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A seemingly simple question heading to theClimate Chaos end of 2012:  

What were the most notable climate-related stories of the year?
A group led by Greg Laden, interested in climate science, put together a list of notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. While it started, perhaps innocently, as a quest for a 'top ten' list, the effort to fit within an arbitrary limit quickly fell by the wayside.  Thus, we did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. (See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here.) We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!

Contributors: : Angela Fritz, A Siegel, Eli Rabett,Emilee Pierce, Gareth RenowdenGreg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham,Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.

Note that even among this extensive list, while the most serious 'challenge' is the U.S.-centric nature of the list/discussion, here are two examples of serious 'missing' items:

1.  Amid massive climate-chaos related issues in the United States (hint, see after the fold), the 2012 Presidential campaign operated under a cloud of 'Climate Silence', with what could be described as a conspiracy between 'The Village' (the traditional media) and the political elite to downplay (actually, basically ignore) the mounting urgency of doing something to avoid hurtling over the Climate Cliff.  And, as a corollary to this, Republican Party climate denial continues apace (with serious impact on U.S. government (at Federal, State, and Local levels) even as a growing share of the American public links extreme weather issues with climate disruption.

2.  Trees, globally, seem to be suffering seriously from direct and indirect impacts from pollution.  While people have noticed trees downed by Sandy, the Derecho, dying amid drought, there has been far too little notice of just how unhealthy a huge number of these trees were that made them susceptible to falling.  See Wit's End for a focus on this.

E.g., the long list that comes after the fold is far from a fully robust list of the notable 2012 climate events and issues.

1 Super Storm Sandy

Hurricane Sandy off the Carolinas
Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy

Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”

2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimumSeaIce in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss

4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast

Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt

7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage
STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

14 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, dome of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion. [Note: This ending sentence is/was Greg's. wooden stake and vampire Sadly, I don't think it is true.  We (the progressive community, including Daily Kos ...) failed to drive the wooden stake through Heartland's heart when it was down. While Heartland has lost much of their funding and Corporate support, Hearthland's Anti-Science Syndrome Hatred Of a Livable Economic System voices still get soapboxes in traditional media 'balance' articles and otherwise.  Learning how to pound in the wooden stake has merit ...)

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:29 AM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, and Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for another excellent post A. (31+ / 0-)

    A frightening, and one would think sobering, recap. I remain grateful for all your hard work, and that of all those who have worked on these critical issues and sacrificed so much to raise awareness and to urge action on the part of the Powers That Be. Please keep it up. We have to act as if there is still time, even if there isn't.

    If only more people were paying attention. Damn the billionaire deniers for having worked hard to damn the rest of us.

  •  Climate change is here. Now. (20+ / 0-)

    This is what it looks like. The trend is obvious for the future.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:44:47 AM PST

  •  An excellent and worrisome (20+ / 0-)

    and very well documented summary.  I find it unbelievable that this isn't everyone's top issue.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:45:36 AM PST

  •  Suggested No. 20: Cosmic rays shot down (8+ / 0-)

    Not really a climate event in itself, but one persistently floated story - "It's the sun! It's the cosmic rays!" finally has been laid to rest:

    A review of cosmic rays and climate: a cluttered story of little success

    Combined with the BEST study it reduced our cranky "skeptics" in German blogs to silent grumbling and fuming over the scam of evil climate scientists who do it just for the money...

    Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

    by RandomGuyFromGermany on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:50:44 AM PST

    •  Sadly ... (5+ / 0-)

      What we have faced is the reality that 'pet theory' after 'pet theory' from climate denialists have been shot down to be repeated, constantly, in the Gish Gallop debating. Thus, while the Cosmic Rays has been shot down in terms of science, it constantly makes its way into discussions from denialists throwing mud against the wall hoping to confuse those who aren't up on/into climate science. (Just went a round in a private consulting collaboration space where a denialist kept doing 'science' where the end discussion ended up from those tired of my constantly providing links/data showing falsehoods was 'let's just split the difference' ...)

      Do agree that BEST study might have merited a point -- however, this meant that 'BEST' brought the lead researchers only 15 years or so behind current science.

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:07:07 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Do not despair... :) (4+ / 0-)

        You can't reach the denialists. You can, however, reach people who don't have the time or the skills to cut through all that BS. Being able to provide such a link and to say "the data just don't support this" goes a long way in cutting online 'discussions' short. At least that's my experience.

        Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

        by RandomGuyFromGermany on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:15:56 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sigh ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          indubitably, Cliss, Creosote

          1.  My target is to not let the denialists, in forums like this, speak unchallenged -- not to convince denialists, but to try to reach those watching/listening in.  Sadly, the Gish Gallop does work to confuse the situation.

          2.  Sadly, as the diary's material points to, there are many reasons for 'despair' even as we must retain hope in our ability to reduce impacts and even turn things around for the better.

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:35:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  How to build some obstacles for the gallop... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel, eOz

            Cut it short, go pre-emptive and proclaim that the guy certainly is about to make at least two of the four mistakes that denialists always make:

            1. Denialists always contradict each other.
            2. Denialists always jump to stupid conclusions.
            3. Denialists always lie about data.
            4. Denialists always get the science wrong.

            And they do this, because (a) they are so stupid to believe their nonsense themselves or (b) are just deceptive liars who would know better.

            (...don't bother about the fine print; let them taste their own medicine)


            The following might serve as a starting point how to 'prove' that claims.

            1. Denialists always contradict each other.

            For instance it has both been claimed that the greenhouse effect (a) would contradict the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and (b) that the absorption bands would have been saturated - but the second argument accepts the mechanics of the greenhouse effect so they can't both be true.

            ( example is totally enough; if they dispute is, gallop to the next point ;-)

            2. Denialists always jump to stupid conclusions.

            For instance it has been claimed that CO2 historically trailed temperatures - implicitly meaning that it couldn't possibly be the case this time.  Which is a stupid conclusion, because it simply means that this time it's different, because of mankind and their burning of fossil fuel.

            3. Denialists always lie about data.

            For instance it has been claimed that weather stations would be biased towards warmer temperatures, or that the data had been doctored etc. - all of which claims have been conclusively rebutted by a study that had been financed by the very deniers that claimed that crap.

            4. Denialists always get the science wrong.

            And even if they get near something, that could be legitimately called science (e.g. the saturation bands or the cosmic ray influence) they either draw the wrong conclusions (...the bands are not saturated  in the higher, colder atmosphere, so that more CO2 will still have an effect) or they exaggerate the effect (...while cosmic rays may influence clouds, no discernible effect has been measured).

            As I said - take the big brush and primary colors and make big strokes ... provided you can afford it in the given situation ;-)

            Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

            by RandomGuyFromGermany on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 11:35:40 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I love the "split the difference" thing . . . (5+ / 0-)

        One side says the moon is made of rock, the other side says blue cheese.  So the "split the difference" argument becomes whether it's Parmesan or Romano.

        Anything to deny reality.  Even the IPCC AR5 appears to be coming down for Parmesan (because the models count for more than the measurements, I guess) . . . they're still projecting year-round Arctic sea ice well past mid-century.

        More and more I just find myself shrugging and saying "whatever . . . Nature doesn't care what you think".  It's too late to do anything about it anyway . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:29:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, (8+ / 0-)

          I think the split difference would be some form of cheese that uses ash/dirt as part of its rind/coating.

          With children and watching others' children (and concerned about my own life, in a quite selfish way), I have a hard time shrugging with 'whatever'.  

          I don't think it is too late to 'do anything' even though we have already baked in far more serious problems than what we are already encountering and we face an ever-mounting risk of positive feedback cycles (melting permafrost, methane burps, reducing ability of oceans/trees to absorb CO2, ...) that could overwhelm efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:37:48 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Change that "could overwhelm" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            to "will overwhelm" and you'll get why I'm at "whatever" . . .

            Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

            by Deward Hastings on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:08:20 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  It is *indeed* too late to do anything about it if (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel

            you are talking about mitigating the effects of already-built-in planetary warming. The only thing which could ever have been done about the cause of AGW was to stop overproducing our offspring. Nature will cull us for that. Perhaps when our remote descendents re-civilize from savagery they'll find a less risible appellation for our species than sapiens, but only if we manage to leave a warning in the rocks.

            There is only one reality-based goal left within our power. We have to see to a survival of humans that stops short of savagery. Right now, I'd pray for 'mere' barbarism --if I believed in prayer.

            Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

            by davidincleveland on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:20:38 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  hotlisted (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for this and all the links. What's it going to take?

  •  Relocation of Native communities (14+ / 0-)

    is major story not on list. or maybe it is covered in one of the links. If not, i would like to see added if possible.:)

    This story is about Alaska, but also impacts in tribal communities in other parts of US, like the south:

    Native peoples are no stranger to forced relocation. It is a bitter chapter in the history of North American tribal peoples.

