It’s Not Rocket Science, Warmer Oceans = Stronger Hurricanes

Meteorologists have for the most part been ducking the topic of global warming in relation to Hurricane Sandy in the same way that biologists try to steer clear of the subject of animal sentience or the AMA avoids any mention of the link between the consumption of animal products and the increased rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancers in this country.

History’s greatest scientists have all been free-thinkers, unafraid of pushing the limits of human understanding. But it seems most out there today are content in their mediocrity—let’s not have anything groundbreaking or earthshattering interfere with business as usual, interrupt the flow of funding or threaten a precious reputation.

Yet, a few scientists are beginning to tip-toe gingerly into the fray by tentatively linking “Superstorm” Sandy to the effects of the unprecedented anthropogenic increase of carbon in the atmosphere and the subsequent weather extremes we’ve been seeing in recent decades.

According to an October 30th blog post in Scientific American, “Scientists have long taken a cautious stance, but more are starting to drop the caveat and link climate change directly to intense storms and other extreme weather events, such as the warm 2012 winter in the eastern U.S. and the frigid one in Europe at the same time. They are emboldened because researchers have gotten very good in the past decade at determining what affects the variables that create big storms.”

In answer to just how Hurricane Sandy was intensified by global warming, Scientific American explains: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.”

Additionally, climate scientists, such as Charles Greene at Cornell University, have recently shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the Jet Stream is more likely to take the kind of big southward dip in the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic that occurred during hurricane Sandy.

The term, “global warming,” adds to the confusion of naysayers who point to wintertime cold temperatures and freak blizzards as “proof” that the Earth is not really getting warmer. A clearer name for the contentious phenomenon would be “atmospheric warming” or “ocean warming,” since that’s what’s really happening and because that’s scientifically indisputable. Warming ocean temperatures are responsible for the climate changes affecting us all on the land, but of course, one overly-successful species, who shall remain nameless (okay, it’s Homo sapiens), is ultimately responsible for heating up the atmosphere and the oceans to begin with.

Humans can no longer plead ignorance. Back in 2007 a Scientific American article by Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, wrote an article titled, “Warmer Oceans, Stronger Hurricanes.” He concluded that although the number of Atlantic hurricanes each year might not rise, the strength of them would. And according to Munich Re, one of the world’s largest insurance firms, “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”

Oliver Stone, the acclaimed writer/director of pioneering films such as Platoon, JFK, Nixon, and W, called Sandy “punishment for Obama and Romney ignoring climate change.” In an interview with HuffPost Live on Tuesday, the filmmaker expressed dismay that neither presidential candidate has been willing to talk about global warming, either before or after the superstorm that ravaged the entire East Coast and beyond. Stone hopes the storm’s silver lining is that President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, pull a U-turn on climate change.

“I was a little disappointed at the third debate when neither of them talked about climate control and the nature of the situation on earth,” Stone said. “I think there’s a kind of a weird statement coming right after it. This is a punishment. Mother Nature cannot be ignored.”

It Ain’t Gonna be Pretty

Over the ages, humans have more than proved their point—they’re the dominant ones. Nowadays they’re just rubbing Nature’s face it in. But they won’t feel so dominant when Mother Nature decides to really put up a fight. Once she gets started, it ain’t gonna be pretty, and man, you’ll curse the day you were born. It’s not like she hasn’t given plenty of fair warning, but every time she summons up an epic hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, humans react like a ants at  an anthill, and scurry to raise their levees, dikes and sea walls a little higher and rebuild their off-shore oil platforms.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed over 100 off-shore oil rigs (one of which floated for 50 miles before coming to rest in the shallows), while this year’s Isaac put 44 of them out of commission. The financial pages were quick to share the news that the Gulf of Mexico oil production was reduced by 901,726 barrels per day as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Yet the media barely covered the massive oil spills then, and we never heard much about the half million gallons of oil that sloshed into the Gulf after Hurricane Ike in Texas. Nor is there ever much talk of the persistent leaks and pollution that comes from the rigs; spills of more than 60,000 gallons scarcely make the news outside southern Louisiana.

It wasn’t long ago that there were no oil platforms in that pristine body of water that’s been a spawning ground for blue fin tuna and home to sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and an astounding array of bird life. Now oil derricks in the Gulf are considered a fact of life—but the ecosystem has suffered dearly for it.

Are we going to see a repeat of this scenario in the Arctic, now that anthropogenic climate change has caused the polar icecap to retreat far enough that the President just approved Shell oil to start drilling up there?

Carbon is a waste product of life and the atmosphere needs a certain amount of it to keep temperatures comfortable enough for life to thrive here. Yet never before in the long history of the earth has one species tapped into the vast pools and veins of carbon, safely stored underground for millions of years, and lit a match to it.  Now the one species who prides itself in being smarter than the others is using up its limited brain capacity devising ways to commandeer the planet’s carrying capacity, while smothering the atmosphere with the carbon of the eons in just a few short centuries.

From fashioning the first tools out of stone (a feat that our vegan cousins the bonobos have accomplished as well) to learning to raise food crops, experimentation has brought our species to where it is today. But now we’ve turned the whole planet into our own personal petri dish. God only knows what sort of punishment Mother Nature has in store for us when she wearies of our infernal domination games.

Hey Humans, Slow the Fuck Down

The following is the first of a series on Deniers and the Damage They Do…

 

By now you’ve more than likely read that the Arctic Ocean’s floating sea ice has already retreated to a record minimum.  And you’ve probably heard that every scientist who hasn’t been bought off agrees: global warming is to blame. And you might have even heard that Greenpeace activists have been staging protests and attaching themselves to oil rigs and ice breakers en-route to the polar region. You may already be one of the 1.6 million people who have signed the group’s online petition urging world leaders to declare the Arctic a global sanctuary, off limits to oil exploration and industrial fishing. And there’s an off-chance you’re one of the dozens of celebrities, including Robert Redford, Paul McCartney and Penelope Cruz, who have announced your support for Greenpeace’s campaign.

The following map and excerpt from a Science News article titled, “Arctic sea ice hits record low and keeps going,” reveals the present status of the Arctic ice cap. The average ice coverage for the 21 years between 1979 and 2000 is demarked by the orange line that can be seen running from the Greenland Sea, west and north of Svalbard, through the Laptev Sea to Russia’s Wrangel Island and through the Beaufort Sea to the Canadian Archipelago. The difference between that area and the area presently covered by ice is at best, shocking. … 

The six lowest sea-ice extents on satellite record have occurred in just the last six years. More melt means more open water exposed to sunlight. In turn, that water absorbs more heat and causes feedback loops that heat the Arctic even more.

As of August 26, Arctic sea ice covered 70,000 square kilometers below the previous satellite-era record from 2007, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

“The ice cover is now just so thin and weak in the springtime that large parts of it can’t survive the melt season,” says NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

Arctic sea ice grows in winter and melts partly away each summer. Overall, more sea ice has been lost each year as temperatures rise. From 1979 to 2011, the amount of sea ice left in September at the end of each melt season dropped by an average of 12 percent per decade.

The ice isn’t just shrinking; it’s also thinning. The Arctic used to contain lots of thick ice — some 3 to 4 meters thick — that survived year after year. Now it’s dominated by thinner ice only 1 to 2 meters thick and just one to two summers old. “It’s almost like parts of the Arctic have become a giant slushee at this time of year,” says Walt Meier, a sea ice expert at NSIDC.

In 2007, the previous record year, winds, cloud cover and other weather conditions were just right for a lot of ice to melt away. “There were a number of people saying [2007] was a one-off and you’ll never see this perfect storm again,” says Serreze. “What Mother Nature is telling us is that you don’t need a perfect storm anymore, just because the ice is so thin now.” …

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Meanwhile, in answer to these new conditions, oil companies are poised to begin installing offshore oils rigs and drilling in the backyards of walrus and polar bears. Greenpeace and other environmental groups say an oil spill in the Arctic could cause irreparable damage to wildlife and marine ecosystems. That’s no shit. With a brief growing season and comparatively little seawater circulation, the Arctic Ocean must be one the most delicate environs on the planet.

Fears that the oil industry is unprepared to operate in the hostile conditions of the far north where storms are frequent were accentuated when a floating oil rig capsized off eastern Russia last December, killing more than 50 workers.

Surely halting any new oil and gas drilling in the fragile north is an important step in solving the world’s problems. But considering that the loss of the polar ice cap is a direct result of global warming, and global warming is a direct result of human activities (chiefly the burning of fossil fuels for energy, transportation and meat production), wouldn’t the real answer be to put a halt to ALL further oil exploration and drilling everywhere? When you take into account that further planetary warming could well result in a steady flow of cold Arctic melt-water into the North Atlantic, thereby disrupting the deep sea conveyer that cycles weather as we know it, while fueling the very vitality of the living oceans, the answer must be a resounding, if reluctant “Yes!”

So what does all this have to do with deniers and the damage they do?

Chances are if you’ve heard of global warming, you’ve heard of global warming deniers. Maybe you are one yourself. If so, it’s time to wake up and smell the methane! The planet can’t wait for people to quit bickering and decide to make some major changes. If we don’t curtail our daily carbon output and change our consumptive ways, the climate is going to change for us, and leave our mechanized world in the dust.

Like “young Earth” creationists who still deny evolution because they don’t like to think of humans as mere animals, or hunters who don’t want to admit their species’ role in the ongoing extinction spasm, global warming deniers don’t want to accept humankind’s hand in radically changing the climate—to the detriment of all who’ve adapted to it over the eons. It’s time to evolve out of this hyper age of planes, trains and automobiles, put away our motorbikes, jet boats and snowmobiles along with the rest of our gas-burning toys, slow the fuck down and try to live at pace more in keeping with the rest of this living planet—while we still have one.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

The Root of All Evil

Cattle ranchers in northeast Washington call for the renewed extermination of wolves, a species extinct from the area until recently thanks to shallow minds and destructive policies. Meanwhile, commercial fishermen take every opportunity to shoot protected seals and sea lions they view as competition for the fish their nets drag in by the thousands. And news that the Arctic sea ice has retreated to an all-time historic low, due to climate change wrought by the burning of fossil fuels, factory farming and a host of other human-induced hazards, only emboldens oil companies to drill offshore there and tempts industrialists from U.S., Canada, Beijing and beyond to use the fragile polar waters as a new shipping route.

It appears that Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand aren’t the only ones who think selfishness is a virtue.

Loath to share with other species what they see as their entitlements, animal exploiters think nothing of calling for the annihilation of long-besieged predators like wolves. Washington state rancher, Bill McIrvin told the Capital Press he is hoping for a total deletion of the Wedge Pack: “If we can get this pack removed, hopefully we’ll have long enough that people in Washington can wake up and see what’s going to happen to our game and our livelihood.”

The attitude, adopted by ‘wise use’ resource extractors across the board, goes something like, “Our ancestors massacred the wolves for our benefit, now the ‘game’ and the land are ours to do with as we see fit.” It’s the same self-centered stance taken by fishermen against marine mammals. Never mind that those intelligent Earthlings were mercilessly slaughtered during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, today’s ocean exploiters see them as nothing more than rivals for ‘their’ fish. Meanwhile oilmen disregard all other animal life, and the very climate on which we all depend, in the single-minded veneration of the almighty dollar.

Yet, a dollar in and of itself is just a neutral marker of means. Money, like a gun, depends on human intent to unleash its devastating power.

No, I’m afraid to say, Mr. Ryan, selfishness is not a virtue—it’s the real the root of all evil.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson