Global warming threatens our 4th of July celebrations with droughts that have forced communities to scrap plans for fireworks displays. And it threatens our White Christmases with winter heat waves. And our Arbor Days with record wildfires. Now it imperils our Halloweens. In a story headlined, "Rain, Drought, Wipe Out Pumpkin Crops Across U.S.," Fox News reports the frightening news: Scorching weather and lack of rain this summer wiped out some pumpkin crops from western New York to Illinois, leaving fields dotted with undersized fruit. Other fields got too much rain and their crops rotted. Pumpkin production is predicted to be down for the second straight year. One expert ominously predicts a run on pumpkins: "If you've got to have them for your 5-year-olds, I certainly would not wait a long time to get them." Even Stephen Colbert has reported on what he calls the War on Halloween (though, characteristic of his out-of-the-mainstream politics, he doesn't make the obvious link to global warming). The bottom line, however, is clear: Pumpkins (like most people) hate extreme weather. Sadly, global warming means more droughts and more deluges. What exactly does extreme weather do to pumpkins?
The remarkably low fueling cost of the best current hybrids (like the Toyota Prius) and future plug-in hybrids are major reasons I don't worry as much about peak oil as some do. James Kunstler, for instance, argues in his 2005 book The Long Emergency (see Rolling Stone excerpt here) that after oil production peaks, suburbia "will become untenable" and "we will have to say farewell to easy motoring." In Rolling Stone, Kunstler writes, "Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world." (No -- that distinction probably belongs to China's torrid love-affair with coal power.) But suppose Kunstler is right about peak oil. Suppose oil hits $160 a barrel and gasoline goes to $5 dollars a gallon in, say, 2015. That price would still be lower than many Europeans pay today. You could just go out and buy the best hybrid and cut your fuel bill in half, back to current levels. Hardly the end of suburbia.
No one is going to come to the rescue on the supply side -- and, of course, we remain stuck with an administration that doesn't believe in demand-reduction strategies. As the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reported in "OPEC's Lever Loses Its Pull on Oil": Oil prices are hovering near historic highs, but consuming nations shouldn't expect quick relief from OPEC, the world's only source for big, quick supplies. For several reasons, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has neither the clear leverage nor the inclination to open the spigots and drive down the price of crude, which jumped past $90 a barrel in intraday trading in New York last week for the first time. This figure shows how little spare capacity OPEC has -- essentially none outside of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis have no inclination to initiate a major price drop, especially since these prices do not appear to be destroying demand. Moreover, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned back in July that it saw "OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012." And the WSJ notes no one outside of OPEC will be coming to the rescue either: Saudi Arabia has little to fear from the world's other major producers, such as Russia, which in decades past have ramped up supplies in an effort to capture a greater market share. But at the moment, the world's major producers for the most part are already pumping flat-out. "They have little competition from non-OPEC suppliers and few worries about losing market share," says Jeffrey Currie, senior energy economist at Goldman Sachs in London. We cannot be far from $100+ oil.
In general, I have been critical of media coverage of global warming. So I am pleased to announce that two of the best environmental journalists working have launched blogs: • A new environmental blog from Mark Hertsgaard, the terrific environment correspondent for The Nation (and author of a lot of great books). • A new sustainability blog from The New York Times, dotearth, led by their first-rate climate reporter, Andrew Revkin. Revkin notes the limits of the traditional media on these issues:
This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- When I was a child in the 1950s, I went about my business with a little cloud hanging over my head. It didn't matter whether I was playing in the backyard, studying in my bedroom or suffering from my first romantic crush (Annette on the Mickey Mouse Club). The cloud was always there. It was the fear of nuclear war. We lived in suburbs west of Chicago. All day long, jets flew overhead on their way to O'Hare International Airport, sometimes so high that they were just a silver spot gleaming in the sun as they moved across the sky. When I saw one, I stopped what I was doing and waited several minutes to see if a mushroom cloud appeared to the east over Chicago. Once I saw the mushroom, I knew from school, our neighborhood would be flattened a few seconds later. It never happened, of course. I can't say that the cloud ruined my childhood or followed me into adulthood, but its shadow came back to mind Friday night (Oct. 19) as I watched John Stossel's latest "Give Me a Break" segment on ABC.
Global warming makes wildfires more likely and more destructive -- as many scientific studies have concluded. Why? Global warming leads to more intense droughts, hotter weather, earlier snowmelt (hence less humid late summers and early autumns), and more tree infestations (like the pine beetle). That means wildfires are a dangerous amplifying feedback, whereby global warming causes more wildfires, which release carbon dioxide, thereby accelerating global warming. The climate-wildfire link should be a special concern in a country where wildfires have burned an area larger than the state of Idaho since 2000. I write this as my San Diego relatives wait anxiously in their hotel room to find out if their Rancho Santa Fe home has been destroyed. This is a beautiful home that I lived in for a month when I moved to the area in the mid-1980s to study at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Can we say that the brutal San Diego wildfires were directly caused by global warming? Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer put it this way on NBC Nightly News Tuesday:
The long-feared saturation of one the world's primary carbon sinks has apparently started. The BBC reports, "The amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the world's oceans has reduced." After 10 years and more than 90,000 ship-based measurements of CO2 absorption, University of East Anglia researchers reached this stunning conclusion: CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s and 2000 to 2005. The BBC writes: "Scientists believe global warming might get worse if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas." Sigh. Note to the BBC, you don't need a double hedge: If you're going to just say "might get worse" you surely can drop "Scientists believe." Frankly I doubt you can find many, if any, reputable scientists -- or even the few remaining deniers -- who would say that if the ocean sink saturates, global warming won't get worse. I would probably phrase it this way: Global warming will accelerate if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas. The researchers say, "it is a tremendous surprise and very worrying because there were grounds for believing that in time the ocean might become 'saturated' with our emissions -- unable to soak up any more." Why is that bad news?
Well, they dropped a bundle to get a quarter-page "Clean Power" ad in the Washington Post (page A21 today) so the least I can do is give them a shout out here. CLEAN is a "clean power and coalfield state grassroots organization" circulating a comprehensive national "call to action" on energy policy that includes:
Treehugger reports on a public bet I have made with Greg Blencoe, CEO of Hydrogen Discoveries: Greg Blencoe wins if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles hit 1% of new sales of the typically-defined car and light truck market in the U.S. during 2015 or any year before. Joseph Romm wins if it is 2016 or any year after. At stake is $1000, plus a certain amount of pride (if I lose, I must be photographed wearing a t-shirt saying "I was wrong about hydrogen.") I am certainly prepared to make that bet with pretty much anyone -- though I might have to reconsider in the (very) unlikely event I get too many takers. Reasons why you shouldn't take the bet are below: