Saturday, March 24, 2012

Global Warming is Cool!

As with most polarized issues, Climate Change has adherents on both ends of the spectrum: on the one hand those who lay the cause of climate variation at human feet (and cars, factories, power plants and airliners); and at the opposite extreme, those who minimize or eliminate human causation and insist on natural explanations.

Of course, as one might expect, the reality lies somewhere in between.

Does human activity affect climate variation? Certainly. Does climate vary in the absence of human forcing? Most certainly. What does this mean for human civilization and the future of the Earth's environments? We-e-e-ell, it's hard to say. Prediction is a tricky business, especially with respect to the future.

As an archaeologist, I view climate variation from a different time scale than that discussed by most climate change enthusiasts on both sides of the argument. 17, 20, 50, 100 years is an eye-blink in geologic time, even in the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens. When we look at long series data, such as the Vostok ice core records, it's clear that the current warming phase is the most recent warming in a cycle that goes back 1.5 million years. We're about to the top of the cycle, ready for the long plunge into the next "ice age" that will bottom out in about 20,000 years.

Coupled with Peak Oil and the incipient decline in fossil fuel resources, human contributions to Global Warming will decline within the next 100 years. If human activity has delayed the onset of the next cooling period, this will certainly come to an end within the lifetime of many people now alive. That doesn't mean glaciers will start marching across Fargo, North Dakota anytime soon. Rather, it means that Anthropogenic Global Warming will not continue indefinitely, atmospheric CO2 levels will decline as the cooling ocean absorbs the excess, and the Earth will slide gently into the next cycle of Global Cooling.

What does that mean for humans alive on this Earth right now?

Given the overwhelming force of natural climate change exhibited in long term climate cycles, there's nothing humans can do to forestall the ultimate descent into the next cooling phase. At present, science, politics and public policy is focused on mitigation of observed increases in global average surface temperature, perceived to be caused by anthropogenic CO2. While this is ultimately futile, the economic and technological changes necessary to reduce anthropogenic CO2 will have the unintended consequence of also decreasing some human caused pollution, habitat loss and biodiversity reduction caused by fossil fuel exploitation.

However, reduction in fossil fuel use must be accompanied by increases in "renewable" energy resources such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, which have their own demands on natural resources, critical natural habitats and the species that live therein. There's no "clean" energy source to replace fossil fuels that will eliminate negative consequences to non-human species.

Whether the coming changes in human societies be aimed at reducing global warming, preparing for the inevitable global cooling, or learning to live as a part of the Earth, not apart from the Earth, humans must develop resilient societies capable of accommodating to a variable environment shared by myriad other living beings. This means a drastically smaller human population, consuming considerably less energy and natural resources than we do today.

Rather than fighting among ourselves over the last bite on the plate, and wasting billions of monetary units from our declining economies, why not just do the right thing that we should have been doing all along? That is, reduce our impact on the natural world so as to increase the chances of all species surviving indefinitely into the future.

Now would be a good time to start.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What I Learned from the Exxon Valdez

It's been twenty-three years since I woke up and heard the radio announcer say, "The Exxon Valdez is on the rocks of Bligh Reef and leaking oil."

Those of us who lived in Valdez and worked through the next three years of industrial strength oil-spill clean-up would have been shocked in disbelief to know that twenty-three years later nothing will have changed.

As I write, Shell is unceremoniously towing two rusting drilling platforms into Arctic waters far more forbidding than the gentle inlets and bays of Prince William Sound 1,000 miles south, where Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in North America. The fragile rigs face winters of crushing ice constantly on the move, creating craggy pressure ridges as the ice is thrust back and forth by winds and currents. Just like the Deepwater Horizon, they will be drilling holes in deep pools of crude oil and bringing it to the surface, through ever-shifting ice, in waters replete with marine mammals and fish.

An oil spill in the Arctic is nothing like an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is no industrial infrastructure in the Far North, no roads, no deep water ports, no airports, no oil spill equipment, no thousands of volunteers for clean-up crews. There is, however, plenty of ice, snow, temperatures to 60 below zero. Do you know what happens to machinery at 60 below? It stops, unless you keep it running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if it stops, it's unlikely it will start again until Summer, such as it is. Metal becomes brittle and breaks. Plastic and rubber solidify and crumble. Diesel oil congeals. Propone turns to liquid. Pour out a cup of coffee in the open air and it vaporizes with a WHOOSH! before it hits the ice. It's a strange, dark, icy world, where nothing is as it is in the Lower 48.

And yet, the oil execs say, "Trust us." Just as Exxon did so many times in 1989.

The one lesson we learned in Prince William Sound is that once the oil is out of the bottle, there's no putting it back in. This was in Alaska's banana belt, with temperate rain forests gracing the shores, warm summer weather, an international airport in Anchorage just 250 miles away, smaller airports nearby in Valdez, Cordova and Kodiak. A highway from Anchorage to Valdez. Oil spill equipment stockpiled at the Alyeska Marine Terminal Facility.

None of this exists in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic is just one more environmental disaster waiting to happen.

When do we say, "Enough?'

Won't we ever say, "No more?"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Global Warming Must Be Stopped - Even if it doesn't exist

Climate change supporters and global warming skeptics continue to argue vociferously throughout the blogosphere, each touting their own opinion about the reality of climate change, its human origins, or not, predicting dire results, global benefits and, always, political outcomes.

The result is a moribund environmental community, unable to deal with anything other than the argument amongst deniers and alarmists about what constitutes climate change, how soon will it make itself known and what are the implications for the natural world, and, of course, humankind. Few admit to the full implications of "doing something" about climate change, that is reduce human industrial activity in order to reduce CO2 production to a level deemed "sustainable" by those who make decisions about such things. Not that there is any science behind this speculation. It just sounds good.

Global warming alarmists take it as given that the observed steady increase in global atmospheric CO2 concentration is a result if human CO2 production, despite the fact that we have only observed global average atmospheric CO2 concentration since 1958, and we have only a vague idea of what CO2 concentration was before that time. Ice core records go back thousands of years, but are not helpful in the past 2,000 years. Even beyond, atmospheric CO2 levels are difficult to discern with any accuracy as there is not a one to one linear relationship between the contents of a bubble in a glacier and the content of the atmosphere at the time it was captured in ice. The capture process may take hundreds of years, while gas exchange continues between the ice and the atmosphere.

The upshot is that we don't really understand the relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentration and global average surface temperature. Which comes first, variation temperature or variation CO2 concentration? Ice core records, as imprecise as they are, seem to indicate that, historically,  CO2 concentration variation lags global average surface temperature. This would imply that today's increase in CO2 concentration is a result of the warming during the Medieval Warming Period 800 years ago, rather than modern CO2 concentration causing an immediate rise in global average surface temperature.

The fact that global average surface temperature has been rising steadily and slowly since the end of the Little Ice Age, around 1800, before significant human CO2 production, suggests that the latter interpretation more accurately fits the observations. And the rise in CO2 concentration is consistent with a temperature caused increase in CO2 800 years after a significant rise in global average surface temperature.

It seems most likely that observed climate variation is a result of natural climate drivers, such as interacting solar and cosmic cycles, modified by interacting internal positive and negative feedbacks (such as warming from human produced CO2). This means that there is very little, if anything at all, that we can do to significantly alter observed patterns of natural climate variation.

That being said, it's high time to get off the Global Warming Hysteria Wagon (TR) and get back to the grinding everyday gut work of environmentalism. There's plenty of habitat loss, air, water and soil pollution, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, human population excess and resulting ecosystem degradation going on to keep us all busy for the rest of our lives, if we live that long.

Let's stop this Global Warming nonsense and get back to the task at hand: stop the human growth monster, with its companion consumption ogre; repair, restore, revive and reinvigorate the remaining natural, undeveloped world, and roll back the destruction of the natural world that has been the chief human occupation for the past 5,000 years.

Stop Global Warming! Start Global Healing!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Do Humans "Fight" Against Nature?

Crews fight off San Lorenzo River to save Boardwalk - Santa Cruz Sentinel

The attitude that we must "fight off" the "stubborn" river reveals a deeply dysfunctional view of the non-human world.

The philosophy that humans are engaged in a struggle against Nature is very old and increasingly tired. We are discovering more and more each day that the only way forward on this Earth is cooperative rather than combative, in harmony rather than seeking dominion, living as a part of the Earth, not apart from the Earth.

In our hubris, we continually build structures and facilities in areas such as floodplains, forests, volcanic slopes, ocean bluffs, and tornado and hurricane prone locations. Then we complain when natural events occur, as they always do, when Nature takes its accustomed course, rivers change their banks in natural meanders, volcanos erupt, earthquakes shake, tornadoes twist through the landscape and hurricanes come ashore.

Now we have created a new mythology, that humans are causing the conditions that result in damage to the human infrastructure, and that we can, through human action, stop natural weather and climate variation.

This is not an environmental attitude. It is the ultimate in human attempts to dominate the Earth and bend it to our service. We not only claim we have dominion over the living things of the Earth, but over all natural phenomena.

We increasingly encounter the attitude that human use of the Earth must come first, that our desires have precedence over the basic needs of all other living things, that we have the inherent right to displace the natural world for human use. Our dogs must be free to run anywhere at any time, no matter what other species are displaced from their diminishing natural habitat. We must be "free" to ride our vehicles wherever we want, no matter that critical habitat for endangered species is destroyed. Our amusement is far more important than the natural flow of rivers that support all life.

