For a long time I have not used the term “global warming” but have preferred to think in terms of “climate change” as a constant of life on earth regardless of whether man’s behavior effects it or not (though I have to believe that human behavior has its effects for I believe that everything is inter-related).
Last Sunday night my family watched a dvd from The History Channel about The Little Ice Age. This is not ancient history lost in the mists of time. This is history that most of us have learned some portion of in our schooling but I had no idea that sudden and brutal climate change was the underlying factor for so many events that I had other explanations for. I’ve long realized that climate change happens all the time on this planet. I don’t doubt that the behavior of such an overwhelming presence on the planet as human beings are would affect our planet’s overall qualities including its weather related qualities.
It was surprising to know that such diverse occurrences as the Irish Potato Famine, which peoples originally migrated into the United States of American and why, the “Black Death” bubonic plague, the fall of the Ming Dynasty with the breach of the Great Wall by Manchurian invaders giving rise to the Qing dynasty in China, the Salem Witch trails and burnings, the French Revolution, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein book and the deaths of thousands of Napoleon’s troops in the Russian invasion are all effects of a 500 year long “Little Ice Age”.
It is staggering to realize that it only took a couple of degrees change to bring it on or how quickly such a “flip” in climate can occur. This is not a rare occurrence in the history of the Earth’s climate. In his article, Thom Hartmann describes The Great Conveyor Belt including the Gulf Stream, undersea rivers that move currents of cold salty water from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Although much of Europe and Scandinavia are at the same latitude as Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia, their climate is more similar to that of the United States than northern Canada or Siberia.
That warmth is the result of ocean currents that bring warm surface water up from the equator into northern regions that would otherwise be so cold that even in summer they’d be covered with ice. In the North Atlantic Ocean salty, cool waters settle to the bottom of the sea and then flow south down to and around the southern tip of Africa, where this river finally reaches the Pacific Ocean. The slightly lower level of the Atlantic ocean than the Pacific ocean draws in a strong surface current of warm, fresher water from the Pacific to replace the outflow of the undersea river from the Atlantic. This warmer, fresher water loops around North America where it’s known as the Gulf Stream, and ends up off the coast of Europe.
Amazingly, this Great Conveyor Belt is the only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America. Only since the 1980s have scientists begun to understand the transition time from icy to warm back to icy. According to Hartmann, in studying ice core samples from Greenland “scientists were shocked to discover that the transitions from ice age-like weather to contemporary-type weather usually took only two or three years. Something was flipping the weather of the planet back and forth with a rapidity that was startling”.
These weather patterns are part of a delicately balanced teeter-totter, which can exist in one state or the other, but transits through the middle stage almost overnight. What brings on these sudden shifts are the warm-water currents of the Great Conveyor Belt shutting down. Once the Gulf Stream is no longer flowing, it only takes a year or three for the last of the residual heat held in the North Atlantic Ocean to dissipate into the air over Europe, and then there is no more warmth to moderate the northern latitudes. When the summer stops in the north, the rains also stop around the equator so that at the same time Europe is plunging into an Ice Age, the Middle East and Africa are being ravaged by drought and wind-driven firestorms.
This is weather that is NOT for the faint-hearted !!! If the Great Conveyor Belt, which includes the Gulf Stream, were to stop flowing today, the result would be sudden and dramatic. Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away. Within three years, those regions would become uninhabitable and nearly two billion humans would starve, freeze to death, or have to relocate.
Most scientists involved in research on this topic agree that the culprit is global warming, melting the icebergs on Greenland and the Arctic icepack and thus flushing cold, fresh water down into the Greenland Sea from the north. When a critical threshold is reached, the climate will suddenly switch to an ice age that could last minimally 700 or so years, and maximally over 100,000 years.
OK, so what’s the GOOD NEWS ? There is some . . . there is “hope” (except whatever is beyond what human beings are able to control at all – like a giant meteor striking the Earth or a coronal mass ejection from the sun !!). According to a very recent article in New York Magazine by Jonathan Chait, “There is good news. And not just incremental good news but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible.” He goes on to say “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed.”
A quick bold print snapshot tells us that Coal usage has declined 21% since 2007 and that the number of operational coal-powered electric generating plants has dropped from 523 in 2009 to 323 in 2015. I recently heard a bit on NPR about the railroads in Kansas City. Only 10 years ago, “… railroads couldn’t hire people fast enough. They couldn’t lease locomotives fast enough. They couldn’t upgrade the infrastructure quick enough. They couldn’t build railcars to haul the stuff quick enough.” according to Zach Pumphery, a train engineer in Kansas City. Since 2008 the rail traffic has dropped by the equivalent of 14,000 train loads for coal production alone. According to Frank Morris, “The big reason is the power plants like this one in Kansas City are switching from coal to natural gas, which is cheap now and burns cleaner.”
More good news ? The cost of a watt of solar power has dropped from $101 in 1975 to $0.61 in 2015. Global solar power installations have grown from 10,000 in 2009 to 65,000 in 2015. China plans to add 18 gigawatts of solar energy capacity in 2015 alone (just compare that to the TOTAL gigawatt capacity in the US of 20). “Clean Energy” has added 125,000 NEW jobs since 2013. And the number of electric cars has increased from 200,000 in 2012 to 750,000 in 2015.
The “Good News” is a long article but well worth reading to avoid despair over the climate change challenges. A link to the full article can be found in the ~ Information Resources at the end of this blog – “The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read”.
~ Information Resources
“Little Ice Age, Big Consequences” posted by Jennie Cohen, Jan 31, 2013 posted at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/little-ice-age-big-consequences
“Napoleon’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia, 200 Years Ago” posted by Jesse Greenspan, June 22, 2012 at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/napoleons-disastrous-invasion-of-russia-200-years-ago
“How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age…” posted by Thom Hartmann, Jan 30, 2004 at Common Dreams – http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0130-11.htm
“The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read” posted by Jonathan Chait, Sept 7, 2015 posted at New York Magazine – http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/09/sunniest-climate-change-story-ever-read.html
“Fall In Shipping Commodities Threatens Commercial Railroad Industry” by Frank Morris on All Things Considered aired on NPR Sept 2, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436944868/fall-in-shipping-commodities-threatens-commercial-railroad-industry
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer
It is unfortunate that the first alarms about changes in the planetary climate were labeled Global Warming because it gave too much to climate change deniers to loudly proclaim the science faulty. However, climate change affects us all and we might as well face up to what it will mean to who, how and where. I’m not Catholic but I really like the current Pope Francis. He is a gutsy guy and humble too. I believe he truly is living his life in service to the common man and that is rare in anyone with power in our world today.
In December 2015, Paris will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference. According to the organizing committee, the objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. (I won’t hold my breath on that achievement but it is a worthy goal.)
In advance of that conference, Pope Francis has issued an official encyclical titled “On Care for Our Common Home” which makes explicit the connection between climate change and the oppression of the poorest and most vulnerable in our human family. Wired.com describes it as “… well-argued, clear, at times quite moving…and 42,000 words long”. I am indebted to their science writers for highlighting the “good stuff”. I have long argued that “the Earth” doesn’t need saving but that humankind does. That is really the issue here.
I agree that too many modern people have totally lost any connection with the natural world. I have to remind myself at times that the majority of urban dwellers do not experience the wildness of nature on a daily basis as I and my husband and children are fortunate enough to have right outside the door of our home. That loss of connection deceives people into thinking of their lives as something separate from and superior to the natural world and from that point onward, arrogance begins to inform choices that actually matter.
My husband and I recently watched a documentary about The Corporation. I am well aware that these large organizations also employ a lot of people at a time when employment is an issue due to advances in technology that have made obsolete many of the ways that people have previously provided for their families. I commend enlightened leaders of such corporations, like Ray Anderson the CEO of Interface a flooring manufacturer who came to realize the way that companies such as his have been “exploiters”. Awareness is an important first step towards making meaningful changes.
So it is that Pope Francis has recognized that without awe and wonder for nature and the environment human beings become voracious consumers and ruthless exploiters who are unable to delay the gratification of their every desire or even set any kind of limits on their immediate needs in awareness of the limits that exist regarding natural resources. It is not possible to draw boundaries on the global environment – the air and water circulate freely among all people and cannot be truly “owned” (though some have tried to do this) by any individual, country or organization.
Scientists were not entirely wrong that there has been some global warming. One need only compare old photographs of glaciers with the same geographical regions to see the truth. The melting of ice on our planet is causing the sea level to rise. This is simply the natural behavior of water anywhere as it changes state. It is clear that water is going to be a huge issue for humanity going forward. The Pope declares in his memo that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights”.
Every person on this planet is affected by climate change in one way or another. The biggest problem for humanity will be the intensity of events whether they are droughts or floods. And adding to the realities of climate change are the burdens of increasing population so that intensive agriculture in places like California and other dry or desert type environments in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are depleting aquifers at an unsustainable rate for there is no “recharge” to keep them filled. One cannot simply use resources in an unsustainable manner and not eventually hit the brick wall where it all stops.
My family enjoys eating many of the foods that California provides to the world. The farmers in California use 80% of the state’s water resources. Almonds which my family enjoys raw or as Almond Butter because the nut is one of the more nutritious choices we can make have received a lot of attention for how much water growing them consumes but that is not all that California produces. Believe in eating your vegetables especially in healthy salads ? It is quite likely that your lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Lately my family has been enjoying seasonal fruits like peaches and plums. Yes, California grows those too. Do you enjoy the occasional artichoke or regularly eat asparagus and broccoli ? The drought in California has direct impacts on people’s efforts to be healthy.
The Pope rightly sees “science and technology are wonderful products of God-given human creativity”. Human beings ARE part of nature too. What humans beings do cannot be separated from the Earth and that is the point really. The Pope also sees a need for “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint”. I certainly don’t disagree.
In Wired.com’s summary of the Pope’s Memo they note – “When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of ‘might is right’ has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.”
“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”
~ Information Resources
2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference
The Pope’s Memo on Climate Change Is a Mind-Blower – http://www.wired.com/2015/06/popes-memo-climate-change-mind-blower/
California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System by Natasha Geiling posted on May 5, 2015 – http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/05/3646965/california-drought-and-agriculture-explainer/
Interface is a worldwide leader in design, production and sales of environmentally-responsible modular carpet for the commercial, institutional, and residential markets – http://www.interfaceglobal.com/
The Corporation, a documentary – http://www.thecorporation.com/
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer