Tag: Arctic

Creativity from the heart.

A guest post.

When I started blogging back in July, 2009, I had not the slightest idea of what to expect. Frankly, if I had had any expectations, I still would have never realised the web of friendships that would result.  In fact, it is only the sense, the strong sense, of friendship that flows from followers and friends of Learning from Dogs that keeps me at it. Many of those that follow this place are themselves bloggers and are followed by me in turn.

All of which is an introduction to an email that arrived some six days ago.  This is what I read:

Hi Paul,
I posted this on my site, Scribble Darts from the Heart, yesterday. I was wondering if you would consider it as a guest post for your site. I know the actual event between polar bear and dog took place several years ago and you may have already shared something in this regard but I thought I would run it by you and see what you think.
Cheers, Mary 🙂

I dropped in to Mary’s blogsite and thought her idea of a guest post was wonderful.  It is a very short guest post but you will love it! (And you will need a handkerchief nearby!)

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Miracle of Play

My Haiku today was inspired by the heartwarming story of a polar bear and sled dog that played together daily for over a week.

Here is that story.

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Trust, openness and friendship.

So much to learn from our beautiful animals.

None so blind as those who cannot see!

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 …

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.... and the effect ....
…. and the effect ….

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Interesting times!

The perils of self-reinforcing arguments.

Professor Mark Cochrane’s perspective on ‘certainty’!

I’m an avid follower of Mike Stasse’s blog Damn the Matrix.  So it was rather fortuitous that two days ago there was a guest post on Mike’s blog from Mark Cochrane. Dr. Mark Cochrane is a Senior Scientist and Professor at South Dakota State University where one can read:

Dr. Mark Cochrane conducts interdisciplinary work combining ecology , remote sensing, and other fields of study to provide a landscape perspective of the dynamic processes involved in land-cover change. He is an expert on wildfire, documenting the characteristics, behavior and severe effects of fire in tropical and temperate forests that are inherent to current systems of human land-use and management. His research focuses on understanding spatial patterns, interactions and synergisms between the multiple physical and biological factors that affect ecosystems. Recently published work has emphasized the climate change, human dimensions of land-cover change and the potential for sustainable development.

The guest post was called Doom and Denial two sides of the same coin; I’m extremely grateful to Mike Stasse for granting me permission to republish the essay.

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Doom and Denial two sides of the same coin.

19th June 2013

Another guest post by Mark Cochrane……  and I hope Guy reads this, I’d like his feedback, no pun intended!

Mark CochraneMark Cochrane

I’ve been asked by several people to address the take of climate ‘doomists’ like McPherson and indicate how my views on what the science indicates differ. First, let me just say that my differences with the doomist views are similar to my differences with the ‘denialist’ views, namely one of actually examining the scientific findings and concluding what they signify versus beginning with a conclusion and looking for evidence to support a pre-concluded viewpoint.

Appropriate use of science (or any information), requires weighing anything being newly reported against the rest of the accumulated evidence on a subject (e.g. climate change) that we have amassed, to date, and using this knowledge to infer the most probable meaning and significance. How credible is the source, how relevant are the results to the larger question, do the new results substantially change our previous understanding? If someone is presenting new ideas that claim to massively shift what we think we know about the world, have they been vetted (e.g. peer-reviewed), do they adequately explain how their new claims better explain observed phenomena than previous studies did and also detail why previous explanations were somehow erroneous? If the results are truly stunning, can they be replicated by others? Although some may find it hard to believe, there is a lot of space between climate denial and climate doom.

I’ve only seen the one talk now by McPherson but where the ‘we are doomed and soon’ meme falls apart is on general logic. You cannot say, there are positive feedbacks A, B and C, therefore life on Earth is suddenly going to end without considering:

  1. what are the current rates of those feedbacks,
  2. what is the rate of change for the feedback,
  3. what is the area affected by the feedback,
  4. what natural limits exist for the feedback,
  5. what negative feedbacks might occur in response?

If you listen to McPherson’s talk, what you get is a litany of disturbing findings, especially feedbacks, and then an expectation that you must reach the same conclusion that we are doomed, and soon. If someone would like to outline the chain of logic used, I’d be happy to discuss it. Even if you accept the chain of logic though, where, in any of it, is there evidence for the timeline being suggested?

Guy McPherson

There is considerable amount of concern about the feedbacks in the Arctic, with good reason, but people do things like linking the large amount of carbon stocks in the Arctic with rapid warming, with increased rates of release, with increased rates of warming……with the obvious end of all life on Earth – near-term extinction!

As anyone who has followed this thread knows, I am usually the one pointing out feedbacks and how most are not even included in current climate projections, in contradiction to those who claim such dire projections are all because of such feedbacks (which ‘skeptics’ claim don’t exist). This does not mean though that the existence of feedbacks means that we can then make the leap to a runaway greenhouse that will soon lead us to having the climate of Venus (atmospheric acid bath at temperatures that would melt lead). Perhaps providing some perspective on the recent material posted about the NASA CARVE project and what it means for all of that carbon in the (not so) permafrost will help.

As NASA recently reported (site),

“Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

“Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures – as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years,” Miller said. “As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

In other words, there is 4-5 times as much carbon sitting around in those frozen soils as we have already emitted that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to being thawed out for a portion of each year.

Once those soils thaw they become accessible to microorganisms that feed on the incompletely decomposed plant materials that they contain. If there is sufficient oxygen (warm relatively dry Arctic) the process is faster and the product is CO2, if the process is anaerobic (warm relatively wet Arctic), then the product is methane.

So warming leads to thawing, thawing leads to microbial decomposition, and microbial activity leads to carbon emissions. These emissions are a positive feedback that makes the current process of greenhouse gas warming worse since each degree of warming yields more greenhouse gases that speed up the warming process further. This is where the message of doom goes off the tracks and extrapolates erroneously that this somehow means that all of that carbon is going to suddenly find itself in the atmosphere.

Three meters (10ft) of soil carbon doesn’t just suddenly evaporate into the atmosphere in the next few years. Thawing permafrost is not synonymous with melting carbon.  Even once permafrost melts, it is still very cold. However, bacteria can start digesting it – until it freezes again. Melted permafrost does not mean permanently melted. The surface layer of the Arctic lands are already in the active layer that temporarily thaws each year and then refreezes. Now, we are making more of the Arctic soil active to greater depths and at higher latitudes. This means that there will be more emissions from those soils.

Taken out of context snippets like this (below) from that NASA press piece can be made to sound catastrophic.

“Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” Miller said. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Parsing the quote, please note that “episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane” in two locations (regions) does not mean the end is nigh. Higher-than-normal is just that, but how much higher and how long did it last? The scientists are saying that the observations do not match existing ‘models’ (models are wrong, a favorite meme), it doesn’t mean that such events haven’t been happening up until now (only that we didn’t know about them). As for the 650ppb increase over a swamp, that equates to being 1/3 higher than the background level. Methane and swamps go together so some higher level is to be expected. The question is if and by how much 650ppb is higher than it would have been back around 1980 or so? If it used to be 10ppb higher than background then you have a big change (640ppb), however, if it used to be 640ppb, then not so much (10ppb difference). Even if that is all new carbon being emitted, the local change becomes very small when diluted globally. The point here is not to poo-poo the findings or the scientist’s work, they are doing very important stuff (!), it is to provide context.

Just how bad could things be? I do not work in the high Arctic but I do work in similar organic soils in the tropics (peat swamps) where, because of intentional draining, the several meter thick peat layer that is ‘active’ is increased in an analogous manner to the effects of melting permafrost. Microbial degradation is occurring, with the difference that the temperature is very warm instead of being very cold. Think of how fast fruit spoils in your refrigerator versus on a hot window sill. In these tropical peat soils we see large amounts of CO2 coming off into the atmosphere each year now, but even with such large rates of loss, this equates to taking about 20-25 years to lose 1 meter of organic soil. In the Arctic the microbial degradation will be much slower due to the relatively low temperatures. This doesn’t mean that it is not important. Slow rates of emissions over a large area is still a lot of extra carbon going into atmosphere but this is a problem that is going to take centuries to play out, not less than a decade. It makes things worse but it doesn’t suddenly end life on Earth.

