Archive for January, 2011
Temperatures of the Past Six Millennia in Alaska
Six millennia of summer temperature variation based on midge analysis of lake sediments from Alaska. Clegg, B.F., Clarke, G.H., Chipman, M.L., Chou, M., Walker, I.R., Tinner, W. and Hu, F.S. 2010. Quaternary Science Reviews 29: 3308-3316.
What was done
The authors conducted a high-resolution analysis of midge assemblages found in the sediments of Moose Lake (61°22.45’N, 143°35.93’W) in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve of south-central Alaska (USA), based on data obtained from cores removed from the lake bottom in the summer of AD 2000 and a midge-to-temperaturetransfer function that yielded mean July temperatures (TJuly) for the past six thousand years.
What was learned
The results of the study are portrayed in the accompanying figure, where it can be seen, in the words of Clegg et al., that “a piecewise linear regression analysis identifies a significant change point at ca 4000 years before present (cal BP),” with “a decreasing trend after this point.” And from 2500 cal BP to the present, there is a clear multi-centennial oscillation about the declining trend line, with its peaks and valleys defining the temporal locations of the Roman Warm Period, the Dark Ages Cold Period, the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age — during which the coldest temperatures of the entire interglacial or Holocene were reached — and, finally, the start of the Current Warm Period, which is still not expressed to any significant degree compared to the Medieval and Roman Warm Periods.
Mean July near-surface temperature (°C) vs. years before present (cal BP) for south-central Alaska (USA). Adapted from Clegg et al. (2010).
What it means
In discussing their results, the seven scientists write that “comparisons of the TJuly record from Moose Lake with other Alaskan temperature records suggest that the regional coherency observed in instrumental temperature records (e.g., Wiles et al., 1998; Gedalof and Smith, 2001; Wilson et al., 2007) extends broadly to at least 2000 cal BP,” while noting that (1) climatic events such as the LIA and the MWP occurred “largely synchronously” between their TJuly record from Moose Lake and a δ18O-based temperature record from Farewell Lake on the northwestern foothills of the Alaska Range, and that (2) “local temperature minima likely associated with First Millennium AD Cooling (centered at 1400 cal BP; Wiles et al., 2008) are evident at both Farewell and Hallet lakes (McKay et al., 2008).”
In closing, it is instructive to note that even with the help of the supposedly unprecedented anthropogenic-induced increase in the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration that occurred over the course of the 20th century, the Current Warm Period has not achieved anywhere near the warmth of the MWP or RWP, which suggests to us that the climatic impact of the 20th-century increase in the air’s CO2 content has been negligible, for the warming that defined the earth’s recovery from the global chill of the LIA — which should have been helped by the concurrent increase in the air’s CO2content — appears no different from the non-CO2-induced warming that brought the planet out of the Dark Ages Cold Period and into the Medieval Warm Period.
Gedalof, Z. and Smith, D.J. 2001. Interdecadal climate variability and regime scale shifts in Pacific North America.Geophysical Research Letters 28: 1515-1518.
McKay, N.P., Kaufman, D.S. and Michelutti, N. 2008. Biogenic-silica concentration as a high-resolution, quantitative temperature proxy at Hallet Lake, south-central Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters 35: L05709.
Wiles, G.C., Barclay, D.J., Calkin, P.E. and Lowell, T.V. 2008. Century to millennial-scale temperature variations for the last two thousand years inferred from glacial geologic records of southern Alaska. Global and Planetary Change 60: 115-125.
Wilson, R., Wiles, G., D’Arrigo, R. and Zweck, C. 2007. Cycles and shifts: 1300 years of multi-decadal temperature variability in the Gulf of Alaska. Climate Dynamics 28: 425-440.
More on REEs. Mr Wilson has it mostly right. Reopening of Mountain Pass is on a “fast track” (See http://www.google.com/finance?client=ig&q=NYSE:MCP) and could be in production in less time than is presented in his piece. Nevertheless, well intentioned but misdirected regulatory oversight could hamstring the mine/mill restart. Any true push towards “clean energy” requires increasing uses of REEs and why should the US be held hostage to non-domestic supplies.
By Bill Wilson –
It’s the same old story: The U.S. has abundant natural resources, but refuses to extract and produce them, as usual, because of environmental restrictions and regulatory costs. In the meantime, we are exporting our energy security, job security, and now, national security to China and other emerging markets.
Since 2002, the U.S. has not mined any rare earth elements (REEs) — today used in U.S. smart bombs, silent helicopter blades, night vision, missiles, and tank guns, as well as computers, cell phones, DVD players, and other civilian technologies.
These metals are not even that rare. The nation as a whole has about 13 million metric tons in reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey. We could make them ourselves. But we don’t.
Leaving that aside for a moment, a modern military, and many common conveniences we today take for granted, would not be possible without these metals. They are essential.
Which is why China has rapidly developed its rare earth element mining sector, with over 55 million metric tons in reserves and 130,000 metric tons of annual production. It now controls over 97 percent of REE mining and refinement in the entire world. China is largely able to do so because it holds about 36 percent of global reserves, has lower labor costs, and because it largely ignores the environmental impact of the REEs. Finally, it lacks competition since the U.S. dropped out of the market.
With the rise of China’s REE near-monopoly, concerns have emerged that the communist dictatorship has too much control over these metals that have become critical to defense and other high technology needs.
So, how could China, an adversary, gain so much control over such a strategically critical industry? Call it the green treason.
The problem is that nearly all of the nation’s production of REEs was done by a single company, Molycorp, at a single mine in California, Mountain Pass. From 1965 to 1985, Molycorp was the world’s leader in this industry, but because of a series of main wastewater pipeline spills from the mine, state and federal environmental regulators all but shut it down.
As reported by the Washington Independent, “Mining at Mountain Pass stopped soon after the spills came to light. Industry sources say Union Oil of California, which bought Molycorp in 1977, couldn’t afford to comply with environmental rules and felt that it couldn’t compete with China.” In other words, the environmental regulatory costs made it cost-prohibitive to produce the metals at a competitive price versus the Chinese.
But, rather than help the industry out with the regulatory problems, the government acted punitively against Molycorp. The regulators were indifferent if domestic production was completely turned off. It made sure production of REEs in the U.S. was severely hindered, even though shortages would disrupt the defense supply chain.
Just like that, a few faceless bureaucrats shut down an entire domestic industry — essential to national security — just as the Chinese overseas competitor was emerging. And it was all in the name of radical environmentalism.
Fears of Chinese manipulation in the market have subsequently been confirmed in July when China once again reduced its export quotas for these metals. Since 2005, it has reduced these quotas from over 65,000 metric tons to just over 30,000, according to the Department of Energy. This has caused prices of the metals to skyrocket.
Already, the scarcity of the REEs is having an impact on U.S. defense capabilities. According to a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) summary, “A 2009 National Defense Stockpile configuration report identified lanthanum, cerium, europium, and gadolinium as having already caused some kind of weapon system production delay and recommended further study to determine the severity of the delays.” Which, unless the U.S. ramps up production, will only get worse as China tightens the entire world’s supply of REEs.
The GAO report notes the decline of the nation’s capabilities in this area: “The United States previously performed all stages of the rare earth material supply chain, but now most rare earth materials processing is performed in China, giving it a dominant position that could affect worldwide supply and prices.” The Department of Defense is undergoing several other evaluations to determine its dependency on these metals, but we already know that it is high.
So, what can be done to ramp up new domestic production? Right now, the U.S. imports about 10,000 metric tons of these metals, or 7.6 percent of global production, according to the USGS. Unfortunately, the Mountain Pass mine has been gutted. According to the GAO, it “currently lacks the manufacturing assets and facilities to process the rare earth ore into finished components, such as permanent magnets.” It also lacks “substantial amounts of heavy rare earth elements” used in industry and defense. Nonetheless, Molycorp intends to begin mining again this year, and in July offered a successful $393.75 million IPO to rebuild its capabilities.
According to Dr. Madan Singh, director of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (DMMR) in Arizona, it could take up to two years to get the mine back online.
But to get the heavy rare earths, we’ll also need to mine in Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming. Again, the GAO report is not comforting: “Once a company has secured the necessary capital to start a mine, government and industry officials said it can take from 7 to 15 years to bring a property fully online, largely due to the time it takes to comply with multiple state and federal regulations [emphasis added].”
So, barring regulatory waivers being granted to companies to begin extraction immediately, it won’t be until 2020 at least before the nation’s REE capabilities can be fully reconstituted. In the meantime, it is likely that China will continue to reduce its export quotas, ratchet up prices, and hoard the REEs for its own defense stockpiles.
It’s bad enough that environmental radicalism has made the nation more dependent on foreign sources of fuel, and has exported hundreds of thousands of jobs. Now, it is harming our security as a nation.
It is up to Congress to urgently enact legislation that will cut through the red tape and help this domestic industry get its feet back on the ground. We have to make sure we’re not dependent on a hostile nation like China or a single mine in California in order to maintain first-rate defense capabilities. And our security must not be held hostage to onerous environmental regulations. This green treason must be stopped.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.
Read more at NetRightDaily.com: http://netrightdaily.com/2011/01/the-green-treason/#ixzz1CLMlLgto
The following is a very good summary discussion of climate change from a geological (historical geology ) perspective. I think it is one of the best I have read that presents how recent climate issues compare to geological climate changes. My only criticism is that after presenting fact-based information of past climate swings, they interject an opinion statement at the end echoing what I deduce is a form of the “precautionary principal” (that and focusing solely on anthropogenic CO2 emissions!). That hoary “old-wives-tale” has justly been exposed as complete nonsense.
The Geological Society has prepared a position statement on climate change, focusing specifically on the geological evidence. A drafting group was convened, with the aim of producing a clear and concise summation, accessible to a general audience, of the scientific certainties and uncertainties; as well as including references to further sources of information.
The drafting group met on 18 February and 2 July. The resulting document has been discussed, revised and agreed by the External Relations Committee, and by Council. If you have any questions about the document, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A statement by the Geological Society of London
November 2010 • Download a pdf of the statement (.pdf79 Kb)
Climate change is a defining issue for our time. The geological record contains abundant evidence of the ways in which Earth’s climate has changed in the past. That evidence is highly relevant to understanding how it may change in the future. The Council of the Society is issuing this statement as part of the Society’s work “to promote all forms of education, awareness and understanding of the Earth and their practical applications for the benefit of the public globally”. The statement is intended for non-specialists and Fellows of the Society. It is based on analysis of geological evidence, and not on analysis of recent temperature or satellite data, or climate model projections. It contains references to support key statements, indicated by superscript numbers, and a reading list for those who wish to explore the subject further.
What is climate change, and how do geologists know about it?
The Earth’s temperature and weather patterns change naturally over time scales ranging from decades, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years1. The climate is the statistical average of the weather taken over a long period, typically 30 years. It is never static, but subject to constant disturbances, sometimes minor in nature and effect, but at other times much larger. In some cases these changes are gradual and in others abrupt.
Evidence for climate change is preserved in a wide range of geological settings, including marine and lake sediments, ice sheets, fossil corals, stalagmites and fossil tree rings. Advances in field observation, laboratory techniques and numerical modelling allow geoscientists to show, with increasing confidence, how and why climate has changed in the past. For example, cores drilled through the ice sheets yield a record of polar temperatures and atmospheric composition ranging back to 120,000 years in Greenland and 800,000 years in Antarctica. Oceanic sediments preserve a record reaching back tens of millions of years, and older sedimentary rocks extend the record to hundreds of millions of years. This vital baseline of knowledge about the past provides the context for estimating likely changes in the future.
What are the grounds for concern?
The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall2; increased acidity of the oceans 3,4,5,6; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater7,8,9.
There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.
When and how did today’s climate become established?
The Earth’s climate has been gradually cooling for most of the last 50 million years. At the beginning of that cooling (in the early Eocene), the global average temperature was about 6-7 ºC warmer than now10,11. About 34 million years ago, at the end of the Eocene, ice caps coalesced to form a continental ice sheet on Antarctica12,13. In the northern hemisphere, as global cooling continued, local ice caps and mountain glaciers gave way to large ice sheets around 2.6 million years ago14.
Over the past 2.6 million years (the Pleistocene and Holocene), the Earth’s climate has been on average cooler than today, and often much colder. That period is known as the ‘Ice Age’, a series of glacial episodes separated by short warm ‘interglacial’ periods that lasted between 10,000-30,000 years15,16. We are currently living through one of these interglacial periods. The present warm period (known as the Holocene) became established only 11,500 years ago, since then our climate has been relatively stable. Although we currently lack the large Northern Hemisphere ice sheets of the Pleistocene, there are of course still large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica1.
What drives climate change?
The Sun warms the Earth, heating the tropics most and the poles least. Seasons come and go as the Earth orbits the Sun on its tilted axis. Many factors, interacting on a variety of time scales, drive climate change by altering the amount of the Sun’s heat retained at the Earth’s surface and the distribution of that heat around the planet. Over millions of years the continents move, ocean basins open and close, and mountains rise and fall. All of these changes affect the circulation of the oceans and of the atmosphere. Major volcanic eruptions eject gas and dust high into the atmosphere, causing temporary cooling. Changes in the abundance in the atmosphere of gases such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane affect climate through the Greenhouse Effect – described below.
As well as the long-term cooling trend, evidence from ice and sediment cores reveal cycles of climate change tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years long. These can be related to small but predictable changes in the Earth’s orbit and in the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Those predictable changes set the pace for the glacial-interglacial cycles of the ice age of the past 2.6 million years17. In addition, the heat emitted by the Sun varies with time. Most notably, the 11-year sunspot cycle causes the Earth to warm very slightly when there are more sunspots and cool very slightly when there are few. Complex patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation cause the El Niño events and related climatic oscillations on the scale of a few years1,18.
What is the Greenhouse Effect?
The Greenhouse Effect arises because certain gases (the so-called greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere absorb the long wavelength infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and re-radiate it, so warming the atmosphere. This natural effect keeps our atmosphere some 30ºC warmer than it would be without those gases. Increasing the concentration of such gases will increase the effect (i.e. warm the atmosphere more)19.
What effect do natural cycles of climate change have on the planet?
Global sea level is very sensitive to changes in global temperatures. Ice sheets grow when the Earth cools and melt when it warms. Warming also heats the ocean, causing the water to expand and the sea level to rise. When ice sheets were at a maximum during the Pleistocene, world sea level fell to at least 120 m below where it stands today. Relatively small increases in global temperature in the past have led to sea level rises of several metres. During parts of the previous interglacial period, when polar temperatures reached 3-5°C above today’s20, global sea levels were higher than today’s by around 4-9m21. Global patterns of rainfall during glacial times were very different from today.
