The Week That Was
September 29 , 2007

NO TWTW ON OCT 6 AND 13: SEPP has organized a Climate Symposium in Vienna (Oct 8) and lecture in Prague (Oct 10), plus various discussions
A note to our subscribers:  Format Change:  The TWTW e-mail letters will carry only summaries, easy to print out.  The full stories, in formatted form, are in the mailed Attachment.
Our website < > will show the summary but allows access to the full newsletter through ‘READ more’ or through ‘Archives.’
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IMPORTANT:  Comments invited to AGU Panel on ‘Human Impacts on Climate’

AGU has appointed a panel to update the 2003 AGU Statement on GW, for consideration by the AGU Council in Dec. 2007 [see Eos, Vol 88, No 35, 28 Aug 2007, p. 345]

Comments are being invited from AGU members only.  My own comment [see TWTW Sept 8] is found at   Click on ‘Comments,’ and then add your own.

[To see the six Figures cited in my Comment, go to]


Quote of the Week:

“It would most help the debate on climate change if the current monopoly and one-sidedness [of the IPCC] were eliminated.”  He reiterated his proposal that the UN “organise parallel intergovernmental panels to discuss climate change and publish two competing reports”.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus at the UN Climate Conference  -Prague Daily Monitor, 25 September 2007

The White House Climate Summit [ITEM #1].  Did George wobble?  We don’t think so – and the Greens and international opinions seem to agree.  The test will come when he vetoes Cap-and-trade legislation.

See also the WH effort to please GW worriers.  (BTW, it won’t do any good)

But which report was Pres Bush referring to in his remarks?

In a perceptive analysis [ITEM #2], Ben Lieberman argues that cap-and-trade support has peaked in the US.  We hope he’s right.

Meanwhile, the extremists are demanding an 80% (!) cut in CO2 emissions [ITEM #3].  Good luck, guys.  The paranoid GW crowd has discovered the ‘vampire memo’ of the  evil coal industry [ITEM #4].  Contrast all this with the sensible Cheney interview by the Australian Broadcasting Corp [ITEM #5].

An angry donor cuts his support to Stanford U because of Exxon [ITEM #6].  I see only one solution: Exxon, you must cancel your $100-million research grant to Stanford (and to MIT).  After all, how can one trust scientists who accept tainted money from Big Oil -- right?

John Dingell introduces legislation to tax fuels (incl gasoline) to cut consumption and CO2 emissions [ITEM #7].  It’s really the only honest way.  What courage – or is he just trying to show up the hypocrisy of Congress?

Another fanciful scheme to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere into the ocean [ITEM #8], but probably no worse than the other schemes.

It warmed suddenly 55 million years ago.  But what caused it?  Methane released from bogs? [ITEM #9].  Not likely.  One of the global warming nightmares always has been that thawing permafrost might release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  This positive feedback would accelerate warming.  [But a group led by M. Turetsky of Michigan State found that new plant growth in thawing Canadian peat bogs more than offset the release of methane.  Source: ‘What’s New’ by Robert Park]




President Bush assured the rest of the world yesterday that he takes the threat of climate change seriously and vowed that the United States ‘will do its part’ to reduce the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, but he proposed no concrete new initiatives to reach that goal.

The president's speech at a conference of major economic powers represented a symbolic turn for a leader who once expressed doubt about global warming and had angered foreign partners by renouncing the Kyoto treaty. After nearly seven years on the defensive, Bush tried to assume a leadership role in crafting ‘a new international approach’ to preserving the world's climate.

"Our guiding principle is clear. We must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people," he said.

"Each nation will design its own separate strategies for making progress towards this long-term goal. These strategies will reflect each country's different energy resources, different stages of development and different economic needs."

Bush put a heavy emphasis on helping developing nations obtain ‘secure, cost-effective and proliferation-resistant nuclear power.’ "Nuclear power is the one existing source of energy that can generate massive amounts of electricity without causing any air pollution or greenhouse-gas emissions," Bush argued.

If nothing else, Bush's language represented a stark change from seven years ago. "Our understanding of climate change has come a long way," he said, citing a report that concluded that rising global temperatures are "caused largely by human activities."

Sources: Wash Post and  other media



By Ben Lieberman

National Review Online, 28 September 2007

Global warming is a complex issue to figure out, but one thing about it is actually quite simple - discerning which side dominates the debate right now. For the past year, those who view global warming as a crisis justifying a major federal response have had just about everything going in their favor.

