Thursday, April 24, 2008

Climatology Wars

Australian Professor Barry Brook has had enough of the attacks on climate science:
"Some people will attempt to hijack science for political or ideological reasons and in doing so besmirch science's public image [...] They are good at doing this and they often exert a disproportionate influence on policy. Groups with vested interests in business-as-usual will attempt to push so-called scientific evidence to support their claims. In fact they are at best drawing selectively on a small part of the evidence, or at worst relying on junk science - that is, outdated, discredited or fabricated data and ideas."

Climate change deniers 'smear science'
I myself has been about to snap out of it several times. How is it the complex issue of climate change is something everyone seems to feel a right to claim to be experts in? Skeptics? All scientists are skeptics!

For a lot more about my approach to science (judging from the search words leading people here I judge some readers are interested...) and the absurd attacks from "climate change deniers", creationists and others, please read my piece at Newsvine: Let's get smarter here: Reason not faith, please. I'm considering a follow-up on the difference between truth and significance some time.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Scientist: Is this the beginning of water wars?

Barcelona and the surrounding region are suffering the worst drought in decades. There are several possible solutions, including diverting a river, and desalinating water. But the city looks like it will ship water from the French port of Marseilles.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers start in Turkey and supply Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government is building dams on those rivers, reducing the flow downstream and stoking long-standing tensions with its neighbours.

Somewhat sensationalist headline perhaps. But none the less... here we go. This situation is expected to worsen and spread. Trade solutions are still possible but as soon as neighboring countries start both thirsting more radical approaches will be attempted.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Biofuel dilemmas

People are realizing biofuels are no magic wand to our global carbon issues. What is quite obvious to anyone with a bit of training in systems ecology was confirmed this February by a study published in Science. I may or may not do a ResearchBlogging entry on it some time, but for now I do with these popularized versions:

In short, sure biofuels draw energy from carbon produced in this cycle as opposed to a fossilized one, hence doesn't contribute directly to the greenhouse effect. But if used as an excuse to keep consuming and clearing forest it's a disaster - corn fields hold just a fraction of the carbon (and numerous other ecosystem services) a forest does, and if it competes with food production in a starving world, well... it's no rocket science.

March saw a number of warnings from people and organizations perhaps having read the above mentioned Science paper: Nestle in minding their (food not fuel) business (Biofuel boom threatens food supplies: Nestle), Professor Bob Watson a.o. (Top scientists warn against rush to biofuel, Biofuels threaten 'billions of lives'), Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram (Indian minister attacks biofuels), US Army veteran and rancher John Carter (The Clean Energy Scam) and many others. The last article is a quite lengthy TIME piece I can only recommend; it portrays the grotesque contrast between Brazil's long standing and relatively sensible and successful biofuel practice and how the US rapidly messes things up globally by their (not so capitalist) biofuel subsidies. I now know 20% of carbon emissions are due to deforestation and that the benefit of biofuel will only level the deforestation emissions in on average 400 years.

"There are real problems with the unsustainability of biofuels, [...cutting down rainforest to grow the crops is...] profoundly stupid". - John Beddington, UK government chief scientific adviser.

MSN Finance did an article on the market situation (Could we really run out of food?) - advising their readers to invest in agriculture and noting poor rice producing countries have begun imposing limitations to exports. None other than the world bank is in the choir (World Bank Expects More High Food Prices) warning us this is a situation we'll have to deal with in many years ahead and informs they almost doubled their agricultural loans.

"[...] you can now add "peak wheat" to your political and investment lexicon. And it's a lot worse [than peak oil.]" - Jon Markman, MSN Finance.

The number of ways that this situation can lead to conflicts are more than I can count. But don't give up your hybrid yet. Although biofuels are clearly part of the problem, they could be part of the solution as well. I'm thinking the science fiction like news of engineered bacteria and algae producing biofuel or making the existing processes more efficient (Breeding the Oil Bug and many others).

The article that kicked me off putting together this post was The Biggest Green Mistake. It's using hypertext the way hypertext was meant to be used (contrary to most media) meaning it links to tons of sources in the text. It's arguing we need more genetic engineering and radical technical solutions - I'm confident I don't fully agree but they are definitely onto something.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Those Who Control Oil and Water Will Control the World

The scramble for energy is shaping many of the conflicts we can expect in the present century. The danger is not just another oil shock that impacts on industrial production, but a threat of famine. Without a drip feed of petroleum to highly mechanised farms, many of the food shelves in the supermarkets would be empty. Far from the world weaning itself off oil, it is more addicted to the stuff than ever. It is hardly surprising that powerful states are gearing up to seize their share. [...] energy shortage and global warming are reinforcing each another. The result can only be a growing risk of conflict.

One John Gray gives a short, sharp overview of the "ecowar" aka The Great Game as of right now and how it rhymes with our past.

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