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).

Biodiversity loss threatens humanity

Yet another major report documents the effects of climate change. Although there are many local and regional initiatives around the world that will slow this down a bit, a concerted world initiative is necessary to stop the sixth extinction. I do not see this as likely to happen, given that it has to start now. The result will be a great die-off, including some of humanity. Although the developing countries will be most affected, many in the developed world will be affected by mid-century–just thirty or so years away.

And to think that we did this in about 170 years (in the “blink of a geological eye”).

www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/opinion/sunday/extinction-endangered-species-biodiversity.html

Lead in Our Water Supplies

I was just listening to Living on Earth on NPR. Steve Curwood was hosting Michael Pell of Reuters. Pell and Joshua Schneyer just published a report showing that many communities around the U.S. have lead levels in their water supplies as high or higher than Flint Michigan.  According to several scientific studies, lead is harmful to developing brains by hindering learning ability and causing behavioral problems, the latter related to less ability to control impulses. Until recently, lead exposure was seen as most related to living in old, run-down housing that poses the greatest risks to the poor. Though this is still true, lead contaminated water is now understood to pose a second risk that threatens all socio-demographic communities.

This is another example of how over the past 150 years we have managed to not only warm our planet, but we have also contaminated our water supplies upon which all life depends. If this isn’t bad enough, our leaders are slow to react to these fundamental threats, indeed, many will not even acknowledge that they exist.

The report lists communities around the country that identified as having  lead contamination.

“Climate change” added to my blog’s subtitle

We are truly entering Orwell’s age of doublespeak ( i.e., language used to deceive, usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth). One such example is the Trump Administration’s  deletion of the term climate change from government websites (and funding agencies are suggesting that applicants do the same in their federal grant proposals), so it is up to the rest of us to keep this term in the public’s eye. Yes, the vast majority of us believe that climate change is occurring as we witness extreme weather events and fires in the west.

 

“It’s All Happening At the Zoo . . . .”

My friends and I recently took our “heavy glass” to photograph at the Seneca Park Zoo. It was a bright sunny day, perfect for getting sharp pictures, even though the mid-day sun creates harsh contrast. The last time I was here was many years ago with our young nieces. How the time goes by.

Today’s zoos meet higher standards to keep their accreditation than in the past. The animals’ physical and emotional needs are better met.

Elephant’s Eye

Zoos often provide safe haven for injured and nearly extinct animals. Zoos are especially great for kids, particularly since fewer of them see animals in their natural habitats.

Still, I wonder when seeing the animals’ expressions, if they are happy being fenced in. Separated from their natural habitats, they are not free to roam, associate, and mate as evolution has shaped them. According to Wikipedia:

The welfare of zoo animals varies widely. Many zoos work to improve their animal enclosures and make it fit the animals’ needs, although constraints such as size and expense make it difficult to create ideal captive environments for many species.[41][42]

A study examining data collected over four decades found that polar bears, lions, tigers and cheetahs show evidence of stress in captivity.[43] Zoos can be internment camps for animals, but also a place of refuge. A zoo can be considered an internment camp due to the insufficient enclosures that the animals have to live in. When an elephant is placed in a pen that is flat, has no tree, no other elephants and only a few plastic toys to play with; it can lead to boredom and foot problems (Lemonic, McDowel, and Bjerklie 50).[full citation needed] Also, animals can have a shorter life span when they are in these types of enclosures. Causes can be human diseases, materials in the cages, and possible escape attempts (Bendow 382).[full citation needed] When zoos take time to think about the animal’s welfare, zoos can become a place of refuge. There are animals that are injured in the wild and are unable to survive on their own, but in the zoos they can live out the rest of their lives healthy and happy (McGaffin).[full citation needed] In recent years, some zoos have chosen to stop showing their larger animals because they are simply unable to provide an adequate enclosure for them (Lemonic, McDowell, and Bjerklie 50).

You can see more of my photos from the day’s shoot at my online gallery.

Myth, Mysticism, and Magic

Until now, the focus of my blog has been to show images of birds, animals, and landscapes to encourage people to think more deeply about the consequences of climate change and preserving our natural environment. I have backed up all my environmental statements with scientific evidence from credible private and governmental sources. I have kept direct political statements out of my posts. However, I must make an exception as political events could limit the free flow of scientific information on my blog.

An article in today’s New York Times cites the “disappearance” of scientific data from some U.S. Government websites as a result of the Trump Administration’s wish to sweep climate change and other topics with which it sees as contrary to its agenda “under the rug.” This is akin to the Catholic Church’s suppression of science in the days of Copernicus and Galileo. So, not only is democracy increasingly eroded here in the U.S. and elsewhere, but now the most objective way we have for understanding how the earth, and indeed the universe, works is also at risk. The implication is that we are to believe in myth, mysticism, and magic, as well as government propaganda.

