I realize that I may be a little late to the party since all the buzz about this documentary occurred last year. But I finally got around to watching it and I’m glad I did. The personal story made me feel very invested in their discoveries. I will say that it is not a cheery film, but that seems to be impossible when talking about the massive coral die-offs in the last twenty years. Coral bleaching has been in the news recently. Unfortunately, in 2017, the year after the filming, there was another massive bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef. This is an article about it from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies: Yale Environment 360.
I did learn some things from the documentary. I learned how bad the bleaching in Florida is. That somehow hasn’t really made it into the news. And my mother, who watched it with me, learned a lot about coral itself. (I happen to have studied coral as an intern at the New England Aquarium.)
Finally, there were some important points made that I’m going to make here as well. Corals are like the trees in a forest (such a great analogy!). When they die, they take away an entire ecosystem. The fish and turtles and sharks leave too. Reefs are nurseries for a lot of fish, so even those fish species who don’t live there might have trouble without a place for their young to grow up. Coral reefs also protect shores from storm surge, so protecting them helps humans as well.
I recently attended a wonderful event at the New England Aquarium. It was co-hosted by Women Working for Oceans, W2O, a group I recently discovered and am excited about. The event started with a display in the lobby showing the finalists’ designs for how Boston can build its waterfront to be resilient to sea level rise and storms. Some of the designs were really creative – things I never would have thought of. Then we went into the IMAX. The speaker who was the most interesting to me was Ellen Douglas. She talked about Hurricane Sandy. I didn’t realize that things could have been so much worse if it had just hit at high tide instead of low tide. Here is a map of the difference the tide can make.
Ellen Douglas is the main author on a a report called “Preparing for the Rising Tide.” After talking about the past, she moved on to the future. She talked about the projections of what will happen with sea level rise in Boston. She showed maps of what areas will flood and how often. These maps are similar to the one above that shows the flood depths. Then she showed ideas of flood walls – some that are benches until needed, berms, things that would help in the next storm. I’ve read a bunch about sea level rise but it somehow seemed even more real when looking at pictures and maps of a place I know. The second speaker was Robbin Peach from Massport. It was good to hear how much has been going into protecting the transportation infrastructure in Boston. Do you know if your city is prepared for the next big storm and sea level rise?
Before I had heard much about the drought in California, I started reading a book on glaciers. I didn’t know very much about glaciers or what they might have to do with a drought in California. Christopher White wrote a book about his trips to Glacier National Park in Montana and his conversations with people at the U.S. Geological Survey there. It’s called The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Vanishing Glaciers. What I learned was disturbing and kind of depressing.
The snowpack on glaciers in mountains around the world supply a lot of the world’s fresh water. (According to Live Science, 30% of California’s water is supplied by the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.) And glaciers are receding. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is the lowest in recorded history. Glacier National Park is on pace to have no glaciers anymore within decades. The lack of water for all the places that rely on snowpack are not the only concerns when studying glaciers and their recession. There are a wide variety of species that rely on glaciers and the tree line on mountains. The tree line is continuously moving up the mountain. The species that live on the coldest top of the mountain are getting crowded out. Glaciers recede and any animals who rely on white as camouflage are losing their ability to hide from predators.
The USGS has some amazing photos that show the difference between the size of the glaciers early in the 20th century and today (such as the one above). They have some wonderful information on their website: Retreat of Glaciers. They also have a link to a better succinct explanation of everything than I could do: Crownscience.org. I found a YouTube video that shows photo evidence of glacier retreat as part of the Extreme Ice Project: Chasing Ice. Glaciers are amazing evidence of global warming. And the retreat of glaciers is a global phenomenon, so it is not a matter of weather (local) but rather climate (global). Glaciers are measurable and thus are a barometer for the effects of climate change.
This is another example of all the information being out there, but not enough people paying attention.
I finally finished The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding although it took me a long time. I’m not sure why it took me so long. It’s a very interesting book with a lot to say about the impact of climate change on other aspects of our world. It’s subtitle is Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.
I have never really understood economics. I felt like I was beginning to by listening more to NPR, especially Marketplace. One of the things they always talk about is how many jobs have been added each month. I always wondered where those jobs were coming from and if they could possibly be permanent jobs. How many more things are there for people to do that aren’t being done? It turns out this is a good question and not purely economic ignorance on my part. Paul Gilding says that to get as close as possible to zero unemployment people need to work less so that more people can work. This will only work if our economy is no longer based on growth – on everyone having more money to spend it on more things. This is a growth economy.
Paul Gilding argues that our economy, a growth economy, cannot be sustainable. The Earth and its resources are finite. The idea that everyone should earn more and spend more and have more things doesn’t work. He says we need – and are going to be forced to switch to – a sustainable economy. The good news is that there is evidence that the richer you are – and the more stuff you have – doesn’t make you happier. So quality of life may actually improve in a sustainable economy rather than a growth economy. I found this hard to accept at first. I think more money will make me happier, but apparently that’s because I haven’t reached the income where I don’t have to worry about making it every month. Once you’re not concerned about money on a regular basis and are able to spend money on leisure activities, having more money no longer matters to your happiness.
