2011 - %3, July

Thanks for the Cooling, Volcanoes

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 2:35 PM EDT
Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat.

Thanks to four less-than-monstrous volcanic eruptions, we've been spared 20% more greenhouse warming since 1998. This according to a new paper in early view at Science.

The authors note two past "colossal" eruptions that cooled the Earth: Tambora in 1815, which cause a year without a summer, and Pinatubo in 1991, which cooled our world by 1°C/1.8°F for more than a year.

What this team of climate researchers was investigating was whether or not smaller eruptions since then have also managed to inject enough gaseous sulfur directly into the tropical stratosphere to create an atmospheric parasol against our rising greenhouse gasses.

Tropical eruptions are thought to be especially important for climate change since the particulate can be transported into the stratospheres of both northern and southern hemispheres, affecting the entire globe for many months. Susan Solomon at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues, write:

The cooling effect of volcanic eruptions mainly arises not from the injected ash, but from SO2 [sulfur dioxide] injected by plumes that are able to reach beyond the tropical tropopause into the stratosphere, whereupon the SO2 oxidizes and temporarily increases the burden of stratospheric particles. Stratospheric aerosols are composed largely of dilute sulfuric acid droplets that effectively reflect some incoming solar energy back to space.
 

Soufrière Hills Volcano. Credit: NASA, the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center.Soufrière Hills Volcano. Credit: NASA, the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center. 

The team analyzed data from the CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations) satellite launched in 2006 and found that debris from two rather small tropical eruptions in 2006—Soufrière Hills and Tavurvur—spread around the world via the stratosphere. They also found that two northern-latitude eruptions in 2008 and 2009—Kasatochi and Sarychev—spread through much of the northern stratosphere.

 

 

The research suggests that—contrary to prior understanding—these smaller eruptions did manage to climb into the lower stratosphere and cool the planet by about 0.07°C/0.1°F since the late 1990s... thereby adding another variable to the cocktail already counteracting our greenhouse inputs, including:

  • "Colossal" Pinatubo-sized eruptions
  • Decreases in the brightness of the sun at the solar minimum
  • Short-lived pollutant hazes, aka the "brown clouds," from Asia
  • Natural climate variables, like the El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation

 Three explosive eruptions rocked the Kasatochi Volcano, emitting a dense cloud containing about 1.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide. NASA OMI image courtesy Simon Carn, Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), University of Maryland.Three explosive eruptions in 2008 rocked the Kasatochi Volcano, emitting a dense cloud of about 1.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide. NASA OMI image courtesy Simon Carn, Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), University of Maryland.

The paper:

  • S. SolomonJ. S. DanielR. R. Neely IIIJ. P. Vernier, E. G. Dutton, and L. W. Thomason. The Persistently Variable "Background" Stratospheric Aerosol Layer and Global Climate Change. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1206027.

 

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Quote of the Day: Hating on Dave

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 2:06 PM EDT

From Felix Salmon, who doesn't like the government finance = family finance comparison no matter who's making it:

I’m beginning to think that the most politically corrosive movie of the past 20 years was Ivan Reitman’s Dave, from 1993, where the president, armed with nothing but his neighborhood accountant and a couple of bratwursts, manages to fix the budget over dinner.

Hey! We like that movie around this house. But yeah, like so many other Hollywood versions of politics, it sure does make things look a lot easier than they really are.

Fun With Numbers!

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 1:39 PM EDT

The chart below is dedicated to the Heritage Foundation. Thanks go to Matt Yglesias, Karl Smith, and Stan Collender.

VIDEO: 'Barbarians' Glitter-Bomb Bachmann Clinic

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 1:02 PM EDT

Well, that was inevitable. Following previous attempts to "glitter-bomb" former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for their opposition to gay marriage, a band of Minnesota LGBT activists descended on a Bachmann & Associates Christian counseling clinic on Thursday in an attempt to dump glitter on Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus. The clinic, which is co-owned by the GOP presidential candidate, has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over reports that it practices "reparative therapy," a potentially harmful procedure in which therapists attempt to cure homosexuality through prayer. (The practice is rejected by major psychiatric and psychological associations.)

Per Think Progress, protesters dressed up as barbarians—a nod to Marcus Bachmann's statement in a 2010 radio interview that gay children, like "barbarians," "need to be educated"—and shouted "You can't pray away the gay—baby, I was born this way!" Mr. Bachmann, the intended recipient, was not there. 

WATCH:

Rep. Bachmann was herself the target of an attempted glittering at last month's RightOnline conference in Minneapolis.

Less Lead, Better Kids

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 12:39 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias points to a welcome bit of good news reported in the New York Times today. The EPA, it seems, is field testing a new way of using fish bones to clean up lead contamination in urban areas:

Today, there is more lead contamination in America’s cities than any federal or state agency could ever afford to clean up and haul away. So scientists and regulators are trying a new strategy, transforming the dangerous metal into a form the human body cannot absorb, thus vastly reducing the risk of lead poisoning.

The principle is straightforward, said Victor R. Johnson, an engineer with Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. “The fish bones are full of calcium phosphate,” he said. “As they degrade, the phosphates migrate into the soil.” The lead in the soil, deposited by car exhaust from the decades when gasoline contained lead or from lead-based paint residue, binds with the phosphate and transforms into pyromorphite, a crystalline mineral that will not harm anyone even if consumed.

Evidence mounts almost daily about the damage that the modern environment does to our children. Lead, small particulates in the air, phthalates and other endocrine disruptors, sugar-heavy diets that promote Type 2 diabetes, and lousy conditions in the home all combine to make our children far more vulnerable to chronic problems, both physical and cognitive, than they need to be. It's nice to see that at least one of these things is being addressed in a creative new way.

Bloomberg, Sierra Club Align Against Coal

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 12:38 PM EDT

Outside the GenOn power plant in Alexandria, Va. on Thursday, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new partnership to end coal-fired power. Bloomberg's philanthropy will donate $50 million to Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign—a sizable chunk of the proposed $150 million budget for the campaign.

Sierra Club is already touting its role in preventing the construction of more than 150 new coal-fired power plants. Their goal with the next phase of the campaign is to shut down a third of the country's older plants by 2020. The support of Bloomberg Philanthropies will have a "significant impact" on achieving that goal, said Sierra Club in a statement Thursday. With it, the group plans to increase its campaign from 15 states to 45 and double the number of full-time staff working to organize members.

Here's what Bloomberg had to say:

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal. Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source the impact on our environment and the impact on public health is significant," said Bloomberg. "Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption."

The move is an interesting one, on Bloomberg's part. I can't think of another example of a sitting politician making such a large investment in an interest group, particularly an environmental one. The blog Charity Navigator has some research on the giving habits of politicians, but nothing quite this size. You often hear about fossil fuel interests buying off politicians, but it's rare to hear about a political figure investing in the opposition.

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Rick Perry's Team Takes Shape

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 11:01 AM EDT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, based on everything I've read about him, is not very bright. Not merely incurious or overly reliant on his gut, like George Bush, but genuinely just sort of dimwitted.

Andy McCarthy of National Review, based on everything I've read of his, ought to be locked up in a mental ward somewhere. I really, sincerely, don't understand why NR continues to associate itself with him. There's gotta be a line somewhere, after all.

But guess what? Perry and McCarthy have apparently teamed up! If Perry decides to run, this really has the makings of an epic disaster. I can hardly wait.

A Statistical Analysis of Allen West's Crazy Talk

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 9:48 AM EDT
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

By now you've read about Florida GOP Rep. Allen West's unhinged email rant, in which he told Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who represents his neighboring congressional district, that "you have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady." (He also called her "vile, unprofessional, and dispicable.") West has since either apologized or not apologized, depending on whom you talk to, but one thing is indisputable: He and his opponents are going to milk this baby for all its worth.

On Wednesday, West fired off a fundraising email to supporters, painting himself as the target of the Democratic attack machine; Democratic groups like EMILY's List did their best to capitalize on the moment as well.

West says stuff like this all the time though, which raises the question: Is his crazy talk a political asset, or a liability? As it happens, Case Western Reserve University political scientist Justin Buchler has released a study (PDF) that answers almost that exact question:

[T]his paper proposes a measure of infamy for Members of Congress based on the frequency with which their names are used as internet search terms paired with epithets attacking either their intelligence or their sanity. Using that measure, the paper examines the statistical predictors of internet infamy. Not surprisingly, the results suggest that ideological extremism increases the likelihood of a legislator attaining such infamy, as does a leadership position in Congress...

The kicker:

The results in this paper suggest that infamy is more electorally harmful than beneficial. While infamous legislators raise more money than their lower-profile colleagues, their infamy also provides a fundraising boon to their opponents, and in House elections, infamy appears to have a direct negative effect on vote shares, at least for Republicans. Most surprisingly, these results are robust even controlling for ideological extremism.

Looks like we may have been on to something.

h/t: Monkey Cage

Tom Coburn Has a Not-So-Crazy Idea

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) managed to forge a rare bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill this week: He rolled out a $9 trillion budget-reduction plan that both Democrats and Republicans hate. The 621-page proposal (PDF) is titled "Back in Black"; given the reaction from both sides of the aisle, maybe he should have called it "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Liberals have assailed its recommendation for $2.64 trillion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade. Conservatives are up in arms over the plan to collect nearly $1 trillion by eliminating a bunch of corporate tax breaks. Coburn's blueprint "is very ambitious," writes the American Conservative's Daniel Larison, "and therefore almost certainly doomed."

But beyond the party-line hand-wringing, little attention has been given to what might be the most radical of Coburn's ideas: A $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next 10 years. In a climate where even budget-obsessed tea party Republicans are loath to cut defense dollars, parts of the Oklahoma conservative's Pentagon plan sound downright progressive.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 21, 2011

Thu Jul. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Staff Sgts. Russell Johnson (right) and Stephen Adams watch as fuel barrels are airdropped July 8, 2011, from a C-17 Globemaster III above Afghanistan. The two NCOs are loadmasters assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)