Meanwhile, scientists continue to use ... science! to explain our planet's climate. For example, this week a study was released that sheds light on the Little Ice Age that took place centuries ago. Namely, that this cold period happened because of four violent volcanic eruptions. The ice age lasted centuries because the eruptions probably triggered a lasting chain reaction in the ocean currents, "affecting sea ice and ocean currents in a way that lowered temperatures for centuries," says the study's co-author.
Previously, scientists thought a drastic drop in solar activity played a role in causing this cold era. But "this study showed that even if the Sun were less active, and therefore not warming the Earth as much, it would have had little effect," writes science blogger Phil Plait. The Little Ice Age ended with the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.
The point here is that scientists use data and evidence to draw conclusions. Not talking points. And the consensus says that the planet is warming at an unnatural rate because of human activity.
Unfortunately, some in the media in recent weeks have perpetuated the myth of an upcoming mini-ice age even though no one in the science community is making such predictions. The above video, by Peter Sinclair of the "Climate Crocks of the Week" YouTube series, showcases the perfect example of cable news gone awry with distortions and fabrications. Sinclair in the video then tracks down and interviews an actual scientist, something some media outlets rarely take the time to do.
Peter Sinclair, who puts together the "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" YouTube series, tackles sea level rise in his latest installment. In this segment, NASA oceanographer Josh Willis confirms without a doubt that the ocean is creeping upward at a faster rate than at any time during the previous few thousand years. "The best estimate of global sea level rise even in the last 100 years, suggests that it's going faster and faster," he says. "So we've gone 1 millimeter per year, 100 years ago, to 2 millimeters per year about 50 years ago to 3 millimeters per year today."
As fossil fuels burn, the acidity of oceans goes up. Coral reefs, shellfish, and algae mainly suffer. That's old news.
What's new news -- as if the ocean needs more problems -- is that acidification correlates with fish fatality, according to a study released last week.
Chemists out of Stony Brook University discovered that the survival of fish larvae drastically decreases as atmospheric carbon rises. A separate recent study found damaged and dead tissue in fish larvae caused by inflated carbon levels. Predictably, adult fish fared better in such scenarios, according to these studies. But the fact that fish can directly feel the brunt of the changing world -- something that wasn't considered before -- suggests that the weight human activity has placed on our oceans is more complicated than previously realized.
Because scientists used "near-future conditions" in their tests, the results indicate that "ocean acidification may be having an impact on these species today." But because some parts of the ocean, like coastal waters, seasonally experience "extremely acidified waters" more than other parts, scientists have yet to figure out how widespread this is. Fish already have to deal with over fishing, runaway plastic pollution, and mercury from coal power plants. Now they can add acid to the list.
If all of this is in the back of your mind, but you enjoy a plate of fish from time to time, take a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch for recommendations on what to order at the restaurant and what to avoid. And for all you app-thusiastic sushi lovers out there, download the Sierra Club's free Safe Sushi app for your Android or Apple device.
Fifty-two billion dollars and counting, one thousand deaths -- double the yearly average --from 12 extreme weather events in 2011 alone. Those grim numbers are part of the reason why the country's top weather official is calling for better and smarter observation tools, new climate models and a new national readiness. [...] Lubchenco would like to see the country develop what she calls "critical environmental intelligence:" better and broader climate information and more finely tuned weather warnings that can be used by citizens, emergency managers and businesses. It's already happening to some extent: New York City is using NOAA's Digital Coast tool for flooding and sea level rise to revamp its infrastructure in Manhattan, for example.
Worldwide carbon emissions from fossil fuels broke a record in 2010, according to a new report by the Global Carbon Project. "Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003," reports the New York Times. China, India, and other developing countries are continuing its upward climb in carbon pollution. But while the U.S. rate of emissions dropped 7 percent in 2009 because of the economy, it increased 4 percent last year. "The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades."
Peter Sinclair's latest segment of his YouTube series takes a hard look at climate disruption and Texas. In brings to mind a recent article about the city of Austin, which is spearheading efforts to move beyond coal. If the capital of the Lone Star State leads, will the rest of the state follow?
The state gets about forty percent of its power from coal plants, according to a report by Kate Galbraith in the Texas Tribune, and most of them were built in the 1970s and 1980s, so they are "newer and sturdier compared with the rest of the nation." That is a lot of power and investment that is not easily replaced, especially when energy is already scarce. But several proposed new coal plants have met with opposition from environmental groups, who claim they have successfully stopped the construction of eight out of eleven proposed plants.
Dr. Richard Muller, a UC Berkeley physicist and former climate skeptic, will be on Capitol Hill today to discuss the findings of his study of climate science with Congress. The results of Muller's study -- the Koch Brothers partially funded it -- were highly anticipated by climate deniers in the hopes that it'd validate them and further smear the scientific consensus. Muller in the past was a champion for climate deniers because he had the credentials. But for his study, Muller took the objective road and found that there is indeed "very steep warming."
This morning he was on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where he detailed his concerns and why he was a past skeptic. In this segment he says he's not worried about climate disruption because of individual extreme weather events or "heat deaths in France." But "the reason I'm worried is because with simple calculations, we are dumping enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we are working in a dangerous realm -- a realm where I think we're going to have trouble in the coming decades."
Here's one more reason why you should always respect your elders.
A recent look at the lifestyle of typical older Americans finds that the planet breathes a lot easier with more of them around, according to a new study. The carbon emissions of a typical American steadily increases from the age of 10 all the way until those Social Security checks start rolling in. At the age of 65, Americans hit their peak at about 14.9 metric tons per capita each year. Then the rate falls to 13.1 metric tons by the age of 80, according to the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. The study doesn't examine emissions beyond the age of 80, but researchers think emissions fall even more after that point.
What does all this mean? Well, with the baby boomers entering retirement and grandparenthood, the age factor should put a noticeable dent in emissions eventually –- but not in the near future. "This is partly because baby boomers are the age group with the highest per capita emissions and large numbers of them won't reach age 80 until after 2030," reportsUSA Today.
This study isn't the only one that sees hope in older folks. Last week, Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, in an analysis had a similar take on old age and oil usage. When "people retire and no longer commute, miles driven drop by a third to a half. With so many baby boomers now retiring, this too will lower gasoline use," he writes. Oil use has already dropped 11 percent since 2007 and the age factor –- in addition to fuel-efficient and plug-in cars, public transit, and bike use -- will drive the rate of decrease even more in the coming years.
In fact the country's lowering trend in emissions is so significant that a drop of 20 percent by 2020 is viable, according to Brown. "If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate," he writes.
Rock beats scissors. Paper beats rock. And someday geothermal will beat coal. But by how much? An updated map of new thermal data has found that geothermal energy can produce 10 times the energy of installed capacity of U.S. coal, according to Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory.
This new map was made possible by incorporating thousands of newly compiled Bottom Hole Temperature (BHT) readings from oil, gas, and water wells in parts of the country that hadn't previously been surveyed. The data shows that the continental U.S. has nearly 3 million megawatts worth of the renewable resource. That's a whole lot of power!
Previous maps were nowhere near these numbers because recent technological innovations have made geothermal development possible "in areas with little or no tectonic activity or volcanism." While current geothermal energy production mostly takes place in the West, some parts of the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. are actually hotter underneath the surface. In fact late last year, SMU, thanks to a grant from Google.org, determined that West Virginia's geothermal potential could easily bypass the state's current coal industry in terms of energy capacity.
This week the Geothermal Energy Association is hosting a worldwide energy expo in San Diego, which is expected to draw 3,000 people. California leads all U.S. states in geothermal capacity at about 1,800 megawatts, or "two-thirds of the total United States' geothermal generation. It is estimated that the state has a potential of more than 3,000 megawatts of additional power from geothermal energy, using current technologies," according to the GEA. But that's nothing compared to the potential.
"The jobs in this industry are definitely going to grow," GEA executive director Karl Gawell told the E-Commerce Times. "We've got this investment in technology that will pay off in the next several years....We're looking for how to solve our energy problems, and this is a huge resource we're only starting to tap."