Incidentally, all of that soil carbon in the Arctic isn’t a uniform petri dish either. Some of that carbon is easier to access by bacteria than other portions. Emissions will rise quickly as the bacteria chew through the cellulose, for example, but things like lignin get left behind. The point being that even for a given mass of carbon in the ‘active’ layer, there will be a dampening of the emissions growth rate as the quality of the bacteria buffet goes down when it gets picked over.

I do not pretend to know what the motivations of ‘doomists’ are, whether it be honest despair or simple misunderstanding but they are conveying the same message of do nothing as those who deny the existence or importance of climate change. Denial = don’t worry be happy, while Doom = don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway. Both viewpoints are wrong in trying to turn climate change into a false dichotomy of either fantasy or inevitability. Both the science and our choices are much more complicated. It’s uncomfortable but your choices do matter now and for generations to come. There is no ‘fixing’ things at this point but you still have the ability to choose how you react to the predicament we have created. Doom and denial are respectively trying to tell you that you either have no choice or no need to choose. But, as Philip K. Dick wrote:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

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AGW certainty, Part Two

Continuing the examination of two views on AGW.

Readers will recall that this post opened yesterday.  That Part One closed with Martin writing this:

Martin Lack

Much of what Oakwood writes is an attack upon the Hockey Stick graph of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions first produced in 1998 (MBH98).

However, the fatal flaws in Oakwood’s scepticism regarding MBH98 are as follows:

  1. MBH98 has been validated by at least 14 other reconstructions (as cited in IPCC AR4 in 2007) using a wide variety of other proxy data(see Wikipedia for relevant links)
  2. Hockey Stick-shaped graphs turn up in reconstructions of CO2 levels and temperature – now going back over thousands of years – because they are not ‘statistical noise’ –
  3. Arguments about splicing instrumental data onto proxy data only serve to challenge the extent to which the speed of late 20th Century warming is unprecedented.
  4. Such arguments do not invalidate the conclusion that it is now almost certainly warmer than it has been at any time since the last Ice Age (i.e. a period of relative climate and sea level stability that has made agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation possible).

However, this is no reason for us to be complacent because, as Oakwood must know, the 50 to 100 metres of sea level rise that will be caused by the melting of terrestrial ice sheets will necessitate the mass migration of millions of people. This makes his concerns about current poverty and starvation (i.e. the main reason he eventually cites for not believing action is yet necessary) look very trivial indeed.

So continuing ….

Oakwood

The argument that the ‘divergence problem’ does not bring into question proxy studies is just one example of supposed ‘settled’ evidence in the case for AGW. There are others which collectively bring down the case to one of opinion.

Martin Lack

After a lengthy attempt to assert that the “hide the decline” controversy was or is significant, Oakwood eventually moves onto attack the significance of MBH98; and to claim that ACD is no more than a matter of opinion. It is only possible to reach this conclusion by dismissing the majority of climate scientists as being stupid, sloppy, or sinister.

Oakwood

Here are a few others:

  • Mann et al’s original hockey stick (1998) (as well as a number of other studies) shows an unprecedented temperature rise in the first half of the 20th century, a temperature change that most climate scientists believe can be explained by natural phenomena, such as the Sun (while failing to reproduce the man-made rise in the 2nd half of the century, due to the divergence problem explained above).

Martin Lack

However, Climategate and, more especially Climategate 2.0 merely served to demonstrate how deliberate and organised are the attempts to discredit climate science and derail international attempts to tackle the ACD problem.

Oakwood

Thus, we are expected to believe there was both an unprecedented NATURAL temperature rise and unprecedented MAN-MADE rise in the same century. Not impossible, but statistically highly unlikely.

Martin Lack

Oakwood suggests that assertions about early 20th Century warming are statistically highly unlikely (i.e. that climate scientists are stupid to make them). However, the real statistically highly unlikely suggestion is that 30 years of monthly average temperatures exceeding their long-term average values could be a consequence of natural variation. Unlike early 20th Century warming, this is definitely not capable of being explained by natural causes (such as cyclical solar activity or random volcanic eruptions).

