Flooded Planet

Exploring the World to the Very Last Drop

Category: Climate Change (page 2 of 3)

Silent Tipping Points

Another late and unfocused post, and I apologize for the rambling. The last few days have been a little rough with regard to new knowledge gained about various aspects of Climate Change. The big CC is shifty and wily, crafty and unpredictable. We already knew all that. But to what degree continues to open our eyes wider and wider. The news seems to be a constant reflection of that, and it seems to be coming in at a more brisk pace. I think the newly elected president may have something to do with these copious amounts of climate-related copy.

The information that particularly caught my attention over the last few days involved what the climatologists call tipping points, and how CC might just blow on past one, or two, or more without blatantly broadcasting the event in some fashion to those among the species incredibly interested in understanding what may have just happened. This, especially given the idea that the thing that just happened perhaps also just put us past yet one more “point of no return.”

One analogy that made me chuckle a bit was brought up by some big name professor type working at a university whose name I didn’t register. He made reference to the idea of trying to balance chairs on just two legs and how the tipping point, forward or backward, was razor thin. This reminded me of a pastime I indulged in frequently as a teenager in my mom’s own kitchen. I’d balance each chair around our big white table on just its two hind legs. I don’t know why I was always so impressed with myself whenever I accomplished this feat, but there was nobody else in my family who even attempted it, which made the visual aspect doubly pleasing in my mind.

The idea that I could grab the same chair, delicately, in the same exact place, using the same exact grip, the same finesse, the same muscles, the same everything (or so I would think), only to discover that there was only one combination…only one…of all those variables in tandem, that would make that darn chair balance itself beautifully on just two of its four legs. It might take 25 tries. It might take a hundred. But eventually the thing would respond, awarding me with a defiance of physics (or an affirmation of it, I would think). It was like me and that chair shared something fleeting and special between us, and I suppose it was, if only in the most trivial sort of way. It would stay in that same elegant pose as long as nobody stomped a foot, or came through the doorway too fast, or turned around too close. That’s all it would take to lose that moment that was only gained by trying again…and again, to make it just so.

I wonder if Mother Earth tried to make herself “just so” for us human creatures. And I also wonder if we’ve come through the doorway too fast. Before we happened onto the planet, the earth was in an elegant pose already, or at least I think we can safely assume so. She still is, although, to our eyes, some of the postures she strikes now are alarming, threatening to do us grave harm, and, if we personify her enough, we could almost conclude that she’s trying to shake herself free of us, her most annoying and disruptive little fleas. Our existence on this planet, after all, has been precarious from those very first days in the cave, and then beyond it.

Most of us have little scientific grounding to inform us of this most tenuous of situations, not to mention the fuel we have added to the fire with our ceaseless heat-inducing activities. Civilization is costly. We were supposed to maintain symbiosis. For a while now, we’ve only been parasitic.

We have convinced ourselves that we are somehow residing outside of, or above, or beyond, the natural world around us, as though what we do or don’t do has no real effect on the activities and on the biological activities that take place beyond the borders of our techno-cities.

Climatologists have a different take on this perspective, of course, warning us again and again about the dangers involved as we continue down the same reckless path we always have, believing that our oceans and our atmosphere are endless open sewers for all the entropy we care to dump into them. They are so convenient, one has to admit.

Country folk who have lived in the woods for generations use the back tree line to dispose of their household garbage. I worked at a garbage company many years ago. We were setting up county-wide disposal services for some very rural areas. It was the first time these folks were being told they would have to pay to get rid of their household garbage. They called our company by the hundreds, informing us customer service types in rather undignified language that we’d better not send a bill, because they weren’t going to pay. “…and don’t set no toter cart by my house, neither, ‘cause we didn’t ask for it, and we aint gonna use it.” And so it went. Some of them threatened bodily harm if the garbage man came around trying to dump their cart. More than a few actually took the provided cart and used it for personal use, like a repository for used antifreeze or motor oil.

Same mindset still abounds. Same types of scenarios play out thousands and thousands of times on the planet each day, on local, regional, and global scales. Somebody’s dumping something somewhere they’re not supposed to right this very minute. It’s quite likely they won’t get caught. But the planet notices. It always notices.

For these reasons, I don’t drink the water that comes from my well. Ground water isn’t safe. Neither is the water anywhere in the world without some type of filtration system imposed on it. And I can safely assume that, even though the FDA has deemed the food I eat as safe, there’s a whole helluva lot of stuff I’m ingesting that nobody’s going to monitor for me, nor the ill effects I’ve no doubt it has on my own little biome. We, the people, the businesses, the cities, the nations, the heat engine that sustains homo sapiens in this comfortable little bubble we call civilization have now racked up enough entropy that it’s having a severe impact on the very environment we depend on to keep us alive.

But it’s 2017, and it feels terribly similar to 2016, and 2015, and 2014. I think it’s pretty much just more of the same. We’re trying hard, just not hard enough. Look who we just elected into office. Look who he’s filling his cabinet with. Mama Earth must think we simply don’t care enough. That’s why she’s letting those tipping points slip on past, not telling a soul about them, especially not her fleas.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

Nothing New Under the Sun

I caught wind today of Brazil’s actual and planned hydroelectric dam building frenzy involving the Amazon and her many tributaries. It’s a given, as I’ve come to learn rather quickly, that there’s never a consensus where reported quantities appearing in the media are concerned, be they numbers by the dozens, or counted in the thousands. As such, my posts continue to take on an air of increasing generalities while still whittling down any particular message I want to convey to just the bare bones. Nothing is based on numbers. Everything is based on common sense. This one is about the natives getting screwed…again.

Whether it’s a few enormous dams getting put in the spotlight, or a bunch of the smaller “run of the river” variety, as they’re called, feeding into the bigger mama dams, we can probably peer into our crystal balls, individually, or collectively, and arrive at outcomes that differ little from one another, some tweaking of actual numbers, either up or down, essentially the only difference. In other words, we’ll inevitably get where the narrative is going to take us, whether we are dealing with deforestation in a dozen small instances, or the same on a massive scale in two or three spots. Who cares, really, if the result is essentially the same? Same old carbon getting dumped up in the atmosphere, and really nothing new under the sun.

Floating Planet

The country’s tribes are getting uprooted and displaced again. Resettled? What a term. “We’re kicking you off your land and out of your homes, but here’s a crappy new place we hope might make you feel better.” It’s that same old dance that History never gets tired of repeating. We did it to our own Native Americans, so we’re familiar with the games rules, since there really aren’t any. Government and business interests come in and take what they think is theirs to need and want, with the displaced receiving a pittance compared to what they are really owed. Like it or lump it…it’s all the same to us.

Here’s how the thing plays out: the tribal elders who make their homes alongside numerous Brazilian rivers are raising a ruckus, for the little good it will do (although I’m certainly not suggesting they shouldn’t, and I sure as hell would, too). Litigation ensues (at least they have that option now…once upon a time the results of Protest might end in spilled blood and funeral pyres, and such outcomes still happen often enough, as well). Offers and counteroffers are made. Appeals, and appeals of the appeals, take place. Some watered down environmental impact statements. Things get bogged down, then move forward, then slog along at a sloth’s pace, etc. All the while, we’re pretty assured in knowing what the outcome is going to be, whether anyone officially acknowledges it or not. It’s just a waiting game, motivated to move along as quickly as possible by nothing more exotic than Greed.

The smaller, weaker, more technologically challenged, less well-financed party is going to lose…i.e., the simple, humble, pure of heart tribespeople. You can bet good money on it. They have always lost (at least on a global scale, if not always a local one), and they always will. He with the deepest pockets or the biggest guns always wins. That’s just the way it goes.

Without citing examples of this same tired scenario played out endlessly over the span of time, we already know how things will develop—are developing—down in Brazil. Dams will be built. Dams are being built everywhere around the world. Why should Brazil be any different? We aren’t building dams domestically much anymore because we’ve come to learn that the stakes involved are way too high. Yet, for all that the lessons learned are worth, many say the hydro-electric dam equates to clean energy, even though it’s been proven quite extensively that a dam is anything but. No, there is plenty of filth surrounding it, environmentally, politically, and otherwise.

The land is heavily impacted, along with the people who have made their livings on and around the waters for generations, along with the wildlife whose habitat will now be something largely unrecognizable to them. Everyone will be starting over somewhere else. In the meantime, the additions of carbon and heat to the atmosphere as a result of deforestation, the flooding of other forests by the impacted waters that will result, the ecological balances that will be thrown entirely off the rails, none of this matter in the end, because it’s that damn dam that matters most, isn’t it? Groundwater contamination? Who cares. The power supplier gets paid. The water supplier who ships it in from somewhere else now gets paid. The job supplier for the influx of vast migrant populations into every country with waterways that must be bridged, blocked and bulldozed gets paid. The tribespeople get screwed. Nothing new under the sun.

Eighteen and a half billion U.S. dollars to build a single dam. To ensure “energy security.” Who here has lost their ever-loving minds? People step down or are forced out over political pressure to get the dam’s approval pushed through. The idea of the possible “extinction of hundreds of species” is pushed aside by aggressive business interests. The cultural heart of the forest and the country plays second fiddle to the parties that drive what we are still convinced is progress. Fossil fuels are to be avoided like the plague we are told, and we shouldn’t dispute the truth of that statement, but to think that shifting to the mass production of hundreds and hundreds of dams around the world as the viable alternative is all but insane. Reading the statistics regarding methane emissions that will result from the Belo Monte dam alone boggles the mind. Remember the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas? It’s bad…very, very bad. Did I say somewhere else that We Probably Aint Gonna Fix It? I stand by that statement with ease.

As an aside…Larsen C will probably be calving off any week now. An iceberg some 2000 square miles in size! I can’t even fathom it. What piece of Antarctica falls off next is anybody’s guess, but I’m pretty sure things aren’t going to reverse themselves any time soon, so stay tuned. Climate Change is the new spectator sport, and it’s about as tragic of a pastime as I can think of.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

We Probably Can’t Fix It

Falling Electricity

Blow by Blow

With my time invested in this blog growing, I’m realizing increasingly that my entire approach to the writing is changing, post by post, topic by topic. Certainly the most evident effect of such changes is the content that I choose to include, versus that which I decide to move to a back burner. As more and more data comes into my domain of interest, the need to prioritize becomes more than a bit overwhelming.

The perspectives I want to share with the reader now are not those I set out to impart nearly six months ago when I ventured into blogging with zest and zeal. To put it bluntly, I thought I was going to have fun, with no strings attached. Writing for the sheer joy of it all. What I experience now is still gratifying, of course, or I wouldn’t do it, but it’s no longer a pursuit I can characterize merely as fun. Climate Change is fascinating and horrifying; challenging and compelling; entirely riveting on every level imaginable. I’m just not sure one can write about this very heavy and unwieldy topic with mere whimsical flair. The knowledge I’ve gained carries a psychological price. What my ‘pen’ chooses to write is a reflection of that cost.

Reading with an interest and a depth that I don’t think I’ve ever quite experienced before, I realize that the big CC is plastered all over the place. We simply refuse to see it, and it’s an easy pastime in which to wallow. I know I’ve certainly been guilty of the very same up until now. Climate Change has always been a story I have kept at bay, not out of concern for what I might find, but more for reasons of what I would not. It felt like an alarm that had sounded too long, and with seemingly little consequence as a result of inaction. Rather like a house that someone announces has caught fire, but all we see pouring out the windows, hour after hour, is just a little bit of smoke.

Now that I’m focused on CC, however, and hopelessly so, I see how it was just hiding there, in plain sight, right before me, day in and day out, and just dripping with reasons for concern for all to see. And yet it’s one of the most overlooked stories I can possibly imagine to exist…still.

It’s the elephant in the living room leaving shat all over the carpet while people sit around sipping solace and eating efficacy. It’s the gorilla swinging from the chandelier in the dining room, daring us to deny that it’s only a matter of time before the ceiling comes crashing down on the distracted guests. It’s the crocodile waiting quietly right at the edge of the pretty pond out back, unnoticed, and only labeled a clear and present danger when something’s head is about to be severed from its body.

