Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

AAAS Statement on Climate Change Represents 10 Million Scientific Voices

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 7:32 PM EST

Annoyed by pesky climate change naysayers? Wish you had some ready ammunition at hand? Carry a copy of this in your bike bag.

The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Board of Directors released a statement at their annual meeting in San Francisco last weekend on climate change. Founded in 1848, the AAAS is an international non-profit organization serving some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, and 10 million individuals. Its journal Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. In other words, this is the real deal, people, as close to the Science Bible as it gets.

The text of the AAAS statement on climate change reads as follows:

The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a critical greenhouse gas, is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. The average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years. Scientific predictions of the impacts of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation match observed changes. As expected, intensification of droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies. These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible.

Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be.

History provides many examples of society confronting grave threats by mobilizing knowledge and promoting innovation. We need an aggressive research, development and deployment effort to transform the existing and future energy systems of the world away from technologies that emit greenhouse gases. Developing clean energy technologies will provide economic opportunities and ensure future energy supplies.

In addition to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential that we develop strategies to adapt to ongoing changes and make communities more resilient to future changes.

The growing torrent of information presents a clear message: we are already experiencing global climate change. It is time to muster the political will for concerted action. Stronger leadership at all levels is needed. The time is now. We must rise to the challenge. We owe this to future generations.

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John Schellnhuber's Third Industrial Revolution, a New Approach to Addressing the Hazards of Global Warming

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 2:22 PM EST

One of the topical lectures offered at this year's annual meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), wrapping today in San Francisco, sees John Schellnhuber expanding on his 12 global warming tipping points (Mother Jones Nov/Dec 2006).

Schellnhuber's impeccable credentials (founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, James Martin Fellow at Oxford University, Chief Government Adviser on climate for the German G8 and European Union twin presidency in 2007) underscore his brilliant and impassioned message: we need a Third Industrial Revolution to achieve a sustainable future on planet Earth.

"We've lost almost a decade in my field debating the climate change models," he says. There's no time to waste. He describes the "2-degree guardrail" (3.6 degrees F). If we can keep global warming at or below 2 degrees C, we may prevent the 12 tipping points from tipping. Whereas even minute increases above 2-degree C are likely to initiate cascades of catastrophe impossible to reverse.

The only way to hold to the 2-degree line is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Currently the world is still accelerating its production of greenhouse emissions. You do the math.

"Eternity," says Schellnhuber, "lasts a very long time, especially towards the end."

He shows an animation of the 12 tipping points tipping each other one after another and then swirling around in a vortex of chaos. "I can stop it," he says, "but only in virtual reality."

To stop it in reality, he argues we must induce innovation. "People think innovation is manna from heaven and will simply happen," he says. Not true—though we know what's encouraged it in the past. "World War II was the biggest inducer of innovation on this planet," he says, and an example of how we need to pour our collective resources into a new war, a new fight for our survival.

Nicholas Stern's report to the British government said that the only way to hold the 2-degree C line is to induce innovation. Meanwhile, says Schellnhuber, the past two decades have seen a dramatic decline in research and development in energy, exactly the reverse of what's needed.

We need to reinvent the way we live on the land and in cities, Schellnhuber says—including breaking the urbanization mold. Our cities have been built to maximize automobile traffic. But urban life as we know it is not sustainable: it's nonadaptive to global warming, as well as being a major contributor to global warming.

As for security, Schellnhuber refers to a global analysis of a future where the tipping points have already tipped. The results are wars, civil wars, and an overall "climate of violence."

As for the solution, "it's the portfolio, stupid." We need to mix it up with all the renewables—hydrothermal, wind, solar, biofuels—with solar being our best bet since it's evenly distributed across the spectrum of rich and poor nations, thereby minimizing the tendency to horde with all its geopolitical consequences. The European Union is already talking about linking a renewable energy grid across the continent.

Schellnhuber's PowerPoint presentation and lecture should be required listening for all presidents, prime ministers, members of congresses and parliaments, CEOs, CFOs, state legislatures, middle and high school students, parents and prospective parents.

On the average-joe level, why not include its message in driver's ed? We're taught the dangers of drunk driving and other forms of recklessness. Why not the hazards of our own fossil-fuel consumption? It's arguably more dangerous to more of us that we'll never meet than any other activity we engage in. Why not start the Third Industrial Revolution with a question on the driving exam: "What's the single biggest thing you can do behind the wheel to save the lives of your children and grandchildren not even in the car?"

Air Conditioning Heats Your World

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 8:05 PM EST

Our cool addiction is making it hotter. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a study by Dr Yukitaka Ohashi of Okayama University of Science and colleagues in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology reporting that air conditioners make it hotter outside and how they do it.

Their study compared the summer temperatures in downtown Tokyo on weekends versus weekdays. It showed air conditioners dump enough heat into the streets to raise the temperature at least 1 to 2ºC [1.8 to 3.6 degrees F]. In turn, heat blasting from the rear-ends of air conditioners is contributing to the "heat island" effect that makes cities hotter and their weather sometimes more severe.

Air conditioners remove not only ambient heat from buildings, but they expel heat from their use of electricity. In other words, coolers don't just move heat from the inside to the outdoors, they also add new heat just by being machines that consume power. In fact, Tokyo sucks up about 1.6 gigawatts of electricity for every 2 degrees of warming on a hot summer day, the researchers says. That's equivalent to the output of one-and-a-half nuclear power plants.

If we want to get serious about local warming as well as global warming can we agree to open the doors? I mean, does anyone keep their house or apartment as frigid as the average mini-mart, restaurant, or mall store? Can we imagine adding thermostat control to our list of consumer demands… we already (don't we?) ask for sustainably-caught seafood and sustainably-harvested wood and forest products? Why not ask to open the doors and cool the world?

US-based urban heat researcher Dr Stuart Gaffin of the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University in New York suspects the Japanese researchers are right about the significant contribution of air conditioning to hotter cities. "Such heat is not fully appreciated in urban heat island discussions," says Gaffin. The heat islands created by big cities in warm climates like Atlanta or Dallas - have been recognised as having noticeable and sometimes violent effects on stormy weather that crosses their path. Even non-urban areas downwind of cities have been known to get more violent thunder storms as a result of the supercharging of storms by city heat.

Either we get bitchy about it or Mother Nature will. And she's queen bitch.

Climate Change Nightmares

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 8:24 PM EST

Check out the television ad Avaaz.org is airing in world capitals.

44,000 have signed the petition so far. They're aiming for 100,000.

Global Warming Vintage 1958

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 7:54 PM EST

Who says we haven't known about global warming until Al Gore? Check out this 1958 Frank Capra short.

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