Friday, April 17, 2009

Busy bee

Your blogmeister has been too busy to blog these days, and today, although a Saturday, is no exception. It's Earth Day, one of the college's big annual events, but due to a cognitive dissonance, or scheduling malady, or some such brain fart among Maine canoe race enthusiasts, it's also the annual Kendusgeag River Race.

They always do this. Well, not quite always. But often.

Accordingly, the fishers of men (and women and small children), otherwise know as Unity College Search and Rescue Team, go out. And since I'm the SAR Team adviser, I go out too. You'll be able to see the photos of us pulling the punters out of the water over on the SAR Team blog later today or tomorrow. That's if I don't drop my camera in the river.

This means that about one year in two, or two years in three, I miss Earth Day. But it's a good fun day on the banks of the river fishing out near-drowned and freezing folks. I generally catch more people than I do fish on the one or two days each year I go trout fishing.

But you shouldn't miss Earth Day. There are events at the college all day.

On Monday, I will be traveling to the NCSE Federal-University Dialogue, along with other leaders in college and university climate change and environment education, to talk about eduction for energy and environment with the new administrators. I'm hoping to get briefed on the administration's policy pushes, particularly in light of the decision to force congress to legislate on greenhouse gasses by using the EPA listing process under the Clean Air Act.

This was my Earth day surprise on reading the paper this morning, and the news marks the first serious step by any US federal executive branch agency to do anything other than study climate change. Like a lot of environmental policy folks who work in climate change, I had read the reports from the NYT and others that Obama was going to punt until the recession was over, and I was telling my students that I was getting less hopeful and anticipatory as a result.

Our own Maine legislature is reportedly having a hard time sorting out what to do about renewable energy. I wonder how many folks realize how much more quickly the rule-making process under the EPA can move, compared to legislation. I wonder too, how many realize that a national CAA Act climate change rule that reduces GHG emissions is also a national and state-level renewable energy policy by default.

Feet of clay make for slow plodding, and it's been a long haul. I first learned how dangerous climate change was in the 1980s. Since then we've only increased our awareness of the dangers. Now it looks like we're finally on a timetable to do something.


Steve said...

Since you became convinced of the dangers of global warming in the 80's exactly what bad things have happened that justify declaring naturally occurring trace gases like carbon dioxide "poison" and the social engineering that has resulted and continues unabated? The Maine Climate Change Institute report "Maine's Climate Future" studied many aspects of Maine's climate. "Knowledge gaps" was the most repeated phrase throughout the report. To summarize the findings, a 2 degree temperature rise will result in a longer growing season, more biomass production per acre, and a healthy striped bass migration up Maine's coast. What's not to like?

Mick said...

I don't usually reply to you, Steve, simply because to help you reorganize the misconceptions you have would take too much time, and you're probably not that willing to rethink them anyway. I have to conserve my time and patience for education problems I can succeed at.

But on this one, let's see how much time it takes, and how reasonable your response is.

The primary worry is that while Maine's climate future might seem somewhat benign to the casual reader, if you read the whole thing and carefully, you will see that it is not. The disassociation of species from habitat is the main regional problem. If we get the estimated average predicted increase in Maine AAT as it is stated in the report, many species, including many of the forest trees in Maine will then be outside their range and die due to bug kills or other environmental parameters, to be replaced by weedy species or whatever we plant.

Meanwhile, the dislocation in areas far worse hit will create a stream of economic and climate disaster-related migrants to Maine from further south.

Finally, that increase in AAT creates a much higher risk of "large scale discontinuities," tipping points or thresholds that would lead to one or the other very serious global crisis. An accelerated or runaway warming seems at this point the most likely of these possibilities. Even an increased risk in the way of a few decimal places more probability is considered by environmental economists to be worth the "insurance cost" of switching out of fossil fuels, which we will need to do anyway because we will run out of them soon, especially oil.

This is just the briefest explanation, so before you write me a very long response, which probably I won't have time or patience to respond to, I suggest you go read a little deeper into the science, beginning with Jim Hansen's recent PNAS paper on the best stabilization level for CO2, which gives a good discussion of thresholds. Some scientists consider Hansen alarmist, of course, but he has been proven right more than once, and this discussion is still very serious and so we read what he has to say and give him a good deal of time. You seem at least willing to read the science. Your time would be better spent doing that at this point.

Once you have read that, you should read the executive summary of the Stern Review, for an idea of the economic rationality.

Try to read like a scientist, though, setting aside your own feelings about the issue at least for the time it takes to consider the information.

There. That took 45 minutes to write, which I probably should have spent on some activity more directly related to my student's education. Hopefully one of them will read it too, and get something out of it.

Patricia Dehmer, the DOE senior staffer in charge of renewable energy science was at yesterday's meeting. I asked her what folks in the front lines of public education on climate and renewable energy should do about cynicism and denial.

Her response was that she thought it would begin to die away as the government's policy and determination became clear, and as the new generation of students came up through the ranks. She really felt that young people see these issues very differently.

I thought this was optimistic, to say the least, but was glad to hear it anyway.