Perhaps it’s just the nature of the beast not to call attention to itself until it’s pretty damned close to too late to do anything about it. Unfortunately, many climate scientists are saying that very thing. There’s so much havoc already cooked into the system, the most we’re going to accomplish now is mitigation.

For someone who sees writing opportunities at every turn, the topics reach out to me with skeletal pendulous fingers, no matter which way I contort away from the distressing headlines, wishing I could write, instead, about food fads, or sports teams, or Hollywood scandal. But I’m all in, and there’s no escaping it now. For those who are still apathetic to the entire CC concern, however, one could tell them that the dam is breaking precisely at 3 pm tomorrow and if they’re still in the valley by then, there’s not a single thing they can do at that point but clutch one another and wait for the wave. Even so, I think something with less gravity, more diversion, might actually keep the luggage from getting loaded into the car. As they washed down the river, their glazed over expressions of surprise and wonder would reveal the question last on their mind before the raging waters came bursting forth: Why didn’t anybody warn them that this knockout punch was coming. Climatologists might simply shake their heads and sigh.

I think I can describe finally paying attention to having someone pry my eyelids open, taping them to my forehead so that I am forced to see what it is that the school master’s been scratching on the board for decades now, trying to instill a sense of urgency in a student who simply refused to learn. Now that I have seen the importance of the subject matter, I feel compelled to pass along what I’m absolutely convinced to be a pressing, if not downright critical matter to address, and right now. It feels like something very close to a compulsion, a passion, a responsibility to friends and loved ones.

So, this is a confession that the few stories I researched and wrote about early on here, and with whimsical flair, quickly became part of a dying breed once Climate Change took aholt of me and I took aholt of it back, as well.

Now we are locked in this terrible, mangled and menacing dance, unsure of what’s to come of the relationship, or who’s going home with whom. The Big CC is stepping all over my toes and I don’t like the pain one bit, but my new dance partner refuses to turn me loose, no matter how hard I try to break it off.

So we’ll continue to embrace, CC and I, in something that feels more like a boxing match, less like a tango, blow by blow consuming one another, a breathless fight to the death, with everyone watching, exhaling CO2, floating around in an energy-packed atmosphere, and measured with the most precision and the upmost care, rising in parts per million.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

Entropecology

A few posts back, I made reference to a book I read nearly a quarter century ago. Entropy by author Jeremy Rifkin. Not sure of the exact date of my reading, and it only matters in light of the fact that he kind of stood my world view on its head (as I’m sure he would be delighted to hear me confess) and has influenced the way I have perceived the world ever since.

The title of the book is a term used to describe what the second law of thermodynamics is all about. No wait, come back, I didn’t mean to scare you off. We’re not going to get all technical here, and I wouldn’t be able to even if I tried. I’m a writer, not a scientist. I just want to wrap some basic ideas up in a nice neat package for you, that’s all, and maybe change the way you see the world, as well, once you understand what’s in the box.

Let’s begin.

So…energy. You can’t create it, and you can’t destroy it. But you can change it from one form into another. We’re masters at these processes of transformation, and have been performing our magic show with Nature’s raw materials for centuries now. We’ve gotten better and better at it over time. Now, we’re to the point where we can continually dig up and pump out of the earth massive amounts of energy, then change that energy into other more useful forms, like bobbles and trinkets, souvenirs and gadgets made out of bright, bendy plastic. Gizmos that add meaning and dimension to our lives, that give us happiness and joy, even if they fill up our landfills at an ever-increasing pace. “Big deal,” we say, tossing aside the old faded whatchamacallits with a nonchalant flair so we can go out and buy newer, more wonderful thing-a-ma-jigs that promise even deeper joy, and more profound delight. We are a species that loves to surround ourselves with stuff and nobody’s gonna stop us.

The transformation gig started off with wood as the energy source that could readily be changed into heat. Then we got our hands on some coal and realized that we wouldn’t be bothering with wood much longer. It’s inefficient compared to the black gold. Coal didn’t give us heat quite as readily as wood, but close enough, and we were quite thrilled with the new option. Then somebody set some oil on the back doorstep with a pack of matches beside it–daring us to light the thing off–and the future just exploded. Oil was way trickier than coal or wood, but boy did it pack a punch. Way bigger returns, even if it needed more prep work. Whole new industries sprang up overnight. We were rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.

In a very short time, we switched from the most convenient energy source to the most inconvenient in terms of what we have to go through to get what we want out of it. Heck, we can even split an atom apart if that’s all that’s separating us from our energy. We’ll do it. When you think about all that we’ve accomplished in a very short span of time, it kind of boggles the mind. We sure are smart.

Nothing I’ve written so far sounds all that ominous, but of course you know that this little tale of technological wonder must, by necessity, now take a downward turn. To do this, let’s use a very simple illustration to get the point across. It’s built on a few obvious premises: 1) for all intents and purposes, our planet is a closed system. In other words, we are, in very large part, self-contained. We don’t have a constant conveyor belt of mineral-laden raw materials streaming down from the heavens like manna to processing centers over in Baja; 2) Because of premise 1, we can safely say that, from day one all the way up to this present moment, we have had all the basic stuff that Earth is ever going to give us; 3) (this is a biggie) Once we use a raw material of any sort, at any time, and for any purpose, we can never ever again get as big a bang for our buck from that same material as we did the first go around (if you’re thinking that recycling is the answer, please realize that it’s a very small step we take, only leading to a much watered-down redemption… don’t stop doing it if you are recycling, just know that it’s a very small part of the solution). Okay…

A barrel of oil is extracted from the ground. It took a lot of energy to get it out. A lot! And it’s also going to take a lot more to turn it into just one of the myriad products that oil provides us with, such as plastics, fertilizers, consumer goods beyond our wildest dreams, and, oh yes…fuel for our cars.

