Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Posts Tagged ‘Polar ice packs

None so blind as those who cannot see!

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A story of a ship is just the tip of the iceberg!

This is the ship:

S.S. Nordic Orion

S.S. Nordic Orion

Just a ship out of many thousands that ply the trade routes across our oceans.  She was built in 2011 and is classified as a bulk carrier.  Her gross tonnage is 40,142 tons.  She is 738 feet long and 105 feet wide.

So what, you may ask?

To answer that question, let me turn to a recent post over on TomDispatch generously offered for republication on Learning from Dogs. (Thanks Tom.)

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Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale

Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 4:32pm, October 6, 2013.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.”

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism. Tom

Bigger Than That 
(The Difficulty of) Looking at Climate Change 
By Rebecca Solnit

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit

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So back to me! And the blindness of present-day society.

Or try cause and effect.

One of many causes ...

One of many causes …

oooo

.... and the effect ....

…. and the effect ….

oooo

Interesting times!

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Breaking news!

with 6 comments

Recent news items reinforce messages from yesterday’s book review.

In my review published yesterday of Martin Lack’s book Denial of Science, I wrote, “the continuing and accelerating loss of the Arctic ice-cap“.  Back on the 22nd in More new tomorrows, I included:

study published in 2012 showed that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the northern hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system. The jet stream, the study said, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that reduced sea ice cover can favor colder and stormier winters in the northern midlatitudes. [my emphasis - UK readers will need no reminding of this!]

So bear those references in mind as you read:

Breaking News (Literally): NOAA Video Confirms Early Breakup

March 23, 2013

Compare to our recent discussion of these developments in the Beaufort Sea.

NOAA Visualizations:

Published on Mar 22, 2013

A series of intense storms in the Arctic has caused fracturing of the sea ice around the Beaufort Sea along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada. High-resolution imagery from the Suomi NPP satellite shows the evolution of the cracks forming in the ice, called leads, from February 17 — March 18 2013. The general circulation of the area is seen moving the ice westward along the Alaskan coast

“Intense storms” are not an unheard of thing in the arctic. What’s new is that the ice is so fragile that normal storm activity is breaking it up much earlier than has been seen in the past.

Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

To recapitulate: It is normal for the ice to crack and for leads to occur. However, this is very extensive cracking and there are some very big leads, and all of it seems to come earlier than expected. Given last year’s melting mayhem and the low amount of multi-year ice, it makes one wonder whether this early cracking will have any effect in the melting season to come.

There are still several weeks to go before this part of the Arctic is going to start melting, up till then the ice will actually thicken some more, even when the Sun’s rays start to reach the ice. But the ice is already getting broken up in smaller pieces, which means that 1) the pack becomes more mobile (like we saw last year), and 2) the thin ice that now grows to fill up the leads will go first when the melting starts, potentially leading to more open water between floes to absorb solar energy and convert it to heat.

But maybe not. Maybe this will have zero influence. We don’t know. That’s why we watch.

Nothing more to add except to ponder on what strange weather we will be experiencing this year!  Actually, no need to ponder.  The UK Met Office issued a weather warning last Sunday that included this sentence, “Cold easterly winds will persist through the coming week with bitterly cold conditions.”  That came on the back of a blog entry from the Met Office that same day that included:

Many areas also saw strong winds, with a gust of 61 mph recorded at Shap, Cumbria and 48 mph recorded at Machrihanish, Argyll . These winds have caused even deeper drifts of snow in some areas. [my emphasis].

61mph?  That’s Storm Force 10 under the Beaufort scale and 3mph under the lower boundary of a Violent Storm; Beaufort Force 11!

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The next item that caught my eye was some ‘goodish’ news from the US Senate via a recent post on 350.org.

Bill’s Response to the Senate Vote Today

Posted by Duncan Meisel – 03/22/13, 4:51pm

Friends,

After a very chaotic week on Capitol Hill, I wanted to write you with an update on what just happened in the Senate today.

First and foremost: the oil industry’s Senators did not manage to pass legislation that would force President Obama to build Keystone XL.

Because you — and people like you, all across the country — jumped into action this week, they backtracked and instead held a vote on a nonbinding resolution that says it would be nice to build the pipeline, but doesn’t actually do much about it. For that vote, they got the stomach-churning number of 62 Senators to vote with them. As usual, the ones who had taken the most money from the fossil fuel industry lined up to cast their votes—the cosponsors of the bill, on average, had taken $807,000 in dirty energy money.