    Now, the 21st century version of Native relocation has emerged in Alaska, this time, as a consequence of man-made climate change.

    Climate-induced relocation is cited as one of six key vulnerabilities facing Native communities in the tribal chapter of the 2013 National Climate Assessment. Some of the authors of the tribal chapter of the 2013 Assessment were on hand to present and seek feedback from Indian country for their final draft at the National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Conference, June 17 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    According to the tribal chapter, more than 30 Native villages in Alaska are in need of, or in the process of, relocating their entire villages due to the impact of climate change. The draft cited the Native villages of Shishmaref and Newtok, a traditional Yup’ik village in Alaska, as examples.

    Melting permafrost (permanently frozen soil), decreased arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and shoreline erosion have led to flooding, and the destruction of homes and infrastructure in Alaskan villages. Public health issues such as loss of clean drinking water, salt water intrusion and sewage contamination have also arisen to disrupt traditional Native Alaskan life.

    "It is in the shelter of each other that people live." Irish Proverb

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:55:22 AM PST

  •  Winter 2011-2 Was the Biggest Climate Event (5+ / 0-)

    in North American history, according to a report I heard last Spring, based on the amount that temperatures deviated above norms and the geographic extent of the affected areas.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:11:57 AM PST

  •  Some predictions for 2013 (17+ / 0-)

    1) Natural Gas will become the new Climate Change "silver bullet."

    2) Climate Deniers will become Climate Agnostics, and get first in line for any Grant Money.  Think T. Boone Pickens.

    3) Droughts and Wild-Fires will get worse, and no one in the Media will connect it to Climate Change, again.

    4) Arctic Ice Melt will reach new records, and the Media will herald the "benefits of it" -- as new areas are now opening up for Fossil Fuel extraction.  Some will call it the 21st century Alaskan Gold Rush.

    5) Power Outages will be longer and more wide spread as AC usage skyrockets. A cohesive, comprehensive National Electric policy or plan, will fail to emerge.

    6) Renewable Energy project will continue to get token funding, on a demonstration piecemeal basis.  Building projects next to major cities, somehow is still impractical.

    7) Oil Subsidies (ie. corporate welfare) will continue unchecked, while Solar and Wind credits meet the "Austerity Axe" as being too wasteful.

    8) Record numbers of Farmers and Ranchers, cash out of the business, while they still can.  Agri-business buys them out at basement rate.

    9) Insect infestations move north, and upwards in altitude -- decimating previously healthy forest ecosystems.

    10) "Green approved" labels will gain popularity again, for a few months, late next summer.  Nothing will change because it, because of very lax standards being the label.

    Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
    -- Here's how.

    by jamess on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:12:16 AM PST

  •  Awesome post. Thank you. n/t (4+ / 0-)

    wherin we share a community blog for common goals for humanity.

    by worldforallpeopleorg on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:13:44 AM PST

  •  A must-watch talk by Prof. Kevin Anderson (8+ / 0-)

    I posted this before, but this is a must-watch talk by Prof. Kevin Anderson on how not only is the commonly discussed +2C warming over pre-industrial not even feasible any longer (without an economic collapse), but +2C was also probably the wrong target (in that it was arbitrary, and we can see bad climate effects at below +2C) and even worse that we're probably headed for +4C of warming which is globally catastrophic on a level that our minds can't even really grasp. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:57:23 AM PST

  •  Meanwhile, in the arctic... (11+ / 0-)

    Plans move ahead to drill, which seems just insane to me.

    Here are some of the difficulties with drilling and operating offshore oil and gas wells in the Arctic, west and north of Alaska:
    1. Gas vs. oil. Natural gas is not oil.  Gas price and remoteness of the Arctic make offshore gas production and transport unprofitable. Let's hope that most of the hydrocarbons discovered in the Arctic are oil, not natural gas.
    2. Long distances and no infrastructure.  Literally everything one needs to drill, complete and produce a well must be brought from Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver.  This means that dozens of extra supply and support ships and barges must be deployed in the Arctic.  Because of the long distances, weather, and lack of airport and storage infrastructure, little or nothing can be flown to drill ships on helicopters.
    3. Fragility of supply chains. Long and complicated supply chains are costly to maintain and fragile to extreme weather and physical failure. When a few elements in a long chain fail, they cannot be repaired quickly and easily.  Germans discovered this fact by 1942, when their invasion of the Soviet Union started to falter not because of lack of military superiority, but because of difficulties with supplies during the long and cold Russian winters. Americans have discovered similar problems with military supplies in Afghanistan.
    4. Ice at water surface and on seafloor. The Arctic wells will be drilled in relatively shallow water, 150 ft or so.  Sea water can freeze all the way to the bottom, through the sinking of very salty, cold brine that forms the downward racing "brinicles." This BBC documentary shows sea water freezing rather nicely.  Therefore, wellheads, BOPs, pipes and other seafloor infrastructure must all be dug into the seafloor and hidden from ice scraping it from above. They still may be enveloped in ice generated by the cold brine raining from the surface ice cover. Wellheads and BOPs in pits may make it difficult or impossible to access them with ROVs and capping stacks if something goes wrong.
    5. Oil transport. Suppose that the offshore wells are successfully completed and produce through the sufficiently sturdy production platforms that can withstand waves, wind, and ice floes year around.  How will the produced oil be exported year-around?  Transport by tanker will be difficult, and probably impossible through winter, late fall, and early spring.  Laying 150 miles of pipeline beneath the sea bottom, followed by another 200 plus miles of pipeline onshore to attach to the trans-Alaska pipeline will be exceedingly costly and difficult.
    6. Cost and time. Since 2008, Shell has spent nearly US $3.5 billion dollars on plans to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas on three proposed drill sites: three blocks in the Burger prospect, and one block each in the Crackerjack and the Shoebill prospects. In the four years that ensued, no wells were drilled (only two topholes were spudded) and no permanent infrastructure was built.  Shell probably pays 1/4 of a billion dollars per year to maintain its ability to operate in the Arctic. Some 30 offshore wells were drilled in the U.S. part of the Beaufort Sea in the 1980s and early '90s, and five in the Chukchi.  None of the wells previously drilled far from the coast produced oil or gas, because there was no cheap way to maintain and export their production.
    7. Environmental risks. The Arctic Ocean is no Gulf of Mexico with its strong loop current dispersing spills and lots of active bacteria eating hydrocarbons year-around.  The delicate Arctic Ocean is home to about 240 fish species. There are 12 species of marine mammals that inhabit the Arctic: 4 species of whales, the polar bear, the walrus, and 6 species of ice-associated seals. Several additional species (e.g. Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, and Harbor Porpoise) are spotted either occasionally or regularly within marginal waters of the Arctic. There are 64 species of seabirds that breed in the Arctic. About 50 million seabirds nest on Alaska's coast each summer, nesting in more than 1600 seabird colonies along the coast.
    8. Accidents. If a serious accident occurs in September, oil may continue spilling into the ocean for another 8 months, endangering most of sea life within the spill domain. In bad weather and rough sea, ships can collide, sink, or run ashore.  The more support ships are involved, the higher the risk.  Probability of a serious ship mishap is much higher than that of a drilling accident. Please remember that historically most of the largest marine spills have been caused by ship accidents, not by drilling.
    9. Lack of appropriate people.  There are about 4700 native inhabitants of the North Slope Borough, and they cannot all work on offshore drilling and production. Other workers, imported from the south,  are likely to be unprepared for the severe conditions in the Arctic. Even such routine operations as crew rotations will be risky and costly during the Arctic winter night. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:01:13 AM PST

  •  What about the reduction (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wendy Slammo, citisven

    in the Earth's magnetic field?  Is it somehow related to all the conditions above.

    I just watched a movie on astronomy, borrowed it from the library.  It was in the documentary section, so it's not some sensationalist news.

    The astronomers were at a loss to explain why this is happening.  Also, they don't really know what the implications are if the magnetic field keeps going down.  All they know for it's happening.  Scary.

  •  Thanks A. (8+ / 0-)

    Though this list feels like coal in our collective stocking. And the the metaphor works even in a literal way.

    Problem is, it's hard to wrap your mind around all this. Even I, who consider myself a hardened eco veteran, suffer from bouts of despair just reading this. So I guess a little bit of denial can be quite healthy when you're trying to inspire the smaller changes, otherwise it's tempting to just throw in the towel. Also good to remember that the smaller changes do chip away until they become big changes.

  •  Sociopaths and Idiots (7+ / 0-)

    Those "people" funding the denial industry or taking their money  have a hole where their soul is supposed to be - and those willing to listen and believe their insanity, lies, and nonsense have a hole where their brains are supposed to be.

