Tag: Arctic Ocean

Moved to help?

A plea to take action to preserve the Western Arctic Reserve in Alaska.

I received the following email from the Center for Biological Diversity the other day.

Dear Paul,

caribouThe Western Arctic Reserve, also known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, is the largest tract of unprotected, relatively pristine public land in the United States. But Big Oil has the reserve in its sights and will not hesitate to turn this vast wilderness into a sprawling industrial complex to drum up massive profits.

The 23.5 million-acre reserve is home to imperiled polar bears, seabirds and one of the densest populations of nesting raptors in the world. Its shores and lagoons harbor beluga whales, seals, walruses and other marine mammals.

In the rapidly warming Arctic, short-sighted oil and gas development will further stress the remarkable wildlife that lives and breeds there.The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now collecting comments on a planning document that will set the stage for oil and gas leasing in the western Arctic for decades to come.

You can help save this national treasure: Take action to tell the BLM to protect the Western Arctic Reserve from dirty fossil fuel development.

The action that is requested is to email or mail the following to the BLM  (the link is here.)  The email address for Bob Abbey, taken from the relevant BLM webpage is Director: Bob Abbey E-mail: Director@blm.gov

Director Bob Abbey
Bureau of Land Management
NPR-A IAP/EIS Comments, AECOM Project Office
1835 South Bragaw Street, Suite 490
Anchorage, AK 99508
US

Subject: Comments Regarding the BLM’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Integrated Activity, DEIS

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or Western Arctic Reserve, comprises the largest unprotected tract of public land in the United States. It provides habitat for a wide variety of Arctic species, and its wilderness values are second to none. While the most environmentally protective alternative analyzed by the Bureau of Land Management (Alternative B) is an improvement over previous plans, it still allows over 11 million acres of ecologically intact wilderness-quality lands to be leased for oil development. As the BLM develops the “integrated activity plan” and “final environmental impact statement” for the reserve, I urge you to provide maximum protection for areas with high-value habitats by designating all of the Special Area contained in Alternative B, and to create additional protections for all other areas in the reserve that contain ecologically intact and/or wilderness-quality lands.

The BLM must also consider the long-term impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas development, and any future impacts of climate change on the low-lying western Arctic. Arctic animals are already stressed by a melting and warming Arctic, and none of the alternatives considered go far enough to protect these species from the wide array of impacts from oil and gas development.

Among other things, the BLM must account for sea-level rise due to ice melt, permafrost collapse, coastal erosion and increased high-energy storm events that will degrade, or wipe out, critical coastal habitat, including the Teshekpuk Lake area. The BLM must also consider the impacts of ocean acidification, changes in circulation, increased freshening due to sea ice melt, and shifts in productivity to the marine environment and to marine species, including polar bears, ice seals, walruses, bowhead whales, and beluga whales.

Congress has required that “maximum protection” be given to Special Areas in the reserve. I encourage the BLM to adopt an alternative that provides protections for these areas, which include Teshekpuk Lake, the Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and the Utukok River Uplands. The BLM must also protect the Dease Inlet-Meade River area, Peard Bay and adjacent wetlands, and the Ikpikpuk River and adjacent wetlands.

I implore the BLM to adopt a management alternative that includes the strongest possible protections for the Western Arctic Reserve. This means designating Alternative B as the preferred alternative, and adding additional protective measures for important wildlife habitat and wilderness areas so they are not destroyed by ecologically devastating oil and gas development, or from the long-term impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Thank you.

But if that doesn’t work then there is a full webpage offering detailed information and which also has links relevant to letting the BLM know your views.  That webpage starts,

ARCTIC OIL DEVELOPMENT

Alaska’s north coast and ocean waters are teeming with species found in few other places, and many of them are now under threat. The Western Arctic Reserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provide critical denning areas for polar bears, support vast caribou herds and are essential nesting grounds for thousands of bird species, including threatened eiders and yellow-billed loons. The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean is hunting and denning habitat for polar bears and a foraging platform for Pacific walrus and numerous Arctic ice seal species. Under the sea ice, endangeredbowhead whales and other whale species live off the biological richness of the Arctic Ocean.
Nearly all Arctic species are at risk from global warming. But that’s not the only problem: In a drastically changing environment, Arctic species must now contend with dirty, industrial fossil fuel development.

Please go here, read the the full information and do your little bit.  It all makes a difference.

Optimistically unrealistic!

A reflection of our unconscious minds – and the potential perils ahead.

Last Monday, March 12th, the BBC aired a programme under their excellent Horizon science series.  This programme was entitled, Out of Control?  Here’s how the programme was introduced,

We all like to think we are in control of our lives – of what we feel and what we think. But scientists are now discovering this is often simply an illusion.

Surprising experiments are revealing that what you think you do and what you actually do can be very different. Your unconscious mind is often calling the shots, influencing the decisions you make, from what you eat to who you fall in love with. If you think you are really in control of your life, you may have to think again.

The whole 60 minute programme was fascinating right from the start when Professor Nobre introduced the secret world of our unconscious mind.  Professor Anna Nobre heads The Brain & Cognition Laboratory, a cognitive neuroscience research group at the Department of Experimental Psychology in the University of Oxford.

For starters, how much of your mind do you think is your conscious mind as opposed to your unconscious mind?  Watch this clip and be amazed!

“Are you in control of your unconscious, or is it in control of you?”

So let me link how our mind works to something more relevant today than possibly any other aspect of life.

I’m thinking of the fundamental question that bothers me and, perhaps millions of others.  That question being: “Why, with the overwhelming scientific evidence that man is critically threatening the planet’s biosphere upon which we all depend, is there not an equally overwhelming global commitment for change to a sustainable way of life?

Take, for example, this compelling story.

Last Saturday the BBC News website published a report by Richard Black, the BBC’s Environment correspondent, that opened thus,

An eminent UK engineer is suggesting building cloud-whitening towers in the Faroe Islands as a “technical fix” for warming across the Arctic.

Scientists told UK MPs this week that the possibility of a major methane release triggered by melting Arctic ice constitutes a “planetary emergency“. [my emboldening]

The Arctic could be sea-ice free each September within a few years.

and later goes into this detail (do please read it all, it’s only a few minutes of quiet reading),

On melting ice

The area of Arctic Ocean covered by ice each summer has declined significantly over the last few decades as air and sea temperatures have risen.

For each of the last four years, the September minimum has seen about two-thirds of the average cover for the years 1979-2000, which is used a baseline. The extent covered at other times of the year has also been shrinking.

What more concerns some scientists is the falling volume of ice.

Analysis from the University of Washington, in Seattle, using ice thickness data from submarines and satellites, suggests that Septembers could be ice-free within just a few years.

Data for September suggests the Arctic Ocean could be free of sea ice in a few years

“In 2007, the water [off northern Siberia] warmed up to about 5C (41F) in summer, and this extends down to the sea bed, melting the offshore permafrost,” said Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University.

Among the issues this raises is whether the ice-free conditions will quicken release of methane currently trapped in the sea bed, especially in the shallow waters along the northern coast of Siberia, Canada and Alaska.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it does not last as long in the atmosphere.

Several teams of scientists trying to measure how much methane is actually being released have reported seeing vast bubbles coming up through the water – although analysing how much this matters is complicated by the absence of similar measurements from previous decades.

Nevertheless, Prof Wadhams told MPs, the release could be expected to get stronger over time.  “With ‘business-as-usual’ greenhouse gas emissions, we might have warming of 9-10C in the Arctic.  That will cement in place the ice-free nature of the Arctic Ocean – it will release methane from offshore, and a lot of the methane on land as well.”

This would – in turn – exacerbate warming, across the Arctic and the rest of the world.

Abrupt methane releases from frozen regions may have played a major role in two events, 55 and 251 million years ago, that extinguished much of the life then on Earth.

Meteorologist Lord (Julian) Hunt, who chaired the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, clarified that an abrupt methane release from the current warming was not inevitable, describing that as “an issue for scientific debate”.

But he also said that some in the scientific community had been reluctant to discuss the possibility.

“There is quite a lot of suppression and non-discussion of issues that are difficult, and one of those is in fact methane,” he said, recalling a reluctance on the part of at least one senior scientists involved in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment to discuss the impact that a methane release might have.

Reams of other factual evidence shows that mankind may have only a few years left to stop the planet going into a runaway condition that would then extinguish much of the life on Earth!

So what’s stopping us?

Dr. Sharot

Well back to that Horizon programme.  In the programme, Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London explains how we are all optimists despite the risks.  I.e. our unconscious mind deliberately prevents negative information from affecting our conscious mind, our conscious judgment.

In an experiment, an individual is asked to guess the likelihood of a whole range of outcomes, 80 in all.  Ergo, you see a gentleman guessing the likelihood of cancer as 18%, of a bone fracture as 10%, of Alzheimer’s as 2%, and so on.

In some cases he guessed a pessimistic probability, in others an optimistic probability.  After each guess he was shown the correct probability.  E.g. cancer 30% vs his estimate of 18%, for a bone fracture 34% vs his guess of 10%, and the risk in reality of Alzheimer’s is 10% versus his instinct of just 2%.   I’ve just quoted his optimistic guesses, in many questions his guess was a pessimistic view, i.e. he guessed a higher likelihood than the statistical reality.

Then he was asked all 80 questions again, having seen the accurate probability compared to his intuitive guess.

So here’s the fascinating outcome.

Where his instinct was a negative guess versus the statistical probability then he adjusted his mind and was able to quote a more accurate figure the second time around.  But where the reality was more pessimistic than his first guess, then that adjusted knowledge wasn’t retained.  In other words, our beliefs only change when we can adjust to a more positive view of the future.

I just hope I have made that clear.  Readers may like to view an article written by Dr. Sharot published in TIME Magazine in May, 2011, called The Optimism Bias or read the introduction to a lecture given in Seattle in June, 2011;  “A sunny outlook doesn’t just make you a more pleasant companion: Tali Sharot argues that optimism is a tool for survival and happiness that gets us through hard times—even an economic recession. Sharot, author of The Optimism Bias, uncovers myths about optimism, illuminates the ways it can affect our lives, examines why optimism is necessary for us to function, and illustrates how the human brain is extremely adept at turning lead into gold.

A summary of a publication, Sharot, T. (2011). The optimism bias. Curr Biol 21(23), R941-R945, reads,

The ability to anticipate is a hallmark of cognition. Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward. Given the importance of these future projections, one might expect the brain to possess accurate, unbiased foresight. Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. For example, we underrate our chances of getting divorced, being in a car accident, or suffering from cancer. We also expect to live longer than objective measures would warrant, overestimate our success in the job market, and believe that our children will be especially talented. This phenomenon is known as the optimism bias, and it is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioral economics.

More fascinating information can be found at the Affective Brain Lab.

So here’s the crunch!

Our bias towards an optimistic future is a “tool for survival and happiness that gets us through hard times.”  But if that ancient bias is preventing mankind from recognising just how close we may be to some form of ‘tipping point’ then this tool for survival may be our undoing.

But if on the other hand, we now unite in changing our ways, first by community then by town then by country our future is incredibly optimistic.

 “A single candle may light a thousand others and they in turn many thousands more” – Buddha

Sceptical voices, reflections

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.