Has sudden climate change occurred before?
Yes. About 55 million years ago, at the end of the Paleocene, there was a sudden warming event in which temperatures rose by about 6ºC globally and by 10-20ºC at the poles22. Carbon isotopic data show that this warming event (called by some the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM) was accompanied by a major release of 1500-2000 billion tonnes or more of carbon into the ocean and atmosphere. This injection of carbon may have come mainly from the breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the deep sea floor10, perhaps triggered by volcanic activity superimposed on an underlying gradual global warming trend that peaked some 50 million years ago in the early Eocene. CO2 levels were already high at the time, but the additional CO2 injected into the atmosphere and ocean made the ocean even warmer, less well oxygenated and more acidic, and was accompanied by the extinction of many species on the deep sea floor. Similar sudden warming events are known from the more distant past, for example at around 120 and 183 million years ago23,24. In all of these events it took the Earth’s climate around 100,000 years or more to recover, showing that a CO2 release of such magnitude may affect the Earth’s climate for that length of time25.
Are there more recent examples of rapid climate change?
Abrupt shifts in climate can occur over much shorter timescales. Greenland ice cores record that during the last glacial stage (100,000 – 11,500 years ago) the temperature there alternately warmed and cooled several times by more than 10ºC 26,27. This was accompanied by major climate change around the northern hemisphere, felt particularly strongly in the North Atlantic region. Each warm and cold episode took just a few decades to develop and lasted for a few hundred years. The climate system in those glacial times was clearly unstable and liable to switch rapidly with little warning between two contrasting states. These changes werealmost certainly caused by changes in the way the oceans transported heat between the hemispheres.
How did levels of CO2 in the atmosphere change during the ice age?
The atmosphere of the past 800,000 years can be sampled from air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice cores. The concentrations of CO2 and other gases in these bubbles follow closely the pattern of rising and falling temperature between glacial and interglacial periods. For example CO2 levels varied from an average of 180 ppm (parts per million) in glacial maxima to around 280 ppm during interglacials. During warmings from glacial to interglacial, temperature and CO2 rose together for several thousand years, although the best estimate from the end of the last glacial is that the temperature probably started to rise a few centuries before the CO2 showed any reaction. Palaeoclimatologists think that initial warming driven by changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt eventually caused CO2 to be released from the warming ocean and thus, via positive feedback, to reinforce the temperature rise already in train28. Additional positive feedback reinforcing the temperature rise would have come from increased water vapour evaporated from the warmer ocean, water being another greenhouse gas, along with a decrease in sea ice, and eventually in the size of the northern hemisphere ice sheets, resulting in less reflection of solar energy back into space.
How has carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere changed over the longer term?
Estimating past levels of CO2 in the atmosphere for periods older than those sampled by ice cores is difficult and is the subject of continuing research. Most estimates agree that there was a significant decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere from more than1000 ppm at 50 million years ago (during the Eocene) to the range recorded in the ice cores of the past 800,000 years22. This decrease in CO2 was probably one of the main causes of the cooling that led to the formation of the great ice sheets on Antarctica29. Changes in ocean circulation around Antarctica may also have also played a role in the timing and extent of formation of those ice sheets30,31,32.
How has carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed in recent times?
Atmospheric CO2 is currently at a level of 390 ppm. It has increased by one third in the last 200 years33. One half of that increase has happened in the last 30 years. This level and rate of increase are unprecedented when compared with the range of CO2 in air bubbles locked in the ice cores (170-300 ppm). There is some evidence that the rate of increase in CO2 in the atmosphere during the abrupt global warming 183 million years ago (Early Jurassic), and perhaps also 55 million years ago (the PETM), was broadly similar to today’s rate34.
When was CO2 last at today’s level, and what was the world like then?
The most recent estimates35 suggest that at times between 5.2 and 2.6 million years ago (during the Pliocene), the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached between 330 and 400 ppm. During those periods, global temperatures were 2-3°C higher than now, and sea levels were higher than now by 10 – 25 metres, implying that global ice volume was much less than today36. There were large fluctuations in ice cover on Greenland and West Antarctica during the Pliocene, and during the warm intervals those areas were probably largely free of ice37,38,39. Some ice may also have been lost from parts of East Antarctica during the warm intervals40. Coniferous forests replaced tundra in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere41, and the Arctic Ocean may have been seasonally free of sea-ice42.
When global temperature changed, did the same change in temperature happen everywhere?
No. During the glacial periods in the Pleistocene the drop in temperature was much greater in polar regions than in the tropics. There is good evidence that the difference between polar and tropical temperatures in the warmer climate of the Eocene to Pliocene was smaller than it is today. The ice core record also shows differences between Greenland and Antarctica in the size and details of the temperature history in the two places, reflecting slow oceanic heat transport between the two poles16.
In conclusion – what does the geological record tell us about the potential effect of continued emissions of CO2?
Over at least the last 200 million years the fossil and sedimentary record shows that the Earth has undergone many fluctuations in climate, from warmer than the present climate to much colder, on many different timescales. Several warming events can be associated with increases in the ‘greenhouse gas’ CO2. There is evidence for sudden major injections of carbon to the atmosphere occurring at 55, 120 and 183 million years ago, perhaps from the sudden breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the seabed. At those times the associated warming would have increased the evaporation of water vapour from the ocean, making CO2 the trigger rather than the sole agent for change. During the Ice Age of the past two and a half million years or so, periodic warming of the Earth through changes in its position in relation to the sun also heated the oceans, releasing both CO2 and water vapour, which amplified the ongoing warming into warm interglacial periods. That process was magnified by the melting of sea ice and land ice, darkening the Earth’s surface and reducing the reflection of the Sun’s energy back into space.
While these past climatic changes can be related to geological events, it is not possible to relate the Earth’s warming since 1970 to anything recognisable as having a geological cause (such as volcanic activity, continental displacement, or changes in the energy received from the sun)43. This recent warming is accompanied by an increase in CO2 and a decrease in Arctic sea ice, both of which – based on physical theory and geological analogues – would be expected to warm the climate44. Various lines of evidence, reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly show that a large part of the modern increase in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels, with some contribution from cement manufacture and some from deforestation44. In total, human activities have emitted over 500 billion tonnes of carbon (hence over 1850 billion tons of CO2) to the atmosphere since around 1750, some 65% of that being from the burning of fossil fuels18,45,46,47,48. Some of the carbon input to the atmosphere comes from volcanoes49,50, but carbon from that source is equivalent to only about 1% of what human activities add annually and is not contributing to a net increase.
In the coming centuries, continued emissions of carbon from burning oil, gas and coal at close to or higher than today’s levels, and from related human activities, could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event – some 1500 to 2000 billion tonnes. Further contributions from ‘natural’ sources (wetlands, tundra, methane hydrates, etc.) may come as the Earth warms22. The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more. Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation44. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.
Members of the working group:
Dr C Summerhayes Prof J Lowe
Chairman and GSL Vice-President Department of Geography,
Scott Polar Research Institute, Royal Holloway University of London
Prof J Cann FRS Prof N McCave
School of Earth and Environment, Department of Earth Sciences
Leeds University University of Cambridge
Dr A Cohen Prof P Pearson
Department of Earth and Environmental School of Earth and Ocean Sciences,
Sciences, The Open University Cardiff University
Prof J Francis Dr E Wolff FRS
School of Earth and Environment, British Antarctic Survey,
Leeds University Cambridge
Dr A Haywood
School of Earth and Environment, Ms S Day
Leeds University Earth Science Communicator, GSL
Dr R Larter Mr E Nickless
British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge Executive Secretary, GSL
For those wishing to read further, the following provide an accessible overview of the topic:
Alley, R.B., 2000, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press.
