Ecosystem Thresholds and Climate Tipping Points

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 20 Sep 2007 19:00:00 GMT

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to learn about the impacts climate change is having on ecosystems, in particular those changes that are rapid, large, and potentially irreversible. We now have evidence that there may be thresholds that, once crossed, will present serious coping challenges to humans. This raises a major strategic challenge in the climate policy debate before this Congress: What concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might lead to environmentally, socially and economically unacceptable impacts?

In response to this question, a project was developed jointly by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, the Joint Global Change Research Institute, and The Nature Conservancy, entitled “Understanding the Consequences of Thresholds in Global Change and Their Implications for Decision-Making.” The project promotes understanding of the physical, natural, and social dynamics that underlie ecological thresholds in order to better inform ongoing adaptation measures and response options across scales of decision-making. Our panel will focus on the work of this important initiative and its draft report, which is based on the first of a series of meetings that took place in 2006. Case studies presented at the meeting included impacts on the critical ecosystems of the American Rockies and Alaska such as: drought in the Colorado River Basin; bark beetles in Western Canada; and forest die-off and die-back in the West. Our speaker panel includes Ecothresholds Project participants and other experts:

  • Dr. Anthony Janetos (Moderator), Director, Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland
  • Dr. Ed Miles, Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor of Marine Studies and Public Affairs, University of Washington
  • Dr. Neil Cobb, Director, Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, Northern Arizona University
  • Dr. Mark Eakin, Coordinator, NOAA Coral Reef Watch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. John Wiens, Lead Scientist, The Nature Conservancy
  • Michael Bradley, Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership

The Ecothresholds Project envisions workshops and conferences to engage resource managers and practitioners to explore responses to threshold effects that challenge the condition of ecosystem services and the foundation of a range of natural resource management practices. Creating a dialogue between this project and policymakers will help ensure that the major strategic questions being addressed by this project will be incorporated into the federal policy debate on climate change.

This briefing is open to the public and no reservations are required. For more information, contact Fred Beck at 202-662-1892 ([email protected])

Forecast: Storm Warnings

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 27 Aug 2007 17:00:00 GMT

Over the last several days Hurricane Dean whipped through the Caribbean before slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican mainland. While loss of life and damages are still uncalculated, Dean will join the ranks of Andrew, Charlie, Hugo, Rita. And of course, Katrina. Their names are seared into the minds of those who lived through them. The 100+ mile an hour winds and stinging sideways rain wreaked devastation – ripping roofs off houses, flattening whole buildings, tossing around cars as if they were toys, causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage, and taking lives. Recovery often takes years. Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck land on August 29, 2005, thousands of Mississippi and New Orleans residents have yet to restore their homes, businesses or lives. And some may never do so. Hurricanes gather and release nature’s fury, and the consequences are deadly. And now the actions of humans since the dawn of the industrial age will only propel future hurricanes’ power. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere released by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels has begun to warm the planet, including our oceans, and scientists have determined that warmer sea surface temperature can boost hurricanes’ ferocity, and may even increase their frequency. It is imperative that we do everything we can to prepare for the potential disasters.

In conjunction with the release of the report, Forecast: Storm Warnings, the Center for American Progress will conduct a forum that will discuss the impact of global warming on hurricane severity and frequency. In addition, there will be a discussion of necessary federal, state, and local policies that would increase the resilience of hurricane prone communities. The forum will feature:
  • Mayor Richard Crotty of Orange County, Florida
  • hurricane scientist Dr. Peter J. Webster
  • John B. Copenhaver of DRI International
  • Jane Bullock, former chief of staff of Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt.

The urgency of this work grows every day as thousands of Americans relocate to coastal areas, but with the best science, local mitigation, and federal support, we can minimize the likelihood that future storms join the tragic roster of the deadliest hurricanes. Unfortunately, the global warming forecast is for storm warnings ahead.

1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor Washington, DC 20005


Around the Web: Green Collar Jobs, Water, Emissions Intensity

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 13 Aug 2007 17:37:00 GMT

Matt Stoller interviews Congresswoman Hilda Solis on Global Warming and Race at OpenLeft. Rep. Solis is hosting a global warming forum in Los Angeles this week.

Stoller writes:

By turning global warming into a jobs issue, Solis is working to reframe the often depressing and disempowering rhetoric of the environmental movement into language that different groups can get behind. There are interesting and unexpected allies here. A few weeks ago, I accompanied a Sierra Club lobbyist to a visit with freshman Tim Walz, and he’s using the same strategy in his rural Minnesota district – sustainable energy means jobs. Conservative rural residents are now proud of wind turbines, because it means economic growth. The political combination of rural and urban constituency groups is quite potent.