Granted, the Bush administration continues to resist first-ever mandatory limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, but the Democratically controlled Congress has introduced a number of so-called cap-and-trade bills to do just that. Some of them have bipartisan support. And many of the leading presidential candidates have endorsed these efforts.

Several other factors, including a recent Supreme Court decision compelling the Environmental Protection Agency to consider global warming measures, as well as state and local efforts to bypass the feds and impose their own controls, all seem to be forcing Washington's hand.

Meanwhile, the opposition to cap and trade seems to be collapsing. The owners of the nation's coal-fired power plants, manufacturing facilities, and oil companies - until recently the most politically powerful holdouts - have largely given up the fight. Most now see some form of fossil-fuel rationing as inevitable, and several are actually lobbying for cap-and-trade legislation in the hope that they can shape it to their advantage.

Of course, the driving force behind all of this is the steady stream of gloomy claims about global warming. Most recently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report received widespread coverage as the smoking-gun evidence that mankind is warming the planet to dangerously high levels. Al Gore's Academy Award-winning movie and accompanying bestseller, An Inconvenient Truth, has also done much to hammer home the message.

The drumbeat continues as virtually every natural disaster that occurs- from storms, to droughts, to floods, to wildfires, to disease outbreaks- gets pinned on global warming. Even normal summer temperatures sometimes get alarmist ink.

The frightening coverage has clearly shaped public opinion. Surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans want their government to do something about warming.

Taking all of this into account, there's no question that global-warming activists currently have the momentum. But momentum can change, and on this issue there are reasons to believe it soon will. It may well be that the prospects for the cap-and-trade bills are peaking - before being enacted into law - and will begin to fall once as the following factors come into focus.

·  China's Great Leap Forward on Emissions.

A central part of the climate-change message has been the demonization of America as the world's top global-warming culprit. But that will soon change, as China is close to surpassing the U.S. and becoming the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses. When this shift happens it will have tremendous practical as well as symbolic significance, and it will dim the appeal of unilateral U.S. action.

It is important to note that China isn't slowly edging past America; it is roaring ahead. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion and the greenhouse gas of greatest concern, are exploding along with China's economy. New coal-fired power plants are reportedly being added in China at the rate of about one per week, and these facilities are less efficient and higher-emitting than their western counterparts. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which believes China has already surpassed America, emissions in China rose 9-percent in 2006, on top of a 12-percent increase in 2005.

Meanwhile, America's emissions have been growing much more slowly, averaging little more than 1-percent per year. They actually declined by 1.3-percent in 2006, according to the Department of Energy.

The U.S. was easily the biggest emitter during the 20th century, but future carbon-dioxide emissions will come less from American sources, and more from Chinese ones. Even if the U.S. saddled itself with economy-damaging energy constraints, it would barely begin to offset China's projected increases. But so far, China has adamantly refused to agree to any controls, arguing that economic growth is their top priority. Other fast-growing developing nations have said the same thing.

Thus, notwithstanding questions about the seriousness of the global-warming problem, any bills that single out U.S. emissions will be a fast-shrinking part of the solution. As China's emissions race ahead of ours, Americans will begin to realize that unilateral action is not the way to go.

·  The Failing Kyoto Protocol

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the multilateral global-warming treaty, is still being touted as a great success. The Western European governments that signed onto the treaty continue to congratulate themselves for doing so while criticizing America for staying out. Most climate activists here convey the same message. They hope to convince Washington to make up for lost time by enacting one of the Kyoto-like cap-and-trade bills currently under consideration.

But far from being a model to emulate, Kyoto is proving to be a near-complete failure, and over time it is going to get more difficult to conceal this fact.

For all their rhetoric, the European nations are well off track of Kyoto's requirement that emissions be 8-percent below 1990 levels starting in 2008. Official European emissions data shows that nearly every one of these countries has higher carbon-dioxide emissions today than when the treaty was signed in 1997, and the emissions increases show no signs of leveling off. The same is true of Canada, Japan, and other major non-European signatories. In fact, most of these countries are seeing their emissions rising faster than those in the U.S.

Pro-Kyoto Protocol activists and the media continue to heap praise on the treaty for its carbon-emissions goals, but they rarely explore the obvious question of whether these goals are actually being met. But the failure to reduce emissions can't remain a secret for much longer. Once Kyoto reality sets in, it will deal a blow both to the treaty itself and to any congressional efforts to mimic its approach.

