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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Said Greenpeace International head, Kumi Naidoo. “We have a planetary emergency” said James Hansen as he and other scientists laid out the consequences of the Arctic losing more ice than at any other time in recorded history.  A loss the size of Canada and Alaska combined in this summer alone.

The average american response: “jersey shore’s been canceled?”

The average government response: “let Shell into the arctic and drill, baby drill!”

If you are reading this, you are not the average American. Thank you for being a thinking, caring human being.

The upshot of losing so much of the arctic ice cap isn’t good. The ice cap is the air conditioner, the weather regulator for the whole northern hemisphere. It has a profound effect on the jet stream, which is that huge river of air that goes around the upper half of the earth steering the weather. As the arctic loses ice, the water absorbs heat from the sun instead of reflecting it back into space as it did when it was ice covered. The impact of this year’s loss alone is the equivalent of 20 years of heat trapping greenhouse gases pumped into our atmosphere.

In other words; the melt made our problem worse. This is called a feedback; where the warming in progress initiates a process which in turn causes more warming. At such a point the warming can become self perpetuating, taking on a life of its own.

The short term ramifications are difficult to predict, but climatologists seem to be in agreement that the loss of arctic ice is responsible for the weather-related “blocking events” that have caused this year’s drought and record warmth, last winter’s record warmth along with the brutal winter in eastern Europe and the two previous brutal winters here in the states.

How does this work? Well, and I’m really simplifying here, a high pressure dome forms over the arctic because it’s getting so warm. Some of this dome spills out and travels south, pushing the jet stream into weird shapes, including deep troughs that extend almost all the way to the equator. These troughs then stall where they are and lock that new weather pattern in place. If the pattern is dry, you get drought. If it’s wet you get rain if it’s warm and snow if it’s cold. And, since the atmosphere is so saturated with water because we’ve heated it up, the rain can cause epic floods and the snow can give you fifteen feet of the white stuff as happened in Eastern Europe in January and February of this year.

And your government granted drilling permits in the very same melting arctic to drill for more oil, which will put more greenhouse gases in the air, which will cause more climate disruption, which . . . you get it.

Now, I know that the current administration is trying to make some changes and that they have actually succeeded in getting a lot of stuff through, or around, the Republican controlled House of Representatives, but they need to do more. They need to roll up their sleeves and get politically bloody if necessary or we and our children and grandchildren aren’t going to make it. When the weather goes batshit, and it’s already started, everything is at stake. Think of the extremes of this last year and multiply by ten, twenty, thirty . . . Think of drought and famine and biblical floods and crushing snow storms. Everywhere.

(As an aside, “I am shit scared” that at some point, some corporate weasel will figure out how to make billions of dollars from all this.)

We need to make ourselves heard. We need to make every politician who is up for re-election know that their cushy jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t start doing the right things.

We have to let them know that even though most of them really don’t give a shit about us, we give a shit about our future, our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future.

As Jefferson said, “A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!”

I started this post focusing on the drought, but got wrapped up in the writing of our project-in-development and didn’t get around to posting it. Now, that Isaac has beaten the hell out of the Gulf Coast with torrential rains and headed inland, I’ve had to amend it. Even as I am doing so, the last gasp of Isaac sputters out over us here in North Jersey.

As I’ve said before, the largest problem with climate change is in the distribution of water/rainfall. We’re seeing this right now. In the west and north central areas of the US, the drought is choking the life out of everything. In the south along the Gulf we had a huge tropical storm that’s drowned everything.

It’s either too much or too little. That’s the bed we’ve made for ourselves and we now have to attempt to adapt to it. In doing so we must confront both the excess of water in the atmosphere and the lack of it on the ground.

Which brings me back (finally!) to the point of this post: thirst. Particularly the thirst of our crops. The drought we are experiencing is epic and the rain from TS Isaac is welcome in some areas but may be too late for the crops. The US will lose  between 30 and 50% of its corn crop. That’s massive and you’re already seeing it in food prices because we put corn in almost every item you find in a grocery store. From soda to waffles to hamburger helper. It’s in everything. And we are going to lose 30% of our supply to this drought.

It’s also one of the reasons gas prices are so high. Ethanol is made from corn, which could (should) instead be used to feed hungry people here and in other parts of the world. But I digress.

Long stretches of the Mississippi river are too shallow for navigation. So, products normally shipped by barge down the Mississippi have to find another, more expensive way to get to you. And don’t think you don’t use anything that gets floated down Old Muddy. You’d be surprised. Think of all the agricultural products that are grown or pastured out in that area of the country. When you start to look up the figures, the numbers get big really quick. From the national park service website:

Agriculture has been the dominant land use for nearly 200 years in the Mississippi basin, and has altered the hydrologic cycle and energy budget of the region. The agricultural products and the huge agribusiness industry that has developed in the basin produce 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports, 78% of the world’s exports in feed grains and soybeans, and most of the livestock and hogs produced nationally. Sixty percent of all grain exported from the US is shipped on the Mississippi River through the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana.

In measure of tonnage, the largest port district in the world is located along the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana. The Port of South Louisiana is one of the largest volume ports in the United States. Representing 500 million tons of shipped goods per year (according to the Port of New Orleans), the Mississippi River barge port system is significant to national trade.

Shipping at the lower end of the Mississippi is focused on petroleum and petroleum products, iron and steel, grain, rubber, paper, wood, coffee, coal, chemicals, and edible oils.”

If they can’t go via water, they have to go by truck and that gets pricey really quick. Remember, price of fuel is up, too.

Without the rain which would normally water the nations crops, farmers who have the ability, are pumping record amounts of water out of aquifers. Aquifers which are either not rechargeable or recharge far slower than they are currently being used. Either way, we’re pumping them dry.

And yet, the nitwits on the right still insist that nothing’s wrong, that everything is fine, we are not the cause of climate change, so they can keep their fossil fuel industry donations pouring in. They insist this in the face of the hottest year in recorded history, the worst drought in a hundred years and lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever record and there’s still three weeks of melt ahead.

No, no. Move along. Nothing to see here. It’s almost silly enough to be Pythonesque. God, how I wish it was.

The thing I want to know is why doesn’t it bother more people that these assholes don’t give a shit about you, your livelihood, your rights, your security, nor the safety and security of your children? In a perfect world, that’s what our tax dollars pay them for, right?

Here’s another wrinkle in our need for water going unremarked: nuclear power plants. Nuclear plants need water to cool their reactors. Cold water. And plenty of it. If you look around you’ll see that all of them are near a large water supply, be it an ocean, river or lake. They pump water into their reactors to cool the fuel rods so they don’t go critical and heat up and cause a fire with an ugly release of radioactivity. Remember Fukushima in Japan? The reactors that got knocked out of commission by a tsunami last year? The earth quake and tsunami knocked out the water supply for the reactors and several melted down and are still out of control. The water they have been pumping into them since the disaster is sea water and it’s not being contained or cleaned in any way. It’s being allowed to run back into the sea and into the ground beneath the reactors because the containment vessels have been breached. Many say the ground water in the area is contaminated. Tests are showing vegetables and fish with radioactivity far higher than normal background rates.

That’s a really bad scenario caused by a rather extreme circumstance. Here, and in other parts of the world not so seismically active, the drought and heat are causing a different, but just as sinister problem.

As I said, reactors need a lot of cold water to keep things from getting out of hand. The drought and the heat are taking aim at that. Many reactors here in the US have had to apply for special permits to keep running when the temperature of the water coming from lakes and rivers and oceans is higher than that specified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In some cases, permits have been issued for water temperatures exceeding 105 degrees F, intake temperature. That’s before it gets to the reactor, which heats it up even more. That super heated water is then discharged back into the environment.

I’ll bet the fish love that. Hot water holds little oxygen. They can boil and suffocate at the same time.

Other reactors have to be shut down because the water level in their source is too low to be relied upon to cool the reactor. So, those generators go offline. The result is black outs or brown outs as the utility scrambles to share the load around its grid. That’s what happened in France in 2003 when some 15,000 people were killed by a heat wave. They had to shut the reactors down. There wasn’t enough water to cool them.

Water is part of so much of what we do every day. Everything we do every day from food, to clothes, to fuel, to drinks, to cooking gas, to paper, to . . . everything, somewhere and somehow interacts with water as part of its lifecycle. Try to imagine a day without it. Try to imagine if it was all gone and you could somehow magically survive for more than a few days without it. No power, no food, no gasoline, no gas for your stove (drilling and refining uses huge amounts of water), no textiles. Nothing. Everything you know is gone and no one is talking about it!

World water week was August 20-27th. Anyone see that go by in any of the mainstream news outlets? Nah.

Did anyone see that the arctic ice cap has melted to its smallest size in recorded history? That it’s missing about four million square kilometers of ice from average? An area roughly the size of India? Has anyone observed that this massive ice chest up north is (was) in control of powerful prevailing winds that dictate the weather for the entire northern hemisphere? Nope.

Are you pissed off yet? No?

I am. I think about my two year old grandson and his unborn sister and I wonder what they will inherit. I wonder how we will be described to them in school as the world struggles to survive. I wonder how many “what were they thinking?” moments will be presented as object lessons on how to fuck your descendents.

I, for one, intend to be one who at least tried. You should too.