global warming

Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.

The short but interesting (and climate-clobbering) life of methane, that *other* greenhouse gas

rm iwest mugRichard Harris' NPR piece today on methane's climate-clobbering effects jolted me to remember a post I planned but that went by the wayside when I got so busy editing our coverage of last month's big climate conference in Copenhagen.

During the big UNFCCC negotiations, an op-ed of huge import came out but didn't get as much attention as you might think, considering it was co-authored by Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mohamed El-Ashray, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, they acknowledged, but a big focus in the next few years should be methane, because it traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. And methane converts to carbon dioxide after 10 or 12 years -- compared to CO2's residence time in the atmosphere that's measured in hundreds of years.

Methane's quite a bit easier to control, too (for now -- more on that shortly). So, to buy time to invent better ways to reduce CO2 emissions,  focus on methane, Watson and El-Ashray argue:

If we need to suppress temperature quickly in order to preserve glaciers, reducing methane can make an immediate impact. Compared to the massive requirements necessary to reduce CO2, cutting methane requires only modest investment. Where we stop methane emissions, cooling follows within a decade, not centuries. That could make the difference for many fragile systems on the brink.

Both Harris' piece and the op-ed point out that controlling methane also helps fight ground-level ozone, a public health threat.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Greenhouse gases are amping ocean acidification, 15-year study shows

If there is any doubt that greenhouse gas emissions have extensive, far-reaching effects on our planet, the newly released results of a careful, long-term study should put any remaining confusion to rest. New research shows the Pacific Ocean is becoming more acidic, weakening shellfish and other marine life at a scarily fast clip - resulting in a 6 percent jump in ocean water acidity over the past 15 years in the top 300 feet of the ocean.

rita_hibbardwebOcean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide from cars, factories and power plants that causes global greenhouse effects and also dissolves in the ocean, writes Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton.

The process makes seawater slightly more acidic, and also gobbles up carbonate, a basic building block of seashells. The higher acid environment dissolves shells, and kills plankton, marine snails and other small creatures that supply food for the rest of the marine ecosystem. Highly acidic water also kills fish eggs.

The result:

The most extensive survey of pH levels in the Pacific Ocean confirms what spot measurements have suggested: From Hawaii to Alaska, the upper reaches of the sea are becoming more acidic in concert with rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"The fact that we saw this very significant change over the last 15 years is a reminder of how mankind is affecting the oceans at an ever-increasing rate," said report co-author Richard Feely, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

The research teams measured acidity along 2,800 miles of ocean between Oahu and Kodiak in 1991, and returned in 2006 aboard a University of Washington research vessel, analyzing nearly 1,500 water samples over two months.

We'll be back after a word (or several thousand) for our sponsor: In-depth journalism

rm iwest mugFolks, I said when I was starting what turned out to be just a tiny bit of time off over the holidays that Dateline Earth would return in early January. While I still hope that will be true -- early January technically runs through the 15th, right? -- it's going to be a little longer than I'd hoped.

The reason: I'm wrapping up an in-depth story. Remember those? This first major outing for me under the InvestigateWest banner promises to be eye-opening for those interested in environmental health. I need to concentrate on finishing the writing, fact-checking, and so forth.

Then I'll be back with posts about that story; about the topics I mentioned when exiting stage right around Christmas, including one idea about how to start the process of reversing global warming; and reflections from the Multimedia Reporting and Convergence Workshop next week at the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored by the Knight Digital Media Center and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. I was selected in a highly competitive process and look forward to the 12-hour days there because I'll learn a lot about multimedia methods to present our in-depth journalism.

Until then...

-- Robert McClure


2010 at Dateline Earth: Reversing global warming. Restoring ecosystems. And saving environmental journalism? Well, that's up to you . . .

rm iwest mugHow can we slow down global warming – or even take steps to reverse it?  

Where is ecosystem restoration taking off in a big way?

How is environmental journalism faring in the news media meltdown that spawned InvestigateWest?

We plan to delve into those questions and many more -- we're eager to explore the tradeoffs of "green" energy, for instance -- when Dateline Earth and the InvestigateWest team return after the holidays.

In the meantime, we’re taking time off. So you won’t see anything new in this space for a little while. (Unless we’re just dying to tell you about something. Sometimes we can’t contain ourselves.)

Readers, please come back in early January to see what we’re up to in the new year. That will include beginning to publish some full-blown in-depth stories by InvestigateWest staffers, as well as continuing to produce Dateline Earth and our other two blogs, Western Exposure and From the Field.

In the meantime, it's incredibly important that you donate to InvestigateWest. Become a member. Give us your ideas. Give us your energy. But first, give us a little bit of money. A membership costs just $5 a month. It's what has to happen to sustain the independent journalism so crucial to our self-governing democracy.  We’re trying to keep body and soul together while building this ambitious new project to preserve and modernize in-depth reporting on the environment, public health and social-justice issues in western North America.

Will it work? It’s up to you. As a body requires oxygen, we must have support from citizens who care about what’s happening in the society around them.

InvestigateWest Copenhagen climate-treaty coverage points up need for independent journalism

Whew! Fifty-one posts -- all but three in just the last two weeks. Dateline Earth readers got to hear from an Arctic tribal elder, an Indian-turned-American nature photographer, Ethiopian political activists, native-rights campaigners from the Amazon and the grassy plains of Ecuador – as well as the European and American officials who dominate this country’s news diet.
rm iwest mugWe stretched. The InvestigateWest team’s coverage of the global climate treaty negotiations that just wrapped up in Copenhagen was a mammoth undertaking for our small start-up news agency – but one that amply demonstrated the need for independent journalism. It was an effort worth every bleary-eyed late-night hour, every marathon Skype session, every up-before-December’s-dawn morning.

It’s unlikely InvestigateWest will be dashing off to a lot of international meetings. We were fortunate in this case to have the assistance of four able young journalists who raised the funds to get themselves to Denmark. Then they went on to deliver journalism that wasn’t available from many – and in a few cases, any – of the thousands of other journalists who covered the talks.

They did this despite being denied access to the conference center where international delegates were meeting until the last day of the two-week conference.  

[caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow is arrested for the second time. He was held for 10 hours.

Ethiopian activists: PM Zenawi in Copenhagen to collect cash, not fight climate change

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

COPENHAGEN -- In this, the third and shortest of our video interviews with Ethiopians who traveled to Denmark to protest against their prime minister, Meles Zenawi, a demonstrator hints that climatic conditions are a factor in the unrest in his homeland, the Ethiopian region of Ogaden:

Anti-Zenawi Ethiopian protesters: Why is Obama meeting with murderer?

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

COPENHAGEN -- This is the second of three parts of our interviews with Ethiopians who traveled 3,600 miles* to Denmark from their home country to denounce Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He is acting as spokesman for the  African Union in talks to reach a global climate treaty.

Two protesters hold forth here, including one who calls Zenawi a "murderer" and questions President Barack Obama's willingness to deal with Zenawi. We continue to await comment from Ethiopia's consulate in Seattle:

* Due to an editing error, this post initially misstated the distance from Ethiopia to Denmark.