Year 4, Month 5, Day 27: River Deep, Mountain High

The LA Times, on Mount Everest. So to speak.

A warming climate is melting the glaciers of Mount Everest, shrinking the frozen cloak of Earth’s highest peak by 13% in the last 50 years, researchers have found.

Rocks and natural debris previously covered by snow are appearing now as the snow line has retreated 590 feet, according to Sudeep Thakuri, a University of Milan scientist who led the research.

The pessimistic view of Earth’s tallest peak was presented during a meeting Tuesday of the American Geophysical Union in Cancun, Mexico.

Researchers said they believe the observed changes could be due to human-generated greenhouse gases altering global climate, although their research has not established a firm connection.

The team reconstructed the glacial history of the area using satellite imagery and topographic maps of Everest and the surrounding 713-square-mile Sagarmatha National Park. Their statistical analysis shows that the majority of the glaciers in the national park are retreating at an increasing rate, Thakuri said.

Why? Because it’s not there. May 15:

Once we set aside the iconic importance of a shrinking Mount Everest, the really ominous facts about disappearing ice caps in the Himalayas are the numbers of people whose lives depend on them. Whether it’s for irrigation, hydroelectric generation, or clean drinking water, this steady flow from the world’s tallest mountains is crucial for the existence of almost a seventh of the world’s population. If we subtract that water from the picture, what’s left are hundreds of millions of climate refugees, desperate, landless, hungry, thirsty.

But these people may be more fortunate than many in the developed world who rely on elaborate infrastructure for their food and water. Why? Because they can simply look up and see the daily changes on these peaks, they’re not tempted by magical thinking and ideologically-motivated denialism, like those whose air-conditioned lives have allowed them to ignore the climate crisis until it’s already upon them.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 8: The Song Is You

The Deccan Chronicle (India) notices climatogenic changes in bird migration patterns:

Kochi: It was a tradition in Kerala to wait for the vitthum kaikottum (seed and spade) call of the Indian cuckoo, which was the indication for farmers to begin sowing operations as the rains would not be long in coming. But that was then. Today, new species of birds have descended on the state, some never sighted here before. And climate change is said to be the reason. “The Aquila type of eagle, not historically reported in Kerala, is now commonly found.

These are commonly found in the very dry areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab and have migrated to Kerala. The sparrow type wheatear or buntings noticed in the dry areas of central and north-western parts of the country have also been spotted across Kerala in the last few years,” says professor at the College of Forestry of Kerala Agriculture University, P.O. Nameer.

This is a new phenomenon and the presence of these birds is an indication that they are equally comfortable in the southern tip of the country as in northern parts which were their original homeland.

Ornithologist R. Sugathan says these are indications of global warming. “Birds do not migrate or come for fun. When a moist deciduous forest changes into deciduous, shedding its moist tag, a new set of birds and animals takes the place of the old. This is obvious in the changing pattern of migration of birds to Kerala. Some of them are now found going to places in neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in search of food and breeding grounds.”

Anthropocentric thinking takes a hit. Sent April 26:

News coverage understandably tends to focus on the human face of climate change. Whether it’s an island nation anticipating its own disappearance beneath rising sea levels, or a farming culture grappling with increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather, there is no shortage of people confronting the grim realities of global warming.

But our own species isn’t the only one affected. At all levels of scale, from microscopic plankton to giant sequoias, the great web of Earthly life is being torn and disrupted by the consequences of industrial civilization’s two-century carbon binge. When hitherto unfamiliar bird species come visiting, it’s as much an indicator of climate change as melting glaciers or drought-cracked farmlands. While the arrival of the Aquila eagle or the Stonechat may be a brief boon for birdwatchers, it is an ominous sign of things to come. It’s not only humans who’re becoming climate refugees as the greenhouse effect intensifies.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 15: Any Port In A Storm, Right?

USA Today gives us this story, of the Kiribatians who are planning ahead:

Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told the Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could be insurance for Kiribati’s entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.

“We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Tong said. “It wouldn’t be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won’t be a matter of choice. It’s basically going to be a matter of survival.”

Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.

Naturally, their carbon footprint is utterly negligible. Sent March 9:

When rising ocean levels make Kiribati a danger zone, and the island nation’s population moves en masse to Fiji, will they all become Fijian citizens? Will Fiji donate a small fraction of its total area to the climate refugees, allowing them to re-establish a sovereign state? And for that matter, what’s going to happen to Fiji as climate change keeps melting polar ice over the next century? Given that poor nations contribute hardly anything to the greenhouse emissions that have triggered their predicament, should the industrialized nations take responsibility for the damage they’ve caused?

These questions are novel enough to us now, but the coming decades in a climatically transformed world are going to alter international relationships in new and complex ways. At some point, the world community must realize that the options available to Kiribati’s citizens don’t scale upward; there’s no “Planet B” where we can all find refuge.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 13: May You Live In Interesting Times…

More on that wandering whale and the temporally anomalous plankton, this time from the Detroit Free Press:

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — When a 43-foot gray whale was spotted off the Israeli town of Herzliya last year, scientists came to a startling conclusion: It must have wandered across the normally icebound route above Canada, where warm weather briefly opened a clear channel three years earlier.

On a microscopic level, scientists also have found plankton in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years.

This will not end well.

Sent June 27:

As strategic thinkers confront the looming reality of global climate change, they are sounding a warning call to all of us: the planet’s atmosphere is warming, and we’re going to face a growing tide of people whose homes and countries have been rendered unlivable. In the aftermath of the torrential rains, parching droughts, catastrophic wildfires, devastating floods and other extreme weather events long predicted by climatologists as consequences of the greenhouse effect, the world’s poor and unlucky will be uprooted, left with little hope and fewer resources. It seems that among those climate refugees are some of Earth’s largest and smallest creatures — like the gray whale spotted off the coast of Israel, and the unexpected plankton discovered by scientists in the Atlantic. Individually, these reports are just mildly interesting anomalies; seen as part of a larger pattern, they indicate that our strategists have grossly underestimated the dangers we’re facing.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 12: Where Is The Sub-Mariner When You Really Need Him?

The ocean is changing, much faster than anyone expected. The SkyValley Chronicle (WA) brings the news:

(NATIONAL) — What does a large gray whale found in the water off an the Israeli town last year have to do with microscopic plankton found recently in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years?

Everything, say scientists who now think the whale and the plankton are linked harbingers of a massive migration of species through the Northwest Passage, and a clear and troubling signal of how global warming is affecting animals and plants in the oceans as well as on land.

A new report in MSNBC quotes a scientist in Great Britain as saying the implications of this migration are “enormous,” because a threshold has been crossed — and that alone is an indication of the speed of change that is taking place across the planet because of climate change.

I had no idea it was going to happen this fast.

Sent June 26:

Seen in isolation, each one of these reports seems almost inconsequential. One whale more or less; a few billion plankton where they have no business being — it’s hardly enough to attract our attention, distracted as we are by the latest celebrities du jour. Perhaps that’s a good thing for our short-term mental health; watching the catastrophic breakdown of planetary ecosystems is going to be very stressful. And the most important thing our media can do is to keep us free from any but the most transitory stresses, right?

Ecologies hundreds of thousands of years old are destroyed in a geological eye-blink by the encroachments of our civilization and its waste. Those anomalous whales and plankton are climate refugees, desperately seeking survival in an ocean whose condition is daily more parlous. And they are harbingers of humanity’s future, unless we find the will and the wit to change our ways.

Warren Senders