states were left without power Saturday to deal with thermostat-popping temperatures after fierce storms pounded parts of the Midwest and Atlantic Seaboard.

Six people were killed in Virginia, crushed by felled trees, said Gov. Bob McDonnell, who declared an state of emergency in the state.

The storms moved east Friday from Indiana through Ohio and into West Virginia and the nation's capital.

In all, 3.6 million homes were without power Saturday morning; nearly 1 million in Virginia alone. The power outages and debris littering roads led to traffic disruptions and other headaches.

Amtrak service between Washington and Philadelphia was expected to be restored by noon Saturday after the storm downed trees and wires across tracks.

In the nation's capital, many intersections were without traffic lights Saturday.

Workers remove debris from fallen tree limbs and a downed utility pole so that power lines can be repaired in Huntington, Md. Scores of homes across the Washington area lost power after a severe thunderstorm, 30 June 2012. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The aftermath of the storm was compounded Saturday by a forecast of another sweltering summer day.

One in three Americans were baking Saturday in an area of nearly 600,000 square miles sizzling under the sun.

Temperatures tipped the 100-degree mark in several cities Friday, including St. Louis, Richmond, Nashville, Washington and Atlanta, the National Weather Service said.

In many places, it felt much hotter than the thermostat reading.

"If you don't have a good pair of boots, it'll burn clear through to your feet," said roofer Zach Bruner in Evansville, Indiana, where he said the 103-degree temperatures were spiking to 130 on the job site.

The bad news? Relief is nowhere in sight as the extreme heat is expected to continue through the weekend.

In storm-affected areas, many people had no electricity to run fans, air-conditioning and refrigerators. Even in places where power was not disrupted, people with no air-conditioning were advised to spend the day in a library or a cooling center to avoid heat exhaustion.

Atlanta opened five cooling centers in anticipation of another day of triple-digit heat.

Fueled by the high temperatures, the severe thunderstorms brought with them winds gusting to 80 miles per hour, the weather service said.

Saturday morning, the storm's fury was visible with downed trees and debris littering roads. […]

Millions without power as storms pound U.S. following record-setting heat

Greenland ice sheet albedo, 2000-2012. The trend in the reflectivity of high elevation ice in Greenland shows the record low as of 26 June 2012.

By Andrew Freedman
29 June 2012

The Greenland ice sheet is poised for another record melt this year, and is approaching a "tipping point" into a new and more dangerous melt regime in which the summer melt area covers the entire land mass, according to new findings from polar researchers.

The ice sheet is the focus of scientific research because its fate has huge implications for global sea levels, which are already rising as ice sheets melt and the ocean warms, exposing coastal locations to greater damage from storm surge-related flooding.

Greenland's ice has been melting faster than many scientists expected just a decade ago, spurred by warming sea and land temperatures, changing weather patterns, and other factors. Until now, though, most of the focus has been on ice sheet dynamics — how quickly Greenland's glaciers are flowing into the sea. But the new research raises a different basis for concern.

The new findings show that the reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet, particularly the high-elevation areas where snow typically accumulates year-round, have reached a record low since records began in 2000. This indicates that the ice sheet is absorbing more energy than normal, potentially leading to another record melt year — just two years after the 2010 record melt season.

“In this condition, the ice sheet will continue to absorb more solar energy in a self-reinforcing feedback loop that amplifies the effect of warming,” wrote Ohio State polar researcher Jason Box on the blog. Greenland is the world's largest island, and it holds 680,000 cubic miles of ice. If all of this ice were to melt — which, luckily won't happen anytime soon — the oceans would rise by more than 20 feet.

In a new study, Box and a team of researchers describe the decline in ice sheet reflectivity and the reasons behind it, noting that if current trends continue, the area of ice that melts during the summer season is likely to expand to cover all of Greenland for the first time in the observational record, rather than just the lower elevations at the edges of the continent, as is the case today. The study has been accept for publication in the open access journal The Cryosphere.

The high reflectivity of snow is what has kept Greenland so cold by redirecting incoming heat from the sun back out toward space. But with several factors combining to increase temperatures in Greenland and reduce the reflectivity of the snow and ice cover, the ice sheet is becoming less efficient at reflecting that heat energy, and as a consequence melt seasons are becoming more severe.

Freshly fallen snow reflects up to 84 percent of incoming sunlight, but during the warm season the reflectivity declines as the ice grains within the snowpack change shape and size. In addition, once snow cover melts completely it often reveals underlying ice that has been darkened by dust and other particles, whose surface absorbs more solar energy, promoting heating.

Box's research has shown that the change in the reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet during the 12 summers between 2000 and 2011 allowed the ice sheet to absorb an extra 172 "quintillion joules" of energy, nearly twice the amount of energy consumed in the U.S. in 2009. This extra energy has gone into raising the temperature of the snow and ice cover during summer.

“If the area of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiencing net melt expands to eclipse the accumulation zone of the ice sheet, the ice sheet will, by definition, be tipped into a state of inevitable decline,” said William Colgan, a research associate at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) who did not participate in the new research. […]

Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Nearing Critical ‘Tipping Point’

The insurance status of this home lot in Mandeville was in question after Hurricane Katrina, because of a dispute over whether the damage was caused by wind or water. Bernard Smith was photographed on his property in January 2007. Chuck Cook / The Times-Picayune archive

By Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune
28 June 2012

Washington – New federal flood insurance legislation could force some homeowners and commercial property owners to pay higher premiums, up to 20 percent a year for the next five years. Currently rate increases are limited to 10 percent annually. The legislation, added to a transportation funding bill expected to win congressional approval by the weekend, would apply to second homes, properties with repetitive flood claims and commercial properties.

The bill finances Louisiana highway and mass transit projects and includes the Restore Act, which would funnel billions of dollars in anticipated Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to Louisiana and the four other Gulf states.

