Sunday, June 10, 2012

Intecol 9 day 4, when all hell broke loose

Thursday was showtime for me, but the day started with a plenary talk by climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf. He went through what many already know, that the warming that has occurred already had its theoretical explanation laid out more than hundred years ago, and that the warming that has occurred was predicted before it happened. He compared the current situation to the last IPCC report, and the conclusion is that the last report underestimated the rate of the melt of th arctic sea ice, as well as the rate of the sea level rise, which has gone from a linear increase, to an accelerating increase. This led to questions from the audience about the North Carolina bill, that forces planning for sea level rise in North Carolina, to be made after a linear increase. Rahmstorf answered that he just came from a meeting in North Carolina were one of the bills founders was present, and he could only say that the North Carolina bill basically makes it illegal for planners to take reality into account. Sea level has gone from increasing with 1 mm per year to now increasing with 3 mm per year.

Then came Tom Armstrong who talked about what the U.S. Is doing to combat climate change. He pointed out that the cost of climate related damages is increasing in the U.S. It would turn out that one person in the audience would lash out at Armstrong later.

Rebecca Rooney talked about the environmental cost of "Ethical oil" as Canada likes to call its tar-sand oil. This is a topic that really interests me since it is insane amounts of peatlands that are destroyed, which makes the oil more polluting than any other oil on the planet. I was however the next one to speak after Rooney, so my concentration was partly on her presentation, and partly on my presentation.

My talk went perfect, and I received questions about the level of water level increase, and if peat-production can be used as a functional trait. The water level increased wit ca 20+ cm (Hedberg et. al 2012, Biological Conservation), and peat production can be a trait. The simplest way is a binary trait (yes for plants that produce peat, no for plants that don´t produce peat). Another option is a discrete scale with grades for how good plants are at producing peat.

After me Kevin Hedge presented a really nice biomimicry for cleaning water. It is floating islands with thousands of small pores that mimic the water-cleaning effect of wetlands. The thousands of small pores create a huge surface area that bacterias that bind Phosphorous, Copper, Zink, Nitrogen and ammoniac bind to. Vegetation can be planted on the islands, and they have made some very decorative islands for some customers were making the harbor environment more beautiful was a part-goal. When plants are added, the nutrient removal increases with 50%. The number of islands and the size can be adjusted after how polluted the water is. Currently 4400 Floating Treatment Wetlands ( as they call them) have been installed.

After the lunch I had a great tweetup with Jeff Trullick from the US Army Corps of Engineers who was tweeting with the hashtag #Intecol9 just like I did. We had a good talk about the gas-exploration going on in the. U.S, as well as the protection of the rivers that create the majestic waterfalls along the Maryland fall line.

In the afternoon I sat and listened to Tomasz Okrusko from the Agricultural University of Warsaw who talked about the ecosystem services provided by European wetlands. After him Ed Maltby from the U.K. talked about the way wetland ecosystem services are now identified in the U.K. And how there has been a trend from seeing wetlands as purely a nature conservation issue, to taking into account their huge functional importance.

Then Edward Richards went up on stage and all hell broke loose. I had already thought of leaving. Edwards title "The challenge of steady coastal law in the time of rising oceans" was of course interesting, but I was tired, and wanted to get a paper submitted before a 12 hour flight the next day. I did not plan to stay, but what can I say? When someone starts a presentation by saying that his title could just as well have been "The highway to hell" you react. When the same person goes on to say that "people are going to die and wetlands will disappear, unless scientists stand up", then you´re stuck. He mocked how the plenary speaker Armstrong talked about how the government cares about climate change, and said that the only department that takes climate change seriously is the department of National Security, because they have to look at the reality, of for example the consequence to national security in a situation where most of Bangladesh's population emigrate to other countries. He was particularly angry about what he saw as the madness in how people in New Orleans seam to believe that it is a human right for them to be able to live were they always have lived, despite that the land is sinking (1 m within 100 years), and that the sea level is rising at the same time. This is done by the government financing an unsustainable levee system according to Richards. A 1 m sea level increase would force everybody to move 40 miles inland, because Louisiana is flat, very flat. Currently sediments are dropped outside the Louisiana coast, where they according to Richards only can create some patchy marsh vegetation. The best place to dump the sediment would according to him be be in the area were the poorest people live in New Orleans,  and that lies 8 feet below sea level, then we might be able to accomplish something he said. He added that this idea is however not very popular with the people living there, and if you say that they have to move, you will be called a racist, just because you don't think that the people living there deserves to drown first. He stated that "We look at the dutch, but there wouldn't bee any dutch if Europe had hurricanes." "Some of you are working with trying to get others to reduce their carbon footprint. I applaud you, but it is not going to work. There is not going to be a global agreement in the coming 50, perhaps even 100 years, so we are pretty much set for this time period."

He finished with saying, "I have three minutes left, but I am going to stop here for questions, because I could go on an rant about this for days. It would be like Castro and the Polit bureau.

Ok, let's make one thing clear. Edwards is not a wetland scientist, but he is a professor in law, who has been entrusted by the government on issues relating to National Security, and working as a professor in Louisiana he is familiar with the situation in New Orleans, and holds classes in coastal law. Together with this he has an undergraduate degree in biology. Most people probably agree with him that there is very little signs of progress when it comes to an international binding agreement to limit the release of greenhouse gases.

I ran into Richards during the coffee break, and thanked him for a very humorous and interesting presentation. Oh well, he said, I don't think I changed anything, but when the next hurricane comes I will at least be able to say, "I told you so".

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