At every step along the way of this transforming process I mentioned earlier, work is performed, and a sizable amount of that work gets lost, in terms of efficiency, in the form of heat (this is thermodynamics at its finest). The bigger the transformation from raw-material-straight-out-of-the-ground to shiny-finished-product-in-the-big-retail-store, the more losses we should expect in terms of that ever present bug-a-boo by-product…heat.

Our barrel of oil, in this example, has been transformed into that beautiful amber liquid we all crave, every day of the week, guzzling it down like a large soda pop propped on the dash, brimming with crushed ice on a hot day in the middle of summer…oh…yeah: gasoline.

Here’s the question…once that gasoline gets pumped into the fuel tank of your car, then ignited inside the pistons, so the cool wheels can propel you down the highway of life, or at least around the block to the kids’ school, the J-O-B, the bank, the fast food restaurant, the shopping mall, the tanning salon or the hardware store, and then down the highway of life if you live out in the suburbs…where does the gas go from there?

The easy answer, and the one we’re going to use, is-the atmosphere. Let’s say we don’t necessarily care about that too much for right now. What we care about more is whether or not we can ever use that same gallon of gasoline again. Can we? The answer is an emphatic No, and the reason for this is Entropy, which we will now more conveniently just call Pollution.

That barrel of oil was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-repeat-performances resource that will only serve us on a single pass through, then never again. There are no repeat performances (oh, and there you go again with the recycling, but No, you are probably…definitely…way off base). All of the energy that went into the clearing of land, the building of oil rigs, the transport of the discovered oil to the refineries, the refining process, itself, the transport of the refined products to their intermediate or final destinations, the usage of those products, and their ultimate disposal into the landfill grave, that energy is gone…forever.

But didn’t I just contradict myself by saying that the energy is gone? Yes I did. What I should say is that it is virtually gone. As in it might as well be gone, or that it’s as good as gone, or that we can kiss it goodbye gone. Every time energy in a concentrated form (such as oil) is used in another form to perform work (such as gasoline to move a car down the road), the end products are still other forms of energy. Now, however, these final, more uh…transformed forms are of much less use to us, and cannot be put back, so to speak, to perform that same work again. Like I said, it’s a one way trip. Would you disagree with me if I categorized Entropy, from a layman’s perspective, as nothing more than what it truly is–Pollution? That’s a neat package.

Here’s another package that can be laid right next to the first one and that wraps up just as neatly: Entropy is one of the most pervasive, persistent, and all-encompassing laws known to physics. Einstein said it reigns supreme and will never be unseated. It’s a law, but it’s also the stuff that’s piling up all around us, and there’s no way we can ever stop it. The more we try to shove it back in its box, the more it oozes out the sides.

The most energy we ever had to exploit was the day we invented fire. Since then, we’ve been steadily depleting our stockpile, and will, by necessity, always continue to do so. We confuse technology with energy, however, and they are certainly not one and the same. Technology, for us, has mostly been put in place so that we can deplete our storerooms ever more quickly, though no politician is ever going to admit that. He’ll call it other things, like ‘job growth,’ and ‘efficiency’ and ‘progress.’ In truth, all it really means is that we are burning through our supplies at an ever-increasing rate.

Any noble attempt to slow this train down would be a pursuit with virtue written all over it, and would be a huge component of our overall Climate Change solution, whatever else we might try, as well. But we’re never going to do that voluntarily. Faster and faster is how we always want to go. Mother Nature will have to teach us how to breathe deep again, how to be happy with less again. I sure hope She lets us have another go at it.

But now, revisiting the question of where the gas goes once it’s burned, let’s switch back to caring deeply about the fact that it’s all up in the air-literally.

The atmosphere is packed to the gills with this discarded energy. It’s so full of heat now, that we are experiencing the results in all the ways that Climate Change can show us the error of our ways. That barrel of oil we pumped out of the ground months ago is still very much with us. It’s just hovering around in the air up there as water vapor, methane, CO2, and other gasses that make up this mess we have created for ourselves. In fact, it will be up there for years and years to come.

Lest you believe any of these far-fetched notions of simply sucking the stuff back out of the atmosphere to solve all of our worries and woes, I hope I’ve just shown you that there is no such thing as a free lunch in physics. In the same way we have pumped the carbon into the air as a result of energy transformation, we would also have to be pump it back out of the air again, necessitating quite a lot of additional energy transformation in the process. The energy that would be (I won’t say ‘will be’ because I truly believe this is a non-starter) required to pull off such a stunt is prohibitive, at best, and contributive, at worst.

This, then, is Entropecology, and we couldn’t have devised a less desirable ecology for ourselves and our vulnerable habitat if we’d tried. We are dug in deep.

(Awkward moment when writer doesn’t know how to present a strong closing sentence. Probably because the situation he’s writing about is awkward and without a strong closing solution. But this is our circus, and these are our clowns. Where do we go from here? Maybe slap some solar panels on the big top?)

Check out these related posts and Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

We Probably Can’t Fix It

 

 

The ABCs of Warming Degrees

If I’m going to tell you a story about glacial construction and how calves aren’t good at swimming, we’d better talk a minute about Carl Anton Larsen, ship’s captain, founder of the Antarctic whaling industry, and explorer of the continent.  He’s the fella the Larsen Ice Shelf was named after (I should think it fitting that an explorer as intrepid as he would have a few namesakes in his honor…there’s a harbor, and a ship, and likely more, as well).

This guy was the son of a man named Captain Ole Christian Larsen, and it seems he was just destined for greatness on the world’s oceans. The lad was hunting at sea with dad by the age of 9, well-schooled in the maritime trades by 18, and already captaining ships while still in his tender 20s. Larsen was the first to discover fossils in Antarctica, first to ski there, and also introduced reindeer to the area for the first time (a misguided move that ultimately had to be halted).

He also founded a settlement on the island of South Georgia, mainly to serve as base camp for the fledgling whaling fleet there. The place, Grytviken, is still there today, although not for whaling purposes. There are plenty of relics of a bygone era that litter the spot, however, including whale bones, rotting ships, remnants of the processing plants, and a few leftovers from the far-flung Falklands War. The Lutheran church that was built those many years ago still serves a higher calling, and cruise ship tourists stop in at the museum and muck about amongst the memorabilia.

