27 November 2007

The unquiet sea

Some updates and follow-ups on a few topics related to the sea that have previously discussed on planet doom?.

The trend towards increasing numbers of jellyfish being observed in the oceans continues. This was earlier noted to be a result of overfishing , killing off their natural predators and climate change

The jellyfish, covering an area of around 10 square miles , engulfed the Northern Salmon Company's cages off the province's northeastern coast, suffocating 100,000 fish...

...jellyfish [only] "bloom" in such quantities...every decade or so and [this] appearance off the Irish coast was also due to unusual environmental factors including higher-than-normal water temperatures. [emphasis added]

The swarm was reported the next day as heading towards Scotland, prompting the issuance of warnings.

The impacts of climate change on coral reefs continues to become more apparent, as evidenced by these recent news items.

...[S]oft corals, an integral and important part of reef environments, are simply melting and wasting away and...this could mean a global marine catastrophe.

Environmental stress...is damaging the symbiotic relationship between soft corals and the microscopic symbiotic algae living in their tissues. There is no doubt that global warming is to blame...

It is not just climate change, but rather the whole range environmental degradation that both humans and Nature impose on the ocean that causes problems.

The delicate balance of the Caribbean's coral reefs is in jeopardy as more parrotfish end up on dinner plates, international scientists said on Wednesday.

The colorful grazing fish, named for their parrot-like beaks which are used to scrape up algae, play a vital role in stopping seaweed from smothering coral. But their numbers are now being threatened by over-fishing.

The sad thing is that these fish -- the last line of defense against the seaweed -- don't taste particularly good (apparently, I've never had one). Rather, all the tasty fish have been over-exploited and are now too rare. So we're just moving on to the next species down the list as we systematically ravage the ocean. Hooray for humans!

The seas face many perils, including ocean acidification and warming temperatures. A $2-3 billion proposal went out today to improve our knowledge of the ocean, which are “as little understood as the Moon”, through an ambitious but plausible research program. A much better line of research than the re-opening of UFO research called for a few weeks ago [unless, of course ,the aliens are going to help solve our environmental problems (*_*)]. Not enough money, you say? How about we take some money from the military budgets of the world and invest in saving the planet rather than finding new and creative ways to destroy it and everything on it. Surely its not that hard. Three billion is chump change compared to what the US has spent to date on the Iraq debacle (cost so far, $1.6 trillion).

26 November 2007


A few days ago, I heaped some scorn on a scheme that the (now outgoing!) Australian government has adopted to the tune of $A10 million; an unproven technology to make rain, even when there are no clouds. As presented, the details on the whole endeavor were sketchy, from how the technology was supposed to work to the funding and decision making process. Well, another news item has appeared with a few clues about how the device is supposed to work which confirms my earlier suspicion that this is complete and utter nonsense. In addition, a cloud physics expert and member of the WMO Weather Modification panel is quoted. He basically says (albeit much more diplomatically) that we, the Australian people, have been hornswoggled! Sold up the river by a deceitful MP (who unfortunately was re-elected), apparently in an effoty to line his campaign donor's pockets.

Here is a quote from this new article, focusing on how it (allegedly) is supposed to work. I will give a few of my own scientific criticisms afterward (My graduate research was on cumulus and storm dynamics, so I do have some insight into this...)

Scientists involved in testing the Australian Rain Corporation technology, including Professor Jürg Keller of the University of Queensland, say the ionisation system uses a ground-based device to attract water molecules.

These condense, generating heat that, in turn, triggers an up-draft of the kind that occurs when clouds form naturally.

The basic idea here just seems fanciful, not reality-based. Excuse me for being technical (for background, here is Wiki's cloud physics article, though it is not particularly insightful...), but some problems that I see with this are:

  • Where is this moisture coming from? From the moisture in the air above the device, or is it attracting it from10s to 100s of km away, an alluring siren's song that the water vapor molecules just can't resist?

  • With the most hydrophilic of cloud condensation nuclei, you might get an extremely small drop at say 90% RH (relative humidity). This is very rare. Generally, a small supersaturation (i.e. 100+%) is required to get a small drop to form and grow. If, as claimed, it can produce rain “under a blue sky” (i.e. presumably not 100% RH), how do the drops grow to precipitation size in this?