Bell, M. and Walker, M.J.C, 2005, Late Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives, (2nd edition). Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Dansgaard, W., 2005, Frozen Annals: Greenland Ice Sheet Research. Neils Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. The book can be downloaded for free fromhttp://www.iceandclimate.nbi.ku.dk/publications/FrozenAnnals.pdf/
Houghton, J., 2009, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, (4th edition). Cambridge University Press.
Imbrie, J. and Imbrie, K.P, 1979, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery. MacMillan, London.
IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. Available online at http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml
Lamb, H.H., 1995, Climate, History and the Modern World, (2nd edition). Routledge, London.
Lovell, B., 2010, Challenged by Carbon: The Oil Industry and Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.
Mayewski, P.A. and White, F., 2002, The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change. University of New Hampshire/University Press of New England.
Ruddiman, W.F., 2005, Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton University Press.
For the more intrepid:
Alverson, K.D., Bradley, R.S. and Pedersen, T.F., (eds.) 2003, Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future. The IGBP Series, Springer-Verlag, New York.
Burroughs, W.J., 2007, Climate Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach, (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press.
Cronin, T.M., 2009, Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.
Gibbard, P. and Pillans, B., (eds.), 2008, Special Issue on the Quaternary period/system. Episodes (IUGS Journal of International Geoscience), vol. 31, No.2., (a collection of papers summarising the history of Earth’s environmental and climatic oscillations during the last 2.7 million years).
Langway, Jr., C., 2008, The History of Early Polar Ice-Core records. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Research and Development Center. Available online at:
Lowe, J.J. and Walker, M.J.C., 1997, Reconstructing Quaternary Environments, (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Longman Ltd.
Milne, G.A., Gehrels, W.R., Hughes, C.W. and Tamisiea, M.E., 2009, Identifying the causes of sea-level change. Nature Geoscience.
Ruddiman, W.F., 2001, Earth’s Climate: Past and Future. W.H. Freeman.
A collection of articles on various aspects of Rapid Climate Change is available from the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences web site at:http://www.pnas.org/cgi/collection/rapid_climate
1 Cronin, T.M., 2009, Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.
2 Alverson, K.D., Bradley, R.S. and Pedersen, T.F., (eds.), 2003, Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future. The IGBP Series. Springer-Verlag, New York.
3 Barker, S. and Elderfield, H., 2002, Foraminiferal calcification response to Glacial-Interglacial changes in atmospheric CO2. Science 297, 833 – 83.
4 Olafsson J. et al., 2009, Rate of Iceland Sea acidification from time series measurements. Biogeoscience 6, 2661-2668.
5 Caldeira, K. and Wickett, M.E., 2003, Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH, Nature 425, 365.
6 Raven, J. et al., 2005, Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy document. The Royal Society, London.
7 Whitney, F.A., Freeland, H.J. and Robert, M., 2007, Persistently declining oxygen levels in the interior waters of the eastern subarctic Pacific. Progress in Oceanography 75 (2), 179-199.
8 Keeling, R.F., Kortzinger, A. and Gruber, N., 2010, Ocean Deoxygenation in a Warming World. Annual Review of Marine Science 2, 199-229.
9 Pearce, C.R., Cohen, A.S., Coe, A.L. and Burton, K.W., 2008, Molybdenum isotope evidence for global ocean anoxia coupled with perturbations to the carbon cycle during the Early Jurassic. Geology 3, 231-234.
10 Zachos, J.C., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E. and Billups, K., 2001, Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science 292, 686-693.
11 Miller, K.G., Wright, J.D. and Browning, J.V., 2005, Visions of ice sheets in a greenhouse world. Marine Geology 217, 215-231.
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By Michael Economides and Phil Rae
Posted on Jan. 17, 2011
The federal government released last week its long-awaited report on last April’s BP Deepwater Horizon accident. The Commission charged by President Obama since May with investigating the massive spill coined itself “bi-partisan” — a description it also gave to its conclusions. Regardless of the members’ alleged political bent, Investor’s Business Daily editorial writers note they all hold at least one shared belief:
Considering the commission’s makeup, it was like a panel of vegetarians deciding how to regulate the meatpacking industry. President Obama appointed to the seven-member panel National Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, Union of Concerned Scientists board member Fran Ulmer and five other Democratic donors who have one thing in common — opposition to oil and gas exploration in any shape or form.
Rather than strive for meaningful reforms that would improve the safety of offshore energy production, reinvigorate the Gulf Coast’s economy and further strengthen America’s energy security, the only notable outcome from the report will likely be more government bureaucracy.
This imposition of even more Washington red-tape fails America generally, and her consumers and businesses specifically, in four key areas.
First, the commission’s conclusions fail to acknowledge just how integral energy is to America’s economy. When it comes to employment in this difficult job market, the numbers speak for themselves. Here in the Gulf, the offshore oil and natural gas industry directly employs about 150,000 people. The U.S. oil and natural gas industry as a whole provides more than 9.2 million jobs. And conventional energy is of great import to a wide variety of other industries, such as agriculture, where over 2.2 million farmers depend on oil and natural gas for fuel and fertilizer.
Moreover, as PricewaterhouseCoopers has pointed out, America’s oil and natural gas industry contributes more than 7.5 percent to our gross domestic product (GDP). Yet nowhere in the national commission’s 381-page report are these numbers mentioned, let alone rightfully emphasized.
Second, offshore is the main area where there are both massive quantities of hydrocarbons and where America’s world-leading petroleum technology can be deployed best. Again, this presents a case of more bureaucracy versus the facts. As CNN.com reporter Steve Hargreaves writes, “worldwide deepwater oil production is surging, driven by high prices, new technology, and dwindling prospects on land.” But this new production is occurring off the shores of places like Angola, Brazil and Malaysia, not America. The most painful irony is this: Offshore petroleum technology is perhaps the most American of all technologies in the world.
Looking forward, the robust production of offshore energy becomes even more apparent. In fact, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) estimates that production via deepwater drilling will double between now and 2020, when it will then be responsible for meeting 10 percent of global demand. Alas, the new agencies and regulations proposed by the commission will restrict America’s participation in this growth.
Third, President Obama’s commissioners conveniently forgot that oil and natural gas will continue to dominate America’s energy landscape for decades, most likely the entire 21st century. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) notes in its 2010 projections to 2035 that, “offshore natural gas, the bulk of which is from deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico, contributes significantly to domestic supply.” This is coupled with the fact that oil and natural gas alone currently meet 62 percent of America’s energy demand — a reality not likely change to anytime soon.
In typical bureaucratic fashion, this BP spill report fails to address what Americans actually need now and in the future, namely accessible and affordable energy.
Not surprisingly, despite its professed lofty intentions, this report will not help protect against similar events in the future. Because no member of the Commission was qualified to critically look at the technical issues, the report perpetuates various inaccurate assumptions and erroneous conclusions regarding how the blowout was initiated. In a recent report, “Genesis of the Deepwater Horizon Blowout”, we discussed the key factors that determined the evolution of the BP well catastrophe. We identified numerous rig problems and crucial steps that confused the crew and caused misinterpretation of a critical test of well integrity. A simple phone call to check those results would almost certainly have avoided catastrophe.