But enough about Larsen and his legacy. What the heck is an ice shelf, anyway? Excellent question! Well, it’s a natural part of a glacier’s integrated construction. In very simplified terms, it sort of acts as a buffer system, a floating buoy that supports the glacier it is an extension of, helping to stabilize and slow the glacier’s incessant slide into the sea. If you’re familiar with the architectural term ‘buttress,’ then you will understand what the shelf is doing. A glacier is moving all the time. How fast it gets to where it wants to go is influenced by a number of factors.

The glacier’s ice shelf acts sort of like a softly applied brake against the glacier, slowing down the massive hunk of ice as it creeps ever so slowly toward the water’s edge. Once an ice shelf calves off and is gone, however, the demise of the glacier it once ‘protected’ accelerates.

Larsen’s ice shelf was divided into sections A, B and C for what we can assume to be very practical, topography-related purposes. There’s our no-nonsense alphabet. Another unglamorous part of this story is that Larsen A calved off from the glacier it supported, Crane Glacier, in 1995, followed shortly thereafter by Larsen B in the early 2000s. Larsen B had been stable for 10,000 years or so, before the warmer temperatures came to stay.

Now we see that Larsen C, the largest of the three ice shelves discussed here, has recently begun to show signs of distress. This was predicted shortly after Larsen B broke up, and the timing is right on schedule. This past summer witnessed a large rift forming along the shelf, the first indications that trouble was afoot, and that a cleaving may be imminent.

What can we conclude from these events? Reasonably, we can say that more of the same is likely. Temperatures in the Antarctic have been rising slowly but steadily since the middle of the last century. Higher water temperatures around the ice shelves will only accelerate the expected progression of melting, then calving, of icebergs into the surrounding waters.

As we all know, calves don’t swim well. Left on their own, they eventually tire, melting away completely within a few years, adding ever so slightly to overall sea levels. Although it’s quite a spectacle to see huge sheets of ice tumbling into the ocean—YouTube is brimming with such Larsen Lemming video—I know it’s something I would certainly prefer not to think about. As one of the most visually compelling and dramatic indicators we have to illustrate that things are nowhere close to what they should be, weather-wise, the ice’s plunge into the sea is a sign of things to come, all relating to Climate Change in one form or another.

What a thing to be able to say that the discovery of these ice shelf structures by Larsen only 125 years ago will be all but history in a very short while, especially given their scientifically proven stability for thousands of years previous. Yet we feel a strange disconnect between our daily lives and what’s occurring far south of us in an icy and barren world known first hand to only a few. We probably shouldn’t. The world is a vastly shrunken place, and nobody gets out alive.

That war mentioned earlier, whose name centered around the islands clustered off the coast of Argentina, would seemingly have no logical reason to spill over into a remote Antarctic village with no obvious connection to the conflict. And yet, we know that it was precisely because of those unique relationships that part of the Falklands War took place there (Larsen’s original whaling corporation was called the Compania Argentina de Pesca, a clear indication of the Argentinian interests that had been long ago established on the island of South Georgia, where Grytviken is located, and where artifacts of the war can still be seen).

In the same way that any war will highlight unexpected connections between participants, scientists draw more lines daily between disparate dots too, often in quite unexpected ways.

The hardest part of their jobs, I think, is not the science, but the communication of their findings to the general public, especially when it’s not welcome news. Nobody wants to hear this message, for sure, but ignoring it is like playing a game of Russian Roulette with the only home we have.

The conclusions being drawn are based on well-established facts, compelling and verifiable beyond all reasonable doubt…which is why I write this blog. I’m not ignoring the science, and I hope you won’t either.

Check out these related posts and sincere Thanks for stopping by!

G2

Big Ball of Bio-Water

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Oh Amazing Algae

As my journey into the belly of this beast called Climate Change continues, I find myself truly enjoying the learning aspect of it all, discovering more fascinating facts about this little blue planet of ours than I could have ever imagined. For instance, if someone had asked me yesterday where I thought the lion’s share of the earth’s oxygen originates from, I would have readily answered with “…well, of course, that would be the rain forests of the world.” And, of course, it turns out I would have been entirely wrong. In fact, the oceans, and more specifically, the little photosynthesizing plants called algae that live there, are responsible for producing fully half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere (scientists think the percentages may be quite a bit higher than that).

As it also turns out—and we probably might have expected this—algae, and specifically a type of algae called phytoplankton, microscopic in size, yet prodigious in its ability to rapidly multiply…well, it’s also quite sensitive to a number of environmental factors, not the least of which are the results of Climate Change. Yes, the big CC, not limited in where it chooses to go anywhere on the planet, rearing its ugly head yet again.

My understanding of the earth’s carbon cycle at this point is not sufficient to provide details as to cause and effect, other than to say that the excess carbon in the atmosphere is contributing to both ocean acidification and rising water temperatures, both adversely affecting the plankton’s ability to do its very unappreciated job. How amazing that something so seemingly trivial serves as the basis for the entire marine life food chain, while at the same time providing the air-breathing species of the planet with fully half of its overall oxygen supply. Yet the best we’ll probably ever do is to offer the planet’s plankton plentiful placards of platitudes!

So, breathing, the most natural biological thing we do all day, all night, all quite involuntarily, never giving a second thought to the idea that we can only do so because there is abundant O2 in the atmosphere, provided entirely by plants as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Thank goodness they don’t need it, because we sure do. If we’ve ever had to hold our breath for more than, say, a minute or so, we already have a sense of how quickly things become uncomfortable as our lungs protest mightily over being deprived of just a few nourishing breaths of life-sustaining oxygen.

There are some things we simply don’t think about, and they may be the very same things we absolutely can’t do without. Like breathing in, exhaling out. Or like the fact that there’s free air for all of us to breathe, about 21% O2 with every breath we take, whether it’s a Sunday, or a Wednesday, whether in spring or winter, whether in Minneapolis, or Tanzania. Seems mundane enough, and taken totally for granted because we’ve never had to worry about such things…until now.

