Coal – Polar Bears = Dumb

November 18, 2014

2010HanOvercast and chilly this Tuesday afternoon on California’s north coast with more rain on the way, a chance tonight, but apparently for sure tomorrow and a rainy week ahead.
One local forecast read, ‘warmer than yesterday,’ but it sure don’t feel like it. As a thin, old guy, cool for me is cold, and cold is freezing — old people exaggerate shit, though.

Yet not to embellish on the fact of climate change and its impact on everything, a report released yesterday from the Ecological Society of America paints a bleak picture for the all-white polar bear — a population inhabiting a frozen sea north of Alaska declined by about 40 percent in less than 10 years.

One contributing factor, loss of sea ice. And a planet apparently really warming.

(Illustration found here).

Polar bears ain’t no lone rangers, either.

The greenhouse effect is affecting life. Elizabeth Kolbert, one of my favorite environmental writers — author of “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change” (2006), and her latest, published earlier this year, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” — presented this summation on campus at Yale University last week with a lecture/talk on how all species are going the polar bear route:
A sort of summation of the talk from Yale News:

Kolbert points out that extinction is not a new process: In the Earth’s history, there have been five previous mass extinctions.
However, she noted, many scientists believe that humankind has begun a sixth extinction, because people are changing the world in such a drastic way and in an incredibly quick time frame that it is just as destructive as, say, an asteroid.
She went on to explain that there are three main ways humans are driving this extinction process on such a massive scale.
First, we are altering the atmosphere, she said, noting that human beings add 10 billion metric tons of fossil fuels to the atmosphere each year.
In so doing, Kolbert explained, we are in a sense rewinding the geological clock at an incredible speed by taking carbon that was buried in the earth for hundreds of millions of years and returning it to the atmosphere.

The second, and related, way humans are contributing to this extinction process is through the acidification of the oceans, said Kolbert.
When CO2 dissolves in water, it forms an acid that, although weak, is enough to change the chemistry of the ocean, she explained, pointing out that one-third of the CO2 released since the Industrial Revolution — or about 150 billion metric tons — has been absorbed by the ocean.
The net result is that the acidity of the ocean has changed by 30 percent.
Acidification makes it tougher for any creature that makes a shell out of calcium carbonate to survive, said the writer, noting that there are many such species in the ocean and that many other animals rely on these shelled creatures for their own survival.
The third way humans are fueling extinction concerns the movement of species around the world, said Kolbert, noting that this can be done both intentionally and unintentionally.
She pointed as an example the rats that the Maori people intentionally brought with them as a food source during their original colonization of New Zealand.
These rats, however, ravaged the flightless bird species on the island, which had evolved without the threat of land predators.
When Europeans arrived on the island, they also brought rats, this time unintentionally, which again ravaged whatever was left of the bird populations.

One reason I like Kolbert is she’s not a feel-good kind of gal: Kolbert concluded by stating “I’m not going to offer any way out of this, because I don’t have one,” but she did add that “if there were ever a reason for scientists and humanists to be in communication, it’s this one.”

Polar bears and European bird species and from Climate Progress this afternoon: ‘Following a new update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, over 22,000 species of animals are threatened with extinction, an increase of 310 species from the last update. Around 12 percent of animals on the list that are either endangered or critically endangered are threatened because of climate change.’
Kolbert ain’t just whistling in total dark.

And in a story on the polar bear research at the Guardian:

Dr Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, said he spent most of his adult life working with this population of bears and was “pained” to see the decline in the population.
“In 2007, my colleagues and I predicted we could lose polar bears from the southern Beaufort Sea by the middle of this century if we didn’t get on to a different greenhouse gas emissions path,” said Amstrup.
“This report confirms we still are on the wrong path.”

And what really makes all this shit more laborious and darkly-panic-like is humanity’s neck is in the noose, but what’s to make it all stop. A lot of attention was paid/hyped last week to the US/China climate change deal, some calling the move a game-changer, that maybe there’s a way out, and all is not-so-bad.
India is another story, going in the opposite direction, hard at it, too.
From CleanTechnica last Friday: ‘Coal India, the world’s largest miner of the fuel, has been asked to pull up its socks and more than double its output to 1 billion tonnes by 2019 to feed the existing as well as upcoming thermal power plants.’
And the New York Times yesterday:

“If India goes deeper and deeper into coal, we’re all doomed,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the world’s top climate scientists.
“And no place will suffer more than India.”
India’s coal mining plans may represent the biggest obstacle to a global climate pact to be negotiated at a conference in Paris next year.
While the United States and China announced a landmark agreement that includes new targets for carbon emissions, and Europe has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has shown no appetite for such a pledge.

So…

On top of the polar bears, birds and many other living things, the weather and all its shit, us humans are also in line, and already feeling the heat, maybe scorching brain tissue.
All that CO2 we’re belching into the air is creating a sensation liken to one felt by a crowd of people in a small, poorly-ventilated room — not only does it smell, but the human process for intellectual thought slowly sputters, starts to dim-wit. Recent studies have been made on the effect of too-much carbon dioxide on the human brain and its ability to function, with charts and graphs, yesterday via Skeptical Science.
Key points:

Researchers found that breathing air with a CO2 concentration of 1000 causes a measurable decline in intellectual capacity.
At a concentration of CO2 at the level of 2500, the initiative and strategic thinking of the participants has declined to a dysfunctional level.
Similarly impaired was the ability of the participants to use the available information and the breadth of approach.

Because of burning of coal, oil and gas, we emit CO2 into the atmosphere and thereby raise its concentration, currently to about 400 ppm.
Such high concentrations of carbon dioxide as today have not existed for many million years — possibly more than 10 million years ago (Tripati 2009 [full version]).
Continuation of the decades-old trend of burning more and more fossil fuels will lead to an increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere advanced ppm, and later possibly to 2500 advanced ppm or even more.

Gradually, to the known effects of carbon dioxide emissions — like climate warming and ocean acidification — we will be forced to add impairment of our higher mental functions.
Faced with the rising complex problems of our civilization, requiring the ability to analyze complex information, undertake initiatives and strategic planning — we place ourselves at a profound disadvantage, perhaps at a literally dysfunctional level.

Nonetheless: ‘Some people find solace in the fact that in conditions of high concentrations of carbon dioxide plants will fare better. Well, we are not plants. Nevertheless, if people insisting on unlimited burning of fossil fuels have their way, we may end up intellectually a lot closer to plants.’

Polar bears, and maybe some type Begonia…

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