While it is clear that mistakes were made in the final stages of the Macondo well, numerous factors conspired that day aboard the Deepwater Horizon and caused the problems that ultimately led to the blowout, with both human error and mechanical failure playing a part. Better training and tighter supervision of critical operations are the means to address such challenges, not new government regulations. More than 14,000 deepwater wells have been successfully drilled across the world, underlining the rigorous industry standards which made that success possible. Broad conclusions about the industry as a whole cannot and should not be drawn from this one event.
Though the commission’s conclusions and accompanying recommendations will not prevent future accidents, the grandiose goals set forth are almost certain to add more delays, more burdensome regulation, and higher costs for businesses and consumers.
As Will Rogers once said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” America’s energy and economic prosperity is the last thing we should joke about.
By ANN M. JOB, For The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
(01-12) 08:47 PST (AP) —
The innovative Chevrolet Volt is getting lots of attention. But in my home garage, the car that can travel up to 50 miles on a full electric charge wouldn’t charge at all when I plugged it in.
It wouldn’t charge at a California airport, either, where special parking spaces have been set aside for years to charge electric vehicles.
And because an extension cord is a no-no with the Volt and the power cord that came with the car was too short, I was unable to charge the car from power outlets in my home.
Thank goodness the five-door, five-passenger Volt hatchback has an onboard, four-cylinder, gasoline engine that kicks in to power the battery pack and provides ample mileage.
As a result, I was never stranded by the Volt, though I only traveled for 33 miles on the initial electric power that came in the battery pack. The car was flat-bedded to my home, so it arrived fully charged.
Virtually all of the other 300 miles I put on the Volt came from power generated by the Volt’s gasoline engine.
While not exactly the kind of test drive I anticipated, the fact that I never worried about being stranded by an electric car illustrates the thinking that General Motors put into engineering the Volt: It’s an electric car with a backup plan.
The Volt, however, is expensive for a compact hatchback that runs most of its miles via a gasoline engine. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $41,000.
Some of the cost can be offset by state incentives and rebates as well as a $7,500 federal tax credit that may lower a buyer’s tax bill.
There are no direct competitors to the Volt. Nissan’s 2011 Leaf, which has a starting retail price of $33,600, is all electric and doesn’t have an onboard gasoline engine. It also can go more than 100 miles on electric power when fully charged. The sporty, two-seat Tesla roadster whose starting price is more than $100,000 is estimated to have a range of more than 200 miles.
Conventional gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles — such as the Toyota Prius, which starts at just over $22,000 for a 2011 model — have an electric motor and gas engine and don’t plug in at all. But a hybrid’s gas engine is used to drive the car’s wheels directly, and hybrids operate on all-electric power only for short spurts, not 40 miles at high speeds.
In the Volt, the 1.4-liter, double overhead cam, four-cylinder engine functions as an onboard generator to produce power that the electric motor uses to drive the car’s wheels.
The goal, of course, is top fuel economy. But the Volt’s federal government fuel economy ratings of 93 miles per gallon in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway are surpassed by the Nissan Leaf’s 106/92 mpg rating.
Note that these are equivalent mileage ratings, meaning they are based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formula that seeks to translate the full charge of the Volt’s 16-kilowatt lithium ion battery pack and the power supplied by the gas engine into a comparison with a conventional, gasoline-powered car.
In my test drive, I averaged a ho-hum 34 mpg, taking into account the first 33 electric miles and the rest gasoline miles.
No one noticed the Volt for its styling during the test drive. They were interested in the technology.
I liked its compact size, tidy, 36-foot turning circle and easy handling. Dynamically, it felt like a regular car, and the engine was peppy. But there’s a good amount of road noise, and I had to adjust to the artificial feel of the regenerative brakes. It also seemed odd that the radio had to be turned on for the energy displays to be visible in the middle of the dashboard.
Buying a Volt isn’t like buying a conventional car. I learned from my electric utility that I should have provided the Volt’s electrical power needs to a licensed electrician, who would have come and inspected my garage, at my cost, ahead of time.
The electrician would have told me that my circa mid-1970s garage needed a separate circuit for the Volt, just to plug it in to a regular, 120-volt outlet.
The reason: The circuit in the garage got too warm as the Volt drew on the electricity, and this turned off the car’s power converter as a safety precaution.
So, I couldn’t charge the Volt there. Even if it had worked, I would have needed 10 to 12 hours for a full charge at 120 volts. A 240-volt charger kit for the Volt, which could cost $2,000, could fully charge the Volt faster, in four hours.
The odd thing is, just a month before, I had tested a Nissan Leaf in this same garage, using the same 120-volt power outlet that the Volt rejected, and the Leaf charged just fine.
GM officials said they thought that the Volt’s power converter was perhaps more safety conscious and sensitive to heat developing in the circuit.
The Volt wouldn’t charge at the Sacramento airport because the electric car parking spots had two older versions of electric chargers that weren’t compatible with the Volt.
But the Volt charged easily, though slowly, at a Sacramento parking garage where seven parking spaces were set aside for electric vehicles and had dedicated 120-volt electric outlets designed for the loads of electric cars.
Unfortunately, I would have had to stay there a long time — from 10:20 a.m. to 9 p.m. — to get a full charge.
By Dave Barry – Sunday, January 2, 2011 – Washington Post – None of the links made the transfer, so please read the original because much of the following is not made up.
Let’s put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out about 75 percent of all of the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes, we can, because they were not exposed to “Jersey Shore.”
So on second thought we see that this was, in fact, the worst year ever. The perfect symbol for the awfulness of 2010 was the BP oil spill, which oozed up from the depths and spread, totally out of control, like some kind of hideous uncontrollable metaphor. (Or “Jersey Shore.”) The scariest thing about the spill was, nobody in charge seemed to know what to do about it. Time and again, top political leaders personally flew down to the Gulf of Mexico to look at the situation firsthand and hold press availabilities. And yet somehow, despite these efforts, the oil continued to leak. This forced us to face the disturbing truth that even top policy thinkers with postgraduate degrees from Harvard University — Harvard University! — could not stop it.
The leak was eventually plugged by non-policy people using machinery of some kind. But by then our faith in our leaders had been shaken, especially because they also seemed to have no idea of what to do about this pesky recession. Congress tried every remedy it knows, ranging all the way from borrowing money from China and spending it on government programs, to borrowing MORE money from China and spending it on government programs. But in the end, all of this stimulus created few actual jobs, and most of those were in the field of tar-ball collecting.
Things were even worse abroad. North Korea continued to show why it is known as “the international equivalent of Charlie Sheen.” The entire nation of Greece went into foreclosure and had to move out; it is now living with relatives in Bulgaria. Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, all the while insisting that they would be used only for peaceful scientific research, such as — to quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — “seeing what happens when you drop one on Israel.” Closer to home, the already strained relationship between the United States and Mexico reached a new low after the theft, by a Juarez-based drug cartel, of the Grand Canyon.
This is not to say that 2010 was all bad. There were bright spots. Three, to be exact:
1. The Yankees did not even get into the World Series.
2. There were several days during which Lindsay Lohan was neither going into, nor getting out of, rehab.
3. Apple released the hugely anticipated iPad, giving iPhone people, at long last, something to fondle with their other hand.
Other than that, 2010 was a disaster. To make absolutely sure that we do not repeat it, let’s remind ourselves just how bad it was. Let’s put this year into a full-body scanner and check out its junk, starting with …
… which begins grimly, with the pesky unemployment rate remaining high. Every poll shows that the major concerns of the American people are federal spending, the exploding deficit, and — above all — jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs: This is what the public is worried about. In a word, the big issue is: jobs. So the Obama administration, displaying the keen awareness that has become its trademark, decides to focus like a laser on: health-care reform. The centerpiece of this effort is a historic bill that will either a) guarantee everybody excellent free health care, or b) permit federal bureaucrats to club old people to death. Nobody knows which, because nobody has read the bill, which in printed form has the same mass as a UPS truck.
The first indication that the health-care bill is not wildly popular comes when Republican Scott Brown, who opposes the bill, is elected to the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts voters, who in normal times would elect a crustacean before they would vote Republican. The vote shocks the Obama administration, which — recognizing that it is perceived as having its priorities wrong — decides that the president will make a series of high-profile speeches on the urgent need for: health-care reform.
In other economic news, Toyota announces a huge recall following reports that its popular Camry model is behaving unpredictably — accelerating, decelerating, downloading Internet porn and traveling backward in time to unstable historical periods. This is expected to benefit Toyota’s competitors, especially troubled GM, which is hoping to score big with the new Volt, a revolutionary vehicle capable of traveling nearly six miles before its 19,500 triple-A batteries must be replaced.
But January’s biggest story, watched with growing alarm by observers around the world and threatening to force the United Nations to intervene, is the tense confrontation between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno over who gets to be on NBC at 11:35 p.m. and tell jokes until the viewing audience falls asleep at 11:43. After a brutal struggle, Leno triumphs. O’Brien, vowing revenge, flees into the hills above Los Angeles with a small but loyal band of agents.
In other entertainment news, the runaway movie hit is “Avatar,” a futuristic epic about humans who travel to an alien planet to mine a precious mineral that they believe will give them the power to emit believable dialogue. This being a James Cameron movie, they fail.
Speaking of alien planets, in …
… Iran triumphantly announces (we are not making this item up) that it has launched into sub-orbital space a rocket carrying a rodent, two turtles and several worms. Iranian state television reports that the nation’s space program is “peaceful,” and that the rodent (we are still not making this up) is named “Helmz 1.”
In U.S. politics, President Obama, responding to the mounting public concern about jobs, invites Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House for a historic day-long summit on: health-care reform. Despite their deep philosophical differences, the two sides are able, after hours of sometimes-heated debate, to hammer out an agreement on when to break for lunch. They fail to make any progress on health care, although in his closing remarks, Obama notes that the historic summit produced “only minor furniture damage.”
In business news, Toyota suffers yet another blow when a U.S. Department of Transportation study links the Camry to both diabetes and the JFK assassination. The chief executive of Toyota appears before a congressional committee and offers a sincere and heartfelt apology for his company’s problems. At least, that’s what his translator claims; it is later determined that what the chief executive actually told the committee was, quote, “You have an eggplant in your bottom.”
Speaking of apologies: Tiger Woods delivers a nationally televised speech in which he says he is very, very sorry and has sworn off having sex with as many as eight different hot women per day. His golf game immediately goes into the toilet.
In other sports news, the Vancouver Winter Olympics begin on an uncertain note when it is discovered that Vancouver — apparently nobody realized this ahead of time — is a seaside city with a mild climate, so there is no snow. This hampers some of the competition, such as when the Latvian cross-country ski team gets bogged down in mud and is eaten by alligators. Despite these setbacks, the games are deemed a big success, at least by the Canadians, because they won in hockey.
In Super Bowl XMLLMMXVIIX, the underdog New Orleans Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts, setting off a celebration so joyous that people on Bourbon Street are still throwing up.
Speaking of celebrations, in …
… Democratic congressional leaders, responding to polls showing that the health-care bill is increasingly unpopular with the public, manage, with a frantic, last-minute effort, to pass the health-care bill, or, at least, a giant mass of paper that is assumed to be the health-care bill. This leads to a triumphant White House signing ceremony, the highlight of which is Vice President Joe “Joe” Biden dropping the f-bomb moments before being hustled off by aides to have an important meeting with somebody important.
Everyone at the ceremony agrees that the new law is historic and will become hugely popular with the American people once they have the opportunity to hear a few dozen more high-profile speeches about it from Obama. But opposition is “brewing” in the form of the Tea Party movement, consisting of regular Americans who are fed up with costly big-government programs except for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These activists are determined to elect a new breed of representatives who are not career politicians or even necessarily sane.
In international news:
* Greece asks the International Monetary Fund whether it can borrow 17 billion euro for “cigarettes.”
* Somali pirates, becoming increasingly brazen, seize the Staten Island Ferry.
* Iranian hero space rodent Helmz 1 is captured attempting to scurry across the Lebanese border into Israel. Iran claims this is a peaceful mission, but the Israelis note that Helmz 1 is wearing a tiny backpack filled with enough explosives to — in the words of one military analyst — “put somebody’s eye out.”
On a more hopeful note, on March 27 people in more than 4,000 cities around the world turn off their lights in observance of Earth Hour, saving an estimated 45 million megawatts of electricity — enough to power one of Al Gore’s houses for nearly three days.
But the environment suffers a big setback in …
… when the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico after being struck by a runaway Toyota Camry. BP initially downplays the magnitude of the problem, claiming that the resulting oil leak is smallish and might go away on its own or even prove to be, quote, “nutritious for oysters.” Soon, however, large patches of crude oil are drifting toward land, and it becomes clear that this is a major disaster — a challenge that we, as a nation, will have to meet, as we have met other challenges, with a combination of photo opportunities, lawsuits and tweeting.
Elsewhere on the disaster scene, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull (literally, “many syllables”) volcano erupts, sending huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and forcing airlines throughout northern Europe to ground flights. Greece, although not directly affected, announces it will take six months off, just in case; France, as an added precaution, surrenders.
In domestic news, Arizona passes a controversial new law designed to crack down on illegal immigrants; this draws a sharp rebuke from the Mexican government, currently headquartered in Tucson.
Obama outlines his bold vision for the U.S. space program, calling for a manned mission to establish comprehensive health-care reform on Mars by the mid-2030s. The president also signs a historic arms-reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev under which both countries will destroy one-third of their older nuclear missiles by upgrading them to Windows Vista. In a related development, Iran purchases $78 million worth of used nuclear-missile parts on Craigslist.
Speaking of growing menaces, in …
… the pesky Deepwater Horizon oil spill dominates the news as BP tries a series of increasingly desperate measures to plug the leak, including, at one point, a 167,000-pound wad of pre-chewed Juicy Fruit. Obama, eager to show that he is on top of the situation, develops severe forehead cramps from standing on the shore and frowning with concern at the water. Meanwhile, Congress holds televised hearings that establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Congress is very upset about, and totally opposed to, large oil spills. Despite these heroic efforts, the leak continues to grow and by the end of the month is threatening suburban Des Moines.
On the terrorism front, New York police, alerted by Times Square street vendors, discover a smoking SUV packed with explosives — a violation of many city ordinances, including the ban on smoking. Fortunately, the car bomb is disarmed, and a suspect is later captured at Kennedy Airport by sharp-eyed Transportation Security Administration workers trained to spot suspicious behavior.
