Filling a Void in Climate Change 

Two new web sites tackle global warming and attempt to raise awareness of the challenges we face.

In the 20th century, the environmental movement focused on combating air and water pollution and protecting endangered species. But, without question, the biggest environmental threat of this century is global warming. We all know the polar ice caps are melting, and that sea levels are going to rise throughout the world, thereby flooding coastal areas. But what about California? What will be the effects on the country's largest state? In an effort to begin answering these questions, a couple of researchers with the University of California have launched a web site that they hope will raise awareness about what we need to do to combat the effects of increasing greenhouse gases.

The web site, California Climate Change Extension, features video interviews with some of the leading global warming experts in the state, including two UC Berkeley professors, Dan Kammen and Michael Hanemann. The site also includes easily digestible micro-documentaries (two to three minutes in length) on California-specific topics, including the likely impacts of global warming on the state's climate and our water supply. The short videos, called "Quick Topics," also examine renewable energy solutions, energy efficiency, emissions trading, carbon footprinting, and transportation policy.

The site is the brainchild of Monique Myers and Susan Schlosser, who both work for California Sea Grant, a cooperative between UC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Schlosser, who works and lives in Humboldt County, told Eco Watch that she and Myers first came up with the idea after attending a NOAA global warming conference in 2007. "We came away from it realizing that all climate change information was really based on a global scale," Schlosser said.

The site's quick topic videos, in particular, provide excellent primers on California and the challenges the state faces. For example, in "Climate Change Impacts on Water Supply," Hanemann notes that the state may be particularly vulnerable because we consume the vast majority of our water in the summer, when it's dry, and use the least during the wet winter season. So if climate change results in a smaller snowpack each winter, it will threaten the reliability of our summer supplies. "We're also likely to have longer runs of dry years and deeper droughts," noted Hanemann, the chancellor's professor of Environmental Economics and Policy and the director of the California Climate Change Center at UC Berkeley.

But the micro-docs also make it clear that, despite California's leadership in the fight against global warming and the development of green technologies, the battle against climate change requires a worldwide effort. The massive growth of China and India, in particular, and their accompanying use of fossil fuels, will outstrip our efforts to convert to renewable energy. "Even with dramatic growth in a number of clean energy sectors, notably solar and wind, which have been growing by more than 25 percent a year now for over a decade, overall global emissions are still rising," noted Kammen in the micro-doc, "The Current State of Renewable Energy." Kammen is a nuclear energy and biofuels expert and is the director of UC Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

Currently, the web site (Groups.ucanr.org/CAClimateChangeExt) is geared toward the general public, but the micro-docs also could be valuable for classroom use, especially at community colleges, high schools, or even middle schools.

A New Eco-Law Blog

Another new environmental web site (LegalPlanet.wordpress.com) that fills a relative void is Legal Planet, a blog put together by the faculty at the law schools at UC Berkeley and UCLA. The blog examines the legal impacts of climate change and other environmental issues.

The site was created by UC Berkeley law professor Dan Farber and UCLA law professor Ann Carlson, and it features blog posts from environmental law professors at both universities. It provides a lively discussion of 21st-century environmental problems, and examines how the legal community and governments are dealing with them. The site is sure to attract attention from attorneys, "but we're also hoping to do this in a way that speaks to intelligent lay people," said Holly Doremus, a UC Berkeley environmental law professor and contributor to the blog.

Like any good blog, Legal Planet has contributors who take strong stands or criticize the mainstream press. Last week, for example, site co-founder Ann Carlson wrote a sharp critique of a fawning profile of a climate-change skeptic in the Sunday New York Times magazine. Carlson dissected the piece's many shortcomings and then did a bit of research and discovered that the author's previous claim to fame was being an expert on baseball, and so was apparently out of his league.

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