Monday, March 30, 2015

Global Warming and Praying to the Raven

Make prayers to the Raven

In June 2014 the Atlantic Magazine published an interesting article entitled "When Global Warming Kills your God", about conflicts between the traditional beliefs of native Alaskans and modern environmental laws and new problems being caused by global warming in the Bethel area of western Alaska.  Just 50 years ago most native Alaskans in Bethel and throughout the state lived almost entirely on things like whale meat, fish, moose, caribou, birds and birds eggs, berries, and anything else they could find, catch or kill around their villages.  Native culture and native religion was intertwined with seasonally driven shifts from fishing to hunting to gathering, and with the animistic belief that the animals around them in Alaska were intelligent and spiritual creatures much like themselves.  For instance the Koyukon People of Alaska traditionally prayed to Ravens and believed that in the "Distant Time" many animals could speak Koyukon, and people had been transformed into animals by magic.   These old gods were largely abandoned by native Alaskans when Christianity was introduced into Alaska during the 19th century.

Today, most native Alaskans get a large proportion of their calories from store bought food.  Almost every native village has a small store where people can buy coca-cola, ice cream bars, fiery hot cheetos, cans of spaghetti and other necessities of modern American life.  But almost every native village also has a group of people who remember the way their parents lived off the land, and would like to return to that lifestyle today.  

However, in the modern world, things like hunting that were once both traditional and spiritual are now controlled by state and federal regulations.  There are limits on how many fish can be taken and when hunting can be done and when it can't be done, and some things that were formerly hunted, like whales, are specifically protected by laws.    Through a long struggle, native people in Alaska have won the right to continue some of their traditional subsistence practices.  Aleut people in northern Alaska have returned to hunting whales in the fall.  People along the Koyukuk River are again allowed to collect the eggs of geese who migrate to their region.  And in many parts of Alaska recent court rulings and special regulations issued from the State of Alaska allow native Alaskan to catch large numbers of salmon with nets, as they have done for thousands of years.

The struggle for traditional hunting and fishing rights being carried out by native Alaskans has so far brought them into conflict only with various state and federal agencies that enforce environmental regulations and hunting and fishing laws.  When arrests are made and the cases go to court, the courts are often sympathetic to the traditional practices of native people.   IN some cases the legal cases that go to court invoke the ancient animistic beliefs of native Alaskans as a way to show a special relationship exists between native Alaskans and the natural world around them.

Global Warming may soon introduce another difficulty as warming temperatures is likely to cause dramatic changes to the Alaska landscape.  Shrubs are starting to grow where there was only tundra, and forests are advance into areas formerly dominated by shrubs.  Permafrost is melting, and water temperatures are warming both in rivers and in coastal waters.  Sea Ice that once lasted into the summer around the coastline of northern Alaska is now melting in the spring and retreating far out into the Arctic Ocean.  The future effects of events like this on the number and range of birds, animals and fish in Alaska can't be predicted with certainty, but  almost certainly things will be very different when Global Warming starts to change the environment and force animals to move or adapt to new environemtnts, and in some places,  kills off the old gods entirely.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Defy Global Warming with Geoengineering

                                                                 Defy Global Warming!

Bill McKibben, author of the book "The End of Nature", believes that humankind has to choose between two paths forward in dealing with climate change.   One path he calls "the defiant reflex" while the other alternative is a "more humble" way of living.  The defiant reflex refers to a reluctance to accept the scientific facts about global warming and a refusal to make changes that would reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Mr. McKibben writes:
“The choice of doing nothing – of continuing to burn ever more oil and coal will lead us, if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with similar temperatures.”

McKibben's preferred option is for affluent western countries to move to a more "humble" way of living that requires less consumption of fossil fuels. Mr. McKibben believes that an over dependence on material possessions in the Western world is the reason why more people don't support steps to reduce the carbon emissions in the US and other western countries. He writes:

“the end of nature sours all of my material pleasures...... And yet it is toward such a world that our belief in endless material advancement hurries us.”

McKibben's book was written 26 years ago in 1989, during a period of optimism about the possibility of bringing about voluntary global reductions in CO
2 emissions. "Earth Day" celebrations then attracted enormous crowds across the USA, the UN Kyoto Climate Accords had just been ratified two years earlier in Japan, and a general consensus seemed to exist that the planet was making progress towards combatting Greenhouse Warming.

The situation is far different in 2015. We know now that the Kyoto Accords failed at reducing CO
2 emissions. Global CO2 emissions are far higher now then they were in 1987 and there is little hope of reducing them soon. The long promised post-Kyoto UN climate treaty that was supposed to introduced binding accords on CO2 emissions was abandoned after friction arose between President Obama and the Chinese delegation at the 2010 Copenhagen Conference.  The new goal in climate negotiations is to set "voluntary" targets as was done in the earlier Kyoto Accords that failed to reduce CO2 emissions. And the belief that the main problem in reducing CO2 emissions is convincing affluent people in the west to be a little less affluent must now confront the new reality that the greatest amounts of CO2 emissions now come from non-western countries like China and India that are trying to improve the lives of two billion impoverished people.

Fortunately there is another way to defy global warming other than doing nothing. There may even be a way to reverse global warming. The scientific study of methods that can remove CO
2 from the atmosphere and mitigate and perhaps even reduce global warming is called "geoengineering." 

 Geoengineering wouldn't be necessary if the the political leaders of countries around the world were able to agree on a treaty to reduce global CO2 emissions--but they aren't. Geoengineering wouldn't be necessary if every person on earth would voluntarily reduce their own carbon footprint -- but we won't.

There is now only one way to reduce the CO
2 in the atmosphere, and thats geoengineering.  McKibben's 1989 definition of defiance of global warming is dead wrong ---- defiance of global warming isn't doing nothing---defiance is doing everything possible to reduce global warming, up to and including geoengineering the climate.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Atmospheric CO2 is killing the trees in the Amazon Rain Forest

Recent research shows that as more CO
2 is added to the atmosphere by the human combustion of fossil fuels, the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are killing the trees in the Amazon Rain Forest. This is a stunning development as it shows that several assumptions that have been made about Global Warming and Geoengineering are wrong.

Human use of fossil fuels currently releases about 35 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year and about 8-9 billion tons of that is absorbed into trees and other terrestrial carbon sinks. Tropical forests took about 4 billion tons, with 2 billions tons of CO2 being absorbed annually just into the Amazon Rain Forest.  Hopes have been raised that planting more trees might be a good way to geoengineer the climate of the earth.  Those hopes now appear to be misplaced.

Its long been known that more CO2 in the air results in plants having a higher growth rate. Many studies have shown that trees in the Amazon Rainforest are growing faster, and until recently they have been pumping down about two billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. But now huge numbers of trees in the Amazon Rain Forest are dying and the amount of CO2 being absorbed in the Amazon region has dropped by over 50%. It appears that in addition to accelerating tree growth, extra CO2 from the atmosphere is accelerating the life cycle of trees so that they die sooner.

The mortality rate of trees in the Amazon Rain Forest has gone up by more than third in the last 30 years. And when the trees die, the CO
2 that has been stored in the wood, the leaves, and the roots is released back into the atmosphere as the dead tree rots. Multiply that by millions of trees dying prematurely because of CO2, and the total effect on the earth's carbon cycle is huge.  Much more CO2 will remain in the atmosphere. 

And mostly likely the effect is probably not limited to trees in the Amazon Rain Forest---most likely every tree on earth is responding to higher levels of CO2  in the atmosphere by growing fast, maturing sooner, and dying faster.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Climate Change Kooks Fall Out

                                                              Kook vs. Kook

There is an old saying "thieves fall out".  It means that people who are by nature thieves will find it difficult to cooperate with other thieves---their instincts have a nasty habit of taking over and they wind up stealing the loot from each other.  Lots of  movies play on this theme, including a film noir classic from the 1930s entitled "Thieves Fall Out" and a made-for-TV movie from the 1980s entitled "When Thieves Fall Out".  Jessica Fletcher solved a murder mystery in Cabot Cove during an episode entitled "When Thieves Fall Out."  The same idea occurs in hundreds of heist movies like "The Italian Job", "Snatch" "Lock Stock" and Two Smoking Barrels" and "A Simple Plan."  Some of these movies are classics---- who doesn't love watching a movie where thieves try to outwit one-another?  The "thieves fall out" idea even shows up in Samurai movies like "Yojimbo" and its a common theme in Western movies ---think of any of the Clint Eastward "Man with no Name" movies. 

Everybody expects thieves to fall out.  But what about kooks?  Do people with weird and bizarre ideas rub along OK with other when they get together, or do kooks fall out the same way thieves fall out?

There is popular late night radio show in the United States called "Coast to Coast" which features an endless parade of people who claim to talk to ghosts, take spaceship rides with aliens, travel through time, have inside knowledge of secret societies out to control the world, etc., etc.  By any measure these people are kooks, and you'd think all these folks would have a hard time getting along, but its amazing how people who think the pyramids in Egypt were built by space aliens have nothing but nice things to say about people who think the pyramids in Egypt were built by time travelers.   These folks all manage to be patient and considerate with one-another,  in spite of their wildly different views.

But climate change kooks aren't quite as agreeable as time travelers and space aliens.   Recently people from "Geoengineering Watch" who believe that a secret cabal of scientists is already secretly geoengineering the earth's climate to intentionally create global warming met with some people from the "Near Term Human Extinction" movement who believe that global warming is going to be so severe that the human race will go extinct in the very near future.  You'd think these two groups would find some common ground, but they very quickly fell out over their view of the future.  Geoengineering Watch maintains that if only the secret lair of the secret cabal of scientists who are supposedly already secretly geoengineering earth's climate can be discovered, then their nefarious scheme can be stopped in time to save the earth.  This was unacceptable to the people in the Near Term Human Extinction moment, who have already give up all hope and resigned themselves to their imminent demise.  

Personally, I hope these two groups meet again and again to work things out.  Surely people who have convinced themselves that the world is about to end and humans will go extinct can find room to blame it all on a secret cabal of scientists, and surely people who believe that a secret cabal of scientists hidden in a secret lair are secretly destroying the earth's climate can see their way to believing that imminent doom is upon them.  These two groups have much to learn from one-another.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Unpleasant Surprise in the Greenhouse?

Prof.  Wally Broecker is an extremely prolific scientist who first came up with the term "Global Warming" and who first described many of the global oceanic processes that control climate variability on the earth.  In 1987 Prof. Broecker wrote a scientific paper entitled "Unpleasant Surprises in the Greenhouse"  that introduced the idea that continued global warming might result in unexpected abrupt shifts in global climate, rather than a slow steady progressive warming. 

One of Prof. Broecker's greatest concerns was that the thermohaline circulation system (also known as the global conveyer belt) might break down.  The  thermohaline circulation system is a global system of both surface and submarine oceanic currents that begins when cold, dense ocean water near Greenland and Antarctic sinks into the ocean and gives rise to deep ocean currents that travel from the poles to the equator.   These deep ocean currents are connected by upwelling to warm surface currents like the Gulf Stream, creating a global ocean circulation system.

Broecker hypothesized that global warming might reduce the amount of deep ocean water being produced off Greenland, weakening and perhaps even stopping the thermohaline circulation system.   This could produce large abrupt climate changes in northern Europe and elsewhere.  The science fiction move "The Day After" was very loosely based on this idea, although the effects of a thermohaline shut down were greatly exaggerated.

Yesterday I wrote about the record warm temperatures seen during the winter of 2014-15.  While almost the entire world was seeing above average temperatures, parts of the north Atlantic Ocean just south of Greenland are curiously colder then average.  Why is this happening---why is this particular region cooling down when almost the entire rest of the planet is warming?

Some scientists are suggesting that the curious cooling seen south of Greenland is a clear sign that the global thermohaline circulation system is weakening right now.   That doesn't mean that the global thermohaline circulation system is going to stop today, but it does raise concerns that it might stop soon---perhaps even the day after tomorrow.

W.S. Broecker, “Unpleasant surprises in the greenhouse?”, Nature, vol. 328, pp. 123-126, 1987. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Winter 2014-15 was the Warmest Ever Recorded

                                                                 The earth is currently hot hot hot

The winter of 2014-15 was the warmest on record worldwide, according to the state of the climate report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday.
The winter (defined by NOAA as the months of December, January and February) was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, just a touch above the previous warmest winter which occurred in 2007.   December 2014 was the warmest December on record, while January and February 2015 were the second warmest winter months on record.

It was the warmest winter ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere.  Exceptionally high temperatures were recorded in the Western USA, central Asia, the central and southwest Pacific Ocean, Southern Europe, Greenland, Madagascar, Brazil and the southwestern Atlantic Ocean, and especially the western Atlantic off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada.

Only a few areas on the globe saw temperatures below their 20th average.  These include New England and the east coast of the USA, part of the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Greenland, and parts of the southeastern Pacific Ocean. 

Unfortunately the weather station and satellite data used by NOAA to construct their global temperature map do not cover high latitudes in either the northern or southern hemisphere, but here in Alaska we had an exceptionally warm winter, with the Iditarod dog sled being forced to shift the race course from south-central to central Alaska in order to find enough snow for the dog sleds to run.   

All indications are that the record warmth seen in 2014 is continuing, and a new record for global temperatures may well be set in 2015 as well.

                          Ruff ruff global warming bow wow iditarod ruff no snow ruff ruff

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The End of Nature

                                              "The End of Nature" by Bill McKibben (1989)

In 1989 Bill McKibben wrote an important book entitled "The End of Nature." The premise of this book is that human-caused global warming is affecting a wide range of natural processes on our planet to the point that the weather and many other natural processes on earth aren't strictly "natural" anymore.

As Global Warming progresses this will become more self-apparent, but it's already true. The temperature everywhere on earth is slightly different then it would be if human use of fossil fuels hadn't increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 40%. The weather is also no longer entirely "natural", so that every single rainstorm and every sunny day is different then it would have been without human influence on the climate. Sea level is higher then it would be "naturally", so every single wave that comes into the shore is slightly different then it would naturally be.

This is a dramatically different way of looking at climate change then that adopted by most scientists. Scientists generally soft-pedal the idea that any particular storm or snowstorm or heatwave or drought is "caused" by global warming.

But that shouldn't be the question----its clearly impossible to show direct casuality between increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and any individual weather event. The question should actually be whether or not an extreme weather event is affected by global warming. And the answer to that question should be a resounding yes.

For example, Cyclone Pam in March 2015 in Vanuatu or Hurricane Sandy that hit the east coast of the US in the fall of 2012---you can't prove that either storm was "caused" by global warming. But there is no doubt that huge size of these storms reflects global warming. Warmer temperatures in the atmosphere and the oceans driven by Global Warming provide more energy to power large storms, and these storms were unusually large because of the very warm conditions created by global warming. The Atlantic Ocean was unusually warm during the creation of Superstorm Sandy off the eastern coast of the US in the fall of 2012, and Cyclone Pam's large size and intense energy are products of the warm conditions produced by global warming in the western Pacific Ocean during March 2015.

McKibben explained this idea very clearly 25 years ago in his book:
"If the waves crash up against the beach, eroding dunes and destroying homes, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature. It is the awesome power of Mother Nature as altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born."

We can't say that global warming is "causing" individual hurricanes and cyclones, but we can say that global warming is producing oceanic and atmospheric conditions that make hurricanes and cyclones bigger and more powerful then they would otherwise be.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Permafrost---It's Goin' To Be A Long Time Gone

                                           Computer model showing Permafrost shrinking 
                            and then completely disappearing from the Arctic by the year 2300, 
                                     and releasing huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere

Does anyone remember that old Crosby Stills Nash and Young song from 1969 called "Long Time Gone."  That song is all about permafrost.   No, really---just look at the lyrics:

It's been a long time comin'     
It's goin' to be a long time gone

You can smell somethin' burnin'     
But you don't know who lit the fire

You can feel pavement getting' hotter     
You can see flames as high

There's somethin' goin' on around here     
That surely, surely won't stand the light of day

Speak out, speak out against the madness     
Speak your mind if you dare

It's been a long time comin'   
It's goin' to be a long time gone

But you know that the darkest hour     
Is always just before the dawn

Crosby Still Nash and Young's lament about the future of permafrost perfectly captures the scientific issues. Permafrost is a long time coming---it forms in the soil in the Arctic after millennia of cold temperatures. Permafrost in northern Alaska is as much as 800 m (2400 feet) thick, and in northern Siberia it reaches thicknesses of 1200 m (3600 feet). These extremely thick zones of permafrost probably took several million years to form.

And when Global Warming heats the Arctic to the point that the last Permafrost melts, it will be a long time gone. Permafrost is already warming and thawing along its southern margin in Alaska and Siberia. The southern margin of the permafrost zone will move north and the total area with permafrost will shrink until by the year 2300 the last permafrost will melt.  

So why care about permafrost? If you live in the Arctic the coming thaw of permafrost means the landscape will literally melt and shrink around you. Roads will buckle and homes and buildings will tilt and crack as the soil thaws under them. Frozen seacoasts will melt into the sea and coastlines will rapidly retreat.

If you don't live in the Arctic thawing permafrost will affect you too, as millions of tons of carbon are frozen in permafrost in Arctic soils. As the permafrost thaws, all that carbon will be released into the atmosphere, magnifying the Greenhouse effect and accelerating Global Warming around the rest of the planet.

