Friday, July 31, 2009

Pakistan's Supreme Court understands how laws apply to leaders - and we could learn from them!

What does it say about America's commitment to the rule of law, and our Constitution, that Pakistan's Supreme Court can rule that Gen. Musharif's imposition of Martial LAw in 2007 was unconstitutional - setting him for a trial on treason charges - yet here in the U.S. we won't (volitionally) even empanel a grand jury to look at whether the Bush Administration authorized torture in violation of U.S. federal law and international treaty?

Who is teaching whom about democracy, exactly?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Skepticism @ Quiche Moraine

Over at Quiche Moraine, Stephanie Z is elicudating a trend that underlies many challenegs in America today - the lack of sketicism as an approach to life. As is always the case with her writing, it's worth reading.

Let's get rid of the Beltway Mentality

Glenn Greenwald is right when he says, of our modern politicians and media:

Dispensing with core Constitutional principles in the name of "practical considerations" -- and treating ludicrous, bad faith claims with respect -- creates a facade of reasonableness. But there's nothing reasonable about
it. It's intellectually barren and, worse, is the prime enabler for why our political leaders stray so far and so frequently from those principles. It's why they break the law with impunity and know they can. The Bill of Rights and the rule of law aren't like modifications to the tax code or compromises over the stimulus package. They're in a fundamentally different category. The failure to recognize that category is a defining attribute of the Beltway sickness and is a prime reason why Washington so frequently degrades and destroys whatever it touches.
He's wrong abou tone thing, however, and it's a labeling issue.See, like many pundits, commentators, and thoughtful journalists (a.k.a. Bill Moyers), Glenn refers to this as a Beltway Mentality. Its a phrase of convenicne, meant to excoriate politicians in Washington D.C. located inside the Capitol Beltway (I-495). I get that. The thng is - I live and work insdie that same beltway, in a federal executive agency. Yet I do not share the outlook, ideaology, or platfrom of those oligarchs. And I' appreciate it if Mr. Greenwald would consider inventing an dpopularizing a new term - Capitol Mentality, Congressional Mentality, American Oligarch Mentality - something pithy and succinct, but which leave out the character and world views of everyone else who lives and works inside the Beltway. That way, the focus will be on the people (and their words and deeds) who are really the responsible parties.

Thanks Glenn, I know you will come through.

David Ignatius the excoriates the Security Culture: Or how to talk from both sides of your mouth

Over at the Washington Post, David Ignatius is busy today trying to talk out of the other side of his mouth. He’s writing about the “security culture” that now pervades our nation’s capitol, and to a lesser extent the rest of the nation. His prescription – we should “dial it back a notch” with the impending eighth anniversary of September 11th.

If Mr. Ignatius had a long history of agitating against the semi-police state that America seems to be building Imight buy it. But he doesn’t. Writing on July 15th about potential prosecutions for CIA officers who violated the Bush Administration’s ugly “rules” on torture, Ignatius said this:

“It was a dark chapter in American history that should never be repeated, and Obama has rightly changed the rules. But what would be accomplished by the appointment of a prosecutor in a case where criminal intent would be so hard to prove? The only certainty is that the process would damage careers and morale at the CIA.”

Contrast that with this statement today about security details and the security culture:

“The security culture has its own momentum, wiping away other values, such as openness or privacy.”

It also wipes away the rule of law, a bedrock principle on which this nation was founded. That principle can only be preserved if, going forward, we intentionally look back at our past transgressions, admit to them, and then hold those who committed them accountable. That means prosecuting those who break our laws – right up to the office of the President. Apparently, Mr. Ignatius missed this key point – or he just compartmented these two concepts in his mind – and refuses to tear down the wall of incompatibility between them.

Seeking to bolster his case that we need less security (I suppose to go with less accountability; Less Really Is More), he describes the scene of the Vice President’s motorcade going back to the Naval Observatory grounds each night:

“Maybe it's necessary to have so many cars, but it's a scene, frankly, that reminds me of Moscow during the Soviet days.”

