The Czech EU presidency: Happy? New Year.

Article published on Dec. 19, 2008
Article published on Dec. 19, 2008
Certainly an exciting year is ahead, at least to those with a strong sense of irony. In the first post of this blog we pondered doom scenarios in general philosophical terms. Now it is time to get specific: The Czech republic will assume presidency of the EU in January 2009.
The priorities they set on their already running are the three E's : The Economy, Energy and the External Relations of the EU. The first two are already disaster areas. Let's see what is likely to happen in the third area as the nations of the world try to negotiate

presidency website ETS caps.

As I write, representatives from 192 countries are gathered in Poznan, Poland, for a two-week . Main item on the agenda is ETS - Emission Trading Schemes. These are an environmental tax imposed on the companies which release a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. This meeting of more than 9000 participants from both governmental and non-governmental organizations is intended to build momentum toward the Copenhagen, Denmark meeting in December 2009. The new treaty to be adopted in Copenhagen would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. In 2013 caps on emissions would become mandatory, which means that electricity produced from fossil fuels would become more expensive. Or, as ordinary citizens would say, "even more expensive." Whether you support or oppose such a scheme, you want to be informed. Major alliances, unions, and federations are contemplating the adoption of green policies, or are at least issuing bulletins about them.

UN-sponsored conference.

Preliminary Promises


EU has agreed to a 20% emission reduction by 2020. President Barosso (on the left) created a new EU directorate, a directorate-general , adding (DG) for energy to 41 DGs of the European Commission.In a dramatic American change, Barry Obama promissed to reduce U.S. emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 cutting them by another 80 percent by 2050.. Having ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2004, Russia behaved in "a typically Russian way.It announced numerous projects to promote the protocol. But these were just words. But these were just words." In practice, "Russia has not done anything at all." All these preliminary plans, promises, and posturings are fine. One can be optimistic, but only cautiously so. The caps are not compulsory yet. Binding caps should be agreed upon at the end of 2009, with preparation for implementation over the following four years. Because we all share the same, well-mixed atmosphere, the environmental tax will only work if all countries and blocks participate. That might take a miracle to achieve. But miracles do happen. In 1963, in the middle of the Cold War, the nuclear powers signed a , which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in the air. Two physicists who helped develop the H bomb, and , provided their governments with that such testing was As you have surely noticed, the role of or greenhouse gases in global warming is being contested.

Test Ban Treaty Teller Sacharovevidence poisoning the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gases: Why are they important?


There are arguments and arguments . This blog will always listen to both sides in the debate.

for interventionagainst urgent action

Many of the arguments are complex and technical, expounded in scientific papers on the causes of past changes in climate, such as the Ice Ages. Both sides agree that average temperatures are higher when the concentration of GHG is higher. They disagree about which is the cause and which is the effect.

The reconstruction of past temperatures, using tree rings and glacier cores, for example, entails complex and often contested reasoning. How much of the temperature change was caused by different outputs of the sun, or by the geometrical configuration of the sun and Earth, and how much by changes in the Earth atmosphere? Such puzzles are both fascinating and frustrating long before they become politicized.

The two graphs here bypass those complex arguments. These data were collected by satellites, which can directly record the energy output of the sun with measurements taken above the atmosphere, as well as measure the global surface temperature of the Earth. The top graph, the output of the Sun, shows the well-known 11 year cycle. Clearly, it shows no overall trend either up or down. The bottom graph shows the average temperature of the Earth at the surface. It shows a clear upward trend, demonstrating that the atmosphere now traps more of the sun's energy. That is the greenhouse effect of higher concentrations of GHGs. However, notice that the relationship is not simple. The Earth's vast oceans act as reservoirs, absorbing both heat and carbon dioxide. Complex dynamics determine how much the absorbed heat will raise temperatures. Nevertheless, more heat always means higher temperature.

For more information you can consult the sources of this data: Top graph: solar cycle data and bottom graph: surface temperature data.

In addition, interesting animated maps show changes in surface temperature derived by NASA from both satellite measurements and indirect indicators. The two animations cover the years from 1880 to 2007. They include pre-satellite and indirect data sets. These are therefore regarded as less certain than the data in the graphs above.

In our careful reporting of both sides of arguments, we observe that it may be good environmental news that the LHC, or , is down for repairs. This is the world's largest physics experiment to-date. Using the LHC in their search, physicists in Geneva, in the EU research center (video) have been looking for Higgs boson.

A Positive Note: Reprieve for the Milky Way?

Large Hadron Collider


Why they are looking for Higgs boson? It is not a particle which Dr. Higgs misplaced. He only predicted its existence, using the "standard model" for elementary particles, which plays a role similar to that which the Periodic Table of Elements did for chemistry. Some call this yet-to-be found little particle "God's particle," certainly an attention-getting nickname. The LHC search is expected to be restarted in Summer 2009.

Why is the shutdown possible good news to environmentalists? Well, on the list of all the possible disasters which Earth may meet, which are helpfully collected, explained, and even illustrated on the Dutch website Exit Mundi, the start up of the LHC was listed as first. One chemist is worried that the LHC will create a black hole, which would destroy the Milky way (with us in it). This concern was picked up by the news media and added to our daily dose of planetary uneasiness. The physicists, of course, are denying that this can happen. In either case, the LHC will be down until summer 2009, a definite reprieve for the Milky Way. Then, if the physicists, rather than the chemist, are right, we can proceed to the conference in Copenhagen next December.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!