Archive for Climate Change

The Coming Collapse of Agriculture & Human Survival

By Michael Haughey

May 27, 2014

Adding to the Global Warming tipping points already passed, are a few really big ones that may lie just ahead.  These events could occur before 2040, and quite possibly much sooner, and could be followed quickly by the collapse of the world agriculture system.  One tipping point already passed is the change in the Jet Stream.  We have been seeing the effects of global warming in extreme weather events for quite a few years now.  The reason is even understood to a sufficient degree to lead to further concern.  That is not the subject of this brief article, but suffice it to say that one component is the Arctic warming faster than the rest of the planet, and that has changed the jet stream.  The jet stream changes have resulted in/contributed to extreme weather events.  The more worrisome of the tipping points already passed is that methane under the Arctic Ocean in the shallow waters off the coast of Eastern Siberia has warmed to the extent that huge frozen deposits are now melting and have melted.  I’ll discuss some of the details of that in another article.  The methane release that is occurring now will have a warming effect on earth that is not yet in the IPCC models.  Thus the dire predictions of the just-released IPCC report may turn out to be miniscule compared to what is about to happen.

Related to the methane currently being released is a really big tipping point: it is very likely that there will be a large release of methane from the already melted deposits below the sea surface.  A number of events could disturb these deposits and cause a large release.  A small example of this occurred as a result of a Magnitude 5.3 earthquake on February 20, 2014 under the Arctic Ocean that raised atmospheric methane levels about 25% even down the east and west coasts of Greenland.  Subsequent earthquakes have occurred along the same fault (Gakkel Ridge) including on April 13 and April 22, 2014.  A larger event (earthquake or underwater volcano) is possible that could in just a few days increase the average methane in the Earth’s atmosphere world-wide by a factor of ten.

Another event that will likely occur soon is the total summer collapse of the Arctic ice.  If the predicted El Nino materializes this summer, this could be the year.  Each such event increases global warming resulting in a positive feedback.  In short order there would be runaway global warming at a rather fast pace – unstoppable.

When the scientists state that the collapse of agriculture is in the cards, I’m not sure there is a good general understanding amongst the populations of Earth of what that means.  The increasing cycles of drought, fire, and floods will result in some areas no longer being able to support agriculture.  In time perhaps outdoor agriculture may become impossible everywhere.  This means almost no food for 7 billion people (or more) on planet Earth.  Your imagination can take it from there.  The resulting conflicts, disease, malnutrition, and eventual near-extinction of the human race could become mind-bogglingly catastrophic and horrid.

The point has already been passed where global warming becomes unstoppable.  The current pace of global warming is relatively slow compared to what is likely after a big tipping point is passed.  In either scenario – rapid runaway global warming or present path runaway global warming – we humans have a decision to make collectively.  Humans should have made that decision decades ago, but didn’t.  Plenty of leaders and scientists tried, but to no avail.  The decision is whether to party to the end, or do something about it.  If your decision is to party to the end, then you should be content with how little humans have done so far.  If you believe there must be a way for humanity to survive, then we have a lot of work to do.

The present path runaway global warming is still expected to lead to collapse of localized farming and the movement of arable zones toward the North and South Poles.  In that path, the transition to more indoor agriculture can be slower.   However, the possibility of a rapid transition means we need to be prepared or risk civilization itself.

A lot needs to change, and it will require a lot of “money”.  So the first order of business is to address how to pay for all the needed changes.  Really it is quite simple.  The “hippies” had it right in the 60’s and 70’s – it IS the system.  More specifically, it is the world-wide monetary system whereby most money is now created as debt out of thin air (debt-based money issued by privately owned central banks) which is at the heart of that system.  Since money is issued as debt when loans are made, there is no money in the system to pay the interest on that loan until more and more loans are made in a never-ending upward spiral of debt.  Humans have certain frailties, and one is a weakness for collecting power and wealth even beyond any possible necessity or practical use.  There are a sufficient number amongst us who are sufficiently sociopathic that they will amass wealth and power no matter who is hurt in the process.  They will not even understand that others are being hurt.  A system that rewards this behavior ultimately leads to where we are now – with a huge gap between the uber-wealthy and the rest of us.  We can re-distribute that wealth all we want, and if that system remains in place, a new set of uber-wealthy will emerge and the cycle will repeat forever.

The inherent problem with regard to global warming is that money can’t be spent without incurring incredible debt and that prevents the solution from happening at anywhere near the necessary pace.  The first step in the effort to prepare for runaway global warming is to abolish money as debt in almost all instances (and eliminate central banks) and have governments issue debt-free fiat money and spend it into economies interest-free at the rate that provides full employment without inflation.  Within this new system, economic systems, including regulated capitalism, can create more than enough private wealth for everyone to live comfortably.  Now that money is available to be spent into the economy, communities and governments can decide what projects should be financed.  This is where we come to being able to pay for what is needed to allow humans to survive the coming collapse of agriculture.  In this new system, money becomes simply the hard work of all of us – labor becomes capital.  The only limit to money supply is the available labor.  Money becomes what is should be – merely a medium of exchange and a representation of value.  If two people have labor, time, and talent to devote to a service or product, they have inherent capital that they can trade using the fiat money as a medium of exchange.  Most attempts to make it more complicated than that are often attempts to obfuscate the transaction and take advantage in an unscrupulous manner.  When the government uses debt-free fiat money to pay person A to make Product A, Person A now has money to pay Person B for Product B.  The money is now circulating in the economy and will continue to do so as long as people have time, labor, or talent available.

Scientists probably have a reasonable concept of what Earth will look like after the collapse of agriculture and well into the worst of global warming.  By that I mean temperatures, humidity, storms, and other weather factors.  A prudent approach, therefore, would be to design our buildings and food production systems to be compatible with that future.  If we don’t, we are done.  Growing food outdoors (on farms and in fields) may become nearly impossible with the wild swings from drought to floods.  But we know a lot about growing food in greenhouses and using hydroponics.  We can also build buildings that can withstand the weather and function fully on renewable energy.  The logical course of action, therefore, is to prepare our society and our buildings for indoor food production.  Greenhouses may need to be strengthened in some areas to withstand extreme weather.  Hydroponics will help maximize the use of indoor or protected growing areas.  Renewable energy can power it all, helping to eventually limit the severity of Global Warming in the future.

Another effect of Global Warming will be sea level rise.  It is necessary to prepare for rising oceans in where and how we construct buildings and cities.  We know that all the frozen water on the planet, once melted, would raise oceans by about 220 to 250 feet.  Therefore building within about 300 feet vertically of present sea level should stop, and higher than that in areas subject to possible Tsunami’s.  Building within the 220 ft to 300 ft zone could be achieved if necessary by applying more rigorous construction standards.  Anything below that zone needs a plan for eventual relocation or demolition and recycling.  The timeframe for this transition is not well understood.  The IPCC estimates keep getting higher, but are still in the range of only a few meters by the year 2100.  The models that informed the IPCC, however, do not include any poorly understood or recently learned inputs.  Since that includes the big tipping points just over the horizon, we can be confident that the sea level rise predictions are too low.  That means that the plans for transition of populations away from sea coasts will need a degree of schedule flexibility to accommodate much more rapid sea level rise.

The increase in severe weather and the oscillation between drought and flood will have a negative impact on water quality.  There will be plenty of water somewhere, but it will come in muddy and heavily polluted bursts (floods) in violent storms.  We will need to capture and clean that water.  In some places that will simply be too difficult and those places may end up abandoned.

Since fossil fuel burning is the root cause of the present global warming and also of the worsening of global warming, a rapid conversion to renewable energy, and not nuclear, must be achieved.  Without the burdens of the present debt-money system, this will be much easier to accomplish.  Fossil fuels should not be burned for energy ever – or at least only in extreme circumstances.

We need to focus our attention on buildings, greenhouses, and hydroponics in terms of survivability for a large population of humans – eventually perhaps over 7 billion humans.  Building codes can be changed to allow and even require spaces for indoor hydroponics and greenhouses.  Water can be recycled within buildings using biological filters (basically doing what wetlands do naturally).  Structures, in some areas at least, may need to be very strong to withstand future weather.  Structures will need to last a long time as we may have great difficulty in the future finding and processing the materials to make them.  The present speculative cheap-building trend probably cannot continue, and fortunately will not be necessary under the new money system described above.

Transportation is another topic, however there are still options.  Mass transit will help, organizing communities so that living spaces are closer to work spaces will help, and cars can be made to last longer and be more efficient and to run on other fuels – be they electric or bio-fuel powered.

