Year 4, Month 3, Day 11: A Monde Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

BREAKING: Idiot half-term governor’s hand-picked replacement is also an idiot:

Before being picked as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Governor Sarah Palin seemed a true believer in climate change. In September 2007, responding to requests for urgent action, Palin established the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to develop and implement a comprehensive Alaska Climate Change Strategy.

But we’ve just learned that, after Palin resigned in summer 2009 and Sean Parnell (a former ConocoPhillips executive) replaced her as governor, the new governor essentially terminated the Climate Cabinet, without informing the Alaska public. Evidently, Gov. Parnell does not think the risk of climate change in Alaska serious enough to continue the Climate Cabinet, or perhaps he fears it may compromise his “drill-baby-drill” economic plan. Either way, this is spectacularly irresponsible.

In establishing the Climate Cabinet, Palin correctly stated that: “Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans. As a result of this warming, coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans. Alaska needs a strategy to identify and mitigate potential impacts of climate change and to guide its efforts in evaluating and addressing known or suspected causes of climate change.”

The changer things get, the samer they stay. March 2:

The distance between “should” and “will” is vivdly evident in the cavalier dismissal of Alaska’s climate change sub-cabinet by Governor Parnell. The readiness of self-styled “conservatives” to do anything but conserve would be astonishing if it weren’t so predictable.

Under climbing Arctic temperatures, huge swaths of land will become unrecognizable; ecosystems which developed to fit Alaska’s unique conditions will struggle to adapt to an environment changing too fast for evolution to keep up. Climatologists’ predictions of the impact of an increasingly hotter world have, if anything, underestimated the speed, severity, and complexity of the damage; to willfully ignore science because its findings are inconvenient or uncomfortable is to live in a dream world.

Conservative climate-change deniers in American politics need to visit the real world — a place where superstorms, droughts, heat waves and drastic ecological transformations are already underway. Governor Parnell needs to wake up and smell the permafrost.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 6, Day 14: Sixteen Tundras?

The New York Times notes that things are changing in the soon-to-be-not-so-very-much Frozen North:

Even as insect infestations and other factors accompanying warming have led to the “browning” of some stretches of boreal forest between temperate regions and the Arctic tundra, the tundra appears to be greening in a big way, various studies have shown. The newest such work, focused on scrubby windswept regions along Russia’s northwest Arctic coast, has found a particularly noteworthy shift is under way.

In this part of the Arctic, which could be a bellwether for changes to come elsewhere with greenhouse-driven warming, what might be called pop-up forests are forming. Low tundra shrubs, many of which are willow and alder species, have rapidly grown into small trees over the last 50 years, according to the study, led by scientists from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Arctic Center of the University of Lapland. The researchers foresee a substantial additional local warming influence from this change in landscapes, with the darker foliage absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space. But the fast-motion shift to forests will likely absorb carbon dioxide, as well.

A particularly interesting aspect of this work, to my eye, is how it reveals the potential for fast-motion responses of ecosystems to environmental change in the far north. In work I covered in 2007, botanists found that Arctic plant species were extremely responsive to fairly rapid climate shifts in the past.

Short-term thinking will whack us seriously. We get too soon old and too late smart. Sent June 4:

If you’ve got a short attention span, climate change seems to be offering all kinds of unexpected bonuses in the natural world. When Arctic bushes turn into trees far faster than scientists expected, that’s a pleasing turn of affairs at first glance — after all, trees are good. Everyone likes trees.

It’s only when your perception goes beyond a five-to-ten year span that things take an ominous turn. If climate change keeps accelerating, many plant and animal species will die out, unable to keep up with the rapid environmental transformations. While humans are famously adaptable and have shown themselves capable of survival in very extreme circumstances, we have never in recorded history experienced anything like the chaos climatologists are now nervously anticipating.

But this is only worrying if you think in decades, centuries, and millennia. Our politicians, who do their thinking in two-year election cycles, aren’t worried. They should be.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 13: Feel The Burn!

Alaska had a big fire back in 2007. Turns out that it released a f**k of a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, reports the Anchorage Daily News for July 28:

Alaska’s huge Anaktuvuk River tundra fire in 2007 released as much carbon into the atmosphere as Earth’s entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year, report the BBC and Alaska Dispatch, citing a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Though the 400-square-mile fire’s long-term effects remain uncertain, it may have been a harbinger of things to come in a warmer, drier Arctic, the researchers say. It was the largest tundra fire ever recorded, releasing carbon stored over a period of 50 years and doubling the cumulative area of Alaska tundra burned in smaller fires since 1950.

Sent July 28:

The studies are coming thick and fast, each one providing further evidence of the reality of global climate change. Individually, they demonstrate that different regions all over the planet are already feeling the effects of altered weather patterns: climbing temperatures, more frequent storms, and increased precipitation. Collectively, climatological research irrefutably confirms the urgency of our situation. The University of Florida team’s analysis of carbon emissions from the 2007 Anaktuvuk River tundra fire is sobering not just for people living in the region, but for anyone who’s been paying attention to the positive feedback loops involving droughts and wildfires everywhere on Earth. And yet denialists are still desperately spinning away each piece of scientific evidence as the work of a worldwide liberal conspiracy. Their paranoid fantasies are no longer amusing; when it comes to climate change, the ignorance of the few is a grave danger to us all.

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