Speak out, speak out against the madness. Global Warming will be a huge disaster for the entire planet. You can smell somethin' burnin'  But you don't know who lit the fire  You can feel pavement getting' hotter  You can see flames as high.  

Something must be done.   Speak your mind if you dare.

And don't lose hope. Never lose hope. There is always a chance that my CO
2 Antarctic Pumpdown concept or one of the other geoengineering ideas already put forward or perhaps a new one yet to be devised will be able to counteract Global Warming. Don't lose hope and remember----the darkest hour is always just before the dawn.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Consider the Gravity of the Sea Level Situation

                                                    Effects of a 5 m sea level rise on the southeastern United States

It seems like every few months there is another announcement that this or that glacier in Greenland or Antarctic is melting because of global warming and sea level is going to go up an additional 0.3 m (1 foot) or 3 m (10 feet) or 30 m (100 feet) by the time its all over.  But there is another curious factor involved in determining just how high sea level will rise, and thats gravity.

Most people accept that gravity is pulling objects toward the center of earth---even climate change skeptics are familiar with that much science.  But not as well known is the fact that mountains and even continents exert a gravitational force on every thing around them so that things are pulled ever-so-slightly sideways by gravity towards the nearest mountain range, or if you're on a boat there is a tiny gravitational attraction being exerted by the nearest land standing above the ocean.

For the most part these lateral gravitational forces are small and are safely ignored, but if something really large like part of a continent could rapidly appear or disappear on the surface of the earth, then this would abruptly change the lateral effects of gravity in significant ways.

Huge amounts of glacier ice are projected to melt and disappear from Antartica and Greenland over the next few hundred years, and this will reduce their gravitational attraction on nearby parts of the ocean.  By far the largest effect will be felt around Antartica, where so much ice will melt over the next several centuries that it is estimated that local sea level in the surrounding Southern Ocean will fall by about 3 m.  And where will all that extra ocean water go after the ice melt?  Geophysical models suggest it will be distributed mostly to the northern hemisphere, where it will cause sea level around the shoreline of North America to rise about 3 m (10 feet) higher then the ocean would reach just due to ice melt alone.

Of course it will take several hundred years for global warming to melt enough ice from the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to cause sea level to rise by 25-30 m (75-100 feet).  By that time sea level rise will have destroyed so many coastal cities in the U.S. and around the world that having the ocean go another 3 m (10 feet) higher in the northern hemisphere due to the reduced gravitational attraction on seawater around Antarctica will probably be seen as no big deal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New York City --- the Venice of North America!

                                           New York City is on track to be the Venice of North America!

In 2014 studies showed that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was being destablized by warm ocean currents coming up under the tidewater glaciers.  The warm water was melting the base of the glacier, and causing the grounding line to retreat inwards towards the center of the ice sheet.  However, because the submarine topography below the glaciers  tilts downwards toward the center of the ice sheet, this creates an instability that will lead to the total collapse of the ice sheet, and a sea level rise of about 3 m (ca. 10 feet).

Now a new study shows that at least part of the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet is being destabilized in the exact same way.  The drainage basin of the Totten Glacier in East Antarctic is beginning to be affected by warm ocean currents melting the tidewater portion of the glacier, resulting in a thinning glacier, faster glacier flow, and an increase in the rate at which ice is being dumped into the sea.   These processes will eventually cause sea level to rise by another ca. 3 m.  

Combine the water from these two Ice Sheets with water from the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the earth is now on track for 8-10 m (25-30 feet) of sea level rise.

The projected loss of glacier ice from Greenland and Antarctica and the concomitant sea level rise of 8-10 m (25-30 feet) will take hundreds of years to complete.  However, it is disquieting that the assurances given just a couple of years ago that the Antarctic sheet was stable and secure are now shown to be completely wrong, and the cumulative potential for sea level rise from melting parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and East Antarctic Ice is becoming distressingly large.  

Now that we know we are on track for up to 10 m (30 feet) of sea level rise in a few hundred years, the possibility that we may see 1-3 m (3-9 feet) of sea level rise by the end of this century becomes quite a bit more likely.  

Is it too early to apply for the gondola concession in New York City?

                       And on your right we are now passing the New York Stock Exchange Building!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Greenhouse Warming joins Al Gore's "Pro-Snow" Movement

                                                      Al Gore jogging in Boston, Winter 2015

Al Gore is a hero of the environmental movement---his heart is definitely in the right place.  Unfortunately, Al Gore doesn't always get the facts right about global warming, and sometimes his mis-statements and exaggerations about aspects of global warming make it too easy for for climate change skeptics to ridicule the whole idea of global climate change.

A case in point is Al Gore's "pro-snow" initiative, outlined on his "Climate Reality" website.  The premise of the "pro-snow" idea is that global warming will lead to less snow and warmer winters, so all the folks who enjoy skiing and other winter sports should join Al Gore's "pro-snow" initiative now before its too late.

Al Gore's web site states:  

Ski seasons are getting shorter.  Winters are getting warmer.  And we'll all see fewer powder days unless we stand up to climate disruption.

Its a nice and simple idea, but it just doesn't fit with the facts.  Global Warming does not uniformly turn up the thermostat on the globe.  The snow won't stop falling at every ski areas in the world at the same time.  Global warming does not mean that every winter will be milder and shorter then preceding one.

This year's winter shows how complicated the earth's response to global warming actually is.  The earth is at or very near record warm temperatures this winter, and while the winter was indeed very warm in the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades, with many ski areas hurt badly, the winter was long, cold and snowy in New England, with ski areas there having the most snow and most powder days during their longest season in many years.  In Europe the Alps began the ski season with a very low snowpack  but by the end of the ski season the ski resorts were in pretty good shape, and in Japan the ski resorts had an unusually good snow year, with the snowpack running about 20% higher then last winter.

The big story this winter has been the record snow year in New England.   You could hardly blame the people in Boston and the rest of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for rolling their eyes in derision at Al Gore's predictions of less snow and warmer winters and you can hardly blame climate skeptics for seizing on Al Gore's prediction of less snow for a round of mockery.

The harsh winter we've seen this year in New England is due to increases in the sinuosity of the jet stream bringing more cold Arctic air south to meet moisture-rich air from the warmer-then-usual Atlantic Ocean, producing heavy snow.    This is a complex interaction that is actually quite consistent with global warming.  

It would help more people understand the true nature of global warming if Al Gore would use his unique access to the media to introduce people to the idea that climate change is complex and even unpredictable, and less time making oversimplified predictions about global warming that all too often have turned out to be wrong.

Monday, March 16, 2015

50 Million Elvis Fans Can't be Wrong About Global Warming

                                                              50 Million Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong

The "Argumentum ad Populum" (appeal to the people) is the contention that something must be true because lots of other people believe it.    Most people logically know that just because lots of people believe something doesn't make it true, but there is a human tendency to think that if so many people agree on something, then maybe they actually know something about it.

Advertisers often assume that humans are like lemmings----they can be convinced to all buy the same clothes and use the same phones and eat the same things if they think everyone else is doing it.   For instance,  Elvis's "greatest hits" album was marketed on the  basis that since 50 million people have already bought Elvis records, everybody else should just get with the program.  

A new twist on the "Argumentum ad Populum" is the idea that there is "wisdom" in crowds, and the best way to determine what the best thing to do is at any time is find out what the crowd is doing and then do it too.   This variation on the "Argumentum ad Populum" was recently applied to the question of global warming by Forbes magazine.  You might expect that Forbes would've been impressed by the fact that 97% of scientists believe that CO2 pollution of the atmosphere is causing Global Warming, but evidently Forbes believes it is reasonable to ignore the opinions of scientists when it comes to the science of Greenhouse Warming.   

What really impressed the folks at Forbes was the fact that almost 40% of the earth's population lives near the seacoast.  That means about 3 billion people live near the coast, and who in their right mind would live near the coast, reasons Forbes, if there was a risk that global warming would cause sea level rise?  Therefore, because so many people ignore the risk of sea level rise----Forbes contends that it must be true that there is no risk from sea level rise.    

One can only assume that the guy who wrote the opinion piece then put on a jacket insulated with asbestos, got into his Corvair, lit up a cigarette, and after drinking a bottle of whiskey, drove off to the local brothel to have unprotected sex.  After all, lots of people do those things, so they must be totally safe.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Greenhouse Warming and Cyclone Pam in Vanatu

                                                                     Heat map of Cyclone Pam (NOAA)

Cyclone Pam just hit Vanuatu. By any measure Cyclone Pam is one of the largest and strongest storms ever seen. A NOAA estimate of atmospheric pressures produced by Cyclone Pam was as low as 879 millibars, a value lower then any Atlantic Hurricane every measured. If the 879 millibar number holds up it would make Cyclone Pam the fifth strongest Cyclone ever seen on Earth.

In theory global warming should produce more intense tropical storms. Warmer conditions should result in more evaporation and greater amounts of water in the storm cloud. The warmer ocean conditions should allow more energy to be transferred to the storm cloud and produce larger and more intense storms with very low atmospheric pressures.

By any measure these conditions are fulfilled now. The year 2014 was the warmest since instrumental records began, and now an El Nino has started in early 2015, warming the waters of the western equatorial Pacific even more. Cyclone Pam is clearly a product of global warming, just as the record global temperatures seen in 2014 are a product of global warming.

One of the ironies of the fact that increasing amounts of CO
2 in the air are warming the planet is the CO2 is largely being emitted by people who live large wealthy industrialized nations like China, the US, the nations of the EU, etc., but the impacts of global warming are being felt by poor people who don't drive cars, live simply, grow their own food and catch their own fish, and emit very little carbon but just happen to live in vulnerable places like Vanuatu.   

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Green Geoengineering Using Smallpox, Bubonic Plague, The Mongol Hordes, etc.

                                                    Conquerer, Destroyer and Pumper Downer of CO2

The inadvertent introduction of smallpox and other Old World diseases into the New World by the Spanish Conquistadors apparently produced so many deaths among native Americans that populations locally collapsed and agricultural activity dramatically decreased  in some areas.  Native American farming often occurred in small clearings within the forest, and as these clearings became revegetated enough trees grew to pump down global atmospheric CO2 by ca.  seven parts per million by the year 1610, an event that has recently been been named the "Orbis Spike".  The Orbis Spike is defined as something that happened in the year 1610, but when the last 1000 years of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are examined, its clear that the decline in CO2 was not restricted just to the year 1610, but instead was a more prolonged event that began about 1550 and lasted until ca. 1700.   

 Human activities caused two brief episodes of lower CO2 during the last 800 years

A similar short-lived period of decreasing CO2 began about the year 1300 and continued until 1450, which approximates the timing of the Mongol conquest of much of Asia and the introduction of the  Bubonic Plague into Europe and Asia.

Prof. Nate Ruddiman first suggested that the introduction of Old World diseases into the Americas in the 16th century and the spread of the Bubonic Plague across Asia and Europe by the Mongols in the 13th century were responsible for the two small downward excursions in CO2 between the years 1300-1450 and 1550-1700.  If this linkage is valid, then these two events constitute useful tests of the "Green" Geoengineering idea that it is possible to fix the Greenhouse Warming problem by planting trees to pump down CO2 from the atmosphere.  

Prior to the earlier drop in CO
2, Genghis Khan conquered much of Asia and easternmost Europe. China reportedly suffered a drastic decline in population during the 13th and 14th centuries. Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reportedly had approximately 120 million inhabitants; after the conquest was completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people. Historians record the complete destruction of at least 92 Chinese cities and the massacre of all their inhabitants, accounting for loss of ca. 45 million people. The total population of Persia may have dropped from 2,500,000 to 250,000 following the Mongol invasion there. About half the population of Ukraine and Hungary were killed. Similar devastation occurred through the Moslem Caliphate centered in Baghdad, which was sacked and the population massacred in 1258. At the same time as the Mongol invasion, the Bubonic plague spread widely in Asia and Europe, including to areas not invaded by the Mongols. The double whammy of the Mongol invasion and Bubonic plague so decimated the population of Europe and Asia that agricultural work diminished and fields from China to Hungary were abandoned and reoccupied by native forests.  This inadvertent "Green Geoengineering" reduced atmosphere CO2 by about 4-5 ppm.

In the later event, the Spanish conquered and destroyed the Aztec and Inca Empires in the 16th century, and the inadvertent introduction of Old World diseases like smallpox, typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, yellow fever, and whooping cough produced devastation and mass loss of life across much of the rest of the Americas. While population numbers in the Americas prior to contact with Europe are very poorly known, the population may have been about 50 million, falling to ca. 10 million about 150 years. This hemispheric devastation may've produced a CO
2 drop of ca. 7 ppm.

The decreases in atmospheric CO
2 of 4-7 ppm seen in these two events should be considered upper limits, as other factors like solar variability and volcanic eruptions are also thought to have influenced atmospheric CO2 content during these episodes. Nonetheless, they constitute useful tests of the effectiveness of the "Green Engineering" concept that planting trees can reduce atmospheric CO2 content. The historical record suggests that even with massive population declines and concomitant hemisphere-wide increases in tree growth, a maximum 4-7 ppm of CO2 reduction is all that can be accomplished by this Green Engineering method.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Anthropocene started on July 14 at 2 in the afternoon, 1610

                  The Dawning of the Age of the Anthropocene

Several British scientists have published a paper in the journal Nature proposing that the Anthropocene started on July 14 at 2 in the afternoon, in the year 1610.  They suggest that this is the precise moment when humans caused irreversible damage to the earth, and a new geologic age ---named the Anthropocene----got its start.

They picked the year 1610 because Columbus discovered America in 1492.  Another reason for picking the year 1610 was that after the year 1492 new kinds of crops were exchanged between Europe and the Americas.  For instance corn was brought from the Americas to Spain and Portugal in the 1500s.  Tomatoes, Potatoes, Manioc and other foods also came from the Americas to Europe during the 1500s.  Diseases were also exchanged between the old war and the new, with Smallpox being introduced by the Spanish into Hispaniola in 1509, and then to the mainland in Mexico by 1520.  Yellow Fever came from Africa to the Americas, and some evidence suggest syphillis travelled from the Americas to Europe.  Finally, the British scientists claim that 1610 marks the end of the Little Ice Age and the last global cold interval, even though most scientists believe the Little Ice Age actually lasted another 240 years, ending only in 1850. 

Dr. Simon Lewis, one of authors of the report, said
'In a hundred thousand years scientists will look at the environmental record and know something remarkable happened in the second half of the second millennium.  They will be in no doubt that these global changes to Earth were caused by their own species.  Today we can say when those changes began and why."

So apparently we can say with confidence that even though nothing specifically happened on July 14 at 2 in the afternoon in the year 1610, that definitively marks the beginning of the Anthropocene. Absolutely positively. No doubt about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Marine Ice Sheet Retreat Rates and the Coulomb Friction Model

                                                        The Coulomb Friction Model Triumphs Again!

In a brilliant new scientific paper, Prof. Victor Tsai of the California Institute of Technology has shown that ice sheets change the way they flow when they enter the sea, making them more susceptible to collapse due to Greenhouse Warming.  

Its long been known that ice sheets are much thicker and steeper on land then they are in coastal areas where the margins off the ice sheet are grounded in the sea.  Nonetheless, glaciologists have tended to assume that the flow mechanisms were similar through the glacier, i.e. the glacier was everywhere sliding across bedrock.  

About 25 years ago a few scientists suggested that in some places  ice sheets were resting on a layers of sediment and glacial till rather than on bedrock,  the rheology of the basal sediments, which can be described using the Coulomb Friction Model, was playing an important role in the flow of the glacier.*   More recently drilling and seismic studies in Antarctica and Greenland have proved that a weak layer of till underlies fast-flowing ice streams and outlet glaciers at the coast.  

Victor Tsai in his paper shows that a transition in the flow mechanism of the Antarctic Ice Sheet occurs near the coast where ice sheets flow into the sea.  Flow of the main part of the ice sheet obeys a power law, but  the  flow of the grounded marine portion of the ice sheets around the margin of the Ice Sheet reflects the presence of sediment under the glacier and is governed by the Coulomb Friction Model rather then by a power law tied solely to ice thickness.    The Coulomb Friction model was developed by Charles-Augustin de Coulomb and first published in 1785.

  Coulomb's model takes the form
F_\mathrm{f} \leq \mu F_\mathrm{n}
  • F_\mathrm{f}\, is the force of friction exerted by each surface on the other. It is parallel to the surface, in a direction opposite to the net applied force.
  • \mu\, is the coefficient of friction, which is an empirical property of the contacting materials,
  • F_\mathrm{n}\, is the normal force exerted by each surface on the other, directed perpendicular (normal) to the surface.

The margin of much of the the Antarctic Ice Sheet consists of grounded marine ice sheets that rest on slopes that dip inward toward the center of Antarctica. The implication of Tsai's model is that as calving progresses inward around the margins of the ice sheet, the velocity of calving will increase. This will occur because while is a function of the basal sediment and so is essentially constant, ecomes larger and larger as the calving line moves into the glacier, and the product of becomes greater and greater then , resulting in progressively higher ice velocities and higher calving rates.

Higher calving rates from the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets mean more rapid global sea level rise. More rapid sea level rise means the dislocation of millions of people living on deltas in India, China and Pakistan will occur sooner then previously thought, and the abandonment of the low lying portions of many great coastal cities of the world---New York, Washington DC, London, Barcelona, San Francisco, and Nome....will come sooner then previously projected.

