Archive for December 9th, 2009


Black Carbon in Arctic Russia

December 9, 2009

{Cross-posted at the Center for American Progress’s Wonk Room.}

Of the many interesting venues offering side events, I’ve been most impressed by some of the events put on by the Bellona Foundation. You can actually stream and watch some of these events here. It’s a noisy little spot, so be warned. I’ll just give you a taste here of what a side event is like. Here’s video from the event on black carbon.

The upshot of the event is that polar and alpine regions are warming rapidly, so watching what’s going on in Russia is important. Moreover, since the arctic makes up one of the largest regions in Russia, watching black carbon is not just extremely important, it’s extremely important to Russia.

Pam Pear of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative and Elena Kobets from the Bellona Foundation noted that rapid reduction in CO2 emissions is vital to slowing arctic warming, but that simply reducing CO2 is not enough. It is prudent also to pay attention to the role of land use. In this case, black carbon (or soot, basically) plays an warming role as well, since when the black carbon lays over white snow, the carbon absorbs more light and thereby exacerbates the melting.

What then causes carbon on the snow? It results from a variety of activities, but mostly from agricultural burning and from forest fires, even though transportation, power, and industry also create this soot effect. Notably, of the forest fires creating black soot, approximately 97% begin from reckless agricultural burning. To make matters worse, underground peat fires caused by above-ground agricultural fires add to the black soot effect by emitting more greenhouse gases. (Click through the slideshow at the video stream to see graphs of this effect.)

So what we’re really talking about here is “agricultural burning,” which is a common farming practice in Russia. Indeed, the demographic data illustrates that a heavy portion of black carbon emissions can be attributed to agricultural burning in Russia itself. A smaller number of agricultural fires are started in the US and Canada, though some burning does happen in North America as well.

The team presented several proposals to help remedy this problem. One proposal is to encourage the passage of a domestic Russian law prohibiting, restricting, or at least monitoring agricultural burning. To date, there is no such law. The international community can help by applying pressure.

Secondly, the academic community could become involved in identifying the problem and devising solutions. This could occur at the scientific level, in identifying sources and causes of the problem; but it could also occur at the cultural or sociological level, since agricultural burning is partly an unjustified cultural practice.

Finally, it would help to export agricultural savvy and technology to those agricultural regions of Russia where such burning is taking place. It is a widely held view, apparently, that agricultural burning melts the permafrost and the loosens the soil, thereby making planting easier; but this can be shown in other arctic agricultural environments to be false. Knowledge sharing and capacity building could go a long way.


The Calamity Frame

December 9, 2009

One of the more remarkable lines of argument circulating around Copenhagen is that we are here to avoid “calamity.” There is evidence of this orientation almost everywhere, but for starters, it may help to read it straight from the COP15 website. Or here, watch this video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Maybe it’s just that talk of a climate calamity rolls off the tongue in poetic Nabokovian fashion, or that it is theatrical in the sense illustrated by the above video, but I suspect that there’s something more to it. I suspect instead that many people think it really matters whether climate change will in fact be calamity, that we won’t get anything done unless we’re beset with the task of saving the world.

I think it’s false that it matters whether climate change will be calamitous; and I also suspect that some of the rhetoric clouds the discourse…

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Bella of the Ball

December 9, 2009

For the uninitiated, a COP event can be intimidating. I’m telling you this because, until two days ago, I was one of those uninitiated. I’m not exactly a seasoned veteran yet, but I’ve learned a few things since the beginning of the week. I thought this short overview of the Bella Center (the conference facility where COP15 is being held) would offer some insight into goings-on here.

Check out a map of the Bella Center here and follow along…

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Pachauri on CRU Hack

December 9, 2009

Here are his statements from yesterday:

“One can only surmise that those who have carried out this act have done it with the very clear intention as to influence the process in Copenhagen – but, barring a few isolated voices, people over here are totally convinced of the solidity of the findings of the IPCC report.”

No kidding… both that the objective was to influence Copenhagen and that the parties at Copenhagen are univocal on the science.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concurs: “Nothing that has come out in the public as a result of the recent email hackings has cast doubt on the basic scientific message on climate change and that message is quite clear – that climate is changing much, much faster than we realized and we human beings are the primary cause,” Ban Ki-moon states, according to Reuters.

UPDATE: Jason Delborne, Assistant Professor at Colorado School of Mines, offers this nice analysis.