Year 2, Month 9, Day 16: There Is No Gravity — The Earth Sucks

The September 10 Christian Science Monitor notes the unsurprising but extremely scary decline in the Arctic ice cap:

While tropical cyclones, as well as record droughts, floods, and wildfires have kept several of the lower 48 states occupied this year, the Arctic appears to be elbowing its way on to 2011’s list of extremes.

On Thursday, the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean fell to its lowest level for any Sept. 8 since satellites first began to monitor conditions there in 1979, according to researchers at the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics.

Coming so close to the end of the melt season, the observation holds out the prospect that 2011 could replace 2007 as the toughest year for sea-ice survival at the top of the world.

I used it as a hook on which to hang a bashing of Republican idiocy. Sent September 12:

As Arctic ice dwindles ever more rapidly, the prospect of a climate-change denialist occupying the White House is unsettling at best and terrifying at worst. One wonders: what would convince Republicans that global warming is real, human-caused, and dangerous?

Apparently nothing will do the trick — not even unequivocal statements from Army intelligence or the CIA that climate change will be an exceptional security threat in the coming decades. Apparently, any expert opinions running counter to GOP shibboleths are immediately and contemptuously dismissed, no matter how authoritative their sources.

The ice cap’s precipitous decline is a grim omen for our planet’s future — and pretending it’s not happening is fatal foolishness. If our democracy is to successfully address the most severe threat our species has ever faced, Republicans must come to their senses and recognize the grim and frightening reality that climatologists in the Arctic measure, each and every day.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 10: Revenge of the Poles

Oh, this is totally gross. The New York Times for July 25 reports that:

Warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil, according to a new study.

Researchers from Canada, China and Norway say their work provides the first evidence that some persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being “remobilized” into the Arctic atmosphere.

“Our results indicate that a wide range of POPs have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemicals,” write the scientists, whose analysis was published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Yecccch. Sent July 25:

For centuries, humans have seen the Polar zones as places of mystery. Explorers, novelists, storytellers and scientists have all sought the secrets to be found beneath the accumulated ice and snow. It turns out that might not be such a good idea. In an appalling side-effect of global warming, the melting ice is releasing significant doses of toxic chemicals back into circulation. This unintended consequence of our greenhouse gas emissions is sadly ironic — the Earth almost seems to be “striking back.” As we face a future on a drastically altered planet, we will discover that no aspect of our species’ history of waste and pollution can ever be truly buried; eventually we will no longer be able to avoid a cleanup task of monumental proportions. It behooves us to ensure that the toxic effluvium of our time not blight the lives of future generations.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 7: Water Wings. That’ll Help.

The Long Island Press for July 19 runs an article on polar bears and their increasingly difficult lives:

A new study reports that polar bear cubs have a higher mortality rate as their icy habitat melts. As their habitat melts away at faster rates than before polar bear cubs alongside their mothers are forced to make longer trips swimming across the icy waters, leading to an increase in death rates.

According to Reuters, the new study shows that these long distance swimming trips pose great risks to the survival of polar bear cubs. Polar bears are not aquatic animals. In fact, the majority of their lives are spent on ice or land–where they hunt, feed, and give birth.

I sure am glad I’m not a polar bear, facing eventual extinction. Oh, wait…

Sent July 21:

As the poster children for Arctic ice loss, the world’s polar bears get quite a bit of media attention. No wonder: they’re photogenic, their plight is arresting, and they are sufficiently distant from our day-to-day lives that news about them constitutes a distraction of sorts. But in our sympathy over bear cubs losing their habitats, we should not forget that these charismatic predators are only one of millions of species existing under the very real threat of runaway climate change. All forms of earthly life are vulnerable — environmental shifts can trigger rapid extinctions within a very short time — but some are more vulnerable than others. Our complex and intricate human civilization is no protection against a collapsed food supply. Looking down the road a bit, it’s frighteningly clear that polar bears aren’t the only ones who’ll be facing an uphill struggle to survive. Are humans an endangered species?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 17: And In The Left Corner, In Yellow Trunks…

The L.A. Times reports on the recent (July 1) ruling that the Polar Bear is going to be allowed to keep its status on the Endangered Species list.

A U.S. District Court on Thursday upheld a Bush-era decision that polar bears are a threatened species, despite challenges by the state of Alaska and others seeking to strip the bear of its protection.

Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to protect the bear because of the melting of the Arctic sea ice was well supported and that opponents failed to demonstrate that the listing was irrational.

“Plaintiffs’ challenges amount to nothing more than competing views about policy and science,” Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote.