  • Generally in a cumulus cloud (which would appear to be the model they are working off of...), the updraft comes before the water condenses and droplets form, not after as suggested here. In fact, the water is often detrimental to the kinetic energy of the updraft. It doesn't follow that because water condenses, an updraft and rain will form. Think of fog. Think of cumulus clouds that don't rain.

  • An unstable environment is required for cumulus clouds. The influence of the broader environment doesn't even seem to be considered here.

These are just a few of the more obvious problems with this. The whole idea seems vaguely reminiscent of the whole cosmic ray/climate connection which has been posited but is in fact generally unsupported by either careful theoretical considerations or the data. There is very little correlation between the temperature trends and cosmic ray activity.

The scandal here is not with proposing new ideas and hypotheses. Rather the issue is way it has been done. It all seems very underhanded and 'hush-hush'. Apparently, no one with any genuine expertise was consulted on this. If they were consulted , their advice was ignored. By all means, let's apply science and innovation to help mitigate our climate problems . But not large handouts to campaign donors with half-baked ideas (and please, let's not dump stuff into the ocean). The appearance of impropriety is too strong (please, let's have an inquiry into this). It is very difficult to get research funding in Australia and there are numerous innovative and unfunded researchers whose projects offer a genuine chance at making a contribution. Let's fund those, rather than chasing mirages in the desert.

24 November 2007

'Roof of the World" falling in

Tibet, a Plateau region in central Asia, is a region facing many problems. Besides having its culture overrun by China in the 1950s, the “roof of the world” has a host of environmental issues to contend with, many wrought by encroaching climate change.

Tibet was covered in tall cypress trees 4600 years ago but today is mainly a desert pasture. Tibet's spiritual leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, seems to imply that this is due to corrupt Chinese officials. They may very well be exacerbating the trend, but Tibet has been largely deforested for a long time, a result of clearing primarily to accommodate crops and livestock.

The average of altitude of Tibet is over 4900 m, and the region is mountainous. There are many glaciers in the region, with more being discovered all the time. As is the trend worldwide, many of the glaciers are shrinking. Over the past 100 years, the area covered by glaciers in the area has shrunk by an estimated 30%. The Tibetan Plateau is the source of of many of China's major rivers. As the glaciers there melt away, China's future water supply comes under threat.

As with the deforestation issue above, attribution of the source of this is somewhat politicized. The Chinese government hypothesizes that climate change is driving much of this. Tibetan activists place much of the blame on China's environmental policies. In reality, it is not likely an either/or situation, but rather a combination of both. That Mt Everest, the world's tallest mountain (which is not entirely within China's control), is undergoing significant melting (see image pair -- same site, 1968 on top, 2007 below), would suggest that climate change is driving much of this. Still, humans can have a large impact on the climate through land use changes...

Other evidence also suggests climate change. Temperatures in Tibet are rising at a rate about twice the global average, about 0.3 C per decade. This is consistent with other elevated regions of the world. The region has also been facing something of a drought, which is of course not a sign of climate change by itself. Still, much of the region has seen record-low humidity over the past few months, and parts of Tibet have seen 'Exceptional' levels of drought (see here for interactive global map). These observations are consistent with accelerating climate change around the globe. The Chinese are resorting to the creation of artificial snow, a first for the region in order to alleviate the extended dryer-than-normal conditions.

The impacts of climate change in Tibet have serious implications for the globe. Millions of people rely on the rivers which begin in this region for drinking water and irrigation. As a whole, China has been observing many impacts of climate change during the course of this year, from increasing desertification to extreme floods. Attempts to stabilize the flow of the Yangtze river (which incidentally originates in Tibet) with the Three Gorges dam have not been going well to date; the dam is creating more environmental problems than anticipated. If not effectively managed, these events create the possibility for future humanitarian crises (like food shortages), which in our increasingly volatile world can create the triggers for larger conflagrations.

Such a possible future highlights the need for effective action in adapting to and mitigating against climate change. The western nations need to show leadership at the upcoming Bali climate talks, rather than bickering and finger-pointing. Assigning blame is a pointless exercise. It may be too late to avoid some problems, but giving up and doing nothing insures that the worse will happen.

22 November 2007

Tangled Bank 93

The new Tangled Bank is up over at from Archaea to Zeaxanthol. Go an give it a read. THe usual wide variety of posts is on offer. Something for everyone!

My recent post on the perils of geo-engineering is included.

20 November 2007

Liberal Party Green

I didn't really want to write another post on the upcoming Australian federal election, but the desperate attempts by Liberal party members to express concern over climate change and other environmental issues is such transparent pandering that I feel it is necessary to bring these issues to the fore, just in case some poor delusional soul thinks the Coalition actually gives a toss about the environment.

Here's the only green that the Liberals and the Coalition are interested in...

Their true motives are readily apparent in these news items today.

Turnbull found the time to announce that the Government, already in caretaker mode, would bankroll to the tune of $10 million the investigation of an untried Russian technology that aims to trigger rainfall from the atmosphere, even when there are no clouds.


Mr Searle says all the literature he has seen on the technology shows it to be a bogus science.

"The one that is being touted at the moment sounds very similar to a group in the USA called the Cloudbusters, and they're supposed to ionise the atmosphere in order to make clouds out of blue skies and then to produce rain from those clouds," he said.

Electrification of the ionosphere to create clouds out of thin air. Certainly sounds a lot like the secret Australian rain device - no photographs allowed - that so excited the Minister and those who will share his six-month $10 million research funding.

The company receiving the funding is called the Australian Rain Corporation. The link provided gives absolutely no information, stating “Our Products and Services are available on personal request only.” Based on the little information I have seen, this looks incredibly shady, little more than wishful thinking. The secrecy involved and Turnbill's evasive answers only reinforce that notion. It looks like political payback and embezzlement to me, all performed under the pretense of acting on the environment. There's a video in the link; the story is a transcript of that video.

Incumbent Coalition candidate Dave Tollner...claim[s] nuclear power is the only way to effectively tackle global warming. He was scathing about any policy that would see Australia reduce its uranium mining.

"We should be praying that China and India take as much of our uranium as possible to reduce their reliance on coal power. The fact is, the only way that we are going to produce ongoing baseload power... is to export as much of our uranium to them as possible."

Australia gets rich while pretending to care about the environment. Wonder if he has any interests, 'friends' or 'donors' in the business?

Finally, a real howler

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says Australia will be pushing for a declaration on climate change at a meeting of Asian nations in Singapore.

Mr Downer says he wants the 16 countries at the meeting, including China and India, to sign an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Uh, excuse me? You've been in government for nearly 12 years and have spent a large portion of that time even denying that climate change was even a reality, and now this. What happened to the wondrous 'diplomatic breakthrough' that was the APEC agreement, with its aspirational goals, that you were raving about just under three months ago? What's wrong with signing the international Kyoto Protocol? At least that will get us some respect (a tiny bit, but some) at the post-Kyoto negotiations in Bali next month.

Polls suggest the Coalition is likely to lose government on Saturday. But if Rudd and his Labour cronies think they can coast on this issue once elected, they are wrong. The genie is out of the bottle. As highlighted by the recent IPCC AR4 synthesis report, this is a pressing issue requiring real action, not mere lip service.

By all means, vote with your conscience. I'm not telling you who to vote for. But don't rationalize a vote for the Coalition with environmental issues. They're only in it for the money.

Natural variability vs. climate change

Global changes in weather and climate are undoubtedly being observed. Are these signs of climate change, or of some other natural (interdecadal) variability? Does it have to be an either/or proposition? Here are two examples that highlight the importance of these questions.

A team of NASA and university scientists has detected an ongoing reversal in Arctic Ocean circulation triggered by atmospheric circulation changes that vary on decade-long time scales. The results suggest not all the large changes seen in Arctic climate in recent years are a result of long-term trends associated with global warming.

That's the lede of the story, something to give those who think it is all natural variability (i.e. skeptics) hope. But the key words are 'not all'. The authors are not claiming that global warming is not part of the picture, regardless of changes in the Arctic Oscillation. The relationship between interdecadal variability and climate change remains unclear. In fact the changes in the AO could be related to climate change.

Further highlighting this uncertainty is a report of a talk from a climate change conference in Australia.

...[S]cientists should reassess the use of El Nino as a forecasting tool because climate change seems to be altering the way weather processes like El Nino work.

..."The leverage that El Nino exerts on Australia is principally through its La Nina phase, principally through the flood phase of the El Nino cycle,"

Despite the on-going La Nina, much of Australia remains mired in drought, going on 11 years in some regions of the southeast. From a historical perspective, this should be a time of abundant rain in Australia. Is climate change having an impact on ENSO, or is this some heretofore unobserved pattern in its behaviour? Since the early-90s, when we began to observe unusual behaviour in ENSO, this debate has raged. The IPCC expects little change in ENSO, but there is low confidence in that projection.

We are undoubtedly doing something to our atmosphere and our planet on quite large scales. For example, observations show we have seriously altered the carbon cycle of the planet. In some areas, we have also changed the amount of insolation reaching the surface, due to smog and pollution. It seems inconceivable that such significant changes would not have some effect on the climate. With our relatively limited observations, we also know there are coherent patterns on very long time scales.

How much is due to each factor? Perhaps alterations in the patterns of interdecadal variability is how climate change manifests itself, or maybe climate change just exacerbates the natural patterns. We just don't know. We've never scientifically observed climate changes of this magnitude and scale before. So surprises in the behaviour of the climate system should be expected. After all, climate models are not without their flaws, but they are correct to the first order, and they do represent one of the best tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent a greater calamity for mankind.

17 November 2007

Elect to stop climate change now!

From Deltoid:

As I (and many others!) hoped for, climate change has become a major election issue here in Australia. The battle is only half won, though. We need to continue to press our leadership for sensible action as well as summoning the will as a society to follow through on the necessary changes. No grandiose schemes, please.

ps. we also need to make sure and get rid of the current leadership, too!

Just say no to geo-engineering

Geo-engineering, defined here as “artificial modification of earth systems to counteract anthropogenic effects”, is gaining momentum. A commonly proposed method of doing this is to dump stuff into the ocean in the hopes that it will spur the growth of phytoplankton, which in turn will result in an uptake in CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean. Once the plankton die they sink to the ocean floor, sequestering the CO2. As has been noted on planet doom? previously, this is a well intentioned but (likely) short-sighted attempt at a 'quick-fix' to the problems confronting humanity; a shortcut so that we can avoid making any hard choices about the world we have created.

So what is wrong with it? It is, after all, part of the natural order of things; phytoplankton blooms occur regularly now. A recent event was just observed off the coast of Namibia, in southern Africa, as shown in the MODIS imagery to the right. Phytoplankton undeniably act to sequester CO2. But, as the article notes, they have other effects as well.

After the plankton sink, they are decomposed by bacteria. If the amount of plant material is too large, the water becomes anoxic -- depleted of oxygen –- and a 'dead zone', where fish and other marine fauna are unable to survive, is created in the ocean . Needless to say, this is bad for the marine ecosystem. If material remains to be decomposed, anaerobic bacteria -- which don't need oxygen -- take over. These bacteria initiate a reaction which produces hydrogen sulfide (H2S) --a poison -- which seeps to the surface and kills the fish and other fauna.

In the local region and at the times where this occurs, it becomes a serious issue, but remains generally unimportant on larger scales. But creating more phytoplankton through geo-engineering could become a broader issue. Dead zones are already becoming a problem worldwide, particularly near the mouths of large river systems, due to agricultural runoff. Other regions with restricted water flow, like the Black Sea, are natural anoxic zones. The fact that we have these major environmental problems already being seen suggests that the amount of phytoplankton which would need to be produced to offset the 35% increase in CO2 we have put into the atmosphere to date would be very large. We probably couldn't do it without destroying a large part of the marine ecosystem.

In a paper from last year (Oct 2006) in Scientific American entitled “Impact from the Deep”, an intriguing hypothesis was put forth that a similar mechanism involving anoxic oceans and the production of H2S, rather than the more commonly assumed bolide impacts, may have driven several of the five mass extinctions which have been noted in the fossil record. In this hypothesis, anoxic zones producing H2S rise to the ocean surface and releases the gas to the atmosphere, killing nearby land flora and fauna. Further, the gas may rise to the stratosphere, where there is some indication that it may reduce the protective ozone layer, finishing off the organisms which avoid the initial impact of the gas. In that paper, the chain of events starts with rapid global warming. With geo-engineering we could possibly skip a few steps, and proceed right to the extinction.

This is only a supposition. The fact is that we simply don't know what effect such geo-engineering schemes may have. We don't have a good history at avoiding the so-called Law of Unintended Consequences and so we probably shouldn't tempt fate. Although we can and have altered the environment, it is pure hubris to think that we have any sort of control over it. As a result, we should really put aside these grandiose schemes to save the world and instead focus on the more mundane chores of adapting to the unavoidable changes already in the system and reducing our carbon emissions to mitigate any future effects. Societal collapse and the sixth extinction are distinct futures we face with our current way of life. We need to act with wisdom and forethought to avoid these fates.

15 November 2007

Oekologie #11

Are you an eco-blogger?

Go and read the many excellent examples on offer in Oekologie #11 at 10 000 Birds to help you determine the answer to this edifying question.

My own post on Animal adjustments as a response to climate change is included.

14 November 2007

Societal collapse: Coming soon?

Once the domain of survivalists, religious zealots and other disaffected souls, the possibility of societal collapse has recently gained more respect in the broader, mainstream community, discussed in widely-regarded books and the blogs of the New York Times (and elsewhere!). Questions abound: How realistic is this notion? Are we close to a collapse? Can we act to prevent it?

To say that our planet and society as a whole is facing a few troubles is a bit of an understatement. The climate is unequivocally changing; a casual glance at planet doom? illustrates the many and varied impacts. There are too many people, and food shortages are becoming more apparent. Cheap oil and natural gas, the foundations of our technological society, are at or near peak production. They will only become more scarce (and hence more expensive) in the future. The unbridled global economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, exacerbating the other threats. To top it all off, the most powerful military in the history of mankind is in the control of lunatic war-mongers who will do anything to further the cause of the global corporations.

Despite this, many in positions of influence seek to maintain the status quo, unable or unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the problems facing us. Some of the excuses/reasoning: Climate change is just down to natural variability; There's plenty more oil/natural resources left, the 'greenies' just won't let us drill/mine/clearcut; Technological innovation will save us; Malthus and all the other doomsayers have always been wrong, so they are this time, too; We have other pressing problems, we'll deal with it later; Hakuna Matata – No worries, mate!.

The predicted impacts of these dilemmas are equally varied. James Lovelock, who conceived of the Gaia Hypothesis, suspects that it is too late to mitigate climate change and that billions will perish before the end of the century, leaving only a remnant of humanity surviving at the the poles. Others also support this 'giga-death' point of view. A recent book, The Long Emergency, by JH Kunstler makes a slightly less grim, but still shocking, prediction of the future of (primarily) the US. He expects a complete breakdown of the American way of life, with a return to more agrarian times and a lower energy-intensive lifestyle. Some parts of the US, especially the south and west, fare especially poorly in his vision. A recent post over at Climate Progress on this book discussed this view and, along with many of the commenters, generally rejected at least the severity of it. Of course, those who deny the seriousness of the problem have no dire predictions, expecting the consequences to be minor inconveniences rather than a serious issue. The general mainstream view seems to be along these lines, with some problems, but nothing threatening.

For what its worth, my views tend to the darker side of things. But I, like everyone else, don't really know. I don't feel things will be as extreme as Lovelock and Kunstler, but it's not going to be a walk in the park, either. I think our world is in for a major reorganization, and a lot of people are going to perish, due to starvation, warfare and disease. Our self-indulgent, western way of life is going to come crashing down, and the developing world is going to be hit even harder. The pace of climate change is too quick, and the energy and financial problems will only exacerbate things. If we can contain our bloodlust in the inevitable conflicts for resources (food, water, oil...), we have a chance at the future. If not, it is a long fall. And if the world resorts to WMDs to resolve these conflicts, then all bets are off. Mind you, I desperately want to be wrong on this, and look back in 20 years time and laugh at my naivete. My fear is that I won't be able to.

Awareness of these issues is growing, but the magnitude and extent of the crisis is still underestimated. The climate has become an issue for the upcoming national election (24 November) in Australia. But the two major parties have somewhat tentative policies for climate change, and issues like peak are not even really a concern. The minor parties are better, but even the Greens are underestimating the problem. Their campaign literature still speaks of climate change impacts as something that will happen, not as something ongoing. For much of the western world, neoliberal economics and unlimited growth are still the dominant paradigm. As a society, I fear we (myself included) are woefully unprepared for what awaits us.

Regardless of one's personal opinion of the issue, a risk management-type approach should be taken to deal with these issues. Risk can be defined as the likelihood of something happening times the consequences of that event happening. The consequences of a Lovelockian 'giga-death' scenario are incalculable – a very, very large number. So unless the chances of it occurring an infinitesimal (and I suspect they are low, but not non-existent), the risk is large, and prudence dictates action be taken to reduce that risk. Maybe the excuses/rationales noted earlier for inaction will prove to be valid and society is in no danger of a collapse. Even if this is the case, our lifestyles are demonstratively unsustainable, and this must be remedied.

