What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for April, 2012

Amundsen and Scott, an extraordinary race from a strange point of view

Antartica Map from Wikitravel

This year is the hundredth anniversary of two famous historical events: sinking of the Titanic and south pole discovery race by Admunsen and Scott. The first being mentioned in some climate change related posts, the second has engaged me through the wonderful book by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: The Worst Journey in the World. I am still reading it but I know the end of the story, it was epic, as deserved in the last land of the world discovered by mankind. It was so difficult that it was not done again by food until 40 years later, with temperatures always below zero, strong blizzards,… Admunsen was completely successful and Scott to some extent, as he reached the pole, but he was second and his last five men died, including him in the return journey.

Scott five-men subgroup who reached the south pole (from wikipedia)

But this is not a blog about south pole, just some climate related thoughts:

  • The two ships of the two expeditions (the Fram and the Discovery) were “hybrid”, combining coal fueled steam engine and wind. It is a pity we lost the wind as our main driving force to navigate.
  • Nevertheless, this year new adventurers were able to make this south pole journey based on kites help. It was not the only expedition to remember the great effort of Admundsen and Scott in a low carbon way. Interesting.
  • Scott expedition was the first to use oil sledges. The combustion engine was not so reliable that time and he obtained less result than expected from them, but this was the first serious attempt, later it became the main way to reach so difficult places. In the other hand he did not allow to sacrifice any dogs or ponies  and they were really in a hard situation.
  • Scotts men made great efforts to gather scientific information, that expedition was not only geographical, it had many other scientific purposes. Those data have been very valuable for scientific progress in different fields, their climate records were valuable too.
  • Admunsen expedition was very practical, based in snow and dog expertise, with only a clear objective and the means to get it. The dogs were sacrificed to feed other dogs in order to reduce the load. They were fast and reliable and learned many techniques from Inuits. Their success was based in the clever utilization of proven knowledge. Making too many trials in extreme situations maybe counteracting.
  • This can be an idea to climate change too. Our success as global society in this huge challenge will be more likely using in a new way and in a new context our previously acquired knowledge, instead of waiting for new wonderful technologies.
  • One last thought: Those men discovered a land which contains enough water to raise the sea level several meters. It is in our hands to avoid the massive thawing.

Admunsen and Scott routes from wikipedia



Argentina wants to recover the control of its fossil fuels, another energy war

Argentinian map in South America, from wikipedia

The news was specially important in Spain and Argentina. Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner , announced the expropiation of YPF, Argentinian oil company, the biggest company in the country, controlled up to this week by Spanish company Repsol. The diplomatic conflict is served, with several strong words from the presidents, company CEO, YPF former leaders firing in Hollywood style, etc…

I am not going to comment the economic, ethic, moral or juridical aspects of this issue. Surely there are many other better sources for it. I just want to emphasize the huge impact fossil fuels have had, and still have,  in our economy. Two data:

  • The finding of great oil resources in vaca muerta has been mentioned by all parts in this conflict, so the perspective of new oil reserves itself is enough to provoke huge impact.
  • Both Repsol and YPF are the greatest companies in their country.

Consequently, the problem is created, too much power and money is concentrated in a sole resource. And this has been present in the whole history of oil industry and XX century industrial society. How many oil wars have the world suffered in XXth century?

Nevertheless, energy in Argentina is a complex issue, as in most of the world. In spite of having this important resource Argentina is suffering in the last years a kind of energetic crisis, it needs more oil than it produces, it has difficulties to meet the raising electricity demand (1 GWh more per year) and both fuel and electricity prices have increased dramatically (yes, this is possible even without renewables). Whereas, as explained in the 30th page of this magazine, Argentinian renewable investment has been low, very far from the modest 8% electricity target, in spite of having very abundant resources of wind, rivers and sun too.

Growing prices of fuel and electricity have been one of the main arguments for the expropriation, considering YPF was not making enough effort to invest in new wells (A fresh opinion in this sense came from GreenPeace), not so different from USA drill-baby-drill. I think this is a wrong approach. Energy costs are increasing in different parts of the world because all possibilities are getting more expensive, fossil fuels, renewables and, of course, nuclear. Pretending there is a magic solution for that is not only unrealistic, it is counteracting, because it creates false expectations in public opinion. And, even more, the more we trust in fossil fuels the more get in trouble as a society, because climate change is starting to show consequences, and will show more of them and more expensive ones. So it does not seem cheap in the long-term.

Three final small thoughts:

  • Energy resources, companies,… are never fully private, there is always a government interacting with them. It is logical as this is a key service in any modern society, but it is frequently forgotten.  This case is a clear example. So public participation in climate change policies and subsidies is not so different to public participation in many other energy related issues.
  • Many Argentinian are saying that Argentinian oil should be owned by Argentinians. It is an interesting argument, going a little further we could ask if the oil should only belong to this generation Argentinians or should they remember the future inhabitants too? And leave some oil for them?
  • In the media discussion about the price os the stocks to be paid by the government to Repsol, Argentinian government argued that the environmental negative consequences should be accounted and taken out from the price. So they want to discount the externalities. Perfect, but why not do it regularly, next year, and next, and next? And include it in the electrical bill? Or in the cost comparison with renewables (in this case the relative costs would change clearly)? And the last, why now and not last year?

Climate Change and Science fiction: The day after tomorrow

If there is one film showing climate change and talking openly about it this is The day after tomorrow.I saw some moments of it in the TV recently and in the cinema 8 years ago (incredible!!!)

Joe Romm did not like it, nor its message. May be I am less exigent or just am lucky enough to enjoy most of the times I go to a cinema (scarcely nowadays, it is a pity), I enjoyed it and consider it valuable to make us think about climate change. Why ?

Because even if the story is not terribly original it is easy to follow and get engaged with it. Because it mentions some of the issues of climate change, it is not only about warning the planet and using less heating, it is about changing the weather patterns dangerously, about changing ocean currents,… (OK it is not scientifically thought and can generate a confusion about climate change and ice age, but it is Hollywood and people know that films are not always accurate).

And the last reason to like it to some extent, is that it is the most explicit commercial film clearly related with climate change, comparing with many others that are just subtly related, this is a great positive argument. Many times films are great door to more elaborated knowledge for many, many people and we need a lot of people interested in learning about climate change.

Climate Change in Astronomy magazine

The magazine mentioned in the post.

I sometimes buy an astronomy magazine and read, or enjoy a small part of it due to lack of time. But this last week apart from some nice astronomy articles this magazine mentioned twice climate change as a great challenge for the world. It was in an article and in a recommended book. For different reasons astronomers are sensitive to climate change, more than others.

For people like me that read skeptic blogs often It is always invigorating to see that settled science is considered settled  science in many parts, more than we think. Maybe the problem is more in the action, but this is another question

Extreme weather and skepticism

Recently, IPCC launched a special report about extreme weather events (SREX). And the climate blogosphere has reacted, as it should.

Climate Hawks considered it correct but too soft in some senses. Joe Romm says it is a bit outdated regarding some articles, RealClimate does not agree with  one interpretation of statistics.

In the other hand, some climate skeptics have welcomed it effusively ,for example this one in spanish considers it a victory of the science.

This author was based in Piekle Jr blog and has read a different report really, because he considers that the report denies the occurrence of more extreme events in last years due to climate change. It has been one of the most striking examples of cherry picking I have come across last times, and there are many of those (I love this word).

A last example is the vegan blog from which I took the photo. They consider the link established and the occurrence clear. Yes , reading the same report.

I haven’t read it thoroughly but I agree more with the vegans, the report is written in a scientific tone, not a journalist one, but clearly talks about the risks increment due of extreme events.

This is an important battlefield in climate change, extreme events are an important negative consequence of climate change but at the same time are a great driving force for public opinion. Average temperatures are not easy to notice whereas terrible floods or hurricanes or droughts are impossible to forget. Even when they are not scientifically considered a climate change consequence they exert a great effect. Sometimes the science come to us in unexpected ways. For these reasons we will continue to discuss about them.

And painfully to suffer them unless we change our emissions path fast.