About 25 percent of the 5.6 million federal flood insurance policies have been in the program since 1972, and were exempted from congressional mandates to adjust rates closer to market prices, according to insurance industry estimates.

That protection will continue for owners of primary residences covered by the federal flood insurance program since 1972, as long as they haven't made repeat claims and don't make future renovations or rebuild in a way that increases a property's value by 50 percent or more.

Most Louisiana lawmakers said the bill, which extends the program for five years after dozens of short-term extensions, will bring some important stability.

The program has been extended for short intervals 16 times since 2008. The program temporarily lost authorization four times, resulting in postponement of house sale closings in communities where flood insurance is mandatory. […]

After Hurricane Katrina, some homeowners, including prominent members of Congress, said FEMA relied too heavily on insurance company determinations that the damage was caused by floodwaters, which enabled the private companies to avoid paying out on wind policies and put the financial burden on the federal program.

The bill also calls on FEMA to streamline and improve its migration grant program to help lift or move homes out of harm's way to prevent repetitive claims.

As details of the transportation bill emerged Thursday, there was praise from Louisiana lawmakers and environmental groups for the inclusion of the Restore Act, to funnel Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf coast for ecosystem restoration and economic recovery efforts.

But House Republican leaders were criticized for insisting the costs of the bill be partially offset by reclaiming $650 million in Medicaid funding for Louisiana. During negotiations, the GOP leaders said the money was part of a larger sum paid the state in error and should be recouped.

The decision creates a $1.1 billion shortfall in the state's fiscal 2013 Medicaid budget, forcing cuts in care for the poor and uninsured. […]

Flood insurance premiums could rise 20 percent for some

Projected U.S. Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions, 2008-2035. EIA

Carbon emissions keep going up, up, and up. The CAP report spends a lot of time dwelling on the consequences of unchecked global warming — e.g., by 2030 wildfires in Western states like Montana will increase by 300 percent. But they also point out that the sort of energy security promised by API is still no defense against high prices and other shocks.

What the oil industry wants — in charts

A pedestrian walks by the vacant Bank of Stockton on 27 June 2012. Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO, 28 June 2012 (Reuters) – Stockton, California, became the largest city to file for bankruptcy in U.S. history on Thursday, after years of fiscal mismanagement and a housing market crash left it unable to pay its workers, pensioners and bondholders.

The filing by the city of 300,000 people followed three months of confidential talks with its creditors aimed at averting bankruptcy. […]

Stockton, which officially declared insolvency and its desire to restructure its debt, also filed a separate list of its major unsecured creditors.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, which manages Stockton's pension plan, tops the list. The retirement system has a $147.5 million claim for unfunded pension costs. […]

"We are extremely disappointed that we have been unable to avoid bankruptcy," Mayor Ann Johnston said in a statement. "This is what we must do to get our fiscal house in order and protect the safety and welfare of our citizens." […]

The Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, a rare event for U.S. municipal debt issuers, was left as the only option to close a deficit of $26 million in Stockton's budget for its the new fiscal year, according to city officials.

The budget approved on Tuesday by Stockton's city council suspends $10.2 million in debt payments and cuts employee compensation and retiree benefits by $11.2 million to help close the deficit.

About $7 million in savings would come from cutting retiree medical benefits for one year.

While the retiree medical benefits will eventually be eliminated, Stockton plans to leave its public pensions unchanged while in bankruptcy proceedings. Attempts to pare them would invite long and expensive challenges.

Stockton becomes the nation's most populous city to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. But Jefferson County, Alabama, remains the biggest municipal bankruptcy in terms of debt outstanding, as it had a debt load exceeding $4 billion when it filed in 2011. Stockton has about $700 million in bond debt.

Stockton has suffered a sharp drop in revenue since the collapse of its once red-hot housing market, forcing it to cut more than $90 million in spending in recent years.

Stockton, Calif. files for Chapter 9 bankruptcy

Crowds flock to Coney Island's beaches in the Brooklyn borough of New York to escape the heat wave of June 2012. REUTERS

By Michael Muskal
28 June 2012

If you think “Heat Wave,” is just a song, odds are that you’ve been living in an air-conditioned bubble during the past week or so.

According to records kept by the National Climatic Data Center, part of the federal government, the United States has been sweltering through a wave of high temperatures that has hampered fighting wildfires and growing crops. And summer is just days old -- at least according to the calendar.

“One of the things that sticks out,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with the agency, “is that we had had 41 all-time records broken or tied so far in June. This has been a really warm year, a record-breaking year.”

According to the agency’s data, 41 records have fallen or been tied in the past seven days, and the same number in the past 30 days. Over the past 365 days, 233 all-time records have fallen.

The numbers are equally impressive when it comes to just daily records. On Wednesday, 196 daily high temperature records were topped, increasing the past seven days’ worth of records to 1,133. When looking at the past 30 days, the number of broken daily records climbs to 2,359 and -- like mercury breaking through the top of a thermometer -- hits 34,294 over the past 365 days.

According to Crouch, the records have been falling for months, especially because March was an especially warm month.

While the warmer-than-expected weather had some positive effects, such as lowering energy expenditures for heating in the East, it also brought problems. Hiring got a boost earlier in the year, but was less robust in recent months; employers, in essence, filled jobs in the winter that they would have filled in the spring.

Further, farmers are now struggling to save crops that are crisping in the fields, and consumers ultimately will face higher food prices.

In the West, the record temperatures have conspired with low humidity to turn vegetation into tinder. Colorado has been especially hard hit by wildfires, which have caused an active early burn season in several Western states.

Heat wave rolls through the U.S., toppling records

Summer in March 2012. The colors show the difference from average temperatures from 13-19 March 2012 in degrees C. The dark red areas were 15° C (27°F) above average for this period. NASA

By Deborah Zabarenko and Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Stacey Joyce
28 June 2012

(Reuters) – Scorching heat, high winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling catastrophic wildfires in the U.S. West that offer a preview of the kind of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring, a trio of scientists said on Thursday.

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said during a telephone press briefing. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster … This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the U.S. West, with wildfires out of control in Colorado, Montana and Utah.

The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.

Others include more severe storms, floods, and droughts, Oppenheimer said.

The stage was set for these fires when winter snowpack was lighter than usual, said Steven Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana.

Mountain snows melted an average of two weeks earlier than normal this year, Running said. "That just sets us up for a longer, dryer summer. Then all you need is an ignition source and wind."

Warmer-than-usual winters also allow tree-killing mountain pine beetles to survive the winter and attack Western forests, leaving behind dry wood to fuel wildfires earlier in the season, Running said.

"Now we have a lot of dead trees to burn … it's not even July yet," he said. Trying to stop such blazes driven by high winds is a bit like to trying to stop a hurricane, Running said: "There is nothing to stop that kind of holocaust."

Fires cost about $1 billion or more a year, and exact a toll on human health, ranging from increased risk of heart, lung and kidney ailments to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Howard Frumkin, a public health expert at the University of Washington.

"Wildfire smoke is like intense air pollution," Frumkin said. "Pollution levels can reach many times higher than a bad day in Mexico City or Beijing."

The elderly, the very young and the ill are most vulnerable to the heat that adds to wildfire risk, he said. The strain of fleeing homes and living in communities in the path of a wildfire can trigger ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

The briefing was convened by the science organization Climate Communications, with logistical support by Climate Nexus, an advocacy and communications group. An accompanying report on heat waves and climate change was released simultaneously at

West's wildfires a preview of changed climate: scientists

A common loon feeding a chick. Mercury that billows into the atmosphere from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants has settled back down thickly in the Adirondacks, causing trouble for common loon, which nest in large numbers in the park, and other wildlife. Nina Schoch

28 June 2012

Many see New York State’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park as a place of respite where you go to gulp down the cool air and hear loon calls echoing through the hills. The landscape is unmarred, wild.

Human hands do not have to physically touch a place, though, to disturb it. Mercury that billows into the atmosphere from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants has settled back down thickly in the Adirondacks, causing trouble for common loon, which nest in large numbers in the park, and other wildlife.

A new collaborative report prepared for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority explores how the health of Adirondack loons, and the ecosystem in which they live, is being affected by mercury. The report summarizes almost 10 years of field research conducted in the park by a cooperative of scientists and conservationists who wanted to gather baseline data for monitoring the pollutant and supporting environmental regulation. (The Environmental Protection Agency issued its first-ever rule governing the mercury emissions from power plants last December.)

The researchers spent each summer from 1998 to 2007 studying loons at 44 Adirondack lakes, watching banded birds nest and sometimes netting loons to take samples of blood and feathers for mercury testing. They also tested lake sediment, water, plankton, crayfish and fish for a complete picture of the impact of mercury on the park environment.

“Seventy-five percent of the loons that we sampled were at either moderate or high risk from mercury in their blood,” said Zoe Smith, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program. The Wildlife Conservation Society was one of the contributors to the project.

Loons with too much mercury in their blood begin to behave differently from healthy loons. They become tired and lack the energy to take proper care of their offspring. “They don’t sit on their eggs as much as they normally would,” said David Evers, chief scientist and executive director of the Biodiversity Research Institute, another project contributor. As a result, the eggs suffer from exposure and the chicks don’t hatch.

If a loon has high-risk levels of mercury in its system, it produces 40 percent fewer young, Dr. Evers said. But even if a mercury-laden loon hatches chicks successfully, the chicks, born already tainted with their parents’ mercury poisoning, are less likely to survive.

Dr. Evers has been testing loons for mercury poisoning for two decades. He estimates that he has sampled over 4,000 loons across North America over the years. Loons are especially good indicators of mercury pollution in an ecosystem because they are long-lived – up to 30 years – and territorial, he said.  […]

Ms. Smith at the Wildlife Conservation Society said he hoped the report on loon contamination would convince people to take better care of the environment. “I think people should be way more scared than they are about all of this,” noting that many lakes have fishing restrictions because of mercury levels. She hopes the comprehensive study will add to other mercury research that is lending scientific support to national regulation of the pollutant. “But that’s really not enough because a lot of our mercury comes from overseas,” she said.

Mercury can be found naturally in ecosystems, but pollution causes there to be three to five times more than occurs naturally, and coal-fired power plants in China are exacerbating the problem, according to Dr. Evers. Just in the United States, “well over half of the mercury being emitted into the system is from coal,” he said.

The mercury that is poisoning loons in Adirondack State Park isn’t necessarily from the surrounding area. Some mercury compounds drifting up in smoke from coal-powered plants all over the world are swept up into global wind and weather patterns. The particles might fall even in the most remote pristine regions of Earth.

“I think a lot of people just throw their hands in the air and say, ‘What can you do? Mercury is coming from the sky,’” Dr. Evers said. Still, he thinks the new research on loons and their habitats can help park managers mitigate the damage that mercury is causing to the ecosystem, even if the substance is coming from far away. […]

Mercury Sickens Adirondacks Loons

Landslide blocking a road at the Grimsel Pass near the village of Guttannen, Switzerland, after heavy rains in August 2005. The rains caused the Rotlaui river (seen at upper left) to become greatly engorged and burst its banks. They also caused the nearby Aare river to be diverted, flooding parts of Guttannen. MICHAEL SZOENYI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

By Ray Smith
29 June 2012

GUTTANNEN (IPS) – Melting glaciers are the most visible effect of global warming in the Swiss Alps. Meanwhile, permafrost is invisible and melting too, often causing rockfall and massive debris flows, ultimately threatening mountain villages.

