NOAA’s 2019 Arctic Report Card

Courtesy: Greenland Travel
Ilulissat, Greenland, September 9, 2014 (Courtesy: Greenland Travel)

Unattributed photo

When most of us hear of polar warming it’s often about sea-level rise. True enough. However, Arctic warming is more problematic than Antarctica warming in terms of geopolitical conflict as China, Russia, Canada, and the U.S. vie for control of the newly opening waters. This is just one way in which climate change contributes to national conflicts.

Common to both Polar Regions, climate change also threatens wildlife–polar bears could be headed for extinction because the ice flows they depend on for catching seals and fish are disappearing. Penguins are at risk due to changes in their food supplies. These changes, along with rising sea-level, threaten the coastal villages of northern peoples.

We hear that the Polar Regions are warming at a faster rate than the equatorial and temperate regions. Why might this be? According to NASA’s Patrick Taylor, the seasonality of the polar warming is largely a result of energy in the atmosphere that is being transported to the poles through large weather systems. He said, “The total warming at the poles is due to changes in clouds, water vapor, surface reflection of sunlight and atmospheric temperature. But there is greater warming in the winter than in the summer and that is caused by energy transport.”

As the tundra starts to defrost and the oceans warm, methane (having about 25 times the greenhouse effect as carbon dioxide) is released. The summer of 2019 saw a ring of tundra files around the Arctic Circle land masses, further releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Though we cannot say with scientific certainty, we might already have reached a tipping point, meaning that even if our fossil emissions were reduced to zero by 2050, the then levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere along with the continued release of carbon dioxide and methane from wildfires, warming tundra and oceans, and volcanoes would continue to heat the planet. See what’s happening to Greenland’s ice.

You can read the entire 2019 Arctic Report Card here.

 

Earth Day 2020

Iconic Earth
Iconic Earth (NASA: Via Apollo 17

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 and over-hunting and factory farming of animals has led to climate change and the current sixth extinction. You can see how climate change has played out at Glacier National Park in the following photos.

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.

Via Voyager 1

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

Via Cassini

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. Here is my fictionalized account of our worst scenario. Let’s do better!

Happy Earth Day!

Gulf of Maine Heating at 7 Times the Rate of the Oceans

Sinister Oil
Sinister Oil

 

I’m slowly getting settled here in Maine where I shot a roll of film in December and just recently had the chance to develop it in my new photo lab.

As I noted several years ago in my photobook, Exploring Maine’s Coast, the Gulf of Maine is heating, rapidly. In fact, it’s heating at 7 times the rate of all the oceans. We are now beginning to know why. As reported in Science News by Agu, and published in the journal, Science, there are several reasons for this. First, the Gulf of Maine is relatively shallow and rather closed in by George’s Bank. Second, as climate change warms the Arctic, meltwater coming off the glacier on the east coast of Greenland flows into the southbound Labrador Current. Normally this current keeps the northbound Gulfstream further out to sea. However, since freshwater from the glacier lowers the salinity of the Labrador Current, it is pushed lower down in the Gulf, allowing the Gulfstream to move closer to shore. Third, the air is also getting warmer.

As a result, the rich supply of fish and lobster are beginning to migrate further north. Eventually, the Gulf of Maine will host fish from warmer waters. In the meantime there are more in the way of toxic algae blooms.

Yet, from the shores of Cape Elizabeth, once can still see the arrivals of oil tankers bringing in more petroleum, on which we all depend. The environmental scientists tell us we’re running out of time to switch over to renewable energy. That assumes, of course, that we believe in science as the best way to know the world in which we live.

You can see more of my December shoot at my online gallery.

 

 

 

Eating Vegan Is Not Only Good For You, It’s Also Good For Your Grandkids

Okay, what’s going on here? We know you can reduce the risk of cancer and coronary artery disease by eating vegan (i.e., high fiber and low saturated fat), but what’s my grandkids got to do with it? Raising animals takes up far more land and water than raising plants, and it also releases far less greenhouse cases.

Check out the video.

As Temperatures Rise, Cold Stunned Sea Turtles Abound on Cape Cod

www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/climate/climate-change-cold-turtles.html

This is one example of how the sixth extinction is playing out. Although this sounds contradictory, the turtles swim further north during the summer, given warmer water temperatures. However, temperatures drop below what the turtles can withstand as winter arrives.

The waters off Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine are warming twice as fast as the oceans, for reasons not yet understood.

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?

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.

 

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).