Ha, ha! Just kidding, of course. The suspect is captured by U.S. Customs agents at the last minute after boarding a Dubai-bound plane filled with passengers who, like the suspect, all had been carefully screened by the TSA to make sure they were not carrying more than three ounces of shampoo.
In other air-travel news, the boards of directors of United and Continental approve a merger that will create one of the world’s largest airlines, with a combined total of 700 planes, 88,000 employees, and nearly two dozen packets of peanuts.
But the big financial news is the May 6 stock market “Flash Crash.” The Dow at one point is down nearly 1,000 points, including a drop of 600 points in five minutes, resulting in what financial analysts say is the largest mass purchase of emergency replacement underwear in Wall Street history. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigates the crash and later issues a 350-page report concluding: “You know that E-Trade baby? In the commercials? With the grown man’s voice? That baby is REAL.”
Abroad, thousands of people riot in the streets of Athens to protest a report by the International Monetary Fund concluding that Greece should “think about maybe getting a part-time job.”
In sports, yet another major-league pitcher pitches yet another perfect game, and the baseball world wets its collective pants, because there is nothing more exciting to a true baseball fan than a game in which one of the teams can’t even manage to get on base.
The excitement mounts in …
… as the Deepwater Horizon oil leak continues to gush, with each day bringing alarming new media reports claiming that it is an even worse environmental disaster than had been reported the previous day. The furor culminates in a New York Times story stating that eventually all the oil in the world will leak out through the hole in the Gulf floor and cover the entire planet with a layer of oil 27 feet deep, which according to the Times would be “potentially devastating for polar bears.” BP attempts to stop the leak using a high-tech robot submarine, only to see the effort fail when the sub is seized by Somali pirates. In Washington, the chief executive of BP appears before an angry House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which votes unanimously, after seven-and-a-half hours of testimony, to give him a noogie. Still, somehow, the oil keeps leaking.
Rolling Stone magazine publishes a controversial article in which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying that the Beatles’s version of “Twist and Shout” is better than the one by the Isley Brothers. Obama has no choice but to relieve the general of his command.
Abroad, U.S. intelligence intercepts a top-secret cable from Iran to North Korea, apparently written in code, stating: “Thanks for selling us the buclear beapons.” In response, the United States threatens to impose harsh new sanctions that, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “will make the previous harsh sanctions that we threatened to impose seem like only moderate threatened sanctions, and this time we are not kidding around.”
On the world economic front, thousands of rock-throwing rioters take to the streets of Athens and Rome to protest punishing new austerity measures under which they would no longer be provided free rocks by the government.
In consumer news, Apple finally releases the long-awaited iPhone 4, which incorporates many subtle improvements, the cumulative result of which is that it can neither make nor receive telephone calls. It is, of course, a huge hit.
In sports, the World Cup gets underway in South Africa; despite fears of violence, the massive event is totally peaceful, except for the estimated 13,000 people who leap to their deaths from the tops of stadiums to escape the sound of the vuvuzelas. The early tournament highlight (which we are not making up) is provided by the French team, which, after getting off to a bad start, goes on strike.
Speaking of bad, in …
… the Deepwater Horizon oil spill officially becomes, according to the news media, the worst thing that has ever happened, with environmental experts reporting that tar balls have been sighted on the surface of the moon. Just when all appears to be lost, BP announces that it has stopped the leak, using a 75-ton cap and what a company spokesperson describes as “a truly heroic manatee named Wendell.” Although oil is no longer leaking, much damage has been done, so this important story remains the focus of the nation’s attention for nearly 45 minutes, after which the nation’s attention shifts to Lindsay Lohan.
In other national news, Congress passes and Obama signs into law a financial-reform act designed to curb Wall Street excesses by mandating the death penalty for anybody caught wearing a watch costing more than a house. Having guaranteed that the financial community will behave in a responsible manner, Washington returns to the important work of running up the deficit.
On the foreign economic front, anger builds over plans by the governments of both Greece and France to raise the retirement age, which means workers would have to continue striking for several years longer before they could start collecting pensions. In protest, everybody in both nations goes on strike.
In the World Cup final, Spain defeats Holland, only to have the trophy snatched away by the North Korean team, which, despite a U.S. threat of “really, really harsh sanctions,” turns it over to the Iranian team, which was not even in the tournament. Eerily, all of this was predicted by a psychic octopus named Paul, who is immediately hired by Goldman Sachs.
But the big sports story is the decision by LeBron James, announced in a one-hour television special watched by a worldwide audience estimated at 127 billion, to take his talents to South Beach and play for the Miami Heat, where he will join Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Michael Jordan, the late Wilt Chamberlain and Jesus to form a dream basketball team so supremely excellent that it cannot possibly lose, not even one single game, ever, in theory. Miami erupts in a joyous weeks-long victory celebration. During the excitement, Fidel Castro dies, an event that goes unreported in the Miami Herald, which has devoted all its staff resources to a nine-part series speculating on whom LeBron will select as his dentist.
The month ends on a troubling note as the U.N. Security Council votes unanimously to send a peacekeeping force to quell Mel Gibson.
Speaking of troubling, in …
… concern over the direction of the U.S. economy deepens when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in what some economists see as a sign of pessimism, applies for Canadian citizenship.
In other economic news, the first family, seeking to boost Gulf tourism, vacations in Panama City, where Obama, demonstrating that the water is perfectly safe despite the oil spill, plunges in for swim. Quick action by the Secret Service rescues him from the jaws of a mutant 500-pound shrimp sprouting what appear to be primitive wings. The first family hastily departs for Martha’s Vineyard to demonstrate that the water is also perfectly safe there.
Speaking of getaways: JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater becomes a national sensation when he curses out a passenger, deploys the evacuation chute, grabs two beers and slides out of the plane. He is immediately hired as director of customer relations by the TSA.
In the month’s most dramatic story, 33 copper miners in Chile are trapped 2,300 feet underground following a cave-in caused by a runaway Toyota Camry. The good news is that the men are still alive; the bad news is that the only drilling equipment capable of reaching them quickly belongs to BP. Informed of this, the men elect to stay down there for the time being.
In legal news, Elena Kagan is sworn in as the newest Supreme Court justice, having established, in three days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that she went to either Harvard or Yale.
Elsewhere, a federal jury deadlocks on 22 of 24 charges against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, convicting him only of, quote, “being some kind of enormous rodent.” Outside the courtroom, Blagojevich tearfully thanks his supporters, then robs a convenience store.
In New York, the big issue is a proposal to build, two blocks from Ground Zero, a Muslim community center, which proponents claim will promote dialogue. Even in the purely conceptual phase, it promotes a huge amount of dialogue, to the point where National Guard troops may need to be called in.
Another heartwarming interfaith story erupts in …
… when Terry Jones, pastor of a tiny church in Florida, declares that he will proceed with plans to burn a Koran on Sept. 11. The media, recognizing that this is not really news, ignore him, and the matter is quickly forgotten.
But seriously: Jones becomes a major international story, comparable in magnitude to all of the Kardashians combined. Obama speaks out against Jones’s plan, as do members of Congress, the military and virtually every American religious leader; abroad, there are fatal riots. Finally, after a great deal of soul-searching television exposure, Jones decides not to burn the Koran, explaining, “I finally figured out that I’m just an attention-seeking jerkwater idiot.” The news media vow never again to encourage this kind of mindless hysteria. Abroad, the rioters agree to stop taking everything so darned seriously.