Guttannen, home to 310 residents, is a tiny village in the Bernese Alps, the last one that travellers drive through on the way up to Grimsel Pass. It’s spring and the snow is retreating from the steep slopes of the valley. As the pass is still closed, calm reigns in the picturesque village centre. Only cowbells and the rushing of the nearby Aar river break the silence.

For some residents though, living in Guttannen has become rather uneasy and, on the long term, even dangerous. The root cause of the peril lies further uphill, in the northeastern flank of the 3,282 metres high Ritzlihorn. In July 2009, a huge rockfall had occurred and since then, massive debris flows have roared downhill each summer.

“These mudslides as well as the volume of transported rubble have grown from year to year,” says Nils Hählen, hydraulic engineer at the cantonal public works service. “The debris partly ends up in the Aar, lifting and widening its channel.” Within three years, 630,000 cubic metres were transported into the river, increasingly endangering civil infrastructure.

In summer, after heavy rainfall, the only road leading through the narrow valley often has to be temporarily closed. A house near the river already had to be taken down, the local sewage treatment plant may be next. Since 2010, the debris flows reach as far as the hamlet Boden, threatening ten houses and 30 inhabitants. […]

Engineers, geologists and glaciologists assume permafrost melt to be the underlying problem. Permafrost is underground material such as rock or rubble that permanently remains at or below zero degrees centigrade. Ice is a possible, but not a necessary ingredient. “The issue is, that permafrost occurrence is generally not known,” says Nils Hählen. There are maps designed on calculated probabilities, but as the hydraulic engineer explains, in any case things have to be evaluated locally.

In northeastern mountain slopes, permafrost may occur roughly above 2,600 meters altitude. Scientists estimate that about 5 percent of Switzerland’s area contains permafrost. It stabilises steep rocky or scree slopes in the high mountains and protects them from erosion by serving as a kind of natural putty. When permafrost melts, the result may be rockfalls and debris flows. “The lower permafrost zones are the most vulnerable,” explains Hählen.

He locates the cause of permafrost melt in rising air temperatures which have been measured over the past years in the European Alps. Jeannette Nötzli, glaciologist at the University of Zurich, mentions that atmosphere and underground permafrost are often not directly coupled. Ice content and changes in surface coverage can mask atmospheric signals. Nötzli heads the Coordination Office of the Swiss Permafrost Monitoring Network PERMOS.

“As PERMOS’ systematic monitoring commenced in 2000, most of our data cover around a decade, whereas for robust statements about trends in climate science typically a 30-year period is considered,” Nötzli points out. “However,” the researcher adds, “much of our data points to permafrost degradation. For example, in the past three years active layer depths in summer have increased with new record values at many of the observed sites.” […]

There’s not much hope for the residents of Boden. Ultimately, they’ll have to leave their homes and resettle somewhere else. Hans Abplanalp, the council president, has talked to all persons concerned. “Nearly all of them want to stay in Guttannen,” he says. “We can offer them land and homes to buy.” […]

Melting Permafrost Threatens Swiss Villages

Radiation dose measurements from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 1 Reactor Building Torus Room, 26 June 2012. The maximum reading was 10,300 millisieverts/hour before the dosimeter failed. TEPCO

By arevamirpal::laprimavera
28 June 2012

TEPCO, soon to be "effectively" nationalized, sent own workers to the Reactor 1 building at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on June 26 to measure the water level, radiation levels and temperatures inside the Torus Room. The workers used the CCD camera fitted with thermometer and dosimeter, and fed the cable through the gap in the floor from the 1st floor of the reactor building.

Right near the surface of the water, it was 10,300 millisieverts/hour, or 10.3 sieverts/hour.

TEPCO reports that the dosimeter failed in the water, at it exhibited the values of "10^8 - 10^9" (100,000,000 to 1,000,000,000) millisieverts/hour.

If you recall, this was the reactor building where the steam measuring 4 sieverts/hour was gushing through the gap between the pipe and the floor on the first floor.

From TEPCO's Photos and Videos Library, June 27, 2012 (there is also a 40-minute video, I'll post here later): […]

#Fukushima I Nuke Plant Reactor 1 Torus Room: Over 10 Sieverts/Hr on Water Surface

This map shows the odds of floods at least as high as historic once-a-century levels, occurring by 2030, based on Climate Central research. The two bars extending from each study point contrast odds estimates incorporating past and projected sea level rise from global warming (red bars), and odds estimates not incorporating this rise (blue bars).

By Andrew Freedman
26 June 2012

Three new sea level rise studies published during the past week offer sobering lessons for coastal residents and policy makers, spelling trouble for portions of the East and West Coasts of the U.S.

The first lesson is that sea levels won’t rise at the same rate everywhere — in fact, some unlucky places are already seeing sea levels rise at rates that are dramatically faster than the global average. Specifically, the 600-mile stretch of coastline from North Carolina to Massachusetts is experiencing rates that are nearly three to four times higher than the global average, a trend that may continue during the coming decades.

This finding comes from a study published June 24 in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study makes clear that some of the most valuable real estate in the country, from the beaches of North Carolina to the posh Hamptons in Long Island, and including major cities such as New York and Boston, may see severe coastal flooding events much earlier than other parts of the country.

As Margaret Davidson, director of the Coastal Services Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Charleston, South Carolina, told the Associated Press that the new research has “huge” implications.

“Somewhere between Maryland and Massachusetts, you've got some bodaciously expensive property at risk," she said.