In Summary, we must first change the monetary system before we can prepare for the full effects of Global warming.  The magnitude of necessary preparations for the coming collapse of agriculture cannot be achieved until we change to a monetary system that can pay the costs without adding the further burden of debt and interest payments.  It should be obvious even from the light sketches above that the necessary changes and adaptations are monstrous and will require all our efforts and creativity.

 

Recommended reading:

I recommend the following books to learn about the diabolical ways that the uber-wealthy have taken control of the monetary system for their own benefit.  The uber-wealthy will stop at nothing as they continue to extract more and more of the fruits of our labor and enslave us to satisfy their greed.

 

“Web of Debt” by Ellen Brown

 

Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System and How We Can Break Free

And

 

“The Shock doctrine” by Naomi Kline

 

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
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Rising Seas and Human Response

By Michael Haughey, May 30, 2009

Rising, and warming, seas are personal – for the Silvertip. It is a family matter. His (her) cousin the Polar Bear is in serious trouble. Fishing is lousy, land habitat is disappearing, and ice floes are further and further apart, making hunting and survival very difficult. They are truly endangered. The Silvertip too has lost habitat, so he understands.

You may have noticed, as I have, that scientists are very clear in saying that the IPCC climate models did not include dynamic melting influences in the land-based ice sheets on Greenland, West Antarctica, or East Antarctica. Yet statements from scientists about future possibilities for melting of these ice sheets are hard to find. James Hansen wrote an article for New Scientist in 2007 (“Huge sea level rises are coming – unless we act now“) about the possibility of rather dramatic sea level rise in this century, or the order of about 16 feet, but at least a few meters. 20 feet of sea level rise is roughly what could happen if all the ice on Greenland or all the ice on West Antarctica, but not both, melted. Melting of the ice on this planet is increasing at an increasing rate. James Hansen gave us his educated guess at what may lie ahead for rising seas. Consider two excerpts from James Hansen’s article:

As an example, let us say that ice sheet melting adds 1 centimetre to sea level for the decade 2005 to 2015, and that this doubles each decade until the West Antarctic ice sheet is largely depleted. This would yield a rise in sea level of more than 5 metres by 2095.

and

Sea level is already rising at a moderate rate. In the past decade, it increased by 3 centimetres, about double the average rate during the preceding century. The rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was itself probably greater than the rate in the prior millennium, and this is due at least in part to human activity. About half of the increase is accounted for by thermal expansion of ocean water as a result of global warming. Melting mountain glaciers worldwide are responsible for several centimetres of the increase.”

There is evidence of an accelerating rate of sea level rise, and there is ice core evidence of a precedent in similar and even lesser conditions.

Consider this excerpt from James Hansen’s article: “…the palaeoclimate record contains numerous examples of ice sheets yielding sea level rises of several metres per century when forcings were smaller than that of the business-as-usual scenario. For example, about 14,000 years ago, sea level rose approximately 20 metres in 400 years, or about 1 metre every 20 years.”

Note that by “forcings”, he means forces that result in melting of ice, such as the rise in average world-wide temperature.

One meter every 20 years is roughly 16.5 feet in 100 years. If all the ice on both Greenland and West Antarctica melts, that would result in about 40 ft of sea level rise in addition to the few meters form thermal expansion and the 10 meters or so from melting glaciers. But little is said about East Antarctica, which poses a possible addition of about 170 feet of sea level rise should all that ice melt. It is interesting to read the scientific summaries and articles because they are quite forthright in saying they simply do not know what is happening in East Antarctica nor what could happen. They also say that sea level rise from whatever might happen to the land-based ice sheets is not included in the climate models used to make the predictions. In fact melting from Greenland and West Antarctica is not included in the models used as input to the 2007 IPCC reports.

James Hansen explains that Earth is receiving 0.5 to 1.0 watts per square meter more energy from the sun than it is losing, and that amount of energy imbalance is enough to raise sea levels one meter per decade from the melting of ice, if all that energy only melted ice. It doesn’t all go to melting ice, of course, but it puts the present energy imbalance in perspective. This also contradicts the common misperception that sun-spot variations are driving global warming as those variations are much smaller over time. The 11-year sun spot cycle causes a variation of 1.3 watts per square meter reaching the earths outer atmosphere (see NASA data).  30% of that is reflected back to outer space, and 40% of what gets through to land is re-radiated back into space. The net is about 0.55 watts per square meter imbalance variation from peak to low, or 0.27 watts per square meter imbalance over the average of the cycle during the peak of the 11-year cycle. This causes a secondary sine wave imposed on the global warming trend. The positive feedback mechanisms that are occurring and about to occur will further raise the energy imbalance from the sun. It is not a constant value. It has increased or perhaps come into being due to the burning of fossil fuels and related positive feedback mechanisms and more is to come. In summary, Earth is getting hotter, faster, and sea levels will be rising faster and faster as a result.