Paul Gilding goes through what he expects will happen as our economy can no longer grow and the climate crisis gets worse. He thinks that a crisis or catastrophe will occur and suddenly the world will be forced to confront climate change. We will finally be forced to act. He titled this chapter The One-Degree War. This one degree of global warming means the Co2 concentration needs to be about 350 parts per million. (This number has been advocated by many people, including scientists.) Gilding claims that although it seems unrealistic now, once the world is mobilized people all over will find ways to make it happen. Despite what may seem like a doomsday message – our economy is unsustainable and we are headed for a crisis – he remains optimistic mostly because he believes in the creativity and intelligence of people.
I would like to encourage everyone to read the cover article on sea level rise in National Geographic. I particularly enjoyed all the graphics and pictures. There are links across the top and down the side which I would highly recommend clicking on.
I read this book based on a recommendation of another blogger and I am so glad I did. One of the best things about it is the amount of charts, graphs and pictures that are used. It is particularly helpful when he shows graphs of long periods of times and then blows up the more recent past to show the effects that recent greenhouse gas emissions have had. I realize that I was already a believer, but it does seem to prove that humans are changing the atmosphere and sea level.
This book has a lot of science in it, but it was still incredibly readable. I am not someone who enjoys reading science textbooks, or even scientific studies. John Englander has made the science understandable and easy to digest. There were plenty of things I wasn’t aware of – like the cycle of ice ages and how we are actually due to start the cooling phase heading toward another ice age. The sea level is at the high point with less water trapped in ice sheets. It looks like this started to happen in the past centuries but something (humans) changed the course of history. (Not to sound too dramatic.)
Did you know? Sharps Island off Maryland sunk into the Chesapeake Bay in 1962? Apparently due to sea level rise, erosion and sinking land. Holland Island, also in the Chesapeake, disappeared in 2010. Or how about this? “At our current rate of carbon emissions, we will increase carbon dioxide levels… roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 million years. Temperatures… are now rising about 55 times faster than they did even during the most recent cycle of glacial melting.”
Englander also talks about the impacts of sea level rise. Here is a website that models sea level rise on the coastline of the U.S.: Climate Central. The NOAA also has one. He goes through various cities and talks about what they would face and how much of their population would be effected. It is worth noting that along with changes in shoreline, the water table will rise with sea level and so many inland areas will also be affected.
Here are a couple more links from the book that I thought were interesting:
The Center for Alternative Technology in Britain released a report that says Britain could reduce their carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. It means we don’t need to rely on technology that hasn’t been developed. I hope it gets good publicity and maybe the U.S. can see what options are really available.
The subtitle for this book is The Human Cost of Climate Change. It paints a scary picture of what the world will look like in fifty years and a hundred years. It also makes a compelling argument for why we can’t afford to ignore what is happening. The book assumes that there will be a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2100. This is on the low end of the temperature rise that can be expected. It’s smart in that it allows the author to avoid being considered too alarmist and it turns out even a 2 degree rise would be horrific. I think everyone should read this book. Rather than write a true review, I would like to highlight some of the author’s major points.
I knew that the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of humanity’s love affair with releasing greenhouse gases (GHGs, the most important of which is carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. What I didn’t realize was that the Earth didn’t start warming immediately. It wasn’t until the 197os and 80s that it started and it started slowly. This delay means that even if we stop releasing GHGs entirely right now the Earth would still warm for a while.
One of the major human impacts of climate change will be the displacement of people. People will be forced out of their homes for a variety of reasons; rising oceans will force people away from the coast, higher temperatures will cause droughts and widening deserts, glaciers melting will cause floods in one season and droughts in another. Glaciers store water and release it into rivers as they melt. Melting too fast or disappearing and melting not at all creates floods, droughts and then a lack of water. Hurricanes and other major weather events will get worse because warm ocean water fuels hurricanes. These displaced people will live in refugee camps and overcrowded cities that will have poor sanitary conditions and people packed together breed disease.
The politics involved in global warming are complicated to say the least. But certain things are relatively clear. Rivers don’t pay attention to political boundaries and the need for water will cause conflict. For example, Turkey puts a dam on the Euphrates River and Syria and Iraq have a lot less water to work with. Tens of thousands and maybe millions of people moving to other countries when their countries are no longer habitable will also cause political tension.
What you don’t want to know: There are island nations, including the Maldives and Tuvalu, who will disappear under the sea even if we start cutting GHG emissions right now. “The level of GHGs today is higher than at any point in at least 650,000 years and is currently rising more than fifty times as fast as what would be caused by natural fluctuations.” “The best information we have from still-earlier periods suggests that you would have to go back at least 15 million years to find another time with concentration levels [of CO2] as high as today’s. During that period, temperatures were much warmer than they are today, sea levels were 20 to 35 meters higher, and no permanent ice cap existed in the Arctic.” “Every year, a part of Nigeria about the size of Rhode Island turns to desert. Across the continent, the Sahara is spreading southward at a rate of more than three miles a year.” “Between the mid-1970s and the year 2000, for example, climate change caused the annual loss of more than 150,000 lives….”