Archive for May, 2007


Thursday, May 24th, 2007

In this post, I want to focus a bit more on one particular aspect of the carbon and climate problem: Coal. While it’s true that dealing with coal will not, by itself, solve the carbon problem, it is equally true that not dealing with coal will severely limit the opportunities to effectively safeguard the climate.

What exactly is the problem with coal? Well, for starters, coal accounts for about 25% of today’s global energy demand. And because coal contains significantly more carbon per unit energy than either oil or natural gas, it accounts for nearly 40% of all carbon emissions to the atmosphere. In addition, coal is cheap, and both the U.S. and China have enormous domestic reserves, making it even more attractive when concerns over energy security take hold of the political debate. (more…)


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Working Group III’s (WG-III) contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report, “Mitigation of Climate Change,” earlier this month with the Summary for Policymakers and the pre-copy edit chapters. The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing last week with four WG-III lead authors. Let me address some questions policymakers may have about climate change policy and how the IPCC WG-III report addresses them.

How should we choose a goal? (more…)


Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Is climate change a national security threat? A month ago, a panel of retired military leaders said that it was. Two weeks ago, the Congress agreed and asked for a National Intelligence Estimate to be made of the national security implications of climate change. The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, endorsed this suggestion. So have environmentalists. Even Al Gore, when testifying before the Senate on climate change last March, used war analogies to provoke the Senate into action.

Recalling the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, Congressman Edward Markey, head of the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, told the Congress last week:

“Drought caused famine. Famine caused food relief. Food relief caused warlords to fight over it. The warlords’ fighting caused the U.S. to intervene, and 19 U.S. fighting men were killed.” (more…)


Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Summer reading opportunities abound for anyone interested climate change. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report includes recently released contributions from Working Group I on the science of climate change (with a Summary for Policy Makers, Technical Summary, and individual chapters now available), from Working Group II on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability (WG-II SPM), and from Working Group III on climate change mitigation (WG-III SPM).

For anyone looking for an engaging overview of climate change, I’d strongly recommend The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate (Cambridge University Press, 2006) by Andrew Dessler and Edward Parson. I recently reviewed the book for BAMS (you can download my review here) and found it to be one of the most readable overviews that I’ve seen.

Climate Management 101 — 1. A portfolio of approaches and solutions.

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Climate Management 101 — 1. A portfolio of approaches and solutions.

When I worked at NASA most of the scientists had the following statement in their position description, “Solving complex problems with no known solutions.” I’m sure that most of us just looked at this as a set of words contrived in the distance past by human resources. Ultimately I ended up a manager, and by my nature, a student of management. This is first of a series of blogs that consider the “climate change problem” as the management of a complex problem with no known solution.

At the beginning of addressing such a problem, it is important to take an inventory of what you know, and to separate what you know from what you believe and what you think should happen. In the inventory of what you know it is necessary to identify the external factors or communities that are related to or have a vested interest in your problem. For climate change, these externalities would include, for example, energy, public health, and religion. It is also useful to place your problem into the set of similar scale problems, for example, control and treatment of AIDS. This leads to the identification of a system of strongly and weakly interrelated problems, which are each to their own, also complex systems. (more…)