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Global Climate Change

A Primer

Orrin H. Pilkey a nd Keith C. Pilkey

W i t h b at i k a rt b y Ma ry Edn a F r a ser

duke university press durham and london 2011

2011 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
Printed in Italy on acid-free paper
Designed by C. H. Westmoreland
Typeset in Chaparral with Gill Sans display
by Copperline Book Services, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

appear on the last printed page of this book.

Duk e Uni v er sit y Pr ess gr atefully ack now ledges the support of the follow ing
orga niz ations a nd indi v idua ls for prov iding funds towa r d the production of
this book.

The Santa Aguila Foundation (www.coastalcare and educated we become about our shorelines and the
.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to pre- threats they face from global climate change, the more
serving coastlines around the world. Global climate connected we become, and the firmer our willingness
change is central to the future of the worlds coasts; to protect these endangered natural habitats will be.
that is especially true of rising sea level, which am- These conservation efforts will have an impact on all
plifies coastal erosion, the melting of ice caps and living beings, but it is our children and future genera-
glaciers, and the destruction of reefs, wetlands, and tions who will benefit the most. Ultimately, global
ecosystems. More intense rains and hurricanes com- climate change will affect life on Earth in many ways,
bining with rising sea levels will lead to more severe but the extent of the change is largely up to us. We
flooding and potential loss of property and life. The hope that readers will understand the need for im-
problem is serious. More than 10% of the worlds mediate action if the worlds beaches and coastlines
population lives in vulnerable areas less than ten are to remain beautiful playgrounds and important
meters (about thirty feet) above sea level. Eleven ecosystems.
of the fifteen largest cities in the world are located
on a coast or river estuary. The rising sea level will The mission of the Coastal Conservation League
potentially result in millions of climate refugees. It ( is to protect the natu-
is already a threat to many island nations that are ral environment of the South Carolina coastal plain
at the front lines of climate change. Currently many and to enhance the quality of life of our communities.
people are skeptical about the very existence of global
climate change, let alone its human connection. We The North Carolina Coastal Federation (nccoast
believe that there can be no meaningful response to .org) provides citizens and groups with the assistance
this global challenge without public acceptance of the they need to take an active role in the stewardship of
scientific facts. This is why the Santa Aguila Foun- North Carolinas coastal water quality and natural
dation supports this book. The more knowledgeable resources.
We dedicate this book to

All of our families

Melanie Taylor, a profile in courage

Dana H. Dixon, a dedicated conservationist


Preface xi

1. Global Change and the Greenhouse Earth 1

2. The Impact of Global Change 15

3. Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 29

4. The Manufacture of Dissent The Global Warming Denial Lobby 42

5. The Future of Ice 53

6. Global Change in the Oceans 69

7. Disappearing Civilizations 84

8. Global Change in the Biosphere 98

9. Plan B Geoengineering to the Rescue? 110

About the Art 123

Bibliogr aphy 131

Index 139

Global change is upon us. Of this become so politically polarized as to be-

there is no doubt among those who ob- come a partisan issue. Never in our history
serve the Earth. But there are two separate have the basic tenets and procedures of
issues. Is the Earth warming? And are we science been so widely questioned by the
responsible? Among the American public, a news media. And all this because the sci-
thin majority are convinced that the planet entific community is the bearer of the bad
is changing. Even more believe that we hu- news that we as a society are producing too
mans have nothing to do with this change. much carbon dioxidea conclusion that is
Over the next fifty to a hundred years, viewed as a threat to the future of the en-
global change has to be the greatest eco- ergy industry.
nomic and environmental threat facing For the worlds scientific community to
the planet. For example, if glaciologists become galvanized on a socially important
are even partly right, many of the worlds and politically charged issue such as cli-
coastal cities will be in trouble because of mate change is an extraordinary event in
sea level rise caused by melting ice sheets itself. Traditionally scientists have kept to
and the warming ocean, and millions of themselves, kept their noses to the grind-
people will be environmental refugees, dis- stone and their eyes to the microscope,
placed from the deltas of the worlds major studying things that industry needed,
rivers. Yet we continue to be bogged down or worrying about (according to Charles
by the dilatory tactics of those who deny Wilson, former president of General Mo-
that the threat even exists. Of the two ma- tors) why the grass is green and the sky is
jor political parties in America, one holds blue! This foray into the politicized world
that global change is nothing to be worried of climate change debate by a large portion
about and may even be a fraud, and the of the world scientific community has not
other holds that its probably real, but not always gone well. The United Nations In-
real enough for immediate, concrete action. tergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
These are strange times. Never in our the group responsible for the major reports
nations history has a question of science documenting the threat, has become the
x preface

lightning rod for a small army of deniers. However, in the book we will usually refer to
Scientists, usually happy to publish articles the overall phenomenon as global change and
in academic journals largely unnoticed by use the term global warming mainly when
the public, now find themselves the targets we are discussing temperature changes
of politically based criticism. per se.
While some industrialized nations such We wrote this book because we felt that
as the United States have been slow or re- the general public had few resources that
luctant to recognize the threat of climate explain briefly, simply, and in laypersons
change, other, smaller countries already language the science of global change. It
threatened by global warming have taken is intended as a primer of global change. It is
action. Bhutan, a tiny country of 700,000 not illustrated by the usual graphs, maps,
souls between India and China, may be the and tables, but instead by the batiks on
most global-c hange-conscious of all. Bhu- silk of Mary Edna Fraser. We hope that her
tan is taking major planning steps to move batiks will make the book palatable to the
villages as their glacial water supply dries most scientifically challenged among us,
up, while next door, China is still in a state and bring it to the attention of an audience
of denial concerning imminent ground that doesnt always see books on science.
water and inundation problems in Shang- Throughout the book, we take pains to
hai from the sea level rise. point out that there are many uncertain-
A note about terminology: The phenom- ties about future climate change and that
enon of global changes related to increased some of the supporting data are limited.
atmospheric carbon dioxide and other Although the basic assumptions are solid,
greenhouse gases has been widely referred there is, as in the steering wheel of an old
to as global warming. However, within the car, some play in them. We even argue that
scientific community there is concern that mathematical models, the main basis of
referring just to the warming downplays many of the important conclusions, must
the large number of other events that are be viewed with caution (because they are
caused by the warming. Some scientists based on the same assumptions with play!).
prefer the term global climate change. This At the end of each chapter we have a sec-
term suffers from a similar shortcoming, tion where we state some of the deniers be-
in that sea level rise, retreating glaciers liefs and proceed to explain why they (usu-
and ice sheets, melting permafrost, plant ally but not always) are wrong.
and animal displacements and extinc- Orrin Pilkey, one of the authors, is a pro
tions, and warming oceans are not climate fessor emeritus from Duke University whose
changes. We use the term global climate long career in marine and coastal science
change in our title because we believe it has led him to produce many publications
will be widely recognizable by our readers. in his realm of knowledge. Keith Pilkey, his
preface xi

son and co-author, is an attorney with the help from Reynolds Smith, Cecelia Dailey,
Social Security Administration who has long Mary Edna Fraser, and Gina Longo. We are
been interested in the role of skeptics in our very grateful for the backing of all of our
societys global change debate. Mary Edna families.
Fraser is an artist from Charleston, South Mary Edna Fraser would like to
Carolina, specializing in coastal scenes. Her recognize the help of the National Aero-
career has led her to photograph the eastern nautics and Space Administration (nasa),
seaboard of the United States and coastlines the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
abroad, often from the cockpit of planes she Administration (noaa), the Heinz Center,
is piloting with an instructor by her side. She the North Carolina Museum of Natural
translates the photographic images onto Sciences, Emory University, the McKissick
silk in the ancient art of batik. Museum, the Flaten Art Museum, the Mc-
Clellanville Arts Center, the Hickory Mu-
Orrin and Keith Pilkey would like seum of Art, the University of Oklahoma,
to thank a number of people who helped the Barrier Island Center, the Florence Mu-
them to understand some aspects of global seum of Art, Science and History, and the
change far from their own specialties and Peabody Essex Museum. Also, she is grate-
to navigate the shoals of climate change ful to her patrons, including Mark and Clar-
denial. We are particularly grateful to Paul inda Abdelnour, Ingrid Abendroth, Norman
Baker, Bruce Corliss, Fred Dobson, Philip and Chris Lorusso, Rick McKee and Tara
Froelich, Peter Haff, Miles Hayes, Duncan Lowry, John and Betty Jean Payne, Norton
Heron, Joe Kelley, Susan Lozier, Stephen and Mindy Seltzer, Mary Lou Stevenson,
Mako, Brad Murray, Bill Neal, and Stan and Marty and Cathy Wice. She thanks her
Riggs; Dana Beach of the Coastal Conserva- assistant, Cecelia Dailey, her intern Chase
tion League; and Todd Miller of the North Cribb, Reynolds Smith, Norma Longo, Jill
Carolina Coastal Federation. Ewald and Mengchi Ho, who helped with
We are particularly grateful to Reynolds edits; Rick Rhodes and Tim Steele, for pho-
Smith, who came up with the idea for this tography and digital files; her husband John
book. We thank Sharlene Pilkey for spend- Sperry, who offered untiring support; and
ing many hours doing internet research on the members of her family, who made her
a variety of topics. We thank Norma Longo life as an artist possible. Mary Edna appre-
for helping us at great length with organi- ciates the decades of friendship and educa-
zation and references, proofreading, and tion from her boss Orrin Pilkey.
copyediting. We also received copyediting
global Change and
the greenhouse earth 1

The Greenhouse Effect It seems that nothing is new under the

through the Ages sun. The temperature of the Earths atmo-
sphere, just like the level of the sea, has
Ever since water accumulated to form the varied considerably over time. Most of the
ocean, not long after the Earth formed 4.6 changes have occurred because of varia-
billion years ago, the level of the sea has tions in the amount of heat received from
been moving up and down. It was only the Sun, which are related to solar activity
in recent millennia, however, that such and the orientation of the Earth relative to
changes have affected human beings. For the Sun.
example, a few miles off the coast of Maine, Atmospheric temperature is also affected
fishers have been trawling up spear points, by the concentration of what scientists
arrowheads, and other stone implements have termed greenhouse gases in the at-
from a submerged village site, which was mosphere. The greenhouse effect makes life
occupied eight to eleven thousand years on Earth possible. As solar radiation warms
ago. The people who lived at this site, now the Earths surface, a portion of the Earths
under a hundred feet of water, had to pick atmosphere acts like a greenhouse and re-
up and move inland as the sea level rose tains heat that would otherwise be lost back
and the shoreline moved past their village. to space.
Almost certainly it wasnt just the gradual At the time of the dinosaurs, the Earths
flooding by the rising sea that forced them temperature was much warmer. Now, 65
to flee. Probably it was a storm or two that million years after the last dinosaur died,
penetrated further inland than usual, or we have reached a very cool period known
perhaps their drinking water became too as the Ice Age. Even though we are cur-
salty because of the higher sea level. The rently in an interglacial time, between ad-
effort required to move a prehistoric Native vances of the great ice sheets, it is a time
American village inland is a far cry from that is too cool for cold-blooded dinosaurs
what would be required to relocate todays in most of the places where they previously
New England coastal settlements. lived.
2 The Greenhouse E arth

Sea level and atmospheric temperature While the greenhouse effect is natural
are often related. When global tempera- and necessary for human life, the funda-
tures cool, continental scale glaciers can mental problems are that human activities
form, and they can contain so much of have created an excess of greenhouse gases
what was once the oceans water that they in the atmosphere, and that the enhanced
cause drops in sea level as large as four hun- greenhouse effect has brought about global
dred feet. There have been at least seven warming at a rapid and accelerating rate.
major fluctuations of the sea over the last
two million years.
At present the Earths huge and ever The Greenhouse Gases
growing human population is affecting the
climate through (1) the emission of gases So, what exactly are the major greenhouse
that cause the Earth to act like a green- gases? The principal greenhouse gases
house; (2) the discharge of high concentra- whose presence in the atmosphere causes
tions of atmospheric particles called aero- warming are water vapor (H2O), carbon
sols; and (3) changes in land use. All three dioxide (CO2 ), methane (CH4), and nitrous
are interrelated and work in tandem to oxide (N2O). All the greenhouse gases are
change the Earths temperature. trace gases: that is, they all make up a
A real greenhouse works differently from very small part of the atmosphere. Carbon
the Earths atmosphere. Glass- enclosed dioxide is usually measured in parts per
greenhouses prevent winds from dispers- million (ppm). Present measurements in-
ing the heat created by the Suns rays. Thus dicate that there are around 390 molecules
the interior space retains heat. The atmo- per million molecules of air. Methane and
spheric greenhouse works because the nitrous oxide are measured as parts per
greenhouse gases allow short-wavelength billion (ppb). Even water vapor is a minor
sunlight to pass through the atmosphere. constituent of the atmosphereat most a
This radiation is converted to heat, which few percent.
warms the Earths atmosphere, causing it to Yet water vapor is responsible for most
emit longer-wavelength infrared radiation of the greenhouse effect, accounting for be-
back into space. The greenhouse gases ab- tween 36% and 66% of the warming (aver-
sorb some of this infrared radiation head- age of 60% globally), but it is more or less
ing out into space, which in turn heats up a long-term constant in the greenhouse
the Earths atmosphere even more. Eventu- equation. That is, it is not directly respon-
ally the infrared rays escape the Earth, but sible for the global climate change that the
the more greenhouse gases there are in the Earth is experiencing. Unlike the other
atmosphere, the more radiation is trapped, greenhouse gases, which are uniformly
resulting in increased temperatures. distributed in the atmosphere, water vapor
The Earth is warming: of this there is no doubt. The evidence that is there for all to see includes the melt
ing ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the melting mountain glaciers, the shrinking of both permafrost
and Arctic sea ice, the rising sea levels and the warming oceans. Global climate change is a problem that our
society must address sooner rather than later.
4 The Greenhouse E arth

concentrations vary widely both in space in the table indicates that methane is 72
and time. times more powerful as a greenhouse gas
A warm atmosphere is able to hold more than CO2 and nitrous oxide 289 times more
water vapor. Warming of the atmosphere powerful. Because CO2 has a higher concen-
causes an increase in water vapor content, tration than most other gases, its impact
which in turn leads to more warming. In- on global warming is largest, even though
creased warming leading to increased warm the other gases have a larger global warm-
ing is what is called a positive feedback. ing potential. That is, a molecule of meth-
However, increased water vapor can result ane is a much more powerful greenhouse
in decreased warming (a negative feedback) gas than CO2, but it has less of an impact
if more cloud cover is formed, because because a methane molecule resides in the
clouds reflect solar radiation, a distinct atmosphere for only twelve years (this is
cooling effect. Clearly the role of water as its lifespan, as shown in the middle col-
a greenhouse gas is a complicated one and umn of the table) compared to thousands
presents a problem for predictive mathe- of years for a CO2 molecule.
matical models (as discussed in chapter 3). Carbon dioxide is the principal green-
The global warming potential of a gas house gas villain because it is the gas pro-
(gwp in the accompanying table) is a mea- duced most abundantly by human civiliza-
sure of how much a gas is estimated to tion in the modern era. Human activities
contribute to the greenhouse effect. The produce eight billion tons of CO2 per year
global warming potential depends on both compared to the largest natural source, vol-
the efficiency of the molecule as a green- canic activity, which accounts for less than a
house gas and the length of time it remains third of a billion tons. During the cold times
in the atmosphere. Both factors are sum- at the height of the last ice age, the CO2 con-
marized in the table, in which CO2 is given tent of the atmosphere was 180 ppm. The
an arbitrary value of 1 for the purpose of concentration has since progressed from
comparing it with other gases over a period 280 ppm in the period preceding the In-
of twenty years. The right-h and column dustrial Revolution (the eighteenth and

Table 1. Global Warming Potential (gwp) over Twenty Years

Greenhouse Gas Concentration (%) Lifespan (Years) gwp

Carbon dioxide (CO2) 77 1000s 1

Methane (CH4 ) 14 12 72
Nitrous oxide (N2O) 8 114 289
Chlorofluorocarbons (cfcs), etc. 1 1000s 1000s
The Greenhouse E arth 5

nineteenth centuries) to a present-day 390 which irreversible climate change occurs

parts per millionhigher than it has been does not in any way detract from an impor-
for 650,000 years (based on the study of air tant point: reduction of CO2 in the atmo-
bubbles in ice core layers from Greenland). sphere is an absolutely essential goal.
Based on measurements taken at the top of How do we know that the increase in
Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the rate of increase of CO2 is not simply part of a natural cycle,
CO2 is accelerating and now stands at about as is commonly argued by climate change
2 parts per million per year. deniers? The best evidence that the CO2
A decade ago a common assumption increase results from the burning of fos-
was that to hold back major and irrevers- sil fuels is the carbon isotope mixture in
ible climate changes, excess production of the atmosphere. Isotopes are two different
CO2 should be kept below 550 parts per mil- forms of the same element, and carbon has
lion in the atmosphere (nearly two times two stable isotopes, carbon 13 and carbon
preindustrial concentrations). The bill in 12. Plants prefer to take up a lighter mix of
the U.S. Congress known as the Waxman- isotopes than is present in the atmosphere,
Markey bill aims for 450 parts per million, that is, an isotope mix richer in carbon 12.
and that target could require an 80% re- Most coal and oil is derived from plants, so
duction in emissions by mid-century. Cur- as these fuels are burned they contribute
rently the atmospheric CO2 concentration back to the atmosphere a relatively light
is approximately 390 parts per million. The mixture of carbon atoms. That the atmo-
nasa climatologist James Hansen argues sphere is getting lighter in terms of its car-
that 350 parts per million is the concen- bon isotope mix (with more carbon 12) is a
tration we should be aiming for and that measure of the contribution of fossil fuel
anything higher than that (including the burning.
present-day concentration) takes us beyond Methane, the second-most significant gas
a tipping point where irreversible changes for global warming after CO2, has a total
will occur (for example, runaway melting greenhouse effect about one-third that of
of the ice sheets and rapidly rising sea lev- CO2. As can be seen from table 1, methane
els). Hansens call for a reduction in CO2 to is a more powerful greenhouse gas (global
350 parts per million in order to preserve warming potential of 72, compared to 1 for
a planet similar to that on which civiliza- CO2) but a less abundant one (14% of total
tion developed and to which life on Earth is greenhouse gases), and molecules remain in
adapted has led to the creation of, the air for only a short time (average life
an environmental organization headed by span of twelve years). Approximately 55% of
the author Bill McKibben. the annual methane emissions into the at-
That there is disagreement as to the mosphere are from anthropogenic sources,
precise parts-per-m illion number beyond the most important of which are energy
Slopes of Mauna Loa, hawaii
Charles David Keeling, a visionary scientist
from Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
measured the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the
relatively unpolluted atmosphere at the top
of Mauna Loa beginning in 1958. Mountain
top measurements now show that CO2
concentration in the atmosphere has steadily
increased and is nearly 390 parts per million
compared to 315 parts per million in 1958.
The Greenhouse E arth 7

production and the raising of ruminants local scale the massive oil spill in the Gulf
(livestock). Natural methane emissions are of Mexico in 2010 released a lot of meth-
primarily from wetlands, but agricultural ane ice. In the cold Arctic, methane ice may
sources other than ruminant livestock, e.g., be found in ocean waters as shallow as one
rice paddies, also contribute to methane hundred meters. Methane hydrates are
gas emissions. huge deposits of methane produced by de-
During the last glaciation, methane was grading organic matter that are maintained
found at concentrations of 400 parts per in a frozen, immobile state by the cold tem-
billion (ppb). After most of the ice left, it peratures and high pressures at the bottom
rose to 700 ppb, and now, after the Indus- of the deep-water column (usually greater
trial Revolution, methane has reached con- than one thousand feet). These methane
centrations of 1,500 ppb. ice deposits, which hold the potential for
The cycle of methane emissions is not catastrophic global changes, are found on
as well understood as that of carbon diox- many continental margins, including those
ide, but climate change itself may soon un- of eastern North America. They are also an
leash vast natural reserves of methane and important exploration frontier for oil com-
thereby dramatically amplify the green- panies, which see a huge energy potential
house effect. One particular area of con- in the deepwater deposits. Smaller but sig-
cern is the thawing permafrost of the Arc- nificant volumes of methane hydrates exist
tic, especially in the vast tundras of Siberia. on land, beneath permafrost in the Arctic.
Melting of the ice contained in the soils will As the ocean waters warm or as warm
enhance the bacterial degradation of plant currents change their trajectory (often a re-
matter long stored in the soils, releasing sult of climate change), more and more hy-
not only potentially large volumes of meth- drates will be released from the shallower
ane, which is a byproduct of bacterial de- deposits. Plumes of methane gas bubbles
cay, but also long-dormant carbon dioxide have been observed coming from the sea
molecules. The 2008 yearbook of the United floor on the West Spitsbergen Arctic conti-
Nations Environment Program warned that nental shelf, and very high concentrations
methane release due to thawing perma- of methane in seawater have been observed
frost in the Arctic is a global warming wild recently on the East Siberian continental
card, meaning that the potential volume shelf. According to Natalia Shakhova of the
of CH4 release is very large and very dam- University of Alaska, eight million tons of
aging, but when it will be released remains methane escape every year off Siberia, an
a mystery. amount equal to what was previously as-
The second, even larger potential source sumed to be the total amount of methane
for methane gases is the methane hydrates released from all the oceans. In this case
or methane ice stored in the deep sea. On a the methane is probably being released
8 The Greenhouse E arth

