WHAT'S HOT IN 2010? 2010 itself, according to the U.K. Met Office, which is predicting that next year will be the hottest ever recorded on Earth. That's not a certainty, but it would continue the suspected trend, announced earlier this week, that the decade spanning 2000-2009 will turn out to be the hottest decade on record. 2010 is forecast to be 0.58 degrees Celsius above the long-term average for 1961-1990, compared with the currently warmest year on record, 1998, which was 0.52 degrees above the average. Much like in 1998, the warming next year will be a combination of climate change and El Niño, which creates warmer sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. If El Niño fades away earlier than expected, or if a volcano erupts and blocks out the sun, then the prediction may not pan out, but British forecasters say there's a 90 percent chance that 2010 will be hotter than 2009, which is already on pace to be the fifth-warmest year on record. Similarly, NASA has predicted there will be a new global temperature record set "in the next one or two years." (Source: London Independent)
COPENHAGEN, WEEK 1: It's getting drafty in Copenhagen, with at least three different draft texts of a potential treaty circulating as the first week of U.N. climate talks draws to a close. A leaked version of Denmark's draft caused a stir earlier in the week, when developing countries balked at what they called a meager $10 billion in funding to help them adapt to climate change. A group of 43 small island states released their own plan for a treaty Friday, as did an official ad-hoc working group charged with concocting a palatable compromise. The latter draft, authored by Michael Zammit Cutajar (pictured, at left), whittles a 180-page document down to about six pages, and it offers an array of options rather than carving anything into stone. The world could opt to keep global temperatures from rising either 2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, and developed countries could choose among several percentages to cut their emissions, from 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels. But the Cutajar draft still exceeds most of the emissions targets announced so far by both developed and developing nations, meaning there is still much work to be done before heads of state begin arriving later next week. Denmark may release its own revised proposal Saturday, potentially kicking off a new round of debates and acrimony. For more coverage of the two-week U.N. summit, check out MNN's comprehensive Copenhagen climate talks home page. (Sources: Washington Post, BBC News)
EMISSIONS TESTING: It's easy for a country to promise big emissions cuts to impress and placate its peers, but it's another matter altogether for it to let its peers keep tabs on its progress. Chief U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern is pressing hard for a rather intrusive regime to check on developing nations' emissions obligations — assuming they even accept any in the first place — but developing powerhouses like China and India don't much like the idea. In addition to the issue of how much money rich countries will dole out to their poorer counterparts, this problem of enforcement is emerging as another major hurdle at the U.N. summit, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Among the major emitters, this seems to be the biggest issue," says a former U.S. climate negotiator who's involved in the Copenhagen talks. Stern has lived up to his name when discussing the issue, and the New York Times today profiles the stoic, blunt and poker-faced diplomat as one of the leading U.S. voices in Copenhagen. Since arriving there on Wednesday, he's wasted no time mincing words about what he expects from developing countries during the next few days. "It is essential that they step forward and set forth the actions that they are prepared to take, make clear that they stand behind those actions and make the implementation of those actions transparent in the way that we see in many arenas all over the world," Stern told reporters this week. (Sources: LA Times, NY Times)
TRIPARTISANSHIP: Three U.S. senators from three parties — John Kerry, D-Mass.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Joseph Liebermann, I-Conn. — unveiled a compromise outline on Thursday for future U.S. efforts to combat climate change. Their plan includes the emissions cuts that President Obama announced prior to the two-week Copenhagen conference — 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 — as well as controversial measures to expand nuclear power and offshore drilling. The Senate failed to pass a climate bill this year after the House narrowly passed its version, which cast some international doubt on the United States' commitment to reducing its emissions. Obama's announcement of the 17 percent target was meant to assuage those doubts, and the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman framework could assuage them even further. Of course, the 17 percent target is still well below the lowest option for developed countries in a recently released draft text from a U.N. working group in Copenhagen, and many U.S. environmentalists are none too pleased with the provisions for nuclear power and offshore drilling. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Agence France-Presse)
CAP AND PAID: Following Thursday's unveiling of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal, another multiparty team of senators announced their own climate bill Friday, this one more radically different from the cap-and-trade versions so far passed by the House and floated by various members of the Senate. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. (pictured), and Susan Collins, R-Maine, still want to place a cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but they're wary of the complex financial system that trading carbon credits might create, especially in the wake of rampant speculation that helped crash financial markets in recent years. Under their "cap-and-dividend" plan, the federal government would sell carbon credits directly to industrial polluters, and would use most of the money it made to send tax-free monthly checks to every American, offsetting the increased costs of energy. That might take away a primary argument of cap-and-trade critics, who often cite higher home energy prices as a flaw with most emissions proposals. Under Cantwell's and Collins' plan, industry itself would bear the brunt of reducing its own emissions, while Americans would receive electronic payments to their bank accounts each month, averaging about $1,100 per year. The government would use 75 percent of its carbon-credit sales for making those payments, and would use the rest to fund research and development of clean-energy technology. In addition, companies could still trade carbon credits among themselves, but there would be no larger, outside carbon market that could become susceptible to financial trickery. (Sources: Associated Press, CQ Politics, Green Inc.)
KILLER CATFISH: Snakes and spiders usually come to mind when we think of venomous animals, and maybe bees, wasps or stingrays. But there are many more animals that use poison as a defense, from shrews and snails to the duckbilled platypus. Catfish can also be venomous, and according to a new study published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, there are far more of them than scientists previously believed. At least 1,250 different species of catfish are venomous, reports University of Michigan grad student Jeremy Wright, and possibly more than 1,600 are. Most North American varieties use their poison only for defense, but many fishermen are nonetheless familiar with the painful sting they can deliver. And in other parts of the world, certain catfish are so toxic they can kill humans. They don't bite, but rather use bony spines on the edges of their fins, which can be locked into place when needed. Wright describes how their venom can produce severe pain, reduced blood flow, muscle spasms and breathing trouble, although the main risk for people isn't the venom itself, but rather the risk of infection from bacteria in the water or from part of the spine breaking off in the wound. (Source: e! Science News)
UPWARD SPIRAL: Folks around the world have been captivated this week by the surreal spiral of blueness that lit up the sky over Norway Wednesday morning, with many convinced it was a UFO. Well, it was an unidentified flying object — until Russia's Defense Ministry admitted it was caused by a botched missile test, that is. That still wasn't enough to satisfy many UFO believers, however, who argue the spiral was too perfect to be caused by some run-of-the-mill missile explosion. But William Dimpfl, a senior research scientist with the Aerospace Corporation, tells the Christian Science Monitor he's fully satisfied with that explanation. A missile's illuminated solid propellant motor could create such a large, white spiral, he says, "when you have a motor firing off the axis of the vehicle at right angles to the line that connects to the center of mass." And the especially weird blue spiral, Dimpfl adds, was probably from a motor still attached to the vehicle, with its blue coloring likely due to aluminum oxide, which is commonly used as a solid propellant fuel for such rocket motors. "What I believe is that the blue is from solar fluorescence from chemicals in the plume," he explains. "That's just aluminium oxide that the sunlight is scattering from. Aluminum oxide is the chemical formula for sapphires, so what you're looking at is sunlight scattering off lots of tiny sapphires." Read more about the phenomenon here. (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
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Photo (sunlight on ocean): NASA
Photo (Michael Zammit Cutajar, Yvo de Boer and John Ashe): ZUMA Press
Photo (Todd Stern): Tariq Mikkel Khan, POLFOTO/AP
Photo (Lindsey Graham, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman): ZUMA Press
Photo (Maria Cantwell): Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo (catfish): USDA
Photo (Norway spiral): ZUMA Press
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