Them pesky liberal judges.

Personally, I’d like to watch a polar bear and James Inhofe battle it out.

Sent July 1:

As one of the most recognizable of the world’s charismatic megafauna, the polar bear’s become a symbol of wildlife endangered by climate change. While Judge Sullivan’s ruling on the threatened Arctic predator’s status is welcome news, we need to recognize that it’s not just the big, furry and picturesque that need our protection. All over the planet, creatures great and small are coming under attack from a faceless enemy — but the ultimate victims are not the animals and plants themselves, but the living networks of interdependency of which they are a part. The world’s ecosystems are in grave danger; as they lose their resilience, we’ll see ever-greater numbers of inarticulate climate refugees searching for new habitats. It’s unfortunate that there is no category for Endangered Environments, for it’s not just the polar bear, but its entire support system, that is under assault from the greenhouse effect and its consequences.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 23: Dark As A Dungeon

Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar are going to the meeting of the Arctic Council, and are expected to contribute toward an agreement on the mitigation of “black carbon,” which is contributing significantly to Arctic ice melt, reports the Washington Post.

Much of the policy debate over global warming has focused on the role of carbon dioxide emissions, which are caused by fossil-fuel burning and remain trapped in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But, with its initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions stalled in Congress, the Obama administration has been compelled to explore alternative ways to slow Arctic warming that do not require United Nations-brokered treaties or complex cap-and-trade scenarios.

At this week’s meetings in Greenland, attended by diplomats of the Arctic Council, Clinton will be joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Aides said they plan to highlight the role played by “black carbon” — essentially soot from inefficient combustion, such as natural gas flaring, wood stoves and the controlled burning of agricultural waste.

Such pollutants play an outsize role in Arctic warming, scientists say, essentially causing ice to melt faster than can be explained by rising temperatures alone. But instead of an international treaty, Arctic Council nations will be encouraged to adopt measures unilaterally to control emissions of soot as well other “short-term drivers” of Arctic warming, administration officials said.

Sent May 12:

The rapid losses of Arctic ice provide a sobering confirmation of the reality of global climate change, and reinforce the crucial fact that the time for meaningful human intervention is rapidly dwindling. The presence of Secretaries Clinton and Salazar at the Arctic Council meeting is a positive sign of engagement from our government; while “black carbon” is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s something that doesn’t require the acquiescence of the Republican-run House of Representatives. The GOP’s decades of anti-science advocacy, coupled with the profound innumeracy and scientific ignorance of many media figures, has created a political culture in which acknowledging reality is fatal to Republicans’ electoral opportunities. Eventually, of course, the greenhouse effect and the laws of physics will win; they always do. We are fortunate that at least a few members of our government recognize the danger and are prepared to act before it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 15: Double Uh-Oh.

The Washington Post reports on the AMAP study:

OSLO — Global sea levels will rise faster than expected this century, partly because of quickening climate change in the Arctic and a thaw of Greenland’s ice, an international report said Tuesday.

The rise would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also raise the cost of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

Record temperatures in the Arctic will add to factors raising world sea levels by up to 5.2 feet by 2100, according to a report by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

I went with the “birther” analogy here. Sent May 4:

The AMAP report confirms what many of us have been suspecting and fearing all along: the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been consistently wrong — too conservative by far. The likely effects of global warming will include sea-level rises that will devastate coastlines throughout the word; when the atmospheric release of methane clathrates is factored into the equation the resulting picture is increasingly nightmarish.

And yet fully fifty percent of America’s representative government can’t even admit the problem is real, preferring instead to believe in a grotesque and wholly improbable mishmash of paranoia, false equivalency, and scientific illiteracy. The assertions of climate deniers are weirdly reminiscent of another long-running conspiracy theory that has remained unaffected by common sense, logic, and evidence. If only global warming could produce a long-form birth certificate!

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 13: Uh-oh.

The Barents Observer (Norway) writes about a new report issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) that predictably shows us in much worse trouble than we’d thought. Not that this is actually a surprise or anything:

According to the study, multiyear sea ice, mountain glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet, which were once considered fixtures in the Arctic, shrank faster in the past decade than in the previous one. Their meltwaters contributed more than 40% of the global sea level rise, which averaged at 3 mm per year, between 2003 and 2008.

Sea ice cover has reached record lows every year in the past decade and is “now about one third smaller than the average summer sea-ice cover from 1979 to 2000.” According to the report, the decreased sea ice cover offers opportunities for increased shipping traffic and industrial activity. However, “threats from icebergs may increase due to increased iceberg production.”

My kid is growing up into this world.

Sent May 4:

Given that the IPCC has always tended to err on the conservative side, it’s not surprising that the recently released AMAP study is projecting sea-level rises that drastically exceed the earlier predictions. In fact, it is increasingly recognized that the effects of runaway climate change are happening both faster and more severely than any climatologists had expected. The introduction of methane clathrates into the picture is particularly alarming, as this gas has the potential to trigger greenhouse effects of devastating intensity; the IPCC’s analysis did not take this factor into account, which is one reason their estimates were significantly lower.

Looking at the likely effects of a climate catastrophe on worldwide political and economic stability, one wonders: how much longer can the world’s developed countries and multinational corporations continue to opt for a “business as usual” model? Industrialization’s virtues won’t matter much if humanity’s only available home is rendered uninhabitable.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 13: Could Robert Service Have Written Tales Of The Temperate North?

The Montreal Gazette reports on yet another detailed, comprehensive scientific study showing dramatic, terrifying stuff going on that our policy-makers will resolutely ignore because their paymasters want them to. To wit:

Forecasting profound changes to all Arctic ecosystems “fuelled by human- induced global warming,” the U.S.-led team of scientists has mapped the expected vanishing of moss- and lichen-covered land across much of the Canadian North, where up to 44 per cent of the terrain now classified as tundra could be replaced by invading boreal forest or shrub environments by 2099.

Sent on March 5:

There is plenty to be worried about in the “Climate Dynamics” study, but perhaps the most ominous thing of all isn’t mentioned in the article. Climate change’s devastating impact on the tundra is an ecological disaster-in-the-making, but the real import of this study lies in the fact that here it is not just an individual species that faces extinction, but an entire complex ecosystem extinguished all at once, in the blink of a geological eye. How many slow millennia of life’s adaptation and evolution are to be found in a few square meters of tundra? And how quickly, by contrast, is it to be destroyed? And yet the real tragedy is not restricted to the world’s Northern latitudes; the tundra is only one among many unique and irreplaceable ecologies everywhere around the world that will soon pass into history, as global warming transforms the planet in unexpected ways.

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 25: Merry Christmas!

The Independent (UK) runs a discussion on the likelihood that Europe’s winters are going to get more and more severe…while Greenland and the Arctic ice cap continue to melt. It’s a good article!

The idea that an increase in planetary temperatures could increase the severity of European winters is just one of the many counterintuitive notions accompanying the gradually metastasizing climate crisis. While people not distracted by short-term phenomena are alarmed by the daily passing of ever more significant climatic tipping points, those who cannot differentiate between weather and climate cite each and every local cold snap as evidence that scientists’ prognostications are full of hot air. The burgeoning intellectual growth industry of global warming denial is largely funded by multinational oil corporations — which thus stand revealed as incomprehensibly myopic. One would expect the world’s most powerful economic entities to be capable of planning for the long run, to recognize the impact on profit margins of a world whose infrastructure, agriculture and politics have been rendered unrecognizable by climate chaos. Their abject incompetence is weirder by far than an extra-cold European winter.

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 17: The Idea Of North

This is a first for me; I have never written a letter to Nunatsiaq Online before. They ran an article about a conference in Ottowa where a whole bunch of Arctic climate specialists got up and said, more or less, “AAAGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!”

Nunatsiaq is pretty far North:

A is me. B is Iqaluit, Nunatsiaq. Google:

We could not calculate directions between 300 High St, Medford, MA 02155 and Iqaluit, NU X0A 0H0, Canada.

I asked Travelocity to find me fares between Boston and Iqaluit:

We apologize. Your last request could not be processed. Thank you for your patience.

While Jakarta & Sydney are certainly more distant, this is definitely the remotest place I’ve written to:

The thing to keep in mind when reading about climatologists’ reactions to changes in Arctic temperatures and weather conditions is that scientific terminology was developed specifically to minimize emotional responses. While the popular conception of scientists is based on this style of communication, it’s a mistake to think that these experts don’t care deeply about what they study. The participants in the Ottowa conference obviously love the Arctic, and their use of words like “unusual” and “dramatic” when discussing current conditions should set our alarm bells ringing. Those are strong words for scientists, the sort an epidemiologist might employ to describe an outbreak of bubonic plague; the sort a zoologist might utter when faced with a living, breathing Sasquatch. If Arctic specialists are sounding perturbed, it means the evidence of catastrophic system failure is overwhelming. We (all of us, everywhere on the planet) ignore their observations at our peril.

Warren Senders