Selenga Delta, russia

The beautiful Selenga River Delta in Siberia extends into Lake
Baikal, the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world. Melt
ing of the permafrost on the delta and in this region will add
significantly to the methane concentration in the atmosphere.
The Greenhouse E arth 9

because the Arctic current has warmed ers. It is also released naturally from soils
over the past three decades, causing the re- and from the oceans. Besides its role as a
lease of methane by breaking down meth- greenhouse gas it reacts with and destroys
ane hydrate in the sediment beneath the ozone in the atmosphere.
seabed. This Siberian discovery is an ex- Freons are a number of compounds that
ample of the evolving nature of our knowl- have no natural source but are now in the
edge of greenhouse gas emissions. We still atmosphere. These include chlorofluoro-
have much to learn. carbons (cfcs) used in refrigerators; their
The sudden release of massive amounts replacements, hydrofluorocarbons (hfcs);
of methane from marine methane ice is the nitrogen trifluoride from flat-screen televi-
suspected cause of two of the Earths major sions; and halons from fire extinguishers.
extinction events. The Paleocene-Eocene All are very powerful greenhouse gases
Thermal Maximum of 55 million years ago (high global warming potential) but they
led to the extinction of numerous marine occur in such small quantities in the atmo-
and land-based organisms. In this instance sphere that to date their impact on warm-
the collapse of methane ice deposits seems ing has not been important.
highly probable as the cause of the occur- The following list is a generalized sum-
rence of spectacular atmospheric warm- mary of the global sources of greenhouse
ing, which took perhaps 100,000 years to emissions. Almost all the listed sources pro-
recover from. The much larger Permian- duce emissions primarily through the burn-
Triassic Extinction Event 250 million years ing of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natu-
ago resulted in the extinction of 70% of all ral gas. Only one, land use change, produces
land vertebrate species. Although the cause emissions when the carbon- sequestering
is much less certain because the event hap- abilities of the land are altered.
pened so long ago, conceivably methane ice
Agriculture 13%
melting and a runaway greenhouse effect
Industry 19%
were behind it as well.
Transport 13%
You can find dramatic videos on YouTube
Residential and commercial buildings 8%
of scientists from the University of Alaska,
Energy production 26%
Fairbanks, punching holes in frozen lakes
Land use change 18%
and lighting up the methane released by
Waste management 3%
melting permafrost, gas which is tempo-
rarily trapped by the ice. There are other ways to analyze sources
Nitrous oxide is currently responsible for of global emissions. For example, accord-
about 6% of the heating caused by green- ing to the United Nations Food and Ag-
house gases. It is a pollutant from industry riculture Organization, the meat in our
and particularly from agricultural fertiliz- diet is a major source of greenhouse gases.
10 The Greenhouse E arth

The preparation of chicken, pork, and beef of Luzon in the Philippines, can tempo-
produces more greenhouse gases than the rarily inject huge amounts of aerosols into
transportation or industrial or residential the atmosphere. Human beings contribute
sector. Of the 36 billion tons of CO2 and black carbon aerosols through slash-a nd-
other greenhouse gases released annu- burn deforestation, and they produce soot,
ally, 18%, or 6.5 billion tons, is from meat sulfates, and nitrates in the form of smog
production. Beef production is the largest from air pollution and dust created by agri-
villain and it works like this: 40% of the culture, desertification, and other activities
emissions are from reduced CO2 absorp- and events on land. Some aerosols have a
tion caused by the loss of the plants that regional cooling effect, as they reflect solar
cattle eat; 32% is from the gases that cattle radiation back into space. And cooling from
emit and the emissions from their waste; a major volcanic eruption will usually last a
14% is from fertilizer production; and 14% year or two. Industrial effluents also include
is from general farm activities. Accord- such aerosols, some of which cause cooling
ing to an article in Scientific American by (sulfates) while others cause warming (soot).
Nathan Fiala, the emissions attributable to Some aerosols are also responsible for
the meat in a hamburger from Burger King cloud formation, and the amount of aero-
are equivalent to the emissions from driv- sols in the atmosphere determines the
ing a small car for ten miles. Consider that type of cloud. High concentrations result
in addition, modern meat production typi- in bright, white clouds, which are very ef-
cally involves transporting the product far fective in reflecting sunlight (thereby cool-
from the slaughterhouse, and that Whop- ing the Earth). Darker clouds, which form
per you consumed for lunch is increasing when aerosols are less concentrated, will al-
more than just your waistline. low more of the suns energy to reach and
warm the Earth.
Satellite observations have shown that
The Role of Aerosols the paths of ships in the open ocean can
sometimes be seen as spectacular, long,
Aerosols are tiny particles or droplets sus- thin lines of clouds, produced as the sulfur
pended in the atmosphere. Much remains dioxide from smokestacks is emitted in the
to be learned about them, but it seems that form of sulfate aerosol particles which lead
most atmospheric aerosols are purely natu- to cloud formation. This is a clear indica-
ral, derived from natural processes such tion of the importance of fossil fuel burn-
as oceanic salt spray, forest fires, and dust ing in forming aerosols.
storms. Volcanic eruptions, such as the The overall impact of aerosols is to cool
eruption in 1991 of Pinatubo on the island the Earth, more in the northern hemi-
The Greenhouse E arth 11

sphere than in the southern hemisphere. The most important of these is deforesta-
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate tion. Removing natural forests reduces the
Change (ipcc) estimates that perhaps aero- amount of CO2 that will be absorbed by
sols can reduce the warming effect of CO2 the plants, thus increasing the overall CO2
by as much as one-t hird (which is why in- concentration in the atmosphere. It also ex-
jection of aerosols into the atmosphere has poses soil to decomposition, further adding
been suggested as a means of artificially to the emissions.
cooling the Earth, as discussed in chapter In the past century the causes of defores-
9). Industrial polluters have in effect been tation have shifted. Subsistence activities
injecting aerosols into the atmosphere for and government development projects have
years, and thus there may already be a cool- given way to mining and large-scale ranch-
ing effect. One characteristic of aerosols is ing and farming. There is no agreement on
that they have a shorter residence time in how much rainforest has disappeared, and
the atmosphere than greenhouse gases do. of course some of it has been and is being
A recent study led by Nadine Unger of replanted after deforestation. The most
nasas Goddard Institute for Space Studies extreme deforestation is probably in Haiti,
revealed the complex interaction of green- where 1% of their forest remains. Just 10%
house gases and aerosols. Rather than fo- of West Africas coastal rainforests and per-
cus solely on the volume of gas emissions in haps 12% of the rainforests of South Asia
global warming, the study took into account remain. Brazil has declared deforestation to
the combined atmospheric heating effect of be a national emergency.
the gas and the cooling effect of the aero- In the typical process of deforestation,
sols produced at the same time by various greenhouse gases are released by the burn-
industrial sectors. They concluded that on- ing of the felled forest. This burning, of
road transportation (cars, buses, trucks) is course, also releases aerosols, which will
the greatest net contributor to global warm- have a cooling effect, as discussed above.
ing, followed by burning biomass for cook- Finally, land use change, particularly defor-
ing foods and raising animals for food (par- estation and agriculture, decreases the al-
ticularly methane-producing cattle). bedo of the Earths surface (the ratio of the
light reflected by a planet to that absorbed
by it). This causes more heat to be taken up
The Role of Land Use Changes by the Earth.

Approximately one-t hird of CO 2 emis-

sions over the past two centuries has come
about because of global land use changes.
12 The Greenhouse E arth

Amazon River
Deforestation in the Amazon forest increases
the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere,
because removal of trees reduces the amount
of CO2 to be absorbed by plants. On a global
scale deforestation is a major source of the
recent increase in atmospheric CO2.
The Greenhouse E arth 13

The Greenhouse Turmoil occasionally agree with them) at the end of

most chapters throughout this book.
There is a growing sense of public concern
and skepticism about the science of global myth: If we cant predict weather accurately
change. A good bit of disagreement among for the next five days, how can we predict the
scientists about the details of greenhouse climate decades and even a hundred years
warming is sometimes mistaken for a from now? During a debate on global warm-
lack of consensus. This misunderstanding ing in 2010 with Robert Kennedy Jr., the
stems from a larger one about the adver- ceo of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship,
sarial nature of science. A paper in Science shared this insight regarding global warm-
magazine in 2010 signed by fifty-five mem- ing: Its a hoax because clearly anyone that
bers of the National Academy of Sciences says that they know what the temperature
notes that scientists build their reputa- of the Earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030
tion . . . not only for supporting conven- needs to be put in an asylum because they
tional wisdom but even more so by dem- dont. Weather is different from climate.
onstrating that the scientific consensus is Weather is difficult to predict, in part be-
wrong. Criticism and discussions between cause it is a chaotic system and involves
scientists are the way science is conducted looking at very short-term events. We can
and not an indication of weakness or un- say with some accuracy that fifty years
certainty. Honest criticism and debate are from now the winter climate in Chicago
the hallmark of good science. Criticism will be colder than the summer climate,
strengthens science. but we cannot be assured that our Chicago
The academy members also note that weather prediction six days from today will
many recent assaults on climate science . . . be accurate. Climate is a long-term average
are typically driven by special interests or of weather, which smooths out regional or
dogma, not by an honest effort to provide short-lived weather extremes. Nonetheless,
an alternative theory that credibly satisfies concern about the accuracy of long-term
the evidence. projections is real, and these projections
must always be viewed with caution.