The study, by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), emphasized that factors such as changing ocean currents, coastal land elevation fluctuations, and water temperature and salinity shifts in the North Atlantic Ocean are influencing the rate of sea level rise on the local level.

The study refers to the Cape Hatteras-to-Massachusetts stretch as a sea level rise “hotspot.” In this area, sea level has increased between 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year since about 1990, while the global increase during the same period was 0.6 to 1.0 millimeters per year.

“Ongoing accelerated sea level rise in the hotspot will make coastal cities and surrounding areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding by adding to the height that storm surge and breaking waves reach on the coast,” said Abby Sallenger, a USGS oceanographer and lead author of the study.

According to the Boston Globe, the study and others like it are prompting the city of Boston to require developers to take sea level rise into account when planning new development projects and take other climate change adaptation steps.

The USGS study is similar to a report on West Coast sea level rise that was published last week by the National Research Council. That report found that California stands to experience greater sea level rise impacts than other parts of the West Coast.

Climate Central’s research, titled Surging Seas, shows that California, New York, and New Jersey have the third, fourth, and fifth largest populations on low-lying coastal land prone to sea level rise-driven coastal flooding issues, and New York City has the second largest population at risk of any city nationwide other than New Orleans.

Another paper from Nature Climate Change shows just how difficult it will be to avoid damaging amounts of sea level rise over the longer term unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly slashed.

That study, by a research team in Germany, showed that even if global warming were limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) compared to preindustrial times — a target that many policymakers and scientists now consider too difficult to achieve — global mean sea levels are likely to continue to rise during the next three centuries. On the bright side, the study found that emissions reductions that contain warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) or below would “strongly” reduce sea level rise. […]

Three New Studies on Sea Level Rise Bring New Concerns

27 June 2012 (CNN) – Thousands remain evacuated from their flooded homes in sodden Florida as a weakened Tropical Depression Debby was set to move off the state's Atlantic coast and back over water.

In Florida's Pasco County alone, 7,000 homes and commercial properties remained under evacuation order, county spokesman Eric Keaton said Wednesday. Seventy-three county residents stayed in shelters Tuesday night, Keaton said.

Authorities were allowing residents who present identification at checkpoints to enter their homes temporarily on a case-by-case basis, he said. Pasco County is north of Tampa.

Debby, which made landfall as a tropical storm on Florida's northern Gulf Coast Tuesday, dumped roughly 2 feet of rain on parts of the state.

Rain had finally moved out of the region Wednesday, according to National Weather Service radar, but flood warnings remained in effect across northern Florida, although all tropical weather watches and warnings were canceled.

Evacuations, either voluntary or mandatory, were also in place in many areas.

More than 100 people scrambled to escape rapidly rising water Tuesday near the St. Marys River on the Florida-Georgia border, according to CNN affiliate WJXT. Some men had to use a boat to get back to their homes and rescue their children.

"I'm the furthest one out (from the water), which means I'm the last to go under, and I'm going under," resident George Rhoden told the station.

"Everybody behind me is in bad shape. It's rising 10 inches per hour. We got to go. Everybody got to leave."

Debby paralyzed whole neighborhoods for days.

"Sadly, my car didn't make it through the flooding. My car was just too low, and (the water) ended up hydro-locking the vehicle," Magalie Caragiorgio of New Port Richey, who missed two days of work because of the flooding, said Tuesday. "I haven't been able to get my car towed due to the amount of cars being stranded."

As of 5 a.m. ET Wednesday, Debby was centered about 25 miles southeast of St. Augustine, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving east-northeast at 10 mph, carrying maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

"Additional isolated rainfall amounts of up to 1 inch will be possible in some of the lingering rain bands, mainly over southern Florida," the weather agency said.

While Florida is no stranger to tropical weather, many residents said they had never seen flooding like that resulting from Debby.

"It's astonishing," Keith Blackmar of the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. "… Our soil is sandy, so it handles water well, but not this much rain."

In Sopchoppy, authorities rescued 57 people from homes surrounded by rising water, Blackmar said.

"The water levels came up so fast, some of the folks didn't have time to actually pack their things and move out," Wakulla County Undersheriff Maurice Langston said.

Florida State University researcher Jeff Chanton said the area's low-lying terrain has contributed to the misery.

"The coastal gradient -- the rise of the land -- is very, very low here," Chanton said. "If you were to go swimming here and walk out from shore, you could walk out half a mile." That means a relatively small storm surge can push water "tens or hundreds of feet onshore," he said.

More than 26 inches of rain was recorded in Sanborn, south of Tallahassee, by Tuesday. Nearby St. Marks saw nearly 22 inches. […]

After Days of Flooding, 'Debby' Set to Leave Florida

By Miguel Llanos
26 June 2012

River flooding form Tropical Depression Debby -- downgraded from a tropical storm late Tuesday -- forced up to 20,000 people out of their homes in one Florida county alone, while another area had already seen more than 26 inches of rain, topping the official forecast calling for up to 25 inches in a few areas by the time Debby moves out.

In Pasco County near Tampa Bay, a mandatory evacuation was ordered between the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers, Reuters reported. The Anclote rose from 9 feet before Debby's approach to more than 27 feet on Tuesday, flooding areas with water head-high in places.

Boats were used to reach stranded residents, and 106 homes had been damaged.

Wakulla County, meanwhile, has seen more than 26 inches of rain, said in a Twitter alert Tuesday morning. Authorities there advised people to stay in their homes due to washed out and flooded roads.

Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of northern Florida and southern Georgia as Debby moved eastward. By midday, Debby picked up speed to 6 mph and winds had dropped to 40 mph, but that didn't stop the rain.

Parts of Interstate 10 in north Florida were closed due to flooding on a 50-mile stretch between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. The Florida Highway Patrol warned motorists to use extreme caution on other parts of the highway.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, many having to leave flooded homes in Florida's Panhandle on Monday and others losing power or having property hit by twisters. […]

On Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency as five inches of rain in the course of an hour fell on some areas.