Perhaps it does, but the nation’s intelligence services torturing “enemy combatants” to wring information out of them that fits a certain political agenda also reminds me of the Soviet Union. Since Mr. Ignatius defends such practices by American officials, I can only surmise that he has been gripped by American Exceptionalism Disease. This pernicious illness leads one to believe that an action conducted by Americans is OK, but that same action conducted by other nations, particularly against Americans, is wrong, and often requires military intervention to make right.

Mr. Ignatius closes with this:

“But surely we have reached the point of diminishing returns with the fortress mentality. The truth is, we all must live with vulnerability. It's a part of
modern life. We need to take reasonable precautions, yes. But it would be good for our public officials to step out of the bubble occasionally and smell the roses -- unfiltered by the security detail.”

Sure it would be good, and perhaps they’d learn something. The problem is, whether Democrat or Republican, most folks serving at that level do not, in fact, want to be out of the bubble. Then they’d have to deal with pesky voters, who continue to insist that we, not political elites, run the country. Likewise, once you are out of the bubble, you might actually have to account for your sins, and as Mr. Ignatius has said, nothing good can come from such an accounting.

So stretch those jaw muscles sir – that two sided mouth thing will continue to be quite taxing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Project for Non-Academic Scientists - my "interview"

Over at Uncertain Principles, Physics professor Chad Orzel has set out to take ideas and suggestions from Mooney & Kirschenbaum’s Unscientific America and turn them into action. He’s posting a series of interviews on his blog from people with science training and experience who are not working as academic scientists, appropriately titled the Project for Non-Academic Scientists (PNAS). He notes:

I plan to post a series of short interviews with people who have science degrees, but are not working in academia. The idea here is to provide information on career options for scientists and science majors beyond the "go to grad school, do a post-doc, get a faculty position" track that is too often assumed to be the default.

Regular readers – all three of them – will no doubt understand that this is my kind of blog action. They will also understand, because of my status as a federal employee who must blog semi-anonymously because agency blogging policy hasn’t actually been developed yet, that I can’t answer by openly identifying myself. So I’ve answered Chad’s questions below. Hopefully someone will find my answers useful, particularly in light of my quest to define what a scientist actually is.

1) What is your non-academic job?

I’m the National Program Coordinator for Protected Species at my Federal Agency. This means I work to bring together a whole host of offices, labs, programs, and people to conserve and recover marine species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

2) What is your science background?

B.S. Marine Science – Biology Concentration
M.S. Oceanography and Coastal Science (with an unofficial fisheries emphasis)

3) What led you to this job?

Honestly – my kids. I’m a divorced dad, and I was living in Seattle prior to this job. That meant a lot of cross country flights to spend time with them, and not a lot of parenting. Now, I’m an hour away by plane or 7 hours by car.
In my last job, with another federal agency, I was doing salmon habitat restoration, Dungeness crab fishery enhancement, and environmental monitoring and compliance for large federal civil works and military construction projects that impacted marine and anadromous species. There, I got a lot of training in planning, project management, and regulatory writing, and so when this job opened up in D.C. I applied, and was accepted.

Prior to that I had done coastal and marine habitat restoration and scallop and clam fisheries population science in Florida. So while I was doing much more science then, I was still working for an agency (and then an NGO and a Florida county). I’ve never been an academic scientist.

4) What's your work environment like?

Physically, I sit in a corner cubicle in a modernish building in a suburb of Washington, D.C. But, being in a cubicle, in the corner, means I have north facing windows, and a 13 story view of the adjacent area. So I don’t feel as closed in or cut off as some of my colleagues. I do get to travel 5 or 6 times a year, mostly to national agency meetings, but occasionally to scientific meetings (Like Coastal Zone or American Fisheries Society).

5) What do you do in a typical day?