Oakwood

  • The ‘record’ (in just 35 years) of minimum summer ice in the Arctic is repeatedly presented as evidence for impending doom. However, the record MAXIMUM ice cover in the ANTarctic, at the same time, is dismissed with ‘we have another explanation for that’.

Martin Lack

Trying to shift the focus away from the accelerating rate of ice loss in the Arctic is very lame indeed. The Arctic is surrounded by land and (now) increasing amounts of warming water. The reasons for the ice loss are well understood and it is happening faster than was predicted even 5 years ago. The Antarctic is surrounded by a huge expanse of cold ocean and is also being kept cold by the human caused hole in the ozone layer. The reasons why its ice is not melting so fast are therefore also well understood. In addition, it should be noted that the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest warming place in the southern hemisphere.

Oakwood

  • Whatever the weather, blame global warming. A few years ago, milder winters and earlier springs in the UK were hailed as evidence of AGW. But now we get lots of snow, and appalling spring, cooler summers, etc, and guess what, its due to global warming.
  • Hot/dry weather and floods around the world are routinely highlighted as ‘more evidence’ whereas as cold weather extremes and records are dismissed as ‘just natural variation’ – again, and again and again.

Martin Lack

Oakwood‘s remarks about extreme events are also very misleading. The number of records being broken for hot and/or dry events is many times greater than the number of records being broken for cold and/or wet events. As Hansen et al explained last year, in their review of historical data for the last five decades, natural variability does not explain the steady shift in average temperatures and the broadening of the range of conditions experienced in any one place.

I really can’t believe that Oakwood is so parochial in his outlook that he dares to mention the cold weather the UK has experienced recently. We may have had the coldest Spring for 50 years, but, that does not change the fact that global average temperatures are still the highest ever in recorded history. Furthermore, it does not change the fact that the analysis of Hansen et al (2012) continues to be validated by events such as those in Central Europe at the moment – where 1 in 100 year flood events have recurred after only 10 years. Not impossible – just statistically highly unlikely.

Oakwood

Those who highlight the lack of rising temperature for the past 10-15 years are routinely dismissed as deniers and liars. We’re told, ‘but the last decade is the warmest in a 100 years’. No-one disputes that. Given the world warmed by 0.8 degC in 100 years, that’s perfectly reasonable, and is not a defence against the fact that warming has at least paused.

  • We’re told: ‘but the heat is going into the ice caps and the deep oceans and atmospheric heat is just a small percentage of the total’, How convenient. In the 1980s and 1990s, atmospheric temperature was enough for ‘proof’ of serious AGW. We didn’t hear anything about ocean heat then. No-one suggested that perhaps the warming was due to a release of previously ‘hidden’ ocean heat. Or that we shouldn’t read too much into a small atmospheric temperature rise.
  • We see again and again, whatever happens, whatever the data show, the theory is revised to ‘show’ that nothing has changed. This is simply not plausible science.
  • We’re told, the physics of CO2-induced global warming is just that, ‘physics’, and we can’t change that however much we dispute it. No-one disputes the physics. But, the atmosphere (believe it or not) is very complicated. We have the physics that says aerosols reflect the Sun’s heat, that clouds may increase and also reflect more heat. We now hear the relationships with the oceans is very important (which we didn’t hear before). Thus the debate is not about the reality of the CO2-global warming physics. Its about the sensitivity of the system and which physical phenomena will dominate.

Martin Lack

Given the massive inertia in the climate system (which guarantees decades of future temperature rise even if CO2 emissions were completely halted today), there is no reason for us to be complacent about the fact that we have only seen a rise of 0.8C since the Industrial Revolution. The scientific consensus remains that equilibrium climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2C and that such a rise in temperature will not be good for the vast majority of life on Earth. On the evidence of the ACD that we are already experiencing, I think there is very good reason to agree with that conclusion.

Again, I am astonished that Oakwood even dares to mention the ‘global warming has stopped’ canard. This misconception has been debunked so many times; there are even debates about who has written written the best rebuttals.  Here is a summary: Whilst surface warming may have paused, the warming of the ocean (which is driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events of all kinds) has continued. Given that oceans cover two thirds of the Earth’s surface, is this something really worth arguing about?

Climate scientists are therefore not changing their story to accommodate inconvenient new data. Only climate change sceptics do that. The only implausible science on offer today is that which seeks to explain all the data without acknowledging that CO2 is the main driver. Sure, CO2 does not explain everything but, you cannot explain all the data unless the primacy of CO2 is accepted.

Oakwood

Some will respond: ‘but all of these arguments have been debunked many times’. All they really mean is another opinion or speculation has been given by an AGW believer. Nothing wrong with these, but don’t claim they represent settled science.

Martin Lack

However, I should like to re-iterate the importance of the recently-published results of investigations at a lake in the NE of Arctic Russia. What this new 3.6 million year continuous palaeoclimatic record tells us is that current warmth is not unprecedented (if you go back to an era in which humans did not exist – 400 or 1,100 thousand years ago). This demonstrates that good scientists do not change their story when they get unexpected results.

Oakwood

I have no problem with scientists believing in AGW and believing it a serious threat. But when so much of their case is based on weak arguments, I do have a problem with claiming the case is ‘settled’ and that anyone who questions or challenges it is a liar, denier, conspiracy theorist, etc.

Both sides of the debate have their extremists and nutters. My interest is in the rational middle ground. To suggest an ‘eccentric’ like Christopher Monckton is ‘typical’ of all AGW-sceptics is just like claiming all Conservative voters are fascist and all Labour voters communist. It has no place in informed and educated debate.

Martin Lack

Oakwood claims arguments for concern over ACD are “weak” but, in making this assertion, the only information he has referred to is very much out-of-date (such as IPCC AR4 in 2007). Oakwood moves on to discuss unhelpful labels such as “liar” and “denier”.

I do not think I have ever suggested that anyone who professes to be ‘sceptical’ is lying. However, I do think that, just like the tobacco executives whose ‘modus operandi’ they are copying, the executives of fossil fuel companies know more than they care to admit. There is also a great deal of evidence to indicate that climate change ‘scepticism’ is in fact being driven by unscientific economists aided in their anti-science cause by a handful of friendly scientists who tell them what they want to hear. This is not scepticism, it is ideological prejudice.

Oakwood

The term “denier” was introduced with the intention of associating AGW-sceptics with Holocaust Deniers. That is to say, AGW-sceptics are putting millions of lives at risk through their lies and ignorance. Given the weakness of the AGW case, the use of the labels ‘denier’, ‘deny’, denial’ seems to represent an insult to every victim of the Holocaust.

Martin Lack

I agree that use of the term ‘denier’ is generally not helpful, but, given all the evidence that conflicts with their position, I do think that those who remain ‘sceptical’ about the primary cause of ongoing climate change are being irrational. If your beliefs require you to dismiss any and all evidence that conflicts with them, that is not scepticism, it is wilful blindness; it is what Young Earth Creationists have to do in order to protect themselves from wicked and ungodly scientific ideas.

Therefore, even if Oakwood does not do it, many who are ‘sceptical’ do rely upon conspiracy theories to dismiss all the evidence that conflicts with their beliefs. This includes dismissing most scientists as stupid, sloppy or sinister.

Oakwood

And why is it not time to act now? I am an environmentalist and see many environmental and social problems that need addressing. In particular, the need for ‘sustainability’ in all we do. There remain millions dying each year from such things as malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, malaria, etc.

These are hard facts with zero room for any doubt. Given the weakness in the AGW-case, it is not a priority. I see some benefits in acting. For example, in many cases a reduction in CO2 emissions leads to much improved energy-efficiency, and less pollution. However, the case is not made for diverting money and effort from the more immediate priorities, covering pristine countryside in wind farms to satisfy urban energy demands, or using more biofuels at the expense of more hunger.

Martin Lack

Having wasted so much time trying to falsify MBH98, Oakwood finally gets round to the important bit of my question: Why does he think the time to act has not yet arrived?

Failing to address the point that a wide range of industrial, political and economic organisations now agree that it is time to act, Oakwood opts instead to simply re-state his belief that attempts to mitigate the ACD problem will do more harm than good. All the evidence I have seen suggests that he is mistaken. To-date, I think the most compelling evidence is that contained in the IIED’s 2009 report , ‘Assessing the costs of Adaptation to Climate Change: A review of UNFCCC and other recent estimates’ (PDF available here), which begins with the following very sobering executive summary:

Several recent studies have reported adaptation costs for climate change, including for developing countries. They have similar-sized estimates and have been influential in discussions on this issue.

However, the studies have a number of deficiencies which need to be transparent and addressed more systematically in the future. A re-assessment of the UNFCCC estimates for 2030 suggests that they are likely to be substantial under-estimates. The purpose of this report is to illustrate the uncertainties in these estimates rather than to develop new cost estimates, which is a much larger task than can be accomplished here.

The main reasons for under-estimation are that: (i) some sectors have not been included in an assessment of cost (e.g. ecosystems, energy, manufacturing, retailing, and tourism); (ii) some of those sectors which have been included have been only partially covered; and (iii) the additional costs of adaptation have sometimes been calculated as ‘climate mark-ups’ against low levels of assumed investment. In some parts of the world low levels of investment have led to a current adaptation deficit, and this deficit will need to be made good by full funding of development, without which the funding for adaptation will be insufficient. Residual damages also need to be evaluated and reported because not all damages can be avoided due to technical and economic constraints.

There is an urgent need for more detailed assessments of these costs, including case studies of costs of adaptation in specific places and sectors.

Oakwood

Thus, belief in AGW is not a simple moral argument which some would want to believe – good vs evil, or capitalist vs environmentalist, etc.

Martin Lack

Oakwood says he does not think this is a good-vs- evil or a capitalist-vs- environmentalist issue. I would agree. However:

  • I am not the one who is allowing my political beliefs to prejudice my approach to the science;
  • I am not the one who is accusing most scientists of being stupid, sloppy or sinister in order to dismiss what they are telling me; and
  • I am not the one changing my story or my preferred argument whenever something I have formerly relied upon is shown to be unreasonable.

Although it is a shame that he is part of a minority within the UK’s current Coalition Government, I will conclude by quoting from a recent speech by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey:

Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue… We make progress by building on what we know, and questioning what we don’t. But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity. Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself… By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care…

Oakwood says he opposes action to curb ACD because there are bigger problems we need to solve. If this were likely to be true, it would be an admirable position to take. Unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence suggests that ACD is a problem unlike any other and, unless we make serious attempts to minimise it, its consequences will dwarf all other problems we face.

This is because basic physics tells us that allowing the Earth to warm up will cause terrestrial ice to melt and sea levels to rise. It was predicted and it is now happening. The time to act to stop it is now. Millions of people cannot and will not adapt to having their land and their cities submerged under water.

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Well I think that the agreement of Oakwood and Martin to set out their positions is fabulous and very worthy.

If readers will forgive me, tomorrow I will offer my own personal reflections on what has been offered by Martin and Oakwood today and yesterday.

Extremes of weather.

 

 

“It sometimes feels like a strange movie, you know, it’s all so weird that sometimes I wonder if it is really happening.”

This quote by Marshall Bruce Mathers III (born October 17, 1972), better known by his stage name Eminem, is so apt for today’s item.  Because in so many places in so many countries, the weather ain’t what it used to be!

For example, in Grants Pass, Oregon, our local town, yesterday’s high was 86 deg F. (30 deg C.)!  Then recently NOAA reported that:

According to NOAA scientists, the globally-averaged temperature for March 2013 tied with 2006 as the 10th warmest March since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 37th consecutive March and 337th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

So with all this in mind, I’m republishing a recent item on Climate Crocks, with the permission of Peter Sinclair.

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Jet Stream Blows Winds of Change

April 19, 2013

I’ve been recovering from earth-month speaking-event whiplash, having criss crossed the state over recent days to talk about climate change, and what scientists are telling us.

Meanwhile, Paul Douglas, above, gave a brief summary of what we know about the extreme spring in the US, just before the current river of moisture hit across the nation’s midsection last night.

wunder_river

Near record setting flooding is hitting at my location, schools closed and evacuations underway.  I got a bump from Jeff Masters last night about the situation, he is grappling with the big picture, will be posting more later today.  For now, more concern about extreme weather knock-on effects – possible washing of dangerous invasive species into the Great Lakes water system.

