Monthly Archives: February 2012

Grist compilation of posts on climate change and politics

One site to visit, links to more than five posts that may make your head explode. It’s “Climate Primer: Global Warming Made Scintillating” at Grist:  Romney’s and other Republican candidates’ dismaying views on climate change, Bill McKibben’s welcome advice on how to fight cynicism (get angry), and more. I’m not counting a parody sketch with celebrities brainstorming climate initiatives for the Clinton Foundation (Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig, Ted Danson, Matt Damon, and others ). It’s clever but offers nothing.


Tsunami debris tracked with buoys

Check out the blog about all things science in Hawai’i, by veteran environmental reporter and columnist Jan TenBruggencate. It’s called Raising Islands. A January post details a combination high-tech (satellite-tracking buoys) and low-tech (wooden blocks with identifying information) method of finding out where the debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami is drifting. The idea to deploy buoys and blocks was developed by a team of researchers from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawai’i. The post suggests that the debris had not hit the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as early as predicted because of a stationary front to the southwest of Midway that was keeping the debris well north of the atoll. The post tells you how to report   any of the wooden blocks you find on the shore or from a boat.

Can we win arguments with climate deniers?

Should we make the effort to counter those who flat-out deny the reality of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming? David Roberts at Grist thinks it’s a waste of time to try to persuade climate-change contrarians; but take heart, he says. They will die off, and sooner rather than later, given their age. He cites the effect of “cohort reduction“: social change comes about when leaders of an organization, culture, or profession give way to those in the next generation who have different beliefs and values and new frameworks of thought. Because the deniers are for the most part older white conservative men, this is the best hope for those of us who recognize how close the world is to the climate tipping point. He notes,  “People rarely change their minds, especially about matters core to ideology and identity. But they do die!”

Despite the provocative headline and opening gambit, Roberts knows that we can’t wait for this cohort to be replaced. They can do too much damage, as witnessed by the leaked plans of the nonprofit group the Heartland Institute to undermine teaching about global warming in public schools. If the group’s plans to insert any part of this body of non-evidence and pseudo-science into the curriculum succeeded and climate change was discredited, the aging cohort’s denialism would live on after their demise, just as science educators still have to fight attempts to require the teaching of the unscientific theory of creationism.

There’s no time to waste while waiting for the shift to happen through attrition, especially given the funding available to the deniers and the dysfunctional Congress that supports their cause. Roberts recommends several actions climate hawks should take: ratchet up the intensity of argument, build political coalitions, organize those who have shown they “get” climate change,  and don’t spend any effort on arguing with a group “unmoored from reality.” (Roberts describes in more detail how we can  mitigate the damage done by these contrarians in a 2011 Grist post.)

To this I’ll add the opportunities for the non-scientists among us to become knowledgeable about climate change through films and DVDs, books and blogs, and courses like Open Climate 101, a course taught at the University of Chicago by David Archer that the university has made available on line for free. Watch a video lecture and read a sample chapter from his text at the Dot Earth blog; then go to the course website to register for free.

Hawai’i’s Single-Use Bag Law Gains Momentum

Bringing it home to Hawai'i legislators

A coalition of environmental groups held a rally at the state capitol Feb. 9 before a senate committee heard testimony in favor of a bill aimed at drastically reducing both plastic and paper bags by charging 10 cents (an “offset fee” rather than a tax or levy) on all single-use bags at checkout. Read about it and see a picture of the plastic-bag monster on the Sierra Club Scrapbook blog. Volunteers littered the Capitol lawn with 400 bags, representing the average number one person uses annually (for less than 15 minutes, on average). It certainly got legislators’ attention (“What’s up with the bags on the lawn?”), and about 50 people testified at the hearing.

As with plastic-bag laws elsewhere, the goal is to change people’s mindset, so that they get used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or ABC store. If  they forget their bags, they will take fewer  because of the fee–and refuse all double-bagging. Because this is not a bag ban, revenue will be generated by those who use bags provided by merchants–perhaps as much as $20 million per year, which would go toward restoring and protecting the state’s much-threatened watersheds and rainforest areas. As the  Sierra Club’s Robert Harris points out, if people get used to bringing their own shopping bags, there won’t be as much money available, but that will  be a sign that the law is working and that plastic pollution is being significantly cut. This helps the environment, but in a different way. The law could come to a vote in a few weeks; if it passes, it could become a national model.

Keystone XL Pipeline may be back: Bill McKibben on the Colbert Report

If you get action emails from Move On,, or NRDC, you know about the “undead” Keystone pipeline, and may have been one of the 700,000+ signers of the petition against bringing it back to life. You may have missed Bill McKibben, co-founder of, on the Colbert Report Feb. 13  Check out Bill’s third attempt to enlist Stephen in the fight to make climate change a top-tier issue. He was jailed after a protest at the White House, which led to Obama’s decision to shelve the Keystone XL pipeline for now; Senate Republicans have brought it back to life by introducing an amendment to a transportation bill, which led to the emergency petition and signature drive. The segment is embedded on Rolling Stone online; or watch it with more context on the Huffington Post Green blog.

Tsunami Debris Warnings Highlights What’s Already Here, and Growing

If you live in Hawai’i or on the West Coast you’ve probably seen those  aerial photos of a giant field of debris washed into the ocean by the Japan tsunami of March 2011. You may have read about an anticipated “barrage” of debris and of trash likely to be “dumped” on our shores beginning in 2012 and continuing, according to vagaries of wind and currents, to 2016, when the by-then widely dispersed debris circles back from the West Coast to the main Hawaiian islands. Given the long timeline and the lack of experience managing  such a massive and unprecedented “spill,” the damage may turn out like the two most recent tsunami warnings — much less dramatic than expected. NOAA is preparing for either case, worse than expected or better, with the debris breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces that disperse, sparing coastal areas. The intense planning currently under way will not be wasted, however, even if the debris that started out in Japan does not hit all at once. It will eventually end up in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre with its so-called garbage patch and thus is sure to contribute to the oceans of trash that already litter our seacoasts. The source of this trash? That would be all of us. According to the Ocean Conservancy, the tsunami “is just a small part of the overall ocean trash problem”; our throwaway society creates a tsunami’s worth every year, much of it in plastic form.
NOAA Official on the Tsunami Debris
Hawai’i’s marine debris community was briefed this week about efforts to track and deal with the potentially big problem by Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. From her report, and the Marine Debris Website FAQs,  there is not much new since my last post on the topic; no one knows when and where items known to be from the tsunami will wash up ashore as there’s no tracking data, only computer models (the debris has not been visible to satellites since April 2011). We also don’t know how much of it is still on the surface, and how much has sunk or degraded.
Because there has never been a situation like this–an unknown but presumably huge quantity of broken-up buildings, boats, cars, and appliances washed out to sea and caught up by unpredictable currents and wind–NOAA and other government agencies have had to draw on the techniques developed for dealing with the debris that washes up on coastlines in normal times; with this experience they have created the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Assessment and Response Framework. The team–representatives from 40 agencies and organizations–met at a workshop in January to plan for identifying, measuring, and cleaning up the debris from the tsunami and perhaps even to prevent some of it from reaching some endangered places such as the slow-growing coral reefs of Kure in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
There’s an App for That
Part of the plan is to step up the measuring and identifying of debris that currently reaches our shores, and Morishige called on nonprofits that regularly conduct beach clean-ups and then separate and weigh components of the trash to contribute their data. TheNOAA unit wants to have a baseline record before anything comes in from the tsunami. Individuals can also contribute using a mobile phone app, the Marine Debris Tracker. You can track and log items you see when you’re at the beach or in a boat on the water; GPS records the debris location.
Be Part of the Solution, not Part of the Problem

The reason there is a network of agencies and organizations working to meet the challenge–and why NOAA has had a Marine Debris Program since 2006–is that Hawai’i, the East, West, and Gulf coasts of the US, and the Great Lakes all have a debris problem. Cutting down on single-use plastic–utensils, checkout bags, bottled water, straws–could make a real dent in this problem if everyone reused or, better, refused these items. As the Ocean Conservancy website says, ocean pollution is a massive problem, but it is “entirely preventable.” Keep watching the tabs at the top for what you can do to reduce the amount of trash entering the ocean.

Hawai’i’s Single-Use Bag Law Gets a Hearing

The fee would apply to paper as well as plastic, so it’s a paper-and-plastic bag, or single-use checkout bag law. The committee hearing is Thursday, February 9. If it passes, it will be the first state-wide law in the country.