Friday, June 24, 2016

Did Climate Change Drive the Bramble Cay Melomys to Extinction? Probably


Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola)
Credit Ian Bell/Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection



 Melomys Rubicola has been declared extinct. Had it been something like a fuzzy koala or panda instead of a rat, the world might have taken more notice, but maybe not. A Google search on the topic goes over 20 pages deep. This seems to have struck a nerve.

It's possible that an undiscovered genetically identical population exists somewhere else. It's not unheard of for a species declared extinct to show up again. But if it has been on that tiny island off the coast of Papua New Guinea long enough for speciation to occur, then it is extinct because to repopulate someplace else a pregnant female would have needed to leave the island and establish itself elsewhere, and that is extremely unlikely.

There have been some dubious claims of extinctions caused by climate change, as one would expect, and I'm sure there will be many more. But little by little, the real extinctions will arrive.
 
I poked around on the internet for critiques of this announcement and found three, two of which were not worth bothering with (one confused the ozone problem with climate change) so I settled on the one at Energy Matters, which is an excellent blog and on my regular reading list. The analysis provided on this particular topic is characteristically thorough but not thorough enough to convince me.

Roger Andrews found that there has not been an increase in the number or intensity of cyclones in that area since 1969. He also looked up the tide gauge records for the area since 2000 and created a crude best fit line through it to determine that the ocean level in that part of the world may have only risen maybe 2.5 inches since 2000. His conclusion was that because the highest point on this island is about nine feet (even with the seasonal fifteen inch increase in sea level rise during cyclone season) sea level rise since 2000 would not have made much difference. And according to the authors' explanation, he's right. Temperature changes are likely the main driver, not sea level rise.

So there you have it. The demise of Melomys rubicola had nothing to do with temperature, rainfall or sea level rise. The animal was a victim of storm surges that progressively destroyed its habitat.

This is where Andrew lost me. The researchers are the ones who stated that Melomys rubicola was the victim of repeated storm surges over the last decade that progressively destroyed its habitat. Given time, this is how it will end for other island species.

No evidence – not even a climate model – is presented to support the claim that these storm surges had anything to do with increasing atmospheric CO2.

But the report does present evidence. Keeping in mind that CO2 levels not seen for 800,000 years have led to warmer temperatures which have in turn led to rates of ocean level increase not seen in millennia (all three of which are measured, not modeled) and contrary to the tidal and cyclone data presented by Andrew, the repeated storm surges at that island over the last decade were obviously severe enough to eventually wipe them out after having been there for at least 1.7 centuries.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Seattle City Council Takes a Stand Against Nuclear Energy



Last year I wrote an article about the failed attempt to mandate biofuel consumption by the Governor of Washington State. To me his failure was an example of why two party political systems work better than one party systems. Bad ideas from either party (and they can both come up with some really stupid ideas) have a tougher time being implemented than good ideas.

An example of this was the Seattle biodiesel craze which came and went. The biodiesel gas stations that had sprung up have all but disappeared along with the once ubiquitous smoke belching Jettas and their biodiesel bumper stickers. Not unlike new hydroelectric dams, existing biofuel technology continues to ravage ecosystems and displace local inhabitants around the world. The genie was let out of the bottle but at least it has been largely, to date, contained here in Seattle.

 Columbia Nuclear Generating Station

In place of biofuel enthusiasts, Seattle now has a member of the antinuclear tribe on the council. So, here we go again:

The measure was sponsored by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who on Tuesday called the resolution a step forward in “taking a stand against nuclear energy.”


James Conca over on Forbes is not a happy camper and I don't blame him. You can read about it here:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Nuclear Energy Waste--Making Mountains Out of Mole Hills



Contrary to what you read in the lay press, nuclear energy is starting to make major headway around the world with a plethora of new technologies (and attendant potential investment opportunities) on the horizon.




Nuclear is currently the biggest contributor to the mighty low-carbon energy quatuor: nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar.

My previous articles on nuclear energy dealt with the scientifically established, statistically irrefutable fact that modern nuclear power stations are one of the safest forms of energy at our disposal:




Some antinuclear commenters tried to turn the discussion towards other antinuclear talking points because they weren't doing so well with the safety issue argument but my response to them was to stick to the safety issue because I would eventually address the others in their own articles.

Engineers love graphs but the general public, not accustomed to seeing them every day, tend to ignore them. There have been many attempts to convey without graphs how little waste is produced. In the documentary Pandora's Promise, they showed a football stadium that would contain all spent fuel used in the United States since the invention of nuclear energy. But to some people, this seems like a lot of waste. Images of Coke cans or a hand holding a vitrified glass disc of waste as examples of how much waste would be generated to provide an American with a lifetime of electricity fail because it requires the reader to trust whatever numbers were used to make this claim.


 Which is why I created the graphic below. No trust required. All you need are your eyes. And anyone is free to borrow this graphic to help reverse the decades of misinformation created by antinuclear energy groups.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Andrew Revkin on Making Veracity Cool




 (Photo credit: patries71 via Flickr)

Andrew Revkin posted an interesting article a few weeks back:

Lately, I’ve come to frame the challenge as a question: Can we foster an online (and real-life) culture in which veracity is cool? You’ll see more on this here in the coming months.

As social primates, we are instinctively motivated to seek higher status in our given troop hierarchies. The word cool is sometimes used as a synonym for impressive. Impressive denotes a measure of status. Coolness is any marketer's primary weapon. I like Andy's idea of making veracity cool, but I'm skeptical it could ever take hold. How would car marketers ever convince us to buy their cars? Although, certainly, he's on the right track in that, if you want to change behavior, like getting people to drive electric cars (or Hummers), convincing them it's cool to drive one will work wonders. 

What I think we need is to teach critical thinking skills in our schools as part of every math and science course, from grade school through college, and test for competency like we do for math and science.

His post led me to Climate Feedback, a website designed to fact check climate change articles. I was struck by how similar the format was to the Disqus comment software where you can use a little hypertext markup language to highlight quotes from an article and then discuss it in detail with links to sources, photos, graphs etc. They also made use of a veracity score which I have half-seriously used a few times myself, here and here.

The first question that came to mind was why the scientists didn't simply post in the comment field under the article? I suggested as much in a comment under Andy's article and interestingly enough, at least to me, my comment never made it past the Dot Earth moderator. So, maybe that was the answer to my question.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The "Does Nuclear Really Help The Integration Of Renewables?" Strawman Argument

Photo courtesy of tracie7779 via Flickr
Cross posted at Energy Trends Insider

What's with the green parrots you may be asking? A parrot repeats what it hears without understanding what it's saying. And by "green" I'm referring to people who, like myself, consider themselves to be environmentalists (whatever exactly that means). To the left of the green parrots is a screenshot of the "shares" from a guest post on the Clean Technica website, which has at least 99 parrots sitting on their wire.

It all started when an apparent shale gas enthusiast (Nick Grealy) wrote a 1,100 word article at his blog about the use of shale gas in France which contained the following rather cryptic throwaway sentence: