Archive for the ‘skeptics’ Category

Deus ex Machina

April 8, 2008

I’ve been quiet for a while.  Sometimes it just gets too much and I have to step away.

The big environmental news story on MSN today is that beer drinkers might have to pay more for their brew.

I wonder how many people know that scientists were shocked to see how fast Antarctica’s Wilkens Ice sheet is breaking up.

It takes an awful lot to shock a scientist.

I wonder how many people know that “If global emissions of CO2 from human activities continue to rise on current trends then the average pH of the oceans could fall by 0.5 units (equivalent to a three fold increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions) by the year 2100. This pH is probably lower (more acidic) than has been experienced for hundreds of millennia and, critically, this rate of change is probably one hundred times greater than at any time over this period. The scale of the changes may vary regionally, which will affect the magnitude of the biological effects.” The Royal Society, Ocean Acidification Due To Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, 2005 (my ephasis)

I wonder if people know that scientists who thought that the arctic ice cap would be ice-free by 2070 are now predicting that it’ll be ice-free by 2015?

I know that there is a growing sense of unease. But I don’t think that decreasing our use of shopping bags is going to make much of a difference. It might make people feel better, but it will not deflect the load of buckshot that has already fired and is speeding toward our collective faces.

“Deus ex Machina” is a latin phrase — “God from the machine.” In Greek theater, when all was lost, God would jump out of a box and save the day.

I’m going to school, to University, and I’m surrounded by young people every day. Eating, laughing, studying, typing away on their laptops, chatting on their cell phones, they are seemingly unconcerned by their future. They talk about their future as if the world will always be as it is right now.

And it’s certainly not just the 20-somethings. I hear 40-somethings talking about their retirement funds and whether they are saving enough to support themselves when they are in their eighties.

I look around at all of this and I wonder if any of the current world governments will survive through the end of this century. I wonder if the ocean die-off will be gradual or quick. I wonder what will happen when their is no more money left for public schools, public housing and public medical care. I wonder what will happen when we face starvation in the cities.

We aren’t saving ourselves, and the hand of God or science will not sweep away the self-inflicted death-shot flying toward us that is our future.

Sometimes I have to set it aside and think about the day — getting kids to school, making dinner, walking the dog, listening to the first birds of spring, lifting my face to the late day sun. Sometimes I have to just take a deep breath and think about my own personal plan.

I wonder how many other people, these people who are seemingly unconcerned, are like me.


Faster Than Expected

March 18, 2008

BBC reports that some of the world’s glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were just 10 years ago.  “In its entirety, the research includes figures from around 100 glaciers, with data showing significant shrinkage taking place in European countries including Austria, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.”

In a second report today, University of Vermont ecologist Brian Beckage discusses changes in the forests of Vermont: “Scientists have long thought it would take generations if not centuries for tree populations to shift in response to a warming world.”

One of Beckage’s graduate students, Ben Osborne, measured significant shift of the transition zone, where deciduous hardwoods, like sugar maples, must give way to boreal conifers, like balsam fir.

“Acid rain damaged trees, creating openings in the forest canopy,” Beckage says, and this might have accelerated the hardwoods’ uphill push.

There’s an important message in these two reports. The thing is, scientists are trained to study in depth one small thing in one field. And so they point to this one thing and say, “well, warming temperatures won’t change the forests quickly, because trees live for tens of decades.” They don’t take other climate change factors into consideration, such as acid rain, insect attack, and increased forest fires.

And the problem with that is that we have a lot of scientists out there telling people that there is cause for concern, but no need to panic, eh? We have plenty of time to get our ducks in a row…

climate vs. weather

March 3, 2008

I’ve heard a lot of talk on the cold, icy streets of the upper Midwest this winter, relieved voices: So much for that global warming, eh?

Yep, we’ve had a humdinger of a winter, a real, old-fashioned, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods kind of winter.

But there’s a difference between one year’s weather and the climate of a region. Here are some excerpts from the New York Times:

“Climate skeptics typically take a few small pieces of the puzzle to debunk global warming, and ignore the whole picture that the larger science community sees by looking at all the pieces,” said Ignatius G. Rigor, a climate scientist at the Polar Science Center of the University of Washington in Seattle….

“I will admit that we do not have all the pieces,” Dr. Rigor said, “but as the I.P.C.C. reports, the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming is real.”  As for the Arctic, he said,  “Yes, this year’s winter ice extent is higher than last year’s, but it is still lower than the long-term mean.” 

Dr. Rigor said next summer’s ice retreat, despite the regrowth of thin fresh-formed ice now, could still surpass last year’s, when nearly all of the Arctic Ocean between Alaska and Siberia was open water.… 

“It’s all in the long-term trends. Weather isn’t going to go away because of climate change. There is this desire to explain everything that we see in terms of something you think you understand, whether that’s the next ice age coming or global warming,” explains Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan….”

It is very much a relief to see the regulation of climate and know how incredibly complex it all is. I look around at all this snow and ice and think, gee, maybe it won’t be so bad … maybe we’ll have more time…