February 2012

Troubled oceans at the bottom of the world February 1, 2012 : 11:18 AM

Cross Posted at the Climate Reality Blog

Today we visit the Weddell Sea, which lies to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Like the rest of the Southern Ocean, the body of water that surrounds Antarctica, it is home to diverse ecosystems that are filled with unique and astonishing wildlife. And like oceans everywhere, the impacts of climate change are becoming more apparent.

As the world warms, its waters are warming, too. Increased temperatures have already led to changes in ocean life. For example, on the other side of the Peninsula, king crabs have invaded an area previously considered far too cold for their survival. The impact of the arrival of these predators, for the first time in millions of years, could be catastrophic for the surrounding ecosystem, which has evolved exotic and unique life forms that have no defenses against crabs.

Unfortunately, scientists are observing not only changes to the oceans’ temperature but also to its chemistry. The Weddell Sea — and the rest of the Southern Ocean — is experiencing what scientists call ocean acidification. Currently, about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released each year by human activities is absorbed by the world’s oceans. The Southern Ocean alone absorbs more than 40% of that due to the frigid temperatures of its waters. As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, the water becomes more acidic.

As one scientist described it to me, ocean acidification is the “osteoporosis” of the world’s oceans. As the ocean acidifies, the exoskeletons of marine animals become brittle and frail, just as osteoporosis weakens the bones of humans. Acidification can also affect the nervous systems, blood circulation, and breathing of fish and other animals in the sea. In other parts of the world, acidification may cause tissue damage in economically important species of fish, threaten the survival of rare or endangered shellfish, and reduce the number of species in coral reefs. If left unchecked, this fundamental alteration to ocean chemistry has the potential to threaten the livelihood and food security of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide.

And, what does this mean for us? About 1 billion people in the world rely on fish and shellfish as their primary source of dietary protein. By one estimate, the effect of acidification on mollusks alone (animals such as oysters and clams) could cost the world tens of billions of dollars by the end of the century. Some researchers have called acidification “one of the most critical anthropogenic threats to marine life.”

The climate crisis is a problem of multiple dimensions. Rising ocean temperatures alone have the potential to disrupt the web of life in the ocean. Acidifying oceans, a result of the same carbon dioxide pollution that is warming our planet, are magnifying the problem even further.


The fate of the Adelie Penguins February 2, 2012 : 3:17 PM

Cross Posted at the Climate Reality Blog

Today, we continue our voyage down the West Antarctic Peninsula. We are visiting Palmer Station, one of Antarctica’s world-class scientific research centers. The scientists here are among the unsung heroes who study how changes in Antarctica’s climate interact with changes taking place across the world.

As temperatures rise along the West Antarctic Peninsula and the winter sea ice blankets the ocean three months fewer per year than 30 years ago, the local ecosystem is in danger. Everything from the base of the food chain — the phytoplankton (microscopic plants and bacteria) and krill (shrimp like creatures), to one of the continent’s most iconic inhabitants, the Adelie penguins, are under threat.

In recent years, the loss of sea ice in this part of Antarctica has led to a dramatic decline in the phytoplankton and devastated the krill. As a result, the population of Adelie penguins has declined 80% in the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula over the past 30 years.
There is an important lesson for us in the story of the Adelie penguins. In Antarctica, as elsewhere, subtle changes in the local environment can have devastating impacts on all the living beings that depend on it. As the global climate continues to change, we can expect to hear different versions of these kinds of impacts many times over.


Antarctic glaciers and the global water crisis February 3, 2012 : 4:32 PM

Cross Posted at the Climate Reality Blog

Today, our journey takes us to Neko Harbor, one of the prime locations in this region to view glaciers. These towering walls of ice are a majestic sight, and a humbling reminder of the fragility of the natural systems that human beings depend upon for life as we know it.

As we began our journey, I wrote about the threats we face as Antarctica’s glaciers melt and the world’s oceans rise. Yet beyond the physical impacts that rising seas pose to coastlines, glaciers are important for many other reasons. We need them in order to preserve one of the basic necessities of life: clean drinking water.

Let’s take a step back. As the global population tops 7 billion, nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. The climate crisis could make this problem worse.