There are email inquiries from other offices to answer; budget and performance metric graphs, slides, and documents to write and update; briefings to prepare, give or attend, scientific papers to read; Congressional correspondence to answer, ocean science and policy factsheets to draft; and meetings on everything from the use of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles in fisheries research to ocean fertilization, to (literally) how many additional marine biologists will we need in 2012 to conduct stock assessments for marine turtles and whales/cetaceans in the western pacific Ocean. I also write the very rare, but fulfilling tech memo and grey literature paper on scientific issues.

6) How does your science background help you in your job?

As a National Program coordinator, I have 4 main duties:

· Identify key areas where our Program has emerging needs, particularly where our science is not aligned with an issue or natural phenomena;

· Develop and champion (to the Agency, Executive Department, White House, and Congress) new initiatives to meet these emerging challenges and opportunities. I do this by writing strategic planning and budget documents based on a constantly evolving dialogue with scientists and resource managers all over the country.

· Implement and track performance measures that allow the Program to judge its success in meeting its federal statutory mandates, and that describe success in achieving conservation and recovery goals. We use these data to both guide our requests to Congress, and to flesh out emerging needs and trends.

· Serve as a representative for our labs and office nation wide, providing briefings and other outreach on a wide variety of marine species, management strategies, and scientific approaches.

I would be largely unsuccessful in these duties if I did not have an extensive science background in oceanography and related issues. Because most listed or protected species are in that boat (!) due to complex and long-term threats, a lack of scientific knowledge would hinder my understanding of what is needed to restore them to their rightful ecological place, and minimize, if not eliminate, my ability to advocate for those species and the people working on their issues.

Lack of a science background would also hinder my ability to analyze the program from a budget and performance perspective. Trend analysis, for instance, can provide significant insight into a Program’s effectiveness, but only if you are collecting the right data, and only if you do the analysis in the right way. While some other disciplines teach methods for doing this (accounting, for instance) I find a more “traditional” scientific approach to be very robust.

7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how should they go about it?

First, you need a bachelor’s in a natural science. A Marine science or marine biology degree is ok, but even though I went the route of early specialization, I did so at a small liberal arts college, so I still got a fairly generalist education. While you are working on your B.S., take a couple of economic theory courses – it will really help you see why the world around the scientific enterprise works as differently as it does. I would also take a class in writing (preferably a non-fiction, non-science one); I’d take a modern history or political science course. The broader your undergraduate education – and the more willing you are to thus think outside the “science box” – the more effective you can be in a job like mine.

At the graduate level, either a degree in marine biology, oceanography, or marine policy is essential, though if you go the policy route I’d still take a heavy science load. I’d add another writing course, something on new media (if your university doesn’t have it check the local community college) and maybe a basic web design class as well. Learn all you can about spreadsheets and databases, and make it a routine habit to use such products – they come in handy.

While you are working out your thesis or dissertation, see if you can get an internship or committee member from the federal agency you want to work with. They can be tremendously helpful, and many of our scientists hold adjunct faculty appointments.

Finish your graduate degree before applying for federal jobs. At the moment I have half a dozen federal colleagues trying to balance their dissertation writing with full time employment, and it’s not pretty.

8) What's the most important thing you learned from science?

Science teaches you how to approach challenges, how to break them down into their elements, and how to test different solutions. Science also teaches you how to frame your responses, and how to remain skeptical of your own work (much less the work of others) so that you produce the best answer you can to the question you are being asked.

9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan their careers?

Don’t be afraid to decide –early on – that you aren’t going to go the academic career route. Explore all the choices with labels that are remotely close to your degree program. Spend some time working with university career counselors to get a feel for what type of work really suites you.

And don’t be afraid to remind your university colleagues that you are still a scientist and you still contribute to the discipline even if you aren’t in a university setting anymore. The knowledge, as a friend recently reminded me, doesn’t leave your head when you leave the university.

10) (Totally Optional Question) What's the pay like?

Depends on the agency, and it varies across the country. Folks with PhD.’s, and several years’ federal service can make $100K in the DC area, but you aren’t living in a low-cost city either. Since I started working in the field in 1994, I’ve gone from $18K to over $90K. Federal agencies tend to pay more; state and county agencies less.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Defining Scientists - and asking self-critical questions.

Last week, I got into an interesting side debate over whether I’m still a scientist. Especially here. I have to say it caught me off guard, especially this:

“And second, I have read the work (bought off Amazon), and I have an M.S. in Oceanography (and make my living in the field, sort of) So please, do not presume to speak for me as either a scientist, blogger, or author. I can do that very nicely, thanks.”

In other words, you’re not a scientist. If you found my construction confusing, I apologize. Where scientists object to the work it is primarily on the basis of shoddy or non-existent research and poor writing.

Now, I can concede the point that, if you look at the masthead to your left, it reads that I’m not presently doing science on a daily basis. I’d also argue that it’s a gross over-simplification of how I earn a living – but the fault for that gross over-simplification is my own.

So my response went like this:

Constant,Indeed, my blog does describe me as doing strategy at present, but that hasn’t been my whole career, nor does it cover all my current work. It’s just a summary - which I obviously need to rethink.

As a person trained in science who does other thing during the day to earn money (!),

And we moved on to other matters.

Still, the question got me thinking about what constitutes the definition of a scientist. I spent the weekend mulling it over, in fact, because I believe it lies at the heart of many of the challenges we face in today’s world. Just take the climate crisis as one example. Scientists on the IPCC, and in many academic settings and government agencies, are very pointed on the nature, direction, and impacts of the climate crisis, and have a ton of research to back them up. Other people, who want to block meaningful response to climate change, place themselves in the dialogue as scientists, and the public understandably is lead to conclude that there is a controversy on climate, when, in fact none exists. So, the definition of science matters.

First, I think scientists need some kind of training in a scientific discipline. Notice I didn’t say an advanced degree in a science discipline, because I have come to know many really good scientists who are trained in other disciplines, but use the scientific method to look at the world around them. My blogging colleague Darlene highlights them all the time. Their contributions of data and observations, once informed by the proper training, are no less “scientific” then someone holding a Ph.D. in a discipline.

Second, I think scientists must, by definition, include those who do science outside of an academic setting. Too often, the biologists, physicists, and plant pathologists (to name just a few disciplines) who work in government labs on a government salary are derided as not being “real” scientists because their work isn’t “free” of any agenda. If you work for NOAA, the logic seems to go, you can’t really be doing oceanography as its practiced in academia because NOAA is a federal agency, and must ultimately answer to the White House, Congress, etc. Unfortunately, academicians who take this view are missing a key point – unless they are somehow in a n endowed research chair, with the University picking up all their expenses, they are subject to the politics of their grant funding agencies, and thus their requirements.

More basically, though, I think a scientists needs to understand and apply the scientific method to his or her professional work. They need to remain skeptical of untested hypotheses, but willing to accept those hypotheses until additional data can prove the point one way or the other. They need, also, to be able to be skeptical of their own positions, beliefs and ideals – never taking their interpretation of the world today as static.

So where does that leave me? Well, I do write strategy papers and proposals, about the strategy of doing ocean science for the nation. I read the scientific literature, and produce the occasional synthesis piece in response to policy challenges (as I am doing now on Ocean Fertilization). I even get to give occasional talks to scientific meetings. But today (and tomorrow, and next month) I am not out in the field (or on the water) collecting data. I won’t run or interpret any Analysis of Variance or check the r-square of my correlations.
But am I still a scientist – I’ll leave that up to you to judge.

P.S. Apparently I’m a Cheese Weasel now. Interesting use of both terms.

The saga of the Blue Fin Tuna

Over at Pharyngula, Prof. PZ Myers is taking on unrestricted fishing for Bluefin Tuna. I say good for him. Its the (by now) sadly normal tale of nations making intentional decisions to fish for short term profit, instead of long term sustainability, inspite of what the science actually tells us (and inspite of what scientists have actually told their governments. I'd post more, but you get the idea.

The Use of Military force on U.S. Soil - not a mere flight of fancy

From the inestimable Glenn Greenwald, comes word that the Bush Administration considered using America's armed forces on our own soil to detain U.S. citizens. This is not, by the way, a new accusation, but as Glenn point out, the New York Times has now substantiated it. Aside from HUGE Constitutional issues, consider what this agitation for suborning American citizens says about the use of power by a government:

It's the nature of governments that powers of this type, once vested, rarely remain confined to their original purpose. They inevitably and invariably expand far beyond that. Powers that are endowed to address a limited and supposedly temporary circumstance almost always endure for years if not decades. Once a political official possesses a particular power, they almost never relinquish it voluntarily (there are exceptions -- Jimmy Carter in 1978 signed, and subsequent Presidents until Bush complied with, FISA, which barred Presidents from eavesdropping without a judicial warrant, but such instances are exceedingly rare). Perhaps most dangerous of all, detention and punishment schemes that are implemented in relatively normal times (such as now) will inevitably expand, and expand wildly, in the case of some heightened threat (such as another Terrorist attack). Put another way, once we depart for ostensibly limited purposes from our fundamental principles of justice -- in order to indefinitely detain "just some special cases" without charges -- then, by definition, we're fundamentally altering our system of justice far beyond that. (Emphasis mine) - G. Greenwald

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I support Glenn's analysis. It will also come as no surprise that I find this one more example of why I believe the U.S. is descending into a oligarchical authoritarian state. Because these very real threats to our lives are not covered by the Main Stream Media, most Americans dismiss them as flights of fancy, when they consider them at all. We should not, because then we'd become countries that we say we are better then. We'd mimic the authoritarian states that used to exist to our south, and which we spent decades fighting against covertly. That is not the legacy I want to leave to my daughters.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

George Will - Climate Denier redux

Back in February, George Will published a . . . fanciful column . . . supposed exposing (again) the lie that is the climate crisis. I shot back, as did many others. Even the President of the World Meteorological Society wrote in, and suqarely laid Mr. Will out for his flagarant lying. Sadly, neither Post, nor Mr. Will ever printed a correction or retraction, perferring to hide behind half answer to their own ombudsman, who had been on the job only a week or so.

Now comes Mr Will is at it again, and Joe Romm debunks him better then I can. So does Carl Zimmer. And as Sarah A points out, a lie is a lie no matter who tells it or for what purpose. Someone needs to tell Hiatt that, though I wonder sometimes if he's capable of listening.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Obama bomb - unlimited detention policies coming into existence.

Yes Martha, the Obama Administration is going to detain certain suspected terrorists indefinitely. So now we as a nation will be "safe" from those . . . people . . . who are denied due process because the government . . . . might loose . . . on account of the previous Administration's refusal to abide by the rule of law in the first place. But we'll be "safe."

Problem is, once a system of permanent detention gets set up, it will be nearly impossible to take just down, just as the "War on Terror" will be nearly impossible to end (so loose are its defining parameters). History also teaches us that such a system, while initially turned outward against some "other" will all too easily be turned inward against crticis of the regime. Think I'm joking? The USSR used to do it, and Russia still does in Chechnya. Nearly every South American country has had a totalitarian phase with unlimited detention without trial. So does North Korea. Think our President, at some point, won't use it? Really? Play the lottery much?

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Grumbine Science: What cooling trend?

As if we need any more ways to deal with climate change deniers, my colleague Robert Grumbine gives us More Grumbine Science: What cooling trend? I commend it to you as your monday morning reading - As usual he distills an improtant denier side track into its real components.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ocean Acidification - An open call to action

As many of you may have guessed, the oceans are a major source of passion for me personally - and thus the focus of my work professionally. My position in the federal government often restricts what I can write about here - I'm too inside baseball legally for a lot of of topics.

But on the issue of Ocean Acidification, I'll make an exception. This is a real impact of our global climate crisis, it's already occuring, and as I recently wrote, it can be devastating.

So when Sheril sent me this letter, and asked me to be part of her simultaneous blogging action, I readily agreed. read for yourself, and then decide what you want to do:

We are both lifelong boaters. What we have learned from sailing across the Pacific over the past 6 years, and especially from scientists focused on marine conservation, is startling. Whether you spend time on the water or not, Ocean Acidification affects all of us and is something we believe you will want to know about.

What would you do if you knew that many species of fish and other marine life in the ocean will be gone within 30 years if levels of C02 continue increasing at their present rate? We believe you would take action to stop this from happening, because informed people make informed choices. This letter is about what we can and must do together now to help solve a very serious but little-known problem, Ocean Acidification.

Ocean Acidification is primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels. When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ends up in the ocean it changes the pH, making the sea acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, C02 reduces calcium carbonate, which prevents creatures from forming shells and building reefs. In fact, existing shells will start to dissolve. Oysters and mussels will not be able to build shells. Crabs and lobsters? Your great-grandchildren may wonder what they tasted like.

Carbon dioxide concentrated in the oceans is making seawater acidic. Many of the zooplankton, small animals at the base of the food web, have skeletons that won’t form in these conditions, and sea-life further up the food chain – fish, mammals and seabirds that rely on zooplankton for food will also perish. No food – no life. One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. Many scientific reports document that worldwide, humans are already consuming more food than is being produced. The implications are obvious.

The issue of Ocean Acidification is causing irreversible loss to species and habitats, and acidification trends are happening up to ten times faster than projected. We want you to know what this means, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it.

Today, the atmospheric concentration of C02 is about 387 parts per million (ppm) and increasing at 2 ppm per year. If left unaddressed, by 2040 it is projected to be over 450 ppm, and marine scientists believe the collapse of many ocean ecosystems will be irreversible. Acidification has other physiological effects on marine life as well, including changes in reproduction, growth rates, and even respiration in fish.

Tropical and coldwater corals are among the oldest and largest living structures on earth; the richest in terms of biodiversity, they provide spawning areas, nursery habitat and feeding grounds for a quarter of all species in the sea. Coral reefs are at risk! As C02 concentrations increase, corals, shellfish and other species that make shells will not be able to build their skeletons and will likely become extinct.

The good news is we can fix this problem. But, as you guessed, it will be difficult. Ocean Acidification is caused by increased C02 in the atmosphere. Solving one will solve the other. The House of Representatives has acted, passing HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey “American Clean Energy and Security Act”, but it was severely weakened. Now the Senate has announced that it will move similar legislation this fall. We need the Senate to join the House in its leadership, but to demand far greater emissions reductions than were able to pass the House.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that in order to stabilize C02 in the atmosphere at 350 ppm by 2050, global carbon emissions need to be cut 85% below 2000 levels.”That's a very tall order! And the way our political system works (or doesn't) makes its tougher. It will take all of us to step up and take responsibility to make this happen.

Here is what you can do: Contact your Senator now using ont of these techniques listed in order of effectiveness.

1. Visit your Senator at their local office. It is easy to make an appointment. Tell them your concerns about C02 and the oceans, and to move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans. The experience is rewarding. (Alternatively, drop a letter off at their local office.)

2. Call your Senator and leave a message urging action be taken to reduce C02 , address Ocean Acidification, and move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans.

3. Click on this link to send an email, which will go directly to your Senator based on your address: You may use the letter provided, but it is more effective to edit it, and in your own words urge them to move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans.

Ocean Acidification is an issue we can do something about. We need a groundswell of informed citizens to get Congress to have the backbone to stand up to the entrenched interests of coal, oil, and gas and not compromise on the reduction of C02. We also need real leadership to aggressively create jobs using sustainable technologies. The choice is ours. We can solve this or not. What we do know is that the future facing our children, grandchildren and indeed all of humankind depends on our decision.

Please join us in sharing this letter with others. We appreciate your taking the time to contact your Senators; it is easy to do and effective. Thank you for your support.

Randy Repass Chairman
West Marine

Sally-Christine Rodgers
Board Member

A more complete report on ocean acidification here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blogging Etiquette - James Kwak on Blog-o-sphere rules to live by

Tne Number One Reason why I hate wading into the waters of the "New Atheists" vs. "religious scientists" is that BOTH SIDES violate this rule:

Another thing that follows, though perhaps a little less obviously: be polite. Bloggers are a community, and how you behave matters. If you disagree strongly with someone, express your disagreement through superior logic or mountains of evidence, not by calling the other person an idiot. There are a few bloggers out there who not only like to show that they are smarter than other people (most of us fall victim to this temptation), but come out and say that they are smarter than other people, and judging from their traffic (Alexa can show this for you) that strategy has not been successful for them. I am on good terms with some of the people whom I have disagreed with most strongly; some of them send me emails pointing out posts they think I may find interesting. Bloggers are people like everyone else; whether they will help you depends largely on whether they like you.
You can thank James Kwak, over at The Baseline Scenario for this one.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Cost of Climate Change - Coral Reef Bleaching

Over at PLoS ONE, there is a new study out that predicts some pretty dire consequences for coral reef communities from continued sea temperature rise. It seems that if one looks at the impact of green house gasses on ocean surface temperatures (which are a major cause of coral bleaching), the two best climate models from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predict a serious increase in temperature caused bleaching through 2100. The usual scientific caveats are applied, but the bottom line is real, and dire:

Humans had put enough greenhouse gasses (including Carbon Dioxide) into the atmosphere by 2000 to seriously imperil the world’s coral reef communities due to temperature-induced bleaching. Even if we do things now to get back to or below that level, the lag time in climate systems will not stop massive coral bleaching for most of the rest of this century.

Um, ok, so what you may ask. What is bleaching anyway, and why should I care? Coral Bleaching is when a coral head, or an entire reef, releases or sloughs off its collection of symbiotic algae from within each coral polyp. Not only does this remove the color of the coral, is usually leads to death of the coral because the algae are an important food producer for the polyps. So, bleaching events are bad for reefs physically.

On the human side of things, bleaching events are bad economically as well. In the aggregate, losses to human communities that rely on reefs for economic success may range from $3.35 Billion to $4.87 Billion per year. This would include the loss of recreational and commercial fisheries harvests, loss of commercial SCUBA diving and snorkeling tourists, and the very real impacts of increased storm damage to coastal areas as reefs decay. Much of that impact would be felt close to the U.S., most notably in the Caribbean islands.

Why am I drawing this to your attention? For the same reason that I keep linking to old reports from Congress’ defunct Office of Technological Assessment – to prove the point that our global climate crisis is very real, isn’t a new phenomena, and requires strong action lest we loose some or all of our Earth’s most precious resources. I also keep drawing it to your attention because when I hear how "expensive" actions to arrest global climate change are supposed to be, I shudder. The balance sheet of inaction is rapidly filling up with entries like this. How much does inaction have to cost before we do something?

Vacation is over - back to work

Having enjoyed a much needed retreat to Wisconsin with the Red Headed wife and daughters, I'm back to wrok and back to blogging. Once the engine gets spun up, expect posts following up on my latest analysis of financial sectors in the U.S. Economy, the contribution of the boating industry to solving the global climate crisis, and further analysis of the need for investigations of Bush-era intelligence practices. And a few baseball posts to break things up.