Year 4, Month 10, Day 16: For Seven Long Years I’ve Been A Rover

The Anchorage Daily News says that Alaska is ground zero, the “world’s laboratory for climate change”:

When Jerry Otto started hunting for Alaska oil in 1980, his tractor-trailers barreled along ice roads that were up to 10 feet thick for 180 days every year.

Last winter, when he set out to drill for Australia’s Linc Energy, regulators opened the roads for 126 days. The rest of the time, warm weather left the routes too mushy for vehicles, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine.

Then, in January, in a twist that embodies the perplexing reality of life and commerce amid a changing global climate, the temperature dropped suddenly to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, encasing drilling rig components in ice as Otto waited for roads to solidify to ship the gear to Linc sites.

After thawing the equipment with blowtorches, he discovered that the cold was reducing oil flowing into Linc’s well. With 200 workers standing by, the company lost $300,000 a day with each delay, ending 2012 with a $61 million deficit.

Otto plans to try again in December, this time drilling sideways into a hill to get underneath 1,000 feet of permafrost and up into reservoirs he says hold 1.2 billion barrels of light, sweet crude.

“It’s getting more unpredictable,” said Otto, 59, who runs Linc’s drilling rig in Umiat, 80 miles south of the Arctic Ocean, which is within the National Petroleum Reserve that President Warren G. Harding created in 1923 to guarantee oil for the Navy.

Try looking at it from an interstellar alien’s perspective! October 7:

While its Arctic location indeed makes Alaska a “laboratory” where our transforming climate’s effects can be witnessed first-hand, industrial civilization’s experiment on Earth’s atmosphere has consequences everywhere around the planet. Alaska’s melting permafrost may be a vivid demonstration of the higher temperatures triggered by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, but climate change is equally tangible for Pakistani farmers losing their lands to torrential flooding, African villagers facing devastating drought, or island nations confronting the reality that their entire existence may be ended by rapidly rising sea levels.

Earth’s oil and coal was built up in the Carboniferous Era over a span of hundreds of millions of years; our civilization is now burning all that fossilized carbon and reintroducing it into the atmosphere at an astonishing rate: five million years’ worth per annum.

Alaska may be one of the places where the greenhouse effect’s ramifications are most obvious, but make no mistake: there’s no place on Earth where climate change is not happening. We’re all lab rats; no one is exempt.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 16: GBKW

I don’t have any good news, unfortunately. The Toronto Star addresses melting permafrost, calling it a “Time Bomb”:

…the physical changes already seen in northern landscape is telling, said Dr. Merritt Turetsky, a University of Guelph ecologist who participated in the permafrost study.

“The (International Panel on Climate Change) outlined several scenarios and we are exceeding the worst case scenario,” she said.

Turetsky began her research on Canadian permafrost in the late 1990s. Over the last decade, she travelled to a number of permafrost sites in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories — and she’s seen the melting permafrost drastically change the landscape.

“In that short time, the transformations are quite drastic,” she said. “It literally turns a forest into a semi-aquatic pool . . . vegetation starts to slump, thaw and sink into the ground. Trees start to pitch. This is causing the landscape to change in ways that most of the community hasn’t quite recognized yet.”

She said “collapse scars,” where trees and other types of vegetation slump over and sink into ponds, are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Canadian North.

In Inuvik, Rodgers said the town has experienced “permafrost stumpage” over the last several years — eroding roadsides and ditches dug in the permafrost that quickly transform into large, gaping holes.

Turetsky said the risks posed by permafrost remain high if human-made greenhouse gases remain on pace.

With nearly half of the country covered by permafrost, the impact will reach beyond already affected northern communities in the coming decades if scientists’ predictions are accurate.

Turetsky said a limit on human-made emissions could help keep some carbon frozen in the permafrost, but added that she fears an enormous amount of damage has already been done.

“The analogy is that it’s a big train about to derail,” she said. “Once it begins, permafrost thaw occurs slowly but you can’t stop it. That lack of control makes anybody feel nervous.”

I do love this world with all its beauty and all its music. So sorry to see it go. June 28:

The language of scientific discourse tends away from emotional intensity. Even the most alarming of conclusions is couched in affectively neutral terms; a scientific description of the Hindenburg disaster might run something like “a near-instantaneous hydroxygen combustion reaction triggered the ignition of carbon compounds, leading to destruction of vehicular infrastructure and a statistically significant mortality rate.” Oh, the humanity.