Now, this amounts to symbolic chest thumping by the oil industry: showing just how many Senators they can get to jump when told to. It’s not the worst thing that could have happened, but it reminds everyone why, in one recent poll, congress had approval ratings lower than head lice and colonoscopies — even on the symbolic stuff, they can’t get it together to stand up to the oil industry guys cutting them checks.

In a certain way though, this vote couldn’t come at a better time. Congress is going on break, and for the next two weeks, these 62 Senators will be back in their home states, doing things like meeting with constituents — people like you.

Home states are where some of the most heroic work took place the last week — in Minneapolis, say, where 150 350MN.org activists showed up on very short notice at Sen. Klobuchar’s office in a snowstorm to tell her to vote no on Keystone (and she did, it should be added).

If you’re interested in following in the fine example of those leaders who held actions at their senators offices, you have a chance in the next two weeks.

We’re looking for people who can step up to lead, and then we’ll put the 350 network into action to get people to join you. If you want to lead an action, just click here to tell us when you’d like to do so: act.350.org/survey/kxl-senate-accountability-2013/

Look, there are two ways to react to a democracy for sale. One is to walk away in disgust, which is what the Koch Brothers count on. The other is to stand up and say: no more. If you visit your Senator, take some pictures or some video so we can share them around. It’s time to build this broader fossil fuel resistance.

And remember, Capitol Hill is not the center of the world. Around the country this week our friends at Tar Sands Blockade have been actively targeting Keystone investors; faith groups have been hauled off to jail in front of the White House to protest the pipeline; and the divestment campaign has expanded off college campuses and into municipal and state governments.

The movement is doing amazing stuff — we just need more of it. We can’t outspend the oil industry, but we can out-organize them. In fact, we have to.

Forward,

Bill McKibben

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the cosponsors of the bill, on average, had taken $807,000 in dirty energy money.”  Words utterly fail me!

Funny old world!

More new tomorrows.

with 12 comments

New world order goes to ramming speed!

We spent some enjoyable time with neighbours Dordie and Bill yesterday afternoon from where my sub-heading quote comes.  Perhaps, a tad tongue-in-cheek, but only a tad!

Yesterday, the bulk of my post The new tomorrows consisted of a powerful essay from William deBuys ‘Phoenix in the Climate Crosshairs‘, courtesy of TomDispatch.  It painted in very stark terms the impact of climate change on the metropolitan city of Phoenix in Arizona; a city of over 4 million people, indeed home to more than two-thirds of Arizona’s population.

So, today, I wanted to wander through some other aspects of this new world order.

Here’s a recent item on Climate Crocks examining the changes in March’s weather, 2013 vs 2012.  From which I quote:

Much Different March. Same Reason?

Dittohead reasoning: “So when it’s warm, you blame it on climate change. When its cold, you blame it on climate change. It can’t be both.”

Well, yeah, it can, kinda.

Meteo people weigh in.

7Weather Blog WHDH-TV:

I think we’ve passed the point of tolerance with these ceaseless storms. Gone are the days when viewers would flood our inboxes with pretty pictures of their pets and kids frolicing in the snow. Constant cleanup has made us snippy and short – even a few plow guys have hoisted the white flag. The holidays are long past, the winter is stale, and the people just want spring…

…and accountability.  Instead of pictures, I get questions in my inbox. “Why are we getting so much snow? Why did it turn on a dime? And when will it stop?”

Those are fair questions. But with the limits of the long range (10-14 day) forecasts, I’m not ready to answer the last question. We may sail out of this in April, but so far the first week of the month isn’t looking much different from the first week in March. The ultimate question is why.

The jetstream has taken on an odd path. [my emphasis]

Now just look at this:

Forecast sea level pressure departures from average from the GFS computer model. This shows the large area of unusually high atmospheric pressure over Greenland.Image from Weatherbell

Forecast sea level pressure departures from average from the GFS computer model. This shows the large area of unusually high atmospheric pressure over Greenland.
Image from Weatherbell

Later on that article says:

Recent research suggests that rapid Arctic climate change, namely the loss of sea ice cover, may be contributing to blocking patterns like we’re seeing right now. That rapid decline in Arctic sea ice since the beginning of the satellite record in 1979 may be altering weather patterns both in the Far North and across the U.S.. Some studies have shown that sea ice loss favors atmospheric blocking patterns such as the pattern currently in place, while others have not shown statistically significant changes in blocking patterns across the Northern Hemisphere, at least not yet. Arctic sea ice extent declined to a record low during the 2012 melt season.

