Archive for the ‘Rising Ocean Levels’ Category

Drought warning as the tropics expand

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, warned on Thursday that his state “is headed toward one of the worst water crises in its history”.

Now new research suggests that the three-year drought in the Golden State may be a consequence of the expanding tropics, which are gradually growing as human emissions of greenhouse gases warm the planet.

Climate scientists have documented a slow progression of low-latitude weather systems towards the poles, and this has been matched by rising temperatures in many temperate regions. Deciding whether this broadening of the tropical belt is linked to the greenhouse effect has been difficult, however.

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The fight to get aboard Lifeboat UK

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

– James Lovelock, again, tells it like it is.  What he says here is what I’ve felt for a long time without being able to articulate it nearly so well as he has.  Indeed, it is why I’ve secured the right of permanent residency in New Zealand; as a hedge against the future he’s painting.

– I see people drawing word pictures of the world around us at all levels.   The local and the mundane, the national and the global.   But most of their pictures are fragments at best; partial renderings of realities far more complex and dark than they’ve drawn or imagined.

– Lovelock paints the canvas behind all their canvases.   They are, perhaps, the projected moving pictures on the screen.  Whereas, his is the screen upon which theirs cavort.  In rings speak, ‘One vision to rule them all’.

– There are big changes, nearly unimaginably big changes, coming.   And most of us, if we are not in denial, are engaged in building sandcastles in a losing battle to stem the sea.   His analogies about 1939 are so apt.   And time is getting so late.

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Last week she played in the snow, but what will Britain be like when she grows up? James Lovelock, the Earth guru, foresees a land where blizzards are long forgotten and national survival depends on a new Winston Churchill

When someone discovers, too late, that they are suffering from a serious and probably incurable disease and may have no more than six months to live, their first response is shock and then, in denial, they angrily try any cure on offer or go to practitioners of alternative medicine. Finally, if wise, they reach a state of calm acceptance. They know death need not be feared and that no one escapes it.

Scientists who recognise the truth about the Earth’s condition advise their governments of its deadly seriousness in the manner of a physician. We are now seeing the responses. First was denial at all levels, then the desperate search for a cure. Just as we as individuals try alternative medicine, so our governments have many offers from alternative business and their lobbies of sustainable ways to “save the planet”, and from some green hospice there may come the anodyne of hope.

Should you doubt that this grim prospect is real, let me remind you of the forces now taking the Earth to the hothouse: these include the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture, including gases from natural ecosystems damaged by global heating in the Arctic and the tropics. The vast ocean ecosystems that used to pump down carbon dioxide can no longer do so because the ocean turns to desert as it warms and grows more acidic; then there is the extra absorption of the sun’s radiant heat as white reflecting snow melts and is replaced by dark ground or ocean.

Each separate increase adds heat and together they amplify the warming that we cause. The power of this combination and the inability of the Earth now to resist it is what forces me to see the efforts made to stabilise carbon dioxide and temperature as no better than planetary alternative medicine.

Do not be misled by lulls in climate change when global temperature is constant for a few years or even, as we have seen in the UK in the past week, appears to drop and people ask: where is global warming now?

However unlikely it sometimes seems, change really is happening and the Earth grows warmer year by year. But do not expect the climate to follow the smooth path of slowly but sedately rising temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where change slowly inches up and leaves plenty of time for business as usual. The real Earth changes by fits and starts, with spells of constancy, even slight decline, between the jumps to greater heat. It is ever more at risk of changing to a barren state in which few of us can survive.

The high-sounding and well-meaning visions of the European Union of “saving the planet” and developing sustainably by using only “natural” energy might have worked in 1800 when there were only a billion of us, but now they are a wholly impractical luxury we can ill afford.

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– research thanks, again, to Robin S.

Changes ‘amplify Arctic warming’

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Scientists say they now have unambiguous evidence that the warming in the Arctic is accelerating.

Computer models have long predicted that decreasing sea ice should amplify temperature changes in the northern polar region.

Julienne Stroeve, from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union that this process was under way.

Arctic ice cover in summer has seen rapid retreat in recent years.

The minimum extents reached in 2007 and 2008 were the smallest recorded in the satellite age.

“The sea ice is entering a new state where the ice cover has become so thin that no matter what happens during the summer in terms of temperature or circulation patterns, you’re still going to have very low ice conditions,” she told the meeting.

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Thinking about a thousand-year depression

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

– An excellent piece from The Automatic Earth; a Blog I’ve just started following.

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Cyclical terms like “recession” and “depression” are looking less appropriate by the day. It’s like calling the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance a “depression”.

I know the our situation is vastly different from the state of the world in Roman times, but the idea that we could be on the brink of a fundamental reset of civilization is intriguing, to say the least.

I’ve been convinced for several years that we are looking at the convergence of a set of wicked interlocking global problems — ecological problems (climate chaos, the death of the oceans, fresh water shortages etc.), energy shortages due to fossil fuel depletion, and overpopulation with the resulting pressure on the global food supply. This convergence is happening under the umbrella of the current global financial collapse that constrains our ability to respond to any of these problems individually, let alone any further problems that might emerge from interactions between them.