This detached tone demands careful scrutiny, especially when the subject is something as potentially devastating as melting Arctic permafrost, which could release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink. When an ecological scientist like Dr. Merritt Turetsky uses phrases like “drastic transformations” and “a big train about to derail,” the rest of us need to recognize that her measured words are the scientific way of shouting “FIRE!”

Ignoring the climate crisis would be the costliest mistake our civilization ever makes.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 9: Like A Lizard On The Windowpane

The Columbus Dispatch reprints Eugene Robinson’s recent op-ed from the WaPo:

You might not have noticed that another round of U.N. climate talks is under way, this time in Doha, Qatar. You also might not have noticed that we’re barreling toward a “world … of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought and major floods in many regions.” Here in Washington, we’re too busy to pay attention to such trifles.

We’re too busy arguing about who gets credit or blame for teeny-weeny changes in the tax code. Meanwhile, evidence mounts that the legacy we pass along to future generations will be a parboiled planet.

That quote about heat, drought and flooding comes from a new World Bank report warning of the consequences of warming. The study, titled “Turn Down the Heat,” tries to assess what will happen if temperatures are allowed to rise by 4 degrees Celsius — about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit — above pre-industrial levels, before humans began spewing massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The picture is beyond bleak.

This is some serious shit, people. December 3:

While Washington obsesses about the political brinkmanship around the misleadingly named “fiscal cliff,” the world races towards a far more dangerous line of demarcation. And just as conservatives reject any economic evidence contrary to their ideology, they deny the scientific evidence confirming the very real threat posed by an accelerating greenhouse effect.

While the “climate cliff” — the point when runaway global heating becomes unstoppable — may already be past, this doesn’t excuse political and media figures who deliberately exclude the facts of climate change from legislative deliberation and national discussion. Even more disturbing is the realization that the worst-case scenarios discussed in the recent World Bank report don’t include melting arctic methane, which raises the threat level from dangerous to outright catastrophic. In a planetary crisis of this magnitude, the willful ignorance of the American chattering classes is nothing less than a betrayal of our species’ future.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 16: Dinosaurs Are STILL Deadly

The Western Star (“Western Newfoundland’s only daily newspaper”) prints an article by David Suzuki called “A worrisome wet wake-up call from the Arctic.” Indeed:

According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, record melt has occurred for the past six years. Both the NSIDC and the European Space Agency say ice is thinning at a rate 50 per cent faster than scientists predicted, mainly because of global warming, and that summer Arctic ice could soon disappear altogether.

The implications for global climate and weather, and for animals and people in the North, are enormous. One would think the urgency of this development would draw a swift and collaborative response from government, industry, media, and the public. Instead, news media have downplayed the issue, the only mention made of climate change at the recent Republican National Convention was to mock the science, and many government and industry leaders are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of oil and gas extraction opportunities and shipping routes that will open up as the ice disappears.

We just don’t get it. As ice melts, more of the sun’s energy, which would normally be reflected back by the ice, is absorbed by the dark water, speeding up global climate change and warming the oceans. The Arctic is now heating at almost twice the rate as the rest of Earth. There’s also the danger that methane could be released as ice and permafrost melt. It’s a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, so this would accelerate global warming even further. Scientists believe methane may also be uncovered by the warming Antarctic.

Hmmm? Mmphgh? Wha? Huh? No, I’m wide awake. I’ll be right there. (rolls over, shuts eyes)

Sent September 9:

A “wake-up call” from the melting Arctic? Perhaps. But it seems more likely that it is our industrial emissions that have woken a sleeping giant. When gigatonnes of methane (a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than CO2) enter the atmosphere as a consequence of the rapid thawing of the North, we humans may well discover that we should have heeded the alarms of climate scientists long ago.

Make no mistake: climatologists have been warning us for decades. The possibility of melting glaciers and ice caps was mentioned in the American popular press in the late 1950s; U.S. presidential advisers have been advocating action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions since the 1960s. The wake-up call actually came many years ago, but we’ve been hitting the snooze button instead of facing the facts: climate change is real, it’s human-caused, and it poses a profound existential threat to us and our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 1: Anybody In Here?

This is really really really scary:

Methane gas trapped for millennia under the Artic surface has begun to bubble up into the atmosphere, acccording to scientists.

Thousands of sites where methane has been trapped by ice have begun to emit the ancient gas as the ice melts and researchers believe it could have a significant impact on climate change.

