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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)

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Moving U.S. and international climate legislation in tandem

Guest posting at Opinio Juris, climate expert Nigel Purvis answers a very tricky question -- indeed, what may prove to be the trickiest -- about U.S. efforts to slow climate change. Here's the problem in a nutshell:

U.S. domestic legislation must contribute to a genuine global solution but global arrangements must also fit or alter domestic political realities.

Every country, in fact, is going to have to align what is practically achievable in their domestic political systems to what is needed to stop global warming. It's just particularly tough in the United States, both because segments of our political system are so vehemently opposed to action on climate change and because our impact on the global environment has dwarfed that of any other country. Purvis' solution? It gets wonky, but the point is to synch up U.S. domestic and international legislation. Both are going to be tinkered, and the ultimate effectiveness of both will depend on future commitments and the rest of the world meeting its end of the bargain. An all-encompassing treaty, therefore -- which would also require a 2/3 vote in the Senate, rather than a simple majority in both houses -- would be more difficult to pass, less likely to match U.S. legislation, and possibly less effective.

It’s unrealistic to think Congress has the time and attention to take up domestic legislation and an international agreement separately (in whatever order). It is even more unrealistic to assume that an international treaty would be consistent with U.S. legislation and congressional wishes unless Congress has created in advance a process that helps ensure this alignment. In twenty years of climate diplomacy neither Congress nor the Senate has given the President of the World a clear blueprint for U.S. global leadership on climate change...America needs a well-defined plan for climate cooperation and that plan should have the force of law.

I encourage you to read the whole post.