The last Winter in North-West Europe has been ‘interesting’, to say the least!  A follow-up to that Climate Crock’s essay reports:

study published in 2012 showed that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the northern hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system. The jet stream, the study said, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that reduced sea ice cover can favor colder and stormier winters in the northern midlatitudes

Did you fully take in that paragraph?  The one about “The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere …“?

The other great ‘river’ in the North Atlantic is the thermohaline circulation or to put it in more familiar terms: The Gulf Stream.  Has that been changing?  You bet! In more ways than one might expect.

Here’s a snippet from an item from last October’s issue of Nature journal:

Recent changes to the Gulf Stream causing widespread gas hydrate destabilization

The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that modulates climate in the Northern Hemisphere by transporting warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico into the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A changing Gulf Stream has the potential to thaw and convert hundreds of gigatonnes of frozen methane hydrate trapped below the sea floor into methane gas, increasing the risk of slope failure and methane release.

How the Gulf Stream changes with time and what effect these changes have on methane hydrate stability is unclear. Here, using seismic data combined with thermal models, we show that recent changes in intermediate-depth ocean temperature associated with the Gulf Stream are rapidly destabilizing methane hydrate along a broad swathe of the North American margin.

As the diagram below shows all too clearly, the cold waters from above the Arctic circle directly affect the Gulf Stream.

gulfstream

From the website of the National Snow & Ice Data Center:

Average sea ice extent for February 2013 was 14.66 million square kilometers (5.66 million square miles). This is 980,000 square kilometers (378,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average for the month, and is the seventh-lowest February extent in the satellite record.

Less ice means more cold water. QED!

OK, moving on.

We met recently with Wayne over at Rogue Valley Firewood here in Merlin.  Not to buy more firewood but because Wayne has started into hugelkultur.  Jean and I hadn’t heard of the term before.  Come back to that in a moment.

In musing with Wayne about how rapidly life is changing for us all, he spoke of the consequence of rising fuel prices and the rising costs of putting petrol (OK, he used the word ‘gas’!) in one’s car.  Wayne pointed out the obvious.  That the inevitable effect of those rising costs would be to steadily reduce one’s range for ‘affordable’ car journeys.  Many people will no longer be able to afford to drive longer distances.

In other words, local will increasingly become more relevant to daily life.  Or to use a better word than local, community will return to the centre stage of our world.  And of all the things important to a community, none is more so than access to food.

Back to Hugelkultur. Watch this video:

Wayne is committed to seeing just what can be grown for the local community of Merlin using this form of raised garden bed.  You can read more here.

Is this just a piece of fun?  Most definitely not!

Here’s a recent item from Grist.

This sobering map shows you all of America’s food deserts

By Sarah Laskow

The USDA’s new Food Access Research Atlas is a map of all the places in the country where people live in food deserts — places where it’s difficult to access fresh food.

food-deserts1

More details here.

The message that hits me from that map is the consequence for millions of people, especially those in rural areas or unable to afford a car, when it comes to getting hold of fresh food.  Another reason why community food programs are going to be a feature of the new tomorrows.

Finally, take a look at a recent item on Paul Gilding’s blogsite.

paulgildingportrait

Paul Gilding

Paul is an independent writer, advisor and advocate for action on climate change and sustainability. He recently published Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement? From which I offer:

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory. If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen.

To understand this incredible potential we first have to step back and understand the unique structure of this social change movement, which may rank among the most influential in history. It is simplistic to characterise it as an alliance of grass roots organisations and activists pitched against a rich and well connected adversary. While that is part of the story, it is more accurately understood as an idea whose tentacles reach into every tier of government, the world’s largest companies and financial institutions, and throughout the academic and science communities.

Because of this, it is winning the battle from within: Its core arguments and ideas are clearly right; being endorsed by the world’s top science bodies and any significant organisation that has examined them.

Read the full article here.

Strikes me that in one very important way, we will be reverting to how our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors lived.  I mean reverting to living our lives as relatively small interdependent communities almost exclusively at the local level.

Guess what!  Yet another aspect of learning from dogs.  In the wild, dogs live in groups of about 50 animals with clear boundaries to their territory.  Just like the ancestors of the domesticated dog and the wild dog: The grey wolf Canis Lupus.

Grey wolf Canis Lupus

Grey wolf Canis Lupus

See you all tomorrow!

Hear no evil; or is that hear no climate change?

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A new angle on the famous ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ saying!

What climate change??