This unfortunate collision makes the future of our civilization very murky indeed. Writers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker and Sharon Astyk (along with people like Stoneleigh and Ilargi at The Automatic Earth) have been warning about the possibility of a generalized, unrecoverable collapse of modern civilization for a while now. They have generally been derided by the mainstream as millennialist prophets of doom — driven more by their own subconscious fears and dark desires, their research full of confirmation bias.

The events unfolding around us now, however, cast their optimistic mainstream critics in a somewhat different light. None of them — even the Roubinis and Krugmans – have fully appreciated the severity of the world’s financial predicament. Their comforting bromides (and even their more pessimistic utterances) have been overwhelmed by events on a weekly basis. It has become clear that for all their careful analysis of trunks and tails, nobody truly understood the shape of the entire elephant.

This evident failure of comprehension brings their entire analysis into disrepute. And that should make us ask – if they failed to comprehend the underpinnings of a calamity in their own domain, what does that say about the possibility that they also failed to understand the dangers being trumpeted by the doomers they have derided?

After all, we are seeing the same outcome in the climate crisis as in the financial one – the trends are uniformly negative, and are unfolding much faster than the professionals in either field predicted. There are new signs from world bodies like the International Energy Agency that the same situation is developing with respect to the world’s oil supply – the more pessimistic members of the Peak Oil crowd appear to be heading for vindication.

So, following a “major, rapid contraction” (aka collapse), could our civilization end up staying on the mat, unable to rise from the ashes of our former glory? That’s unknowable of course, but hardly inconceivable. Several factors give that speculation some foundation.

The first confounding factor is the spectre of irreversible climate change. That could irreparably damage the world’s food production capacity through shifts in rainfall and the reduction of snow and glacial cover that supplies much of the world’s fresh water for agriculture.

The second factor is the permanent depletion of the compact, high-density, transportable energy supply represented by fossil fuels. We’re putting a lot of effort into developing electrical alternatives, of course. There are two major challenges in the way, though. The first is the relative infancy of the industry, and the fact that it will require both capital and fossil fuels to enable its continued growth. The second longer term problem is that the use of electricity requires a higher level of technology in the infrastructure needed to manufacture, distribute, store and convert it into work. This may not seem like much of a a problem today, but if our global industrial civilization goes into a decline, growing parts of the world may find the maintenance of such infrastructure increasingly difficult.

A third factor that may get in the way of recovery is the depletion of easily-recoverable resources such as metals. The decline in the average quality of various ores being mined today is well documented, and is likely to continue. While recycling can recover much of the metal currently discarded as waste, recycling facilities capable of producing enough output to feed our civilization’s needs do not yet exist. They would face the same hurdles as the build-out of electrical supplies I described above.

You might think that such a situation will take so long to develop that we will be able to address the situation before it gets quite that dire.

One consideration that works against that hope is that human beings are not, for all their cleverness, fully rational creatures. Research has shown that most of our “rational” decisions are made at a deeply unconscious level, to be dressed up with rational justifications only upon their emergence into the conscious mind some time later. The truth of this proposition can be seen all around us in the competition between environmental remediation and economic imperatives, in the obstruction of alternative energy development, in our repeated creation of financial bubbles — in all the myriad ways in which we as a society work tirelessly against our own best interests as individuals and as a species.

Even worse, events have recently shown a terrifying ability to outstrip our expectations, in both speed and severity. We may not have nearly as much time left as we think. A lack of time coupled with an inability to respond rationally (or even to accept the evidence of our eyes) does not bode well for the future of this civilization.

It’s conceivable that our current civilization will never regain its feet after this storm has burst upon us. We will endure as a species no matter what happens, of course, and it’s even probable that we will rise to new heights. It’s also quite possible that the rebirth of this Phoenix will take a long, long time and that those new heights will be unrecognizable to someone raised in today’s world of 401(k)’s, Credit Default Swaps, automobiles and gigantic concrete cities.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kael for this.

1st commercial ship sails through Northwest Passage

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

– Humanity has attempted to traverse across the top of Canada and Alaska via the Northwest Passage for hundreds of years and many men lost their lives in the attempts until is was first successfully done in 1906.   The ice has always made it nearly impossible – until Global Climate Change.  

– Folks down in the more temperate climes may think Global Climate Change is just a rumor.   But, up in the far north, it is anything but.   And it’ll be coming to your neighborhood soon as well.

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The Canadian Coast Guard has confirmed that in a major first, a commercial ship travelled through the Northwest Passage this fall to deliver supplies to communities in western Nunavut.

The MV Camilla Desgagnés, owned by Desgagnés Transarctik Inc., transported cargo from Montreal to the hamlets of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak in September.