Good Magazine put out an excellent global water supply infographic poster.

Warming Law continues its unparalleled coverage of Massachusetts v. EPA.

Simon Donner takes a look at the question of emissions intensity.

What Is the Hottest Year on Record? 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 10 Aug 2007 17:23:00 GMT

A story on Daily Tech yesterday, with the headline “Years of bad data corrected; 1998 no longer the warmest year on record”, was immediately picked up by Rush Limbaugh:
I’ve got a story here from Reuters that is embargoed until 2 o’clock. I’m tempted to break the embargo, but I probably won’t because I play by the rules. But the basic story – and I’m going to give you the details of this as the program unfolds – one of the central tenets of the global warming hoaxers today is that 1998 was the hottest year in history on record. And that five of the top ten hottest years have been in the last ten years. Five of the hottest years have been in the last ten. It turns out that the statistics, the temperature data that NASA used to compile the temperatures in 1998 is wrong. 1998 was not the hottest year on record. 1934 was. In fact, five of the top ten, I believe, I’m going to have to check this, five of the top ten warmest years on record are in the 30s, during the Dust Bowl era and so forth.
and thence to dozens of conservative websites; Michelle Malkin has a helpful list of links to the dozens of websites repeating the story. Today New York Times’s Opinionator blog repeated the claim, calling the general scientific community “Cassandras”:
A blogger’s recalculation of NASA data puts 1934, not 1998, as the warmest year on record…. Among global warming Cassandras, the fact that 1998 was the “hottest year on record” has always been an article of faith.

These stories are grossly misleading. Steve McIntyre’s correction applied to the surface temperature record of the contiguous lower 48 United States, not the global mean surface temperature record. 19 of the hottest twenty years on record for the planet have come in the last 26 years. 2005 is the hottest year on record, not 1998 (number 2) or 1934 (number 64).

Correcting the US data record was genuine accomplishment by an individual blogger, but of no qualitative consequence.

Addendum It should be clear that everyone here is talking about surface air temperature anomaly figures, which are deviations from the mean temperature of the 30-year period of 1951-1980. These numbers are not absolute temperature. For more, see Hansen et al. 1999. The abstract from that paper shows how absurd the claim that McIntyre has rocked the scientific world is:
We describe the current GISS analysis of surface temperature change for the period 1880- 1999 based primarily on meteorological station measurements. The global surface temperature in 1998 was the warmest in the period of instrumental data. The rate of temperature change was higher in the past 25 years than at any previous time in the period of instrumental data. The warmth of 1998 was too large and pervasive to be fully accounted for by the recent El Nino. Despite cooling in the first half of 1999, we suggest that the mean global temperature, averaged over 2-3 years, has moved to a higher level, analogous to the increase that occurred in the late 1970s. Warming in the United States over the past 50 years has been smaller than in most of the world, and over that period there was a slight cooling trend in the eastern United States and the neighboring Atlantic Ocean. The spatial and temporal patterns of the temperature change suggest that more than one mechanism was involved in this regional cooling. The cooling trend in the United States, which began after the 1930s and is associated with ocean temperature change patterns, began to reverse after 1979. We suggest that further warming in the United States to a level rivaling the 1930s is likely in the next decade, but reliable prediction requires better understanding of decadal oscillations of ocean temperature.

Update See Real Climate and Media Matters for more.

EPW Delegation to Greenland

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 02 Aug 2007 14:43:00 GMT

Last weekend, Sen. Barbara Boxer led a delegation from the Environment and Public Works Committee to Greenland:
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
  • Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
  • Bill Nelson (D-Fl.)
  • Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
  • Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Inhofe sent staffer Mark Morano, a former writer for the rightwing Cybercast News Service. Richard Alley of Penn State University, the lead author on the United States Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was the scientific advisor on the trip. They met with Arkalo Abelsen, Greeland’s environmental minister.

News coverage

* Associated Press: Georgia senator views effects of climate change in Greenland
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia traveled to Greenland over the weekend to get a firsthand glimpse at the effects of global warming.

The first-term Republican from Marietta said the trip reinforced his belief that the United States should gradually move away from fossil fuels like oil and coal. But it didn’t convince him that more urgent steps are needed, and he remains unconvinced that the current warming is a departure from long-term natural cycles.

“There is no question that carbon (dioxide) is contributing to the warming but there’s also no question that warming is cyclical and has happened in the past,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

Recent Advances in Clean Coal Technology

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 01 Aug 2007 13:30:00 GMT

Recent advances in clean coal technology, including the prospects for deploying these technologies at a commercial scale in the near future.