That new angle being ‘hear no climate change, see no climate change, speak no climate change!

So what has prompted this outburst from me?  It started with me seeing a truly scary graph that was on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Crock blogsite on the 20th September.  That was the graph that was published yesterday on Learning from Dogs under the post title of It’s not rocket science!  If you didn’t see that graph yesterday, don’t read further on until you have looked at it.

Thus while today’s post could easily be interpreted as yet another blogpost from yet another writer about climate change, that is not the case.  What I am doing is taking a quick trip across a few recently published items that really do make it utterly clear what is happening to the Earth’s biosphere, all in support of a very simple question to two gentlemen who are currently in the news; stay with me for all to become clear!

First, back to the blogsite Climate Crocks.  Under the title of Climate Denial Crock of the Week was a recent post by Peter Sinclair about a video from Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutger’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.  (Go to that link to watch the video.)

However, this is what caught my eye, (an interview between Dr. Francis and Peter Sinclair).

What she told me in a recent interview was that the sea ice record is not something that we just pay attention to in September – there will, in fact, be reverberations that will make fall and winter “very interesting” around the globe.

Then it was easy to come across this piece on The Weather Channel website,

An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated over the next several days. The center of the storm was located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

On Wednesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center concluded Arctic sea ice is at its lowest late-August level since records began, and the area covered by ice has continued to shrink in September. Since 1979, the 1.54 million square miles of ice is the smallest coverage on record at the North Pole, the report states.

With so many questions surrounding these latest findings, perhaps one of the most immediate is whether this melting of sea ice will affect the upcoming winter across the United States and Northern Hemisphere. Is it possible that a lack of Arctic sea ice could change weather patterns across the globe?

Four meteorologists spoke about these possibilities, and while they didn’t say dramatic weather shifts are imminent in the short-term, they did give some thoughts on what could happen.

One of the meteorologists was Dr. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology, Weather Underground. He wrote,

In my December 2011 blog post, I discuss research by Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, who found that Arctic sea ice loss may significantly affect the upper-level atmospheric circulation, slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. High-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increases the probability of persistent weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.

Several studies published in 2012 have linked Arctic sea ice loss to an increase in probability of severe winter weather in Western Europe, Eastern North America and Eastern Asia.

Then if one goes to that December 2011 blog post, one reads this,

“The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation…it’s how can it not?” That was the take-home message from Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, in her talk “Does Arctic Amplification Fuel Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes?“, presented at last week’s American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Francis presented new research in review for publication, which shows that Arctic sea ice loss may significantly affect the upper-level atmospheric circulation, slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. High-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increases the probability of persistent weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.

Further on in that blog post, one reads,

Arctic sea ice loss can slow down jet stream winds

Dr. Francis looked at surface and upper level data from 1948 – 2010, and discovered that the extra heat in the Arctic in fall and winter over the past decade had caused the Arctic atmosphere between the surface and 500 mb (about 18,000 feet or 5,600 meters) to expand. As a result, the difference in temperature between the Arctic (60 – 80°N) and the mid-latitudes (30 – 50°N) fell significantly. It is this difference in temperature that drives the powerful jet stream winds that control much of our weather. The speed of fall and winter west-to-east upper-level winds at 500 mb circling the North Pole decreased by 20% over the past decade, compared to the period 1948 – 2000, in response to the extra warmth in the Arctic. This slow-down of the upper-level winds circling the pole has been linked to a Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern that brought cold, snowy winters to the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe during 2009 – 2010 and 2010 – 2011.

OK, nearly finished!  Stay with me for one last item.  Did you note in that blog post (the first section quoted) this, “Dr. Francis presented new research in review for publication …“?  Here’s the Abstract from that publication, from which one reads,

Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes

Key Points

  • Enhanced Arctic warming reduces poleward temperature gradient
  • Weaker gradient affects waves in upper-level flow in two observable ways
  • Both effects slow weather patterns, favoring extreme weather

Jennifer A. Francis, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Stephen J. Vavrus, Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

So to the point of both yesterday’s Post and the information above.

Will someone tell me why Messrs Barack Obama and Willard Mitt Romney so fervently adopt the stance of ‘hear no climate change, see no climate change, speak no climate change!

It’s not as though it’s unimportant!!

It’s not rocket science!

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A graph that more or less says it all.

I am indebted to Peter Sinclair for his permission to reproduce the graph below.  It was embedded in his post on Climate Crocks on the 20th September, a post he not unreasonably called The Planetary Emergency.

As Peter wrote,

As you can see from the graphic above, the actual observations of arctic sea ice melt are far outstripping the climate model predictions of just a few years ago, that the denial-sphere continues to call “alarmist”. Apparently, not alarming enough.

Read the rest of Peter’s post here.

The point of publishing this on Learning from Dogs is simply as an introduction to a post coming out tomorrow called Hear no evil; or is that hear no climate change?, the purpose of which is to ask a very simple question of the two gentlemen wishing to reside in the White House as President of the USA for another four years.  All revealed tomorrow!

It really is about integrity

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A reflection on truth.

This is not the first time that I have wandered through this subject.  Indeed, Learning from Dogs would never have seen the light of day if, all those years ago, Jon Lavin hadn’t raised the fascinating idea that dogs are integrous animals.  As the quote says in the sidelink Purpose of Learning from Dogs;

There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings. Dorothy Thompson.

So what is it that has rocked my boat again?  A number of things, to be honest.  So much so, please forgive me for running these musings over to tomorrow!

Regular readers may have noticed that both Tuesday’s post Modelling the future and yesterday’s A study of man’s behaviours explored determining truth; frequently a fickle beast to track down!  Then last Monday, I read the latest post from Climate Denial Crock of the Week that was about Sea Ice Slowing to Minimum.  It was yet another reminder that embracing the truth of what is happening to our planet is vital, I mean VITAL, for anyone who has a reasonable expectation to be alive in 20 years time.

Here’s how Peter opened that post (published with Peter’s kind permission):

Not there yet, but in an interview with Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers last week, the message was clear – the ice has retreated so much that at this point, we will already be experiencing the impacts of a low or no-ice arctic minimum, including “very interesting” weather in the northern hemisphere this fall and winter. Wow. I can’t wait.

Peter then included an update in that post, a reference to a report published in the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald.  I requested permission to republish the SMH article but that wasn’t granted, well to be factual it was offered at a fee of $420.75 – say no more.  Here is how that report from on board the Greenpeace ice-breaker Arctic Sunrise opened,

We are a few hundred miles from the north pole. The air temperature is -3C, the sea freezing. All around us in these foggy Arctic waters at the top of the world are floes – large and small chunks of sea ice that melt and freeze again with the seasons.

Arne Sorensen, our Danish ice pilot, is 18 metres up in the crow’s nest of the Arctic Sunrise vessel. Visibility is just 200 metres and he inches the 1,000-tonne Greenpeace ice-breaker forward at two knots through narrow passages of clear water.

A few paragraphs later come this:

More than 600,000 sq km more ice has melted in 2012 than ever recorded by satellites. Now the minimum extent has nearly been reached and the sea is starting to refreeze.

‘‘This is the new minimum extent of the ice cap,’’ [Sorensen] says – the frontline of climate change. ‘‘It is sad. I am not doubting this is related to emitting fossil fuels to a large extent. It’s sad to observe that we are capable of changing the planet to such a degree.’’

British, Italian and American scientists on the Arctic Sunrise say they are shocked at the speed and extent of the ice loss.

Over at the Guardian newspaper, their reporter John Vidal, also aboard the Arctic Sunrise, reports:

One of the world’s leading ice experts has predicted the final collapse of Arctic sea ice in summer months within four years.

In what he calls a “global disaster” now unfolding in northern latitudes as the sea area that freezes and melts each year shrinks to its lowest extent ever recorded, Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University calls for “urgent”   consideration of new ideas to reduce global temperatures.

In an email to the Guardian he says: “Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades’ time, and that we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward.”

Professor Peter Wadhams is head of the Cambridge University Polar Ocean Physics Group, from which one may learn,

Sea ice covers 7% of the surface of our planet. It is one of the most important and variable components of the planetary surface and is the key to understanding many basic questions about the energy balance of the Earth. The ice-covered seas represent the cold end of the enormous heat engine that enables the Earth to have temperatures suitable for human life over most of its surface.

Just go back and re-read, “.. the enormous heat engine that enables the Earth to have temperatures suitable for human life over most of its surface.”

So determining the truth of what is happening to our planet is not some elegant academic exercise, it is about determining the likelihood of human life surviving or not!

Doesn’t that put everything else we are doing into some form of perspective?  Let me rant on tomorrow!

There’s an old saying …

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I’m thinking of this one.

There are those that do,

There are those that don’t,

There are those who wondered what happened!

So what prompted me bringing out that old saw?

Simply the ever-increasing rate of the loss of our Arctic sea ice.

Patrice Ayme commented recently on my post, The connection between man and climate.  This is part of what he wrote,

Arctic ice depletion can be tracked at: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/  It is now lower than the preceding lowest on July 5…

 Over on the Carbon Brief blog, we find a recent post (June 29th) that opens up thus,

The Guardian jumps the gun on record June sea ice melt

29 Jun 2012, 11:15 – Verity Payne

The Guardian this week reports that recent rapid melting of Arctic sea ice has seen levels reach a “record low for June”. But it’s premature to be heralding June 2012 as having record low Arctic sea ice extent before the month is even over, particularly as sea ice extent is not currently tracking at record low levels.

The Guardian article says Arctic sea ice “has melted faster this year than ever recorded before”, under the online headline “Arctic sea-ice levels at record low for June”.

This headline could be read in two ways. The first interpretation is that Arctic sea ice extent for the month of June is at a record low. But can we know that before the month is out? The second is that at some point in June Arctic sea ice was at a record low. But does highlighting a few days of sea ice behaviour best illustrate what’s happening to the sea ice?

The piece also appeared in the print version of the Guardian yesterday with the headline “Arctic sea ice has melted faster than ever, say scientists”.

Melt season

The Arctic sea ice is in long-term decline due to man made climate change, but it’s not a uniform decline – sea ice cover changes with the seasons, and the weather in the region affects how far the sea ice extends, particularly as it melts towards the ice minimum in late September.

During melt season, Arctic sea ice seems to get a lot of media attention, often with rather confusing results. This Guardian article was prompted by analysis from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), who provide daily updates and regular analysis of Arctic sea ice conditions.

The mention of that Guardian Newspaper article is worth clicking through to, if only to enjoy the fabulous photograph, as below:

Scientists say Arctic sea ice has plummeted to its lowest levels ever this year. Photgraph: Steven J Kazlowski/Alamy

Back to that embedded link in the Carbon Brief posting to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.  It reveals a wealth of important information.  Try this …

Rapid sea ice retreat in June

Arctic sea ice extent declined quickly in June, setting record daily lows for a brief period in the middle of the month. Strong ice loss in the Kara, Bering, and Beaufort seas, and Hudson and Baffin bays, led the overall retreat. Northern Hemisphere snow extent was unusually low in May and June, continuing a pattern of rapid spring snow melt seen in the past six years.

Overview of conditions

Arctic sea ice extent for June 2012 averaged 10.97 million square kilometers (4.24 million square miles). This was 1.18 million square kilometers (456,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average extent. The last three Junes (2010-2012) are the three lowest in the satellite record. June 2012 ice extent was 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles) above the 2010 record low. Ice losses were notable in the Kara Sea, and in the Beaufort Sea, where a large polynya has formed. Retreat of ice in the Hudson and Baffin bays also contributed to the low June 2012 extent. The only area of the Arctic where sea ice extent is currently above average is along the eastern Greenland coast.

 Get your mind around this image that comes from the latest NSIDC report.

Arctic sea ice extent for June 2012 was 10.97 million square kilometers (4.24 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

That old saying that I opened with, the one about There are those that do, etc.

No question in my mind that firmly in the camp of those that do is Mother Nature!  Anyone prepared?

Not so common sense!

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Sometimes one wonders what happened to common sense!

Today’s Post is motivated by a number of items that have crossed my screen over the last few days which when looked at collectively might remind one of the old saw, “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it does help!

Sit with me, metaphorically, and allow me to muse.

First was a recent Post on 350 or bust that included the March 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach, California where NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen explains why he must speak out about climate change. (See the video later on.)  That Post refers to an item on Martin Lack’s Blog, Lack of Environment, where Martin as well as including the video below also lists the challenges that we on this single, finite planet face.  Here is that list,

