Welcome to the Greenhouse Century
Jan 9, 2006
By David Helvarg, President – Blue Frontier Campaign
Welcome to the Greenhouse Century
There have been historic droughts and grassfires that have raged across Oklahoma, Texas and Australia. Big storms have roiled California leading to the 4th “100 year flood” on the Russian River in the last 25 years. Along with greater tornado damage than has been seen in recent years (and much of that out of season) we’ve just experienced the worst Hurricane Season in U.S. History with more storms than ever before (hurricane Zeta, the 27th storm of the season was named more than a month after the season officially ended). Marine scientists and conservationists are deeply troubled by widespread coral bleaching that occurred this summer from the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Keys and across the Caribbean. This phenomena that starves and kills many of the living corals is linked to an unseasonable warming in the ocean, in this case by the same vast pool of hot water that supercharged Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Depending on how you measure 2005, we’ve just experienced either the warmest or second warmest year on record, meaning eight of the ten warmest years globally have taken place in the last decade. Welcome to the Greenhouse Century.
What makes 2005 particularly scary is that the other hottest year -1998 – occurred during a strong El Nino event involving cyclical warming in the Pacific. 1998 saw more tropical forests burn then at any time in recorded history. These fires paralleled the first known instance of coral bleaching on a global scale.
And so here we are, where the best climate models of the last twenty years predicted we would be, inside the footprint of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate disruption.
While scientists are quick to point out that no single weather event can be linked to climate change, the trends have become clear: Increases in extreme weather events including storms and flooding, extended droughts, warmer and more acidic oceans, melting glaciers and a slowing of the Gulf Stream conveyer belt that could put New England and Western Europe into the deep freeze. It’s like a science fiction B-movie has segued from the big screen to the nightly news.
Some irreparable damage now looks inevitable but what we really need to avoid are the worst case projections of a runaway heating loop in which melting tundra, insect riddled boreal forests and drought driven fires add vast new amounts of CO2 and methane greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere. In order to beat that worst-case scenario we need a major commitment to rapidly transform the global energy grid and to find the political will to do what must be done.
Solar Seas Solution?
One new possible source for non-carbon energy is actually a technology known since 1881 – OTEC – Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – In Blue Notes # 18 I noted how the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELH) shut down a plant that used heat-exchangers to turn temperature differences between deep and shallow tropical water into electricity, back in the 1990s. Now a company called ‘Sea Solar Power Inc.’ wants to revive OTEC with a twist. Where land-based OTEC plants have to be located in areas with deep drop offs for their intake pipes – Sea Solar would use floating “plant-ships” to generate power in deep waters and then use underwater transmission cables (like offshore oil platforms use oil and gas pipes) to take their energy “to the beach.”
Company President Jim Anderson, Jr. says they’ll finish prototype plant testing in 2-3 years and predicts that OTEC energy should be price competitive with existing power technologies.
Along with Japanese seaweed power (see Blue Notes # 12) tidal power generation plants like the one being built at San Francisco’s Golden Gate and offshore wind farms such as Denmark’s, the ocean could soon be helping reduce global warming not only by acting as a massive carbon sink but also as a source of clean, renewable power.
The machine guns of the caviar mafia have gone silent for now: A global ban on international trade in wild $200-an-ounce caviar took effect on January 3. The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) nixed the high-end fish egg market worth about $100 million a year, in an attempt to save overfished sturgeon stocks from the Caspian Sea and elsewhere. Activists groups like Seaweb, NRDC and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science have been working hard in recent years to convince upscale consumers and their governments that extinction is very déclassé. Now parties to CITES, including the U.S., have to stop importing caviar, while 10 caviar-exporting countries including China, Iran, and Russia will have to demonstrate effective fish-management plans before lifting the ban can be considered. They’ve failed that test twice before. Bottom line – You can still be a fish-hugger. You just can’t squeeze out their eggs.
National Standard None
After receiving some 250,000 comments, the overwhelming majority negative, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is delaying – for a year of study – its proposed ‘National Standard One’ which would have delayed for years the allowable rate of recovery of endangered fish stocks. Congrats to Conserve Our Ocean Legacy (COOL) and other Blue Groups that fought to maintain the highest standards of existing law for the recovery of marine wildlife.
Surfer Core Values
Since the December 5 shut down of Clark Foam the price of surfboards has risen faster than last week’s California storm surge. 72-year-old Gordon “Gubby” Clark, the manufacturer of 90 percent of the polyurethane “blanks” or surfboard cores that board shapers work on before fiberglassing their finished products, claims he closed his shop because of environmental regulations (he was cited for not properly storing hazardous materials). One possible result – Cores made of newer materials like Extruded Polystyrene (EPS). Another – more blanks, and even mass-produced boards, shipped in from China. Hey kids, Surf’s Up at Wal-Marts.
50 Ways to Join a Book Campaign
This coming Earth Day – April 22 – We’ll be launching our next books, ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ and an updated ‘Blue Frontier – Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness.’
We think ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ (illustrated by Sherman’s Lagoon cartoonist Jim Toomey and with a foreword by Philippe Cousteau) can be a great educational, media and fund raising tool for ocean activists.
– We’re looking to partner with local seaweed groups in different cities as we tour.
– We hope to use media generated around book events to also promote local solutions being advocated by local and regional groups.
– We also plan to use the book tour to promote the next national Blue Vision Conference in D.C. in Sept. ‘06.
– We plan to encourage ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ book parties around the country and can arrange for interested groups to work with their local bookstores.
– We’re making it easy for you to raise money. At only $12.95 ’50 Ways’ is very affordable. But as a non-profit you can purchase it for an amazing 40 percent of retail from the publisher – that way you can use it as an educational tool and also keep over half the cover price for your good works.
We’re open to 45 other suggestions on how we can work together to save the ocean, and remember, starting this Earth Day, ‘Blue is the new Green!’
And Spread the Word
We’re thrilled that Reef Relief has begun distributing Blue Notes to their organization’s email list and posting it on their website. We would encourage any other group that would like to, to please do the same. Just let us know. Mahalo.