  • Carl Bauer, director, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Energy Department
  • Jerry Hollinden, senior vice president, URS Corp., National Coal Council
  • Jeffrey Phillips, program manager for advanced coal generation, Electric Power Research Institute
  • Don Langley , vice president and chief technology officer, Babcock and Wilcox
  • Andrew Perlman, CEO, Great Point Energy
  • Frank Alix, CEO, Powerspan
  • Jim Rosborough, commercial director, Dow Chemical Co.
  • Bill Fehrman, president, PacifiCorp Energy

9:30 Bingaman There is consensus about global warming; what’s missing is a consensus on what to do about it. We need to try to have technologies that can be deployed. One can imagine it will take decades. I hope we can compress the timeframe for commercial deployment.

9:32 Bauer Given current technology and coal consumption, the US has about 250 years of coal use. DOE is developing zero-atmospheric-emissions technologies. The success of clean coal R&D will be judged by its commercial deployment.

9:38 Hollinden The Secretary of Energy requested a clean coal from the National Coal Council, which we produced June 7. Coal must continue its vital role in providing energy to the United States. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is a major challenge, but the coal industry has a history of meeting such challenges. Carbon capture and storage is critical. Deployment of coal gasification is critical. Recommendations: streamline the coal power plant approval process. Significantly increase CCS R&D. Determine the liability associated with CCS. Pursue a large-scale pulverized coal demonstration project. Integrate coal gasification. Efficiency improvements at current coal plants should be expedited.

9:43 Phillips We have two good news, three bad. The first good news is that any new coal plant has the ability to have very low NOx and SOx emissions and can operate at high efficiency. To get 1990 levels by 2030 more than efficiency gains will have to happen. CCS will significantly increase cost of producing electricity, by about 80%. Some means to induce CO2 capture without penalizing the owner of such a plant must be used. We have identified R&D pathways that would dramatically reduce the cost of CCS to only 10% by 2025. With current levels of funding we will not get there. It requires significant but not unprecedented increase of investment over the next twenty years. Even if we were able to drive CCS costs to zero, plant owners would be reluctant to deployment because of liability fears.

9:49 Bingaman Ultra-super-critical pulverized coal technology. We had a hearing with the people from MIT. I got the impression that they thought ultra-supercritical technology had been deployed in various parts of the world already. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?

Hollinden There’s a lot of forms of “supercritical”. We’re talking about “advanced ultra-supercritical”. We’re talking about running at an efficiency of 48%; ultra-supercritical is just 42%.

Bingaman Am I correct we’re behind on ultra-supercritical deployment?

Hollinden From my own perspective, in the early days these were not very reliable, and coal is cheap here. So we went for cheap and reliable, instead of efficient. It’s still that way today.

Bingaman You refered to the dispatch order, when the CCS plant would be called on to generate electricity.

Phillips Right; the cheapest plant goes first. Particularly in our deregulated states.

Bingaman What if there were a change in policy based on emissions? Would that sufficiently incentivize these technologies?

Phillips I can’t say specificly, but obviously right now there isn’t an incentive.

9:55 Brasso (R-WY) Wyoming is the nation’s greatest source of coal. The more we can do to be energy independent the better it is for our nation and for my state. We’re in a unique position now.

10:00 Salazar My question is how we could use coal for plug-in hybrid vehicles. It seems to provide a great opportunity for our coal industry to produce electricity.

Bauer Plug-in hybrids is one way to reduce demand on fuels.

Hollinden It doesn’t help that the papers always talk about how dirty coal is.

Salazar It seems to me that while transportation is 2/3 of our energy you should look at plug-in hybrids.

Phillips We did a joint report with NRDC on plug-in hybrids. If you look at a future electric sector that is decarbonized with wind, solar, and CCS, you’re looking at an effectively carbon-free fuel.

12:00 A discussion of what the price for a ton of carbon should be; estimates range from $20-$35. The venture capitalist wants the market to be created. Dow figures in carbon costs in their planning.

Cooking With The Sun - Saving the Planet

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 26 Jul 2007 16:00:00 GMT

A public demonstration of eight solar cookers on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. from 12 – 6 PM in Upper House of Representatives Park behind the Longworth Building.

On Friday, the demonstration will be held 12 – 6 PM in Upper Senate Park by the fountain.

According to the EPA, almost three billion people still cook every day with traditional solid fuels (primarily wood, charcoal and animal waste). Their numbers are expected to increase substantially by 2020. The vast majority of these people live within thirty degrees north or south of the equator where the sun shines much of the year. The World Health Organization reports that over 1.5 million people die of respiratory disease each year by inhaling the fumes of their cooking fires. In developing nations millions of women and their children (who should be in school) spend hours each day foraging for fuel, resulting in denuded land, soil erosion, flooding and reduction in forest cover.

Solar cooking can dramatically reduce these problems. Solar cooking, when used as part of an integrated cooking program can reduce fuel consumption by more than 75%.

More than one million solar cookers are in use in China and India alone.

For additional information please contact: Pat McArdle at 703-254-8916/703-578-2932 [email protected]

Tracking the Storm at the National Hurricane Center

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 19 Jul 2007 14:00:00 GMT

Responding to the reports of disarray at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology and the Committee on Energy and Commerce took action to determine if the Center was indeed incapable of providing necessary forecasts during the hurricane season.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), Chairman of the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, convened a meeting in June with the heads of NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to learn more about the Quikscat satellite controversy. A hearing on the use of the Quikscat satellite data for hurricane forecasting had already been planned.

With the escalation of the controversy at the NHC in recent days, and subsequent action by NOAA Administrator Admiral Lautenbacher to place Hurricane Center Director William Proenza on leave, the Committees determined that further information was required.

This week they asked Admiral Lautenbacher for documents and records of communications from senior NWS officials and others involved in the controversy.

Witnesses Panel I
  • Mr. Bill Proenza, Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC)
Panel II
  • Dr. Robert M. Atlas, Director, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory
  • Mr. Don McKinnon, Director, Jones County Emergency Management Agency
Panel III
  • Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Under Secretary for Commerce, Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Jeff Masters (Wunderground hurricane specialist) outside perspective: before the firing:

A political storm engulfed the National Hurricane Center this week, with a majority of the senior hurricane forecasters calling for Bill Proenza’s removal as director. The most visible issue revolved around the extraordinary focus on the aging QuikSCAT satellite. The public argument put forth by Mr. Proenza was that QuikSCAT data was so vital to hurricane track forecasting that without it, track forecast errors would increase significantly, leading to larger warning areas and increased costs for evacuation and emergency planning.


I believe that NHC official forecasts for landfalling storms in the Atlantic would not be significantly affected by the loss of the QuikSCAT satellite. I can’t think of a hurricane scientist out there who would defend using a study with only 19 cases that didn’t focus on landfalling storms, to make the case Proenza is making—particularly in light of the data from the unpublished Goerss study showing no effect of QuikSCAT data on NOGAPS model tropical cyclone track errors. Proenza should have at least attached some measure of uncertainty to his numbers, which he did not.


It greatly troubles me that the most visible and admired member of my profession has failed to use good science in his arguments for funding a replacement of the QuikSCAT satellite. The Director of the National Hurricane Center needs to be an able politician and good communicator, but being truthful with the science is a fundamental requirement of the job as well. Mr. Proenza has misrepresented the science on the QuikSCAT issue, and no longer has my support as director of the National Hurricane Center.


Having lost the support of most of his senior forecasters, and having misrepresented the science on the importance of the QuikSCAT satellite on hurricane forecasts, it would be best for Mr. Proenza to step down as director of the National Hurricane Center.

after the firing:
With hurricane season fast approaching and internal strife threatening “the effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center”, as stated in a letter signed by 23 of NHC’s 49 employees, NOAA did the best thing by reassigning director Bill Proenza this afternoon. Conrad Lautenbacher, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced Proenza has been placed on leave “until further notice.”

The reassignment puts NHC deputy director Ed Rappaport, 49, into the director’s hot seat. I greatly respect Dr. Rappaport, who has done a great job as deputy director and is a highly skilled hurricane forecaster. Dr. Rappaport has a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences from Texas Tech. He began work in 1988 at NHC, and served as one NHC’s Hurricane Specialists before becoming chief of the Technical Support Branch. He is the best choice for director of NHC. He had wide support to become director last year when Max Mayfield retired, but turned down the job due to family reasons.

The State of Climate Change Science 2007, Pt. III

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 16 May 2007 14:00:00 GMT

Reorienting the U.S. Global Change Research Program Toward a User-Driven Research Endeavor

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 03 May 2007 18:00:00 GMT

Reps. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Bob Inglis (R-SC) introduced the Global Change Research and Data Management Act to strengthen and streamline federal climate change research and reorient it for state and local governments, planners and researchers, replacing the U.S. Global Change Research Program established in 1990.