The media event Earth 2100 (see the artice “A Glimmer of Hope Amidst the Fog” on this web site under the Media category) depicts part of a devastating possible result from about 6 feet of sea level rise. Comparatively, 20 feet to 50 feet of sea level rise would likely result in unimaginable catastrophe. So how do we feel about 220 feet? Sea level rise is, of course, only one of a vast array of mostly negative results to be expected from climate change. The list is frighteningly long.

Clearly we as a society must find ways to work together collectively far beyond the economic restraints of “paybacks from energy cost savings”. Does anyone still believe that unregulated capitalism can provide the incentives necessary and in the time needed to avert such a catastrophe? A collective all-out effort planet-wide may not be enough, so clearly pure capitalism will not be the solution. Quite likely regulated capitalism can provide some very important incentives, and social-democratic mechanisms can provide many vehicles for mobilizing just about everyone toward mitigating this common threat. What else is needed? What else is there? We must put tremendous amounts of creativity to work in addressing the mitigation of the factors causing climate change. Not to do so would be to commit moral and criminal assault on future generations and likely many of the people living today. Some small communities are making significant progress. But none of the larger societies or nations on this planet are making anywhere near sufficient progress any where near fast enough. That includes capitalist, socialist, democratic, communist, dictators, theocracies, and all combinations of political systems. None of us have it right, so forcing our systems on other nations is not the answer. We must combine the best of each and create new possibilities. We must find a way to direct our efforts toward a common purpose using resource conservation far beyond what economists tell us is “economic”. All buildings, existing and new, from now on, must on average be net energy producers from renewable energy sources and from very aggressive energy conservation. All other aspects of our societies must likewise end the use of fossil and nuclear fuels and replace them with aggressive energy conservation and renewable energy sources. It must begin at that level now, and it must be competed very soon. Remember that the goal is to preserve the planet as a habitable place for humans. So the goal is not necessarily sacrifice, but rather wise abundance. Buildings are a great example. They can be more comfortable, more productive, healthier places to live and work, all the while producing more energy through renewable energy than the energy that they consume.

I say “we” and “all buildings” and such, because one person or one corporation making the necessary changes will probably just go out of business. But when we all act together, collectively, with a common understanding, then we all operate on a level playing field. Then, and only then, can we make the needed progress.

The hopeful side, and it is very hopeful, is that there is more than enough to be done to provide creative and productive work for everyone on the planet. We can solve many issues with this one effort. The first step is underway – the understanding of the extreme seriousness of the problem. Once the problem is fully understood, what we must then do will become quite obvious. Some of the next steps are also, simultaneously underway. We as a world-wide society are developing and deploying, although much, much too slowly, some of the technologies that will be a part of the solution as well as making some of the personal and societal changes that will also be needed.

Our primary goal is really very simple. We must stop and quickly reverse the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels before we are inundated with the positive feedback contribution from the methane release crisis. If methane release gets in full swing, we may not be able cope with the resulting climate change. It may be simply too much.

If you still do not believe that climate change is occurring and coming faster and faster, I urge you to study the information that is available and that is coming out of recent research. In the meantime, the rest of us have serious work to do. We can certainly use your help, and we urge you to consider that the worst that can come of our efforts is a better planet for humans and all of life. How bad can that be?

One area of research I suggest watching very closely is that studying the science behind the melting of the land-based ice on the three major ice sheets (Greenland, West Antarctica, and East Antarctica). It was only a few years ago that the moulins on Greenland were discovered and their process began to be understood. Rather than rivers of melt-water that flowed into the ice sheet and re-froze, it was discovered that they went all the way to bedrock. The melt-water not only didn’t re-freeze, but lubricated the underside of the ice sheets. The ice sheets began to slide more quickly toward the ocean. What else don’t we know about the physics of melting ice sheets? At what point do they begin to crack and fall apart, exposing more and more surface to warmer air and melting faster and faster? The planet is within 1 degree C of the warmest temperature in the last millions years. Again from James Hansen’s article: “There is strong evidence that the Earth now is within 1 °C of its highest temperature in the past million years. Oxygen isotopes in the deep-ocean fossil plankton known as foraminifera reveal that the Earth was last 2 °C to 3 °C warmer around 3 million years ago, with carbon dioxide levels of perhaps 350 to 450 parts per million. It was a dramatically different planet then, with no Arctic sea ice in the warm seasons and sea level about 25 metres higher, give or take 10 metres.”

The recent International Polar Year 2007-2008 expeditions (http://www.ipy.org/ ) are likely to ad to our collective knowledge. Reports are expected soon. Most likely there will be more questions than answers.

Warming from CO2 increases in the atmosphere is potentially catastrophic, and yet that may not be the worst of what is about to happen. It is the positive feedback mechanisms that frighten most. One of the most recently discovered is truly the most potentially catastrophic. That is the release of methane that has been sequestered for thousands and millions of years.

Sarah Simpson’s article in Scientific American “The Arctic Thaw Could Make Global Warming Worse” tells the story of courageous and hardy Katey Walter, who discovered a new methane release mechanism during her doctoral research in the Siberian Arctic tundra.

Lakes in the Arctic could release 50 billion tons of methane (there are about 5 billion tons of methane in the atmosphere now accounting for a third of the current global warming trend), per Sarah’s article. She points out that “…the Siberian shelf alone holds an estimated 1.4 trillion tons of methane in the form of gas hydrates.”  That alone is “equivalent to the newest estimates of the total greenhouse gases that would be released during a complete permafrost thaw”.  It is particularly worrisome because the impact could be huge and previously it had mostly been considered too small to be a factor:  “Conventional wisdom long held that permafrost should take thousands of years to melt away, so researchers expected it to play a negligible role in climate change. But recent findings – Walter’s lake discovery in particular – have wrecked that prediction.”  The decayed plant matter in the permafrost has been sequestered for thousands of years and has contributed to previous post-ice age warming. The methane hydrates that are sequestered below the permafrost, however, have been sequestered for millions of years. If those begin to release, the global warming impact could be monstrous.

There are at least three significant carbon stores in the Arctic. The permafrost contains carbon in the form of CO2 that is the result of decomposition of plant matter in the presence of oxygen. Under lakes in the Arctic are stores of methane within the permafrost that formed from decomposition of plant matter largely in the absence of oxygen due to the presence of overlying water. Below the permafrost are stores of frozen methane hydrate that also formed by decomposition of plant matter largely in the absence of oxygen.

To summarize, in order of increasing potential global warming impact: first is CO2 primarily from human impacts (direct, indirect, and from positive feedback mechanisms); second would be methane released from permafrost; and third, and most worrisome, would be the release of methane from the frozen methane hydrates below the permafrost. A number of factors have not yet been included in the global models that once included will doubtless move the computer predictions toward more rapid warming and faster sea level rise. Will we experience the worst case scenarios predicted for a few hundred years hence within our lifetimes?

We are entering uncharted territory at an unprecedented speed. It is not known exactly what will happen, but how often can you enter uncharted territory at an unprecedented speed and not have something very unexpected happen? Will we be lucky, or will we be reciting our full repertoire of four-letter words? Do you feel lucky? Do people in the path of a hurricane or flood feel lucky? Will we as the human race soon be wishing that hurricanes and floods were the worst we have to worry about?

Sea level rise by itself gives us a lot of reasons to worry. The fair weather sea level is one part of the problem. It can have many effects that are somewhat understood and probably more that are not understood yet. Salt water will penetrate into previously fresh water supplies. The increased weight of the water might cause seismic activity (earthquakes). Then there are the stormy weather impacts. Storms, especially hurricanes, bring what is called storm surge. The combination of wind and low atmospheric pressure in a storm raises the ocean height, similar to the pull of the moon during high tide, from a few feet to perhaps 20 feet or more in a strong hurricane. When the sea starts out higher, this storm surge will now travel much further inland. The flatter the land, the further it will travel. In addition, ocean features like barrier reefs and coastal wetlands that used to protect land near the ocean will be under water. Will they provide protection then or will the storm surge just roll by? Many of the most densely populated areas on the planet as well as productive agricultural land will eventually have to be abandoned. The immigration “problem” of today will be a fond memory by comparison.

We are not helpless or without hope. We can change our energy consumption efficiency and sources of energy without degradation of quality of life. We can probably capture and do something with the methane that is being released from the Arctic lakes since, so far, it seems to come up in discreet locations (although lots and lots of locations).

Yet will we, the human race, act in time? Waiting for this crisis would be to act too late. The Silvertip, looking down from the mountains, sees a self-centered human race that seems only to react to crises. He has serious doubts that we will act in time or with sufficient resolve. Is he right?

Copyright 2009, Michael D. Haughey. Some rights reserved.

 

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White House Climate Change Report

By Michael Haughey, June 16, 2009

The White House has just released the climate change impact report required by Congress every four years. This certainly is a breath of fresh air (so to speak) compared to the dark office corners where such information might previously have been relegated. It is 196 pages long and probably deserves a detailed read. If you are interested in reading it,

The report is released and discussed on this web site:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Streaming-Now-Climate-Change-Impacts-Across-America-Renewed-Focus-for-Decisions/

The report can be downloaded by chapter or in full at this web site: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/download-the-report

This report is apparently an update to the draft report released by the previous administration after a lawsuit to enforce the requirement by congress for the report.

Overall, I like what I’m seeing in the report given the intended audience. It collects a wide assortment of the available science and information into one document. It appears to be less constrained than the IPCC report, which needed a consensus from 130 nations for the summary document. A number of graphs are included and are generally quite easy to read and understand. The range of topics discussed is also broad, so it doesn’t appear that there are attempts to hide much, even if the emphasis in certain areas might be less than needed. After perusing the report, I do have some thoughts and comments:

There is a lot to discuss in the report. For starters, in the Executive Summary is included this sentence: “If emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, temperature increases are more likely to be near the upper end of the range.”  I find that a little scary because the upper range of impacts should probably be a bit of a business-as-usual, or worst-case approach. If indeed that is the intent (and it may not be as explained in the release, that the scenarios are neither the highest or lowest possible), then it probably is not the upper range of possibility for one simple reason. That reason is that if we continue with business-as-usual, the rates of emissions release will increase. We have only to look at the impending methane crisis to see that. The release of methane from the Arctic is not really highlighted in the Summary (at least I didn’t find it), and that will be a powerful positive feedback mechanism. It is alluded to as “carbon” under the title “Carbon release and uptake” on page 16 of the summary. There is also this qualifier on page 26: “While analyses suggest that an abrupt release of methane is very unlikely to occur within 100 years, it is very likely that warming will accelerate the pace of chronic methane emissions from these sources, potentially increasing the rate of global temperature rise.”  That is a bit like saying we don’t want to say it will happen, but don’t hold us to that. Maybe it will, or not.

The report summary mentions that methane is a shorter-lived gas in the atmosphere, or at least implies that. That leaves me wondering how much methane can be released and converted naturally to something else, and of course where does it go? Does that mean that eventually the carbon stored as methane can be released and converted into something relatively harmless? How long (in centuries or more I presume) would that take?

This statement is telling: “The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event that is likely to become much more common.  If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the 2040s more than half of European summers will be hotter than the summer of 2003, and by the end of this century, a summer as hot as that of 2003 will be considered unusually cool.”  I would not look forward to a world like that.

Regarding possible sea level rise, on page 25 I found this comment “There is some evidence to suggest that it would be virtually impossible to have a rise of sea level higher than about 6.5 feet by the end of this century.”  The referenced study is “Pfeffer, W.T., J.T. Harper, and S. O’Neel, 2008: Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st-century sea-level rise. Science, 321(5894), 1340-1343.”

This is not so reassuring when one realizes that Kinematic (or rather kinematics) means, from Dictionary.com:

” – noun (used with a singular verb) Physics. 1. the branch of mechanics that deals with pure motion, without reference to the masses or forces involved in it.
2. Also called applied kinematics. the theory of mechanical contrivance for converting one kind of motion into another.”

I have to wonder if there was an assumption that water could only travel from glaciers to the sea as ice (in other words, mechanically). Further I wonder if the study only covered glaciers as implied in the title, and not the huge ice sheets on Greenland and the Antarctic. The authors could have assumed that the ice sheets just can’t melt that fast and proceeded from there. What we would be seeing, then, is a bit of circular logic. Certainly if the ice on Greenland or on the Antarctic were to melt, the resulting water would find a path to the sea. The big question here would be what is the temperature at the land-ice interface two miles or so down where the ice sheets meet the land. Perhaps someone can find a copy of that article and review it?

This is somewhat acknowledged in the statement on page 26: “Rapid ice sheet collapse with related sea-level rise is another type of abrupt change that is not well understood or modeled and that poses a risk for the future.”

