Evidence of A Warming Planet

“The pressure’s high, just to stay alive, ‘Cause the heat is on.”
Glenn Frey

For various reasons, the poles are more sensitive to global warming. One reason at the Arctic is that melting sea ice means more darker ocean to absorb light energy and less ice to reflect sunlight energy back. But there are other more complicated reasons that contribute to the phenomenon like Hadley cells and circulatory patterns in our atmosphere that help carry heat away from the equator and toward the poles.

Regardless of whether you understand the mechanisms behind it or not, it’s important to appreciate the outcome. I’ve posted blogs numerous times about melting Arctic ice, but it’s time to point out what’s happening now at the South Pole. Satellite observations spanning 1994 to 2012 have revealed a significant decline in the massive ice shelves that help make up Antarctica, and it’s a decline that’s accelerating as time goes on. Some ice shelves have shrunk by as much as 18 percent. These melting ice shelves will contribute substantially to global sea level rise.

As if to help emphasize this point, last week Antarctica reached a temperature of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 17.5 degrees Celsius, what could well be its warmest temperature since our species has walked the planet. It broke the previous record of 63.3 degrees which was reached just the day before. (I suppose this is as much of a heat wave as Antarctica can get.) Prior to that, the highest-known recorded temperature on Antarctica was 62.6°F set way back in 1976.

Sadly, the continent of Antarctica isn’t unique when it comes to breaking all-time high temperature records. This year so far, five countries and territories have either tied or broke such records.

Which all boils down to one important question: How long do we have to watch record-breaking temperatures and ice melting that has been frozen for millennia before the deniers will get it?

Richard Alley's Elevator Pitch

Richard Alley is an American geologist and Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University who has authored more than 170 refereed scientific publications about the relationships between Earth’s cryosphere and global climate change. He has been recognized by the Institute for Scientific Information as a “highly cited researcher,” and some consider him the funniest climate scientist on the planet. Here’s his brief Elevator Pitch about climate change, pointing out that the same science explaining global warming is what is used in heat-seeking missiles. Enjoy.

The War on Science

“Everybody should be questioning. That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.”
Marcia McNutt, editor of Science

This month’s National Geographic contains an excellent article entitled “The War on Science.” It’s a great review of why so many people around the world (but often more so in the U.S.) reject what science has helped to establish. Skepticism and doubt lead people to question the validity of such things as evolution, the benefits of vaccination, the risks from genetically modified foods, and yes, the reality of climate change being primarily our fault, or that it’s even happening at all. I’d strongly recommend you read this article, available through this link.

Here are just a sample of some of the interesting things that the article covers:

  • Many people don’t understand what science is all about. They usually think about it as a large body of facts and nothing more. As Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science puts it“Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
  • One reason many of us rejects what science teaches us is because we subconsciously hold onto our intuitions—what researchers call naive beliefs. One study showed that although university students will correctly answer that the Earth goes around the sun, they will take longer to answer that question than when they answer that the moon goes around the Earth. They get both correct but have to overcome something that’s not intuitive for one.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, a better understanding of the facts isn’t the way to get people to accept science. One study showed that higher science literacy leads to stronger views on these issues, but it can be equally polarized on both ends of the spectrum. That’s because people use scientific knowledge to reinforce their own beliefs that have already shaped their opinions.
  • Science appeals to our rational selves, but emotion is a huge motivator, often affected by the desire to remain tight with our peers. As McNutt puts it: “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
  • The fact that information is so much more readily available today on the internet and through cable television, it’s easier than ever to use “filter bubbles” that only let in information that already fits with your belief systems. If you strongly adhere to a certain ideology, chances are that you watch news channels and visit websites that reinforce rather than challenge that ideology.
  • Scientists can’t easily become vocal advocates arguing for policies that will help a problem like climate change or they can become open to arguments that their claims are politically motivated, even if that isn’t the case. Their detachment remains one of their biggest strengths. (Which is why people like me need to speak up more loudly on their behalf.)
Read the article if you have the time. It has a lot to say about why so many of us choose to reject science in favour of long-held beliefs.

Costa Rica—Renewable Energy All the Way

“We are declaring peace with nature. We feel a strong sense of responsibility about looking after our wealth of biodiversity. Our attitude is not progressive, it is conservative. Our view is that until we know what we have, it is our duty to protect it.”
—Costa Rican ambassador Mario Fernández Silva

Two years ago when I was in Costa Rica, I was impressed with the nation’s commitment to completely move away from fossil fuels and use renewable energy exclusively. They made this pledge back in 2009 with a goal of achieving it by 2021. And it looks like they’re well on their way: so far Costa Rica has gotten all of its energy from renewable sources this year already.

2015’s first 75 days in Costa Rica have been helped by heavy rains which have kept hydroelectric power plants running steadily, but wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy have all contributed to energy sources this year as well. In addition to being better for the environment, this has also allowed prices for electricity to drop by 12 percent. The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) anticipates this trend will continue into the second quarter of the year.

Even during more typical years, Costa Rica still does much better than most nations with about 88 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources. Most of this is hydro at about 68 percent, with geothermal about 15 percent, wind about 5 percent, and solar and biomass contributing smaller amounts.

Of course, rainfall patterns could change significantly in the coming decades due to climate change, so Costa Rica’s reliance on so much hydro could make it vulnerable in the future. Continue reading

Mother Nature is Speaking to Us—It's Time We Listened

Too often we talk about trying to save our planet. But Earth has been here a lot longer than we have, and I dare say she will be here long after our species is gone.

But too often we’re also selfish. We strive to make more money than we need simply to live in excess, well beyond what’s necessary to have a rewarding and fulfilling existence. Perhaps it’s time we turn that selfishness in a different direction. We don’t need to save our planet. We need to save ourselves. Listen to Mother Nature’s message, it’s meant for us. (Although Mother Nature sounding just like Julia Roberts is an added bonus!)