Something for the weekend: poles, podcasts and Chomsky

By Gareth Renowden 12/02/2011

Casanova - 1996Something for everyone this weekend: a few podcasts to grab, ice news from both ends of the planet, interesting reading, and a great interview with Noam Chomsky. Audio first: Radio NZ National’s Bryan Crump interviewed Prof Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University in Queensland at the beginning of the week. It’s a wide-ranging discussion: Palutikof is an engaging speaker and frank about the dangers we confront. Grab the podcast now, because it’ll disappear from the RNZ site on Monday.

Matthew Woods’ Journeys to the Ice blog (part of the Sciblogs network) recently featured a two-part podcast on “the Greenland ice sheet in a high CO2 world” — an extended interview with Canadian ice modeller Jeremy Fyke. It’s interesting both for the light Fyke’s work sheds on possible futures for the ice sheet, but also a fascinating insight to the process of building and running complex climate models.

At the other end of the planet:

  • Aussie researchers working on the Lambert Glacier ice stream have discovered evidence that the huge East Antarctic ice sheet may respond to warming rather more quickly than had been thought. Oh dear.
  • Antarctica New Zealand has finished provisioning a new camp at Roosevelt Island, 700 km East of the NZ and US bases on the western edge of the Ross ice shelf for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project, a seven nation collaboration between NZ, the US, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Australia, and Italy. Drilling starts next summer with the expectation of producing a high resolution core that will shed light on the stability of the Ross ice shelf and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the transition out of the last ice age.
  • The BBC looks at the secrets of Antarctica’s fossilised forests — how gingkos survived the long night (the long summers more than made up for the dark, apparently), and how the local dinosaurs adapted.

On the big island to the north of Tasmania, the government’s chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut has begun releasing updates to his 2008 report: three in the last ten days. I’m waiting with interest to hear what he has to say about the state of the science (due on March 10), but he wasn’t afraid to draw the obvious conclusion about weather extremes when releasing the first update, Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action. One point seemed well made: “the presence of uncertainty in the range of possible climate outcomes strengthens the case for climate change action” — something that every politician needs to understand.

On the subject of extremes, Reuters has a long feature on how the US insurance industry is responding. “It’s a tough time to be in the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business. Storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”

Some good new web sites:

  • NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) has relaunched its web presence with a very good looking and informative site. Plenty of material on ocean acidification and the oceanic carbon cycle, with excellent graphics. Worth having a dig around there…
  • If you ever get confused but all those acronyms for ocean/atmosphere interactions — PDO, ENSO, NAO, SAM and so on, UCAR has the page for you. Good clear explanations and nice illustrations.
  • The Carbon Brief is a new UK climate news site. It’s a professional effort, with good news coverage, excellent background articles and profiles of key players. Keep an eye on their Twitter or RSS feed.

A prominent scientist is fighting back against the libels slung around so freely by the denial campaign. Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver is suing “freelance climate change denier” Tim Ball. DeSmogBlog and the New York Times have the details, but it looks like an open and shut case. Ball went too far, and picked on the wrong person…

And finally: Noam Chomsky. Many years ago, in a classroom far, far away, I had to parse a page of Chomsky (writing about grammar) as part of the entrance exam to a well-known university. It was damn near impenetrable (but I got in). In this interview, he’s anything but. In some senses, his views are old fashioned — you don’t hear many people (especially not in the US) talking about class issues — but even if you don’t agree with everything he says, the man talks sense. Discussing the election of so many Republican climate deniers he says: ’If this was happening in some small country it wouldn’t matter much. But when it’s happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world, it’s a danger to the survival of the species.’ I fear he’s right [via Energy Bulletin].

[The Divine Comedy]