2009 Articles for Climate Change Chapter 9:
What Are Governments Doing About Climate Change
2009 Dec 15. Weather Device Also Tracks Greenhouse Gas. By KENNETH CHANG. Excerpt:
A satellite instrument designed to improve weather forecasts has
provided a wealth of data on the flow of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday.
The data also verified a mechanism in which rising temperatures increase
the rate of ocean evaporation, and the increased water vapor, also a
potent greenhouse gas, raises the earth's temperatures further.
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder - called AIRS for short - aboard NASA's
orbiting Aqua spacecraft measures temperature and cloud cover by
recording infrared emissions across the entire globe twice a day. The
data helps meteorologists predict major storms.
... "In essence, we're videotaping the atmosphere and its constituents,"
Thomas Pagano, the instrument's project manager, said at a news
conference in San Francisco during a meeting of the American Geophysical
2009 November 23. U.S. to Set Emissions Target Before Climate Talks. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON
— The United States will propose a near-term target for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions before the United Nations climate change
meeting in Copenhagen next month, a senior administration official said
Monday. President Obama, the official said, will announce the specific
target “in coming days.”
... The lack of consensus in Congress puts Mr. Obama in a tricky
domestic and diplomatic bind. He cannot promise more than Congress may
eventually deliver when it takes up climate change legislation next
year. But if he does not offer some concrete pledge, the United States
will bear the brunt of the blame for the lack of an international
2009 November 2. E.P.A. Lawyers Challenge ‘Cap and Trade’ for Climate. By Andrew C. Revkin, The NY Times. Excerpt:
When an economist at the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the
Obama administration’s stance on global warming by writing an
unsolicited report challenging the scientific consensus on greenhouse
dangers, groups fighting restrictions on greenhouse gases hailed him as
a courageous maverick. Climate campaigners said he was irrelevant and
Now two more functionaries at the agency — Laurie Williams and Allan
Zabel, who are lawyers and a married couple — have sharply criticized
the core element of climate legislation pushed by Democratic lawmakers
and President Obama.
Their views are unlikely to be welcomed by either side in the political
fight. Like the administration, they say that human-driven climate
change poses enormous risks; they just completely reject the cap and
trade system favored by Democratic leaders and some environmental
groups. This system would force overall emission reductions but allow
flexibility through a market that trades credits accrued by companies or
institutions that make extra-deep cuts.
...They argued that the trading system provides far too much leeway for
dealing in “offsets,” credits earned by avoiding or preventing emissions
of carbon dioxide. In summary, they wrote: “Together, the illusion of
greenhouse-gas reductions and the creation of powerful lobbies seeking
to protect newly created profits in permits and offsets would lock in
climate degradation for a decade or more.”...
2009 October 29. China outperforms US on green issues. By Jim Giles, NewScientist. Excerpt:
China is often accused of not doing enough to reduce the carbon dioxide
and other pollution pouring from its factories and coal-fuelled power
stations. But a new report suggests the country is doing more to tackle
climate change than it gets credit for: in fact, its environmental
standards surpass the US in some key measures.
The World Resources Institute (WRI), a respected environmental think
tank based in Washington DC, says China is on track to meet its main
climate change target, which is a 20 per cent reduction in energy
intensity – the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic
product – by the end of next year....
China is also making good progress towards its goal of generating 15 per
cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, according to
the report. By the end of the next decade it will have 150 gigawatts of
wind power installed – over five times the current US level. One in 10
Chinese homes already has solar heaters, with the number growing by
20 per cent per year....
2009 October 14. Arctic Now Traps 25 Percent of World's Carbon -- But That Could Change. USGS. Excerpt:
The arctic could potentially alter the Earth’s climate by becoming a
possible source of global atmospheric carbon dioxide. The arctic now
traps or absorbs up to 25 percent of this gas but climate change could
alter that amount, according to a study published in the November issue
of Ecological Monographs.
In their review paper, David McGuire of the U.S. Geological Survey and
the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and his colleagues show that the
Arctic has been a carbon sink since the end of the last Ice Age, which
has recently accounted for between zero and 25 percent, or up to about
800 million metric tons, of the global carbon sink. On average, says
McGuire, the Arctic accounts for 10-15 percent of the Earth’s carbon
sink. But the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic – about twice
that of lower latitudes – could eliminate the sink and instead, possibly
make the Arctic a source of carbon dioxide....
Carbon generally enters the oceans and land masses of the Arctic from
the atmosphere and largely accumulates in permafrost, the frozen layer
of soil underneath the land’s surface. Unlike active soils, permafrost
does not decompose its carbon; thus, the carbon becomes trapped in the
frozen soil. Cold conditions at the surface have also slowed the rate of
organic matter decomposition, McGuire says, allowing Arctic carbon
accumulation to exceed its release.
But recent warming trends could change this balance. Warmer temperatures
can accelerate the rate of surface organic matter decomposition,
releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of greater concern,
says McGuire, is that the permafrost has begun to thaw, exposing
previously frozen soil to decomposition and erosion. These changes could
reverse the historical role of the Arctic as a sink for carbon
2009 August 7. Glacier melt accelerating, federal report concludes. By Jim Tankersley, LA Times. Excerpt: ...Washington - The federal government Thursday released the most comprehensive study of melting glaciers in North America -- and the results show a rapid and accelerating shrinkage over the last half a century because of global warming.
One of the glaciers in the study, the South Cascade Glacier in
Washington state, has lost nearly half of its volume and a quarter of
its mass since 1958, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The two others in the study, the Wolverine and Gulkana glaciers in
Alaska, have both lost nearly 15% of their mass.
In all three cases, the melting has increased over the last two decades.
The acceleration is the result of warmer, drier climates in the Pacific
Northwest and Alaska caused by global warming, the researchers said.
"By having a 50-year record, you can look over what's going on, look
over the meteorological, climatological record, and really get an idea
of what's going on in the mountains," said Edward Josberger, a scientist
with the USGS Washington Water Science Center in Tacoma, Wash., who has
worked for a decade on the study.
"Climate change effects are starting to become more and more
noticeable," he added, "and this is one of the effects that's being
2009 July 16. NASA RELEASE : 09-167. NASA Airborne Expedition Chases Arctic Sea Ice Questions. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON -- A small NASA aircraft completed its first successful
science flight Thursday as part of an expedition to study the receding
Arctic sea ice and improve understanding of its life cycle and the
long-term stability of the Arctic ice cover. The mission continues
through July 24.
NASA's Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment, known as CASIE,
began a series of unmanned aircraft system flights in coordination with
satellites. Working with the University of Colorado and its research
partners, NASA is using the remotely-piloted aircraft to image thick,
old slabs of ice as they drift from the Arctic Ocean south through Fram
Strait -- which lies between Greenland and Svalbard, Norway -- into the
North Atlantic Ocean.
NASA's Science Instrumentation Evaluation Remote Research Aircraft, or
SIERRA, will weave a pattern over open ocean and sea ice to map and
measure ice conditions below cloud cover to as low as 300 feet.
"Our project is attempting to answer some of the most basic questions
regarding the most fundamental changes in sea ice cover in recent
years," said James Maslanik, a research professor at the University of
Colorado at Boulder, and principal investigator for the NASA mission.
"Our analysis of satellite data shows that in 2009 the amount of older
ice is just 12 percent of what it was in 1988 -- a decline of 74
percent. The oldest ice types now cover only 2 percent of the Arctic
Ocean as compared to 20 percent during the 1980s."...
2009 July 9. World powers accept warming limit. BBC News. Excerpt:
Developed and developing nations have agreed that global temperatures
should not rise more than 2C above 1900 levels, a G8 summit declaration
says. That is the level above which, the UN says, the Earth's climate
system would become dangerously unstable.
US President Barack Obama said the countries had made important strides
in dealing with climate change. But the G8 failed to persuade developing
countries to accept targets of cutting emissions by 50% by 2050. On
Wednesday, the G8 agreed its own members would work towards 80% cuts by
the same date.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the G8 had not done enough and
should also set 2020 targets. He said that while the G8's Wednesday
agreement was welcome, its leaders also needed to establish a strong and
ambitious mid-term target for emissions cuts.
...RK Pachauri, who chairs the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate
Change, praised the declaration's mention of the 2C limit but said more
details were needed.
"It certainly doesn't give you a roadmap on how you should get there but
at least they've defined the destination," he told the BBC World
Service Newshour programme.
...BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin says the declaration is a
significant step, with all big countries rich and poor agreeing there is
a scientific limit on the amount we should warm the climate. But there
is still a huge way to go, he says, as developing nations like India
will not sign up to any 2050 targets unless rich nations show more
determination and offer more cash....
2009 June 27. House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change. By JOHN M. BRODER, NY Times. Excerpt:
The 219-212 vote marked the first time that either house of Congress
has approved a bill aimed at curbing the heat-trapping gases scientists
have linked to climate change, and it could lead to sweeping changes in
2009 June 12. Climate Change Treaty, to Go Beyond the Kyoto Protocol, Is Expected by the Year’s End. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt:
The world is on track to produce a new global climate treaty by
December, the top United Nations climate official said Friday as
delegates from more than 100 nations concluded 12 days of talks in Bonn,
The delegates issued a 200-page document that they said would serve as
the starting point for treaty negotiations that open in Copenhagen in
...The goal is a climate treaty that would go beyond the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol, a climate-change agreement that set emissions targets for
industrialized nations. Many of those goals have not been met, and the
United States never ratified the accord.
The document issued Friday outlines proposals for cutting emissions of
heat-trapping gases by rich countries and limiting the growth of gases
in the developing world. It also discusses ways of preventing
deforestation, which is linked to global warming, and of providing
financing for poorer nations to help them adapt to warmer temperatures.
...environmentalists took heart from the strong involvement of many
nations, especially the United States and China, which jointly produce
40 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions. (In declining to
ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the United States cited China and
India’s lack of participation.)...
2009 April 27. Clinton Says U.S. Is Ready to Lead on Climate. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON — After eight years largely on the sidelines of the
international policy debate on climate change, the United States is
prepared to lead negotiations toward a new global warming treaty,
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.
“The United States is fully engaged and determined to lead and make up
for lost time both at home and abroad,” Mrs. Clinton told delegates from
16 countries at a State Department conference on energy and climate.
“We are back in the game.”
The meeting in Washington was the first of three planned sessions among
the participating countries, who together account for roughly 75 percent
of emissions of the gases blamed for the heating of the planet....
...Mrs. Clinton said there was no longer any question that growing
atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases were
causing a warming of the planet, with potentially catastrophic results.
She said global climate change posed environmental, economic, health and
security challenges that must be addressed by individual countries and
by the community of nations.
Speaking directly to representatives of developing nations, who are
skeptical of the motives of the United States and other industrialized
countries on the issue, Mrs. Clinton that the United States would not
seek to limit the use of energy in the developing world but would help
make it cleaner.
“We want your economies to grow,” she said as representatives of Brazil,
China, India and Indonesia listened. “We want your people to have a
higher standard of living.”...
2009 April 6. NASA RELEASE: 09-079. Satellites Show Arctic Literally on Thin Ice. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON -- The latest Arctic sea ice data from NASA and the National
Snow and Ice Data Center show that the decade-long trend of shrinking
sea ice cover is continuing. New evidence from satellite observations
also shows that the ice cap is thinning as well.
...Scientists who track Arctic sea ice cover from space announced today
that this winter had the fifth lowest maximum ice extent on record. The
six lowest maximum events since satellite monitoring began in 1979 have
all occurred in the past six years (2004-2009).
Until recently, the majority of Arctic sea ice survived at least one
summer and often several. But things have changed dramatically,
according to a team of University of Colorado, Boulder, scientists led
by Charles Fowler. Thin seasonal ice -- ice that melts and re-freezes
every year -- makes up about 70 percent of the Arctic sea ice in
wintertime, up from 40 to 50 percent in the 1980s and 1990s. Thicker
ice, which survives two or more years, now comprises just 10 percent of
wintertime ice cover, down from 30 to 40 percent.
According to researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in
Boulder, Colo., the maximum sea ice extent for 2008-09, reached on Feb.
28, was 5.85 million square miles. That is 278,000 square miles less
than the average extent for 1979 to 2000.
"Ice extent is an important measure of the health of the Arctic, but it
only gives us a two-dimensional view of the ice cover," said Walter
Meier, research scientist at the center and the University of Colorado,
Boulder. "Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it
is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover. As the ice
cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it grows more vulnerable to melting
in the summer."...
2009 February 17. New York Must Prepare for Global Warming, Mayor’s Panel Says. By Mireya Navarro, The NY Times. Excerpt:
New York City must prepare for higher temperatures, more rain and an
increased risk of coastal flooding in the coming decades as a result of
global climate change, an advisory panel said on Tuesday.
The panel, formed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to study the potential
effects of global warming on the city, said that mean annual
temperatures in New York could increase by up to 3 degrees and the
average sea levels rise by 2 to 5 inches by the 2020s. By the 2080s,
temperatures could increase by up to 7 ½ degrees, and sea levels could
rise 12 to 23 inches by the end of the century, the panel said.
...City officials said that to prepare for the expected effects of
climate change, the city should plan to keep cooling centers for people
without air-conditioning open longer during heat waves, move critical
equipment in city buildings above sea level and incorporate climate
changes into the design of buildings, among other measures.
...“Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding
an entire network after the catastrophe,” the mayor said in response to
the report. “We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been
compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”...