Myths, Misinterpretations, and myth: In the geologic past, global warming

Misunderstandings of the Deniers was followed by an increase in CO2 levels (not
the other way round), so CO 2 increases do
The following are examples of commonly not cause warming but instead are caused by
made misstatements about global change, warming. Representative Joe Barton (noted
perpetuated by global warming deniers. We for receiving funding from the political ac-
will list these myths and rebut them (and tion committee of the fossil fuel giant Koch
14 The Greenhouse E arth

Industries, but not necessarily for his un- myth: Water is far more abundant and a far
derstanding of climate science) posted this more important greenhouse gas and there-
statement to his website: An article in Sci- fore accounts for most of the greenhouse ef-
ence illustrated that a rise in carbon dioxide fect. Water in the atmosphere, as discussed
did not precede a rise in temperatures, but above, varies widely from place to place
actually lagged behind temperature rises by and from time to time but can be consid-
two hundred to a thousand years. A rise in ered a constant as far as global warming is
carbon dioxide levels could not have caused concerned. It is not one of the major fac-
a rise in temperature if it followed the tem- tors driving global warming. Seasonal or
perature. In the past, when temperature weather changes in water concentration in
changes were due to variations in solar ra- the atmosphere are short-lived. If theres
diation and other factors (and not due to too much water, rain will reduce it. If there
human activity), the statement may have is not enough water, evaporation from the
been accurate. Past warming of the oceans ocean will bring it back up.
may have been initially started by some-
thing other than CO2, and since warmer myth: CO2 makes up 0.0387% of the volume
waters hold less gas, CO2 was released and of the atmosphere and therefore must be in-
amplified the warming through the green- significant. Even at its small level of con-
house effect, thus adding to global warm- centration in the atmosphere, theoretical
ing. In the last few decades of the twentieth considerations, lab studies, and field obser-
century, however, CO2 and temperature in- vations all show that CO2 is an important
creases occurred together. cause of global warming.
The Impact of Global Change 2

Warming has risen by 1.7 degrees C (3.1 degrees F), a

number that is typical of the rapidly warm-
The evidence that the Earth is warming ing high latitudes. The temperate and tropi-
consists of its rising sea levels, warming cal zones are warming more slowly.
atmosphere and oceans, and widespread Although the greenhouse effect is global,
melting of sea ice, ice sheets, glaciers, and each of the continents has a slightly dif-
permafrost. Short-term temperature num- ferent average temperature curve for the
bers over the last century were measured twentieth century. This is because a myr-
by thermometers, of course, but longer- iad of processes other than greenhouse
term records are mostly derived by inter- gases and solar radiation have an impact
preting ice cores from ice sheets and gla- on temperatures. These include ocean cur-
ciers, deep-sea sediment cores, tree rings, rents, wind patterns, the presence of ice,
and corals. the distribution of land areas, vegetation
Atmospheric temperature measurements patterns, and volcanic eruptions. The most
since the beginning of the twentieth cen- marked regional changes have occurred in
tury indicate that the Earths average tem- the Earths polar regions. Overall the Arctic
perature has increased from 13.5 to 14.5 has warmed in recent decades, even though
degrees Celsius (56 to 58 degrees Fahren- temperatures dropped dramatically in the
heit). Temperature warming varies with early 1960s after having risen during the
the season and with latitude, as illustrated 1930s and 1940s. The Arctic has warmed
by the warming trends in Alaska. Between more than the Antarctic because there is
1949 and 2008, summer temperatures in more land area in the northern polar re-
Alaska have risen by an average of 1.2 de- gions to absorb solar radiation. Land areas
grees C (2.1 degrees F), fall temperatures warm twice as fast as the upper layers of the
by 0.5 degrees C (0.9 degree F), winter tem- sea, in part because the ocean loses much
peratures by 3.3 degrees C (6 degrees F), and more heat by evaporation.
spring temperatures by 1.9 degrees C (3.5 Local effects are quite variable, however,
degrees F). Overall the average temperature and local temperature curves may vary
16 The Impact of Global Change

significantly from the global mean curve. the volume of water in the oceans is so im-
Some areas have actually experienced tem- mense that a small rise in temperature can
perature drops and others have remained cause a significant expansion of the water,
the same, but most have experienced a which has been the cause of most of the sea
warming atmosphere. level rise that we have experienced over the
Until recently Antarctica appeared to be last hundred years. This is discussed fur-
the only continent that was not warming. ther in chapter 6.
Because of the size of the continent and The bottom line:
the sparse number of weather stations, the entire globe is warming.
this was never a certainty. In 2009 two
separate, peer-reviewed reports indicated
that the Antarctic continent had warmed Global Climate Changes
considerably over the preceding fifty years.
One study based on ice cores on the Ant- The impact of global warming on local and
arctic Peninsula showed a warming of 2.7 even regional scales is difficult to predict
degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) and remains in the realm of educated guess-
during that period. A second study based work. It is certain that the Earths ecosys-
on satellite observations on the West Ant- tems will shift as new species are added
arctic Ice Sheet suggested a warming rate (or subtracted), but uncertainties abound.
of 0.1 degree Celsius (0.2 degree Fahren- Unknowns that could produce surprises
heit) per year over the preceding decade. include changes in major ocean currents
Both these rates of temperature increase (such as the Gulf Stream), patterns of cloud
are much higher than the global warming distribution, and storm patterns. How the
average. human population grows and shifts about
The atmosphere is not the only Earth and how land use patterns change will also
body that is warming. In fact, 80% of the greatly influence future climates.
Earths heat gain over the last fifty years In a very general way, wet regions will
has been stored in the uppermost two become wetter and dry regions will be-
thousand feet of the ocean and not in the come drier. As the atmosphere warms, it
atmosphere, which accounts for the other will contain more water vapor, leading to
20%. The difference is due to the far greater more rainfall globally. Also, as the air gets
capacity of ocean waters to absorb heat. warmer, evaporation will increase, snatch-
The physics of air, water, and heat dictate ing water up from the land. Probable re-
that the increase in heat content of the gional trends include increasing aridity
oceans produces a much smaller rise in around the Mediterranean, South Africa,
temperature than a similar amount of heat Southern and Central Australia, Chile and
absorption in the atmosphere. Nonetheless Argentina, Pakistan, Mexico, and the south
The Impact of Global Change 17

western United States. Widespread desert will be reduced, perhaps by as much as by

fication has already occurred in North two-t hirds by 2100, releasing abundant
Africa, in part because of overgrazing by methane into the atmosphere and creating
sheep and goats. Similar poor land use serious problems for subsistence societ-
practices, along with climate change in ies such as the Inuit and Yupik of Canada
Spain, threaten to turn one-third of the and Alaska, and the indigenous peoples
country into a desert. At the other end of of Siberia. Decreased winter snow packs
the spectrum, Canada, the eastern United will significantly reduce the water supply
States, much of Russia, the entire Arctic re- of western North America, leading to po-
gion, and northern Europe are expected to litical conflict over water allocation. Forest
be wetter. fires will increase in number and size in the
Both good and bad things will happen West. The need for air conditioning will in-
in North America. Warmer temperatures crease, and the time span for winter sports
will expand agriculture to more northern will be reduced.
latitudes. Increased atmospheric CO2, plus
a longer growing season, may aid crop and
forest growth. Food prices may therefore Forest Fires
drop and food exports may increase. Lower
heating bills, longer construction seasons, An increase in the size and frequency of
and longer seasons for warm weather recre- forest fires is predicted for a number of re-
ation will occur. In high latitudes new ports gions that already experience them. This
may open, and the Northwest Passage may is a response to a warming atmosphere,
become a reality. drying forest soils, a long history of fire
The negative side of things begins with suppression (allowing undergrowth to
sea level rise that will certainly threaten expand), longer fire seasons (the fire sea-
North Americas major coastal cities, es- son in the western United States has al-
pecially along the low-lying East and Gulf ready increased in length by more than
Coast coastal plain. The cost of responding two months), and changes in the size and
to sea level rise in New York, Boston, Phila- timing of melting winter snow accumula-
delphia, Washington, Miami, and New Or- tions. Most of the worlds large forest fires
leans will be monumental and will likely be occur in Siberia and northern Canada, but
the nations highest-priority global change these dont receive the public attention of
response in the not-too-d istant future. In fires in more extensively developed areas.
the Southeast, barrier islands may be de- In the summer of 2010 Russian forest fires
stroyed or become uninhabitable. In North extending from Siberia to the outskirts
America arid lands will expand in the of Moscow did attract international at-
Southwest region. Tundra in the subarctic tention. The fires were more extensive
18 The Impact of Global Change

than ever, causing the loss of a number of Desertification

towns and villages. Forests in the western
United States, where the area burned each Western civilization, its wealth and power
year has increased dramatically in the past symbolized by the busy bulldozer, cant
two decades, are particularly susceptible to seem to resist the temptation to confront
fire. Recent examples of large fires in de- nature in places where we arguably dont
veloped areas, all in 2009, include fires in belong. Deserts are such places: only a
Greece (which burned 21,250 hectares, or small number of people can eke out a liv-
52,500 acres); the Station Fire in Los An- ing in deserts unless they are supported by
geles County (56,650 hectares, or 140,000 massive technology such as dams and ir-
acres); and the Black Saturday bushfires in rigation systems. In his book Cadillac Des-
southern Australia (445,000 hectares, or ert, Marc Reisner recounts the settling of
1,100,000 acres), which killed 173 people. the deserts in the western United States, a
All these fires damaged or destroyed many process leading to the current situation, in
buildings. which large amounts of money are infused
Other forested regions that will be sus- into these regions, resulting in dwindling
ceptible to large fires in the future include water supplies and increasing conflicts be-
parts of South Africa, much of Europe, tween water users.
the Mediterranean rim, and the Amazon Desertificationthe deterioration of
Basin. land and the reduction of vegetation and
These large fires create serious problems soil in arid areasresults from climatic
for wildlife and are major sources of pol- variations as well as human activities such
lution, as post-f ire rains cause extensive as those described by Reisner. Desertifica-
erosion on ash-covered slopes, polluting tion is expected to spread in the Ameri-
nearby streams and rivers. All fires in na- can West and likewise in Australia. The
ture, plus those created by human beings Mozambique coastal zone in East Africa
in the deforestation process, provide a CO2 is at particularly high risk for desertifi-
contribution equal to 50% of the CO2 con- cation, in part because local inhabitants
tribution from fossil fuels. In the Pacific have destroyed mangrove forests along the
Northwest and other parts of the world as shoreline. Desertification is also a strong
well, brush and dead trees are often cleared possibility in a broad sub-Saharan band
from forests to reduce the potential for fu- across the African continent. Over a num-
ture fires. Unfortunately this reduces the ber of centuries 28% of China has been af-
carbon sequestering effect of forests and fected by desertification, much of it caused
thus effectively increases the CO2 content by deforestation and overgrazing. Chang-
of the atmosphere. ing weather patterns, which contribute to
Wilsons Promontory, austr alia
Forest fires such as these shown on Wilsons Promontory along
the southwest coast of Australia are expected to become
larger and more frequent as global warming increases. The Rus-
sian and Bolivian forest fires in 2010, the Australian bush fires
in 2009, and the Alaskan tundra fires of 2007 are examples of
recent fires that were the largest ever recorded.
20 The Impact of Global Change

desertification, will inevitably result in in Soils became salinized as irrigation wa-