This is a self-destructive attitude, as we mortal human animals cannot live in a world devoid of non-human life. Our ability to survive as a species is intimately tied the health and biodiversity of the entire biosphere.

We are one with the Earth. Diminishing the health of the biosphere diminishes us as well

Let's work with the river, not against it, embrace the river, not hold it away with temporary levees, cement and heavy equipment.

Let's embrace Life.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stop US Government Murder in Afghanistan

It can't be said more eloquently.

Chris Cooper's plea for an end to the United States government's officially sanctioned murder of innocent people (there is no distinction between civilians and military in Afghanistan) cannot be improved.

Read it and weep with me for the immoral actions of our government in our name.

Then take action.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What to do about Climate Change - whether it's real or not!

I'm confused!

While reading the news, I constantly see headlines and ledes such as the following:

Yet when I read the climate science literature, I don't find these alarming headlines backed up by evidence. Quite the contrary.

Much of the alarmist attitude in the press comes from the IPCC, whose charter is to research anthropogenic climate change and propose international policies to deal with it. It is clearly documented that IPCC lead authors have censored articles from their contributing authors and have modified conclusions from contributors after they were approved for publication.

Perhaps this is the source of the confusion, or at least one source. Certainly, concentration on political and economic influences, such as the recent spat over The Heartland Institute document theft, obfuscates the underlying science, grabbing the headlines with lurid stories of undercover schemes, mudslinging and name calling. Whether or not this is deliberate on either side, these actions function to dilute and distort the science of climate variation.

While it is certainly true that human activities modify climate, and is certainly true that atmospheric CO2 absorbs energy and reradiates it into the atmosphere, there is no evidence demonstrating a causal relationship of human produced CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the observed rise in global average surface temperature. The connection is intuitive rather than documented. 

This confusion is further exacerbated by continuing claims for an anthropogenic global warming (AGW) source for every bit of perceived weather excess that comes along, such as the recent tornado outbreak.

Since human produced CO2 accounts for only 3% of the total increase of CO2 in the atmosphere annually, will an international effort to "de-carbonize" the global economy through the construction of windfarms and solar panel arrays in the few remaining undeveloped parts of the world significantly modify observed climate variation? Not bloody likely.

Meanwhile, human activity continues to release truly harmful pollution into the air, land and water, destroy critical habitat for native species, draw down water tables and cover the surface of the planet under a layer of asphalt, cement and steel. There's no question about these vary real effects of human growth and development.

There is also no question about how to stop the destruction caused by human growth and development: stop human population growth and begin its decline, stop human economic growth and develop steady state economies, stop the release of polluting substances into the biosphere, take no more resources than can be replenished through natural processes and produce no more waste than can be dispersed through natural processes. 

We know how to do these things. Rather than wringing our hands in angst about possible future climate change over which we have no control, let's do something about those destructive effects of human "civilization that we understand and know how to correct.

If we clean up our own nests, we will contribute less to AGW and, at the same time, become more resilient to accommodate inevitable natural climate variation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

When More Is Too Much

Testimony at the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) of Santa Cruz County in opposition to two resolutions to approve an increase in water service area for an expanded University of California Santa Cruz campus:

My name is Michael Lewis. I am a water customer of the Santa Cruz City Water Department living in Live Oak. This means that I cannot vote on City water policy, but I have to pay for it. I rode my bicycle to this meeting to ask you to postpone the decision on expanding City water service on the UCSC campus until you have all relevant information.

The City has spent millions of dollars documenting the fact that City growth has exceeded available water supplies, in an attempt to justify their plan to build a 2.5 million gallons per day ocean water desalination plant. The City is studying this possibility but has not yet decided that the plant can be built. So we are told.

Meanwhile opposition to the desal plant is growing, especially in the unincorporated Santa Cruz County where 34,000 of my neighbors cannot vote on City water policy but are forced to pay for it.

In order to justify its plan to expand water service to the UCSC campus, the City promises to offset the increased UCSC water demand through increased water conservation by all other water customers. This is interesting, since the City has spent millions of dollars in public relations to convince Santa Cruz City and County water customers that there is no capacity in the water system for increased conservation and the only option available to meet the City's growing water demands is a desal plant.

I'm confused. Which Santa Cruz City Water Department am I to believe, the one that says we can have increased water conservation, or the one that says we can't? 

Many years ago, Ed Abbey told us, "Unlimited growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell." When growth exceeds critical resources, it's time for growth to stop.

In light of these uncertainties, it is irresponsible to approve water service expansion to UCSC until all the necessary information is available. Please postpone your decision on these resolutions until all the facts are in.