..and meanwhile we slumbered

3 05 2007

Antarctica

Take a look at the following extracts from an article(1) from one of the most esteemed scientific journals – Nature. Many parts of it will sound fairly familiar.  The article is titled “West antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster”

 “……long been suspected, but only recently, as the implications of a continuation of the current near exponential growth of the industrial CO2 production have been realised, have many come to fear a disastrous climatic warming in the rather near future.  In a recent report on the climatic effects of energy production,  [omitted] et al. conclude that industrial civilization may soon have to decide whether or not to make the tremendous investment of capital and effort needed to change over from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.”

 and further in,

 “One warning sign that a dangerous warming is beginning in Antarctica will be the breakup of ice shelves in the Antarctic peninsula just south of the recent January 0 degree C isotherm;………….There is some evidence not yet conclusive, that such a southward recession of the ice shelf limit in the Antarctic Peninsula has already begun;…”

The article from which these extracts come was authored by J.H. Mercer from Ohio State University. 

The year of publication…….wait for it………1978.  Yep, before the  internet and mobile phones, before the PC or the Mac, before the space shuttle, cabbage patch kids or walkmans.

I set out wondering if I could shock myself looking for articles from the past…and I think I succeeded.   The truly scary thing is that I found a heap of articles on global warming in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Here’s some other happenings of 1978:

  • The World Health Organisation is formed.
  • The Bee Gees dominate music charts.
  • Jimmy Carter postpones development of the neutron bomb.
  • In Australia, the Hilton Hotal bomb is detonated.
  • Serial killer Ted Bundy is caught in the USA.
  • People born in that year like Audrey Tautou, Harry Kewel, Katie Holmes and Ben Lee are all just about to turn 30 yrs of age.

So why exactly did it take THREE DECADES to get this issue discussed around the BBQ?  I can’t say for sure.  Now, it’s true that there was still a high degree of uncertainty in 1978.  I’m not suggesting that the article’s predictions all hit the target.  But there was some significant concern in parts of the scientific literature and it beggars belief that we have been so careless and blind over this period.    My main point here is that we could have and should have acted earlier.  It is a misconception to think that this whole climate change thing has just come out of nowhere or is a passing fad-theory.

As for the predictions of antarctic peninsula ice sheets – the massive Larsen B ice sheet in this area broke up in 2002.

1.      Mercer, J.H. West antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of diaster. Nature 1978; 271: 321-5

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7 responses

3 05 2007
Trinifar

It’s just stunning. 29 years to go from initial evidence to the bare beginnings of action on national scales. I wonder how long it will take to get to the point where we are able to decrease the CO2 concentration? Great post.

3 05 2007
John Feeney

I think this ties in with questions concerning what really prompts action (closely associated with getting an issue discussed around the BBQ). I wonder if it’s taken the massive media saturation on climate change to finally prompt action. Yes, there has been a large increase in understanding and certainty about climate change, but I wonder…

It would make me very pessimistic about prompting action on our ecological crisis as a whole, but maybe there’s a real plus here. That is that talk of climate change is providing openings for talk of other issues. Maybe it will be the ice-breaker (hmm, so to speak) to raising awareness on other things.

3 05 2007
Verdurous

Trinifar thanks very much. It seems strange. Could it be that we got so tied up with little trivialities that we couldn’t see the picture all this time. I guess we had worries over nuclear winters and the like to distract us, and perhaps the Cold War etc. but there cannot any longer be excuses of any substance. I read George Monbiot’s (British writer) blog last night and I found it shocking and disheartening – still recovering. Have a look http://www.monbiot.com. How long until we start to decrease atmospheric CO2 levels? Can’t be sure. Too much depends on the vagaries of politics.

3 05 2007
Verdurous

John,

In this case, action is being prompted by politicians reacting reflexively to public pressure. These days they sense public pressure through the mass media. Is the media creating public disquiet or is the media picking up and amplifying exisitng disquiet. Probably both, in a cyclical fashion. What triggered the cycle? Most people seem to suggest “an inconvenient truth” and the Stern report. I would suggest it was primarily “an inconvenient truth” with the Stern report merely re-framing (to use Trinifar’s term) the issue in economic terms which is the vernacular of choice for most pollies and business type. But if I had to name one factor – it is Al Gore.

Will climate change discussion promote analysis of other issues? – absolutely. CO2 is so closely intertwined with other issues relating to development, population, energy, biodiversity and so on. It will have a domino effect. I suspect that it is not possible to deal effectively with climate change without questioning much we presently take for granted. Politics will change, economics will change, international diplomacy will change, social structures will change. We will need to harness the full power of human creativity to get over the line on this one. It is definitely an ice-breaker and perhaps much more than that. Everything we do in the future will have behind it the question/s – can we keep doing that forever? Is it truly sustainable? Wholistic thinking will overturn the trend towards super-specialisation of knowledge. A lot to ask for. But it cannot be any other way.

11 05 2007
michaelhill

Cut and paste.
There is a lot of it here. Frilly words and idyllic hippie vision does not solve any of the problems you get whipped into a frenzy about. What changes can you suggest off the top of your head to start next week?
WE, THE PEOPLE need to educate ourselves about the political process that we all rely on so heavily before we can hope for any legislation to come off of Capital Hill to start any of the changes you hope for.
Are you and all of your friends registered voters? If you vote is it for candidates that leave you high and dry? If that happens, do you know why?
I watched CSPAN today and Sen Joe Lieberman claimed to have been on the hill for 38 years. That is 75% of the problem. Dead wood in office that will work for none but the people that commission them. Commission? Yes, there are several senators and congressmen that are on retainer to whoever funds their PACs.
Vote younger politicians with fresh ideas into office and they will work for you.
This is part of the grassroots program I proposed to many 2 years ago. The congress changed a bit but, America still loves to drive the largest cars to and from work and then come home and sit with a beer in one hand and a TV remote control in the other. How many will watch CSPAN as I do?
Changes? Right now, immediately, we need automobiles that get 50 mpg. They exist in Europe right now. I think if to be a far better alternative to the 6 million horsepower Ford super duty that gets 8-10 mpg.
Solar power research is at a standstill as free electricity cuts into the revenue of oil companies. Windmills are not the end-all. What do satellites have aboard to supply them with electrical power? Solar panels. The roof of every house in every city has a huge footprint for solar panels.

So, take a step back from your very liberal POV and offer some real solutions that can happen right now. Earth day parades solve little while real science does.
Politics has to start changing yesterday.

14 05 2007
Verdurous

Michael,

Welcome and thanks for the comment.

We share some common ground. We both feel that politics has become corrupted to a degree in your country and mine – Australia.

Do I vote? Yes. Voting is compulsory in Australia as it is in many countries around the world.

I feel your rosy view of techno-fixes is a little misplaced. I’m a gadget fan, but I’m also aware that technology is often a double-edged sword bringing benefits and harms. e.g. nuclear energy, plastics/industrial chemicals, motor vehicles etc. Most of the solutions to our troubles are social not technological. An example, food shortages are presently a problem of distribution, not because there aren’t enough genetically modified foods. In the USA 30% of household food is thrown in the garbage.

Take a look at “technological optimism” on wikipedia or elsewhere. Also look at the arguments against it.

So what would I do?

Well firstly I would not rely on clean coal or nuclear (Aus presently has no nuclear power stations). Clean coal remains science fiction at this stage, though it deserves investigating. Nuclear takes twenty years to get going and we don’t have that luxury.

In government, I would 1) tax carbon emissions heavily and reduce taxes on income/labour.
2) Ban political donations from corporations and private individuals. Campaigns must be publicly funded. 3) Strengthen media diversity laws. 4) Encourage the development of distributed renewable energy networks. 5) Pay people to contribute energy to the grid from their own home’s sources.
6) Implement Al Gore’s “Connie May”. That’s a nickname for Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association (CNMA) – a fund that lets people borrow at inflation-only interest rates to improve ther home’s efficiency, paying back the loan as they save on energy.

I hope that’s a good start. Ultimately the quickest gains will be from reducing waste (improving energy efficiency – there is huge potential).

Regarding my views. I guess many of my view would be regarded as liberal, but some others are conservative. Even the liberal ones are often driven more from a conservative spirit. I’m reflexivley conservative by nature. I want to keep a lot of things the way they are – forests, species, ecosystems and so on in particular.

I want my kids to enjoy these things and I wish to avoid large scale, rapid, catastrophic suffering to human societies in the future. I’m a big fan of the saying: “It is time to put the CONSERVE back in the word – conservative. There is nothing conservative about experimenting with the globe’s climate and atmospheric make-up, which had been previously stable for more than 600,000 years.

14 05 2007
michaelhill

Verd,
For any real differences to take place in the manner in which man damages the planet there has to be real actions made. My “rosy” views are realistic and when presented correctly, are publicly attractive from the point of view of decreased expenses.
You suggest taxes and other political moves that can take years, decades to be enacted. Politicians drag their feet at these topics and those that are to be taxed will hardly yield what the idyllic charts represent. Connie May is a pipe dream for the time being as their is no standards for what constitutes how and what fits in the scope of making the home energy efficient. Student loans have to be squeezed from those that owe them years after they graduate from college. I replaced every window in my house as well as new doors last summer – what do I qualify for, a gold star?

If a salesman came to your house to sell a home water filter to you and impressed you do so, wouldn’t he have done more than your local government sitting in brief hearings with 5 minutes of this topic allotted once a month for the same filter?

The arguments against “technological optimism” don’t outweigh the outcry that Al Gore and “conservatives” want now. I mentioned ceasing the manufacturing of plastics in another reply to you. We have far too many plastic products made for this world-wide society of “use and toss” mentality we live in. Current recycling of these products, mainly plastics, are poor attempts at best.

Importing automobiles that get 200% better fuel mileage is comparable to what happened in this country in the early 1970s. Toyotas and Datsuns that were getting 30mpg were ou the doors of dealerships. The Volkswagon beetle was touted as costing “2 pennies per mile” back then.
Getting people off the grids has to be thought about in urban areas. How are people going to generate electricity to sell back to the utility companies? Windmills might be fine in rural areas. That is why I suggest photo-voltaic cells on the roofs of houses. These are not “gadgets”. I worked in the aerospace field for a long time and satellites get their power from one source and quite effectively.

Conservation is synonymous with preservation – that doesn’t work. Lightening strikes cause more wildfires than do humans. Our society will exhaust $$$$ trying to fight these fires that are part of nature. W e try to save our homes, yes, but hundreds of acres of forests that burn naturally are part of a cycle of the growth of forests. Preserving land so that it remains in the hands of nature is a good thing but, man cannot expect the land to remain the same over centuries.
I have been to quite a few US National Parks. I see no reason to go abroad when it is all here in the USA. Camping at Yellowstone is outrageous. There are far too many people but man can only VIEW a limited part of that park. Abutting it is Jackson Hole. I did a two week stint there and learned forest fires burned a portion of those parks years ago. The wolf has been reintroduced to Yellowstone.
I Have been to Acadia in Maine a couple of times. Forest fires have happened there as well. The Park service can only maintain the lands as they are going to change in appearance over years.

To decease “experimenting with the globe’s climate and atmospheric make-up, which had been previously stable for more than 600,000 years” do you propose genocide so the population is considerably less and we burn wood for fuel purposes?

Have you looked into the HAARP antennae the different governments of the world are experimenting with?

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