Motion(less) in the ocean

I don’t want to sound like Dr Doom but I came across two disturbing articles recently.

In ‘The ocean is broken’ (Greg Ray, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Oct 2013) a sailor compared the empty ocean he traversed recently (in his sailing trip from Melbourne, Australia to Osaka, Japan) with the bountiful plenty experienced on the same trip only ten years ago. Empty of life that is. But full of garbage.

Then I read ‘Choking oceans complete ‘deadly trio’ for marine life ‘ (New Scientist No 2938, 12 Oct 2013) referring to the recent International Program on the State of the Ocean study. IPSO Scientific Director, Alex Rogers tells us that “The health of the oceans is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we thought”. Anyone remotely interested in the oceans will have heard about the problems of ocean acidification and surface seawater warming. The third threat is falling oxygen levels (which follow the warming). A dramatic example is the massive loss of marine life off North America in the last decade, a region which showed no evidence of low oxygen levels prior to 2000.

This is happening fast.

Acidification, warming, deoxygenation… three strikes and we’re out?

Truth or Fiction … New York City Hurricane

Sunday, October 28, 2012

“Hurricane Sandy, a menacing monster of a storm that forecasters said would bring “life-threatening” flooding, churned toward some of the nation’s most densely populated areas on Sunday…

New York went into emergency mode, ordering more than 370,000 people evacuated in low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan and giving 1.1 million schoolchildren a day off on Monday. The subway closing was to darken every one of the city’s 468 stations at 7 p.m., for the second time in 14 months.

The National Hurricane Center…said it expected a storm surge of up to 11 feet in New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay in New Jersey.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/us/east-coast-braces-for-severe-storm-surge.html

 

Monday May 16, 2033

Ayden knew the basic facts, but he’d been three at the time. Reyes had been a climatologist. “So what happened?”

“It started the previous Thursday when a powerful but unremarkable storm brewed off the west coast of Africa. By Saturday the U.S. Weather Bureau had issued a hurricane warning for Orlando and Daytona Beach, expecting a category two or possibly three storm to hit on Wednesday.

“But on Tuesday afternoon the storm turned north east toward Bermuda and abnormally warm water fed the damned thing,” Reyes said. “Winds increased to a category five 170 miles per hour, then around midnight it changed direction again. Contradicting all the modeling, it turned due north and picked up forward speed. By 1:00 a.m., the hurricane warning was changed to cover Delaware, New Jersey, and possibly New York, but that didn’t give them much time to wake people up and evacuate.

“The eye of the hurricane passed a few miles west of Manhattan at around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Wind speeds had abated somewhat as the storm passed over cooler waters, downgrading it to a category 4 but speeds of 150 miles per hour were recorded as it made landfall. Of course, damage from the wind itself was nothing compared to the storm surge.

George Reyes stopped pacing. He paused, shaking his head slightly at the memory.

“Please go on,” Ayden said.

“Well… the surge coincided with a high tide, reached a height of twenty feet. A mountain of water flooded into New York.

“The financial district in lower Manhattan was submerged, as was Brooklyn, Long Island City, Queens, and JFK Airport. Manhattan’s subway system flooded, as did the Lincoln tunnel.”

George stopped again. He looked through Ayden.

“I lost two friends. And a second cousin. The death toll was eventually tallied at 14,841. And it wasn’t New Orleans this time, it was the Big Apple. In a way, it was like 2001 all over again. From the moment Al Gore’s supporters talked him into another tilt at the presidency, the result was a foregone conclusion, and when he made his, ‘It’s my turn to take us to war’ speech he wasn’t only promising the action we demanded. Gore’s ‘war on climate change’ offered us a morally unquestionable war. And one that wouldn’t involve body-bags.”

…read more in INTERVENTION by WRR Munro

Truth or Fiction… smaller fish and dwindling catches by 2050

Sunday September 30, 2012

“Fish are likely to get smaller on average by 2050 because global warming will cut the amount of oxygen in the oceans in a shift that may also mean dwindling catches, according to a study on Sunday.

… ‘The reductions in body size will affect whole ecosystems,’ lead author William Cheung of the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Reuters of the findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

His team of scientists said a trend towards smaller sizes was ‘expected to have large implications’ for ocean food webs and for human ‘fisheries and global protein supply’.

‘The consequences of failing to curtail greenhouse gas emissions on marine ecosystems are likely to be larger than previously indicated,’ the U.S. and Canada-based scientists wrote.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/30/us-fish-idUSBRE88T0JS20120930

 

Tuesday May 9, 2034

“The big stern trawler swayed in the waves. There were at least a dozen men down on the fishing deck, shouting to each other over the noise of the winches, which strained to haul the taught net on board. A great mass emerged from the ocean but the rear doors were left open and most of the men turned away from the net, disgust evident on their faces and in their movements. One of the men worked at the back of the net, releasing it, spilling the gelatinous mess back into the ocean. Another man climbed toward the camera and shouted at it.

“Jellyfish! Fours days out and its just fookin’ jellyfish again! How we supposed to make a fookin’ livin’?””

…read more in INTERVENTION by WRR Munro

Truth or Fiction… New York Flood Risks Rise

Monday September 10, 2012

“New York is moving too slowly to address the potential for flooding that could paralyze transportation, cripple the low-lying financial district and temporarily drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

… the city is second only to New Orleans in the number of people living less than four feet above high tide — nearly 200,000 New Yorkers, according to the research group Climate Central.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/nyregion/new-york-faces-rising-seas-and-slow-city-action.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120911

Thursday September 10th, 2015

“It started the previous Thursday when a powerful but unremarkable storm brewed off the west coast of Africa. By Saturday the U.S. Weather Bureau had issued a hurricane warning for Orlando and Daytona Beach, expecting a category two or possibly three storm to hit on Wednesday.

“But on Tuesday afternoon the storm turned north east toward Bermuda and abnormally warm water fed the damned thing,” Reyes said. “Winds increased to a category five 170 miles per hour, then around midnight it changed direction again. Contradicting all the modeling, it turned due north and picked up forward speed. By 1:00 a.m., the hurricane warning was changed to cover Delaware, New Jersey, and possibly New York, but that didn’t give them much time to wake people up and evacuate.

“The eye of the hurricane passed a few miles west of Manhattan at around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Wind speeds had abated somewhat as the storm passed over cooler waters, downgrading it to a category 4 but speeds of 150 miles per hour were recorded as it made landfall. Of course, damage from the wind itself was nothing compared to the storm surge.”

George Reyes stopped pacing. He paused, shaking his head slightly at the memory.

“Please go on,” Ayden said.

“Well… the surge coincided with a high tide, reached a height of twenty feet. A mountain of water flooded into New York.

“The financial district in lower Manhattan was submerged, as was Brooklyn, Long Island City, Queens, and JFK Airport. Manhattan’s subway system flooded, as did the Lincoln tunnel.”

George stopped again. He looked through Ayden.

“I lost two friends. And a second cousin. The death toll was eventually tallied at 14,841. And it wasn’t New Orleans this time, it was the Big Apple. In a way, it was like 2001 all over again.”

…read more in INTERVENTION by WRR Munro

Truth or fiction… vanishing icecap

.
Wednesday August 29th, 2012 – Arctic ice low heralds end of 3-million-year cover

“From 1979 to 2000, the average volume of Arctic ice in September was 12,000 cubic kilometres. This year, it is less than 3000 cubic kilometres. “In plain words,” says Fortier, “we are three-quarters of the way to a summertime ice-free Arctic Ocean, with all the climatic, geopolitical, environmental and economic consequences.”

– http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528802.200-arctic-ice-low-heralds-end-of-3millionyear-cover.html

 .

Friday April 8th, 2033

The overly-handsome young presenter wore a wool suit and scarf but no hat or gloves. Over his shoulder the cloudless sky was an intense purple-blue.

“We’re here,” he said. “I’m standing at the North Pole.” The camera pulled back from the reporter, revealing the white painted metal deck of a ship.

“Of course, I’m also floating at the North Pole because for the first time in human history the Pole is ice free. And that’s not all,” he said slipping a little thermometer from his jacket pocket.

“It’s two degrees above freezing! Now, the whole Arctic isn’t ice-free yet. Scientists say that’s still a decade away. In fact tomorrow, we’re hoping to take you to the edge of the ice sheet and we’ll go looking for polar bears! None have been spotted so far this year, but maybe we’ll get lucky!

His face became serious. “We have to wait for the all-clear though. There’s been another methane event, and the levels are still too high for our safety.”

An inset window showed a section of ocean alongside an ice sheet. The ocean was foaming with bubbles.

…read more in INTERVENTION by WRR Munro

Truth or fiction… the collapse of civilisations

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Monday August 6th, 2012 – Climate change: The great civilisation destroyer?

Recent studies have shown that the decline and fall of many civilisations coincided with periods of climate change, and there were also correlations between climate change, population size and the frequency of wars.

– http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528761.600-climate-change-the-great-civilisation-destroyer.html


Monday December 26th, 2033

The walls and windows exploded into a riot of color and motion. Even what Ayden had taken to be windows were, in fact, high resolution wall-screens. William’s entire office was an immersive VR room. Everywhere Ayden looked he saw reports on the current state of play in different parts of the world. As Ayden glanced at a scene he heard the audio for that particular scene. William must have slaved the audio to an eye-tracker following Ayden. Probably the sound was also being directionally projected too—so that only Ayden clearly heard the audio for the report he was viewing.

There was nothing new. Drought and nasty little water wars across Africa. Deadly heat waves in Europe. Famine and food riots across Asia as crops failed following the failure of the annual monsoon for the third year running. Massive unemployment and ever more radical political movements in the U.S., driven by decades of economic malaise. Rampant, unchecked development and environmental catastrophes in India. Nothing new, perhaps, but still shocking to view the images, larger than life, all around him.

“Now you’re the one trying to push emotional buttons.”

William smiled. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Here are the facts. This year, millions of people will die horribly after short, unsatisfying lives, and billions live in what you or I would consider appalling conditions … conditions which arguably cause much more suffering than an inability to have children. Next year, and every year after that, it’ll get worse. And it will continue to get worse for decades as our numbers march skywards. Much of the ‘developing world’ isn’t. Progress has stalled, and a great many children are not planned, not wanted. They are born because of religious objections to contraception or because ignorance, poverty, or sheer male selfishness doesn’t allow it.

“And if somehow we could address the standard of living of the poorest people on the planet, what would happen? Those improved lifestyles would consume even more resources. We’d need four earths instead of two. So what absolutely must happen? What must be made to occur to reduce suffering for billions of people alive today and countless more billions of people in the future? We must reduce absolute population levels in most parts of the world urgently and move to zero population growth everywhere. There are no other options.”

…read more in INTERVENTION by WRR Munro

Who you gonna trust?

It’ll be better in the long run if I ‘fess up now (just don’t tell anyone). I’m a petrol head. I get childish kicks out of fast, beautiful, agile (loud) cars. Well, we all have our foibles.

So, the thing is… I don’t want to believe that climate change is real.

I’d much rather fantasise about getting myself a small two-seater with a dirty great V8 donk under the bonnet, than think about a sensible-shoe-wearing hybrid. So I want to know if we really are in the process of causing major problems for ourselves and I’d prefer the answer to be a resounding ‘no’.

But it isn’t.

We could talk about the simple physics of carbon dioxide as a heat trapping mechanism, or endlessly sift through the mountain of temperature measurements, both direct and via archeological proxies. Or we could contemplate what happens when you add energy (in this case heat) to an otherwise stable system – and how dangerous a science experiment it is when you rely on said equilibrium to survive and prosper.

But others, much more knowledgable than I, have done so (ad nauseam). And the truth is, I’m not competent to judge the evidence. And, well I don’t want to be rude, but… neither are you (unless you’re a climate scientist, in which case the following comments may not apply).

So how do people like you and I decide?

We do what we always do. We decide who to trust.

We happily watch people being sent to prison (or worse in some countries) because others have seen evidence we’ve not been privy to, and they’ve decided the criminal is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. And that’s all science does. It’s nothing more (or less) than a process, a disciplined approach to assessing evidence. And like the court system, the approach is structured around vigorous challenge and specialists.

So forget “it’s just a theory”. The arbiters of the scientific process are telling us that the evidence proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that climate change is real. And caused by us. And dangerous.

So what’s the problem?

Mainly it’s that we’re too good at resisting information we don’t want to hear and really good at rationalising what we want to believe.

But it’s also because the great power of the scientific process is a two edged sword. Science, which has given us medicines and electricity (and washing machines and hot water heaters and computers, and…) relies on the never-ending invitation to challenge established wisdom. That’s the source of science’s strength.

But sometimes science threatens big, powerful businesses and they respond by saying, “Wait. Before you destroy all this capital and throw all these people out of work, we are going to demand absolute proof and we’re going to throw every bit of contrarian evidence we can find at you.” That sounds fair enough. But of course, there’s no such thing as absolute proof and, well… people will be people. Capable, driven, goal oriented people (on both sides of the argument) will occasionally get carried away with the battle, close their own eyes to inconvenient truths, travel past putting all the evidence on the table, and find themselves slipping down the slope of deception.

But, just like courts have judges to keep the lawyers in line, science has the peer review system to keep scientists in line.

Like any human system it isn’t perfect but we see through the “its not 100% proven” line, don’t we? And we know that we need to look at the motivations of the people trying to persuade us, don’t we? We’re smart enough to recognise snake-oil salesmen when we see them. Aren’t we? …when we’re not sabotaging ourselves with our fears and desires, that is. (Damn! That glorious V8 rumble is getting fainter by the moment.)

So let’s accept that the science is telling us the truth. Most of the really nasty repercussions are many decades away aren’t they? Well… no, it doesn’t seem that way. It may take decades for the evidence to build up. After all, climate by definition is long term average weather. But we’re destabilising an equilibrium by injecting extra heat into it and when you destabilise an equilibrium, you risk wild fluctuations before a new equilibrium is established.

Think wild weather. Lethal storms, terrible droughts then terrible floods. Heat waves. Desertification. (Starting to sound familiar?) Think disturbed growing seasons for the crops that keep many of the seven billion of us alive. Think skyrocketing food prices and economic problems as increasing resources need to be devoted to food production. Hmm, I seem to recall that civilisation can only exist when food surpluses allow some of us to do things other than concentrate on food production.

Hmm, what if…?