President Barack Obama called Scott on Tuesday and the federal government stands "ready to provide additional assistance if necessary," the White House said.

St. Marks, Fla., saw 21 inches in a two-day period while other areas got around 20 inches, noted.

Parts of Live Oak, Fla., were evacuated Tuesday due to flooding, it added.

Some areas of northern Florida and southeast Georgia could see up to 15 inches of rain Tuesday through Thursday, stated.

The National Hurricane Center predicted parts of northern Florida could see 25 inches of rain by the time Debby crosses Florida and exits into the Atlantic. noted that 2012 broke the record for the most named storms so early in the Atlantic season. Debby makes four so far, "leapfrogging Dennis from July 5, 2005.

"In an average year, the fourth named storm would have occurred by August 23," it added. "In terms of named storm counts, we're roughly two months ahead of the pace. That said, there is no correlation between a fast start to the season and the degree of activity of the rest of the season." […]

Debby's deluge: 2 feet of rain, thousands flee floods

By Terry Dickson
27 June 2012

The National Weather Service is warning of flooding of record severity along the St. Marys River in Baker and Nassau counties in Florida and Camden and Charlton counties in Georgia.

Record flooding is occurring and is expected to continue until the river crests at nearly 24 feet late this morning at the Georgia 121 bridge between Macclenny and St. George. The road is now closed.

The Weather Service had already predicted major flooding and advised those living along the river to take steps to protect their property.

Flood stage for the river is considered to be 12 feet.

River access roads in Florida and Georgia already are flooded and the river is expected to endanger mobile homes and houses.

At greatest risk are residences in the Georgia Bend area on the Charlton County side of the river.

Charlton County Emergency Management Director Bruce Young said he had received no calls of flooded homes this morning, but is on his way now "to put some eyes on it."

Much of the area was developed during prolonged dry periods and flooding of the dirt roads that serve the dwellings along the river has become almost routine.

The lane of U.S. 1 that was damaged by flooding in northern Folkston is reopen and the Georgia Department of Transportation will be working to make repairs, Young said.

National Weather Service issues 'record severity' flood warning for St. Marys River

Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire burns as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, 26 June 2012. Gaylon Wampler / AP Photo

By Miguel Llanos
27 June 2012

Fire crews outside Colorado Springs, Colo., expected more weather trouble on Wednesday in what the local fire chief called a "monster event" that doubled in size overnight and has forced 32,000 people to flee.

Heavy smoke made for unhealthy air in and around the city. After jumping fire lines Tuesday, the towering blaze has now burned 24 square miles and an undetermined number of homes.

While crews should get a break from the heat, a forecast for thunderstorms could mean unpredictable winds.

"We expect further trouble from the weather today," incident commander Rich Harvey said at a press briefing. "We do expect all of our lines to be challenged today."

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the Waldo Canyon Fire a "monster event" that is "not even remotely close to being contained." The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Tuesday night, the community of Mountain Shadows, northwest of Colorado Springs, appeared to be enveloped in an orange glow.

People were "freaking out" as they fled Tuesday night, local resident Kathleen Tillman told the Denver Post. "You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road."

Smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire engulfs Interstate 25 north of Colorado Springs, Colo., Tuesday evening, 26 June 2012. Rick Wilking  /  Reuters

"This is a fire of epic proportions," Brown said at a briefing Tuesday night.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper added after flying over the fire. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."

Among the evacuees were cadets and staff at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where flames crested a ridge high above its campus on Tuesday when more than 2,100 residents were told to get out. […]

Colorado is battling 12 large fires, its worst fire season in history, and other states across the West are being taxed as well.

To the north in Boulder County, 26 homes were evacuated Tuesday when lightning sparked a wildfire. No structures were immediately threatened, but the National Center for Atmospheric Research closed as a precaution.

The state's largest blaze is the 136-square-mile High Park Fire, which has destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman. That fire was triggered by lightning on June 9 and is nearly contained.

Most of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana have seen red flag warnings in recent days, meaning extreme fire danger.

The West is seeing "a super-heated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend," Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center, told the Associated Press. […]

'Monster' Colorado fire doubles in size

Logo for Guy McPherson's blog, 'Nature Bats Last'.

By Guy McPherson
22 June 2012

British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) is well known for his views on monetary policy. The printing-press approach he forwarded is widely used today, especially as the world-wide Ponzi scheme nears its end. My favorite line from Keynes: “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

As I pointed out in this space a few years ago, I concluded in 2002 that we had set into motion climate-change processes likely to cause our own extinction by 2030. I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed. And then, shortly thereafter, I was elated to learn about a hail-Mary pass that just might allow our persistence for a few more generations: Peak oil and its economic consequences might bring the industrial economy to an overdue close, just in time. Like Pandora with her vessel, I retained hope.

No more. Stick a fork in us. We’re done, broiled beyond wishful thinking. It seems we’ve experienced a lethal combination of too much cheap oil and too little wisdom. Yet again, I’ve begun mourning. It’s no easier the second time.

As always, I’m open to alternative views — in fact, I’m begging for them, considering the gravity of this particular situation — but the supporting evidence will have to be extraordinary. By the way, irrationally invoking Al Gore doesn’t count as evidence. Ditto for unsubstantiated rumors about global cooling. A small dose of critical thinking might be required, rather than the ability to repeat lines touted by neo-conservatives and their owners in the fossil-fuel industries. […]

We also know that the situation is far worse than indicated by recent data and models (which are reviewed in the following paragraphs). We’ve known for more than a decade what happens when the planes stop flying: Because particulates were removed when airplanes were grounded, Earth warmed by more than 1 C in the three days following 11 September 2001. In other words, Earth’s temperature is already about 2 C higher than the industrial-revolution baseline. And because of positive feedbacks, 2 C leads directly and rapidly to 6 C, acidification-induced death of the world’s oceans, and the near-term demise of Homo sapiens. We can’t live without life-filled oceans, home to the tiny organisms that generate half the planet’s oxygen while comprising the base of the global food chain (contrary to the common belief that Wal-Mart forms the base of the food chain). So much for the wisdom of the self-proclaimed wise ape.

