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Archive for the ‘News and politics’ Category

People have a blind spot concerning their computers, the internet, and modern communications. For a while now (since about 15 years ago) I’ve thought about the seeming inconsistency of people worrying over the internet about what is the greenest way to make a change in their lifestyle, and discussing it throughout the world wide web. The changes, while laudable, may have little impact. Meanwhile they are getting the latest PC/PDA/Cell Phone/iPod, etc every few years, leaving their machines on all the time so they stay in touch, using massive web resources to get their messages across, and happily paying the electrical bills for same. These items are often replaced every 2-4 years (half the average replacement period for a car), contain steel, non-biodegradable plastics, toxic rare earth elements, require a huge infrastructure to maintain, have probably the worst and most deliberate obsolescence factor of any class of products on the planet, and are probably expanding their markets as fast or faster than any other class of products. Bill Gates isn’t the richest man in the world for nothing. If you try and break it down into what factors may be ecologically or climatologically unsound, interesting questions arise, regarding:

  1. Construction of the devices
  2. Construction of the communications networks, including land-lines, fibre-optic cables, wireless LAN networks, satellites and their replacements
  3. The facilities and infrastructure related to the facilities used to store and retransmit data over the web, especially considering the amount of information that the general public puts online (Google has hundreds of facilities, each with lots of servers, for example)
  4. Energy needed to run them, and the “Vampire energy” they use even when “turned off”
  5. Heat production, and energy needed for the cooling systems required to dissipate the heat (air conditioners draw energy from the outside to cool things; it is not a closed cycle). There are potential local effects on the environment, for example heating streams and rivers used as cooling sources, etc.
  6. The carbon emissions for much of the above
  7. The ecological disruptions of putting in the physical internet (fibre-optic cables, older cables, launching satellites, the facilities at the hubs, and the ongoing energy costs and pollution produced in acquiring the energy).
  8. The ecological disruptions of mining and otherwise aquiring the raw materials for construction of the devices, and the pollution produced in processing the raw materials and in making the gadgets, then packaging them, then transporting them, then removing them, then getting rid of them…
  9. What happens to most of them when they become obsolete? And what does obsolete mean these days?

I could add things, but this is definitely enough to start with.

Carbon emissions due to Internet servers.

Regarding carbon emissions alone, on the CBC program Spark, Bill St. Arnaud from Global Action Plan claimed that “the worldwide ICT sector is responsible for around 2% of man made CO2 each year – a similar figure to the global airline industry.” There is also evidence that it is growing significantly faster with respect to emissions than the airline industry, at least in the United Kingdom. The magazine New Scientist published an article indication that using a server effectively produces the same carbon emissions as a 15 mile per gallon SUV. One estimate of the number of servers in the world is 160 million, half of them being Apache servers, followed by 50 million MS servers. The number of SUVs in the U.S. was estimated by the Census Bureau to be about 25 million in 2002, up 56% from five years before. So extrapolating, we’d estimate about 55 million in 2007, and then sales slumped due to oil prices and market uncertainty. So we’ll guess about 60 million now. If so, there are about 2.67 servers in the world per SUV in the United States, and they put out about 2.67 times the emissions of the entire American SUV fleet. And the carbon footprint from servers is just the cost of running the bloody things; it doesn’t count construction, maintenance, replacements, etc.

With the number of PCs in the world projected to more than double by 2015, reaching about 2 billion machines, the carbon footprint prediction above is more than plausible, especially considering that much of the increase will be in developing countries, and most of these countries don’t have the greenest energy sources. To compare growth rates and impacts, there are currently about 600 million cars in the world, and they are projected to double in number by 2030. If true, the growth rate of PCs is at least 22 times faster than cars, and there is no reason to suppose that this rate will get any smaller (unless we run out of materials…).

I think it would be safe to say that the computer/internet industry is a bigger threat in the long term than the automotive industry, and accounts for a significant percentage (defined as greater than 1%) of the human carbon impact on global climate change. They’ll definitely beat the airline industry in the short term, which is one of the more notorious polluters.

Aside: the airlines are taking a worse beating than shipping is from environmentalists, especially from the amateur enthusiasts, but shipping does far worse damage. The airlines are responsible for about 2% of emissions, while the shipping industry accounts for 5%. Part of the reason that shipping goes unnoticed is that airlines are more high profile and visible, and more sensitive to popular pressure on their bottom line. Very few people could tell you what the major shipping lines are, or how much pollution they produce. The ships just quietly pollute their way around the world, incidentally dropping a little bunker oil here and there near Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada…

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After work today I went to the doctor’s office. I was slightly proud of myself because I was early; on the other hand, even when I’m late I usually have to wait. It looked a little busy, so I had a seat, and went for a magazine. You might have noticed that the literary value of the reading material in a doctor’s waiting room leaves much to be desired, especially in the last few years.