    Reminds me of the rise of the Tea-Party in that perspective. Or the Pat Robertson/Elmer Gantry and "followers" phenomenon.

    We can't let the sociopaths win.

    Poor people have too much money and vote too often. Republican platform plank, 1980 - present

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:16:00 AM PST

  •  This should be on the list - good news! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, Cliss, Eric Nelson

    Ginkgo Bioworks was issued the first patent in the electrofuels space in early December.

    Ginkgo's patent came out of work done with funding from ARPA-E's Electrofuels Program.

    I'm making a documentary, A Most Convenient Convergence about this field; I've interviewed most of the lead scientists in the Program, and they believe they are changing the world. I believe them.

    This technology will allow industrial society to become a net consumer of carbon dioxide as profitable replacements for all fossil fuels and petrochemical industry feedstocks, as well as some major agricultural commodities will be made from carbon dioxide, renewable energy and water.

    •  Thank you for this material (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cliss, Eric Nelson, engine17

      I am in agreement that 'positive' could have been included but it is hard to find in 'climate science' world.

      Honestly, the 'electro-fuels' is an entire field of ARPA-E work that I have a hard time fully (?) understanding.  I've dealt with/been a proponent of other industrial paths that would be 'carbon negative' in implications/life-cycle. This should be a critical part of our overall energy/industrial development moving forward.

      In a different angle, my biggest problem with ARPA-E is that it isn't 10x bigger and that we don't have serious funding to help ARPA-E endeavors leap the innovator's valley of death.

      Break -- would welcome 'email'/other contact. Would welcome learning more about your documentary effort.

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 11:18:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  By around 2030 on our current trajectory (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, engine17

      we hit 2 deg C warming.  Novel industrial processes take 15-20 years to move from lab scale through pilot plant to full production.  This looks cool, but might be irrelevant.

      •  I hear ya... (0+ / 0-)

        But I'm not ready to write ourselves off just yet.

        I think 2C by 2030 is at the bad extreme of current estimates, and this technology 1) may come on board faster than you think, and 2) have a larger impact.

        1. Several of the teams (including Ginkgo) are working with systems that will use very conventional bioreactors, such as those used now to produce ethanol. Scalability has already been proven for most of the processes, and it is likely that existing facilities can be retrofit for electrofuels production.

        2. Somewhere near half of the the crude oil pumped is consumed by the petrochemical industry; the carbon ends up in solid materials rather than the atmosphere. When those chemicals are made using an electrofuels process, they are carbon-negative. Carbon dioxide is the feedstock and everyone who now emits is will capture and sell it instead.

  •  A thought about where it's all headed: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, engine17, pat bunny, Eric Nelson

    I'll put this up elsewhere at some later date -- for now I would appreciate comments as regards editing the piece.

    "On the sidewalk the people are hustling and bustling/ They ain't got no time so they think on the thing/ That will fill in the space in between birth and death" -- Donovan Leitch

    by Cassiodorus on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 11:29:08 AM PST

  •  Thanks for the consolidation of events. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pat bunny, Eric Nelson

    Hotlisted for later use.  Let's keep our spirits high as we head into 2013 with the firm belief that we are heading towards a tipping point one way or another.  The work that you do is so important and so very much appreciated.  Thank you.  Happy New Year!  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:36:41 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this excellent post. (0+ / 0-)

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:43:51 PM PST

  •  To paraphrase Digby (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    With respect to the Heartland Institute

    Conservatism never dies; Conservatism has nothing to do with living in the real world.

    It's always about the abstractions of wealth and power, and will never go away so long as those remain unchecked.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 04:05:01 PM PST

  •  Great diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, Churchill

    The downstream effects are the scariest. Global warming, all by itself is a catastrophe on an unprecedented scale.

    Combine ocean acidification, at a rate unprecedented for at least hundreds of millions of years, and things look bad for humanity.

    Add  pollution, topsoil loss, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation, shrinking water supplies, desertification, accelerating CO2 emissions, increasing methane levels, peak food, political instability....

    I used to think I would miss the worst of it because I am in my fifties, but it looks even the old folk are in for a bumpy ride.

    Thanks for putting the spotlight where it belongs, while we are busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Eaarth.

    May 2013 be filled with knowledge, and the political will to save what we still can.

  •  Wildcards=Antartica & Greenland ice sheets (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    80 % of Success is Just Showing Up !

    by Churchill on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:51:56 PM PST

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