creased human conflict as populations ter dissolved salts within and below the
struggle for control of dwindling natural soil layer; the salts then made their way
resources. In an article in the Atlantic in to the soil surface, leaving telltale white
2007, Stephen Faris linked the conflict in soil patches. The most water-hungry crops
Darfur to desertification caused by climate were cotton and rice. Livestock and dairy
change. If this was one of the first climate cattle also consumed much water; a thou-
changerelated wars, it will certainly not be sand gallons of water are required to pro-
the last. duce one gallon of milk. Nine years ago the
Up to the present day, human activi- drought beganthe worst in 120 years of
ties such as overgrazing and poor farming record keeping. Adding to the problem is a
practices have been largely responsible for rise in temperature of 1 degree Celsius (1.8
desertification in already arid regions. The degrees Fahrenheit) over the last century,
same is likely to be true in a time of global which has increased the rate of evapora-
change. Humans will play the major role in tion, especially in the summer. Farming
causing desertification, but higher temper- activities have been dramatically curtailed,
atures and perhaps other climate changes farm families are leaving their lands, and
will ease the way. the water wars have begun pitting states
The saga of the Murray-D arling River against states, cities against rural residents,
Basin of southeastern Australia, named and environmentalists against irrigation.
after its two main rivers, is likely a peek Desertification seemed to be well under
into the future of a warming world in an way in the Murray-Darling Basin. And then
arid region. That much of the basin, which came the deluge. In the first three months
is about the size of France and Spain com- of 2010 rains of a magnitude not seen for
bined, was not prime agricultural land was decades filled the rivers, reservoirs, and
recognized early on. In 1865 a surveyor lakes all over New South Wales. Immedi-
on horseback, George Goyder, mapped a ately politics came to the fore in the battle
line in the basin, now called the Goyder between those who wished to go back to
line. It marked the boundary between ar- the good old days of water for all and those
able grassland and sparsely vegetated bush who recognized that this was likely a brief
country not suitable for farming. respite in a long-term problem of control-
About the time of the First World War, ling a vanishing resource. The Economist
settlers with government support began to phrased the dilemma this way: Should Aus-
cross the Goyder line. Native vegetation was tralia save its rivers, or its farmers?
essentially removed, crops that required
large amounts of water were grown, and
water from the rivers was over-a llocated.
Murr ay River, austr alia
The nine-year drought in Australias Murray-Darling River Basin was the greatest drought in 120 years of record
keeping. It ended temporarily with the return of normal rainfall in 2010. Widespread desertification in areas that
already have low rainfall (often accelerated by overgrazing) is an expected impact of global warming in regions
such as western North America, the coastal zone of Mozambique, and parts of China.
22 The Impact of Global Change

Floods ever was incurred as a result of the Missis-

sippi River flood of 1993.
Increased atmospheric temperatures will Deaths in North America from river
lead to increased water content in the at- floods have dramatically decreased in the
mosphere. For every increase of 1 degree past few years because of improved warning
Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the at- systems. This is not so for deaths from hur-
mosphere can hold about 7% more water. ricane storm surge flooding and tsunami
As winters warm, more of the precipita- flooding, as seen in Asia recently. Cyclone
tion will be in the form of rain rather than Nargis killed 133,000 people in Myanmar in
snow, leading to different runoff patterns, 2008, and the great Indian Ocean tsunami
another factor that will undoubtedly con- killed 200,000 people in 2004. The mas-
tribute to more frequent flooding. Changes sive Indus River floods that hit Pakistan
in climate will be quite complex, and as in 2010 (said to be the worst in a thousand
noted earlier, they are very difficult if not years) inundated about 20% of the country,
impossible to predict on a local scale. Some destroying over a million homes and leav-
changes in rainfall patterns will be sea- ing over twenty million people homeless
sonal. For example, Germany is expected astounding numbers.
to be drier in the summer and wetter in the Areas likely to be at risk from increased
winter as global change proceeds. floods are the American Southwest (flash
More important perhaps than average floods), the Northeast (spring floods), and
and seasonal rainfall changes is the like- the Northwest (more fall and winter flood-
lihood of more extreme rainfall events, ing). Northern to northeastern Europe will
which will lead to more flooding. The four also be at increased flood risk.
teen inches of rain that fell on the first Admittedly, the warming atmosphere
weekend of May 2010 in Nashville is a is not the only cause of increased flood
good example of an extreme event. The damage. Other causes include increases
frequency of intense bursts of rain will be in human population (which means there
higher, even in arid areas. is more property to damage), in the value
For the insurance industry the impor- of property, in the amount of construction
tance of increased flooding is clear. Indus- in flood-prone areas, and in the area of im-
try representatives note that flooding ac- permeable surfaces (e.g., concrete), as well
counts for about one-tenth of all property as misplaced trust in engineering systems
insurance payouts, one-t hird of all eco- (e.g., levees).
nomic losses from natural catastrophes,
and more than half of all deaths from such
catastrophes. The costliest insurance loss
The Impact of Global Change 23

St. Louis, 1988 and 1993

Shown here are images of the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers near St. Louis. To the left is the
normal stage of the rivers in 1988; to the right, a view of the same area during the flood of 1993. Increased
extreme rainfall events (for example the deluge in Nashville in May 2010 and the floods in North Korea in
the summer of 2005) are likely to become more frequent because of global change.

Storms across the shoreline, rather than quickly

pass over it as hurricanes usually do, these
There is considerable speculation over storms can create large storm surges and
whether global change, especially the threaten much property. The Ash Wednes-
warming ocean, will lead to more frequent day storm that struck the East Coast in
storms and more intense storms. Fore- 1962 and caused serious damage from Mas-
most among the storms that will strike sachusetts to north Florida may have been
and damage the North American main- the regions most damaging storm of the
land are the tropical storms, the largest of twentieth century.
which are hurricanes. Other storms called Tropical storms form over warm tropical
winter stormsSouwesters on the Pacific waters when the temperature of surface
Coast and Noreasters on the East Coast waters is at least 27 degrees Celsius (80 de-
also can be very damaging. Although their grees Fahrenheit). Under these warm con-
intensity may be below that of a full hur- ditions evaporation generates high humid-
ricane, because they often move slowly ity and clouds that lead to thunderstorms,
hurricane K atrina
High-wind storms, such as hurricanes, cyclones, and
typhoons, are predicted to occur with greater intensity
and possibly greater frequency in coming decades. Property
damage will increase accordingly, especially as the global
population grows and more people crowd the hazardous
areas in the worlds coastal zones.
The Impact of Global Change 25

which may converge and begin to rotate, indicate a significant difference in hurri-
forming a tropical depression. When the cane character. For example, in the decade
winds exceed 56 kilometers (35 miles) an 194555 there were 74 hurricanes, 19 of
hour the system is called a tropical storm. which were category 4 or 5. Four decades
A hurricane (or typhoon or cyclone in other later there were 112 hurricanes, 28 of which
parts of the world) is an intense tropical were category 4 or 5.
storm with winds over 119 kilometers (74 Globally there has been no trend, decadal
miles) an hour. or annual, toward increasingly frequent
Since such storms gain their energy from large tropical storms. But in the north At-
the warm surface waters of the ocean, it lantic and Indian oceans the preliminary
seems reasonable to assume that as ocean data, as just described above, indicate a pos-
waters warm, these tropical storms will in- sible trend of increasing tropical storm in-
crease in intensity. If they do, we should tensity. J. A. Curray and associates, in ana-
expect future hurricanes to have, on av- lyzing storm trends, believe that time will
erage, higher peak winds and greater vol- tell if hurricane intensity and frequency
umes of rainfall. However, there is another will increase. They argue that at least an-
possible effect of global warming that will other decade of storm data is needed to see
determine whether there will be more and if a change is occurring.
stronger hurricanes. Stronger heating of It should be noted that the most gigan-
the Earths surface will amplify the differ- tic of floods, the greatest of earthquakes,
ence in temperature between the tropo- the largest of storms would be no catastro-
sphere and the stratosphere, causing the phe at all if humans werent present. These
two layers to move about in different direc- events would just be natural curiosities.
tions and at different speeds. Their differ- But the Earths ever-increasing population
ing patterns will have a tendency to chop assures that natural catastrophes will con-
off the tops of tropical storms and reduce tinue and increase over time. Andy Revkin
their intensity. of the New York Times notes that we face
Just like the increase in global atmo- two climate threats. One is the threat from
spheric temperatures, the change in storm increased population, putting ever more
activity is probably best evaluated over de- people in the way of calamitous weather.
cades or even longer periods rather than The second is the threat that we create
year to year. The point is that the extent by producing greenhouse gases, possibly
and intensity of storm activity is a very making todays weather extremes tomor-
noisy curve, meaning that there is much rows norms (New York Times, 8 September
variability from one year to the next. The 2010).
available North Atlantic hurricane data for
the decades 1945 to 1955 and 1995 to 2005
26 The Impact of Global Change

Gulf oil spill

The BP Deep Horizon blow-
out in the Gulf of Mexico
in 2010 provides a strong
reminder of how short-term
human activities interact
with longer-term global
changes. Oil spills hasten the
demise of coral reefs, salt
marshes, and mangroves
already under pressure from
warming ocean waters and
rising sea level.
The Impact of Global Change 27

Myths, Misinterpretations, and been the hottest on record. The warmest

Misunderstandings of the Deniers years on record, since accurate measure-
ments began in the late 1800s, were 1934,
myth: In the 1970s scientists were worried 1998, and 2005.
that the Earth was cooling, and now theyve
reversed their thinking. Global warming is myth: It was hotter in the Medieval Warm
just the new fashion. A review of the scien- Period than at present, so the current warm-
tific literature by Thomas Peterson and as- ing trend is just another blip in atmospheric
sociates in 2008 showed not only that there temperatures. It is true that between ad
was no rush by scientists in the 1970s to 800 and 1300 Europe and Eastern North
claim that the Earth was cooling, but in America warmed up, but this warming,
fact at that time human-c aused warming like the cooling of the Little Ice Age (1550
dominated the peer-reviewed literature. to 1850), may have been a regional climate
The concern about a cooling Earth seems to change without global implications. An
have come from the media: a major cooling overwhelming number of climate scientists
widely considered to be inevitable (New believe that the current warming is not just
York Times, 21 May 1975); meteorologists another blip. We are causing this one, and
are almost unanimous in belief in global we are here to suffer the consequences. In
cooling (Newsweek, 28 April 1975); Telltale the past there were probably many thou-
signs [of global cooling] are everywhere sands of equivalents to the Medieval Warm
(Time, 24 June 1974). Period and the Little Ice Age. Apparently
neither the Medieval Warm Period nor
myth: Since 1998 the Earths atmosphere the Little Ice Age affected sea level in any
has begun to cool. So global warming is over. substantial way. If the cooling or warming
The origin of this claim is that the global had been global, the sea level should have
average temperature in 1998 was the high- dropped or risen in response to changes in
est recorded to date. Starting from this ice accumulation in Greenland and the Ant-
high point in a curve with large ups and arctic, just as is happening today. In fact,
downs, some deniers have determined that the evidence (from ice cores) indicates that
the Earth is cooling. Determining trends current temperatures may already be higher
by starting with high points (or low points) than those in the Medieval Warm Period.
of a noisy curve is poor science. Noisy
trends must be evaluated over a long pe- myth: Variations in solar activity are re-
riod, not year by year. In November 2009 sponsible for global warming. Stop worry-
the Natural Environment Research Council ing about greenhouse gas emissions and stop
and the Royal Society in London issued a picking on coal and oil companies. Varia-
statement that the previous ten years had tions in the Earths orbit around the sun,
28 The Impact of Global Change

and hence variations in solar input, were image has proved a lightning rod for global
the major cause of global climate change in warming skeptics, because the shape of the
the eons of geologic time that preceded the hockey stick becomes less clear depend-
last thirty years. The physicist Ilya Usoskin ing on the dataset and statistical methods
showed that before 1975 a strong relation- used, and the estimated error bars (show-
ship between global warming and changes ing the range of values within which the
in solar radiation existed for more than answer should fall) are large. Manns origi-
a thousand years. However, over the last nal hockey stick was inspired by tree-r ing
thirty years the climate and solar data di- analyses, based on the assumption that the
verge strongly from each other. In fact over nature of the rings reflects growing condi-
the last thirty years solar activity has been tions. The analyses turned out to be faulty
at a minimum. In other words, because of and resulted in a too-smooth curve. None-
the greenhouse effect we are out of step theless, many new temperature reconstruc-
with the natural cycle of solar input to cli- tions have been made, and they all show
mate, and this should indeed worry us. temperature increases in the twentieth
century, especially since 1970, in much
myth: The hockey stick temperature curve the same pattern as the original hockey
doesnt exist. The thousand-year tempera- stick did. The difference is that the origi-
ture curve proposed by Michael Mann and nal hockey-stick shape has been somewhat
made famous by Al Gore was shaped like a blurred. So the bottom line remains the
horizontal hockey stick with the upturned, same: if we look back at the last millen-
business end of the stick representing tem- nium, we see a significant rise in tempera-
perature changes in the northern hemi- tures in the twentieth century. The hockey
sphere during the last hundred years. This stick limps along.
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 3

Global Perception coming years some of the principles now

assumed to govern climate change will
There are a number of important uncer- themselves change as our science advances.
tainties in the science of global change. It is the normal scheme of things for ideas
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate about nature to change as we observe the
Change (ipcc) is painfully aware of them workings of the natural world.
and lists them in its various publications,
especially in those published by the United Most fundamentally, scientists are not ex-
Nations Environmental Programme (unep) actly sure what will happen when we reduce
publications, written for laypersons and greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. What level
available from These of ghg emissions is required to halt global
uncertainties are not the Achilles heels warming or to bring CO2 concentrations
of global change. Its almost certain that in the atmosphere to a particular level? If
you cant put a trillion tons of CO2 into we succeed in reducing CO2, how fast will
the atmosphere without something nasty global changes already occurring reverse
happening. This is according to James themselves? For example, according to the
Lovelock, environmental thinker and fu- ipcc, sea level rise caused by the heating
turist. Global change is a certainty and the of ocean water will continue for centuries
direction of change is well understood. But even after CO2 levels have been stabilized.
rates, volumes, and levels remain uncer- Roger Pielke Jr. of the environmental
tain. studies program at the University of Colo-
There are a number of examples of well- rado, Boulder, is one who argues that reduc-
founded and scientifically reasonable, peer- ing greenhouse gases will not have a per-
reviewed studies that question some of the ceptible impact for decades. Although he
numbers floating around the global climate is strongly in favor of reducing our green-
change realm. None that we are aware of, house gas emissions, Pielke argues that the
however, question the reality of global only effective response to global warming
warming and the human connection. In is adapting to new conditions rather than
Pacific Full Moon
The rise in sea level may well be the first catastrophe of truly global proportions caused by the increase in
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A sea level rise of one meter (about three feet) is anticipated by the
year 2100, but within forty to sixty years, millions of environmental refugees will be displaced; coastal cities,
especially low-lying ones like Miami and Boston, will spend huge sums to preserve their infrastructure and
buildings; and armed conflicts over water and territory can be expected.
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 31

waiting for conditions to change. In his industrialization, dam construction, and

book The Climate Fix (2010), Pielke con- deforestation may be responsible for some
cludes that decarbonization (lowering CO2 changes. In the United Kingdom scientists
production) wont work, because as long as provided regional projections of climate
global economies may be at stake, effective change using a grid made up of 25-km2 (15.5
inaction on CO2 reduction by the worlds square-mile) squares. The report was sup-
nations is almost a certainty. His solution: posed to be released in 2008 but it was not,
alternative sources of energy. because an independent review concluded
that the limitations, which were quite seri-
The scientific community is also not exactly ous, were not made clear in the report.
sure what will happen as we continue to in-
crease greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A number of the Earth and atmospheric pro-
The amount of future warming of the at- cesses that cause global temperature change
mosphere per unit volume of released ghg are not well understood. These include the
is uncertain, because there are unknowns roles of aerosols and cloud cover, the future
such as the proportions of different gases, of ocean warming, and the various compo-
the role of cloud cover and aerosols, the nents of the earths carbon cycle. In addi-
nature of future solar radiation, and the tion, the scale of methane emissions that
role of poorly understood feedbacks. Are can be expected from various sources and
there tipping points out there from which the scale of CO2 emanating as a result of
we cannot recover? We have some general land use changes remain uncertain.
understanding of these things, but our Extreme events, including storms, tropi-
knowledge is certainly not precise. And it cal hurricanes, intense precipitation (rain,
probably never will be precise, because na- sleet, snow), extreme temperatures, and
ture defies complete understanding. This droughts, are very important elements of
problem often frustrates policymakers, and global climate change and are important
provides ammunition for skeptics who of- to forecast. But because these are uncom-
ten throw out the baby of well-understood mon events, they are harder to forecast and
phenomena with the bathwater of less- characterize than climatic averages.
well-understood phenomena. Future changes in the ice sheets will have
a major impact on sea level rise and are
The problem of how climate change will play not easily predictable. The West Antarctic
out and what causes it on a continental and ice sheet is a particular enigma. Its melt-
global scale is generally understood, but at a ing rate may depend on the survival of ice
local level climate change remains a major un- shelves that hold back the outlet glaciers,
certainty. At a local level, events unrelated the release from grounding on continental
to global climate change such as pollution, shelf islands as glaciers melt and become
32 Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms

lighter, and warm currents that have be- light on the ethics of some climate scien-
gun, just in the last decade, to melt ice at tists from East Anglia and their correspon-
the ice sheet margin. In addition there are dents. The most damning discussions in
new concerns about melting of the East the e-mails included apparent threats to
Antarctic Ice Sheet (chapter 4). obstruct the peer-review system to block
publication of unwanted papers. It was
Natural solar variability related to changes unquestionably an example of scientists
in the Earths orbit is not understood well venting frustrations and perhaps of sci-
enough to accurately predict long-term natu- entific arrogance, but there was certainly
ral changes that will underlie future global more smoke than fire. As the Guardian (29
changes caused by humans. This is the con- December 2009) aptly characterized it, the
clusion of a study from 2010 headed up e-mails show sincere researchers struggling
by the climatologist Eelco Rohling. Since to do good work in a highly politicized en-
the role of solar variability is imperfectly vironment and sometimes losing their tem-
known, the projection of future climate pers. Climategate is perhaps best viewed as
over a century or longer is made more dif- another example of the lengths to which
ficult. It is important to note that some climate deniers backed by corporate inter-
scientists, particularly Wallace Broecker ests will stoopin this case thieveryto
of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, ar- promote their anti-scientific, pro-industry
gue based on past cycles that we are on the agenda.
verge of entering a new ice age. If true, the Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow of the
timing of this climate reversal is unknown, Cato Institute, one of the dozens of cor
and some argue that warming caused by porate-sponsored organizations dedicated
human beings is counteracting any cooling to the manufacture of doubt, has written
trends. that the e-mails explain why a number of
atmospheric scientists whose views differ
from the majority have had difficulty pub-
The Lightning Rods lishing in top climate journals. There is no
evidence that any of the e-mails in ques-
clim at egat e
tion actually resulted in the suppression of
In November 2009 the bombshell struck. science. The examples that Michaels noted
More than a thousand e-mails were sto- of scientists who are having alleged prob-
len from the Climate Research Unit of the lems in publishing included himself, Willie
University of East Anglia in Norwich. The Soon, Roy Spencer, and Sallie Baliunasall
e-mails were a bonanza for deniers who relentless deniers who have made unsup-
claimed that they represented a conspiracy portable statements against global warm-
to promote global change. They shed a bad ing in the past and who pursue their trade
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 33

of global change skepticism with blinders from Climategate reportedly came from
that seem to prevent a balanced view of the Phil Jones, head of the climate change unit
science. at East Anglia, who wrote, I cant see either
The peer-review process is a time-honored of these papers being in the next ipcc re-
practice integral to the scientific method. port. Kevin and I will keep them out some-
Articles submitted to journals are anony- howeven if we have to redefine what
mously reviewed by a group of peer experts the peer reviewed literature is! As Joness
in the field to insure that the articles are statement shows, he was frustrated with
of high quality, based on sound scholar- the publication of even weak papers help-
ship and accurate research. A peer-review ing to legitimize climate change deniers,
system that keeps out the publications of but his promise to redefine the peer-review
Patrick Michaels, who acts more like a lob- process was certainly hyperbolic: no one
byist than a scientist, must be a good one! person could hope to achieve that. George
Michaels and others like him are not hav- Monbiot of the Guardian noted that one of
ing difficulty publishing articles because the papers in question was eventually pub-
of their minority views. Rather, the peer- lished in the journal Climate Research, but
review process reasonably prevents the it was so flawed that the resulting scandal
publication of papers that are more propa- led to the resignation of the editor in chief.
ganda than good science. Although no real evidence of a grand con-
The problem with Michaels and others spiracy to distort or manipulate data was
like him is akin to the problem that Earth revealed by Climategate, the incident was
scientists have with creationists. The Geo- nonetheless labeled as an arrow through
logical Society of America, for instance, the heart of climate science, the final nail
receives requests each year from creation- in the coffin of anthropogenic warming,
ists asking to present technical papers at and much more by global warming deniers.
national meetings. Whenever creationists Patrick Michaels pronounced that the ref-
have been allowed to present their views ereed literature has been inestimably dam-
at geological conferences, their very pres- aged. The Wall Street Journal carried the
ence at a conference was later ballyhooed hysteria even further by proclaiming, in
by their supporters as evidence that cre- an incredible statement, that Climategate
ationism was being accepted by a geologi- had harsh implications for the credibil-
cal society. But when a geological society ity of science generally. But a society that
refuses to allow creationists to participate tramples on science does so at a huge risk
in its activities, the refusal is cited as evi- to its own well-being, and if all American
dence that the scientific mainstream has science is suspect, as the Journal claims,
something to fear. we are indeed in trouble. The one-t ime
One of the most damaging leaked e-mails governor turned Fox News commentator
34 Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms

Sarah Palin opined that if President Obama change researchers. Sadly, this will not pre-
stayed home from the Copenhagen Confer- vent global warming deniers from trying to
ence in 2009 he would have sent the mes- exploit these stolen e-mails to further their
sage that the United States will not be a own agenda.
party to fraudulent scientific practices.
As it turns out, a parliamentary commit-
t he in t ergov er nmen ta l
tee in Britain cleared the Climategate sci-
pa nel on clim at e ch a nge
entists of all but the charge of unwilling-
ness to share data; three other panels at the The ipcc is the main lightning rod for
University of Virginia and Penn State even- much of the criticism by the deniers. In-
tually cleared them as well. Although it is deed they have made errors, as would any
hard to deny the arrogance of the scientists panel of more than two thousand scientists
involved and their contempt for the norms speaking many languages and meeting in a
of good scientific practice, it turns out that politically charged atmosphere. Our opin-
Climategate was largely a hyped-up me- ion is that the ipcc, while not perfect, is a
dia phenomenon. Mostly the scientists in- group of largely honest, dedicated research-
volved were grousing and griping, nothing ers working for little compensation under
more. Nonetheless, the attorney general of difficult conditions. That a committee of
Virginia, who believes that global change thousands could agree upon and produce
is a myth, is seeking to obtain the research massive and detailed reports is something
papers and field data from Michael Mann, of a miracle.
one of the Climategate scientists. Mistakes are inevitably made. One se-
Climategate is an example of the pot rious error (called Glaciergate by some)
calling the kettle black. Many of the argu- was the claim that the Himalayan glaciers
ments from climate denialist groups are would disappear by 2035. It apparently be-
so blatantly false and deceitful that the gan with a misquote by the World Wild-
hullabaloo over Climategate is hypocriti- life Fund in one of its reports. The error
cal in the extreme. The list of their disin- was immediately trumpeted by critics as
genuous claims (some listed at the end of another example of ipccs incompetence
each chapter) gives them no credible basis and tendency to exaggerate, and a reason
to accuse others of being disingenuous. In to question the credibility of all the pan-
short, there is no conspiracy to exaggerate els work. This is another good example of
or manipulate data or computerized cli- throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
mate models. Even if an individual instance Glaciergate wont be the last mistake that
of manipulation were to come to light, it will be discovered. Unfortunately each er-
would not change the scientific facts deter- ror, and even each change in forecasts
mined by the community of global climate based on advances in understanding of
This iceberg batik shows
that most of the ice is
below the surface. As the
worlds ice sheets and
mountain glaciers melt,
floating icebergs calved
from the noses of the
glaciers that extend into
the sea will become
more common. To
determine the net
contribution of water to
the sea from melting and
calving glaciers, it is
necessary to know the
contribution of new
snow added to the
interior each winter.
36 Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms

various global change processes, will likely atmospheric warming, permafrost melting,
be falsely characterized as further evidence ice sheet degradation, and sea level rise is
of the ipccs ineptitude and even fraud. a perilous process. Extensive field observa-
Elizabeth Kolbert writes: No one has ever tions must provide the main basis for pro-
offered a plausible account of why thousands jections, but beyond fifty years out, math-
of scientists at hundreds of universities in ematical models prevail. It is our belief that
dozens of countries would bother to engi- scientists sometimes place too much faith
neer a climate hoax. Nor has anyone been in mathematical models.
able to explain why Mother Nature would There are two kinds of mathematical
keep playing along; despite what it might models, quantitative and qualitative. Quan-
have felt like in the northeast these past few titative models provide a number by asking
months, globally it was one of the warmest where, when, and how much. Qualitative
winters on record. models provide an understanding by ask-
In ipccs 4th Assessment Report (2007), ing how, why, and what if. Global change
or ar4, the panel committed an editorial models, taken qualitatively, have provided
error by stating that sea level would rise a critical understanding of the process of
between seven and twenty-t hree inches change, have given estimates of direc-
by 2100, not counting the contribution of the tion and orders of magnitude, and have
melting ice sheets. The absence of the ice answered numerous what if questions.
sheet contribution was duly but not clearly Taken quantitatively, models are another
noted in the text of the report. Some who matter. As the discussion above indicates,
read this report misinterpreted the rise of there are a large number of uncertainties,
seven to twenty-t hree inches as being the certainly enough to make anyone nervous
expected total rise. Others among the de- about the various numbers associated with
niers have chosen to use these numbers to the global warming phenomenon. For ex-
minimize the potential importance of sea ample, James Hansens claim that an atmo-
level rise. The failure of the ipcc to include spheric CO2 concentration of 350 parts per
the ice sheet contribution in its forecast million marks an irreversible global change
was regrettable, since clearly the melting tipping point is most difficult to defend. A
of ice sheets will have a significant impact tipping point may well exist, but a precise
on sea level rise. number is simply not justifiable in the con-
text of so many uncertainties.
Another example of overreaching in
m at hem at ic a l model s
mathematical models was the statement
Much praise and criticism is showered upon made by global change scientists testifying
mathematical models (computer models). before Congress in 2007. They observed
Accurate prediction of future trends in that according to models, we have ten to
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 37

twelve years to start reversing the rate of is applied to the future. But among other
greenhouse gas emissions before the global problems, beach erosion is very sensitive
changes become irreversible. Again the un- to storms; their intensity, duration, and
certainties make such an assertion very the direction from which they come are
tenuous. variable factors that contribute to chang-
A different type of problem with math- ing erosion patterns. To apply the model to
ematical modeling is illustrated by the the future requires the unlikely assump-
ipccs aforementioned failure to include tion that the schedule of storms in the fu-
melting ice sheets in its projection of sea ture will be quite similar to the schedule of
level change by the turn of this century. storms in the past.
This failure occurred because the panel said With regard to predictive mathematical
there were too many uncertainties to make modeling, the ever-colorful James Love
a projection. It was a case of overdepen- lock argues, we tend to be too hubristic to
dence on models: since the panel couldnt notice the limitations. If you make a model,
model the effect of melting ice sheets, it after a while you get suckered into it. You
would not make any projection at all. Oth- begin to forget that its a model and think
ers, mostly on state and national sea level of it as the real world. You really start to
rise panels, have had to roughly estimate believe it. We really dont know what the
the contribution of the ice sheets based on clouds and aerosols are doing. They could
field and satellite observations. be absolutely running the show. As a result
Claims that a model is valid because it of our belief in models we are minimizing
has successfully reproduced a past event direct observational data.
(hindcasting) should also be viewed with
skepticism. As pointed out by Naomi
Oreskes of the University of California, San Jumping on Bandwagons
Diego, hindcasting assumes that the com-
plex natural systems being modeled will be Research scientists tend to be a skeptical
subject to the same forces and will respond lot, but a couple of human-nature hazards
the same way all the timepast, present, facing them can dull the sharp edge of sci-
and future. entific cynicism that characterizes good
For example, the model genesis is used science. One of these hazards is the band-
by coastal engineers to predict, among wagon effect and the other is the state of
other things, the amount of beach erosion siege effect. The bandwagon effect occurs
in the future. The model is calibrated by when the vast majority of scientists sup-
hindcasting the erosion during some previ- port some idea such as some element of
ous time span. The model is adjusted so global change. Their support for the idea
it comes up with the right answer and then can cause the less venturesome and less
38 Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms

courageous in the scientific community to modern agricultural advances are attrib-

jump up on the bandwagon and support the utable in part to increased carbon dioxide
idea unquestioningly just to take advantage in the atmosphere, thanks to the Indus-
of safety in numbers. Global change science trial Revolution. The Idso brothers lead
is a bandwagon if ever there was one. the Center for the Study of Carbon Diox-
The state of siege that climate scientists ide and Global Change, which was created
find themselves in today has a similar to disseminate factual reports and sound
dampening effect, because of the verbal commentary on new developments in the
abuse that inevitably follows the announce- worldw ide scientific quest to determine the
ment of a new scientific observation that climatic and biological consequences of the
favors the human connection to climate ongoing rise in the airs CO2 content.
change. This problem is particularly real The geologist H. Leighton Steward, in
for scientists who interact with the public his self-published book Fire, Ice, and Para-
through media interviews, newspaper ar- dise, suggests that the old wives tale that
ticles, speeches, and seminars. Why ask for plants grow better if you talk to them might
trouble? Some find it better to remain in be related to the CO2 which is released with
the background. every exhale of breath. Steward rejects the
notion that CO2 should be considered a
pollutant, but instead considers it a great
Is Carbon Dioxide Good airborne fertilizer which, as its concentra-
for the Planet? tions rise, causes additional plant growth
and causes plants to need less water. Stew-
Among the global warming contrarians is ard also attributes 12% to 15% of world-
a particular breed of CO2 boosters. These wide plant growth to the 100 ppm of CO2
CO2 cheerleaders argue that more carbon added to the atmosphere since the start of
dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans will the industrial revolution. Steward main-
only increase plant and animal life. Chief tains that the Earth needs more CO2, not
among these proponents is the Idso clan, less, a view consistent with the aforemen-
Sherwood Idso and his sons Craig and tioned documentary The Greening of Planet
Keith Idso. Sherwood Idso was affiliated Earth, which proclaims, more scientists are
with the Greening Earth Society, a group confirming our world is deficient in CO2
formed and funded by Western Fuels Asso- and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very
ciation to promote the idea that increasing beneficial.
CO2 is good for humanity. They produced The potential positive impact on agricul-
two documentaries, the first of which, The ture is a commonly cited positive outcome
Greening of Planet Earth: The Effects of Car- of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Stud-
bon Dioxide on the Biosphere, argues that ies have shown that CO2 can boost plant
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 39