*I wrote two of the early papers using the Coulomb Friction model derived from the characteristics of basalt till---one paper showed that the southern Laurentide Ice Sheet was very thin in marginal areas because it was flowing across deforming till, and a second showed that the same conditions existed at the northwest margin of the Laurentide Ice Sheet as it flowed across the McKenzie Delta area of Arctic Canada, and I linked the rapid retreat of the NW Laurentide Ice Sheet at the end of the last Ice Age to its low profile. I must confess I am delighted to see these ideas expanded to Antarctica.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Misrepresentation of facts on Geoengineering by Dr. Guy McPherson

                           Dr. McPherson attempts to tar all geoengineering methods with the same brush

Dr. Guy McPherson is a scientific advocate for the Near Term Human Extinction movement (NTHE), a group of people who believe that global warming will soon result in the extinction of humanity.  Part of the belief system of this group is that humans are incapable of taking steps to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to mitigate global climate change.   The NTHE movement utterly rejects the idea that Geoengineering can help mitigate future climate change because it is inconsistent with their belief that human extinction is imminent.

Dr. Guy McPherson's website includes an interesting document about climate change entitled the Climate Change Summary and Update.  As the name implies, Dr. McPherson frequently updates his document to reflect current scientific research on climate change.  However, as an advocate for the NTHE movement, Dr. McPherson sometimes spins the data and even misrepresents facts about climate change in ways that promote his belief in NTHE.

For instance, in his discussion of Geoengineering in the "Climate Change Summary", Dr. McPherson cites a paper a paper by Kleider and Renner that uses a simple energy balance model to show that one geoengineering proposal that calls for loading the upper atmosphere with aerosols to reduce sunlight and cool the planet would not precisely counterbalance the warming effects of the extra CO2 added to the atmosphere by human combustion of fossil fuels.  So far so good.  But then Dr. McPherson goes on to conclude that 

"geoengineering may succeed in cooling the earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world.

Dr. McPherson here engages in the classic "tar them all with the same brush" ploy.  Yes, problems exist with the proposal to cool the planet by adding aerosols to the upper atmosphere.  But Dr. McPherson wants to pretend that a problem with one geoengineering proposal means that ALL geoengineering proposals share the same flaw.  By lumping all geoengineering proposals together, Dr. McPherson does a disservice to his readers by not accurately reflecting the wide variety of different geoengineering approaches that have been proposed.  In particular, Dr. McPherson hides from his readers the existence of geoengineering methods that would remove CO2 from the atmosphere.   

Dr. McPherson's claim that "geoengineering ...... would disrupt precipitation patterns around the world" is nonsense.  It is the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming that is disrupting precipitation patterns around the world.  Major droughts are occurring right now in the western US, Australia, the Middle East and South America, mostly likely BECAUSE of global warming.   Geoengineering concepts that are designed to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere* would REDUCE the current disruption of precipitation patterns around the globe, exactly the opposite of what Dr. McPherson suggests.  

*My CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown Geoengineering Concept is one several the geoengineering concepts designed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Comes Out in Favor of Geoengineering

                                                        Only Geoengineering can produce Negative CO2 emissions

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the "gold standard" when it comes to scientific organizations studying climate change.  Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore) in 2007, the IPCC was set up in 1998 and its work was subsequently endorsed by the entire UN General Assembly (Resolution 43/53).  

The scientific work of the IPCC is done in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The goal of the UNFCCC is to 

"stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-induced] interference with the climate system"

The best known product of the UNFCCC is the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty where 192 nations pledged to make voluntary reductions in their CO
2 emissions. The Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and efforts are underway to craft a new, post-Kyoto climate change treaty.

In a remarkable statement in 2013, however, the IPCC cast doubt on the effectiveness of the UN climate change treaty process and suggested that Geoengineering is needed to reverse Global Warming. The report said: 

"CO2-induced warming is projected to remain approximately constant for many centuries following a complete cessation of emission. A large fraction of climate change is thus irreversible on a human timescale, except if net anthropogenic CO2 emissions were strongly negative over a sustained period." 

The IPCC statement means that international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol can't possibly stop global warming. The only way to stop global warming is what the IPCC called "negative" CO2 emissions, i.e. the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. And the only way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere is through geoengineering.

2 Antarctic Pumpdown geoengineering proposal would create negative CO2  emissions by adopting chemical processes commonly used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in submarines and industrial sites.  The CO2 removed from the atmosphere would be stored in the Antarctic Ice Sheet.  Several other geoengineering concepts propose to do the same thing in other ways.   It can only help the field of geoengineering to have the IPCC officially come out in favor of "negative" CO2 emissions.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Political Pragmatism and Geoengineering

Realpolitik is a German word dating back to the time of Otto van Bismarck referring to the conduct of statecraft on the basis of necessity, practicality and pragmatism rather than ethics or morality. The sole goal of realpolitik is to solve problems-----whatever the answer or the process that must be undertaken to solve a problem, then that is what should be done, no matter how Machiavellian it might be.

Admiral David Titley recently gave a talk arguing the US government should be sponsoring studies of geoengineering for reasons that amount to a pragmatic, realpolitik view of geoengineering and the climate change issue.

Admiral Titley thinks the political pressure to "do something" about global climate change may grow significantly in the future, and the government would be wise to study geoengineering options now so as to avoid doing the "wrong" kind of geoengineering in the future in response to political pressure.

 “When something bad happens the pressure to do something will be enormous. It will be enormous on the administration, whosever administration. And if we don’t have the research to say, ‘Okay .... here are the risks, this will truly make things worse’—if you don’t know that, you may do it because you need to do something, and that would be a really dangerous place to be.”

Admiral Titley also worries that other countries or perhaps a private corporation or a terrorist group might try to geoengineer the climate.
 “If a country or a non-country acts to intervene in the climate, the president’s going to turn around to his science advisor and his national security staff and say, ‘Should I ignore this? Should I slap them on the wrist? Or should I tell them unless you cease and desist within 48 hours the full weight of the United States is going to be on them? What is the risk to our citizens and our country?’ And if we don’t know because we haven’t done the research, that puts our intelligence community, the president’s science advisor, the mission agencies ... in a very tough situation.” 

Finally, Admiral Titley speculates about a rapidly developing climate crisis  so severe that would irreparably damage the world's economy or its ecosystem.  In such a case it would be wise to have a viable geoenginering program ready to roll out on and implement on a moments notice.
 “The other component is climate emergency.....God help that we don’t get there, but we don’t know. 

 Indeed.  God help us if global warming becomes so severe that we have a global climate emergency.  And if God won't help us, then geoengineering may be the only other option.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How to Survive the Near Term Human Extinction Movement

                                                 What if Science Can't Save Us From Global Warming?

Does thinking about climate change make you sad or depressed?  Do you ever worry that climate change will cause the entire human species is about to go extinct?    If so, then you are a very special person and a candidate for the Near Term Human Extinction (NTHE) movement. 

 It turns out there are quite a number of people who are extremely unhappy  because they are worried that climate change is going to cause NTHE.  These sorrowful and dejected people are perennially downcast, despairing over the deep injustice of human caused climate change.  Some of these disconsolate souls are merely glum and gloomy, but others become doleful and inconsolably depressed.

Fortunately, there are therapists who specialize in treating people in the NTHE movement.  One of the leaders in this field is Carolyn Baker, who gives talks and workshops and has written several books on how to overcome the forlorn melancholy that inevitably accompanies those in the NTHE movement.   Carolyn's current workshop offering is entitled "The Gift of Grief in a Time of Endings".  Wow!  Even that title is depressing.

In the introduction to her workshop, Ms. Baker writes:

....since becoming familiar with NTHE, I am even more passionate and committing to assisting people in conscious grieving for the ....destruction of all life on earth.

Indeed the destruction of all life on earth would be a very sad thing,  and no wonder some people become woebegone, crestfallen, and heartbroken when they think about it.  I get sad just just thinking about how wretched, pitiful, and pathetic people in the NTHE movement must be as they contemplate the heartbreaking and harrowing fate of all life on earth.

But wait!  

What is that I see!  Over there!  I see someone hopeful!  I see someone with a plan!  He says there is some way out of this place!  Maybe we actually can do something about climate change!  Maybe we can think of a way to fix the planet?  Maybe we can stop global warming after all!

Maybe before people get so depressed about climate change that we all need therapists we should consider.............planetary geoengineering!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Is Climate Change to blame for Islamic Terrorism?

                                                                         Is climate change to blame?

A new study carried out by scientists at Columbia University shows that Syria is experiencing a severe drought.  The drought in Syria began in 2006 and is likely a product of global warming.  The scientists suggest that economic distress resulting from the drought helped trigger the civil war in Syria which in turn gave birth to the Islamic State.

At first the possibility of a link between climate change and the birth of the Islamic State and their particular brand of extremist terrorist seems a bit far-fetched.    Yes, computer modeling shows that global warming causes droughts, and yes, very severe droughts are now impacting many regions around the world from California to Australia to Brazil to India to the Middle East.  But surely it isn't fair to blame Islamic Terrorism on Global Warming when so many regions are suffering drought without giving rise to violent extremists?

Possibly not, but the general principle behind this idea is worth noting.  Global Warming is inevitably going to cause immense social disruptions in the future.  Global Warming is already producing extreme droughts, economic disruption and political stress around the world.  In the near future tens of millions of refugees will be displaced by rising sea levels, with many of these refugees coming from densely populated areas on deltas in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and Africa.  And no doubt other unpleasant things will happen as the climate continues to rise.

There is no way to predict the exact societal effects of global warming.  In some places the social stresses from global warming may result in nothing more than lawsuits---in other places rebellions and  violent jihad may be born, and in some place we may see wars between states over water and other natural resources.

Yes, climate change will be to blame for triggering these problems.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lyndon Johnson and the 50th Anniversary of Geoengineering

                                                        LBJ's Great Society didn't include Geoengineering

The idea of Geoengineering was first proposed 50 years ago.  In 1964 Manabe and Strickler first noted that intentionally injecting "freezing nuclei" into the upper atmosphere would create more clouds and reflect solar radiation back into space.  Just one year later in 1965 a report on the environment commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson noted the work of Manabe and Stricker, and said:

This potential method of bringing about climate change needs to be investigated as a possible tool for modifying atmospheric circulation in ways that might counteract the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The report commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 is a remarkable document to see 50 years later, because it lays out many of the consequences of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere that we are facing today.   The 1965 report starts out by warning that significant global warming will inevitably occur if CO2 emissions aren't curtailed, and goes on to note that this will cause glaciers and ice sheets to melt, sea level will rise dramatically, and the ocean and other waters will become warmer and more acidic.

LBJ was probably too busy with the war in Vietnam to personally read this report, but his administration responded to the suggestions of scientists that geoengineering needed to be investigated as a way to counteract global warming in the same way that all subsequent presidents have done---he ignored it.  Even today when the global warming issue is much much more prominent then it was 50 years ago, there is almost no research support for geoengineering.

Its interesting to note that the 1964 report says nothing about reductions of CO2 emissions---the authors assumed that CO2 emissions into the atmosphere were inevitable in the modern global economy.  However, since the 1980s the main effort to combating global warming has gone into voluntary efforts to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions like the Kyoto Accords.  These are well-meaning efforts, but after decades of this approach its clear that this approach has failed to reduce global CO2 emissions.  In fact, the data shows that global CO2 emissions have actually increased significantly since the Kyoto accords were adopted in 1992.    These facts suggest that now, on the 50th anniversary of the idea of geoengineering,  its time for the federal government to reassess and to begin to investigate various kinds of geoengineering concepts as "possible tools ... that might counteract the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide."