Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year to my readers

It's the last day of the year, and I thought I'd take the time to wish all of my readers a happy new year. I hope you all have a great evening, and that 2010 will be a good year for you all.

On a personal plane, 2009 has been an uneventful year, with nothing extraordinary going on. Globally, the same cannot be said. 2009 was the year when we finally got rid of the Bush administration - Obama might not be everything we wished for, or even what he promised to be, but compared to what went before, he is a beacon of rationality and personal integrity.

As in any year, we lost some great people in the last people, among them one of my great heroes Norman Borlaug, but most of these had lived long and bountiful lives. Much worse were all the lives lost in violence and unnecessary wars, cut short before time - 2009 has been a bad year on that front, and hopefully 2010 will be better.

2009 was a year of science - celebrating both Darwin and Galileo, and Science did better than any other time during this decade - the Obama administration not only didn't wager war against science, they actually tried to listen to the scientists, and Obama even included a Nobel Prize physicist Steven Chu in the administration. Outside the US, science has always had it better, and this thankfully continued.

In 2009 anthropogenic global warming was a focus point of the world, and while COP15 didn't result in anything concrete, it gave a basis upon which future talks can be based upon. The most positive thing to come out of cop15 was, in my opinion, the fact that the US was an active participant in the negotiations. Something they haven't been before.

Of course, not everything which happened in 2009 was positive. Guantanamo still exists, filled with people held without trial. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has regained a lot of power, and as recent events show, Al-Qaeda and other radical groups are still out there. Inside the US, far-right terrorism has begun to reappear, with e.g. the murder of Doctor Tiller (another of my heroes who passed away in 2009) and the attack on the Holocaust Museum.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Comment moderation enabled

I have unfortunately had to enable comment moderation on this blog, since there is a lot of spam showing up in the comments these days.

As I am traveling all of January, the comment moderation will be in place until at least February.

Please continue commenting - I will try to get comments through moderation as fast as possible.

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My take on COP15

COP15 in Copenhagen is now over, and the result was a watered-down, non-binding political commitment, which some countries might not even sign.

Two weeks of intense negotiations went before that, where Denmark's Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, sometimes seemed to be more of a hindrance than a host, often coming across as arrogant towards the developing countries in G77. In the end, it came down to long negotiations between US on the one side and China on the other, with countries like Brazil and India and the African Union participating, and big players like the EU and Russia watching from the sideline.

The commitment they ended up with, was a compromise between many different interests, and as such, leaves much to be desired. Indeed, seem from a purely climate-oriented point-of-view, the commitments are close to worthless, even if everyone kept to it.

Does this mean that Copenhagen was a failure? Yes and no.

Yes, because no binding agreement was reached, and the commitments are too little, too late.

No, because the negotiations from Copenhagen was never going to reach a satisfying conclusion. Instead they would just be the first of many steps (much like Kyoto was before Copenhagen).

Personally, I never expected anything much from COP15, though I would have hoped for a legally binding treaty.

The US is not prepared to do what is needed for real action, and countries like China and India cannot do what's necessary and at the same time continue their economic growth - at least not without economical aid from e.g. the EU and the US.

This doesn't mean, however, that COP15 was a waste of time.

What COP15 did, was create a baseline for future talks. Instead of having to start from scratch every time, the negotiators can now start from the concessions reached in Copenhagen and move towards a more ambitious agreement.

Also, while the US is far from willing to do enough to fight anthropogenic global warming, at least they were active participants in these negotiations (unlike during the Kyoto negotiations), which is an important first step.

All in all, Copenhagen should not be regarded as a disappointing end to a long process of climate negotiations, but instead just be considered the first, tiny, step towards a proper agreement. Even if the negotiations had led to a real agreement, this would still have been the case.

In the end, it's important to realize that each and all of us need to do something as well. We need to fight the fight for good science, and keep the hordes of ignorance and lies (yes, denialists, I mean you) from gaining the upper hand in the public debate (they never will in the science debate, as they have nothing to offer there). We need to put pressure on our politicians to enact laws and start initiatives that will help reduce CO2 and anthropogenic global warming. And finally, we need to do our own best to reduce our own carbon footprint - try to use public transportation if possible, reduce waste, etc.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate lecture with Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri

The chairman of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri, held a climate lecture at the University of Copenhagen, as part of the University's series of climate lectures (this was the 24th in the series). The lecture series has been going on for several months leading up to COP15, which is going on right now in Copenhagen.

As many of these lectures are held during the day, I have unfortunately not been able to attend most of them. The only one I've seen before this one was one held by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a Saturday. This lecture, however, was in the evening - from 19:30-20:30, so it ended about an hour ago.

The topic of today's lecture was Key findings from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

The audience was a good mixture of young and old, academia and activists, Danish and foreign.

The following is based on the notes I took during the lecture.

First the head of the University, rector Ralf Hemmingsen made a speech on the importance of an agreement at COP15, and the contributions of Dr. Pachauri and the IPCC towards this goal. Hemmingsen also made clear that science is clear regarding anthropogenic global warming.

Hemmingsen said that people wanted to get photographed with climate scientists like Dr. Pachauri, and one of Dr. Pachauri's first comments was to make clear that was because people want to have their photographs taken together with geeks.

Dr. Pachauri also raised the issue of ethics from the start - saying that we often miss ethnics when we are looking at the science.

The Dr. Pachauri went into explaining about bit about how the IPCC works. IPCC is an intergovernmental body, which is not really bound by the bureaucracy of the UN, and all its decisions are made by consensus.

First they do an outline of the report, write to countries, organizations and institutions to get nominations to the authors. This results in more than 2500 nominations, 450 lead authors, 800 contributors. After report has been written it's submitted for peer review and governmental review. These reviews are read and usually incorporated in the document, and the author has to document why any input is disregarded.

Now Dr. Pachauri went into the findings (the report can be found here, so depend on my resume of Dr. Pachauri's speech). Some of these were:

- Global atmospheric concentrations of emissions of greenhouse gases has increased markedly as a result of human activities with an increase of 70% in 1970-2004.

- Fluctuations have in the past been the result of natural phenomenons, but within the last 100 years that's not the case. Within the last 50 years, the increase has been twice as much as the hundred year average.

- A large number of models using only natural forcing has been run, showing that the current increase is a deviation from what would be cause by natural forcing. Models
taking anthropogenic forcing into account fits the observed data.

- Sea level rise has accelerated in last couple of decades.

- Frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas. Won't link any specific/single event to AGW, but the trend is there.

- Tropical cyclones reaching higher intensity have increased over the past 3 decades. Again, no single event to AGW, but the trend is there.

A lot of these things re-enforce each other.

- Heat waves are becoming more frequent.

- Continuing the trend will induce many changes in the 21st century much worse than what can be observed now.

- 1.1-6.4 degrees C best estimate 1.8-4 degrees C. Even the lower estimate of the best estimate would mean that the temp would increase 2.4 degrees in 2 centuries.

- Asian and African mega-deltas are particularly in danger, and the impact is severe.

- 20-30% of species are likely to be at risk if warming exceeds 1.5-2.5C

And now for the more political aspects of the findings.

- Need to think on implications on global security. Hundreds of millions of people could be forced from their native lands (rising sea levels, extreme events, floods, famines)

- Adaption alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change

- Dr. Pachauri made clear that the cost of mitigation efforts would be very small compared to the global GNP, and near-term co-benefits may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.

- We can use technologies that are currently available or expected to be commercialized in coming decades - e.g. introducing public transport places where they don't have it.

- Key tech: energy supply, transport, building

- Instruments, policies and practices - research, infrastructure, regulations, taxes, change in lifestyle (e.g. eat less meat). Needed to be implemented around the world - both in the developed countries, but also in the developing countries.

Sorry about the rather incoherent resume, but there was a lot of information in a short time.

After Dr. Pachauri's lecture, there was a short Q&A where the denialists were out in (relative) force.

First up from the denialist crowd came someone who I think might be Morano - if not, he was the same type of asshole. He made a lot of insinuations and ended up asking Dr. Pachauri if he didn't believe that fossils fuels had been the greatest boon to mankind (as it could not be both a great boon in the past and a very real source of problems now). Dr. Pachauri didn't really answer that question, but said that if the choice was between alternative energy, such as solar power, and classic energy/light sources, which releases greenhouse gases, then people in the places like India would choose alternative energy.

Given the false premise of the question, this might be the most constructive answer, but I would have preferred if Dr. Pachauri had addressed the false premise, and said that it could both be a boon and a problem.

After perhaps-Morano, came definitely-Monckton. Monckton made a lot of noise about problems with the IPCC report and accused the IPCC in general, and Dr. Pachauri specifically, of fraud, saying that people/scientists (didn't catch the names mentioned, but rest assure that it's the usual denialist token scientists) were calling for Dr. Pachauri to step down, and the IPCC to be dissolved.

Dr. Pachauri was exceedingly polite to Monckton, much more so than what his rather serious accusations would merit, and pointed out that if the IPCC was capable of fraud on the scale that Monckton claimed, then the IPCC would merit a great amount of respect, given the number of countries and people involved. At this point Monckton tried to interrupt, and Dr. Pachauri finally got angry enough to raise his voice, telling Monckton to let him finish answering the question.

After Dr. Pachauri had finished demolishing Monckton's silly accusations, Monckton tried to ask follow up questions, but was told, rightfully, by the moderator to sit down, as it was not his turn to have the floor. Still Monckton continued, until he was shouted down by the audience, which was not impressed by his antics.

A few questions more were asked, and the Q&A came to a close.

Given the applause the different questions and answers gave, I'd say that the denialists were rude and noisy, but few in number, while science-minded people made up the majority of the audience.

As a final note, I should perhaps suggest people sympathetic to Monckton to explain to him that Denmark actually have laws against slander and libel, and accusing scientists of fraud might very well be considered such by the Danish courts, especially in this context.

Update: I've just received an email with a link to the actual powerpoint presentation used by Dr. Pachauri - it can be found here.

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