climate change

I’m giving up all non-emergency air travel

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I’m giving up all non-emergency air travel.

The Blue Marble, as seen from Apollo 17

At some point future generations are going to ask “Why didn’t you do something? Anything?!” and I refuse to arrive in that moment empty-handed, especially with a head full of beautiful jet-set vacation memories to prove how little concern I had for future generations or the commons. I already live 100% solar off-grid and drive a Prius and my contribution –my sacrifice– is still not enough for me, especially considering how absolutely filthy air travel is and how utterly avoidable.

So for my kids, my brother’s kids, for everyone’s kids…for the children they will bequeath to the world some day…for the one-in-a-trillion chance that gave us this perfectly habitable biosphere…for all the critters who flock to and rely on my little oasis…that’s it. No more air travel.

There’s nothing so important about my time I feel entitled to ask you to pay for it by deducting its cost from what remains of our shared home in the terrestrial biosphere. If someone was injured or on the verge of death for instance I can’t think of an American who’d refuse me the chance to be at that bedside in a timely manner if means to such speed was available. Flying up to Seattle for a concert or a routine visit however…I can’t ask other people to pay for that with their breath; their health. There’s nothing so important about my time.

‘Organic Island’ redux: Bhutan takes steps toward becoming the world’s first ‘organic country’; ten year timeline proposed

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So the notion of taking a whole nation organic isn’t so loopy (or original) after all. In Bhutan, political and social leaders are coalescing around a plan to ban a whole slew of agricultural and industrial chemical poisons and promote sustainable, organic methods in their agricultural sector. It runs counter to the ‘what’s good for business is good for [insert nation here]’ thinking that so frequently prevails but this decision represents not some atavistic neo-Luddite groundswell that’s predestined to fail but a fantastic opportunity for innovation and development that employs and educates vast populations in its achievement and maintenance.

Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.
Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.

Organic agriculture relies on the maxim “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” The organic farmer learns more, thinks more, and works harder to produce the same pound of cocoa or tomatoes or sugar cane as his/her conventional compatriots. Organic farmers accept a self-imposed standard of excellence that functionally eliminates 80% of the problem-solving shortcuts available to conventional farmers: the ‘spray-and-forget’ solutions that never ask how the shortcut was manufactured or where it goes after it kills whatever needed killing. National acceptance of the organic farmer’s mindful ways is the opposite of atavistic. It is an evolution: a step forward that equally and unreservedly reveres their shared past, present, and future.

In a nation with so ancient a Buddhist & Hindu tradition maybe the idea of everyone working together to improve everyone’s situation isn’t so alien or unlikely-seeming. I think perhaps that’s why I could see Grenada going the same way. I saw so much real agape on the island I can’t help but believe the political will exists to undertake the same level of national self-improvement & -empowerment. Every human rationale and potential benefit that accrues around this call to action applies to Grenada as well. Someone has to show the world what ‘possible’ means.

Plants hidden by glaciers since the time of Henry VIII germinating upon re-exposure

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In vitro culture of Aulacomnium turgidum regenerated from emergent Little Ice Age population beneath the Tear Drop Glacier, Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Credit: Image courtesy of Catherine La Farge.
In vitro culture of Aulacomnium turgidum regenerated from emergent Little Ice Age population beneath the Tear Drop Glacier, Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Credit: Image courtesy of Catherine La Farge.

This from the world of neato: plants hidden by glaciers in the Canadian arctic since the time of Henry VIII were germinating within a year of re-exposure to the sun:

While in the field, the researchers from the University of Alberta discovered that the receding ice–which has doubled from 2 meters per year in the 1990s to 4.1 meters per year in 2009–had uncovered lots of mosses and other non-vascular plants, including more than 60 plant species. Upon careful examination, the scientists were impressed by how well preserved the delicate bodies were; the stems and leaf structures were perfectly intact, although some of them were only one-cell layer think. Using radiocarbon dating, they determined that those plants have been frozen for 500 years since the Little Ice Age when the glacier was at its maximum.

The most surprising thing, however, was that many of the plants were showing signs of life: they had green tips and fresh off-shoots, even though they have only been ice-free for less than a year and were just a few centimeters away from the glacier margin.

Read the rest here.

Sea surface temperatures reach highest level in 150 years

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I’m certain everything is totally fine; that we’ll commit ourselves to get serious about magic-ing the planet out of the fix we put it into one of these days too:

Sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years, according to the latest Ecosystem Advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). These high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are the latest in a trend of above average temperature seen during the spring and summer seasons, and part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic, but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin over the past century.

Read more here.

Car-Free Living :: Grocery delivery found ‘greener’ than driving to the store

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More support for the car-free existence (at least in markets where retailers like Safeway and Amazon Fresh operate):

Ordering your groceries online and having them delivered to your door can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half compared with driving to the store yourself, University of Washington engineers reported Monday.

“A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here,” Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a news release. “From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions.”

It’s important to note the global warming footprint of many foodstuffs is already high by virtue of carbon-intensive production or the emissive nature of the livestock in question. If you believe (as I do) that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution applicable to personal approaches to climate mitigation you will view this method of carbon savings as another arrow in your personal reduction quiver.

