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Heat, hotness, and hotitude

Here are the second five of my "Top 10 climate stories of 2006," in no particular order. (The first five are here.) 2005 was hot: In early 2006, it was revealed that 2005 was a statistical tie with 1998 for the hottest year of the past 400. However, 1998 was warmed by the biggest El Nino of the 20th century, while 2005 had no such help. That means something else contributed to making 2005 so warm, and that something was almost certainly human activity. With a mild El Nino going on right now, my prediction is that 2007 will eclipse …

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Blow and Behold

World's biggest offshore wind farm given OK in England The world's biggest offshore wind farm has been given the go-ahead and will soon be built 12 miles off the coast of southeast England. The quaintly named London Array, being developed by a consortium that includes Shell WindEnergy, will consist of 341 turbines. A separate 100-turbine wind farm in the Thames estuary was also given the OK yesterday. Together, the two projects could power nearly one million residences, or about one-third of the homes in Greater London. (So they think they're greater than us? Wanna fight?) Once the obligatory scuffling with …

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‘Global warming is part of a natural cycle’–This idea is one short step above appealing to magic

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Current warming is just part of a natural cycle. Answer: While it is undoubtedly true that there are natural cycles and variations in global climate, those who insist that current warming is purely natural -- or even mostly natural -- have two challenges. First, they need to identify the mechanism behind this alleged natural cycle. Absent a forcing of some sort, there will be no change in global energy balance. The balance is changing, so natural or otherwise, we need to find this mysterious cause. Second, they …

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‘Vineland was full of grapes’–Or was it an early advertising campaign?

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Newfoundland was so warm in the Medieval Warm Period that when the Vikings landed they called it Vineland and brought boatloads of grapes back to Europe. Answer: Once again: you can't draw conclusions about global climate from an anecdote about a single region, or even a few regions. You need detailed analysis of proxy climate indicators from around the world. These proxy reconstructions have shown that the Medieval Warm Period (around the time the Vikings are said to have discovered North America) was not as pronounced or …

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A look back

Here are the first five of my "Top 10 climate stories of 2006," in no particular order. National Academy hockey stick report: I'm not sure if this helped or hurt the cause, but it did confirm what many scientists already thought: it's hard to figure out the temperature of the earth 1,000 years ago. The IPCC's 2001 report said there was a 3 in 4 chance that the 1990s were the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, of the last 1,000. According to the academy report, subsequent research suggests it's really a 50-50 proposition. In the end, we just …

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‘The hockey stick is broken’–Well, no … but who’s playing hockey anyway?

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: The Hockey Stick graph -- the foundation of global warming theory -- has been shown to be scientifically invalid, perhaps even a fraud. Answer: The first order of business here is to correct the mischaracterization of this single paleoclimate study as the "foundation" of global warming theory. What's going on today is understood via study of today's data and today's best scientific theories. Reconstructions of past temperatures are about, well, the past. Study of the past can be informative for scientists, but it is not explanatory of …

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Yes, the last ice age started thawing over 20,000 years ago, but that stopped a long time ago

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Global warming has been going on for the last 20,000 years. Answer: It is true that 20,000 years ago the temperature was some 8 to 10° C colder than it is today. But to draw a line from that point to today and say, "look, 20K years of global warming!" is dubious and arbitrary at best. If you have look at this graph of temperature, starting at a point when we were finishing the climb out of deep glaciation, you can clearly see that rapid warming ceased …

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‘Greenland used to be green’–Don’t judge a book by its cover, much less a land by its name

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: When the Vikings settled it, Greenland was a lovely, hospitable island, not the frozen wasteland it is today. It was not until the Little Ice Age that it got so cold they abandoned it. Answer: First, Greenland is part of a single region. It can not be necessarily taken to represent a global climate shift. See the post on the Medieval Warm Period for a global perspective on this time period. Briefly, the available proxy evidence indicates that global warmth during this period was not particularly pronounced, …

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What we’ve learned from the biofuels series

Future or folly? Photo: iStockphoto After spending much of the last several months thinking about the biofuels boom and its implications in preparation for this special series, we've come to a few conclusions. Like other energy sources, biofuels have significant environmental liabilities. Boosters' rhetoric about "renewable energy" aside, topsoil -- from which biofuel feedstocks spring -- is not an easily renewable resource. It takes centuries under natural conditions to replace an inch of topsoil lost to erosion. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute reckons that "36 percent of the world's cropland is now losing topsoil at a rate that …

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An interview with Mary Beth Stanek, General Motors energy director

Trucks with a green hue? GM is in heaven. What a difference three bucks a gallon makes. In the past year, General Motors has rallied state and federal support to get more E85 (an 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend) pumps at U.S. gas stations, launched a corn-hued marketing blitz, and announced that it is increasing production of its flex-fuel vehicles by 25 percent. Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director of environment and energy, talked to Grist about ethanol's role in GM's fuel portfolio, SUVs' bad rap, and future eclecticism at the pump.   How did E85 become one of …