Yukon glaciers thinning fast — maybe forever!


Glaciologist Gwenn Flowers on Kaskawulsh glacierSusan Ormiston/CBC

❝ “We as Canadians are stewards of about a third of the world’s mountain glaciers and ice caps, so this is our responsibility,” Gwenn Flowers says.

The dramatic changes to the glaciers in the Yukon are an early warning of what climate change could mean for the rest of the planet, researchers say. And Flowers sees lots of reason for concern reflected in the state of the ice…

❝ Her tiny team of three is mapping the Kaskawulsh glacier — 70 kilometres long and five kilometres wide — as it struggles under the double threat of a warming climate and diminishing snow cover.

The research boils down to an inescapable conclusion: The glacier can’t compensate for the volume it’s losing now each year.

The shame is that those who have caused – and continue to cause – climate change take little or no responsibility for the results of their greed. Neither they nor the political hacks prancing through government halls are willing to confront or respond to what we learn from science and history.

An open letter from tech leaders about Donald Trump — his election would be a disaster

More than 100 technology leaders signed a letter naming Donald Trump a “disaster for innovation,” saying his views on immigration, internet security and government investment would stifle the technology industry and divide the nation.

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, Box Chief Executive Officer Aaron Levie, EBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Qualcomm’s Irwin and Paul Jacobs, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla were among company founders, investors and employees that endorsed the letter written by Katie Jacobs Stanton, former vice president of global media at Twitter and a former special adviser on innovation at the U.S. State Department. The values of diversity, an open exchange of ideas and regard for legal and political institutions are under threat from a potential Trump presidency, according to the letter…

Here’s a link to the letter.

While Republican candidates usually gain strong financial support through campaign donations, those in the technology industry have contributed $3 million to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort compared with $31,000 for Trump, according to Crowdpac, a startup that tracks money in politics. The industry has donated a total of $10 million to presidential campaigns and super-political action committees thus far in the election cycle, according to the data.

The same link to the letter also lists who was involved in producing this letter.

China adopts emissions policy that won’t get through U.S. Congress


George HW Bush signing Clean Air Act legislation including cap-and-trade in 1990

Last Thursday night news broke of the impending announcement of a national cap-and-trade program for carbon in China, as part of a U.S.-China joint climate announcement. This market-based approach, pioneered in the U.S. with the sulfur dioxide trading program, has clearly come to be seen as an essential policy tool to combat climate change, increasingly embraced by countries, policymakers, and global business leaders of all political persuasions.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that established the Acid Rain program to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides was a milestone for market-based environmental policies. It led to the creation of the SO2 trading program, which has helped cut those emissions at a lower cost than many had envisioned at the start of the program. The experience with this program also provides critical lessons on the importance of good policy design that can help inform future policies. (For example, the need for updating emissions caps to reflect the latest science and declining technology costs.)

Since then, cap-and-trade systems have been successfully established in Europe (the EU ETS), California (via AB32), and the nine Northeast RGGI states, among other places. Many other places, including the Canadian province of British Columbia, have a carbon tax or plan to implement one…

Starting in 2013, China began to pilot carbon cap-and-trade programs at the sub-national level. The pilot programs now extend to six cities (Beijing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin) and two provinces (Guangdong and Hubei). The experiment has had some encouraging results, and (together with lessons from the EU ETS, California, RGGI, and other carbon trading regimes) provide the real-world experience needed to design a national system to limit emissions in a cost-effective way. China’s INDC announced earlier this year signaled the country’s intention to use carbon pricing to help meet its goal of peaking CO2 emissions by 2030, if not earlier…

Last week was a momentous one for climate action, book-ended by the Pope’s address to Congress and the joint climate announcement from Presidents Obama and Xi. The economist in me cannot help but wonder: If China can do it, why not the U.S.? It’s time for a national price on carbon in the country that invented the concept.

You needn’t be a cynic to understand why the United States will not keep its fair share of the bargain struck between Presidents Obama and Xi. Congress must be part of the equation funding efforts of this size. Between Flat Earth Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, nothing will be accomplished. That’s just a realistic view of what our national-level politicians have become.

China’s pilot programs have moved forward. Just as their experiments with individual cities becoming Free Trade Zones worked out, other cities are already in line waiting not-very-patiently to acquire the benefits of progressive reforms.

While this system can sort about half the polluting problems of excess carbon, the last-mile question also needs to be answered, as well. China needs to replace coal home fires for heating and cooking with natural gas. That process began a few years ago; but, in many ways, it is more demanding because it requires upgraded infrastructure — nationwide.

Nevertheless, both are on the way. Which is about two orders of magnitude more than we can say about the dungheap of backwardness that stretches from SCOTUS to Congress.

Rising anthropogenic nitrate levels in North Pacific Ocean

Human-induced changes to Earth’s carbon cycle — for example, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean acidification — have been observed for decades. However, a study published this week in Science showed human activities, in particular industrial and agricultural processes, have also had significant impacts on the upper ocean nitrogen cycle.

The rate of deposition of reactive nitrogen (i.e., nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel burning and ammonia compounds from fertilizer use) from the atmosphere to the open ocean has more than doubled globally over the last 100 years. This anthropogenic addition of nitrogen has reached a magnitude comparable to about half of global ocean nitrogen fixation (the natural process by which atmospheric nitrogen gas becomes a useful nutrient for organisms). David Karl…teamed up with researchers from Korea, Switzerland and…NOAA…to assess changes in nitrate concentration between the 1960s and 2000s across the open North Pacific Ocean.

Their analysis, which could discern human-derived nitrogen from natural nitrogen fixation, revealed that the oceanic nitrate concentration increased significantly over the last 30 years in surface waters of the North Pacific due largely to the enhanced deposition of nitrogen from the atmosphere.

“This is a sobering result, one that I would not have predicted,” said Karl. “The North Pacific is so vast it is hard to imagine that humans could impact the natural nitrogen cycle.”

…Their assessment revealed a consistent picture of increasing nitrate concentrations, the magnitude and pattern of which can only be explained by the observed increase in atmospheric nitrogen deposition.

Enhanced nitrogen deposition has several potential ecological ramifications. Because biological activity is limited by nitrate availability in the North Pacific Ocean, the input of new nitrogen from the atmosphere may increase photosysnthesis in the sunlit layers and export of carbon-rich organic material out of the surface ocean into the deep.

“The burgeoning human population needs energy and food — unfortunately, nitrogen pollution is an unintended consequence and not even the open ocean is immune from our daily industrial activities,” said Karl.

Given the likelihood that the magnitude of atmospheric nitrogen deposition will continue to increase in the future, the North Pacific Ocean could rapidly switch to having surplus nitrate. Thus, past and future increases in atmospheric nitrogen deposition have the potential to alter the base of the marine food web; and, in the long term, the structure of the ecosystem.

…If similar trends are confirmed in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it would constitute another example of a global-scale alteration of Earth system. Further, the findings of this study of the North Pacific highlight the need for greater controls on the emission of nitrogen compounds during combustion and agricultural processes.

The short answer is – if we don’t succeed in wresting control of the politics and power of our nation from the Know-Nothings – we’re screwed. We will be no different from fishes swimming in a steadily heated cauldron until they are killed and cooked. And the Koch Bros, the John Boehners and Rand Pauls of our political world ain’t even dropping in some onions and garlic to make our end a savory one.

When autism may be an advantage


Thorkil Sonne and his son Lars at home in Ringsted, Denmark

When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading. At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic. “Then came sadness,” Annette says. Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent. The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.

What they read, however, didn’t square with the Lars they came home to every day. He was a happy, curious boy, and as he grew, he amazed them with his quirky and astonishing abilities…To his father, Lars seemed less defined by deficits than by his unusual skills. And those skills, like intense focus and careful execution, were exactly the ones that Sonne, who was the technical director at a spinoff of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecommunications company, often looked for in his own employees…

Sonne did not consider himself an entrepreneurial type, but watching Lars — and hearing similar stories from parents he met volunteering with an autism organization — he slowly conceived a business plan: many companies struggle to find workers who can perform specific, often tedious tasks, like data entry or software testing; some autistic people would be exceptionally good at those tasks. So in 2003, Sonne quit his job, mortgaged the family’s home, took a two-day accounting course and started a company called Specialisterne, Danish for “the specialists,” on the theory that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it.

