As coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest assessment report reaches fever pitch, some mainstream media outlets are treating climate science as if it were just an abstract political debate. They are falling into the trap of treating it as a mind-numbing to-and-fro argument with no right and no wrong -- instead of something produced through good old-fashioned scientific rigor.
That pisses a lot of people off. One of them is Al Gore.
The chief aim of the congressional Republicans who are poised to shut down the U.S. government over the next 24 hours or so is to block the implementation of President Obama's health plan. But if they do live out their fantasy of paralyzing the federal government, there will be plenty of other consequences -- including the effective shuttering of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives early on Sunday passed a measure that ties government funding to a one-year delay of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare restructuring law. Senate Democrats have vowed to quash it.
It's extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a landmark report from the world's top panel of climate scientists. And we're failing in our efforts to keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, which many scientists say is needed to avoid massive disruption.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducted an epic review of climate research over the last three years. It is summarizing the most important findings in its fifth assessment report, which offers the clearest picture science has ever painted of how humans are reshaping the climate and the planet.
Here, in a nutshell, are the main findings of a summary [PDF] of part one of the assessment report, which focuses on the science of climate change:
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. ...
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.
It would be nice to update you on how that leak was finally fixed. No such luck: The oil is still leaking.
More than 12,000 barrels of leaked bitumen has been mopped up, but at least 100 animals have died at the Canadian Natural Resources' Primrose oil extraction site. So much bitumen has flowed into a 131-acre lake that Alberta's environment department has ordered the company to drain it and dredge it before the waterbody freezes over. From Reuters:
The leak, one of four on the sprawling project site, sprung up from an oil sands reserve produced by a process that melts bitumen with high-pressure steam so that it can be moved and processed. The leak has yet to be stopped, and has become the latest focus for environmentalists concerned about the impact oil sands production.
Next time you're visiting California, you can race along famous Highway 1 without making a sound: Hertz is adding electric vehicles manufactured by Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors to its fleet. (Catch: You can only rent them from San Francisco and Los Angeles.)
You might want to book in advance, though. Hertz is starting with just five vehicles and two models: the Model S sedan and the Roadster.
Some of California's best-known chefs and restaurateurs are whipping up a fight against fracking in the Golden State.
High hopes that California would impose a moratorium on fracking, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to extract oil and gas, were dashed on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that regulates the process but does not stop it. Opponents say fracking pollutes water and threatens farms. California is the source of 15 percent of the nation's crops.
On Wednesday, foodies led by slow-food movement champion Alice Waters launched an anti-fracking "cook's petition" to pressure the governor and legislature on the issue. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Chez Panisse chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag today launched a chefs’ petition urging their colleagues to take a stand against fracking in California. Working in collaboration with Food & Water Watch, founding member of Californians Against Fracking, the chefs are concerned about the threat fracking poses to the world-renowned food and wine that is grown, served and sold in California. The petition includes a letter calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the next couple of weeks. And then again in spurts during the coming year. The IPCC is the world’s foremost authority on -- you guessed it -- climate change. It’s the top cat, the big cheese, the heavyweight champion of the world community of climate experts.
So, WTF is it?
It's a scientific group set up in 1988 by two divisions of the United Nations. The goal was to form a body that would provide policymakers with trusted, cutting-edge information about climate change.
Thousands of climate scientists from around the world volunteer their time to analyze and summarize the latest and best science. The result: Big, fat reports.
And now the IPCC is dropping its first big report in six years -- a scientific inventory of the combined knowledge of all the brightest minds in climate science. Needless to say, climate skeptics are not too pleased at such a robust body of science coalescing before the world’s eyes.
Who's running the show?
Rajendra Pachauri, a septuagenarian economist and engineer from India who has chaired the IPCC since 2002. He oversees a small staff of about 10 people. Those staff help coordinate working groups, each of which can involve up to 800 scientists. Sound tedious? It probably is.
But we’re not convinced that Pachauri spends all of his time during IPCC meetings thinking about climate science. He is the author of Return to Almora, a sultry 2010 novel loaded with group-sex scenes and other such non-scientific escapades. Here are a couple of tantalizing quotes from said novel:
The latest official estimate of the extraordinary role that livestock-rearing plays in global warming comes with a glimmer of hope: Switching over to established best practices could slash the sector's emissions by a third.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations caused an international stir when it estimated in 2006 that livestock contributed 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Some critics derided the claim, saying T-bones and Big Macs couldn't possibly be so bad. The FAO has since updated its numbers, checked its facts and performed new calculations based on newer standards. The latest conclusion is little different from the earlier one: Livestock contributes 14.5 percent of worldwide emissions.
Flatulent, manure-dropping cows are by far the largest contributors to the problem. Beef production is responsible for 41 percent of the sector's emissions, and dairy farming can be blamed for 19 percent. Pig meat, poultry meat, and eggs are responsible for a little less than 10 percent apiece.
Why are cows so harsh on the climate? The same reason Auntie Flora doesn't get invited to parties: Because they belch and fart so damned much. Only the FAO doesn't say it like that. Rather, it blames the "enteric fermentation" of cattle and the methane that bovine rumination produces for 39 percent of the livestock industry's emissions.
Big government to the rescue: The Department of Energy will fund a $1.8 million, two-year project by Battelle that aims to find somewhere to stash that gross dross for an eternity. From the Columbus Dispatch:
With more drilling and fracking expected, oil and gas companies will need to find the best locations to safely inject more waste, said Neeraj Gupta, senior research leader for Battelle’s subsurface-resources group.
“That’s one of our objectives. Where is the injection capacity?” Gupta said.