Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: global warming

Climate Histories: The engineer and the artificial production of carbon dioxide

Almost 80 years ago, on April 1938, an English steam and combustion engineer and  amateur weather-watcher, published a paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. His name was Guy Stuart Callendar and his paper, titled “The artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature”, was going to be one of the most influential papers on climate change science.

Born in Canada in 1898, Callendar earned a certificate in Mechanics and Mathematics in 1922 at City & Guilds College and at the time he published his seminal paper was employed as a steam technologist by the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association. A keen meteorologist, interested in climate, Calendar spent his spare time gathering temperature and weather data from around the world. He made all the calculations by hand in his home, in West Sussex, England, and his measurements were so accurate that “they were used to correct the official temperature records of central England”.

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A Farewell to Arctic Ice by Peter Wadhams

Only a few people in the world know ice better than Peter Wadhams. A professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge, Peter Wadhams is a world authority on sea ice. His  book ‘A Farewell to Ice’ is a report from the Arctic, and the consequences of the loss of the summer sea ice. It is also a personal history of a scientist and his extraordinary work in the polar regions in the past 35+ years.

Peter Wadhams believes the Arctic has reached a tipping point, that is a  point at which a certain system that has been stressed beyond a certain level does not return to its original state when that stress is removed. He predicts that  Arctic will be be ice free in the next few years and that would have a series of disastrous consequences for the whole planet.

The retreat of the summer sea ice in the Arctic is important because the loss of sea ice is changing the global albedo (the reflected sunlight). A vast area will change from white (ice) to blue (sea), therefore less energy will be reflected back into space. It means that the global warming will increase.

The darker ocean will absorb more energy which warms the water which melts more ice, which further warms the ocean, which melts more ice, in a spiraling feedback loop.

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Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen & the Story of a Bet

“My role is that of a witness, not a preacher”, says Dr James Hansen, one the world’s leading scientist on climate issues. A witness, as defined by the writer Robert Pool, is “someone who believes he has information so important that he cannot keep silent.”

In his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, James Hansen, often called the father of global warming, talks about the science and the mechanisms that drive global warming in a way that makes it relatively easy for readers to understand.

“Politicians are happy if scientists provide information and then go away and shut up”, he writes. But science and policy cannot be divorced. ” Policy decisions on climate change are “being deliberated every day by those without full of the science, and often with intentional misinformation spawned by special interests.” “This book” says Hansen, “was written to help rectify this situation. Citizens with a special interest – in their loved ones – need to become familiar with the science, exercise their democratic rights, and pay attention to politicians’ decisions Otherwise, it seems, short-term special interests will hold sway in capitals around the world – and we are running out of time.”

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The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World

More than 190 world leaders and representatives gathered this week in Paris to address the issue of climate change and to re-affirm their commitment to tackle climate change. The United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), the last, best chance to curb greenhouse gas emissions for many, aims to agree on a global legally binding climate treaty to cut out carbon emissions, halt deforestation and keep fossil fuel in the ground.

The surface of the Earth is warming with unpredictable consequences. Scientists, NGOs, and some of the biggest humanitarian organisations warn about the dire effects of climate change. IMF has warmed that human “fortunes will melt with the ice, evaporate like water under a relentless sun, and wither away like sand in a desert storm. And the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable people will be the first to feel the pain.”

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The Politics of Climate Change by Antony Giddens

The sociologist Antony Giddens published his book ‘The Politics of Climate Change’  almost a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which almost brought down the world’s financial system. With the financial crisis still unfolding, climate change seemed a less immediate and alarming issue. But that does not mean the problem is going away, we will now to turn our attention on the urgency to mobilise the international attention and take action.

This is the central paradox of climate change politics, argues Giddens. Politicians and citizens cannot grasp the significance of climate change because it is too abstract, and not visible in the course of day-to-day life. Waiting until the effects of climate change become visible and acute, in order to take action, will be too late. He christened it Giddens paradox.

2Anthony Giddens treats climate change as a political problem, and despite being a strong advocate of markets, he recognises the important role that states have to play in adaptation to climate change as ‘an ensuring state’ whose primary role is to help energise a diversity of groups operating in a bottom-up fashion.’ An ‘ensuring state’ acts as a facilitator, an enabler, rather than as a top-down agency. That prerequisites the return of planning, a word that came under shadow in the post-war period because it was associated with strong central direction by the state, the very basis of the economy in the Soviet-type societies.

‘There has now to be a return to greater state interventionism’, says Giddens, ‘a conclusion that is reinforced by the failure of deregulation.’ Many economists, such as Sir Nicholas Stern, have described climate change as an example of market failure. Unregulated markets have no long-term perspective, they have created externalities that their indirect effects have an impact on the consumption and production opportunities of others, while the price of the products does not take those externalities into account. They have overproduced CO2, and the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases from human activity has been identified as a major cause of global warming.

The privatization and the liberation of energy markets opened up sectors to ‘competition so that markers could do their work in encouraging efficiency and finding appropriate prices for energy goods’, but did little to encourage investments in energy infrastructure, since energy companies became focused on paring back their operating costs.

Nowadays, however, the world system and the world economy are changing fundamentally. The changes in the energy market create new threats and challenges, and thus the calls for a new energy paradigm for the 21st century. A proactive energy policy that revolves around three core principles:

  1. Transparency, cooperation and integration
  2. Deconstructing energy independence /Return to protection of national energy
  3. Energy efficiency and integration of energy policy with climate change policy.

Developed nations need to start taking action now. Technological innovations are essential to empower human societies to adjust to climate change but much more must be done to reduce emissions. Policies that will enable the radical restructuring of energy and transport and production systems could do their bit to address climate change.

The Politics of Climate Change, By Anthony Giddens, Polity Press, 256pp, Published 20 March 2009

Image Credit:  NASA

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