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Fake earthquake in Lebanon

But worry not, UN peacekeepers were there:

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon today wrapped up a two-day large-scale disaster response exercise, responding to a fictitious earthquake in the south of the country.

The dry run, which the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) conducted with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), tested the forces’ combined reaction to an earthquake with a magnitude of six on the Richter scale.

I suppose that for those who might assume (wrongly, in my opinion) that taking on environmental projects goes beyond peacekeepers' responsibilities, stopping a fake earthquake doesn't sound too impressive. The difference, of course, is that a real earthquake, were one to hit Lebanon, would be all too tangible -- and the benefits of peacekeepers' training all too apparent. The takeaway from environmental projects may not always seem as lifesaving, but it's harder to appreciate their positive impact because they are preventative measures. Kind of like, say, preparing to deal with a large-scale earthquake.

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How many lightbulbs does it take to change global warming?

Well, many. But, according to the S-G, it can make a big difference:

Recently, I visited an ambitious project to promote energy-saving lighting in China. By phasing out old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs and introducing a new generation of lighting, China expects to cut national energy consumption by 8 per cent.

This can have a profound global impact. Consider this: lighting accounts for 19 per cent of world energy consumption. Scientists say we can reduce that by a third or more merely by changing lightbulbs.

Sure, it's one thing to use the nifty-looking CFL bulbs in your own house, but one house times...China...makes for a lot of energy saved.

(image from flickr user TheRogue under a Creative Commons license)

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How to stop desertification?

Build a giant wall.  6,000 kilometers long.  Made out of sand.  Stuck together with bacteria.  No, seriously.

"The threat is desertification. My response is a sandstone wall made from solidified sand," said Mr Larsson, who describes himself as a dune architect.

The sand would be stabilised by flooding it with bacteria that can set it like concrete in a matter of hours.

Take his word for it; he's a dune architect.  And desertification is not something to mess around with.  It's poised to affect over 2 billion people in 140 countries if left unchecked.  But with a gigantic, bacteria-reinforced dune wall, buttressing a "Great Green Belt" of trees, unchecked it will not be.  As long as we can figure out minor details like politics, funding, and where to obtain "giant bacteria-filled balloons."

If this seems similar to ad hoc geo-engineering schemes of righting the climate, well, it does to me, too.  Except that I'm more comfortable building walls to stop desertification than, say, attaching tubes to giant zeppelins that pump the air full of sulfur dioxide to block the sun and cool the planet.

(image from flickr user John Spooner under a Creative Commons license)

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When a scientist gets all political

Elizabeth Kolbert has a pretty good profile of renowned (and now temporarily arrested) climate scientist James Hansen, unfortunately tucked away behind The New Yorker's digital subscriber wall. One major angle that comes out of the article is a sense that Hansen has drifted too far out of science and into politics, as captured by this graf, which I have assiduously and insidiously copied, word for word.

Hansen is also increasingly isolated among climate activists. "I view Jim Hansen as heroic as a scientist," Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said. "He was there at the beginning, he's faced all kinds of pressures politically, and he's done a terrific job, I think, of keeping focussed. But I wish he would stick to what he really knows. Because I don't think he has a realistic view of what is politically possible, or what the best policies would be to deal with this problem."

All this because, the following paragraph (which is too long for me to copy down) implies, Hansen favors a direct and stringent carbon tax over the more politically feasible "cap and trade" system. For one, favoring a carbon tax and a complete ban on coal-fired power plants, as Hansen does, does not strike me as an out-of-touch radical position. You can disagree on the policy merits of each, or on their political viability, but you can't begrudge the man for advocating for his solution.

More significantly, though, isn't the obstacle to getting tougher policies through, say, the U.S. Congress the fact that science has not been able to infuse itself in the politics of the thing? It seems to me that we need more James Hansen-esque super-scientists filling the political arena with ambitious arguments, not urging that they back down in favor of what is "politically possible." The future is going to be laughing at our "politics," I am sure.

(image from flickr user World Development Movement under a Creative Commons license)