  • Dr. Philip Mote, Climatologist, State of Washington
  • Dr. Michael MacCracken, President, International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Dr. Jack Fellows, Vice President, UCAR
  • Franklin Nutter, President, Reinsurance Assocation of America
  • Sarah Bittleman
  • Dr. James Mahoney

2:50 Dr. Mote They want to know what the probable changes are in rainfall, snowfall, and streamflow. The Northwest Hydropower Council wanted streamflow estimates. There’s already been an observed shift of two weeks in the start of the snowmelt. A national climate service is needed. To properly construct probabilistic scenarios at the regional level would require using tens of models; it would be too much for a regional center to undertake. Sea-level rise. Monitoring the climate, as HR 906 rightly addresses. The monitoring networks are slowly dwindling. The American Association of State Climatologists calls on Congress to save these networks from decline.

2:55 In recess.

3:20 Ms. Bittleman I work for the governor of Oregon here in Washington DC. The Western Governors Association appreciates the effort to make this bill relevant to the western states. The US has spent considerable dollars on understanding the science of climate change. Now the time has come to fund the study of adaptation. I need to recite some of the very real changes: smaller snowpacks, more extreme floods, more droughts, more wildfire, pests and disease. Congress and the Administration should fund research that makes mitigation and adaptation easier. Some states are creating their own climate change research centers, including Oregon. It is important that the program under HR 906 integrates the state offices and regional centers. We recommend that the bill be amended to establish a national climate information service, as Dr. Mote mentioned. Additionally the NCIS could provide national policy papers.

Decision makers at all levels of government and the private sector need accurate information.

3:27 Udall Are you saying the director of the USGCRP needs direct budget authority?

Fellows I think that the director of USGCRP have some level of budget authority and be close enough to the political center to push changes. When I was at the OMB we had every agency come in and present their programs.

Mahoney I had a hybrid position; I was Senate-confirmed, so I had a political position and access to the top of the OMB and the relevant cabinet officers. I think there should be a definite recognized management and coordination function. The division that generates the reports is greatly underresourced. Some direction by the Congress to see a more effective and efficient process would be a positive step.

3:32 Inglis The bill calls for the program to be updated every four years. Any thoughts?

MacCracken The first was developed in the early 1990s. We shifted in the mid-1990s, though without a formal plan. You do need to take a different perspective. There’s no optimal way to cut this problem into pieces. Requiring something in an update is useful.

Fellows The world climate society takes a look every five years. It would be interesting to look if you staggered the vulnerability and policy assessments, but the four-five year cycle is good.

3:35 Inglis One degree fahrenheit change and we have no more mountain trout.

Bittleman From the state perspective the entire process of data collection and how climate change is being experienced on the ground is what’s important. Every year the states are acting based on the data coming in. When there’s a year date for a report, that’s not as important as the flexibility to include the data, activity that are happening in the states.

3:37 Udall Regional vs. national assessments. How do we ensure the USGCRP meets both needs? I don’t see these things as separate. In Oregon and the Pacific Northwest we would like to gather information on a watershed level. We would like to see all of this information integrated. We see the possibility of integration being the real hope.

Nutter From the insurance perspective, regional assessments are imperative. The effect of climate change on extreme weather events in the Gulf is different from the Midwest or the Northeast.

McCracken We have tried to have sector assessments. If you’re interested in the forests locally, you need a regional perspective. If you’re looking at forest industry, you need national perspective. We also need the international perspective—migratory species, foreign investments, global health, refugees. The IPCC kind of looks at this, but hasn’t really taken a look at individual countries.

Udall Wehn we figure this out as a human race we’ll have created a template to face other challenges we’ll face. That keeps me going.

McCracken Climate change is intimately tied to meeting the Millenium Goals. It is all coupled and has to be looked at this way.

3:43 Nutter Those who look at protecting people’s property and lives. New York State has $2 trillion of insured properties. It’s a remarkable exposure to extreme weather events and climate change. This bill will have a real impact.

MacCracken In the 1990s we didn’t want climate change to be a justification for funding fusion research, for example. One of the things we struggled with in creating a useful assessment was what to focus on. That whole social science part of what has to be in climate change research isn’t well funded.

Mote Another aspect of this separation is that mitigating and adapting sometimes come together. As we design portfolios of alternative energy, are they resilient to climate changes? Such as hydropower. Climate change actually makes our hydropower generation more in line with demand for Washington, but means there will be less spare power for California in the summer.

3:50 Inglis Thank you.

Udall Thank you for appearing. I take the challenge of addressing global warming, as does Rep. Inglis and many other members of the House, very seriously. It’s one of our highest priorities in the Congress. This hearing is now adjourned.

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