Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bridging History on a Changing Planet

Journal Entry- December 12, 2007

The headline was blunt and unmistakable, “The Arctic is Screaming,” it read. The Arctic is screaming I thought as I sipped coffee and thought back five months to the day when I arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to sail the infamous Northwest Passage.

Sitting in my comfortable, dry quarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a long way from the Arctic, but the 6,640 miles and 73 days of sailing through the ice-free Passage is still fresh on my mind.

I have to admit to being a bit numb after the intensity experienced during a long, cold, and successful run through the Arctic. We made some sailing history for sure, but what is the real story here, what does it all mean, and how best to share this story with the public?

These thoughts swirl through my mind constantly as I struggle to reimmerse myself back into the daily grind of life and work. Well, if the Arctic is screaming, and I was certainly there to listen, what did I hear? This seems to be the place to begin assembling the many voices from the north making all the noise.

A bit of preface, we transitted the NW Passage on a 57’ ketch, named Cloud Nine, during the summer of 2007 (see my other blog for the full story). I was also aboard Cloud Nine in 1994 when we tried the Passage the first time. We got hopelessly trapped in the ice and barely made our retreat out of the Arctic’s grip to safety. Cloud Nine also attempted the Passage in 2005 with the same results.

Bridging History

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 4, 2007:

David Thoreson after the completion in Kodiak, Alaska, “The good news for Cloud Nine may be bad news for the planet.”

"We expected to see less ice, but we didn't expect almost no ice," said Thoreson, who kept a blog of the journey, adding entries whenever he reached a place he could write.

"I feel strongly that we have witnessed the end of an era and the beginning of a new one," Thoreson wrote at one point. "The golden age of exploration, Amundsen's era, has come to a close, and a new era of exploration involving study and change in the Earth's climate is just beginning."

"We on Cloud Nine have experienced both eras. Frozen in and stuck in the ice twice over 13 years, and now sailing through unscathed and witnessing an ice-free Northwest Passage. We have bridged the two eras."

This was my small voice calling out to those who would hear it that I had witnessed something profound. Little did I know that the summer of 2007 actually blew the top off all Arctic records.
We were a small “canary in the coal mine” contributing in our own way to the growing evidence of rapid melting and disintegration of the Arctic ice cap.

I would like to add my voice, as I can, to some of the voices and evidence below, to scream loud, long, and hard for everyone to listen to the greatest challenge facing the human race, climate change.

Published on Wednesday, December 12, 2007 by Associated Press

Ominous Arctic Melt Worries Experts
by Seth Borenstein

An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

Greenland’s ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer’s end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

“The Arctic is screaming,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.
Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions.”

- Surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean this summer were the highest in 77 years of record-keeping, with some places 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to research to be released Wednesday by University of Washington’s Michael Steele.

New data, from a NASA satellite, measures ice volume. NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke, reviewing it and other Greenland numbers, concluded: “We are quite likely entering a new regime.”
Melting of sea ice and Greenland’s ice sheets also alarms scientists because they become part of a troubling spiral.

White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun’s heat off Earth, NASA’s Zwally said. When there is no sea ice, about 90 percent of the heat goes into the ocean which then warms everything else up. Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.

“That feedback is the key to why the models predict that the Arctic warming is going to be faster,” Zwally said. “It’s getting even worse than the models predicted.”

Beyond Science to Reality

Everywhere I traveled this summer in the Arctic, from Greenland, sailing east to Alaska, there was story after story of changing cultures.

Local hunters in West Greenland talked of unstable sea ice because of too many icebergs produced and then refrozen into the pack ice. The icebergs constantly shift making sea ice dangerous to travel by sledge and snowmobile. Hunters and fisherman in Nunavut, Canada, spoke of the increased average summer wind speeds and shorter calms in the summer resulting in treacherous small boat voyages to traditional hunting camps. And I even met a birder who was going Siberia to see migrating species which had never been seen that far north. An Alaskan elder in the Little Diomedes observed barn swallows which had never been seen in recorded, or oral, histories.

Then there are just the bizarre climate change stories, as in Ireland.

Non-native jellyfish wipe out salmon fishery in Northern Ireland – another warning sign?
Sunday, December 02, 2007

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a massive bloom of “mauve stinger” jellyfish, in a dense pack covering 10 square miles 35 feet deep, thousands of miles north of their preferred ocean habitat, feasted on about a half a million pounds of gourmet, organic salmon being raised in pens off the coast of northern Ireland and slated for market during the upcoming holiday season. All indications are that climate change played a key role in the fatal intrusion.

The village of Shishmaref, northwestern Alaska, is having to be moved because of rising sea levels, more wind, and massive coastal erosion. Thus we have the first climate refugees and potentially a $150 million dollar tab to move the 300 native inhabitants. "I went to school on the mainland, and when I came back, my house was gone. They moved it to the other side of the village, or it would've fallen in the sea." Leona Goodhope, Shishmaref, Alaska.

Permafrost is melting making iceroads and transportation corridors unstable and buckling local roads and airport runways. Meltwater from the tundra is picking up silt and making the deltas in western Alaskan more shallow adding to the storm surges further erosion. And yes, there is another greenhouse gas, methane, which has been locked up in the permafrost which is now being released through the melting process in unprecedented amounts.

Stalemates, Arrogance, and Ostriches.

Of course there are some rather large obstacles turning deaf ears to all of the science and personal narratives. There will always be skeptics who want to prevent change to new and clean energy resources and technologies.

“I think we have a problem on global warming. I think there is a debate about whether it’s caused by mankind or whether it’s caused naturally, but it’s a worthy debate. It’s a debate, actually, that I’m in the process of solving…” President Bush in July 2006.

On December 12, 2007, the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a majority report that concludes that the Bush Administration politically interfered with climate change science communication and misled policy makers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

With this obvious stalemate at the federal level and no hope of ratifying the Kyoto treaty, it seems to be local and state entities that are supplying the leadership on the climate and carbon issues. Following are some examples of the quiet revolution which is taking place across the nation and beyond.

"We need an energy bill that encourages consumption."
-President Bush, Sept. 23, 2002, Trenton, New Jersey, speech

Well sir, I disrespectfully disagree. And so do the vast majorities of American and world leaders and citizens. We can see change, innovation and leadership forming all around us. This is the hope to solve the interconnected issue of climate change.

On February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol, which proposed to reduce global warming by cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, became law for the 141 countries that signed the agreement. Since the United States was not one of the countries that signed that agreement, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol at a local level through leadership and action. Under the agreement, participating cities commit to take the following three actions:

• Strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, through actions ranging from anti-sprawl land-use policies to urban forest restoration projects to public information campaigns;
• Urge their state governments, and the federal government, to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction target suggested for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol -- 7% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012; and
• Urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation, which would establish a national emission trading system

**Since the agreement was launched in 2005, 830 cities have signed the agreement.

My home state, Iowa

Thank you Iowa Governor Culver for taking a strong and bold leadership role in what is turning out to be a new state’s rights issue and movement across America.

Culver and other “regional” leaders agreed to help reduce the critical threat of global warming and promote economic development when they signed a pact to significantly reduce carbon emissions, Iowa environmental leaders said.

Culver joined leaders of five other Midwestern states and the Premier of Manitoba, Canada in a pact to cut carbon pollution 60 to 80 percent, as recommended by scientists. The historic, multi-state agreement, signed at a meeting of the Midwest Governors Association, will spur investment in clean, renewable energy and energy efficient technology – fueling the growth of local industries in Iowa.

“Our governors today will propel Iowa and the Midwest to a clean energy economy. Boosting our use of wind, solar, and biomass will create thousands of new jobs,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy director at the Iowa Environmental Council.

Already wind turbine manufacturers have brought nearly 1,000 new jobs and over $100 million in capital investments to Iowa. Studies by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Law & Policy Center show that thousands of additional jobs and investments are in store from the kind of clean energy policies recommended in this platform.

American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment

“We (over 400 strong), the undersigned presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities, are deeply concerned about the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects. We recognize the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely being caused by humans. We further recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80% by mid-century at the latest, in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming and to reestablish the more stable climatic conditions that have made human progress over the last 10,000 years possible.” Excerpt from
The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment

College of the Atlantic Goes "Net-Zero" for Carbon Emissions
By Associated Press
December 19, 2007

BAR HARBOR, Maine - College of the Atlantic has become the nation's first "net-zero" campus for carbon emissions, school officials said Wednesday.

The college said it has offset its entire emissions output of 2,488 tons over the past 15 months by investing in a greenhouse gas reduction project in Oregon.

At his inauguration in October 2006, College of the Atlantic President David Hales pledged to make the campus carbon-neutral by this month. Since then, more than 450 other universities and colleges have also taken "net-zero" pledges through the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment program.

Bush’s EPA Denies California's Right to Mandate Emissions

Sometimes the Bush administration picks a really, really bad fight with the wrong leader. When that leader is the head of the world’s sixth largest economy and “terminates” his enemies, it is best sometimes to listen, and possibly, fall into line. California’s trends usually sweep the country. It is very important this trend is coming from a very upset, and recently more progressive (and populist) Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Governor Schwarzenegger issued the following statement after the U.S. EPA, after nearly two years of delay, rejected California's request to regulate tailpipe emissions from passenger cars and light trucks.

"California has a long and proud history of leadership in reducing pollution and fighting for clean air. Our citizens place a high priority on good health and a clean environment, and we are ready to implement the nation's cleanest standards for vehicle emissions. It has been nearly two years since we requested the waiver and, now, sixteen other states are following our lead to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, increase fuel efficiency and help reduce harmful greenhouse gases. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year made it clear that the EPA has the authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

Schwarzenegger assailed the EPA, "It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation. We will continue to fight this battle. California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today's decision and allow Californians to protect our environment."

States that have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, California's strict automobile emissions standards are: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

"The Supreme Court told EPA it has to take action on global warming. It affects our health and our environment. It's not just about fuel economy."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) echoed the prevailing sentiments and called the EPA’s decision "disgraceful."

Hmmmmm.....seems the times they are a changin’ as an old muse once said. The trends are there. The political will seems to be lining up from all sides. It’s all about inertia and the ball is rollin’ along an interesting path.

One final thought. Has any “higher” authority ever checked in on this? Let’s see...

Genesis 2:15 specifically calls us "to watch over and care for" the bounty of the earth and its creatures. Scripture not only affirms this role, but warns that the earth is not ours to abuse, own, or dominate. The Bible clearly says in Revelation 11:18 that "God will destroy those who destroy the earth."