WeatherUnderground:

The rains have brought the Des Plaines River on the east side of Chicago to major flood stage this morning, and a record flood crest is expected on Friday. The Asian Carp, a dangerous invasive species that would cost billions of dollars were it to get loose in the Great Lakes, is present in the Des Plaines River. Today’s flood event is capable of washing significant numbers of Asian Carp from the Des Plaines River into a canal that feeds directly into Lake Michigan, where they might be able to set up a breeding population capable of devastating the Great Lakes’ fishing industry. However, in October 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Des Plaines River barricade, a 13-mile-long system of concrete barriers and a specially fabricated wire mesh that allows water to flow through the fence but prevents the passage of fish. Hopefully, this barricade will withstand the flood and prevent Asian Carp from washing into Lake Michigan.

CarbonBrief reports on similar extremes in northern Europe :

The Met Office has just released a report entitled “why was the start to spring 2013 so cold?”

The immediate cause was a natural climate fluctuation called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO switches between two states, and this winter (in its negative phase) saw a southward shift of the jet stream, bringing cold air over the UK from northern Europe and Russia.

The Met Office identifies three other natural climate variations that may have made the negative NAO phase more likely.

One is the recent behaviour of another natural climate fluctuation, called the Madden-Julian Oscillation ( MJO). It was particularly strong during late February and March – often a sign that a negative NAO is on the way.

This winter also saw what’s called a Sudden Stratospheric Warming ( SSW) event, where winds in the stratosphere above the north pole reverse direction. This brought cold weather conditions to the UK.

Finally, Europe’s climate is influenced by another natural climate system – the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation ( AMO). While the influence on UK winters is unclear, the report suggests:

“[T]here is some evidence that the changes in Atlantic sea surface temperatures associated with the AMO, dispose the circulation to give drier than normal spring conditions over the UK and northern Europe.”

Arctic Amplification

What about the effects of human-caused climate change? One question that has been much discussed recently is whether the recent rapid decline in Arctic sea ice could contribute to a change in the UK’s weather.

metoffice_seaicedecline_499x329

The new report explains how this could work:

“It is argued that amplification of global warming over the Arctic is reducing the equator to pole temperature gradient, thereby weakening the strength of the mid-latitude jet streams.”

This could allow cold Arctic air to push further south, over mid-latitude countries like the UK, and weather patterns could stay longer in one place.

The possibility of a link between the Arctic and UK weather appears to be gaining scientific support, but the Met Office acknowledges it’s still an “area of ongoing research”. The Met Office has told us it’s holding an “ informal workshop” in the next two to three months for leading UK scientists plus several international experts.

Multiple factors

While scientists are making progress in working out how climate change could influence the odds of abnormal weather, it would be unwise to attribute one year’s events to a single cause. The report points this out, noting that:

“…no single explanation can account for the cold conditions observed”.

The report also highlights that although this spring was unusually cold,”it is not unprecedented or outside the expected natural variability of our climate”.

Nevertheless, with what the Met Office describes as “particularly heightened interest” in recent weather, getting to grips with how climate change could be affecting things is important. Even if, as the Met Office suggests, the complexities of the UK weather make “communicating the science drivers more complicated and nuanced than some audiences may wish.”

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So wherever you are, do try and watch the Chasing Ice film because the more we all see the truth of what’s happening the better we can embrace change; locally, regionally, and globably.

2020 vision

A moving, sensitive video about the Arctic.

I won’t let on why I called this post ‘2020 vision’ but if you watch the video below to just before the 7-minute mark the use of the number 2020 will become clear.

This video came to my attention from a recent post on Climate Crocks.  It’s a strongly powerful message about the changes going on in Arctic region and the profound effect those changes will have on the rest of the planet.  Indeed, many experiencing the recent weather in North-West Europe will amend the future tense of my sentence to present tense!

You can read more here about Professor Ken Dunton at the University of Texas where he is Professor, Department of Marine Science.

Professor Dunton
Professor Dunton

 

He is the sort of person that we should be listening to very carefully as the world changes in ways not seen for tens of thousands of years.

Breaking news!

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.

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?

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!

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!