Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases, it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
--John Keats, Endymion. Photo: broken Arctic sea ice, National Geographic. Click photo to greatly enlarge.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"That the contents of the world's libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age."--Jason Epstein, New York Review of Books. Photo: rock strata, from Featherheart's Weblog. Be sure to click and enlarge to get the full effect.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Melting ice at the poles from 2007 to now constitutes the most potent warning sign of Climate Crisis. See post below.

When the Climate Crisis Changed

The change in the prevailing view of the Climate Crisis, now still emerging, may eventually be traced back to 2007, and the Arctic ice. The Arctic sea ice melts observed in 2007 were so much more extensive, and so much sooner than the consensus of climate science had predicted. Once the meaning of it began to sink in, the extent and speed of climate change, and the extent and speed of the damage it would cause, suddenly became much more cataclysmic. “Instead of the long, slow problem many had imagined climate change to be," writes Bill McKibben, "we seemed to be staring at a dynamic system bent on flipping into some new state.”

The melting signalled that past greenhouse gas emissions were more consequential than previously thought, and since this was so, the near future might not escape catastrophic consequences, including a rise in sea levels that would devastate certain island countries and certain low-lying cities, and possibly endanger many more coastal cities, where much if not most of the world's population lives.

It also suggested the possibility of immense feedback effects. For example, the melting of permafrost could unleash enough frozen methane--another and possibly even more lethal greenhouse gas--to set in motion runaway climate change, which would heat the world for thousands of years, and could well be the end of human civilization as well as most other species.

The science of ice continues to yield data and conclusions in this direction. Monday: Scientists who challenged the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades have retracted their argument. That's the meat of it. The technical story is that a couple of scientists who argued that estimates of catastrophic levels by 2100 were too high, asked that this conclusion be retracted from the journal where it was supposed to be published, because they were now convinced by the data that indeed sea levels could get that high.

But as is all too tragically common, the retraction was misreported--even in the often reliable Guardian--to imply that it was the higher estimate that was retracted.

Also reported Monday, concerning the opposite polar region, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded: "Ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula due to climate change. This could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide."

(Let's pause for a sec and parse "if warming continues." If warming is caused by greenhouse gas pollution--and scientists say that today's effects are largely caused by pollution of 30 years ago--it stands to reason that warming will continue, since that pollution has only increased in the past 30 years. So this is a scientific caveat that perhaps hides the reality.)

The 2007 Arctic observations led to new science and new warnings, as well as worldwide demonstrations on behalf of international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases to a level that many scientists believed (or hoped) would keep runaway climate collapse from happening. This recent history is narrated in the current New York Review of Books (March 11) in an article by Bill McKibben (online paygo or subscription only), as the background to the wishes and disappointments of the Copenhagen conference. (See an interesting sidelight to that at American Dash.)

Apparently by barging into a meeting uninvited, President Obama got a resistant China to agree to a fairly vague accord promising action. Now the Obama administration has announced it wants to cash in that promise--as well as match it with a U.S. commitment--at the meetings in Mexico later this year:

The U.S. said it wants to reach a legally binding climate-change agreement at a summit in Mexico in December, a sign President Barack Obama hasn’t given up the fight for a global accord to limit greenhouse gases.
The pact should cover “all major economies,” and include elements from the non-binding Copenhagen Accord made in December, the State Department said in a letter released today by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.

If such a binding agreement were made, and it set sufficiently high goals, it would be a political miracle, at least as much as the event in the 1980 winter Olympics known as the Miracle On Ice. And of course a whole world more significant.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"At the end of our tether we must imagine the unimaginable: a world rid of nuclear weapons and a world powered by sunlight, safe from the possibility of catastrophic climate change. Utopia? Hardly. But those are the only realistic options we have."--David W. Orr
For background on this paragraph, check what I've added to the Down to the Wire Review at Books In Heat. You might also be interested in my post at 60's Now on Kumbaya: Then and Now, a version of which was a Rescued post at Kos on Sunday. Otherwise, enjoy the photo: of sugar maples, dying out in New England now due to climate change.