“We did have a commercial cargo vessel that did the first scheduled run from Montreal, up through the eastern Arctic, through the Northwest Passage to deliver cargo to communities in the west,” Brian LeBlanc of the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC News.

“That was the first — that I’m aware of anyway — commercial cargo delivery from the east through the Northwest Passage.”

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Greenland ice loss soars: Bad for you, great for bottled water biz

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d) led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory finds:

… the ice sheet was losing 110 ± 70 Gt/yr [billion tons/year] in the 1960s, 30 ± 50 Gt/yr or near balance in the 1970s–1980s, and 97 ± 47 Gt/yr in 1996 increasing rapidly to 267 ± 38 Gt/yr in 2007.

How much is 267 billion metric tons of water? It’s enough to supply the city of Los Angeles with fresh water for more than 50 years. Hmm. That gives me — or at least the Greenland Home Rule government — an idea.

Yes, why should all that water only go to submerging the great coastal cities of the world when (a tiny fraction of) it could go to slaking the thirst of all the people who live in the great cities of the world that don’t get submerged.

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Bags packed for doomsday

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

– I’ve been on for sometime about New Zealand, as any long term reader of this Blog knows.   Indeed, my wife and I have secured resident visas for NZ as a sort of insurance policy.  

– This means that we now have the permanent right to live there, if we want to for the rest of our lives.  And, we may well do so when we’re ready to retire. 

– If the world begins to crumble as a result of the numerous threats that I an others have detailed, then moving there will certainly look like a good move.

– We’re not the only folks to think so.   I came across a reference to the article, below, on a friend’s Blog and I found it interesting reading, indeed.

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Is the end really, finally nigh? And if it is, what are you going to do about it? John McCrone meets some South Islanders who are getting ready for the end of the world as we know it.

The ‘twin tsunamis’ of global warming and peak oil could spell TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it – and already, quietly, some people are getting prepared because they believe we are talking years rather than decades.

Helen, a petite 42-year-old Nelson housewife, is racing to build her own personal TEOTWAWKI lifeboat.

Earlier this year, she and her American husband cashed-up  to buy a 21ha farm in a remote, easily defensible, river valley backing onto the Arthur Range, north-west of Nelson.

The site ticks the right boxes. Way above sea level. Its own spring and stream. Enough winter sun. A good mix of growing areas. A sprinkling of neighbouring farms strung along the valley’s winding dirt-track road.

The digger was to arrive this week to carve out the platform for an adobe eco-house. A turbine in the stream will generate power. A composting toilet will deal with sewage.

Then there is the stuff that could really get her labelled as a crank (and why she would prefer to remain relatively anonymous, at least until she is completely set up). Back at her rented house in Nelson, Helen shows the growing collection of horse-drawn ploughs, wheat grinders, treadle sewing machines and other rusting relics of the pre-carbon era, she believes she will need the day the petrol pumps finally run dry.  here is the library of yellowing books from colonial times, telling how to make your own soap, spin candlewicks, care for clydesdale horses.

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– research thanks to Brian C.

The methane time bomb

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Arctic scientists discover new global warming threat as melting permafrost releases millions of tons of a gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.

Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species. Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia’s northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.

In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through “methane chimneys” rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a “lid” to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.

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– None of this is new.  But, it is getting closer.

– See: , , , , and

Glaciers shrinking in Southern Alps

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

New Zealand’s glaciers are showing the lowest total ice mass on record with more than twice the volume of Rangitoto Island melting away in a year.

Research released yesterday by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research showed the Southern Alps glaciers had lost over 2.5cu km (2.2 billion tonnes) of permanent ice from April 2007 to March this year.

That is the fourth highest annual loss since monitoring started, leaving the glaciers with the lowest total ice mass on record of just 44.9cu km.

Niwa principal scientist Jim Salinger told the Herald that was an 18 per cent loss since 1976 when 54cu km was recorded.

The 2.2 billion tonnes loss from last year to the end of March was “very significant”, he said.

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Climate inaction ‘costing lives’

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Failure to take urgent action to curb climate change is effectively violating the human rights of people in the poorest nations, an aid charity warns.

A report by Oxfam International says emissions, primarily from developed countries, are exacerbating flooding, droughts and extreme weather events.

As a result, harvests are failing and people are losing their homes and access to water, the authors observe.

They say human rights need to be at the heart of global climate policies.

Oxfam will be submitting its report, called Climate Wrongs and Human Rights, to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Righting wrongs

“Climate change was first seen as a scientific problem, then an economic one,” explained report author Kate Raworth. “Now it is becoming a matter of international justice.

The global impacts of climate change meant that nations had to be held accountable for the consequences of their actions, Ms Raworth said.

“Litigation is seldom the best way to solve a dispute.

“That is why we need a strong UN deal in 2009 to cut emissions and support adaption,” she added, referring to next year’s key UN climate summit where a future global climate strategy is expected to be agreed.

“However, vulnerable countries do need options to protect themselves. Rich country polluters have been fully aware of their culpability for many years.”

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