Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A few Climate Change links of interest... Superman won't save our asses

A bit of a climate change link dump. By way of introduction let me just say that I'm pretty sure we're fucked as a species and of course we've set the course for the extinction of lots of other species. Not to say we shouldn't do something, we should. We really fucking should, every single day. But as I've said before I think the turning point has come and gone. Just for the sake of putting it down here's a simple list: stop driving, work less, spend less, consume less, walk more, bike more, turn up your thermostat in the summer, turn it way down in the winter, eat vegetarian, compost, grow your own food, turn off every electrical device you don't need, install compact fluorescent lighting.

Yeah, that's me being hopeful. I expect most will do nothing at all because it's just too much work. Easier to go see Superman and enjoy a Happy Meal with the kids.

First there is this review by Ken Caldeira over at the American Scientist Online, Time Is Not on Our Side , in which he reviews a couple of recent works on climate change:
Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. Elizabeth Kolbert. x + 210 pp. Bloomsbury, 2006. $22.95.

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth. Tim Flannery. xx + 357 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005. $24.

If the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and gas is not reduced greatly and soon, the consequences are likely to be catastrophic. So say Tim Flannery and Elizabeth Kolbert, authors of two new books that provide ample evidence that those emissions are adversely affecting the complex web of interactions that ties Earth's organisms to climate.

The incipient catastrophe is manifesting itself in a myriad of ways. A half-century ago, the Inupiats of the small Alaskan island of Shishmaref were able to venture 20 miles out onto the sea ice to hunt seals; now that ice turns to slush only 10 miles out. Storm surges that were once held at bay by the ice now regularly eat away at the island, a strip of land only a quarter of a mile wide; a single storm can remove as much as 125 feet. Once houses sat square and firm on the frozen ground; now they tilt and veer as the melting soil softens and gives way. The Inupiats recently voted to move their village inland, away from their ancestral home—an early loss to global warming.

This scene from Shishmaref is among those described by Kolbert in Field Notes from a Catastrophe, which is based on a series of articles that appeared last year in the New Yorker. Such is the power of the images she paints that, soon after the series appeared, a senior staffer to a Republican senator told me, "When the Eskimos start moving their villages, you know it's time to start doing something."

Kolbert describes scientists at a research station on the Greenland ice sheet working rapidly in the early morning, trying to avoid the slush and rivers of water that will form later in the day from the melting ice. This water sinks rapidly through cracks in the ice cap to the rocky base, lubricating the flow of the ice to the sea, where icebergs will calve off, raising sea level and flooding coastal communities. When the sea freezes, as ice forms, heavy salty water is pushed out and sinks. When icebergs melt, the cold fresh water they contain spreads across the ocean surface (rather than sinking into the denser, saltier waters below), thereby interfering with the large-scale thermohaline circulation of the ocean. No one can predict with confidence how interference with such planetary-scale processes will affect climate. We are like children poking at a sleeping polar bear, without knowing what will happen when it wakes up.
Then there is this essay by John Gray at the New Statesman, Rather than face up to climate change and do what can be done, humanity may opt to let it happen:

During the present century, human beings are likely to experience a change in the planetary environment unlike any in history. Climate change is irreversible, and accelerating fast. No one, apart from a few cranks speaking on behalf of the Bush administration, doubts that global warming is a side effect of human activity. Accumulating scientific evidence suggests strongly that climate change is happening on a larger scale and more quickly than was suspected even a couple of years ago. Observable processes such as the melting of the Antarctic ice cap point to rising sea levels that will wipe out much of the world's arable land and flood many coastal cities. The face of the planet is changing before our eyes.
Then there's this gem from CNN reporting on a recent study and panel: Earth 'likely' hottest in 2,000 years:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It has been 2,000 years and possibly much longer since Earth has run such a fever.

The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."

A panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that Earth is heating up and that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree during the 20th century.


Last there's this interview at Rolling Stone with Al Gore:

OK, say you're the guy making that call. What do you ask us to do -- trade in our cars and buy a hybrid?

Here's the essence of our problem: Right now, the political environment in the country does not support the range of solutions that have to be introduced. The maximum you can imagine coming out of the current political environment still falls woefully short of the minimum that will really solve the crisis. But that's just another way of saying we have to expand the limits of the possible. And that's the main reason that I made this movie -- because the path to a solution lies through changing the minds of the American people. Not just on the facts -- they're almost there on the facts -- but in the sense of urgency that's appropriate and necessary. Once that happens, then things that seem impossible now politically are going to be imperative. I believe there is a hunger in the country to be part of a larger vision that changes the way we relate to the environment and the economy. Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet. That is nuts! We have to change every aspect of that.

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4 comments:

  1. Maybe if Al Gore had actually done something about global warming when he was the vice-president we wouldn't have to worry so much about it now.

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  2. agree with you paul. i've heard all sorts of explanations but regardless, not a whole lot happened which is pretty much what we can expect from the current capitalist/corporate 2 party "democratic" republic.

    shame to think that humanity's place on the planet has been so easily manipulated by so few... and that we are so easily manipulated into doing such stupidity.

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  3. I read or saw an interview with NASA scientist Jim Hansen who claimed Clinton urged him to get out in front of the global warming data, yet Hansen declined to do so.

    In other words, Clinton was looking for ammunition he could use to get the bureaucracy moving on global warming. Until Bush came along, that is how our government worked - lots of studies/research that would lead to some kind of institutional consensus and movement.

    Hansen was characterizing himself as being above politics, i.e. when Clinton wanted him to get out in front of global warming he refused; and now when Bush and his minions are trying to hold him back on the data and his conclusions, again he is refusing to do so.

    My memory is coming back a little - I think it was in his interview with 60 Minutes that Hansen mentioned this.

    In any event, I too am disappointed Clinton/Gore didn't do more to address global warming but, as evidenced by Hansen's comments, they did try. Heck, Gore even wrote a book about all sorts of environmental issues facing us. Remember "Earth In The Balance?"

    This whole 'Why didn't Gore do more when he was V.P.?' argument seems just a tad unproductive to me, as well as typical of what passes for dialogue on the right. The next attack many of these "critics" commonly level at Gore is the fact that he still travels by airplane and automobile. It strikes me that many global warming naysayers will say or do anything to avoid taking responsibility for man's impact on our planet. Usually it is so-called "personal responsibility" conservatives employing these diversionary tactics.

    For the sake of future generations, I hope we can rise above them.

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  4. hey rapier,

    yeah, i do remember his book... don't get me wrong, i'm glad he's doing what he's doing... i really am. i think he's doing a fantastic job actually and i hope he keeps it up. and really, i don't dwell on what he didn't do as v.p... i generally did not like most of what he and clinton did but i'm an anarchist and tend to think both parties are pretty much fucked as are their policies... across the board. one is a bit less evil.

    i don't know much about hansen but i don't accept that the evidence was not there in 1995. hell, i think there was probably plenty of evidence in 85. i think though that it is now be come so incredibly obvious that the power of corporations to hide the evidence is no longer possible. they cannot push it aside as easily as they could 20 years ago.

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