Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fissures of (climate) history

Ridicule often comes to those who think that we are living at the beginning of a bold, new era of progress, pregnant with possibilities and opportunity or conversely, to those with a more pessimistic (or eschatological) turn of mind who believe we are living at the close of an age whose life and culture are about to be wiped out in a great cataclysm (the result of our own doing, of course). After all, it is argued, by definition almost everyone lives in the middle of any definable era. It's a boring and disappointing thought that undermines our self-importance and robs us of our personal sense of drama.

To restore that sense of drama, the latest New Yorker magazine (April 25) has the first of a series of three articles on climate change. In "The Climate of Man-1," we learn from a leading permafrost expert that Alaska's permafrost is warming up to near the freezing point, some of it only one degree away from melting. If it melts, it would be the first time in 120,000 years that it has done so.

It sounds like nothing more egregious than the freezer defrosting and leaving you with some liquid ice cream all over the bottom. But, according to our expert it would definitely mark a turning point in geological history. Huge amounts of organic material frozen in the permafrost would begin to decompose sending out the first installment of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which would then make things warmer, which then melt more of the permafrost and so on. It's the feared runaway global warming scenario.

For those not convinced that we are on the edge of a new era (climatically speaking) there's this:

Antarctic ice cores show that carbon dioxide levels today are significantly higher than they have been at any other point in the last four hundred and twenty thousand years.
And, far from thinking about climate change as a slow process, we will likely not have to wait thousands of more years to see the result of our handiwork as this analogy that compares the climate system to a rowboat suggests:
You can tip and then you'll just go back. You can tip it and just go back. And, then you tip it and you get to the other stable state, which is upside down.
In the article you get a short history of global warming studies--they began more than 140 years ago--a tour of the main venues of research including Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland and a lot of very well-explained climate science.

When you get done, you will no longer think that we are living through the middle of anything except an era of extreme change.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

4 comments:

monkeygrinder said...

I read the article yesterday in a bookstore and it was absolutely fascinating. I blogged along similar lines.

It is troubling how rapidly events are occuring on the global warming front.

We still have half our our oil and gas, sitting around, waiting to be burned.

And likely burn it we will.

Mitch said...

Whoa, Monkeygrinder! We were supposed to run out of oil and gas in 1980 (or 1990, or 2000, or 2010...), so how could we have half of it left 25 years later? We can't burn it if it isn't there, can we?

And anyway, weren't we supposed to freeze instead of fry? Remember "Drive Faster & Freeze A Yankee"? I'm so confused. That must be why I voted for Bush, even though I'm a Yankee.

I'm also confused about why a population decline and a population bomb, which would seem to an unlearned peasant like myself to be rather opposite cases, would require the same remedy.

Thank heaven (or whatever non-sectarian stuff is up there) we have such superior intellects as yourself and Mr. Cobb to tell us what to do. Please tell me how to vote next time so I don't screw it up again.

monkeygrinder said...

quit cribbing from kudlow.

- vote your conscience
- I could give a flip about the COR
- Science changes alot, entrenched bias dies hard

Neither I, nor Kurt Cobb insofar as I can see, are telling anyone what to do.

I am reading the tea leaves and suggesting tea is being brewed. Oil depletion will affect everyone. Fields deplete every day, ergo all fields will deplete someday. Discovery peaked in the sixties.

Hey - check out the:
http://peakoiloptimist.blogspot.com/

Rob is a republican type, yet even he believes in peak oil. He runs a good blog too, even though I often disagree with his conclusions.

Start there. Go check it out.

Reality awaits.

WHT said...

Kurt: You must be doing something right. Starting to attract the Milton Friedman worshippers. I can sense they are getting nervous that their bubble may burst.

Mitch: You probably should look up the concept of "reserve growth" to see how you have been snookered all these years.


Superior intellect, Michigan intellect, whatever, let's call it Great Lakes intellect.