With completion of the on-going demise of the industrial economy, we’re there: We’ve crossed the horrifically dire 2 C rubicon, as will be obvious when most of the world’s planes are grounded. Without completion of the on-going demise of the industrial economy, we’re there: We’ve crossed the horrifically dire 2 C rubicon, as described below. Joseph Heller, anybody?

I’ve detailed the increasingly dire assessments. And I’ve explained how we’ve pulled the trigger on five positive-feedback events at lower global average temperature than expected, while also pointing out that any one of these five phenomena likely leads to near-term human extinction. None of these positive-feedback events were expected by scientists until we exceed 2 C warming above the pre-industrial baseline.

My previous efforts were absurdly optimistic, as demonstrated by frequent updates (for example, here, here, and here, in chronological order). Yet my frequent writing, rooted in scientific analyses, can barely keep up with increasingly terrifying information about climate change. Every day, we have more reliable knowledge about the abyss into which we have plunged. Consider, for example, the International Energy Agency’s forecast of business-as-usual leading to a 6 C warmer planet by 2035. Malcolm Light, writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, considers one of the many positive feedbacks we’ve triggered in one planetary region and reaches this conclusion: “This process of methane release will accelerate exponentially, release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere and lead to the demise of all life on earth before the middle of this century.” […]

Guy McPherson: We're Done

An alleged photo of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. Associated Press

[Tax dollars for anti-science, another manifestation of Peak Education.]

By Claudine Zap, The Sideshow
25 June 2012

It sounds like a hoax, but it's apparently true: The Loch Ness Monster is on the science class syllabus for kids at Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana.

As reported by the Herald Scotland (which must track all Loch Ness-related news), a school that will receive tax-payer dollars, will teach kids that the mythological sea creature is real in order to debunk the theory of evolution. So pay attention: That will be on the test.

Eternity Christian Academy uses the fundamentalist A.C.E. Curriculum to teach students "to see life from God's point of view."

According to the Herald, one textbook, Biology 1099, reads, "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."

Starting in the fall, thousands of schoolchildren will receive publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools, some of which are religious. Religious schools in Louisiana will receive public funding as part of a push from Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, to move millions of tax dollars to cover tuition for private schools, including small bible-based church schools. Money will fund schools that have "bible-based math books" and biology texts that refute evolution. […]

Loch Ness Monster used to debunk evolution in state-funded school

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A cleaner cleans the facade of a Bankia-Caja Madrid bank branch in the Andalusian capital of Seville, 25 June 2012. Spain formally requested European aid for its banks on Monday but did not specify how much money it will seek to recapitalize the indebted lenders. Marcelo del Pozo / REUTERS

By Michele Kambas and Harry Papachristou
25 June 2012

NICOSIA/ATHENS (Reuters) – A fifth euro-zone country turned to Brussels for emergency funding on Monday when Cyprus announced it was seeking a lifeline for its banks and its budget, hours after Spain submitted a formal request to bail out its banks.

Global share prices and the euro slid as investors bet that European leaders - due to meet this week for the 20th time since the currency zone's debt crisis hit Greece in 2010 - would fail to come up with radical measures to back up weak countries.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel dashed any hope that Berlin would allow joint bonds issued by the euro zone or other measures sought by partners.

Cyprus joins Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain in seeking EU rescue funds, meaning more than a quarter of the 17 euro zone members are now in the bloc's emergency ward. Italy's funding costs have soared too, which means it could be next.

Spain formally submitted its request for up to 100 billion euros of funds to bail out its banks, agreed on June 9.

Moody's Investors Service cut the ratings of 28 out of 33 rated Spanish banks by one to four notches in a decision announced late Monday afternoon in New York. Those downgrades followed a cut of Spain's sovereign rating to just above junk status earlier this month.

Tiny Cyprus has just four days to raise at least 1.8 billion euros - equivalent to about 10 percent of its domestic output - to meet a deadline set by European regulators to recapitalize Cyprus Popular Bank, its second largest lender which saw its balance sheet hurt by bad Greek debt.

Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly said the country would also seek enough money to help with its budget deficit. The full amount would be decided over the course of weeks.

"The amount will be as much as it may be needed to cover the recapitalization and fiscal requirements," he told Reuters.

With its coffers emptying rapidly and hurtling towards an immovable deadline, Cyprus suffered a further sovereign credit rating cut on Monday by Fitch, to the junk BB+ grade. It is already shut out from raising new funds on capital markets, with yields on existing bonds well into double digits.

An island with just 1 million residents, Cyprus has a disproportionately large financial sector that is heavily exposed to Greece, a neighbor more than 10 times the size with which it shares a language, culture and close political links.

It received 2.5 billion euros in a loan from Russia last year and has been scrambling for funding from Moscow or Beijing to avoid the terms Brussels imposes in return for EU bailouts. […]

And then there were five: Cyprus seeks EU aid

Force of Nature: Michael Mann, a paleoclimatologist, has been the subject of lawsuits, congressional investigations, and an anthrax scare. Tom ClynesBy Tom Clynes
21 June 2012

There’s no police tape across Michael Mann’s office doorway this morning. “Always a good start,” he says, juggling a cup of coffee as he slides his key into the lock.

