Harvard’s David Keith calls it the “goofy Goldfinger scenario” – a rogue nation, or even an individual, would conduct an unsupervised geoengineering experiment — and he confidently predicted in a story I wrote last month that it would never happen.
It took about a month for him to be proven wrong. In mid-October, the Guardian reported that an American named Russ George had dumped 100 metric tons of iron sulfate into the waters off western Canada, triggering a bloom of algae. George claimed he did it with the knowledge of Canadian authorities, using equipment lent to him by NOAA (which said it didn’t know of his plans).
Some species of algae produce dangerous toxins for both sea life as well as humans. The term "red tide" is often associated with these algal blooms.
Scientists (presumably including Keith) were outraged that such a thing could happen. It’s not that they have anything against algae, but rather that the project was a type of geoengineering — a suite of anti-climate-change strategies that are highly controversial because they have the potential for triggering significant unintended consequences.
But triggering an algae bloom is also a way to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and along with spewing particles into the stratosphere to block some of the sun’s heat, it’s one of the main techniques geoengineers talk about using if efforts to limit those emissions ultimately fail.
Before they would be prepared to take such a major step, however, responsible scientists would take baby steps first: they would do small-scale experiments, under controlled conditions, with the super...
By Alyson Kenward
(The full version of this Op-Ed is on LATimes.com)
Over the summer and on into the fall, images of flames, smoke plumes, firefighting teams and ruined homes have been on replay, and with good reason: As of Aug. 31, this year tied the record for total acreage burned by wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. More than 8.4 million acres have burned to date — an area larger than the state of Maryland up in flames.
But as intense as the wildfires have been this year, they provide just a glimpse of the future of the American West.
In a new study, my colleagues and I analyzed more than four decades of fire data from the U.S. Forest Service. We found a clear long-term trend toward more and larger fires in 11 Western states.
How high and how fast will sea level rise? It’s a hugely important question: the ocean is creeping ever higher thanks to global warming, posing a growing threat to life and property all over the world. The current consensus says sea level should go up another 3 feet or so by 2100, a disastrous enough scenario that would put many millions of people at risk in the U.S. alone. But some experts suggest the rise could be as much as 16 feet, which could make cities — including New York, Shanghai and Mumbai — virtually unlivable.
Its obviously important to nail down the number, and one way scientists do that is to look to the past, to see how climate and sea level matched up during ancient episodes of warming and cooling. It’s the search for ancient shorelines that’s at the core of Deep Water, a terrific new e-book by veteran journalist Dan Grossman. The central narrative involves a research expedition across Australia led by Maureen Raymo, a scientist based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Grossman traveled with Raymo and her crew for a month, getting to know the scientists and learning about what they do, how they do it, and why it’s so important.
What makes the book so extraordinary is not simply the writing, which is pretty great. This isn’t just a plain-text Kindle-type ebook, however (although you can get it in that form if you prefer). It’s a full-fledged multimedia production that includes video (Grossman is an accomplish...
By Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres
Severe weather has been clobbering insurance companies, and the headlines just keep coming. “Drought to cost insurers billions in losses,” said the Financial Times a few days ago. “Many U.S. hurricanes would cause $10b or more in losses in 2012 dollars,” the Boston Globe said about the latest hurricane forecasts. “June’s severe weather losses near $2 billion in U.S.,” said the Insurance Journal earlier this year.
This year’s extreme events follow the world’s costliest year ever for natural catastrophe losses, including $32 billion in 2011 insured losses in the United States due to extreme weather events. This is no short-term uptick: insured losses due to extreme weather have been trending upward for 30 years, as the climate has changed and populations in coastal areas and other vulnerable places have grown.
The U.S. insurance industry continues to be “surprised” by extreme weather losses. But the truth is that weather extremes are no longer surprising. Back-to-back summers of devastating droughts, record heat waves and raging wildfires are clear evidence of this. Last year’s crazy weather triggered near record underwriting losses and numerous credit rating downgrades among U.S. property and casualty insurers.
And in the face of a changing climate, such events can be expected to increase in number, and severity. It’s time for insurance companies to recognize this new normal, and incorporate it into...
By Michael D. Lemonick
I got a rather breathless email yesterday from one of my colleagues telling me about a new bulletin from the National Hurricane Center about Tropical Storm Leslie. It said, in part: “THIS IS THE SECOND-EARLIEST FORMATION OF THE 12TH NAMED STORM ON RECORD IN THE ATLANTIC BASIN . . . ECLIPSED ONLY BY LUIS OF 1995.”
At first, I have to admit, I rolled my eyes. It felt like the kind of ridiculous statistic baseball announcers dredge up when there’s nothing worthwhile to say, but they feel they need to say something anyway (“It’s the fourth time in baseball history that a left-handed Dominican third baseman has faced a right-handed pitcher from South Carolina in the month of July . . . ”).
Hurricane Kirk is a strong Category 2 as of Friday morning with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Tropical Storm Leslie continues to strengthen over the Atlantic Ocean, maximum sustained winds 65 mph.
Credit: National Hurricane Center/NOAA.
There was something to say on Thursday, of course, when Hurricane Isaac still dominated the headlines on. But as of Friday, Isaac wasn’t even on the National Hurricane Center’s official map, a day later.
But my reaction was dumb, on two counts. First, Isaac may have degraded into a tropical depression, but it’s bringing drenching and potentially dangerous rains to the Midwest. That may help alleviate the ongoing drought in some places, but as Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reminded me in a phone call, “Inland rainfall is the leading cause of death from these storms.”
The other major gap in my reasoning, which I think I share with most Americans, is that I dismiss Leslie, whic...