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This Is The End

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I am sorry to announce that Earth and Science Blog is closed. Please find me on



Thanks for reading!


Written by Earth & Science

June 22, 2011 at 8:00 am

How We (Really, Really) Know CO2 is Rising

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Ever wondered how scientists actually measure the amounts of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Or why they can guarantee that the increase in greenhouse gasses is caused by humans?

If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ I suggest you read this fascinating post by Tom Yulsman on his blog, CE Journal. The story is a great chance to dive down under the surface of hard news headlines and get your hands dirty with the actual science. And, in my opinion, it’s a fine example of a “healthy” meeting between writings about science and the actual complicated and messy world of science that doesn’t really fit into any front page thoughts.

Yulsman is an associate professor at University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and he is co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism.

The story was crafted for Climate Central and can also be read there.


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March 8, 2011 at 9:08 am

WindMade: Two from Davos

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In a recent press conference at Davos, Georg Kell, Executive Director of UN Global Compact, responded to a question similar to the one I posed here on Earth & Science in a previous post:

Is there a risk that WindMade can get into a battle with solar?

Kell answers by calling WindMade a “pathbreaker,” an initial label and initiative that may clear the way for a more general label in the future. He suggests the name, NatureMade.

Below is the clip:

Referring to sustainable energy as NatureMade may sound good but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Coal and oil are also very natural — they are just releasing a lot of CO2 that was (naturally) stored in them in the past.

So I still think CleanMade would be a better, more accurate general term. It also sounds nicer: “Clean,” don’t you just smell the country air?

Recently, I also wrote an e-mail to GermanSolar asking them what they thought of the label name, WindMade. Christoffer Ovesen, Sales Manager at GermanSolar’s Danish Branch has promised me an answer but was vacationing until today.  I’ll post his answer here when I receive it.

Below is a second clip from the conference where Ditlev Engel, CEO and President of Vestas, goes over his hopes for the new label. Nothing new under the sun there.

Sorry, I meant blowing in the wind.

But the clip is still worth watching. Please note Engel’s distinction between poor countries — defined by heads of states.  And poor people — defined by people. I thought that was a good way of looking at the potentials of a bottom-up approach such as WindMade.

Written by Earth & Science

February 7, 2011 at 9:32 am

Interview with Ditlev Engel, CEO and President of Vestas

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Vestas, Lego and others have now formally introduced their new consumer label, WindMade (See previous post). According to, the new label will tell consumers when products have been manufactured with the use of wind energy.

Here is a short interview by Reuters with CEO and President of Vestas, Ditlev Engel.

The interview is worth watching because it marks the efforts by Vestas to change its business model  — or at least to expand on it.

The fact that Engel as much as opens his mouth to speak about the new label is a clear signal that it’s more than just a well-meant green initiative — it is business strategy. Engel does, after all, receive about $2.000.000 annually in wages.

In a Vestas press release, the windmill company said the new label is hoped to circumvent a political process that has come to a standstill.

“The purpose of the new initiative is to create a shortcut that can prevent a situation where a political process that many feel is without prospects ends up blocking necessary initiatives,” the press release said (Danish.)

By allowing consumers to support “green” products and industries, Vestas seeks to raise demands for wind energy from bottom-up. The company, in other words, wishes to cater to consumers rather than depend on governments.

Time will tell whether the label can endure. First and foremost, I believe, WindMade will provide an interesting litmus test for the ability of markets to drive changes toward clean energy.

Written by Earth & Science

January 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm

NGO Introduces Wind Energy Consumer Label

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Made By Wind. Politics and consumption have long been part of the same realm. Labels such as ‘Recycled,’ ‘Organic’ and ‘Fair Trade’ witness this. And now there’s another label in town.

WIND. New label promises to tell consumers if products have been manufactured using wind energy. Photo,

With the launch of WindMade — an NGO funded by Lego, the UN, Vestas and others — a new label promises to tell consumers if products have been manufactured using wind energy. What that means exactly is still unclear, but terms of use as well as specific requirements are said to be revealed at the official WindMade label launch at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 28 January.

Edit: 01/25/2011. The standard used to qualify manufacturers for using the label will not be completed before June 15, 1011, according to WindMade.

You can read up on the new label at the HuffPo, in a Vestas press release (Danish) or at the official WindMade website.

In the meantime, maybe we could think about this:

What does solar power manufacturers such as GermanSolar think about a move implying that clean energy is wind energy?

So far the German manufacturer has been silent (German), but I can’t imagine solar business to be thrilled.

Don’t they want in?

The launch of WindMade, funded and marketed by Danish windmill giant Vestas among others, seems to me to be the first shot fired in what could be a burgeoning war over symbols.

Such a war would be a benign one. We are, after all, talking about boosting growth in renewable energies here.

But if Vestas is successful in branding clean energy as primarily wind-based energy, there is a big chance that solar, tidal or geothermal energy manufacturers will suddenly find themselves standing in the shade of one of those big whooping windmills for a long time.

Striving to dominate mainstream clean energy discourses is a bold and clever move by Vestas (who could use a bit of tailwind after the massive layoffs and catastrophic second quarter financial report which filled Danish media with bad press for most of 2010.)  And it may also prove to be a great way of funding the climate from bottom-up instead of COP-down.

But why did Lego, the UN and WWF accept this wind-bias? And what does Siemens say? Are they simply too involved with manufacturing generators for coal plants to be political about this?

