Fresh on the heals of broken promises over addressing poverty in Africa, Prime Minister Tony Blair has revealed his true colours on the issue of tackling global warming. Tony Blair’s Labour Party Conference speech this week underlined his revised approach to combating climate change following earlier comments at a US conference and reiterated his faith in a technological solution rather than international aggrements such as the Kyoto Protocol. He admitted that his views now match those of U.S. President George W. Bush and by extension, the oil industry.
What's changed Blairs mind? Perhaps it's a sympton of the 'too late now' attitude expressed by George Monbiot in the Guardian. "First the fossil-fuel lobbyists told us that global warming was a myth. Then they agreed that it was happening, but insisted that it was a good thing: we could grow wine in the Pennines and take Mediterranean holidays in northern England. Then they admitted that the bad effects outweighed the good ones, but claimed that climate change would cost more to tackle than to tolerate", say Monbiot and concludes by saying that climate-change 'denial' has reached a new stage, "They concede that climate change would be cheaper to address than to neglect, but maintain that it's now too late. "
One things for sure, Blairs admission undermines previous comitments made over the past two years and contradicts agreements he pushed for during the G8 summit in July. It's not going to help preliminary negotiations over a new international treaty which are taking place in Ottawa 6th-7th October in preparation for November's UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal.
Ice melt down
Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that global warming is producing tangeble changes right now. A new study reports a record low level of sea ice in the Arctic sea this summer - the warmest Arctic summer in 400 years.
The NASA report to be released this week finds the polar ice pack has shrunk by nearly 30 percent since 1978, and new satellite photos show the melting is speeding up.The rate of decline measured would result in the entire polar ice cap disappearing within decades, thus raising sea levels and further accelerating the warming of the planet.
Ice cover revealed by satellite images of the northern hemisphere's show that the area of floating sea ice in the Artic is the lowest ever observed. This month sea ice coverage fell about 20 per cent below the long-term average The loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic over the past four years ammounts to an area of 500,000 square miles!
A loss of sea ice has been observed each year for the last two decades but scientists say that they are witnessing an acceleration in the melting process which is likely to be a result of climate change. The more the ice melts the more the warming will take place through a process of "positive feedback".
The latest findings were released yesterday by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre of Colorado University, which said that figures represented a "stunning reduction".
Colorado University scientist, Ted Scambos, who led the study believes climate change is the most likely explanation for the dramatic melting.
"Since the 1990s, the melting and retreat trends are accelerating and the one common thread is that the Arctic temperatures over the ice, ocean and surrounding land have increased in recent decades," Dr Scambos said.
Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre said, "confidence is strengthening that a long-term decline is under way".
In the past the summer low would be followed by a significant rebound toward longterm previous levels but this has not occurred for the past four years. Sea ice in the Arctic expands and retracts each winter and summer but for the first time last winter scientists reported that the natural rebound did not occur.
Meiser said, "Having four years in a row with such low ice extents has never been seen before in the satellite record. It clearly indicates a downward trend, not just a short-term anomaly".
This is really bad news as the loss of Arctic sea ice will accelerate global warming as the area of reflective ice cover is reduced there will be an increased heating as the darker waters are exposed to sunlight. The effect is clear. The average surface temperatures in the Arctic this summer have been between 2 degC and 3 degC warmer than the Arctic Ocean average!
It's not just the scientists that are noticing the changes. People who live in the region have a practice of storing whale meat in ice cellars dug into the permanently frozen ground during the summer. Whale hunter Eugene Brower took a visting news crew to see his but he was shocked by what he found.
"The skin and blubber should be frozen!" he said. "It's thawing out."
In the Arctic, any ground deeper than about four feet has always been frozen but now even this 'permafrost' is starting to melt.
Some good news perhaps, the northernmost tip of the United States is collapsing into the sea - shame it's just Alaska. Point Barrow consists of permafrost, or rather, it used to consist of permafrost. The coastline has been eroding as the melting permafrost leaves the ground soft and more vunerable to erosion by the waves which are now carrying it away.