Read the rest here.

Study finds belief in ‘free market economics’ correlated to rejection of science behind climate change

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In exploring the rationales behind rejection of mainstream scientific consensus points (specifically rejection of the science behind climate change) Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia and two colleagues arrived at an interesting conclusion (published in the journal ‘Psychological Science’):

Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the study further found ‘free market capitalists’ identifiably joined in the ranks of climate deniers by moon landing conspiracy theorists and people who think the FBI killed Martin Luther King.

The company you keep.

‘Missing’ heat of global warming ‘found’ in the deep ocean

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Total ocean heat content shown in violet, while grey shows 0 to 300 meters and blue shows 300 to 700 meters. Vertical colored bars show volcanic eruptions that cooled the Earth for a short period and the 1997-98 El Nino event. Chart from Balmaseda et al.

We are reminded here of the second of Ernest Callenbach’s ‘Four Laws of Ecology,’ namely that “Everything goes somewhere.”

There is no polluting our environment –whether with atoms or heat– without that pollution having some effect on the environment as a whole. In this case heat we had predicted but had been unable to account for –the absence of which provided momentary cover for climate change deniers– has been shown not to have ‘magically disappeared’ as deniers may have hoped but rather to have been displacing cold water in the deep ocean.

“Increasingly in the past decade, more of that heat has been dumped at levels below 700 meters, where most previous analyses stop. About 30 percent has gone below 700 meters in depth,” explains co-author Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “This is fairly new, it is not there throughout the record.”

Scientists have long known that around 90 percent of the heat from climate change ends up in the oceans and they suspected that this was where the ‘missing heat’ would be found. The study find that climate change has revved up worldwide, instead of stopping.

“This signals the beginning of the most sustained warming trend in this record of [ocean heat content],” the scientists write in the paper. “Indeed, recent warming rates of the waters below 700 meters appear to be unprecedented.”

Read more here.

Business lobbyists ALEC shops bills to silence factory-farm whistleblowers

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…because producers of pork, poultry, and beef who rely on CAFOs or feedlots realize their business depends on their consumers not discovering the unhealthful conditions in which their food is produced. The consumer needs to know nothing except that bacon is tasty and comes in sanitary packaging, even if the creature from which it was cut lived its entire life without seeing the sun, knee-deep in vile-smelling filth, unhappy, and at enhanced risk of mass-infection.

Narrowcast, punitive laws of this nature in no way serve the public good. Perhaps regrettably, consumers retain the right to ignore the facts about the things they consume, but there can be no defense for an effort to prevent consumers from having even the option of informed choices. If pork, beef, and chicken producers are so worried about public reaction to their methods perhaps they should endeavor not to use methods any normal, compassionate human would find abhorrent.

Bills being shopped in six states by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would make it a crime to film animal abuse at factory farms or lie on job applications, in hopes of shutting down animal rights activists who infiltrate slaughterhouses to expose ghastly conditions.

“The meat industry’s response to these exposes has not been to try to prevent these abuses from taking place, but rather it’s really just been to prevent Americans from finding out about those abuses in the first place,” Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told Raw Story. “What they’re doing is trying to pass laws throughout the country that don’t just shoot the messenger, they seek to imprison the messenger.”

The proposals mandate that evidence of animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, or face a financial penalty. Several of the bills bills also make it a crime to lie on slaughterhouse job applications, which activists commonly do in order to get footage like the content of a video published by the HSUS, embedded below.

Read more here. Here’s a partial description of conditions in a CAFO by someone who worked in one (click through for the full NSFL description):

The first thing one notices walking into a CAFO is the smell. It burns in the eyes and mucous membranes. This is the only air the animals gets to breathe all day…

Reason #613 I’m Glad We Don’t Own A Car: Greenland Is Melting

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From NASA:

For several days this month, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.

On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. But this year the extent of ice melting at or near the surface jumped dramatically. According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.

Researchers have not yet determined whether this extensive melt event will affect the overall volume of ice loss this summer and contribute to sea level rise.

Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.

Unprecedented Melting In Greenland
Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right). Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12. In the image, the areas classified as “probable melt” (light pink) correspond to those sites where at least one satellite detected surface melting. The areas classified as “melt” (dark pink) correspond to sites where two or three satellites detected surface melting. The satellites are measuring different physical properties at different scales and are passing over Greenland at different times. As a whole, they provide a picture of an extreme melt event about which scientists are very confident. Credit: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

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This is the stuff we love about science: the use of modern tools to take us out of the realm of our human perceptions and see the world for what it truly is: something other than how we perceive it.


Last year, a group of NASA scientists and animators put together this animation of the world’s ocean surface currents, based on ocean flow data for June 2005 to December 2007. The video starts over the Atlantic, and as the globe rotates, you can see the whorls and waves dancing across the ocean, the relative calm of the Pacific, and the stillness around Antarctica. It’s dazzling and hypnotic. We really should be posting this on a Friday afternoon:

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