As you read this, think about the climate you’re leaving for your children and subsequent generations. Give them a chance to live full, quality lives. And by the way, extend your own.
There was time when we believed that we were the center of the universe and that we should have dominion over the Earth. But then Copernicus came along who asserted that the Sun is indeed the center of our solar system, the Moon being the only body that revolved around the Earth. I’m sure you know that this resulted in a bit of an uproar. As for the dominion idea, our use of resources, over-hunting, and factory farming of animals have contributed to climate change and the current sixth extinction. Watch Marvin Gaye’s video, Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), released in 1971.
The following two photos show a contrast between Greenland’s Tunu Glacier in 1933 and 2013. This melt-back is characteristic of ice all around the world, though melt-back varies widely, depending on location.
It wasn’t so long ago that Carl Sagan and climate scientists started sounding the alarm that we were going down a dangerous path. Subsequent climate data has revealed that those early projections vastly underestimated what was happening, since we now know that climate change is not a linear but an exponential process. That is, it happens faster and faster over time.
The now famous photograph of Earth as a pale blue dot was taken on February 14, 1990 by the deep space probe, Voyager 1, from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles). The more recent
photograph was taken by the deep space probe, Cassini. Though more striking with Saturn in the foreground, it also shows how Earth is but a spec in the cosmos. As Sagan said in his book: Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. (Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot, 1994)
People often say we have to save the Earth. Not so! The Earth will go on just fine without us. The issue is preserving the current biosphere that supports us and the other higher vertebrates. There will always be life on the planet so long as there’s liquid water. As I present every year, here is my fictionalized account of our worst scenario. Let’s do better!
Normal you say? What’s so normal about this? It’s never happened before. It all harks back to Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. A normal (system) accident involves complexity and tight coupling that sometimes results from unforeseen system interactions. In this case, a relatively narrow canal accommodating heavy traffic and a ship about a thousand feet long weighing 200,000 tons likely aided with modern, computerized, navigational equipment in a high-wind environment. Taken together, these create a highly complex system.
Tight coupling means that if any one thing goes wrong within that system the result is a catastrophic failure. This is illustrated with the loss of the S.S. Transhuron in the Arabian Sea in 1974:
When the Transhuron was reconditioned, air conditioning was installed. It was put on a level that was directly under the propulsion switchboard. This occasioned no comment from the Coast Guard inspector [who could not have foreseen a catastrophe], because while piping should not be “in the vicinity” of the switchboard, this piping was separated by a steel floor from the switchboard, and ran to a nearby condenser.
After installation, engineers found that they needed a by-pass valve installed so that they could use the cold water system when the cooling pump needed repair. An iron nipple was installed on the bronze condenser head to hold a gauge, and the dissimilarity in metals slowly created corrosion [this is a long-known problem to avoid]. Unfortunately, when the unit was cleaned a few years later, this obscure addition was neglected. At sea, it failed and sprayed water into the propulsion switchboard 6 feet above it through an opening in the deck through which cables from the switchboard passed, and that shorted the switchboard out. Since the system had, at this point, 2,300 volts and 1,000 amperes, it was a big short, and it started a large fire. The crew failed to disengage another system on the panel, and that system also failed. (Perrow, pp. 224-225)
After some failed efforts the fire was extinguished. However, as a result of a poorly designed land-based marine radio communication system and miscommunication with the ship’s home office in New York, the ship languished in rough seas for several days and suffered structural damage as a result (the ship was lost, though everyone was rescued). All this was the result of a series of cascading events in a tightly coupled system, any one of which would not be catastrophic.
Returning to the Ever-Given, stuck as of this writing in the Suez Canal, let’s consider the high winds reported at the time of the accident. Okay, so now I’m going out on a limb and speculate
what might have caused the ship to pivot, run aground, and block the canal. If the ship was battling a cross-wind then it would have had to turn slightly into the wind and/or reduce power to its upwind propeller and maintain or increase power to its downwind propeller to prevent the ship from drifting downwind. The stronger the crosswind, the greater these corrections would have to be. But what if the wind suddenly shifted more to the ship’s upwind rear flank or dropped off? This could have caused the ship to pivot, sending the ship towards the upwind side. While captains and helmsmen are certainly aware of handling ships in high wind conditions, that this type of accident has never happened within the canal would probably have been seen as highly unlikely.
Could these winds have been higher than previously experienced outside of storm conditions? If so, would these winds have been the result of climate change? In this case, we can’t know. But it might portend a new threat in the age of climate change. An analysis of this accident will reveal the likely cause(s) sometime in the future. We’ll have to wait and see.
According to the latest UN Climate Press Release, the world is way behind in meeting the climate emergency. 2021 is a make or break year . . . . The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels. Today’s interim report . . . . shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. You can see a video summary here.
As I have discussed earlier, climate change will lead to micro-industrialization as the result of the loss of habitable and arable lands. These will contribute to greater mass migrations, famine, illness, and political conflict. Along with population growth and the eventual decline of natural resources, they will foster the sixth extinction and a drastic decline in human population, starting as early as 2070.
You can find the latest, in-depth climate data at the IPCC.
