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Throw me a life preserver: I'm drowning in environmental bad news from NOAA, NASA, and academia the world over.

Kevin Ferguson

January 27, 2009

3 Min Read

Throw me a life preserver: I'm drowning in environmental bad news from NOAA, NASA, and academia the world over.First, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now says that changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped.

Second, a climate researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, using NASA data, says that warming in Antarctica is worse than thought. Third, researchers at the University of Copenhagen declared that global warming would lead to a rapid expansion of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in the world's oceans by a factor of 10 or more. There is more, of course -- Empire penguins facing extinction, worsening wintertime ozone, etc. But I can only take bad news in manageably huge doses. I'm half hoping that critics of this blog are right: All of this is a greenwashing ruse being perpetuated by Orwellian schemers out to control the world economy. That might be easier. Assuming it's not a ruse, I've been grasping at something to keep my hopes afloat. In recent days, I've seen three bits of news, including one that is IT-specific, that might help offset the first three: First, there's a McKinsey report that -- with an abundance of caveats -- outlines what financial steps can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It won't be cheap: 200 to 350 billion euros annually by 2030. Says the report, Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy: Version 2 of the Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve: "Our analysis finds that there is potential by 2030 to reduce GHG emissions by 35 percent compared with 1990 levels, or by 70 percent compared with the levels we would see in 2030 if the world collectively made little attempt to curb current and future emissions. This would be sufficient to have a good chance of holding global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Capturing enough of this potential to stay below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold will be highly challenging, however. Our research finds not only that all regions and sectors would have to capture close to the full potential for abatement that is available to them; even deep emission cuts in some sectors will not be sufficient. Action also needs to be timely. A 10-year delay in taking abatement action would make it virtually impossible to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius." OK, the news isn't that good, but work with me. Second, there is the news that President Obama instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration's denial of a request by California and more than a dozen other states to implement tailpipe emissions standards. The president also directed the Department of Transportation to set fuel economy standards for 2011 and reconsider the methodology for standards in the years that follow. This is a highly politicized issue that quickly becomes an argument over states' rights, but I still see it in a positive environmental light. Third, is that The Green Grid will hold its technical conference next week. Some practical tools to help data center operators measure and reduce energy consumption at their sites are expected. Just what The Green Grid has in mind won't be known until next week, but it's expected to offer an opportunity for lots of brass-tacks discussions about measuring and reducing energy use. I'll take what I can get.

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