Scientists note the rate of temperature increase from 1976 to the present has been greater than at any other time during the last 1,000 years. "Yesterday, it's the Arctic, and now suddenly, it's turning into the sub-Arctic!" said biologist George Divoky.
Biologists are reporting that Black guillemots are getting driven out by puffins, warmer weather birds from the sub-Arctic, which kill the chicks and take over the nests.
However it's not only animals being forced to relocate. Whole villages are tumbling into the ocean along with old graves.
"They keep getting exposed," said Jensen. "People don't really want to see their ancestors getting washed into the ocean."
The head in the sand approach of the US may be a thing of the past as people take stock of the deadliest hurricane season in more than a century.
Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are telling U.S. clients for the first time that climate change poses financial risks. With damage estimates for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as high as $200 billion, an increasing number of investors are joining public pension funds in urging action on global warming, which scientists blame on the increasing severity of tropical storms.
The idea that hurricanes are becoming more devastating in the Gulf "is difficult to avoid," Neil McMahon, a London-based oil industry analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said in report to his clients this month. "More worryingly, recent research suggests that this trend is highly likely to continue as it's linked to global warming."
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on 29th August and was followed three weeks later by Rita, the third most powerful hurricane ever known in the Atlantic. There are another two months of Hurricane season remaining so there may yet be another big storm adding to american woes.
"Katrina is going to be a big stimulus for Washington to act", said Morton Cohen, a hedge fund manager at Clarion Group which manages $200 million in assets, almost half of which are energy-related. "It's pretty obvious we have to do something", he continued, adding that emmisions from coal-fired power stations need to be deminished. However, don't get your hopes up, he also talked about the need to build more refineries.
Possible steps proposed to curb greenhouse gases include a mandatory carbon emissions limit; carbon emissions-trading programs; and a renewable energy initiative specifing a certain percentage of power to come from renewables.
Obviously however, Bush has publicaly questioned the science behind climate change and rejected calls for a mandatory federal cap on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. His opposition may now be harder to defend post Katrina but don't hold your breath.
The expense of impilmenting such steps gives some investors and politicians pause, said John Holdren, environmental studies professor at Harvard University. "The real consequences are far away," Holdren said. "The cost of doing something is immediate. There's a strong temptation to say 'wait and see."'
"Analysts are worried about the next 12 hours; climate change is way too long-term for them," said William Andrews, who manages about $4.5 billion at C.S. McKee & Co. in Pittsburgh, including Chevron shares.
Better late than never?
In the wake of Katrina and Rita and the tangible increase in US recognition that the threat of global warming is real, the Department of Energy has released for public review a plan for development of advanced technologies aimed at avoiding, reducing, or storig greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.S. Climate Change Technology Program's draft Strategic Plan pledges about $3 billion in federal spending for the climate change-related R&D needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and power economic growth. This might sound like a lots but it represents just 1/10 of the estimated clean up cost for damage from hurricane Rita, let alone the cost of rebuilding New Orleans.
Further more, the draft reveals that renewable energy play a minor role in the plan which concentrates instead on what appears to be business are usual combined with carbon-sequestration technologies, nuclear, and other non-renewable technology options. In fact it looks very much like every other proposal to subsidies corporate research and development with tax-payers money but with the words 'Climate Change' bolted onto the title.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe global warming is being blamed for a deadly outbreak of dengue fever in India. The epidemic has already taken twenty four lives in Kolkata and the surounding state with at least 2,500 people effected in the past five weeks. Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya says that global warming may be responsible for shifting environmental conditions that have swelled Mosquito populations in the region.
A large number of dengue cases have been reported from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia too, not to speak of Delhi, according to Mr. Bhattacharya. "Health experts and entomologists have been suggesting environmental changes and the concomitant effects of global warming as possible factors for the spread of the disease to the extent it has," he said.