Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Goin' on down to Durban

In the world of the educated Leisure Classes, there are two "approved" methods for "problem-solving."  One is to build an organizational bureaucracy (whose primary function is fundraising) that includes a headquarters—complete with an interpretative center for "educational outreach."  The other is to hold regular conferences.  Both approaches demonstrate an utter lack of imagination so we can safely assume both will last forever as the top two strategies of the unimaginative.

And so we see gathering in Durban South Africa of the folks charged with formulating a "solution" to climate change.  It would probably be out of order to suggest such heresy, but perhaps one way of demonstrating seriousness about climate problems would be to cancel a meeting in one of the more remote cities of the world where delegates from nearly 200 countries must fly to attend.  Except for the opportunities to schmooze, there is nothing that will happen in Durban that couldn't have been as easily accomplished on the Internet.  But hey, no one's going to miss jet fuel when it's gone so let's burn it up going to a party for the professionally grim—amirite folks?

Institutional Analysis suggests that the most likely "triumph" at Durban will be an agreement to hold another conference.  After all, if your primary skillset is organizing and attending conferences, it is a pretty sure thing you will try to keep them happening forever.

Apparently I am not the only person who grows tired of partying as a substitute for actual progress on a serious problem.  Note the tone of the questions in the interview of the German Environment Minister below.  The Germans are probably the most environmentally aware folks on the planet.  The responses of Norbert Röttgen are often pretty damn thoughtful considering he is a member of a Conservative government.  Close your eyes and try to imagine the Newt of Gingrich saying something remotely as interesting—and he gets the big money for his intellectual advice.  (sigh)

I am also including a couple of stories that are good examples of how people behave when they are actually solving problems.  There IS a difference!

German Environment Minister
'Our Lifestyle Has Revolved Around a Dangerous Egotism'

In a SPIEGEL interview, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, 46, discusses the United Nations climate summit in Durban, South Africa, the West's ecological deficit and the halting efforts for Germany to abandon nuclear plants and shift almost entirely to renewable energy sources.  11/28/2011

SPIEGEL: Minister Röttgen, negotiators and ministers from nearly 200 countries are currently on their way to the climate summit in Durban, South Africa -- but it is already clear that the conference will not lead to the approval of binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Is global climate policy on the verge of failure?

Röttgen: No, but it is in a difficult situation. In many countries there is a diminishing willingness to accept binding regulations for climate protection. Meanwhile, climate change continues unabated. The gap between the two continues to widen, and this worries me.

SPIEGEL: Is there any point at all in traveling to the conference in Durban? 
Röttgen: It is definitely worth the effort. The entire process is a marathon. We only have one forum for debate on global climate protection -- and that is the United Nations. 
SPIEGEL: So the message from Durban will be: Nice that we talked with each other? 
Röttgen: No, the message will hopefully be that we have taken a step forward. The summit is about finding out whether the emerging nations in particular are prepared to engage in a process that will ultimately lead to submitting to a reduction regime for carbon dioxide emissions. It's also about keeping the tenets of the Kyoto Protocol alive, although no second period has been established for commitments. 
SPIEGEL: The International Energy Agency recently announced that it now predicts that the Earth's temperature will rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) if carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate. Isn't it about time you admitted that the 2 degree Celsius goal pursued by the international community is no longer attainable? 
Röttgen: It is still not too late. We still haven't reached the point of no return, where climate change can no longer be stopped. There is a chance that we can limit the extent of climate change. 
SPIEGEL: Where do you get your optimism? Last year, more greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere than ever before in the history of mankind. 
Röttgen: We still haven't managed to disengage economic growth from the production of greenhouse gases, and this is one of the great problems of our time. My message, though, is that the world has not yet missed this opportunity. 
SPIEGEL: Who bears responsibility for the disappointing results of global climate policy? 
Röttgen: A decisive role is played by the big emitters: the United States, China and India. The political situation in the US prevents the enactment of federal climate legislation and US President Barack Obama has no domestic political mandate for climate protection. China is doing a good deal on the domestic front, but for political reasons is hesitating to make international commitments -- and India is afraid of curbing its economic growth if it commits to CO2 reductions. 
SPIEGEL: In your opinion, why is there such resistance in the US to climate protection policies? 
Röttgen: First, the US currently faces enormous competition from China, and there is the fear that every climate protection objective will lead to a competitive disadvantage. Second, the American way of life is very strongly rooted in individual freedom and consumption, which makes it difficult to push through a lifestyle based on resource conservation and efficiency. Climate protection is not a winning political issue in the US. This holds true for the Republicans, but is now also fairly widespread among the Democrats. more
Of course, no one is more vulnerable to climate change than farmers.  Just remember, moving a factory is a lot of work but it happens all the time.  Moving a farm, on the other hand, is by definition impossible because it is attached to land.  So if your farm was built to grow corn and the climate changes so you can no longer grow corn, all that capital investment becomes worthless (and countless other vulnerabilities that climate change brings to agriculture.)
American farmers rethink their ways in the face of climate change
The American Midwest is a breadbasket to the world, which makes climatic disruptions there a concern for all. Fortunately, the region's farmers aren't sitting by passively as the challenges to their trade begin to mount.

The United States is pivotal to the global food supply. It provides around half the world's corn exports and nearly a third of wheat exports
When the 2010 Russian heat wave hit the world's fifth largest grain producer it sent international prices soaring. A similar event in the US would be catastrophic. 
For many years, farmers in the Midwest of America have been exposed to warmer springs and more humid summers. While shifting weather patterns have to some extent helped to boost crop yields, they have also heralded trouble ahead. 
Scientists are warning farmers to brace themselves for more frequent and intense rainstorms - particularly in the spring when their soil and newly planted crops are at their most vulnerable.

"One of the most robust changes over the last 40 years has been the increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events," Iowa State University climatologist Gene Takle told Deutsche Welle. "For instance, we see lot of 5-inch (12.7 cm) rains now." 
That's bad news in a region where the soils can only absorb 1.25 inches from sudden downpours. Instead of soaking into the ground, the excess water runs across the landscape causing erosion and leeching away important nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. 
Double whammy 
Rainy weather can bring more headaches to farmers than just washing away soil.

Moisture in the air in Iowa and the surrounding region has increased 13 percent over the past 30 years. Greater nighttime humidity means dew stays on crops longer. 
"It comes earlier in the evening and lasts longer in the morning," Takle said. "And that creates more favorable conditions for pests, pathogens, molds, fungus, toxins and so on." 
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Laboratory Director and Supervisory Plant Physiologist Jerry Hatfield told Deutsche Welle that plants exposed to both meteorological impacts and pest plagues are getting a "double whammy." 
Gray leaf spot, white mold, sudden death syndrome, mycotoxin infestations, stem rust, soybean mosaic virus and crazy top and common smut are just a few of the exotic crop diseases that have moved into the Midwest as a result of warmer, wetter weather, he says. more
This is one suggestion of many to address the problem of how to store renewable energy.  My favorite is still the production of ammonium nitrate but I am open to whatever works.
Methane proves a promising 'battery' for clean energy

The energy of tomorrow is renewable, but fluctuating supply underscores the need for new ways to store wind and solar power. Researchers in Germany say transforming excess clean power into gas could be one way forward.

The solar and wind energy sectors are booming. In 2010, new solar panels installed on rooftops in Germany generated a combined 8 gigawatts of energy. That exceeds the production capacity of the seven nuclear power plants most recently taken offline in the country.

Wind power has even more potential. According to German government's energy policy roadmap, coastal wind parks should start feeding at least 25 gigawatts of power into the grid by 2030.

If the weather were breezy and sunny every Sunday in Germany, the country wouldn't need any other power sources to meet its energy needs for the day. 
Of course, not every day is a breezy, sunny Sunday. Changing weather patterns keep the supply of wind and solar power inconsistent.
That raises some key questions. What if the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining? What happens to the energy supply overnight or during rainy months, like November? 
Nature's energy reserves aren't always reliable, and that makes viable power storage options all the more important. So far, researchers have struggled to develop economical technologies that facilitate long-term storage of large amounts of power. 
The capacity of pumped-storage hydroelectricity, which preserves power through pumping water from lower reservoirs to higher elevations, is still largely inefficient in Germany and abroad. For other forms of energy storage, such as batteries, the costs are still too high. 
Yet some see a promising solution in gas. more

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