I will be reviewing the U.S. Government hyper-links in my earlier posts and pages. In those cases where I find a link to be inactive I’ll post, [Link deactivated by the Trump Adminstration].

Winter–A Metaphor

I went out yesterday with my hiking club. I gave up carrying a camera on these hikes because we move along at a pretty steady clip. By the time I got my hands clear of my hiking pole straps, removed my gloves, and took my time to compose, everyone was long gone. However, one of my

Emptiness/Dormancy
Emptiness/Dormancy

photographer friends showed me some pictures he took while hiking with another group. They were very good. I asked how he manages this and he said you have to be quick. Don’t worry too much about composing. Shoot what grabs you and with any luck you might get some good shots. In fact, while thought and composition are necessary most of the time to get good shots, “shooting from the hip” was one of the topics covered in a workshop that I participated in last summer. So, here are my results, along with my interpretation.

In an earlier post I explained why parks, woods, and wilderness are so

Steps to Somewhere
Steps to Somewhere

important as refuges for reflection. They offer a place away from the “noise” of our lives (assuming we turned the mobile phone off). Thus, they help us focus and think more deeply. This is what ran through my mind as I shot the photos.

Winter is so often seen as a metaphor for dormancy, emptiness, and the end of life. It is cold, generally overcast, lacks color, and shows no obvious growth. It is much like we experience with the loss of our loved ones, getting fired, or looking for love. The difference between winter as a

Which Direction?
Which Direction?

season and winter as a metaphor is that the warmth and rebirth of spring rather predictably follows the former, while “spring” rather unpredictably follows the latter. During such times we tend to question the purpose and direction of our lives. It is a problem we have to solve on our own, no one can do it for us. Perhaps a weird statement coming from a sociologist.

Earth analysis from data collected by the deep space probe, Xertox

The Xertox deep space probe from the planet Outlandia entered a polar Earth orbit and collected data from every surface area for a period of twelve months. These data included photos of the planet’s surface, along with atmospheric, oceanic, and continental compositions and temperatures (collected by deployed robotic labs).

Analysis (based on data received by Outlandia, 200 years later) reveals that the planet’s atmosphere contains high levels of greenhouse gases contributing to an average surface temperature of 65.4° F. The oceans appeared to have risen significantly over the past 150 years before major evaporation.  The planet has no glaciers, with very little ice during the winter at the southern pole. The northern pole has almost no ice during winter.

There is no life on the planet beyond the bacterial, algae, and fungi groups. Given soil analyses and the planet-wide remains of buildings and large structures, it appears the planet had a wide array of higher life forms, including intelligent. Further analysis shows a sudden release of methane from warming oceans over a hundred-year period, likely due to the extensive burning of fossil fuels. This is demonstrated by the unique fossil fuel signature contained in the planet’s CO2 molecules.

Conclusion: Since this advanced civilization would have had decades warning of rising temperatures and their implications, we conclude this species rapidly developed technologically, well ahead of the time necessary to evolve beyond the stage of focusing only on meeting its immediate needs. Famine, disease, mass migrations, and conflict would have drastically reduced the populations of most species. Eventually,    temperatures too high to support most life forms completed the extinction process.

This is a fictionalized account of a deep space probe mission conducted from the planet Outlandia located 200 years away in our Milky Way Galaxy. They launched Xertox in Earth’s year 1950 after spectrographic analysis indicated Earth was located in what we call, the Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold . . .). Unfortunately, by the time it got here in 2150, we were toast.

Does our fate sound far-fetched? Maybe it is not. According to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the average global surface temperature has increased about 1.53° F since 1880. Scientists warn of a threshold effect if the average surface temperature rises another 1° C (for a total of 3.6° F above the average 1880 temperature). Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, stronger storms, and the current (sixth) extinction of species all attest to the implications of these rising temperatures related to burning fossil fuels.

Perhaps it is time for us to evolve a lot faster.

Forthcoming Book Announcement

Fielding_Nunavik Cover
Map: Courtesy of Nunavik Tourism

Expedition to Nunavik: A Photo Essay is a collection of photographs with a brief history of Northern Quebec (see my two posts about the trip from August 2015). It is about our relationship to the environment.

I was looking for an interesting place to photograph early in 2015, possibly Antarctica, New Zealand, or Iceland. Then, an advertisement in Outdoor Photographer Magazine placed by Nunavik Tourism of Northern Fielding_Nunavik.jpg Page 48Quebec caught my eye.

Although we were going to photograph musk oxen and landscapes, this expedition would lead me to learn more about the history and culture of Nunavik’s Inuit. Like so many native Peoples around the world, the Inuit face constant tension between maintaining their culture and traditional way of life, and integrating with the Western world.

Fielding_Nunavik.jpg Page 24I’m waiting for a decision on a proposal I submitted to a Canadian publisher. Should the press be interested, the book would likely be published in 2017. If the press decides not to publish, I will independently publish later this year. I should know which direction publication will take within the next few weeks.