Mann, a paleoclimatologist, wears a sport coat over a turtleneck. As he takes a seat at his desk, a narrow sunbeam angles through the window, spotlighting a jumble of books, journals and correspondence. Behind him, a framed picture of his six-year-old daughter rests near a certificate for the Nobel Peace Prize he shared in 2007. Propped into a corner is a hockey stick, a post-lecture gift from Middlebury College, which Mann jokingly says he keeps “for self-defense.”

Mann directs Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center. Several months ago, he arrived at his office with an armload of mail. Sitting at his desk, he tore open a hand-addressed envelope and began to pull out a letter. He watched as a small mass of white powder cascaded out of the folds and onto his fingers. Mann jerked backward, letting the letter drop and holding his breath as a tiny plume of particles wafted up, sparkling in the sunlight. He rose quickly and left the office, pulling the door shut behind him. “I went down to the restroom and washed my hands,” he says. “Then I called the police.”

For someone describing an anthrax scare, Mann is surprisingly nonchalant. “I guess,” he says, “it’s so much a part of my life that I don’t even realize how weird it is.”

“Weird” is perhaps the mildest way to describe the growing number of threats and acts of intimidation that climate scientists face. A climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory answered a late-night knock to find a dead rat on his doorstep and a yellow Hummer speeding away. An MIT hurricane researcher found his inbox flooded daily for two weeks last January with hate mail and threats directed at him and his wife. And in Australia last year, officials relocated several climatologists to a secure facility after climate-change skeptics unleashed a barrage of vandalism, noose brandishing and threats of sexual attacks on the scientists’ children.

Those crude acts of harassment often come alongside more-sophisticated legal and political attacks. Organizations routinely file nuisance lawsuits and onerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to disrupt the work of climate scientists. In 2005, before dragging Mann and other climate researchers into congressional hearings, Texas congressman Joe Barton ordered the scientists to submit voluminous details of working procedures, computer programs and past funding—essentially demanding that they reproduce and defend their entire life’s work. In a move that hearkened back to darker times, Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, released a report in 2010 that named 17 prominent climate scientists, including Mann, who, he argued, may have engaged in “potentially criminal behavior.” Inhofe outlined three laws and four regulations that he said the scientists may have violated, including the Federal False Statements Act—which, the report noted, could be punishable with imprisonment of up to five years. […]

Collateral Damage: Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, wrote a chapter on climate change for Newt Gingrich’s forthcoming book, only to have it pulled after the politician hit the campaign trail. Nellie Doneva / AP Photo

For the many scientists who consider themselves both political conservatives and supporters of the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change, ideology and party affiliation provide little shelter from attacks and harassment. Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, a political conservative and an evangelical Christian. In 2007, Terry Maple, the co-author of Newt Gingrich’s forthcoming book on environmental entrepreneurship, asked her to write a chapter reviewing the scientific facts surrounding climate change. For most of his political career, Gingrich championed the virtues of science, but last year, while campaigning in the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped Hayhoe’s chapter after Rush Limbaugh discovered her contribution and ridiculed her as a “climate babe.”

“Nice to hear that Gingrich is tossing my climate chapter in the trash,” Hayhoe tweeted on hearing the news. “100+ unpaid hours I could’ve spent playing w[ith] my baby …” The day after Hayhoe’s tweet, the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a conservative think tank, announced that it had filed a FOIA request with Texas Tech University “relating to collaboration on a book, using public time and resources.” The ATI’s paperwork referred to Hayhoe as a “climate activist.”

“I can delete the hate mail I got calling me a ‘Nazi bitch whore climatebecile,’” Hayhoe says, “but responding to nuisance lawsuits and investigations takes up enormous amounts of time that could be better spent teaching, mentoring, researching, doing my job.” […]

“When I get an e-mail that mentions my child and a guillotine,” Hayhoe says, “I sometimes want to pull a blanket over my head. The intent of all this is to discourage scientists. As a woman and a mother, I have to say that sometimes it does achieve its goal. There are many times when I wonder if it’s worth it.” […]

The Battle Over Climate Science

Logo for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, June 2012. uncsd2012.orgBy George Monbiot,
25 June 2012

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth's living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue "sustained growth", the primary cause of the biosphere's losses.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms – secured at such cost by our forebears – not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world's most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.

It marks, more or less, the end of the multilateral effort to protect the biosphere. The only successful global instrument – the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer – was agreed and implemented years before the first Earth Summit in 1992. It was one of the last fruits of a different political era, in which intervention in the market for the sake of the greater good was not considered anathema, even by the Thatcher and Reagan governments. Everything of value discussed since then has led to weak, unenforceable agreements, or to no agreements at all.

This is not to suggest that the global system and its increasingly pointless annual meetings will disappear, or even change. The governments which allowed the Earth Summit and all such meetings to fail evince no sense of responsibility for this outcome, and appear untroubled by the thought that if a system hasn't worked for 20 years, there's something wrong with the system. They walk away, aware that there are no political penalties; that the media is as absorbed with consumerist trivia as the rest of us; that, when future generations have to struggle with the mess they have left behind, their contribution will have been forgotten. (And then they lecture the rest of us on responsibility.)

Nor is it to suggest that multilateralism should be abandoned. Agreements on biodiversity, the oceans and the trade in endangered species may achieve some marginal mitigation of the full-spectrum assault on the biosphere that the consumption machine has unleashed. But that's about it.

The action – if action there is – will mostly be elsewhere. Those governments which retain an interest in planet Earth will have to work alone, or in agreement with like-minded nations. There will be no means of restraining free riders, no means of persuading voters that their actions will be matched by those of other countries.

That we have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming now seems obvious. That most of the other planetary boundaries will be crossed, equally so. So what do we do now? […]

After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet


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