There is also the moral aspect. We owe future generations a right to a viable existence. It should be our goal to at least provide as much to them as was provided to us. As the UN said today (my emphasis):

"The effects of climate change are being felt already," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"Climate change will hit hardest the poorest and most vulnerable countries. Its overall effect, however, will be felt by everyone and will in some cases threaten people's very survival.

"Failing to recognise the urgency of this message and acting on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible."

It is time for the rich nations of the world to lead by example and act seriously to adapt and mitigate climate change. We caused the problem, we need to lead the way to fixing it, rather than pointing fingers at China and India. They aspire to the same life we lead and who are we to deny it if we won't curb our own excesses. Blaming others for the problems we caused is pathetic, a sign of the narcissistic, delusional culture we have created. Who knows, maybe the crises we are facing can have some positive outcome and lead to a fairer, more just world for all.

09 November 2007

Keeping tabs on Antarctica

Here is the latest news from Antarctica, the southernmost continent. For past posts on the region on planet doom?, see here.


After an early start and a rapid decrease in ozone levels earlier in the season, the area of the ozone hole is currently below the 1997-2006 average. Recent news reports have noted that this is due to the relatively mild weather conditions, not a sign of the expected recovery. That is still a decade or two off, at the minimum. The image showing the hole is from the NASA Ozone Watch website. There are also some nice time series plots of the current year, as well as graphs showing the interannual variability. The decreased intensity of this year's hole is consistent with forecasts made back in August by the WMO.


A look at the time series found at Cryosphere Today reveals that the annual melting of the sea ice has begun. Last winter, sea ice reached its maximum annual extent, and still remains anomalously high at this time. After the record melts in the Arctic earlier this year, it will be interesting to see what happens in the south. As noted in a previous post, paleo-climate studies show that an asymmetric response to climate forcing between the hemispheres is possible. Hence, there is no reason to expect a record melt in Antartica and the lack of such says nothing about the reality of ongoing global warming and climate change.

A large iceberg was seen calving off the Pine Island glacier, part of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. See this page at NSIDC for a recent high resolution image of the iceberg. This is apparently a natural phenomenon, occurring every 5-10 years. The iceberg is approximately 70 000 ha in size. The glacier itself is thinning and accelerating towards the sea, but the iceberg is neither a part of nor a consequence of that longer-term change.

As noted in a previous post, the trends in the behaviour of the ice in Antarctica are complex and difficult to decipher. The mass of the ice is apparently of getting less, while the area increases. Anecdotally, the ice in the region has been retreating over the past 15 years. Understanding these behaviour of the ice is crucial for a better understanding of cryosphere/climate system interactions.

Science Activities

As noted above, science and research activities are extremely important in Antarctica and the austral spring is when the activities begin in earnest. Several projects have made the news recently. Some efforts are going into the development of techniques to measure the thickness of the sea ice. Others are attempting to install seismographs or GPS units to measure movements of the ice, with the hope of better understanding the dynamics of the ice sheets and glaciers and their interaction with the land below. These projects mentioned represent only a small part of the science activity which is undertaken during the summer months. Many activities are being undertaken under the auspices of the International Polar Year.


In my last post about Antarctica, I expressed the hope that we humans could avoid the return to the 16th century and the race to claim land to exploit it for nationalistic selfish purposes. Alas, it is not to be. We humans are going to ruin the last unspoilt place on Earth, all to 'safeguard the future'. The UK is investigating making a claim on the surrounding seabeds. China is sending its largest team in two decades this summer to reassert its presence on the continent. Chile isn't backing down from its long-standing claims. Australia actually has the largest claim, but what can they do if their claim is jumped? None of these claims is actually valid at this time because of the Antarctic Treaty, but as it becomes more apparent that we have passed peak oil. I would suspect that all bets are off. Like any addict, our insatiable 'jones' will destroy any moral or ethical qualms we may have. Let's hope there isn't any oil down there...

I find it extremely sad -- but entirely predictable -- that this is happening. We, as a species, should be pulling together now to prevent the larger disaster lurking on the horizon, wrought by the confluence of climate change, peak oil, overpopulation and the like. Instead, we continue with our neo-liberal corporatist ways, externalizing all costs to the environment, in search of the almighty dollar (soon to be euro?). Humans are in deep trouble...I suspect sooner that we think.


Thanks to llewelly for pointing me to the Cryosphere Today website.

For a more thorough take on the societal collapse type stuff, check out the Survival Acres blog. I like the writing there, but personally try to maintain a more positive attitude...

05 November 2007

Animal adjustments

One sign of climate change is a change in the habitat and behaviour of different fauna, both on land and water. Earlier posts on planet doom? noted these sorts of changes in marine fauna. Over the past few months, several reports of unusual animal sightings on land and at sea have been reported. Some of these are summarized below.

It is not just animals appearing in new locales. Their behaviour can also change, a natural response to human-induced environmental stress.

  • Some bird species in Australia are responding climate change with a range of behaviours. Some spring migrants are now arriving many days earlier than previously documented. Others are demonstrating new breeding behaviours. These observations are not limited to Australia, but have been noted in North America and Europe previously. See here for a previous post on birds.

  • Snakes have stayed active through the winter in Tasmania. Warming temperatures as a result of climate change is probably to blame for the snakes shunning their normal dormant period.

  • Some good news (sorta...). Mosquito numbers along the Murray River in SE Australia are likely to be down this summer. This is due to low rainfall and decreasing river levels. This is a result of climate change to the degree that the drought is a result of climate change. Only those who live inland and in riverine areas are likely to notice a difference – coastal areas will have the same levels. Personally, I'd rather have the water and no drought...

Of course, climate change is just one way that humans affect the different ecosystems. Pollution and fertilizer runoff from farms and ranches has led to frog deformities, as well as affecting coral reefs and contributing to the creation of hypoxic dead zones in the oceans. General environmental mis-management also plays a role. For instance, over-fishing has resulted in 76% of fish stocks being fully- or over-exploited, placing marine biodiversity at extreme risk. Other examples abound.

Our neoliberal, consumer-based society has failed at providing adequate environmental stewardship. The race for profits, short-term gain and cheap consumer goods has blinded us to our duty to the future. The effects we are having on the non-human beings we share the world with are alarming. We are on the wrong path, both for them and us. There is no guarantee that these animal adjustments will work out satisfactorily.

There are steps we can take to reduce our impact, though. The sooner we act, the 'easier' it will be to correct our unsustainable ways. Unfortunately, a recent poll in the UK (which certainly seems consistent with the attitudes I have encountered in Australia and the US) indicate that majority are unwilling to make the changes required to adapt and/or mitigate to climate change. I fear it will take some sort of mega-catastrophe (the string of unprecedented disasters we've had the past few years hasn't been enough...) to wake people up to the reality of our predicament. We can only hope it won't be too late (if it isn't already...).

03 November 2007

Life in a parallel universe

Climate change is an ongoing reality, but many of our leaders would appear to be living in some alternate reality of their own devising. This is certainly true here in Australia -- the current government imagines that we are leaders on climate change and the deputy prime minister doubts the reality of climate change.

But this failure to grasp reality isn't limited to Australia, it is a worldwide phenomenon -- a natural trait of our species. The government of the US is still censoring climate reports, apparently just hoping the problem will magically go away if it is not discussed. Many of the major polluting nations of the world (e.g. India, China, USA) refuse to abide by any mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions (as do many who aren't major polluters). Instead, China is building high emission coal-fired power plants as quickly as they can, in large part in response to service the demand from developed nations for cheap consumer goods. Many rich nations are simply exporting their carbon demand to poorer nations like China, and then rationalizing their inaction because China and India are not included in Kyoto.

These actions are a sign of a deep disconnect with reality. It is time for the nations of the world to grow up. Reducing GHG emissions is the only way to limit the extremely high costs of climate change in the future. As a whole, the EU is managing to meet its Kyoto obligations (but not every individual country within the EU...) while maintaining its economy and an exceptional standard of living. It can be done. The nations of the world must act decisively and cooperatively to overcome the grave threats of climate change. Fatalism is not an option.

Make no mistake, the rate of CO2 emissions is accelerating. The effects of this are also becoming more apparent and widespread. It is time for out leaders to stop the denial and make a full acknowledgment of the reality we have created. The knowledge is out there. We may not know the exact path global warming will take, but it is unlikely to be pleasant. The future of our civilization is potentially at stake. Sensible cooperative action is our only choice.