·  The High Costs to Cool The Planet

The reason Kyoto Protocol signatories are not reducing their emissions is that doing so is proving to be prohibitively costly. These nations are learning the hard way what the Bush administration has understood all along - that attempts to rapidly force down the fossil-fuel use that provides the backbone of modern economies will be very expensive. As costs enter into the debate, they could well prove to be a game changer.

While inundating the public with scary stories about global warming's effects, the proponents of cap-and-trade have thus far said little about the costs of combating the threat-and for good reasons. Their agenda would inflict serious and noticeable economic pain long before it would have even a modest impact on the earth's future temperature. Kyoto's provisions, if fully implemented, would have cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars annually from higher energy prices, but would, according to proponents, avert only 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050.

Given the Kyoto Protocol's small impact on warming, many proponents believe that the treaty should be just a first step towards much stronger controls. But, as the European experience is showing, even this first step is proving too costly and impractical. It should be noted that the surveys indicating public support for action on warming also show that the support quickly turns into opposition if the measures taken would raise energy prices appreciably. This is especially true for gasoline prices, and on this point the European experience is worth noting. A European Environment Agency report found that greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles continue to rise due to increased driving, despite punitively high European gasoline taxes that push the overall price well above $6 per gallon. In fact, increased vehicle emissions are a big part of the reason most Western European countries are going to miss their Kyoto targets. If $6 per gallon is not high enough to discourage driving and meet Europe's global-warming targets, then what will it take here? Americans, who get angry enough over $3 gas, will want answers to this and other economic questions before they buy into any climate policy.

A realistic discussion about costs can't be sidestepped much longer. Once it commences, it has the potential to greatly sap the momentum for these bills.

·  Bursting the Climate Fear Bubble

In the last year or so, the coverage of climate science has gotten more apocalyptic in tone. This is not so much a change in the underlying science as a change in the way it is being communicated to the public. The cap-and-trade proponents have cranked up the gloom and doom for a reason - they essentially had to. The issue in the U.S. was dead in the water without it. Previous efforts to move cap-and-trade bills had been easily defeated, and proponents needed to shake things up. For now, it is working.

But fear is two-edged sword. It can be used to whip up support for action over the near term, but it is hard to sustain for long, especially if it is not well supported by fact. Eventually it could lead to a backlash. Indeed, the global-warming doomsayers may well prove to be their own worst enemy, with their credibility taking a tumble along with the prospects for cap-and-trade legislation. One over-utilized source, employed in spreading this kind of fear, is supposedly rock-solid "scientific consensus" on global warming, a consensus that has significant outer limits. Virtually everything the public has been told about global warming that sounds terrifying is not true and lies outside that consensus. And what is true and fully accepted by most scientists really isn't particularly terrifying.

Consider the two scariest and most attention-grabbing claims from An Inconvenient Truth - rising sea levels and deadlier hurricanes. Gore devotes considerable attention to the horrible consequences of an 18- to 20-foot rise in sea level over an unspecified time frame, including computer graphics showing major parts of coastal cities like New York and San Francisco and even entire regions, like South Florida, under water. Yet the IPCC report (which Gore considers to be the gold standard of consensus science) projects an increase of 7 to 23 inches over the next century. The lower end of that range is about what has occurred - without serious consequences - over the last two centuries. Of course, the public doesn't closely follow the details of global-warming science, but the disjunction between hype and reality is so big that even casual observers can smell a rat.

In addition, Gore couldn't resist exploiting Hurricane Katrina, America's deadliest natural disaster in years. He blames global warming for the storm that claimed over 1,000 lives in August 2005, driving home the message with image after image of post-Katrina devastation. Gore asserts that Katrina portends a dangerous new era where deadlier storms are more common. But how then to explain the 2006 hurricane season, which was unusual only in how little hurricane damage occurred?

Global warming or not, we will get our share of hurricanes. But if we go yet another year without anything as bad as Katrina, the public may realize, quite rightly, that Gore simply engaged in opportunism, and that no global warming-induced pattern of deadlier hurricanes exists. If people start to feel that they have been lied to about these and other global-warming catastrophe scenarios, it could spell the end for cap-and-trade legislation.

The current Congress has pledged to make a go of enacting cap-and-trade legislation, actually pegging it as a top priority when they took over in January. But beyond holding innumerable hearings on pending bills, the House and Senate have done little since, except put off their initial deadlines for action. This may be a first sign that their momentum is slowing. And with the current trends currently pushing their way into the debate, things are not going to get any easier for them in the months and years ahead.


