Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Year of the Bean

The Year of the Bean
Beans are our legacy. They could also be our ticket to surviving the 21st century.


Reprinted from The Aquarian, Spring 2016.

The UN has named 2016 the “International Year of Pulses.” No, they're not talking about that throbbing vein in our necks. Put more simply, this is The Year of the Bean. And it's about time.

Beans, lentils, legumes, pulses – call these protein-rich, pod-enclosed seeds whatever you like – are our legacy. Most of us come from cultures where cheap beans, not costly meats, were – and in some cases still are – a staple protein. But most of us have strayed from that traditional cuisine. We have abandoned the rich variety of leguminous flavours, shapes and colours for the flashy cheap date of factory-farmed meat, milk, cheese and eggs.

We need to do a one-eighty. Why? Because it's 2016.

Beans and other pulses, together with their partner in cheap, plant-based protein, cereal grains, are the greenest, most sustainable way to feed the world.

In a report several years ago, the United Nations Environmental Programme cautioned that as we hurtle toward a collision between mounting overpopulation, diminishing agricultural capacity and accelerating climate change, “a substantial reduction of impacts [will] only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Last year, the nutritional scientists tasked with advising the U.S. government on its Dietary Guidelines for Americans (commonly known as the Food Pyramid or MyPlate) wrote to the decisionmakers in Washington:

A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet. The U.S. population should be encouraged to move towards the dietary pattern noted above while decreasing overall total calories.”

So when the UN dedicates a year to the bean, it's not just pumping a commodity.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Global warming ‘pause’ — warmest 17 years on record, by far

Originally published in The Aquarian, Spring 2015.

The Warmest Year(s) on Record
2014 may not be the warmest year on record, statistically. But the past 17 years – the so-called pause in global warming – are without a doubt the warmest period. And it's all down to the carbon. 

The colour of warming: NASA's video builds to a sunburst heat climax during the “pause years” of 1998–2014.

It’s official. 2014 was the warmest year on record for the surface of our great big, blue marble. Well, nominally it was the warmest. Statistically, not so much. 

That's the gist of a debate that has broken out – mostly in the nerdy reaches of the blogosphere – about the latest bellwether signal that global warming has no intention of taking a hike – of stopping or “pausing” – unless we press pause ourselves.

Early this year, all five of the major climate research groups and agencies that keep tabs on the planet's temps on land and sea, as well as the World Meteorological Organization, concurred that the average temperature anomaly (the deviation, up or down, from a reference baseline period) for 2014 was higher than any they had ever recorded. Only one, the UK's Met Office, declared 2014 a dead heat with 2010.

In contrast, both of the research groups that analyze the satellite record reported that 2014 was warm, but not record warm. For one group, the anomaly was third highest; for the other, a tepid 6th.

What every report had in common was that the slight difference between the top three warmest years – or the top six for the outlier satellite group – was smaller than the margin of error of roughly 5 to 10 hundredths of a degree.

In the United States, for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) global temperature anomaly for 2014 of +0.69 degrees C. (using the entire 20th century as their baseline) was just 4 hundredths of a degree higher than their previous record: a tie between 2010 and 2005. And those years had beaten the blowout record set in 1998 (thanks to the hottest El Niño ever recorded) by just 2 hundredths of a degree.

When the margin of error for measuring things with 95% accuracy is larger than the difference between those things, statistically they're considered to be no different – “tied.” So, statistically, no climate scientist could or would declare any of the last few warmest years to be the warmest. Still, 2014 was the best candidate. Such was the fine print in most every report, and even in some of the news stories. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Waking the Frog Before We Boil

Waking the Frog: Solutions for Our Climate Change Paralysis

By Tom Rand
ECW Press, 2014 
245 pages, $29.95

You've probably heard the story before.

A frog leaps into a pot of water that happens to be sitting 
on a stove. Being coldblooded, he lazes away, oblivious as the temperature creeps up from cold, to warm, to hot. 

Only as the water nears the boiling point does he register danger. But by then his muscles have been paralyzed by the heat.

The water boils. The frog dies in agony. End of story.

That's the gruesome metaphor that frames Canadian climate activist Tom Rand's analysis of the pot we're stewing in as a civilization thanks to climate disruption – the result of anthropogenic (we did it) global warming – and the froglike fallibilities of human psychology, our destructively “free” markets and our ineffectual political systems.

Rand chooses the expression “climate disruption” in favour of the familiar “climate change” hoping it will bypass the frog's powerful denial mechanism. “The term,” he explains, “helps circumvent the nonsense that this warming is part of a natural cycle and emphasizes our contribution to the coming changes and the speed at which they are approaching.”

Rand brings a versatile skill-set to a subject usually tackled by more specialized writers (climate scientists, environmentalists, science writers).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Heat is On (still) — and here's how scientists know it is

The following short essay was published this May in the Summer issue of The Aquarian. I've revised and adapted it for this blog, with many more hyperlinks and graphics. 

A Cold Winter in a (Still) Warming World

When you look at the big picture, there's been no “pause” in global warming

By Syd Baumel

It was Winnipeg's coldest winter since 1898. Throughout most of North America, the deep freeze broke records, made headlines and (inevitably) provided fodder for global warming doubters, deniers and disinformers.

So where did the global warming go this winter? Answer: nowhere.

While we were freezing like it's 1898, across the Atlantic Europe was enjoying one of its warmest winters on record. Witness those not-so-wintry Olympics in Sochi.

Even here in North America, it was an unusually warm winter out west – the warmest on record in California where the heat was so parching that by April the state was fully engulfed by drought. Up the road a piece, Alaska basked in its eighth warmest winter ever.

But, as the proverb goes, when a whole bunch of blind men examine an elephant, a tusk, a trunk and a big floppy ear at a time, it can lead to a comically distorted picture of the whole.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CFACT + Lovelock = Climate Confusion

The Denialsphere has a new meme:

And as usual, it would be charitable to call it a half-truth.

It took me less than five minutes to find that out.

Yes, the irrepressibly outspoken originator of the Gaia theory of our planet, James Lovelock, did say what CFACT (the “Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow,” as Stephen Colbert might have named it) triumphantly says he did. Without even fact-checking, I'm willing to believe another climate change obfuscation outfit on that one, because at least the Global Warming Policy Foundation is responsible enough to publish the 94-year-old scientist cum natural philosopher's words in partial context – a context that includes other tidbits you won't see in any disinfographic from CFACT.

Lovelock's quote is loosely taken from a BBC Newsnight interview broadcast on April 2, just a few days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its massive Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

Early in the interview, Lovelock opted to illustrate his point that we're not as smart as we think we are, and that we're cruising for a bruising with extinction, by opining:
Take this climate matter everybody is thinking about. They all talk, they pass laws, they do things, as if they knew what was happening. I don’t think any of them really know what’s happening. They're just guessing it. And a whole group of them meet together and encourage each other’s guesses. 
(I'm using my own transcript now that I've watched the interview myself. It corrects some errors in the transcript by the GWPF and adds a few more lines of context.)

So there it is. The get, the ripe cherry to be picked, the quote to be mined, tweaked and decontextualized by CFACT, Friends of Science, Watts Up With That? and all the other climate confusionists dedicated to pulling the wool over the people's eyes in the guise of enlightening them, ensuring the fossil fuel companies will live to profit another day and keeping the bogeymen of “Big Government” and global governance away.

And here's the context.