The concern among the scientific community is that we aren’t giving the idea of ‘plankton in peril’ nearly enough attention. Scientists even go so far as to say that our focus on things like sea level rise, the loss of sea ice, the growing prevalence of catastrophic climate-driven weather events—all very visually-oriented phenomena—are possibly not the things that we should be worrying about the most. It could be something else entirely…like little microscopic dots of immeasurable importance, a drifting sea blanket of oxygen-producing plant life that is fraying at the edges, with most of us not even remotely aware of the danger posed.

Were the plankton protection to unravel entirely as a result of the stressors constantly pushing hard on its environment now, the world would quickly become a most inhospitable place. Most worrisome is that we are already starting to see the dire consequences of these possibilities piling up in the sea.

Always something new to add to the list of things that keep us up at night. Maybe eventually we just won’t sleep at all.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

Troubling Times

I try to remember what it was that got me so lathered up about the weather. As a longtime resident of Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast region, most of my days in any given year consist of lots of sun, lots of recreational water to play in and on, and lots of congestion, caused by an overabundance of tourists and new arrivals who want their little piece of what I get to enjoy 365 days a year. Beyond the idea of too many bumpers weighing down the town’s infrastructure, however, I can’t think of anything that raises my blood pressure or my hackles too much. Nothing is wedged in my craw very deeply. Life is good. Life has always been good. Life will always be…incredible.

But something has fundamentally changed, and it had to have been a story on a newsfeed or a video on YouTube that was somehow just enough to get me exploring, trying to understand the dizzying array of numbers and facts and data that are now part of an accumulated wealth of concern and alarm that live in my head.

I insist that I won’t become a worrier, and I’m a pretty light-hearted guy most of the time, asking you to go about your day, while I go about mine, with neither of us trying to sway the other to a different way of thinking. I disagree with a whole lot of what goes on in the world now, locally, nationally, internationally. But I can’t help but think that the world is on a path that it has chosen for itself, logically or otherwise, and there’s not much we can do to turn things around, at least not quickly, cleanly, or easily, and we’ll certainly not reach a consensus on anything, big or small.

So what’s the point, you might ask, in someone taking the time to write about all these things that concern me greatly? After all, there must be thousands of others doing quite the same as me. The scientists keep this ball rolling all the time now, driving a surly and unpredictable convoy of Climate Change events. They put out the warning of the day, confident that the rest of us will digest and transform those words into activism, policy, angst, drama, money…blogs.

If I could clap my hands and take my life back to a time when I didn’t have this gray cloud of uneasiness hanging off my shoulders, I certainly would. Pull out all of that excess carbon from the atmosphere so the world could cool off a bit (by the way, the story last week was that the Arctic is 36 degrees hotter than normal for this time of year…if that’s not worth concern, I can’t imagine what is). Let the coral reefs “unbleach,” let the ice “unmelt” itself into the quantities we used to have, let the oceans “unacidify,” let the glaciers “unretreat,” let the sea levels “unrise.” Of course, what we realize now is that, in order to go back to such halcyon days, we’d have to turn back the clock a couple hundred years, back to before the Industrial Revolution ever started. Back to before our discoveries of coal and oil and natural gas. This would be because we now know that it was just about that time we started throwing right off the tracks all the natural indicators that lend balance to the world we precariously inhabit.

On this blog, I see that I’ve already gone down a burdensome laundry list of Climate Change woes at least a handful of times already. There are literally dozens of elements that make up the big CC, and most of us don’t understand how interconnected the planet truly is. If we stop to think about it, however, it makes perfect sense. After all, Earth is spherical. If you sail far enough westerly, you’ll come right back to where you started, approaching from an easterly direction, dropping anchor in the very same port you left out of. So…what goes around will simply circle back behind us if we give it long enough to do so, right? What we put up into the atmosphere is going to have consequences. What we dump off into the oceans eventually bubbles its way back up to the top. What we thought we’d adequately buried deep in the ground will soon be found sunning itself at the surface again.

There’s no way around it…with respect to Mother Nature, we get what we give. Now we are reaping the rewards of our “efforts.” We’re getting spanked real hard, and there’s more punishment to come. It will be interesting to see how the climate shapes up in the years ahead, since more than a few very smart scientists have told us that we have very likely passed, or soon will, some critical tipping points, markers in the map that Mama Nature lets us know about, only (she chuckles) as we’re sailing on past them and it’s kind of too late to address them once they have made themselves known.

I’ll do my part to keep you posted as we close in on the end of another year, hotter than any previous year on record, and with much more of the same to come.

In the meantime, guard your backside and Happy Thanksgiving!

G2

Be Very Afraid


There are only two occasions in my life thus far when I can remember where I was when tragedy struck—when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986, and 9/11. Now, I think there’s a third…the day we decided to elect Trump as President.

As soon as I saw Florida turning red on the map that evening of November 8, I remember a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We did not see this coming. I was so sure of the idea that this would never come to pass that I was bold enough to tell others the same thing. But here we are, and I have to say I am very afraid for our future. (Important NOTE: no, I’m not a Democrat, and I didn’t vote for Hillary. There simply comes a time when one has to admit that the candidates on the ballot, at least those we ultimately wound up with (after foolishly eliminating a pretty broad swath of quality contenders on both sides of the aisle) simply do not possess what we’ve fondly labeled in the past as “the right stuff”).

Not only am I afraid for these United States, which may actually experience some short-term economic success under this new brazen and callous leadership style, but the entire planet is at risk. Especially if even a small portion of what we think we know about this man’s beliefs about the big CC are true. He’s about to unlock any chains that were binding the fossil fuels industry. And his intentions to toss aside any agreements we’ve made on the international stage with regard to carbon emissions seem pretty indisputable. He has as much as admitted that he doesn’t believe the causes behind Climate Change are anthropogenic (i.e. caused by humans). The stories of such scientifically verifiable linkage have been plastered all over the web for decades at least. The jury has been in on this issue for so long now that Trump’s statements to the contrary paint him as a bit of a buffoon. But if you simply don’t believe what you’re reading here, please go straight to the source of the fear, Trump’s brand new website—www.greatagain.gov. Once there, toward the bottom, click on the Energy Independence link. These few paragraphs are all you need to digest to realize 1) the true power of political propaganda, and 2) the full intentions of this President where the continued burning of fossil fuels are concerned. Oh yes, we’ll be “energy independent,” and we will have frayed our lifeline to a workable future on Earth beyond recognition as a result.

If, indeed, Trump scraps the carbon emissions agreements we made in Paris in 2015, alongside nearly 200 other countries around the world, early estimates place the amount of carbon we will willfully spew into our atmosphere as a result of our political negligence (assuming a two-term Trump presidency) at approximately 3.4 billion tons.

Were these numbers to become a reality, we can sincerely kiss the futures of our kids and grandkids goodbye, because the planet under such circumstances will indisputably cause a rise in temperatures large enough to make the continued existence of 7-8 billion souls simply untenable. This will be Trump’s shameful legacy, should any of us be left around to label it as such.

“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”

David Suzuki

Thanks for stopping by!

G2

Climate Strange

Apologies to any readers who have noticed a rather glaring break in my posting schedule. I have actually been doing a lot of reading about Climate Change, fascinated as always by the many layers of which this ominous onion is comprised. The more I become aware of our predicament, the more I feel at ease in calling our collective calamity by such terms as “a bind,” “tight spot,” “between a rock and a hard place,” etc. It’s not pretty, but we also don’t want the whole world to become hopeless. If we lose that (and some most definitely will), the fight is lost. In the meantime, some words to the wise.

I see certain prominent voices involved in the big CC slapping labels on the thing that will do nothing to solve the problem, and perhaps even hinder any attempts at resolution, or at least mitigation. If I were driving the bus as a policy maker, I’d be very wary of those who would categorize this pickle as anything but the most catastrophic and challenging dilemma we as a species have ever faced. If we aren’t more than just a little bit scared by the scientists’ collective warnings, then they have failed in their message, which, at times, I truly think they have. It’s not as though we have many options, and this is certainly not a pep rally.

People marching in the streets makes for good journalism, though, even when the march is symptomatic of the disease, and not the disease itself. Journalists and TV reporters interview the participants, get their background stories, discover what it is that has fired them up, has got them taking to the blacktop carrying banners, wearing t-shirts, shouting slogans and embracing agendas. Maybe one or two stories really stand out, and the media spotlight gets shined down brightly on those personalities so we can all have a feel good moment. But the emphasis on personalities and motivations has skewed the focus of the lens, and the big CC clock just keeps on a tickin’.

So let’s not be naïve. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting inspired by frenzied activities like crowd sourcing for a good cause, it’s a something to gather around, but not the something. Beware ye disciples of false prophets, lest ye be led astray. There are opportunists on every corner licking their chops at the prospects that Climate Change presents, becoming yet another chance at the big money ball. I would have to write several posts to scratch the surface of what I feel at my intuitive core is shaping up, adding to the mix the very things that will delude us, elude us, preclude us, and conclude us, if we don’t keep an un-occluded eye on the one and only goal before us—to work this problem in a rational, science-centric approach accompanied by a passion such as we’ve never seen at any time in History. If you’re marching, it had better be for very clear reasons.

Yes, I’m being vague on purpose, but don’t let me lose you. Although Climate Change is many things pushed together and overlapping, it is not first and foremost made up of ingredients that are of a political nature; it is not a platform on which to scream about social inequality; it is not a chance to engage in and perpetuate all the backroom dealings that will keep the grifters and the greedy in business a little while longer; it is not something to tuck into one’s portfolio to enjoy unheard of ROI; it is not the thing around which to build new conspiracy theories.

Sure, it has already become all of those things to varying degrees, but we mustn’t give into the temptation to see it primarily through the lens of these propagandized platforms, as they will surely become wasted expenditure of precious resources. In other words, pick your politicians wisely, as they will each offer their own special flavors of rhetoric, spinning the situation into something almost prosaic, like…well, like when those first few nukes rolled off the assembly line to protect us from the evil Russians during the Cold War (those warheads now all laying around like so much discarded idealistic confetti, only in constant need of maintenance and more unstable with each passing year, not unlike our planet).

Social activists will tell us that our emphasis should lie in bringing justice and equality to the impoverished masses who take the brunt of the storm (literally) time and time again (NOTE, I agree with much of what they will say, but their timing is just so…so…well  alarm bells are going off in my head).

Attorneys will tell us it’s time to sue the pants off the fossil fuels industry (maybe they’re right, but again, we cannot divide our efforts into endless, expensive litigation…can we just snuff out the CO2 and methane right now, and then we’ll lawyer up and have some heads served on platters to squelch our seething angers once the ship has been righted).

Portfolio managers will present us with tantalizing options that take full advantage of the chaos that’s probably going to ensue (hmm…I probably just don’t need to comment further here. If you’re gullible and greedy enough to believe the glitzy ads about the profits to be had amidst crisis, you probably deserve what you get).

All of this feels a little too much like “Business as Usual,” and this time around—it simply cannot be the path we choose to take.

Don’t think for a minute that we should spin this unwieldy beast of a thing, this physical, geological and meteorological monstrosity that is the very essence of what we have chosen to call Climate Change, into any of those somethings that it is definitely not. If it becomes a mutated abomination that we feel compelled to clamber up the back of so that we can have our collective moments in the sun, we shall do so only with the implied understanding that, in the end, it is all precious time terribly and sorely wasted. And every day we waste now, the consequences will be that much harder to swallow.

I dare those souls out there who believe in the value of discovering the truth for yourselves to spend even a day in the data that surrounds Climate Change and come away with anything other than a jaw scraping along the ground as a result of dire possibilities looming. Do you know why you keep seeing words like “accelerating” and “unprecedented” and “record-setting” in the stories relating to Climate Change? Feedback loops. Think of your own skin.  What we did to our hides twenty years ago as we baked in the sun, sure that our dark tans were a sign of youthful health, is now showing up in the doctor’s office as the cancer that winds up killing many of us each year.

The tan is the skin’s defense mechanism to guard against further damage. It’s a symptom. How foolish we were.

There is a forty year lag between the time we dump CO2 into our atmosphere and the weather manifestations we see as a result. Think about that! What we spewed into the air to join the lofty clouds way back in the 1970s is what is responsible for the factors that make up the strange climatic anarchy we are witnessing now. If we think about the multiple gigatons of the stuff we’ve dumped into the atmosphere since then, it boggles the mind to consider what’s waiting in the pipeline for us. But waiting it is, and I’m afraid we simply don’t have much of a clue about how bad it’s going to get before it ever has a chance to get better.

Please read these related posts, and… Sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

We Probably Can’t Fix It

We Probably Can’t Fix It

The more I’ve had the chance to read about Climate Change, the more I’m convinced that we (collectively referring to all of us currently squatting here on Planet Earth) probably cannot fix what’s already been loosed upon the world (although we will be convinced until the bitter end that we can).

Looking at the situation through a very broad lens reveals to me that, to take in the unfolding big picture being knowledgeably presented by the scientific community, you have to be willing to take the equivalent of a punch to the gut by a heavyweight boxer in his prime. Very unscientific, I know, but my gut is telling me we’re somewhat screwed, to put things mildly. Internal hemorrhaging is a given at this point, and the diagnosis will almost certainly get more dire with each dithering year that passes.

Why do I assess things as such? Well, because as I’ve described myself elsewhere on this blog, I’m a realist first, a bit of a skeptic second, and also just too plain old to know better when it comes to being optimistic just because the pundits say we should be. It will take much more political will on a global scale to turn the ship’s rudder hard enough that an undisputed new (and better) course for our ship can be recognized by all. Right now, I feel no profound turning whatsoever, do you?

Climate Change cares nothing about political election cycles. It doesn’t care about Capitalism’s assumption that eternal growth must be baked right into the recipe or the whole cake collapses. It cares not a wit that fossil fuel companies are still hell bent on extracting ever more oil out of the ground, even after the scientists have warned that if we do so, we have about a snowball’s chance in Hell of overcoming this immense problem facing many generations to come. Every possible scientifically-based statistic out there shows what many people simply refuse to believe: we’re heading for a precipice, and there’s very little time to stop this otherwise catastrophic plunge into the climatic unknown.

Do any of my older readers remember a song by Billy Joel called We Didn’t Start the Fire? Good! In similar fashion, I’m going to run through a laundry list of just a few things that we’re up against, because…we did start this fire with a little something known as The Industrial Revolution:

Greenland is melting fast…Arctic sea ice is virtually non-existent in the summer months now (we can probably remove the word “virtually” from the sentence in 2017 or 18)…coral reefs are bleaching and productive fisheries are becoming harder to come by…atmospheric carbon is now permanently past 400 ppm…most (maybe all) of the world’s glacial ice is in retreat…oceans are acidifying and also heating up…sea levels are rising as a result…methane hydrates are being released from the permafrost and it looks like it’s going to get worse (methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2)…historic water events are occurring ever more frequently because a warm atmosphere holds much more water vapor…heatwaves are occurring more frequently, and flooding, too (we keep hearing the terms “historic” and “record-breaking” at a nauseating pace as the media reports on such weather-related events with alacrity)…forest fires are now more intense and frequent, partly because drought conditions are now more prevalent, providing the kindling that today’s mega-fires thrive on to sustain themselves…fresh water aquifers are being overburdened by a thirsty and growing human populace less able to rely on alternative resources that evaporate mercilessly…species are dying out at an unprecedented rate (why do most of us not even know about this?)…diseases that were previously relegated to the tropics only are finding a foothold in higher latitudes due to increased temperatures.

Okay, that’s enough for now, and only a beginning.

Scary stuff, right? Of course it is. It’s awful and there’s no way around it. So why don’t we see that all-important political will I mentioned earlier? Well, because we’ve sort of painted ourselves into a corner. We’re in a pickle. The human population will continue to increase for a very long time to come (decades anyway), even if at a slower pace. That means we (again, collectively referring to all of us currently squatting on the planet, chewing our cuds and blithely denying that there’s any problem at all by playing with snowballs on the Senate floor) we need to create more jobs, build more shelters, manufacture more transportation, provide more clean water, grow more food. In short, we need growth.

How do you provide all that (by opening up your economic engine full throttle) at the same time you’re pulling back on fossil fuels, and, by default, reducing greenhouse emissions? After all, there’s nothing that packs the same energy punch as a barrel of good ole crude oil, and it’s hard to dissuade those who want it out of the ground…now. So how do they (meaning…ugh-politicians) go screaming around the oval to win the jobs growth race while being told that you need to stand on the brakes so hard your tires will probably burn up right underneath you? It’s like a fully revved motor going nowhere fast. It reminds me of a poster of Don Garlits that used to hang in my room as a kid. Big Daddy is in his dragster performing a magnificent burnout, with a big ball of flame rising up behind him as he gains traction at the start line. Lots of heat, lots of light, no forward motion.

We can’t agree in Congress on anything. Partisanship rules the day and ruins the country. Maybe that’s why it felt like an international accord in Paris, reliant on the agreement of many dozens of signatures, was a foregone conclusion from the outset. Funny thing is…even if we are politically standing still, we’re still burning through a whole lot of energy. Which is why I say we probably cannot fix this. I think the best we’re going to manage is to adjust to events that are truly going to surprise us.

In the meantime, things are heating up in the political arena, and will continue to do so. Don’t think it goes unnoticed by those who care about these things that Donald is a member of the Climate Change deniers. Or that Hillary has barely uttered a word about anything directly relating to climate. As I said, however, the big CC doesn’t give a tinky you-know-what about election cycles. It’s got other business to attend to, like showing the world, one historic climate event at a time, how much more costly the price tag is going to be, in more ways than one, the longer we wait to implement deep and decisive change.

Check out these related posts, and sincere thanks for stopping by!

G2

Hard to Plug a Hole

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