According to NOAA, With a slightly cooler end to the year, the year 2020 secured the rank of second warmest year in the 141-year record, with a global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average of +0.98°C (+1.76°F). This value is only 0.02°C (0.04°F) shy of tying the record high value of +1.00°C (+1.80°F) set in 2016 and only 0.03°C (0.05°F) above the now third warmest year on record set in 2019. The seven warmest years in the 1880–2020 record have all occurred since 2014, while the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005. Right now scientists predict a critical environmental tipping point of +2.0o C, which we have been approaching at a faster rate than the original estimates.
And to make matters worse, the Arctic is heating three times faster than the rest of the planet. This not only contributes to sea-level rise, it also threatens Arctic wildlife and creates potential conflicts over rights to the Arctic Ocean by Canada, the United States, Russia, and China.
You can see the latest interactive graphic of the Earth, due to petroleum CO2 and resulting CH4 emissions, since 1880, here.
Although the Internet and later, social media, were supposed to be democratizing and held the opportunity for establishing a global village, it seems the opposite is true. Yet, here I sit typing away on social media trying to make a progressive point about inequality and climate science. I do this despite the fact that most readers of my blog mostly agree with what I have to say. If there are any critics reading this, do let me hear from you.
People love science when it brings them something that has practical benefits. But when science questions the way we live–look out! Just look at what happened to poor Galileo who used scientific inquiry to prove that the Earth was not the center of the heavens, instead revolving around the sun (actually, he was wrong about the sun as the center of the universe–it’s not really the center of anything, except our solar system). Since his findings conflicted with Catholic dogma what did it get him? House arrest.
We all know how difficult it is to get some people to wear face masks to limit the spread of Covid-19 even though we’re in the midst of an uncontrolled outbreak and public health experts and epidemiologists say the current science shows that masks work. Now consider how much more challenging it is to address climate change which plays out over a much longer period–with the most critical impacts not expected until around mid-century. Here again, many don’t accept the science.
Some things have not changed much over the centuries.
Visit my page where I discuss how inequality and climate science here in the U.S. are linked.
A number of us were out on the Presumpscot watershed this morning to photograph the high water level as part of Portland’s the environmental impact studies. Today’s height was 11.8 feet, compared with 2008’s maximum November height of 11.5 feet–3.6 inches higher in just 12 years. And sea levels are accelerating as the polar ice and snows recede, thus reflecting less of the sun’s heat. As you can see in two of the photos, there are no beach areas left at high tide. I’ll continue taking photos at these spots location during the highest tides of each month.
The average temperature of our atmosphere is now 1oC warmer than it was in 1880. Scientists are now concerned that we are approaching what they hypothesize to be a tipping point where the atmosphere becomes 1.5oC warmer than it was in 1880. At our current rate of fossil fuel use, this would likely start before the end of the 21st century.
As I reported on my page, Climate Change, Health, and Micro-industrialization, if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the world would continue to warm, though at a slower rate. That’s because there’s so much CO2 in the atmosphere (over 400 PPM) that the greenhouse effect will continue to warm things up. Furthermore, annual wildfires of greater intensity, and the loss of reflective ice and snow in the Polar Regions also contribute to temperature rise. Our only option, in addition to stopping the burning of fossil fuels, is to remove it from the atmosphere, something we cannot yet do on a large scale. Nova presented all the initiatives and their associated problems for doing this, aired on October 28, 2020.
That we are clearly going to burn fossil fuels for some time, and that carbon capture currently cannot be done on a large scale suggests that our biosphere is going to get dangerously hotter. The global situation is such that we are facing a slow-motion version of getting hit by a giant asteroid or a nuclear war. All life will be affected to varying degrees. Unfortunately, we are not very good at addressing things that seem to be “far into the future.” I guess if I had the choice, I would go for the asteroid. We could really rally a plan for that.
While on a recent hike one person suggested I consider volunteering to take photos in the Presumpscot River Watershed which flows into Casco Bay. Although this area is scientifically monitored for water quality, the Friends of Casco Bay are also interested in knowing about problematic areas that people might come upon. Key areas of interest are: erosion, sea-level rise seen at high tide, wildlife (dead or alive), algae blooms, trash, eel grass, and pollution. Volunteers document what they see with photographs which they can upload to their accounts on Water Reporter (similar to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird citizen science program). Once the data are analyzed, plans for addressing the problems are discussed with the appropriate authorities to come up with viable solutions.
As you can see, trash was the easiest category for me to document today. My plan is to revisit the same areas (I’ll add a couple more) so I can document these over time. The next full moon high tides will occur on November 14-18 so I’ll be photographing some shore areas during that period. If you recall my recent Falmouth Town Landing post, photos on Water Reporter show portions of that parking lot under water at high tide.
Just to mention, aside from minor adjustments such as exposure, I don’t process these photographs in order to preserve the look of the actual scene. Photographing times are determined by times of high and low tides, instead of best light. Today’s shoot took place during the hour prior to low tide. I set my camera to geo tag images, including elevation and camera direction.
David Attenborough’s just published book (see my sidebar) bears witness to the loss of wild places within his own lifetime that threatens much of life on this planet. He makes the case for the loss of plant and animal diversity, even as so many of us remain oblivious, or think that it’s really not that bad, or something that we can worry about sometime in the distant future.
Traveling the globe with his video crew, he recounts and shows how places he once visited have changed within his own lifetime, how coral reefs have died. He concludes with what we can do to regenerate wild places before it’s too late.
A companion Netflix documentary provides all the dramatic video, narrated by and starring, Sir David.
You can also find more detailed statistics about climate change and its implications for humanity here.