bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Glaciers and water

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.

GrinnellQuad_an

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.


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Overheated by Andrew Guzman

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….”