- Ben Lieberman is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.



Lubbock TX (SPX) Sep 26, 2007   By 2050, the United States must cut its emissions by at least 80 percent below those created in the year 2000 if the world is to avoid potentially dangerous impacts of human-induced climate change, according to a report released today by scientists at Texas Tech University, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Stanford University.

To avoid the most severe effects of climate change, the world must stabilize the concentration of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere at no more than 450 parts per million, said Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University, who performed the emissions-reduction calculations for the joint report.

This 450-parts-per-million limit aims to avoid a temperature increase exceeding 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels - a temperature-change benchmark, which Hayhoe and other scientists believe, could wreak increasing havoc on the environment as it is exceeded.

"The study assumes both developing and industrialized countries would have to converge to equitable per-capita emissions to stabilize the world's climate," she said. "However, even with other countries taking aggressive action, since the United States is responsible for nearly one-quarter of global emissions, it must act now to achieve the deep cuts in its energy consumption that will be required to meet this target."

The cost of delaying U.S. emission reductions could be high, said Michael D. Mastrandrea, a research associate at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.  "If we wait until 2020 to start emission reductions, we'll have to cut twice as fast than if we start in 2010 to meet the same target," Mastrandrea said.

While an 80 percent reduction sounds daunting now, Hayhoe said that the sooner we start, the greater our chances of successfully meeting that target.

"We've got 40 years to radically increase the efficiency of the way we use energy," she said. "It's also time to start considering more extensive ways to harness renewable energy sources through solar panel arrays and wind farms, for example. It's worth it to put in the effort now to reduce our emissions. If we don't, there will be a lot more work to do just to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the future."

Stabilizing above this 450-parts-per-million level would likely lead to severe risks to both natural systems and human welfare, Hayhoe said.  "Sustained warming of this magnitude could, for example, result in the extinction of many species and increase the threat of extensive melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets," she said.

Policies under consideration in the United States vary in the timing and levels of emissions cuts they call for and many fail to achieve the minimum pollution cuts needed.

"This report makes clear that the United States must make meaningful cuts in global warming pollution, and soon, to reduce the risk of severe climate impacts," said Alden Meyer, director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "President Bush should drop his opposition to mandatory emissions limits, and put forward a specific proposal to aggressively reduce U.S. emissions at the meeting of major emitting countries that he is hosting next week."

They advised that Congress must also act to help the world avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced that set mandatory reductions, but only two bills would keep U.S. emissions within the overall limits called for in the UCS study. One measure was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and the other by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).


Big coal -- in the form of the National Rural Electric Association, Koch Industries, American Electric Power, the Southern Company, the National Association of Manufacturers and others are planning a major blitz against efforts to fight global warming. (Read the memo.)

The plan is a retread of a similar campaign launched in the early 1990s by coal interests. The latest version is spelled out in what is dubbed a "Vampire Memo" because it resurrects an earlier campaign that was discredited and abandoned in the mid 1990s.

Among other initiatives, the memo notes that several of the participating companies are planning to finance a major film to counteract the influence of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

And, coincidentally or not, it concludes with conditions that are identical to those of President George W. Bush -- that any efforts to combat global warming include developing countries (specifically India and China), that all sources of CO2 be included in any such plan, and that it must not be permitted to damage the US economy.

According to the memo, environmentalists' efforts to combat global warming would realize the environmentalists' "dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population, eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equitably."

The memo notes that such an effort has strong allies in Washington and will receive help from people like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who has been leading a witch hunt against Dr. Michael Mann, one of the country's pre-eminent climate scientists.

SEPP Comment: Pitiful, isn’t it?


Sydney, Australia, Feb. 23, 2007 - In an exclusive interview today, ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Vice President Dick Cheney about the topic of global warming, a subject Mr. Cheney has rarely addressed in the past. The vice president agreed that the earth is warming but, like President Bush, maintained there is debate over whether humans or natural cycles are the cause-- a position that puts the administration at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- made up of thousands of scientists from around the world -- reported earlier this month they are more certain than ever that humans are heating earth's atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. In Australia, for example, the IPCC said that rising ocean temperatures brought on by global warming could make Australia's Great Barrier Reef "functionally extinct" by 2050.

Here is a portion of the transcript from Jonathan Karl's conversation with Mr. Cheney:

JONATHAN KARL: I want to ask you about another issue that's been a subject of controversy here in Australia, global warming. Did you get a chance to see Al Gore's movie?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have not seen Al Gore's movie.

JONATHAN KARL: Doesn't surprise me.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He didn't invite me to the showing.

JONATHAN KARL: The premiere, huh?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not that I had planned to go anyway.

JONATHAN KARL: But what's your sense, where is the science on this? Is global warming a fact? And is it human activity that is causing global warming?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Those are the two key questions. I think there's an emerging consensus that we do have global warming. You can look at the data on that, and I think clearly we're in a period of warming. Where there does not appear to be a consensus, where it begins to break down, is the extent to which that's part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it's caused by man, greenhouse gases, et cetera.

But I think we're going to see a big debate on it going forward. But it's not enough just to sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that's going to "solve" the problem. Kyoto I think, was not a good idea -- not adequate to the task. It didn't cover nations like China or India. It would have done serious damage to our economy. We decided not to go down that road. The Senate had rejected it overwhelmingly anyway.

But what we're doing with research, we're spending more money on research than anybody else, probably the rest of the world combined in this area. We've set targets for ourselves in terms of increasing energy efficiency, that is, reducing the amount of energy per unit of output. And we're doing better at meeting those targets than I think virtually anybody who signed up with Kyoto. Most of the folks who signed up with Kyoto are not going to meet the targets.

But going forward, if we are going to have a policy, we've got to find ways to do that are not inconsistent with economic growth. You can't shut down the world economy in the name of trying to eliminate greenhouse gases. But there are some answers out there -- nuclear power, for example, is one of them. And getting the United States back into the nuclear power game I think would be a significant benefit -- both in terms of producing the energy we need, but at the same time not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

JONATHAN KARL: So you think the jury is still out about whether or not this warming we're seeing has been caused by human activity?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Some of it has, I think. But exactly where you draw the line? I don't know. I'm not a scientist. I talk with people who supposedly know something about it. You get conflicting viewpoints. But I do think it is an important subject, and it will be addressed in the Congress. I think there will be a big debate on it in the next couple of years.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Donor to Stanford: No Big Oil
San Jose Mercury News, March 11, 2007

It's an engaging TV commercial. Kids swinging golf clubs, and not very well. Balls flying everywhere. People taking cover.  But to movie producer Steve Bing, the words that accompanied those pictures were horrifying - so horrifying that the prominent Stanford donor decided to rescind a promised $2.5 million donation to the school.

"Kids, they'll tackle almost anything. An approach we can all learn from," the commercial began. "So Exxon Mobil has teamed up with Stanford University to find breakthrough technologies that deliver more energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's a challenge. But we're getting there."

When the private university announced a partnership with the world's largest privately owned oil company in 2002 - Stanford will get up to $100 million from the company over 10 years to fund climate and energy research - critics questioned what Big Oil would be getting out of the deal. Now, they say, it's evident: a sweet public relations opportunity.

After seeing the Exxon Mobil commercial and several similar ads in the New York Times, Bing, who had already donated $22.5 million to the school, called Stanford President John Hennessy and said he would give no more.  Bing also is asking other major philanthropists to reconsider their promises to give to the Stanford cause, broaching the subject in phone calls and at functions he attends.  He hasn't had any takers yet, but expects that one day he will.


Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is proposing a recipe for dealing with climate change that many people won't like -- a higher gasoline tax, a carbon tax and scaling back tax breaks for some home owners, says the Associated Press.

Dingell also says he hasn't rule out a "cap-and-trade" system, but at least for now wants to focus on taxes:

o   A 50-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline and jet fuel, phased in over five years, on top of existing taxes.

o   A tax on carbon, at $50 a ton, released from burning coal, petroleum or natural gas.

o   Phaseout of the interest tax deduction on mortgages for homes over 3,000 square feet.

o   Owners would keep most of the deduction for homes at the lower end of the scale, but it would be eliminated entirely for homes of 4,200 square feet or more.

Dingell said he's not sure what the final climate package will include when the House takes it up for a vote.  The taxes measures he's proposing, in fact, will be taken up by another House committee. And the Senate is considering a market-based system that would set an economy-wide ceiling on the amount of carbon dioxide that would be allowed to be released.

Source: H. Josef Hebert, "Plan Uses Taxes to Fight Climate Change," Associated Press, September 26, 2007.           h/t to NCPA


Initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, on the understanding that this will mitigate projected future global warming, seem fraught with problems. The modest demands of the Kyoto protocol will almost certainly not be achieved by many apparently committed countries. There can be no certainty about the outcome of negotiations aimed to bring all countries - including the USA and major developing economies such as China - into a binding framework of far more stringent emission reduction commitments. If they are successful, there are absolutely no guarantees that targets will be met. If carbon dioxide levels really are as important as the IPCC believes, we need to look at more radical solutions.

One suggestion which has often been mooted is to fertilise the oceans with iron - the rate-determining nutrient - to boost algal growth and so capture larger quantities of carbon dioxide.  Now comes a clever and perhaps neater way to achieve this: pump cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths to the surface, using the sea itself as the energy source.

This innovative approach has been put forward by two prominent scientists who are deeply pessimistic about the consequences of climate change if left unchecked: James Lovelock, perhaps best known for his Gaia hypothesis, and Chris Rapley, new head of the Science Museum and previously director of the British Antarctic Survey. It is also being developed separately by an American company, Atmocean.

Long vertical pipes would float in the tropical ocean, tethered to buoys. As they sink in the swell, cold water would enter the pipe from the bottom, but would be prevented from leaving as the pipe rises by a non-return valve. The net effect is to pump the cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface, which would encourage the growth of a range of organisms. All would sequester carbon and remove it to the ocean bottom, via their droppings and when they die. Algae would additionally produce dimethyl sulphide, which promotes cloud formation and would thus have a cooling effect.

The challenges would, of course, be huge. Atmocean calculates that 134 million pipes would be needed to sequester one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels each year. No-one knows about the life of the valves, or the effect on the marine environment. Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea which deserves some thought. Many environmentalists will object to the very idea of a 'technical fix', but progress is most often made by way of ingenious ideas.

Source:  Scientific Alliance


Methane released from wetlands turned the Earth into a hothouse 55 million years ago, according to research released Wednesday that could shed light on a worrying aspect of today's climate change crisis.  Scientists have long sought to understand the triggers for an extraordinary warming episode called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred about 10 million years after the twilight of the dinosaurs.  Earth's surface warmed by at least nine degrees Fahrenheit in just a few hundred or a few thousand years. The Arctic Ocean was at 73 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the same as a tepid bath -- before the planet eventually cooled.

Richard Pancost, a researcher at Britain's University of Bristol, seized an opportunity to dig, literally, into this mystery.  Excavation of a site in southeast England to set down the Channel Tunnel rail link exposed layers of sediment from a bog that had existed at the time of the PETM.

Pancost's team sifted through the dirt to measure the carbon isotope values of hopanoids, which are compounds made by bacteria.  They found that levels of these isotopes suddenly fell at the onset of the PETM, yielding a signature that can only be explained if the bugs dramatically switched to a diet of methane, a powerful, naturally-occurring greenhouse gas.

Reporting in the British journal Nature, Pancost believes that the methane had remained locked up in the soil for millions of years before warming released it into the atmosphere.  As atmospheric methane levels rose, so too did Earth's temperature as a result of the famous "greenhouse" effect.  In turn, that released more methane, and so on.  In other words, it was a vicious circle (a "positive feedback" in scientific parlance), in which warming begat warming.

The study has relevance because of the gigatons of methane locked in the Siberian permafrost today.  With the permafrost slowly retreating as a result of global warming, some experts fear a threshold whereby this huge stock of greenhouse gas may also be released, unleashing unstoppable climate change. But the temperature at which this could happen is unknown and the mechanisms by which the methane is released are unclear.

Co-author Andrew Scott of Royal Holloway University of London is cautious about making parallels.  He said the onset to the PETM was far warmer than today, which makes it risky to compare then with now, especially as the data for the new paper comes from just a single site.  However, "this does provide insight into how some ecosystems would respond to warming-induced changes in climate, and, therefore how they could respond to warming in the future," said Scott.

A study published last April in the journal Science attributed the methane to a tectonic rather than biological source -- massive volcanic eruptions in Greenland and the British Islands.  Other hypotheses include "belches" of methane released from ice-bound bubbles in sea-floor sediment.  Pancost, though, believes that a volcanic source provided the initial heat trigger that unlocked some methane stocks in the soil and thus launched the positive feedback.

He argues that the microbes' sudden switch to methane for their diet indicates they were swamped by a local source of the gas.  The explanation for this is a snap release from terrestrial sources, rather than a longer release of methane from the sea or underground, according to Pancost.

Fossil and sedimentary records show that, by the time the PETM was over, around 100,000 years later, many species of fundamental life in the sea had been wiped out and there had been a ruthless culling among mammalian species on land, opening the way to the biodiversity we see today.