Political Climate
Feb 29, 2008
Are Drought-Tolerant Plants on the Horizon?

By the Scientific Alliance

The innovation which enabled every other aspect of human development was farming. There is nothing natural about clearing land and growing crops which have been bred to meet our own criteria and cannot survive in the wild. Whether they are grown intensively, organically, even bio-dynamically, is very much of secondary importance. We tend to forget this, because agriculture is so pervasive that it seems “natural”. In clearing forests we have changed the ecological balance completely, favouring some species and disadvantaging others. We would certainly not consider skylarks as native birds in the UK if farmers did not provide a suitable habitat.

But we are still wary of new developments in farming, perhaps because the pace of change has accelerated so much. Now, research reported by scientists from the University of California in San Diego and the University of Helsinki gives promise that drought-tolerant crop plants could become a reality. They have discovered the mechanism by which plants control the opening of leaf pores (stomata). Closing them at times of water stress could increase the chances of surviving drought, and probably help to make use of irrigation water more efficient. 

The researchers also found that the stomata close to protect the plant from damage when ozone levels rise, but at the same time this reduces the ability of carbon dioxide to be absorbed and so reduces overall photosynthetic efficiency. This is important because, other things being equal, higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase plant growth. The ability to influence plant growth and water use by genetic modification could yield enormous benefits in both industrialised and developing countries. Nevertheless, there will be those who resist the introduction of such crops. This is part of the Scientific Alliance Weekly Newsletter available here.

Icecap Note: Similarly this story in Science-A-Go-Go told of news in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of a new genetically modified (GM) tomato plant that can thrive in drought conditions. The research team, from Texas A&M University, modified tomato plants to over-express the gene AVP1, which resulted in stronger, larger root systems that made better use of limited water.

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This may become more important because if the Pacific is cooling and we are returning to a colder era like the 1950s to 1970s, drought will become more prevalent in some key growing regions.



Feb 28, 2008
Loss of Wind Causes Texas Power Grid Emergency

By Reuters, Houston

A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday. Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said a decline in wind energy production in west Texas occurred at the same time evening electric demand was building as colder temperatures moved into the state. The grid operator went directly to the second stage of an emergency plan at 6:41 PM CST (0041 GMT), ERCOT said in a statement.

System operators curtailed power to interruptible customers to shave 1,100 megawatts of demand within 10 minutes, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers are generally large industrial customers who are paid to reduce power use when emergencies occur. No other customers lost power during the emergency, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers were restored in about 90 minutes and the emergency was over in three hours. ERCOT said the grid’s frequency dropped suddenly when wind production fell from more than 1,700 megawatts, before the event, to 300 MW when the emergency was declared. In addition, ERCOT said multiple power suppliers fell below the amount of power they were scheduled to produce on Tuesday. That, coupled with the loss of wind generated in West Texas, created problems moving power to the west from North Texas.

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Texas produces the most wind power of any state and the number of wind farms is expected to increase dramatically as new transmission lines are built to transfer power from the western half of the state to more populated areas in the north. Read more here.

Icecap Note: See a very thorough analysis of the “Observed Climate Change and the Negligible Global Effect of Greenhouse-gas Emission Limits in Texas” by SPPI here.



Feb 26, 2008
Yet Another Inconvenient Story Ignored by the Main Stream Media

By Anthony Watts, Watts Up With That

Last week, I broke the story of a press release issued by NOAA where they publish an opinion smashing any link between hurricanes and global warming saying that “There is nothing in the U.S. hurricane damage record that indicates global warming has caused a significant increase in destruction along our coasts.” Many readers may recall that Al Gore used hurricanes prominently in An Inconvenient Truth, and mentions hurricane Katrina specifically. Gore claims that increased hurricane activity is caused by global warming. Last week, when the NOAA press release came out smashing any link between hurricanes and global warming, I wrote to my local newspaper editor, David Little, and said to him “Do you care to bet that AP and Reuters won’t run this story?” He responded: “I hope they do, it seems newsworthy to me.” Well here is is, 4 days later, not a peep.

Here is another story about a point from Gore’s AIT hit parade; Mount Kilimanjaro. Mr. Gore asserted that the disappearance of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa was expressly attributable to global warming; “Within the decade, there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro.” That was in 2005 in his movie An Inconvenient Truth. Deforestation seems to be causing Mount Kilimanjaro’s shrinking glacier. Researchers think deforestation of the mountain’s foothills is the most likely culprit. Without the forests’ evapotranspiration of humidity into the air, previously moisture-laden winds blowing across those forests now blow drier. The summit, no longer replenished with water from those winds, started shrinking. Studies show the ice is evaporating through a process called sublimation. You can witness this effect at home, have you ever noticed that ice cubes left in your freezer tend to shrink with time?  Last year, a British Court ruled Gore’s point about Kilimanjaro not to be true.

So when a news story crossed my desk today that said: Mount Kilimanjaro: On Africa’s roof, still crowned with snow I had to wonder, will we see this one covered in the main stream media? Or maybe those beacons of truth over at Real Climate will make a note of it?  Don’t hold your breath. But, at least the New York Times travel section covered it. It seems more of a touristy thing to have snow on Kilimanjaro than a scientific issue of truth I suppose. Read more and see a time series collage of photos here.



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