Climate Change As Nuclear War in “Slow Motion”

By the early 1980s cold war tensions were at their peak. The so-called “throw weight” of nuclear warheads was at an all-time high. Nevertheless, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, people just didn’t think too much about it. Gone were the days of “duck and cover” and the building/designation of air raid shelters—mostly useless anyway.

It wasn’t until Carl Sagan and some of his colleagues released a report on the results of nuclear war leading to nuclear winter that people were shocked into action. They learned that nuclear blasts were just the “tip of the iceberg.” Not only would radiation slowly kill many more around the globe, but all the soil sucked up into the atmosphere would create a global dust cloud blocking the sun, thus lowering the global ambient temperature. This would lead to the destruction of most plant life. This is essentially what happened when the asteroid of 65 million years ago took out the dinosaurs; dust blocked the sunlight and it got cold.

I first read about nuclear winter in the Boston Globe. As powerful as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were (15 and 21 kilotons, respectively), these were nothing as compared with hydrogen bombs up to 30 megatons and the multiply independent reentry vehicles (MIRVed) warheads that would deliver these atop ICBM missiles. The initial blast and fireball from just one of these bombs detonated at about 5000 feet overhead could completely destroy all of the New York City metropolitan area. Of course, the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R had hundreds of these bombs.

The result of this report shocked American, European and Soviet people into action. There was extreme pressure placed on leaders of both sides to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. This pressure led to SALT (strategic arms limitation talks) and the eventual signing of START (strategic arms reduction treaty)—based on trust but verify.

With some growing exceptions, mostly among our youth, we now see the same “head in the sand” approach to climate change. In fact, we see climate change more as an annoyance than as something catastrophic. We go about our daily business as the oceans warm, becoming more acidic as their oxygen levels decline. Meanwhile, the Tundra, Amazon, Australia and the American West are consumed by wild fires, sea levels rise, and coastal cities are flooded. Eventually, famine, disease, and political conflict will drastically reduce the human population (and many other species).

Although climate change is taking place in the blink of an evolutionary eye, it is far too slow to shock us because our brains are designed to focus on immediate threats.

What will it take to shock us?

Winter Returns

From my back porch

As the sun sets lower in the sky the days get shorter with the approach of the winter solstice. Last night finally brought the snows, about seven inches of the wet stuff so far.  The landscape now a monochrome, is one of the best times

Intruder

to shoot in B&W. The landscape blurs with the whirl of falling snow.

But wait! There’s also the opportunity for high contrast and pronounced lines, interrupted by, what?

What Will Become of Us?

On Monday, the United Nations Climate Action Summit gets underway in Madrid, Spain. A just released U.N. report found that we are not making very good progress towards keeping global temperature rise below 1.5⁰ C by 2050.

New Condos

This is because global warming is not a linear process, but rather an exponential one; the planet is warming at faster rates over time. We are reaching what some social scientists have called a “tipping point.”

This can also be applied to the natural sciences. For example, wild fires put particulate in the air which eventually settle on glaciers. Now, in addition to warmer temperatures causing ice melt, there is a second factor, particulate, which absorbs additional heat. Another example is that warmer air not only melts the tundra’s

Hotel in redesigned factory building

permafrost, but as it does, methane, a much stronger greenhouse gas, is released, further warming the planet.

The basic cause of climate change is too many people producing too much GDP with fossil fuels. The only very unfortunate solution is to stop using fossil fuels and transition to renewable energies. Since these cannot provide as much energy as fossil fuels in the foreseeable future, post-industrial societies would have to transition to micro-industrial production. This would entail giving up many of our amenities and creature comforts that we have become so used to over the past 100 years. But you and I are not going to do it. Buying a Prius just won’t cut it. The only way this can be done is by inter-governmental cooperation among the G20 countries. What we can do is pressure our political leaders.

Another Hotel

Watch any of the business news and what do you see? All the emphasis is on growth; very little attention is paid to environmental issues unless it’s regarding regulations. As I walk down along Commercial Street in Portland, Maine, the renaissance of the last 15 years continues. High-rise buildings proliferate, some of which have condominiums ranging from about $500k to $2.5m. Though a small city, Portland has diversity, it has restaurants that can compete with those in Boston and New York, it has investment houses, and it has an outstanding art museum. All this takes energy to construct and maintain. Sad to say, this is not sustainable, not here, certainly not in London, New York, or Beijing.

 

Winter Moths on Peaks Island

The other night while driving to my friends’ on Peaks Island I saw thousands of winter moths in my headlights. When I returned home there were dozens on the outside wall by my lighted front door. I told my friends about this who said that southern Maine is loaded with these pests that became established in the area around 2012.

A little research on my part found that they are native to Europe and the Near East; they were inadvertently introduced into Canada in the 1930s. They have no predators in North America and are now established in New England and the Pacific Northwest.

They are highly destructive of deciduous trees, as they eat the leaves during the caterpillar stage of their life cycle. The tree will die if it is infested with this caterpillar for several years in a row.

Remedies to limit these moths have included spraying plants in the spring before the ambient temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and tying sticky strips around tree trunks so the wingless female cannot climb up to lay her eggs in the tree’s crown. However, a more effective strategy is to release its natural predator, a wasp (Agrypon flaveolatum) and a fly (Cyzenis albicans). The latter has worked particularly well recently in Massachusetts, but not so well in the Portland, Maine area where there have been at least two major fly releases, as reported in the Bangor News and by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry.

The infestation of winter moths does not seem to be related to climate change, but rather global shipping and travel. You can read more about this pest in a Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry document.

Moving to Maine

House Island from Peaks Island

With this post I digress a bit from discussing environmental issues.  I have been in the process of moving to Portland, Maine after 27 years in Rochester.  It has been a very tough decision that has evolved during the past six years.  I not only have great ambivalence about leaving my house with so many memories, I also have to leave the many friends I developed during my years in Rochester. I do hope they will visit me and invite me back to visit them. After all, I still have friends in New England who I have maintained friendships with over the past 27 years.

With this move I return to my New England home, though I have never lived in Maine. My late wife and I have been coming here to visit friends since 1980 and we wanted someday to live here. Although Maine is predominantly a rural state, I live in Cumberland County, of which Portland is part. It is the most urban, progressive part of Maine. Things are stressful as I am awaiting the sale of my Rochester house and entering a contract on a Portland house. All this going on while living in a winter rental on Peaks Island!

You might recall that I spent about ten weeks photographing coastal Maine in 2014 that resulted in a Photobook, Exploring Maine’s Coast: Belfast to Wells. Like Alaska, Maine still has bush pilots flying hunters and fisherman to its interior, not to mention Mount Katadin which is the beginning or end of the Appalachian Trail. Once I am settled I will begin going out with the camera to capture the Maine environment, opening a new chapter in my life.

Best wishes,

Steve

Will the World Go the Way of Easter Island?

Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1920

 

Public domaine, USGS Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2013

 

 


There are two theories about the decline of the Easter Island native people. The first is ecocide. They cut down or burned all the trees for farmland and moving the statues they built, thus collapsing their ecosystem. The second being, success, they learned to accept less since rats, inadvertently brought to the island on the original explorers’ canoes, thrived by eating the seeds and seedlings of the island’s trees. As a result, human population declined, but the remaining people survived by eating the rats and fewer vegetables. They were adaptive. Wow, such success!

Fast forward to today and our global ecosystem faces a similar risk. As just one example, a scientific publication, reported in the The Guardian, found a 29% decline in bird populations since 1970. Perhaps this is partially due to the insect apocalypse. Hello, is anybody out there? And just as the Easter Islanders could have saved their ecosystem, regardless of which theory is true, they simply accepted their worsening new “normals.” Not us you say? Well, today the United Nations Climate Action Summit is meeting and the president of the United States is elsewhere pandering to his base. Instead, we have a teenager, Greta Thunberg, addressing the body with stern remarks, She castigated world leaders about doing little to alleviate fossil fuel emissions. Then there is the world climate strike, again with youth at the forefront, taking place around the globe.

Unfortunately for us, it very much looks like humanity will accept and adapt to dramatic population decline and scraping by with less. As I have discussed elsewhere, humanity will indeed have to adapt to less, much less. However, if we were to act now we could minimize the effects of climate change, even though these will worsen. But this is unlikely. Shaming adults will have only minimal effects on industrial production.  China and India, among other countries, continue burning coal. Auto and aircraft emissions, while cleaner than in the past, are on the rise, due to larger vehicles and increased traffic. Hello, is anybody out there? (Hmm, they must be on another app.)

Fossil Fuels: “Opioid” of the Industrial Period

Hurricane Dorian, at Category 5 over the Bahamas, tracks toward the Florida coast on Sept. 1. NOAA GOES-East satellite handout/Getty Images

Humans are making hurricanes worse, as reported in the New York Times. In fairness to us, just imagine when we figured out how to build furnaces and other machines that could harness all that pent up energy in fossil fuels. Wow! All the stuff we could produce. We built better shelter, increased food production, could move us and freight longer distances in far less time (oh, there are a few labor and social issues, but we don’t need to belabor those here). What’s not to love? Well, there are downsides. Human population rapidly increased requiring more fossil fuel energy. Along with this was an increase in our wants, requiring more, you guess it, fossil fuel energy. The results are warming temperatures, expanding landfills, ocean and (somewhat less) air pollution, sea-level rise, more extreme weather, and the sixth extinction of species.

Today we are faced with a choice. Go to negative carbon emissions (i.e., no fossil fuel use and carbon recapture) by 2050 or so or go on as we are doing and run out of resources within the next hundred years, along with the loss of much humanity. It’s a formidable societal “addiction” requiring policymakers willing to risk their careers. You can read more about this elsewhere on my site.

Either way, the earth will survive just fine (at least for the next 500M years).

The Great Black Wasp

Black Wasp

Living underground, the iridescent Great Black Wasp pollinates flowers while feeding itself, and removes plant pests while feeding its young making it a great friend to gardens and fields. They keep the grasshopper and cricket

Unidentified Grasshopper

populations under control. This rather unaware grasshopper on the right is feeding in the same bush as the wasps.

You can see my complete collection to date at Insectorama.

Is There a God?

Praying Mantis

Apparently the Praying Mantis thinks so. Or maybe it’s poised to grab an insect (or Humming Bird). Whatever the reason we found one near my sister’s family home in Connecticut. The various Mantis’ are humanity’s friends since

Praying Mantis

they eat many of those insects that eat our crops. Load your garden up with them. They are members of the cricket/grasshopper family. You can read more about our Mantis friends at It’s Nature.