  1. The Earth’s current energy imbalance is 0.6 Watts per sq.m.; a rate of energy input 20 times greater than the energy output of all human activity; and equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs every day.
  2. Since measurements began in 2003, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the annual rate of mass loss from both the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.
  3. The last time atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm, sea levels were 15 m higher than they are today, which implies even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, this is where they would end up several centuries from now because the warming “is already in the pipeline” (i.e. because the Earth must warm-up in order to restore its energy balance).
  4. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon, sea level rise will continue to accelerate, which is likely to cause between 1 and 5 metre rise by 2100AD (depending on how quickly we now decide to stop burning them).
  5. Palaeoclimatology tells us that 350 ppm is the safe limit for avoiding significant disruption to the planet’s ecological carrying capacity (i.e. in terms of both populations of individual species and overall biodivesity); and it now seems likely that between 20%-50% of all species will be “ticketed for extinction” by the end of the century.
  6. If we push the Earth beyond it’s “tipping point” (i.e. allow all the emerging positive feedback mechanisms to take hold); ACD will become unstoppable; and the ensuing socio-economic damage will be almost unimaginable. The total global cost of mitigation is already put at somewhere between 35 and 70 Trillion US Dollars depending on how soon we choose to act.
  7. If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a.
  8. Recent droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico were 3 Standard Deviations outside the norm. Events such as these cannot therefore be ascribed to natural variability; anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening just as Hansen said it would 24 years ago (if we did not change course – which we haven’t).
  9. Pursuing emissions limits (i.e. Cap and Trade) will not work because there is no actual incentive to reduce emissions without any self-imposed restraint being to the advantage of others who do not do the same (i.e. the Tragedy of the Commons problem).
  10. Hansen uses the analogy of an approaching asteroid – the longer we wait to prevent it hitting us the harder it becomes to do so.

Do watch that Hansen video,

Second is that yesterday Martin Lack published an item that really does seem to endorse the view that there is no sign of intelligent life living on Planet Earth (not counting dogs!).

Think about it.  The planet is warming up.  The use of carbon-based fuels is a strong suspect, putting it mildly, of the rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, 394.45 on April 5th, so rather than change the incentives for using such fuels, we are taking advantage of  this warming planet causing the melt of the Arctic ice cap by allowing Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic.  But even crazier than that, Shell have contracted for a Finnish icebreaker to assist them in breaking up the ice!  (I really do feel a headache coming on!)

Greenpeace in the UK are running a campaign to stop this.

Sign up to save the Arctic

Let Shell know your feelings.

The pristine and beautiful Arctic: Shell wants to exploit it for oil. We want it protected.

Dozens of Greenpeace Nordic activists have boarded and occupied a Shell-contracted icebreaker in Helsinki harbour as it prepares to leave for the Alaskan Arctic.

Drilling in this fragile ecosystem – home to the polar bear, narwhal, Arctic fox and other iconic species – is unacceptable. A spill or accident in these waters would be disastrous and the harsh conditions would make responding to such a disaster almost impossible.

Demand Shell stop their plans to put the fragile Arctic and its biodiversity at risk.  We’ll keep you updated on our campaigns.

Write to Mr. Peter Voser.

Mr Peter Voser, Shell

The Arctic isn’t a place you can exploit, it’s a place we have to protect. Time and time again, experts have expressed serious doubts about the possibility of cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. The technical challenges posed by drilling there are obvious and no matter how much you try to convince people that your company can operate safely in such a harsh environment, we know the truth.

Because of this, I demand that you scrap your Arctic plans immediately.

Yours sincerely,

————–

By the end of this week we want 500,000 people shouting at Shell that it must end its campaign of Arctic destruction. Click here now[N.B. This is a time-sensitive campaign response - please visit Greenpeace website and enter your name and email address and they will email Shell on your behalf.]

We can change things! Together we can stop Shell and other oil companies from destroying the Arctic. Not everyone can board a ship to demand that change. But today, you can email Shell and ask them to stop drilling for oil and ask 10 of your friends to do the same. Together, we can save the Arctic!

Rosa Gierens
Greenpeace Nordic activist from Finland.

It’s not just an isolated instance of madness! Just a little over 10 days ago, I reported on President Obama’s support for the oil companies that threatens the polar bears, see “President Obama’s proposal for these magnificent and imperiled animals is a gift to Big Oil

In closing, luckily there are many voices being raised about putting an end to this madness; see the recent item from Patrice Ayme.  Hopefully, all these voices will bring about the changes to the way so many of us are governed.  As Patrice commented recently on Learning from Dogs, “Hope is the breathing of the planet“.  Maybe, just maybe, hope will win through.  No better put than by James Hansen,

Most impressive is the work of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fastgrowing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 46 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.”
– Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA

Oh, and before I forget, a tornado touched down in Southern France!  Not common and not making sense!

Sceptical voices, reflections

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If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!

I know that expression from my days as a private pilot.  It makes such obvious sense, especially in a single-engined light aircraft with one pilot on board.  It’s all about risk.

Frederick Herzberg, the famous American psychologist, coined the term ‘hygiene factor’.  It was the second part of a two-factor approach to the management of people.  According to Herzberg’s theory, people are influenced by two sets of factors, motivation factors and hygiene factors.  More background on this aspect here.