As sea levels rise, saltwater can contaminate sources of freshwater near coastal cities and towns. When too much saltwater seeps into lakes, rivers or the soil, the water becomes undrinkable and unusable for agriculture.

Nearly 635 million people – one out of every 10 people in the world today – live in low-lying coastal areas that are susceptible to inundation and disruption of the water supply.

Saltwater intrusion has already affected the Shandong Province in China, and water resources on the Caribbean Islands. In the United States, the water supplies of both San Francisco and New York City could be compromised as sea levels rise and the salty oceans intrude on the drinking water.

But the impact of melting glaciers does not end with rising seas. Glaciers also make up the primary water supply in several mountainous parts of the world. In the Andes, shrinking glaciers could impact the water supply for millions of people. The Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto depend on glaciers for about a third of their water supply.

From the ice melting in Antarctica, to rising sea levels flooding Bangladesh, to the prospect of a compromised drinking water supply in New York City, the world’s glaciers tie together our greatest challenges of the 21st century. This is a problem that binds all of us together, wherever we live. That’s why it’s incumbent upon all of us to solve the climate crisis.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh Calls for Action on the Climate Crisis February 4, 2012 : 12:39 PM

Today, as we return from Antarctica through the Drake Passage, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh called the National Geographic Explorer to talk about the very real impacts of the climate crisis that are already affecting her country. In her eloquent remarks, the Prime Minister described the new reality facing her people. Climate change has already displaced thousands of people in her country. It is also affecting millions more because of the increased severity of storms and flooding.

The Prime Minister concluded her remarks with an impassioned call for action by reminding us that, "we are all passengers in the same lifeboat."


Reflections on Antarctica February 6, 2012 : 11:27 AM

It is difficult to describe the incredible experiences we have shared over the past week. From enduring the awesome power of the Drake Passage to taking in the full beauty of places like Danco Island and becoming transfixed by the teaming ocean wildlife, I am transformed, yet again, by this beautiful continent.

In addition to exploring the penguin colonies, glaciers, icebergs and viewing the seabirds, seals, whales, and more along the way, we learned a great deal about how the climate crisis is affecting the ice and the entire food chain on the Antarctic Peninsula from scientists onboard the ship and at Palmer Station.

One of the participants onboard said that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a personal experience is worth a thousand pictures. I couldn’t agree more.

Over the coming weeks, we will share more of the images that we collected along this journey. In the meantime, I encourage you to learn more about how climate change is affecting you in your hometown, recommit yourselves to solving this important problem and to join us at climaterealityproject.org.


It's About the Climate February 13, 2012 : 2:05 PM

In the next few days, the U.S. Senate will vote to determine the fate of a pipeline that would link a vast tar sands deposit in Alberta, Canada to refineries on theTexas Gulf Coast. The construction of the pipeline has been blocked once byPresident Obama who refused to buckle to pressure from Congress and industry to cut short the environmental review. Unfortunately, they are at it again.

If approved and built, this pipeline, Keystone XL, would carry the most carbon-intensive source of oil on the planet.

For the next 24 hours, The Climate Reality Project is joining with 350.org, the Sierra Club, NRDC, MoveOn.org and many others to garner 500,000 signatures in a community-wide effort against the pipeline. Bill McKibben, of 350.org will be on The Colbert Report tonight and will update the world of our progress - so sign now, and then pass it on. We’ve come together before to stop production of this dangerous pollutant - and with your help, we can do it again:

Join me in telling the U.S. Senate to say NO to one of the most carbon-intensive oil on the planet:



150 Billion Tons February 15, 2012 : 5:21 PM

New research finds the world's glaciers and ice caps have lost 150 billion tons of ice since 2003

“Melting glaciers and ice caps are perhaps the most striking illustrations of the effects of global climate change. Surprisingly, however, there is relatively little data on just how fast the ice is disappearing.”

“Now, a new paper from researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, offers the most up-to-date and comprehensive numbers on glacier and ice cap melt worldwide. The research, published in the journal Nature, calculates that from 2003 to 2010, the world’s glaciers and ice caps lost about 150 billion tons of ice each year. This ice loss was responsible for an average rise of four-tenths of a millimeter in sea level every year over the eight-study period.”

“The new numbers come from measurements made by the two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, or Grace, a joint project of NASA and German scientists. The tandem satellites, which are usually 137 miles apart, are sensitive to regional changes in the Earth’s mass and gravitational pull caused by the distribution of water and ice on the planet.”

Source: New York Times-Green Blog


Leaked Documents Reveal Industry Funded Plan to Discredit Climate Science February 16, 2012 : 8:38 AM

DeSmogBlog revealed yesterday new documents from the Heartland Institute which reveal an industry funded campaign to undermine the climate campaign. As reported by Justin Gillis and Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times:

"Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching ofglobal warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars."

"The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called theHeartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said."

"While the documents offer a rare glimpse of the internal thinking motivating the campaign against climate science, defenders of science education were preparing for battle even before the leak. Efforts to undermine climate-science instruction are beginning to spread across the country, they said, and they fear a long fight similar to that over the teaching of evolution in public schools."

In a statement, the Heartland Institute acknowledged that some of its internal documents had been stolen. But it said its president had not had time to read the versions being circulated on the Internet on Tuesday and Wednesday and was therefore not in a position to say whether they had been altered.

"Heartland did declare one two-page document to be a forgery, although its tone and content closely matched that of other documents that the group did not dispute. In an apparent confirmation that much of the material, more than 100 pages, was authentic, the group apologized to donors whose names became public as a result of the leak."

"The documents included many details of the group’s operations, including salaries, recent personnel actions and fund-raising plans and setbacks. They were sent by e-mail to leading climate activists this week by someone using the name “Heartland insider” and were quickly reposted to many climate-related Web sites."

"Heartland said the documents were not from an insider but were obtained by a caller pretending to be a board member of the group who was switching to a new e-mail address. “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes,” the organization said."

"Although best-known nationally for its attacks on climate science, Heartland styles itself as a libertarian organization with interests in a wide range of public-policy issues. The documents say that it expects to raise $7.7 million this year."

"The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions."

"Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns."

"The documents also show that the group has received money from some of the nation’s largest corporations, including several that have long favored action to combat climate change."

"The documents typically say that those donations were earmarked for projects unrelated to climate change, like publishing right-leaning newsletters on drug and technology policy. Nonetheless, several of the companies hastened on Wednesday to disassociate themselves from the organization’s climate stance."

“We absolutely do not endorse or support their views on the environment or climate change,” said Sarah Alspach, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational drug company shown in the documents as contributing $50,000 in the past two years to support a medical newsletter."

"A spokesman for Microsoft, another listed donor, said that the company believes that “climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate worldwide action.” The company is shown in the documents as having contributed $59,908 last year to a Heartland technology newsletter. But the Microsoft spokesman, Mark Murray, said the gift was not a cash contribution but rather the value of free software, which Microsoft gives to thousands of nonprofit groups."

"Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Heartland documents was what they did not contain: evidence of contributions from the major publicly traded oil companies, long suspected by environmentalists of secretly financing efforts to undermine climate science."

"But oil interests were nonetheless represented. The documents say that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation contributed $25,000 last year and was expected to contribute $200,000 this year. Mr. Koch is one of two brothers who have been prominent supporters of libertarian causes as well as other charitable endeavors. They control Koch Industries, one of the country’s largest private companies and a major oil refiner."

"The documents suggest that Heartland has spent several million dollars in the past five years in its efforts to undermine climate science, much of that coming from a person referred to repeatedly in the documents as “the Anonymous Donor.” A guessing game erupted Wednesday about who that might be."

"The documents say that over four years ending in 2013, the group expects to have spent some $1.6 million on financing the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an entity that publishes periodic reports attacking climate science and holds lavish annual conferences. (Environmental groups refer to the conferences as “Denialpalooza.”)"

"Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

"It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however."

"The National Center for Science Education, a group that has had notable success in fighting for accurate teaching of evolution in the public schools, has recently added climate change to its agenda in response to pleas from teachers who say they feel pressure to water down the science."

"Mark S. McCaffrey, programs and policy director for the group, which is in Oakland, Calif., said the Heartland documents revealed that “they continue to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is none.”


The Fox Effect February 16, 2012 : 1:10 PM

There is no media outlet that has made more of an effort to mislead its viewers about the climate crisis than Fox News. But we all know their faulty coverage does not stop there.

Now David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt from Media Matters have written a significant new portrait of the network. Using memoranda leaked from inside the company, and most significantly, Fox’s own on air behavior, they tell the story, beginning on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, of how the network manipulated the 2010 election and our nation’s discourse during the first years of the Obama administration.

Nancy Pelosi wrote:

“Media Matters tells the truth–and then spreads the truth far and wide. They are a leading and effective voice in combating misinformation. This latest book, by founder David Brock, makes clear the threat that incendiary journalism poses to our democracy.”

I could not agree more.

You can buy The Fox Effect today by clicking here.


More Wind Energy February 17, 2012 : 3:44 PM

Britain opened the largest offshore windfarm on the planet last week:

“The new energy secretary, Lib Dem MP Ed Davey, will face down the growing army of renewable power critics inside the coalition by making his first major outing a visit to a wind project.”

“He will open the world's biggest offshore windfarm on Thursday – the £1.2bn Walney scheme, off Cumbria, with more than 100 turbines generating enough power for 320,000 homes.”

“Davey said: "Britain has a lot to be proud of in our growing offshore wind sector. Our island's tremendous natural resource, our research base and a proud history of engineering make this the No 1 destination for investment in offshore wind.”

Source: The Guardian


Christiana Figueres Describes Her Antarctic Experience February 21, 2012 : 8:35 PM

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, writes about our trip to Antarctica on the Climate Reality Blog:

“Recently, I left the comfort of my office at the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, Germany, to join Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project expedition to Antarctica. As the head of the UN agency which supports the global climate change negotiations, I mostly get to see meeting rooms and people in smart suits. This mission would take me to one of the roughest corners of the planet, so you can imagine my excitement and trepidation.”

Read Christiana’s entire post by clicking here.


Green Jobs February 24, 2012 : 5:44 PM

There has been an effort among some climate deniers to deny the existence of green jobs. Once again they are proven wrong:

“More than 1.1 million people have jobs in Europe's renewable energy sector, according to new figures released from EurObserv'ER, a renewable energy tracking project supported by the European Commission.”

“The numbers, which don’t even account for the massive boom in renewables development in 2011, show a 25 percent increase in employment between 2009 and 2010, bringing documented jobs in the renewable energy sector throughout Europe to 1,144,000.”

Source: Climate Progress


Keep Climate Denial Out of the Schools February 28, 2012 : 1:59 PM

Maggie Fox, CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection writes:

“Do you think schools should teach our children that climate change isn’t real?”

“Of course not. But the Heartland Institute, an organization well-known for giving a microphone to climate science deniers, now wants to bring this false message into America’s classrooms.”

“As their President and CEO just admitted, they are writing a “global warming curriculum” that would say climate science isn’t settled. They’d like our teachers to claim we just don’t know if humans are changing our climate.”

“This plan is outrageous on its face. As you well know, the science behind climate change is not controversial — it is a reality. Scientists know that climate change is happening, and we are beginning to see the impacts with our own eyes. It would be the height of irresponsibility to urge our schools to teach something known to be untrue.”

View the video here.

Read her entire post by clicking here.


Sustainable Capitalism February 29, 2012 : 7:26 PM

Earlier this month, Generation Investment Management, a firm I co-founded along with David Blood, released a white paper on the importance of sustainable capitalism. The White Paper defines Sustainable Capitalism as a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value creation by reforming markets to address the real needs of all stakeholders while considering all costs. The challenges facing the planet today are unprecedented and extraordinary; climate change, water scarcity, poverty, growing inequality of income and wealth, demographic shifts, and a global economy in a state of constant dramatic volatility and flux, to name but a few. While governments and civil society will need to be part of the solution to these challenges, ultimately it will be companies and investors that will mobilize the capital needed to overcome them. We hope that the White Paper helps to re-energize the discourse around Sustainable Capitalism, and informs a discussion around the concrete steps that will be required to achieve real change by 2015.

The White Paper presents five key actions for immediate adoption, which have the potential to accelerate the transition towards Sustainable Capitalism

If you'd like to read the white paper from Generation, click here.