Hurricanes are also afforded some summary discussion in the report. This statement on page 36 would make a good highlight of that section: “Even without further coastal development, storm surge levels and hurricane damages are likely to increase because of increasing hurricane intensity coupled with sea-level rise, the latter being a virtually certain outcome of the warming global climate.”

There is a lot that is known about hurricanes, and even more that is not. Clearly global warming will create conditions for stronger hurricanes, and sea level rise will increase the potential for greater storm surge damage. I have noticed, however, that hurricanes are very fickle. They seem easily torn apart by what is known as wind sheer, or basically a cross wind that disrupts the circulation of the storm. I would expect global warming to also increase the winds that tear apart hurricanes. The question I have, then, is will there come a point where the hurricanes are torn apart faster than they get stronger? Even if that occurs, will there still be some monster storms that get through and make devastating landfall?

The Gulf coast is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and the associated impacts of global warming. Consider this statement (regarding the Gulf coast) on page 63: “27 percent of the major roads, 9 percent of the rail lines, and 72 percent of the ports in the area shown on the map on the previous page are built on land at or below 4 feet in elevation, a level within the range of projections for relative sea-level rise in this region in this century.”  Additional discussion of the amount of infrastructure and the value of commerce conducted in the region really highlights the potential severe disruptions. Considering how little of New Orleans has been rebuilt, one can only imagine the extent of this area that might eventually be abandoned due to climate change impacts.

My overall impression of this report is that it is a hopeful step in the right direction. It may seem gloomy, mostly because that is the reality. However we must keep in mind that the first step in solving any problem is to fully understand the problem. The more the problem is understood, the more the solution becomes self-evident.

 

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Changes Afoot – Road Trip to Glacier

By Michael Haughey,  June 28, 2007

Does a vacation need a theme?  One needs to be able to answer “what did you do?; or, what did you see?”  So our 2007 vacation began with the theme of seeing the glaciers before they melt.  We headed to GlacierNational Park on a road trip.  One side effect of backpacking over the years is wearing the knees out, so this year there would be no backpacking – just day hikes, about 30 to 40 miles of them.

We headed Northward to Billings figuring that would make a good stop on the road.  However, there was no room at the Inn.  “Montana Days” was in full swing, but from talking to the locals, it just wasn’t enough to fill all the hotels.  No, there was something else taking over the places to lay down your head.  We learned later that the energy industry – gas and oil exploration and production that is – had gobbled up most of the available hotel rooms.  It was booming.  It seemed that everywhere you looked on the horizon there was a construction site – clearing off a pad for wells or processing equipment, trucks riding the silhouette of the sunset leaving a trail of dust.

That wasn’t all.  There was haze from fire smoke everywhere.  Fire is a natural part of the Western landscape, yet ever since the Yellowstone fires they just seem to be bigger and more frequent.

I remember going through Glacier long ago (4 decades ago?) on a family car-trip.  That is about all I remember.  I imagined that it would be cold, what with all those glaciers.  Denver has been in a warm spell, so cold is sounding good.  Yet driving across Wyoming and Montana it was anything but cold, in fact getting warmer and warmer as we drove further north.

Getting closer now as we visit Browning, then southwest to East Glacier, and then northeast toward LowerTwoMedicineLake.

Finally after a few days we are approaching Glacier, yet still outside the official Park boundary, and expecting at any minute to enter a magical realm for the heart of our vacation where ice-capped mountains are everywhere and cool mountain streams grace the landscape.  And cooler – much cooler.  As we traversed the rolling hills and passes on the east side the vista of the valley below opened up.  What we saw was certainly not what we expected.  Not what I expected.  And it was still  hot.  Instead of the long-anticipated lush green forests with the snow and ice-capped mountain peaks, before us lay a brown blight on the trees for miles and miles, pretty much as far as the eye could see.  It looked like the entire forest had rusted.  I saw some moths and figured it might be pine beetles, like the ones devastating forests in Colorado.  We later inquired at various ranger stations and it turned out to be a Douglas fir moth that came in this year and essentially exploded after a warm winter.  It was nature at its fiercest, adapting to changing conditions, and yet it was depressing.

We finally entered the official Park during the final road to Many Glacier.

With a name like Glacier, I was hoping for some relief from the hot weather in Denver this summer.  But it was 99F even in East Glacier, so no such relief.  We stayed in the grand Many Glacier hotel on SwiftcurrentLake, which was not air conditioned and it was hot.  It was indeed a grand hotel, and the largest in the Park.  One evening brought a very impressive lightening storm that we watched from the porch along with a number of hotel guests.

And where were the glaciers?  How long until this is the “Park Formerly Known as Glacier”?  Even now the glaciers are a mere wisp of their former grandeur.  The rangers expect they will last only a few more years, so if you haven’t seen them yet, don’t delay.  The glaciers are, indeed, almost gone and a mere shadow of their former selves – ½ to 1/3 of their former area, 1/3 of their former depth, and melting rapidly.  Using a little math, that is 1/6th to 1/9th of their former volume, which is why it is said they are almost gone.

It was time to get out on foot, up the Swiftcurrent trail toward Swiftcurrent Glacier, sore joints and all.  I hoped to finally see a grizzly in the wild and it seemed we were in luck with reports of sightings just ahead on the very trail we were hiking.  Another trail nearby was closed due to grizzly activity – just what I was hoping to see.  But they need their privacy when feeding, especially with the stress of the warmer weather.  We missed the griz on our trail too.  We looked around a bit, but no luck.  Someone said it charged a young guy, and others said he was embellishing the story.  We passed a ranger on our way out who was carrying in a shotgun and going in to check on the bear, so we told him we thought the stories might be exaggerated and he said he was not expecting to have to harm the bear – he’s just required to carry the gun when responding to such reports.  We did see a large moose a few hundred yards away in the middle of a pond and a younger one about ten feet away all on that same trail.  That was quite a thrill.  At the end of our hike, just a few hundred yards from the parking lot, we saw a baby black bear with a  crowd of humans watching, and then a ranger came charging up in his pickup truck, got out and shoed off the humans and then the bear.  He just charged it yelling like a wild cowboy.  I’d like to see him do that with Pooh and Yogi! (see the page “Bear Stories”).  No really, I would.  We wanted to chase them (Yogi and Pooh) away, but they were just so big!  Not to mention their fight over our food left the ground shaking.

This phase of the journey nearing an end, we headed up the Going to the Sun Road.  There are lots of places to stop and watch the big horn sheep, waterfalls, little rodents, and marvel at how quickly the glaciers are melting.

On the way toward Yellowstone, the next stop, we were in a curve on the highway, one lane each way, about 70 miles per hour, and suddenly as a semi-trailer passes going the other way, a car also going the other way is passing the semi and in our lane heading straight for us!  The semi is on the left and the shoulder of the road, guardrail, and steep embankment on the right.  Without even thinking I had steered onto the shoulder in what seemed like ½ of a second and the car passed on our left missing us by barely and inch and the guard rail by about the same.  It happened so quickly I didn’t even have time for the usual one-finger salute.  Was that driver even awake?  There was a double yellow line and passing there should have been suicidal.  At this point in my life it seems I have surpassed the allotted 9 lives of a cat.

In BozemanMontana, at the Food Coop, there are signs of hope for the future.  Their solar system has an educational display to explain the process to visitors.

We stop at Signal Mountain Lodge for breakfast and encounter more hope for sustainability.  There are bulletin boards near the restrooms talking about all their sustainability initiatives.  Quite impressive.

Next stop is TetonNational Park.  The Teton glaciers are down from a count of 12 ten years ago to 9 today (2007), and they are much smaller.

Even while on vacation, I have to feed my addiction to reading newspapers.  The message of sustainability is everywhere – even in newspapers in the outbacks of Montana and Wyoming – along with the influence of the fossil fuel industry.  The year 2006 appears to have been the great awakening, that momentous shift where suddenly the world seems to get it – the people anyway.  The leaders will follow shortly, we can only hope that happens in time.

On the road home now we pass what seem like endless wisps of diesel smoke and dust on the ridge-tops where pads are constructed for gas wells.  Then finally, in the Medicine Bow range, windmills on the horizon and silhouetted against the sky.

Congress is now debating getting 20% of our energy from renewables by 2020.  While barely a start, it is good that they are now at least joining the discussion.

Most of us in the energy-conservation and sustainability industry understand that reducing world-wide fossil energy consumption by even 90% in ten years may not be enough.  Certainly it is too late to avoid many of the consequences of climate change and global warming.  That 90% reduction was probably needed by the end of 1990.  Just take a road trip and keep your eyes open.  You just can’t miss the signs.

Has the sleeping giant awakened soon enough?  Lets hope so.

 

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