Methane, the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2, has been found to be seeping from a number of spots in Alaska and Greenland, perhaps from natural gas or coal deposits underneath the lakes, whereas others are emitting much younger gas, presumably formed through decay of plant material in the lakes.

Scientists said that if the same thing happened in other areas, for example, in northern West Siberia, which is rich in natural gas and partially underlain by thin permafrost predicted to degrade substantially by 2100, “a very strong increase in methane carbon cycling will result, with potential implications for climate warming feedbacks”, according to the BBC.

Thanks to PZ Myers for the debunking of the dinosaur fart report. Sent May 22:

A major obstacle to public understanding of science is the difference between the way scientists communicate and the way science journalists communicate. An excellent example of this disconnect can be found in the treatment of two stories about methane.

When a recent scholarly paper suggested that dinosaurs may have contributed statistically significant amounts of methane to the atmosphere during the Mesozoic Era, media outlets seized the opportunity to conflate global warming with fart jokes (while getting the facts of the story wrong).

On the other hand, when researchers say that “very strong” Arctic methane releases have “potential implications for climate warming feedbacks”, this terrifying clause is buried in the last paragraph of a blandly written report. The results of those “climate warming feedbacks” will quite likely be catastrophic; responsible journalists should feel an obligation to pass on a warning to their readers.

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

Month 3, Day 7: Got Methane?

The Arctic methane release continues to be my cause du jour. Not much to add here; I just took yesterday’s letter, shuffled some of the clauses, exchanged synonyms and made it germane to the job description of the Secretary of State instead of the President.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

I write to urge you to initiate international action on a very disturbing component of the global climate crisis. According to a just-published article in the journal Science the sub-sea permafrost that has kept gigatonnes of methane locked in for thousands of years is now melting.

Methane is 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat, which will accelerate the greenhouse effect even further — and the effects of adding such quantities of this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere have not yet been included into climate scientists’ prediction models. Our current “worst-case” scenarios are probably over-optimistic.

Our government needs to spearhead an international effort to address this crisis before it is too late. We would like to see all the nations of the world form a unified response to this common threat, combining our resources, skills and innovations to keep our planet safe for our children and their children and their children’s children after them. We would like to see the United States of America leading this effort, earning the gratitude of generations to come.

I urge you to make the multiple elements of the looming climate crisis (atmospheric CO2, Arctic methane release and oceanic acidification) a major area of concern in your dealings with the international community.

There is no time to lose.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 6: POTUS Every Saturday

Yesterday’s letter was a disjointed ramble. I still want to find some Rapture-seeking Dominionists to smite in print, so if you’ve got some suggestions I will welcome them.

In the meantime, I took that letter, stripped out all the crazy, and recast it as a missive to our sober, thoughtful and reasonable CiC.

Dear President Obama,

I write as a concerned citizen and as a scientifically literate layperson to urge you to initiate international action on a previously under-reported and very disturbing component of the global climate crisis. According to a just-published article in the journal Science (and reported in the London Times) the sub-sea permafrost that has kept gigatonnes of CH4 (methane) locked in for millennia is now melting. Because methane is 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat, this will accelerate the greenhouse effect even further.

The effects of this huge infusion of a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere have not yet been factored into climatologists’ prediction models. In other words, our current “worst-case” scenarios are hopelessly optimistic.

The news of Arctic methane release is sure to trigger a round of fart jokes from Sean Hannity and his colleagues at Fox News. It is a sad fact that while some of us strive to ensure a safe and sustainable future for all humanity, a significant sector of the media and our corporate sector is heavily invested in denying the nature of the threat, and in persuading our political culture not to take it seriously.

Please, Mr. President: do not let them decide our future. There are millions of people in this country and around the world who are aware of our ongoing climaticide, and who take it very seriously indeed.

We would like to see an international effort to deal with the methane release (and other elements of the climate crisis) before it is too late. We would like to see all the nations of the world form a unified response to this common threat, combining our resources, skills and innovations to keep our planet safe for our children and their children and their children’s children after them. We would like to see the United States of America leading this effort, earning the gratitude of generations to come.

But we can no longer allow this process to be stalled by our dysfunctional Senate and our corrupt media. I urge you to continue to educate the public about the dangers we face: hold a “Climate Summit” where denialists like Senator Inhofe are finally shown to be the empty vessels they are — and where Americans can learn for themselves about a potentially devastating crisis. If we don’t do this, we are all going to learn the hard way, and it’s not going to be pretty.

There is no time to lose.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders