From the online news service of the journal Nature:
‘The vision’, as it is often referred to within the agency, was first outlined by President George W. Bush on 14 January 2004. It marks a radical new direction for America’s human spaceflight programme. For the past two decades, NASA has been preoccupied with shuttling people to and from a low Earth orbit, mostly to visit the International Space Station. But the vision “is fundamentally different”, says Shana Dale, second in command at NASA. “It’s about extending human presence on another world.”
This extension, however, can’t be built on the cheap; NASA’s early estimates put the cost of the programme through to 2018 at around $104 billion. To meet this bill, the agency is committed to grounding the space shuttle fleet in 2010 and cutting back its spending on the space station, which should be completed by then (see chart). It is also delaying and cancelling space-based science missions in astronomy, planetary science and Earth observation, as well as aeronautics programmes. Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, a Pasadena-based educational organization in California that regularly criticizes this reallocation of resources, complains: “This is attacking exploration to supposedly pay for exploration.”
Noted without comment.
Might want to divest your coastal property.
Climate factors such as sea-level rise may be changing more rapidly than predicted, according to a new survey of global trends since 1990. The figures suggest that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which publishes a fresh assessment of climate change tomorrow, may have previously underestimated the changes that lie ahead.
Researchers led by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany studied the most recent data for atmospheric carbon dioxide, global temperatures and sea level. They calculate that carbon dioxide levels are rising in line with predictions, but that temperatures are rising in line with the upper limit predicted by the IPCC, and that sea-level rises are on the very edge of the worst-case predictions of climate models.
Look for a very gloomy news day when the IPCC releases its final report.
At one point in my life I felt a sense of urgency about this. Back in my personal environmental heyday, roughly the 1990’s, I had the feeling that we could still stop short of the invisible threshold, and I had a sense that we might soon have leaders who knew the right thing to do. Amory Lovins was my hero.
Then America elected profoundly stupid people, the kind who had powerful ideological and mercenary reasons to ignore the obvious. Disturbingly, during the period when I patiently waited for normal people to take charge “interesting” things started happening very fast. Polar ice started disappearing, permafrost defrosted, glacier melt accelerated, the sea began acidifying and now, right on cue, sea level has proved the most pessimistic models right.
At this point I don’t have anything particular to offer. In the unlikely event that we stopped greenhouse emissions today the lag effect would go on driving Earth in the direction of “interesting” for some years to come. Climate often has a funny threshold effect where the feedback balance (natural forces which either resist or encourage change) switches from
positive to negative to positive (dyslexic me). Ice at the poles reflects sunlight while open water absorbs it, so the more water we have at the poles the more heat energy the Earth will absorb. Thawed permafrost will burp huge amounts of methane, a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2. At some point what we do with our emissions won’t really matter anymore.
Better men than myself – Al Gore, Hunter Lovins – have fought this fight for thirty years or more, back when a relatively painless transition to sensible policies might have done real good. After some years of thinking about it I finally decided that the pain has to come first, the frog has to find itself in a good rolling boil, before the confidence artists and paid hacks are shamed into silence. Of course by then the only possible solutions will be so insanely draconian that we will probably just learn to live with a new quality of life, and a new climate regime, a new coastline.