Getting back to reality: The 2010 election season enters its final days with polls showing that Congress enjoys the same overall level of voter popularity as hemorrhoids. Incumbents swarm out of Washington and head for their home districts to campaign on the theme of how much they hate Washington, in the desperate hope that the voters will return them to Washington. Obama, basking in the glow of the health-care reform act, offers to campaign for Democratic candidates, only to find that many of them have important dental appointments and are unable to join him on whatever day he is planning to visit. Adding zest to the Republican stew is the presence of many Tea Party candidates, including Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell, who at one point in her campaign releases a TV commercial that begins with her stating, in a calm and reassuring tone, that she is not a witch.
Meanwhile in Chile, an attempt to deliver food to the 33 trapped copper miners ends in a tragic accident involving what mining officials describe as “an incredibly courageous Domino’s driver.”
Speaking of tragic, in …
… the U.S. economy suffers another blow as the Federal Bureau of Never Expecting Unemployment to Be As High As It Actually Is reports that, for the 37th consecutive month, unemployment is unexpectedly high. “Darned if we didn’t get fooled again!” exclaims a bureau spokesperson, adding, “We expect it to be lower next month.”
Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, speaking from his new office in Toronto, announces a plan to drastically increase the U.S. money supply by “quantitative easing,” a controversial process involving what Bernanke describes as “a major job for Kinko’s.”
The economy remains the big theme as the congressional elections enter the home stretch, with incumbents from both parties declaring their eagerness to go back to Washington and knock some sense into whatever incompetent morons are in charge. Polls show that the voters are in a very cranky mood, which tends to favor outsiders such as the Tea Party candidates, although O’Donnell definitely hurts her chances in Delaware when, during a televised debate, she turns her opponent into a toad.
Obama, continuing his quest to find candidates willing to accept his help, winds up campaigning in what White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs describes as “some very key student council races.” Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, raising her stature as a potential 2012 GOP presidential contender, weighs in on the issues with a number of important tweets.
On the legal front, the Supreme Court, as it does every October, begins a new term, which is hastily adjourned when the justices discover that their robes have bedbugs.
In the month’s most dramatic story, the 33 trapped Chilean miners are all brought safely to the surface, only to be sent right back down because they failed to bring up any copper — which, as the mining company points out, “was the whole point of sending them down there in the first place.” Meanwhile, in France, millions of workers again take to the streets to demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, that they are French.
Elsewhere abroad, terrorists in Yemen attempt to send mail bombs to the United States, confirming the long-held suspicions of U.S. intelligence that there really is a country named “Yemen.” The plot, which involves explosives concealed inside printer cartridges, is foiled, but as a precaution the TSA decides to prohibit air travelers in the States from carrying anything capable of printing, including pens, pencils and children in grades two through five.
In sports, the National Football League, seeking to reduce violence, imposes stiff fines for defensive beheading.
Speaking of gory, in …
… the elections turn out to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, who lose the House of Representatives, a bunch of Senate seats, some governorships, some state legislatures and all of the key student council races. Also, a number of long-term Democratic incumbents are urinated on by their own dogs. Obama immediately departs for a nine-day trip to Asia to see if anybody over there wants to hear about the benefits of health-care reform.
Speaking of health: Some air travelers express concern about radiation from the TSA’s new high-resolution scanners, especially after screeners at O’Hare are seen using one to make popcorn. TSA chief John Pistole insists that the scanners are completely safe “as long as you move through quickly.” He also assures passengers that their body images “are not saved for any purpose whatsoever, such as entertainment at the TSA Christmas party.” Nevertheless, some passengers refuse to be scanned; they are required to undergo a manual procedure that is known, within the agency, as “the full gerbil.”
World tension mounts as North Korea, in what is widely seen as a deliberate act of provocation, fires artillery shells at Denver. Meanwhile, in another indication of the worsening global debt crisis, the directors of the International Monetary Fund vote to have Ireland’s legs broken.
The U.S. economy also continues to struggle, as the unemployment rate, catching everybody by surprise, turns out to be higher than expected for yet another month. The lone bright spot is provided by the president’s deficit-reduction commission, which, after months of work, releases a draft of a tough plan that, if Congress can muster the backbone to enact it, would reduce the deficit by trillions of dollars and put the nation on the path back to fiscal sanity. This is a welcome bit of comic relief in the stressed-out capital; everybody enjoys a hearty bipartisan laugh, then gets back to maneuvering for the 2012 elections.
In other entertainment news, Bristol Palin’s bid to win “Dancing With the Stars” falls short when the judges throw out 147 million votes from Palm Beach County, Fla. She winds up finishing third, behind actress Jennifer Grey and Vice President Biden.
In sports, Obama’s upper lip is injured in a basketball game when he is hit in the mouth by an elbow believed to have been thrown by North Korea.
International tension continues to mount in …
… with the continued release by Wikileaks of classified cables leaked from the State Department, which apparently has the same level of data security as an Etch A Sketch. The cables reveal a number of embarrassing diplomatic secrets, such as:
* The last three rounds of Middle East peace talks have consisted entirely of delegates playing Twister.
* The Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan frequently, as a prank, exchange places in the United Nations, and nobody has ever noticed.
* High-ranking officials of Scotland, speaking in private, admit that they don’t understand what the hell they’re saying, either.
* In 2007, Hungary paid $170 million to Russia for pictures of Sweden naked.
In domestic politics, a partisan debate rages over what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts. The Democrats, suddenly alarmed about the deficit, want to raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year — or, as the Democrats routinely refer to them, “billionaires.” The Republicans want to extend tax cuts for everybody, but compensate by cutting federal spending at a later date using an amazing new spending-cutting device they have seen advertised on TV.
Finally, Obama and the Republican leaders reach a compromise under which income-tax rates will stay the same for everybody, but the death tax will be expanded to include people who are merely hung over. Also, in a concession to the Iowa congressional delegation, the federal government will continue to fund a “green energy” program under which corn is converted into ethanol, which is then converted back to corn, which is then planted to grow more corn. This will cost $5 billion a year, but it is expected to save or create literally dozens of Iowa jobs.
Obama, trying to sell the compromise, appears ambivalent, saying that “it is less than ideal,” but also pointing out that “it totally sucks,” adding, “I hate it.” Despite this smooth sales pitch, many Democrats are unhappy. There is even talk of a primary challenge to Obama in 2012, a notion dismissed as “nonsense” by Hillary Clinton, who speaks to reporters while traveling on what aides describe as routine State Department business in New Hampshire.
In another potential setback for the president, a federal judge in Virginia rules that the health-care reform act violates the Constitution’s tonnage clause.
On the environmental front, delegates from 193 countries at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, pass a resolution stating that they should not have had those last four rounds of margaritas.
In television news, Fidel Castro makes a surprise guest appearance on “The Walking Dead.”
Speaking of entertainment: As the year finally draws to a close, all eyes are on Seaside Heights, NJ, where MTV plans to ring in the new year by dropping a ball containing Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, one of the leading bimbos of “Jersey Shore.” Millions eagerly tune in, only to find that the ball has been attached to something that makes it drop slowly. A bitterly disappointing end to a bitterly disappointing year.
But at least it’s over, right? And we can take comfort in the fact that 2011 cannot possibly be worse. Unless, of course, this newly discovered asteroid — maybe you read about it — continues on a trajectory that …
Try not to think about it. Have another margarita. Happy New Year.
Dave Barry is making most of this up. Unfortunately, some of the most bizarre items are real. He can be reached at email@example.com.