Sierra Daily: February 2011
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26 posts from February 2011

Feb 07, 2011

Kafka's Dog

There's a wonderful short story by Franz Kafka called "Investigations of a Dog," about a dog trying to do philosophy. Just when the philosopher-dog is on the point of some breakthrough, another dog walks by with a bone in its mouth and the idea is immediately forgotten. So one of the maxims it does manage to remember is (forgive me, this is from memory) "When there is food in the mouth, all problems are forgotten for the time being."

Npseaice_ams_201101 Kafka's dog came to mind this morning when the San Francisco Chronicle (with apologies to most of the rest of the country) reported on our record heat (80 degrees in San Francisco, breaking the previous 1987 record of 73):

"Global warming has its benefits. This is glorious," said Cathy Brooks of San Francisco, originally from Philadelphia (overcast and 31 degrees, with windchill). "I know this all says something about climate change, but on a day like today I don't want to think about it."

Meanwhile, today the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) declared that Arctic sea ice was at the lowest extent ever recorded in January. For more on the image, see NASA's Earth Observatory.

--Paul Rauber

Feb 04, 2011

The Veep v. The Village Idiot

Last week, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly mulled the East Coast’s snowstorms and asked: “Why has southern New York turned into the tundra?” He then added, “I have a call in to Al Gore.” Bill-O got his answer from the man himself: In his blog on February 1, former vice president Al Gore responded:

“In fact, scientists have been warning for at least two decades that global warming could make snowstorms more severe. Snow has two simple ingredients: cold and moisture. Warmer air collects moisture like a sponge until it hits a patch of cold air. When temperatures dip below freezing, a lot of moisture creates a lot of snow.”

Why take on the clowns? Well, some 3 million viewers watch The O’Reilly Factor, cable television’s top-ranked news show. They don’t seem fazed by O’Reilly’s claim that the ebb and flow of tides is proof of the existence of God, despite those claims being mercilessly skewered by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert with the help of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, so it’s not surprising that some sofa-sitters might consider a single week of snow all the debunking of global warming they need.

And, unlike the blizzard, Fox News is not going to let up. In response to Gore's comments, Fox News reporter Gene Koprowski posted the following to Profnet, a service that connects journalists and publicists: "We need comments from someone who can point out the ridiculousness of his argument, even if you accept the somewhat-implausible argument."

A growing cadre of people with better things to do are taking time out to counter the climate canards. Watch for a story in Sierra's next issue on scientists who leave their labs to address the climate skeptics head-on (online February 17), and read Sierra’s interview with one of the best climate-change pugilists ever, the late Stephen Scheider.

--Reed McManus

Low-Hanging Fruit

Strawberries on vineWith a divided Congress, a country recovering from recession, and an EPA under attack, it's may not be the most propitious time for taking on the big environmental tasks we all know need to be done (like getting Beyond Oil in 20 Years). So while we're waiting for our leaders to summon the necessary gumption, here are a couple little projects that oughta be no-brainers:

1. According to Corporate Accountability International, Congress spent $200,000 in just three months last year buying bottled water. The group notes that new House Speaker John Boehner promised to cut $35 billion of spending from the body's bloated budget--this would be a fine place to start! You can sign the petition here.

2. The city of San Francisco is considering a ban on the distribution of unwanted phone books. Every year, 1.5 million phone books are distributed in the city, many of them going directly to landfill. Under the proposed ordinance, phone books could not be delivered without prior agreement from consumers. Seattle already has an "opt-out" system; if passed, San Francisco's would be the first "opt-in." Your community could do it too!

3. Finally, Scientific American reports that Stanford students have calculated that the nation's shopping malls could save 1.18 gigawatt hours of energy per month--and eliminate 3,000 tons of CO2 a year--just by unplugging the darn Muzak. It's a sacrifice, I think, we all could live with.

--Paul Rauber  

Do you have your own favorite low hangers? Send 'em in for next week's Fruity Friday!

Image: iStock

Feb 02, 2011

How Much CO2 Is Created By...


OK, this is a seriously cool infographic created by infographic god David McCandless at the behest of GE. It's a series of interactive pages that lets you explore the carbon cost of sending an email, using a year's worth of disposable diapers, or taking a bath. You can get to it by clicking here. Note that you can choose to get results in either kilos or pounds; given the tiny amounts of many results (0.32 oz to dry your hands with a paper towel, e.g.), results in kilos and grams are actually easier to read. Happiest result: an apple from your garden = 0 grams of carbon pollution. Have fun exploring. --Paul Rauber

Feb 01, 2011

Putting a Price on Climate Change?

Prop 23 According to campaign finance reports filed yesterday, supporters and opponents of a failed California ballot measure that would have derailed the state’s landmark climate bill spent an eye-popping $46 million. Out-of state oil companies poured $10.5 million into Proposition 23, the effort to suspend California’s greenhouse-gas-reduction goals until the region's economy improves. Opponents of the measure—a group that included clean-tech executives, venture capitalists, environmental groups, and Hollywood notables—chimed in with more than $36 million. Prop 23 was defeated by a healthy margin of 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent.

Some saw the victory for the climate law as a defense of green energy and jobs as the savior of California’s economy: "California's business community rallied to save the fastest-growing business sector in the state," Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the No on Prop 23 campaign, told the Associated Press. The measure “became a flashpoint nationally for the future of clean energy." Cynics and wound-licking Texas oil execs may blame the lopsided results on California’s celebrity politics: Movie director James Cameron contributed $1 million Avatar dollars to defeat the measure and produced an ad with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that urged voters to “tell your friends, family, cyborgs, and avatars to vote no on Proposition 23.”

-- Reed McManus

World Carbon: The Big Picture

Readers of Sierra Daily will know by now that I have a special weakness for infographics, the more data-packed the better. Here's one from UK Guardian graphic artists Mark McCormick and Paul Scruton that you could spend the rest of the afternoon with. Based on 2009 data (the latest available) from the Energy Information Administration, it shows who's doing what to the atmosphere, not only now but compared to what they've done in the past. The big takeaway is that carbon emissions from the United States and Europe are declining (partly as a result of that pesky world recession), while China, India, and much of Asia are on the rise. Balanced out, it shows that world emissions have declined slightly--all of 0.1 percent. U.S. per capita emissions are still the world's largest at 18 metric tons, compared to a world average of 4.49. We've got a long, long way to go.

--Paul Rauber 

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