However, the first thing I found was a copy of the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, and on the front cover was a picture of the little president with an eleven-gallon hat. The main topic was “Undoing Bush: how to repair eight years of sabotage, bungling, and neglect”. It was a forum of prominent columnists and experts discussing the problems and possible solutions to various aspects of the little guy’s administration. They included

The Constitution
by David Cole

The courts
by Dahlia Lithwick

Civil service
by Ken Silverstein

The environment
by Bill McKibben

Science
by Chris (Chris C.) Mooney

The economy
by Dean Baker

The marketplace of ideas
by Jack Hitt

Intelligence
by James Bamford

The military
by Edward Luttwak

Diplomacy
by Anne-Marie Slaughter

The national character
by Earl Shorris


I was 45 minutes in the waiting room, and it gave me time to finish the eleven essays, and it was time well wasted. There was little that was new to me, but it did give me a different perspective on all of the hammer blows that this administration has inflicted on the United States and the world. It’s well worth reading, especially the Marketplace of Ideas, Intelligence, the Military, the Constitution, and finally the National Character.

Only this long until the King’s Horses and Men can get started on the Great Fall.

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I check the news very intermittently, but today I turned on the TV while I was getting ready to go to school. George Bush was giving a press conference covering a multitude of topics. First, I heard a new Bushism. He was discussing some political dialogue, and emphasised that he would continue dialoguing with them. Much to my chagrin, it seems to be a real word. Second, while he was talking a reporter put up his hand and asked him about the Turkish vote to allow 60,000 troops to cross into Northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels (which was announced while he was talking). I treasured for the rest of the morning his exasperated expression. Finally, a reporter asked him how he defined terrorism; he answered it was whatever the American law was, and quickly changed the topic; the way he said it made me wonder if he knew what the laws were. Then I wondered whether the American laws conformed to the UN definition (sigh).

But I have to hand it to him. During supper I heard that Bush and the United States awarded the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal. What is exceptional is that he was photographed and filmed walking on stage with the Dalai Lama holding his arm. This is important because it is the first time that an American President has been photographed with him, and he made a moving statement in support of the Lama. Also, no Canadian Prime Minister has been publicly photographed with the Lama. You can imagine the Chinese reaction! They tolerate meetings of the Lama with foreign leaders, but try their utmost to prevent the Dalai Lama being seen with major political leaders; an event like this will get on the news and the internet even in China. I just read that china is pulling out of talks regarding the Iran-North Korea nuclear proliferation issue, so I guess I know how serious China is.

Also, the Dalai Lama will visit Canada late this month. The first Prime Minister to meet the Dalai Lama was Paul Martin in 2004 (no photos). I’d love to see Harper meet with him, now that Bush has set an example.

The second event was the Canadian Throne speech.It seems we are safe for a while (but there is still a small chance that the speech won’t be accepted). Harper mentioned that he felt like a student getting a report back full of corrections, but which still finally passed.

The third event was Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on popularising climate change. The best part was the sound of teeth grinding from the extreme right.

Fourth, the Canadian homicide rate has dropped another 10%; meanwhile the Harper government is promoting harsher punishments and fines.

Fifth, Benazir Bhutto is returning to Pakistan; the lady has courage. She is well loved by moderates in the country, and is a real political threat to General Musharraf.

Finally, there’s a good chance that a volcano will go up in British Columbia. Too bad it is in central BC. I was kind of hoping it would occur near Whistler. It would make great fireworks for the 2010 Olympics, and would give them some more hot springs. There’s also the added benefit of more hot springs.

In summary, a few nice things, a few intriguing things, and a few sad things. What a wierd and awesome  species are we.

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As of 8 am Friday morning the last three long-liners have been escorted out of the ice field off the Northeast Coast of Newfoundland. During this three week operation the Coast Guard seems to have done an exemplary job, and many thanks are due.

Here is what they have accomplished in that time:

  • 80 boats were escorted out of the ice out of 100
  •  1 boat was lost on the first day or two that the ice closed up and the fleet was trapped
  • 31 long-liners were evacuated and 72 non-essential personnel were evacuated by Coast Guard helicopters
  • 8 were provided with fuel
  • 27 were provided with provisions (they had to pay for the groceries, but not for delivery)!
  • some commercial carriers were escorted
  • 2-3 ferry routes were kept open at least intermittently
  • no one died
  • I didn’t hear about any major injuries

As of this morning the Grenfell was in the strait of Belle Isle, the Larsen and the Pearkes were near New World Island, and the Ann Harvey was east of Cape Freels. The Terry Fox was north of Cape Freels. At least some of these will be heading home soon, but they may have to keep ferry routes open.

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There were some hopeful tidbits in the news this afternoon. As a result of the recent progress and the recent weather, Captain Brian Penney of the Coast Guard said that if the winds hold steady for the rest of the week, the entire fleet could be freed (Canadian Press). Here are some highlights.

  • The heavy icebreaker CCGS Terry Fox is currently west of Stephenville and will make its way through the Strait of Belle Isle, then will scoot down the areas clearing on the west side of the Northeast Coast so as to help out between the Baie Verte Peninsula and Notre Dame Bay. She’ll be the largest icebreaker on site and should be a great help, as until recently the ice has been so thick that icebreakers had to team up at times to make progress.
  • The CCGS Henry Larsen and the George R. Pearkes were able to open up a passage for stranded boats about to be driven onshore with the ice (CBC).
  • Last week there were 100 vessels stranded. As of today there are
    • 43 virtually locked up solid
    • 21 able to manoeuevre to varying degrees
    • about 10 have sustained ice damaged and may need assistance returning to port. There may be more damage and other ships affected as the situation develops (CBC NL)
    • about 5 have been abandoned
    • about 50-60 non-essential crewmembers have been evacuated
    • emergency provisions have been dropped via helicopter to 22 boats so far

There are a couple of good things guaranteed to happen. Areas open to the east, and the east sides of the Northern Peninsula, the Bay Verte Peninsula, and Southern Labrador will start clearing out, as will the western portions of Bonavista Bay, the northwest part of Trinity Bay, some of the Labrador coastal part of the Strait of Belle Isle, etc. As the main field moves further away from the shore parts of it may start breaking up, making it easier for the icebreakers to escort the longliners through it. Some longliners may be able to scirt the pack to make it to port. The weather for much of Wednesday to Friday won’t be severe, with moderate to strong westerlies throughout (with some southwesterlies and northwesterlies mixed in).

The news is sounding more hopeful.

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As of today (to my knowledge) there are 5 Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers involved in the rescue effort on the Front (the ice pack along the Northeast Coast and part of the East Coast of Newfoundland). The Terry Fox is the newest one involved in the rescue. So far there is one heavy icebreaker, two mediums, two lights, and an ice-reinforced vessel. As far as I can tell they are the following ships:

  • CCGS Terry Fox: This is one of two heavy Gulf icebreakers in the fleet. She left Halifax, currently her base of operations, yesterday and is rapidly steaming north along the West Coast of Newfoundland. As of 1200Z this morning she was west of Cape Anguille. She’ll probably start by helping vessels in the Strait of Belle Isle, then will move into the Northeast Coast from the northwest, which seems fairly clever to me. First, this may be the fastest way to get into the northern ice on the Northeast Coast, where many boats are stuck. Second, the ice will be moving generally east in the next while, and she’ll be more mobile than the other breakers. Third, because she’s the strongest icebreaker involved, she can make forays into the field from the west independently.
  • CCGS Des Groselliers: This is one of four medium Gulf/River icebreakers in the fleet. Based with the Quebec fleet, she was working in the Strait of Belle Isle recently, escorting boats to harbour.
  • CCGS Henry Larsen: This is the second of four medium Gulf/River icebreakers in the fleet. Based with the Newfoundland fleet, she was working on the northeast coast recently, successfully escorting some boats to harbour. Currently she is just east of Cape Freels between the Northeast Coast and the East Coast.
  • CCGS Ann Harvey: This is one of ten Light icebreakers, and is based with the Newfoundland fleet. She has been working off the northeast coast, and was stuck for a while last week.
  • CCGS George R. Pearkes: This is the second of ten Light Icebreakers, and is based with the Newfoundland fleet.
  • CCGS Sir Wilfred Grenfell: An Offshore Ice Strengthened Multi Patrol Vessel. She was working along with the Harvey and the Larsen last week. She was stuck in the ice on Wednesday, but was freed the next day.

Also, the CCGS Cowley, in the same class as the Grenfell, was sent north to help, but probably isn’t going into the pack (my brother-in-law was onboard doing some work and was talking to some of the crew). I’m pretty sure other non-icebreakers are up there near the edge of the pack with food, fuel, and equipment, waiting to help ships near the eastern ice edge with fodd, water, fuel, and with damage to the ships..

Update on Weather and Ice——————————–

The wind forecasts are almost unchanged from my earlier message. Captain Penney of the Coast Guard (as read from cbc.ca) believes that much of the real progress will start Tuesday or Wednesday, after the southwesterlies have had a chance to act. My guess is that most of the emergency will be winding down by Thursday.

As of yesterdays ice analysis map the ice field is forcast to move 5 nautical miles East for the Northeast Coast and the East Coast, and much of the South Labrador Coast, unless there are islands or coast to block movement. For the Strait of Belle Isle the ice will maintain some pressure along the Newfoundland side, but not to warning status.

Here are the current ice conditions:

FICN18 CWIS 231330
Ice hazard bulletin for the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador
issued by Environment Canada at 1400 UTC Monday 23 April 2007 for
today and Tuesday.
The next scheduled bulletin will be issued at 1400 UTC Tuesday.

No warnings in effect unless noted.
Light to moderate ice pressure may occur in any ice conditions.

Ice edge estimated from Newfoundland near 4725N 5245W to 4720N 5220W
to 5005N 5250W to 5025N 5425W to 5345N 5210W to 5630N 5755W to 6200N
5840W then northeastward. Sea ice west of ice edge.

Strait of Belle Isle.
8 tenths first year ice including one tenth of old ice.

Northeast Coast.
6 tenths first year ice including one tenth of old ice.

East Coast.
Special ice warning in effect.
3 tenths first year ice including a trace of old ice within ice edge
except 9 tenths first year ice with one tenth of old ice in southern
Bonavista Bay. Bergy water elsewhere. Unusual presence of first year
ice in Trinity Bay and Conception Bay.

South Labrador Coast.
8 tenths first year ice including a trace of old ice.

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As discussed yesterday, major results from the new report on climate change have been released. This section concerns the scientific basis and conclusions of the assesment; social and political impacts and implications will be addressed later. The conclusions and predictions in the report are clearer and more compelling than ever before, and today’s press release has stirred a lot of controversy. World leaders are also struggling to address it appropriately, and having a bit of trouble.

The Policymaker’s Summary of the Physical Science Basis is a very interesting read. I’d like to highlight some of the report. Before we start, here are a few definitions:

  • Very Likely: less than a 10% chance of being wrong
  • Likely: less than a 33% chance of being incorrect
  • Very High Confidence: at least a 90% chance of being correct
  • High Confidence: at least an 80% chance of being correct

Here are the main statements in the summary:

Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years . The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.

The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report (TAR), leading to very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, …

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.

At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy
precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones (including hurricanes and typhoons).

Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to
4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.

Analysis of climate models together with constraints from observations enables an assessed likely range to be given for climate sensitivity for the first time and provides increased confidence in the understanding of the climate system response to radiative forcing.

For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

There is now higher confidence in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation, and some aspects of extremes and of ice. Some of these projections include:

  • Snow cover and permafrost are projected to be reduced
  • Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century.
  • It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.
  • Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs (there is less confidence that there will be more storms) .
  • Extra-tropical storm tracks are projected to move poleward, with consequent changes in wind, precipitation, and temperature patterns, continuing the broad pattern of observed trends over the last half-century ( for Atlantic Canada this means more rain and less snow).
  • Since the TAR there is an improving understanding of projected patterns of precipitation. Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high-latitudes, while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions , continuing observed patterns in recent trends.

Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.

One of the most interesting aspects of the summary are the figures and graphs at the end, especially the error bars. These indicate unequivocal warming, sea level rise, etc.

For me, the most compelling aspect of the report is that the climate is going to continue to warm up, even if we cap world emissions at the levels of 7 years ago. This means that my nieces and nephews may never see an iceberg pass by St. John’s harbour when they grow up. The ecology will change, fisheries will change regardless of changes in fishing practices, and copying across the pack may only be possible in northern Newfoundland. Much of Newfoundland culture is strongly linked to the sea, the land, and the weather, including things like the family going to the beach for the capelin run, families going out and picking blueberries and bakeapples in season,tobogganning and pond skating in the winter, and freezing your buns off ice-fishing for mud trout.

But the message is clearer and harder to refute than ever before, and with enough pressure the powers that be stubborn may be forced into a positive response.

For some interesting discussion of the news release, check out RealClimate.

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