To me, as I reflect on the messages offered in the Sceptical Voices article, Part One and Part Two, the concepts of risk and hygiene seem totally appropriate to the topic of AGW, Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Whether or not AGW is a valid theory behind the rapid change in global warming is utterly irrelevant.  It is the risk to humanity that matters.  There is absolutely no harm done from assuming that AGW is happening and that feedback processes run a grave risk of tipping planetary conditions out of control, and getting that wrong.

On the other hand, assume that AGW is such an uncertain concept that it really isn’t wise to adjust our life styles, and getting that wrong would endanger the human species.

Think of being on a commercial airline flight and you become aware that one of the two pilots in the cockpit is incapacitated through food poisoning.  No doubt that you, with all your fellow passengers, would vote for an immediate diversionary landing.  It’s to do with risk.

From the perspective of Herzberg, a co-ordinated program by the world’s leading governments to tackle AGW might also improve the overall motivation of their peoples in a whole manner of ways.

Merci voiced this perfectly in her comment to Sceptical Voices, Part One, thus,

Yes, question all we want, yes, there are other important issues to resolve in the world, but WHAT IF “Climate Change/Global Warming“ is for real, what then?

Dan wrote also in that Part One piece,

And by “peel-back-the-onion”, I mean that any ardent, independent researcher should publish both sides of the story as a matter of course.  Especially in regards to global warming.

But publishing both sides of the story is not the argument.  The argument is the risk to humanity of doing nothing, and getting it wrong.

That well-respected weekly newspaper The Economist had a recent article about the melting of Arctic ice, from which is quoted,

Arctic sea ice is melting far faster than climate models predict. Why?

Sep 24th 2011 - from the print edition

ON SEPTEMBER 9th, at the height of its summertime shrinkage, ice covered 4.33m square km, or 1.67m square miles, of the Arctic Ocean, according to America’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). That is not a record low—not quite. But the actual record, 4.17m square km in 2007, was the product of an unusual combination of sunny days, cloudless skies and warm currents flowing up from mid-latitudes. This year has seen no such opposite of a perfect storm, yet the summer sea-ice minimum is a mere 4% bigger than that record. Add in the fact that the thickness of the ice, which is much harder to measure, is estimated to have fallen by half since 1979, when satellite records began, and there is probably less ice floating on the Arctic Ocean now than at any time since a particularly warm period 8,000 years ago, soon after the last ice age.

That Arctic sea ice is disappearing has been known for decades. The underlying cause is believed by all but a handful of climatologists to be global warming brought about by greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the rate the ice is vanishing confounds these climatologists’ models. These predict that if the level of carbon dioxide, methane and so on in the atmosphere continues to rise, then the Arctic Ocean will be free of floating summer ice by the end of the century. At current rates of shrinkage, by contrast, this looks likely to happen some time between 2020 and 2050.

Re-read the sentence, “The underlying cause is believed by all but a handful of climatologists to be global warming brought about by greenhouse-gas emissions.”  In particular, “by all but a handful of climatologists”  Think of risk.

That article, which should be read in full, concludes thus,

A warming Arctic will bring local benefits to some. The rest of the world may pay the cost.

Indeed, the rest of the world may pay the cost!  As I wrote, it’s all about risk.

So whether or not one wants to believe every word of that Economist article is irrelevant.  Or whether one should have believed, or not, the article in New York’s The Sun newspaper back in 2007,

By SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press | December 12, 2007

WASHINGTON — An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

Greenland’s ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer’s end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by the Associated Press.

“The Arctic is screaming,” a senior scientist at the government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo., Mark Serreze, said.

Last year, two scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so fast that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040. This week, after reviewing his own new data, a NASA climate scientist, Jay Zwally, said: “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions.”

So scientists in recent days have been asking themselves these questions: Was the record melt seen all over the Arctic in 2007 a blip amid relentless and steady warming? Or has everything sped up to a new climate cycle that goes beyond the worst case scenarios presented by computer models? “The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming,” Mr. Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal, said. “Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.” [My emphasis, PH]

So, in conclusion, scepticism is healthy and is an important aspect of open debate within an open society, part of determining truth, however challenging that simple concept might be.

But eventually one needs to take a position, to take a stand on the really important issues in life and in the case of climate change the risk of being too sceptical, too cautious is to put the lives of future generations at stake.  For me, and I guess for tens of thousands of others, that is a risk too far.

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