For nearly a decade, the company has been modest in size — it employs 35 high-functioning autistic workers who are hired out as consultants, as they are called, to 19 companies in Denmark — but it has grand ambitions….At the World Economic Forum meeting in Tianjin in September, he was named one of 26 winners of a global social entrepreneurship award. Specialisterne has inspired start-ups and has five of its own, around the world. In the next few months, Sonne plans to move with his family to the United States, where the number of autistic adults — roughly 50,000 turn 18 every year — as well as a large technology sector suggests a good market for expansion…

For previously unemployable people — one recent study found that more than half of Americans with an autism diagnosis do not attend college or find jobs within two years of graduating from high school — Sonne’s idea holds out the possibility of self-sufficiency.

A long, fascinating article. The concept isn’t original – except to the demographic defined by Sonne’s experience with his son. One of my close kin was born profoundly deaf and when she and her family won the battle of mainstreaming and getting an education, the question of employment remained. The avenue she discovered – during the era of loud, irritating IBM keyboards – was data entry. Eventually, her experience with the content she read and turned into digital data led to a career managing and administering contracts based on that data.

Still, this can be a wider search and a daunting task. The emotional and social baggage associated with autism can be greater than a traditional “handicap”. The tale of Thorkil Sonne and Lars is inspirational and an education in and of itself.

Basque country has economic lessons for Spain

Spain’s dash into tourism in the 1970s and its property boom last decade largely passed by the Basque region, a cool, damp corner of the north with a reputation for separatist violence. Instead the Basques stuck with industry, by force of circumstance.

Euskadi, the Basque name for the hilly province of 2 million bordering France, now outshines the rest of Spain with a better credit rating than central government, the lowest regional unemployment and borrowing costs half those of other areas…

The Basque region’s secret has been in sticking to manufacturing over the property and tourism industries that ended in economic misery elsewhere in Spain when a real estate bubble fuelled by easy credit burst in 2009…

The Basque Country is Spain’s fifth largest regional economy, with a gross domestic product of 66.1 billion euros, meaning it accounts for around 7 percent of national GDP. The region’s exports are more or less evenly balanced between the rest of Spain and markets beyond Spanish borders.

Its deficit-to-GDP ratio is just 0.25 percent, compared with nearly 90 percent for the central state. It has the lowest unemployment rate in Spain at 13.55 percent, compared with 24.4 percent nationally…

The region, at Spain’s border with continental Europe, is rich in natural resources. A cradle of the iron and steel industry, it was an obvious choice as a manufacturing base.

“There was a clear bet on industry here, a bet on those traditional sectors, such as iron, steel, energy and small and medium-sized companies that make all those components for the energy and car sectors, that make things that you can hold in your hand,” Jose Luis Curbelo, director general of the Basque Institute for Competitiveness, said.

That is the secret of the Basque economy,” he said. “Basque industry immediately internationalized, whether that was by producing components and gadgets for overseas companies, or by setting up shop and manufacturing abroad.”

“That process was much faster and much more committed than in the rest of Spain, so the collapse in the domestic market hasn’t affected Basque companies as much. A lot of their sales are global and they can withstand the crisis in better shape.”

RTFA for details, anecdotal tales and reasonableness of a people oppressed by fascists and democrats alike – who survived both.

Yes, you should expect a cranky Celtic geek like me to feel a bit extra love for a cranky Celtic people. The Basque nation is as independent-minded as a highlander — often as intolerant of their own species of Sassenach as well. Fortunately, arguing with the central government in Madrid never brought dedicated self-sufficiency to a halt.

Felix Pharand’s maps show human impact on Earth

On the last day of October 2011, the U.N. says the world population will hit seven billion people — an increase of one billion since 1999.

To show some of the impacts of this vast human upheaval, Canadian anthropologist Felix Pharand has created a series of visualizations mapping the presence of technology onto a selection of satellite images showing the Earth from space.

Using data from a range of sources, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the World Meteorological Organization, the images depict a sprawl of air traffic routes, the underwater cables that carry the internet, road and rail networks, pipelines, shipping lanes and electricity transmission lines.

These images are illustrations of how far we have come at transforming our home planet,” said Pharand, who is founder-director of Globaia — an environmental education organization based in Quebec.

“It shows a human-dominated planet where wilderness areas are shrinking and where the habitats of other species are decreasing in size,” he added.

‘Nuff said. RTFA. Look at the maps.

China starts construction on the world’s biggest civil airport


Brown shaded area = Amsterdam City, Green = Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Beijing has started construction on a new mega-airport that will be roughly the size of Bermuda and have nine runways. When Beijing Daxing International airport opens in 2015, the Chinese capital will become the world’s busiest aviation hub, handling around 370,000 passengers a day.

It is only three years since the opening of Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport, a sweeping structure designed by Sir Norman Foster that is far bigger than all of Heathrow’s five terminals combined.

But an enormous boom in China’s aviation industry has already left the capital’s existing facilities stretched to breaking point. “It is impossible to add even one more flight to the tight daily schedule of the Capital airport,” said Li Jiaxing, the minister in charge of China’s Civil Aviation Administration.

“The existing airport in Beijing has an annual capacity of 75 million passengers. Last year it handled 73 million,” said Cao Yunchun, a professor at the country’s Civil Aviation University. “In two years, it will be totally packed. And it cannot be expanded infinitely,” he added.

Instead, Beijing’s planners have found a 21 sq mile site to the south of the city, in the suburb of Daxing. Currently the site is around an hour’s drive from the city centre, but planners are pencilling in an extension to Beijing’s metro, and perhaps even a high-speed train line.

The new facility will not only serve Beijing, but also Tianjin and parts of Hebei as the Chinese capital morphs into a mega-city, its suburbs merging into those of the cities around it. The airport will be Beijing’s third, after Capital and the smaller, primarily military, Nanyuan airport.

Phew! While we prattle on about whether or not it’s “fiscally appropriate” to repair infrastructure built a half-century ago – and crumbling – the nations we compete with for commerce on a global stage are building for future business and other travel.

This is not how we got to be the nation we are; but, it certainly may be how we continue to lose stature and competitiveness.

Germany’s future turns from the U.S. to China

Germany is bettering its European rivals in the race to harness Chinese growth as exports to the Asian nation begin to outstrip those to the U.S.

With its consumers and companies sating their appetite for power turbines, cars and electronics, China became Germany’s largest non-European customer at the end of last year, helping drive up share prices from BASF SE to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG…

“This is a turning point in Germany’s economic history,” said Andreas Rees, chief Germany economist at UniCredit Markets and Investment in Munich. “China could become the largest export market of all by 2015.”

The U.S. has been Germany’s most important trading partner beyond European borders since the end of World War II, a relationship that helped turn the country into a pillar of economic and political stability for the west. Now, with China becoming the main impulse for world growth, Germany’s exporters of machinery, consumer goods and luxury cars are increasingly turning to the east.

“The theme for this decade is that millions of people in China want to live like Europeans,” said Herbert Perus, head of equities at Raiffeisen Capital Management in Vienna, who helps oversee about $36 billion. “The ‘Made in Germany’ brand is going to be very strong in this market…”

While exports to the U.S. reclaimed the top non-European spot in January, Rees said that will likely be temporary. Sales to mainland China surged 44 percent last year, more than to any other destination. They have more than quadrupled in the last decade, tripling China’s share of Germany’s exports to 5.6 percent. By contrast, the U.S. share dropped to 6.9 percent in 2010 from 10.3 percent in 2000…

Chinese demand is soaring for exactly the goods German firms specialize in — industrial machinery, cars and consumer products. The Chinese middle class could double its 2008 size to 400 million people by 2014, Societe Generale predicts, fueling growth for European firms that make the goods they want…

We are undoubtedly seeing a shift in the centre of gravity,” said Fred Irwin, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt. “But with German firms opening factories both in the U.S. and in China, it’s a win-win situation for them.”

RTFA for beaucoup details. No need to revisit the silliness of American industrialists. Especially those whose only loyalty has been to the flow of dollars – not the people who produced their profits for so long.