I wouldn’t prefer a label called ‘ChickenOrganic’ to the more inclusive one, ‘Organic.’ Neither do I think it would be very realistic to rely on wind technologies alone to provide the clean energy we’ll all need in the future.

But WindMade — that does sound pretty cool. And I’m stoked to see someone taking action like this.

Written by Earth & Science

January 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Causality Between Freezing Winters and Global Warming?

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Updated January 4, 12:24, Copenhagen Time.

Further reading: In Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming, New York Times op-ed contributor, Judah Cohen, advances the argument that melting sea ice in the Arctic increases snow fall in the Himalayas. And that this cools the jet stream which then brings cooler weather to large parts of the world, including Europe. Follow the link above to read Cohen’s full argument. Below is the original Earth & Science post on the topic.

Again this year, Europe was shut down by an unusually cold winter. The airport of Charles de Gaulle, the European bottleneck of intercontinental air traffic in Paris, was even more chaotic than usual (I was there – see photo.) And today I was skiing across one of the many frozen lakes outside of Gothenburg, Sweden, in temperatures nearing -20° C.

Paris Charles de Gaulle, chaos checks in. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

But what does all of this freezing say about global warming?

Well, here are some of the questions that arose in my frozen brain while I was skiing: What exactly is the difference between weather and climate? And are the colder-than-usual winters in Northern Europe related to climate change or are they refuting it?

In other words: Why are my fingers so frigging cold from taking photographs if the Earth is warming?

Russian scientists have already suggested that the colder than usual winters do not dispute global climate change but are in fact induced by it. Due to melting sea ice in the Barents Sea, the argument goes, the atmospheric dynamics are changing in a way that bring ice-winters to Europe.

Natural beauty on a small island in a frozen lake outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

But others say that such arguments, while somewhat plausible, may not be the best or even a necessary explanation for the link between a warming world and colder winters. A better approach to understanding this may simply be to distinguish between weather and climate; and to understand that sometimes there isn’t any link.

Scandinavia, to stay in Northern Europe for an example, has just experienced a second and consecutive, unusually cold winter. But that may just be a normal anomaly between weather and climate.

While the weather fluctuates from warm to cold on a small-scale time-frame, the global temperature trend is rising consistently towards a long-term image of a warming world. The frigid winters in Northern Europe, according to the last argument, are thus totally normal short-term variations within a different long-term trend.

Let’s look at definitions.

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, the distinction between weather and climate goes something like this:

  • Weather is characterized by momentary observations. The weather is the here and the now – the rain and the snow.
  • And the climate, on the other hand, is the weather measured in a specific area over an extended period of time.
  • Thus the colder-than-usual winters of 2009 and 2010 in Northern Europe are examples of cold weather. And the climate is the overall trend that characterizes this weather as not just cold, but unusually cold.

Crossing the Kattegat sea from Frederikshavn, Denmark to Gothenburg, Sweden. An unusual sight from the ferry window. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

These are thoughts from a brief trip of skiing. Please comment above to shoot down inconsistencies.

Is it the job of researchers to define causalities?
Thinking about the difference between weather and climate may not just be a useful way of understanding cold winters — it may also be a fruitful way of approaching climate research in general.

Interesting questions for the future – and continuously approached by climate scientists – are the multiple ways in which weather is and will become affected by changes induced by global warming.

They have to do with causality.

But is it fruitful for scientists to venture into the dodgy field of causalities? I would argue that it is not just fruitful — it is necessary. But when doing to, it is equally important to understand the incremental process of such a journey. It needs to be OK to get lost, make mistakes and then slowly get back on course.

When scientists are saying that the future will bring more of the strongest categories of hurricanes due to global warming, for example, it is a prediction that bridges climate change and changes in weather causally. And such predictions don’t just help us prepare for the future. They make policy making more informed and stress the urgency of action in an intelligent manner.

But such claims are notoriously dangerous to pose and though a standing challenge seems to be to answer the ‘when’ and the ‘to what extent’ global warming and changes in weather are related, pinpointing their relationship can only be done slowly — with a bunch of detours and mistakes — and will have to target a variety of specific weather phenomena in a variety of  specific locations.

The challenge is, in other words, a complex affair that seems to resemble an incremental journey much more than an explanation. The better journalists and the public understand this, the less dramatic the scientific journey will be — and the more interesting.

A dear on the ice. Lerum, Sweden. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

Whether colder winters in Northern Europe can be seen as an outcome of global warming is uncertain. Right now, it seems, it is more likely that the frigid temps of Scandinavia is a reminder that the link between weather and climate is not always explained the best in causal terms.

Time and science are the factors that will help understand how climate and changes in weather are related – in this particular case and in other particular cases in the future.


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December 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Compared

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The fact that Arctic sea ice is decreasing in extent is hardly news. What exactly that decrease looks like, however, and how it has changed during the last thirty years, can be hard to fathom from numbers and texts alone.

At the University of Illinois’ website, The Cryosphere Today, it is possible to compare satellite imagery of the frozen Arctic ice cover from 1979 (the earliest satellite photos on record) and until today. Check it out by clicking the photo below. Specify year and month in the top boxes at the site and press submit to compare the changes.

Image Shows Extent of Arctic Sea Ice from Nov. 1980 and 2010, Respectively












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December 1, 2010 at 2:52 am

Posted in Arctic, Climate Change, Sea Ice Extent

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