productivity and some greenhouse own- primary production, across all multifactor
ers actually purchase CO2 to increase plant manipulations, elevated carbon dioxide
growth. suppressed root allocation, decreasing the
In an exchange before the House Sub- positive effects of increased temperature,
committee on Energy and Environment precipitation, and nitrogen deposition on
in March 2009, the British climate change net primary production.
contrarian Christopher Walter Monckton, Further, an article by the freelance writer
3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, ar- Ned Stafford in the journal Nature in 2007
gued that carbon dioxide is a plant food, cited several studies suggesting that more
which prompted Representative John carbon dioxide will result in less nutrition
Shimkus to ask: So if we decrease the use in plants, in part because of decreased in-
of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away take of nitrogen, calcium, and zinc. Clenton
plant food from the atmosphere? Owensby and other researchers at Kansas
As an elementary school student, you State also found that elevated CO2 levels re-
most likely learned that plants use CO 2 sulted in less nutritious and less digestible
during photosynthesis. Increased CO2 has grass for cattle, suggesting that future ru-
been shown to accelerate the rate of photo minants may gain less weight even if they
synthesis. Simply put, the pro-CO2 argu- eat more grass in a CO2-e nriched world.
ment is that since plants need CO2, they They also noted that insects appear to in-
will benefit from increased levels of it in crease consumption as nutrition decreases
the atmosphere. This is essentially the ar- in an elevated CO2 setting.
gument being put forward by CO2 boost- The Argentine scientist Jorge Zavala per-
ers, but it is a gross oversimplification. For formed an open field study involving the
one thing, anticipated climate change does levels of CO2 expected to be in the atmo-
not involve only increased CO2, and studies sphere by the year 2050 and found that soy-
have shown that increased CO2 may actu- beans produced less jasmonic acid, a natu-
ally negate some of the agricultural bene- ral defense to insect pests, allowing adult
fits of global warming. insects to feast on the plants, live longer,
M. Rebecca Shaw, a botanist at the Car and produce more offspring.
negie Institution, and her colleagues found Increased levels of carbon dioxide may
that anticipated climate changes of warm- contribute to warming in another manner
ing, increased precipitation, and nitrogen apart from the greenhouse effect. Long Cao
deposition, alone or in combination, in- and Ken Caldeira, researchers at the Carn-
creased net primary production in the third egie Institution, have found that increased
year of ecosystem-s cale manipulations CO2 negates the cooling effect of trees and
in annual grasslands in California. While contributes to warming. Plants give off wa-
increased CO2 by itself also improved net ter through tiny pores in their leaves in a
40 Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms

process called evapotranspiration. This exaggerate climate change while ignoring

process not only cools the trees but also mistakes that underestimate it. A case in
releases water into the air, cooling the sur- point is sea level rise. The ipcc has been
roundings. Increased carbon dioxide causes consistently low in its estimates of sea level
the leaves pores to shrink and release less rise rates in its last two reports. In 2001 it
water. Cao and Caldeira found that in some incorrectly assumed that the Antarctic ice
regions, including North America and East sheet was not going to contribute melt wa-
Asia, over a quarter of warming from in- ter to the rising sea level, a mistake that it
creased CO2 in the atmosphere is a result corrected in 2007.
of decreased evaporative cooling by plants. Bjrn Lomborg, economist and adjunct
They also found that high carbon diox- professor at Copenhagen Business School,
ide will result in greater runoff from the is among the most sophisticated of the
land surface, as water from precipitation skeptics and in some circles is considered
increasingly bypasses the plant cooling a legitimate critic, but he is not. Lomborg
system and flows directly into rivers and came on the scene in a big way with the
streams. publication of his best-s elling book The
Thus the answer to the question of how Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), and in
valuable increased CO2 is to the kingdom 2007 he published Cool It: The Skeptical Envi-
of plants is not a simple one. Yes, by some ronmentalists Guide to Global Warming. Both
measures plant growth is enhanced, but a books deal with similar themes, mainly
number of other, less desirable effects oc- that claims of catastrophe are overblown
cur as well. Once again there is proof that and that cost-benefit analysis suggests the
nature is never simple. But to look at CO2 need to pay more attention to other prob-
and plant interaction to the exclusion of lems, such as poverty, AIDS, and malaria.
other impacts of global change such as sea The most likely reason that the books have
level rise is both absurd and irresponsible. had such a large impact is that they have
the appearance, if not the substance, of a
legitimate, well-documented review of the
Myths, Misinterpretations, and science of global change.
Misunderstandings of the Deniers Lomborgs review of the science is in
accurate, however, as documented in pain-
myth: The ipccs mistakes tend to exagger- ful detail by Howard Friel in his book The
ate or overblow the extent of climate change, Lomborg Deception (2010). Friel and others
thereby demonstrating a systematic bias. Far point out that Lomborgs apparent reli-
from it; we believe that the ipcc tends to ance on peer-reviewed scientific literature
be conservative, probably on purpose. The is highly misleading. Often the literature
deniers jump exclusively on mistakes that is misquoted or quoted out of context. It is
Doubts, Uncertainties, and Qualms 41

fair to say that Lomborgs views are com- the primary source of sea level rise later in
pletely out of step with the views of global this century. Thus Lomborg attempts to
change scientists. downplay the effect of sea level rise by ig-
James Gustave Speth, dean of the Yale noring the report as a whole.
School of Forestry and Environmental
Studies, notes that for nearly a decade, myth (cherry picking): Sea level will rise
Bjrn Lomborgs climate- science rejec- thirty centimeters. Lomborg sticks with
tionism has helped block serious political the projected rise in sea level of thirty
action on greenhouse emissions. In 2003 centimeters (one foot) by 2100, although
the Danish Committees on Scientific Dis more than a dozen science panels around
honesty, organized under the nations the globe have projected a minimal rise of
Ministry of Science, cited The Skeptical En- one meter (three feet) by then. In addition,
vironmentalist for data fabrication, cherry the current rate of sea level rise as mea-
picking, plagiarism, deliberate misinterpre- sured by both satellites and tide gauges is
tation, and use of misleading statistics. Be- greater than thirty centimeters (one foot)
low are paraphrases of some of Lomborgs per century.
statements about sea level rise.
myth (strange opinion). The concern for
myth (straw man): Contrary to common sea level rise is enhanced by societys biblical
statements, melting sea ice will not raise sea fear of flooding. Lomborgs point is that en-
level. No scientist that we know believes vironmentalists and scientists are sound-
that melting sea ice (floating ice) on the ing warnings about sea level rise more be-
surface of the sea will contribute much to cause of the ancient legends of floods than
sea level rise, and we have never seen this because of hard evidence of potential im-
common statement. Thus Lomborg mis- pacts. It is an absurdity.
leadingly rejects a proposition that is not The turnabout? In 2010 Lomborg pub-
made by scientists. Lomborgs focus on lished a book entitled Smart Solutions to Cli-
floating ice, rather than ice sheets, allows mate Change. In the pre-publication reviews
him to minimize the dangers of sea level he is said to argue that global warming is a
rise. major concern for the world and that $100
billion per year will be needed to fight cli-
myth (misquotes): The ipcc report (2007) mate change. This is a drop in the bucket of
estimated that sea level will rise a foot in the global change response. The book appears
twenty-first century. True enough, but the to be a major reversal of opinion on Lom-
report pointed out that the one foot mid- borgs part, but in reality the low figure of
range number did not include ice sheet $100 billion actually belittles the risks of
melting, which the ipcc expects may be global change.
The Manufacture of Dissent
4 The Global Warming Denial Lobby

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) calls the group)an entity known as The Advance-
threat of catastrophic global warming the ment for Sound Science Coalition (tassc).
greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the Amer- apcos plan to create tassc can be found
ican people. It turns out that there is a hoax online at In an
involving climate change. Only the hoax is effort to avoid being branded as an arm
being perpetrated by public relations efforts of Big Tobacco, tassc sought to tackle
by the fossil fuels industry. broader questions about government re-
search and regulations, including global
warming. In what would be established as
Tobacco Roots a pattern, apco launched a media cam-
paign in regional markets outside large
Efforts by corporations to cast doubt on metropolitan areas where more aggressive
the veracity of global warming science are or better-funded media might challenge
akin to the tobacco industrys campaign to its messages. Philip Morris sought to coun-
cast doubt on the dangers of cigarettes. The teract science linking secondhand smoke
links between the tobacco industry and to cancer and even appears to have coined
global warming deniers were revealed in the term junk science for peer-reviewed
large part because of internal documents, studies which might harm their industry,
which were posted to the Internet after a as opposed to sound science, for stud-
class-action suit against tobacco compa- ies which support their views. Of course
nies, as detailed in Climate Cover-up (2009), Philip Morris was not alone in the quest
by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore. to counter harmful scientific findings. A
In response to an epa report on the memo prepared at Brown and Williamson
harmful effects of secondhand smoke, the proclaimed: Doubt is our product since it
tobacco giant Philip Morris hired apco is the best means of competing with the
Worldwide, a public relations company. body of fact that exists in the mind of the
apco created what is now known as an As- general public. It is also the means of estab-
troturf group (that is, a fake grassroots lishing a controversy.
The Manufacture of Dissent 43

In the report Smoke, Mirrors and Hot and Informed Choices for the Environ-
Air (2007), the Union of Concerned Sci- ment, they settled on the Information
entists explored how ExxonMobil was Council for the Environment (ice). The
employing Big Tobaccos tactics to manu- science historian Naomi Oreskes has pub-
facture uncertainty about global warm- lished their founding documents on the
ing. The report identified five main tactics Internet. These documents show that ices
used by tobacco companies to cast doubt strategy echoes the earlier campaigns by
on the dangers of smoking: (1) question- tassc. ice spelled out a seven-point strat-
ing even indisputable scientific evidence egy, beginning with an attempt to reposi-
showing their products to be hazardous; tion global warming as theory (not fact).
(2) engaging in information laundering Another strategy was to use a spokesman
by using and even establishing seemingly from the scientific community.
independent front organizations to make ice chose four cities (Chattanooga, Ten-
the industrys case and confuse the public; nessee; Champaign, Illinois; Flagstaff, Ari
(3) promoting scientific spokespeople and zona; and Fargo, North Dakota), all of
investing in scientific research in an at- which were home to members of either the
tempt to lend legitimacy to their public re- House Energy and Commerce Committee or
lations efforts; (4) attempting to recast the the House Ways and Means Committee, as
debate by charging that the wholly legiti- test markets for a $500,000 marketing cam-
mate health concerns raised about smoking paign. The goals of the test markets were
were not based upon sound science; and (1) to demonstrate that a consumer-based
(5) cultivating close ties with government media awareness program can change the
officials and members of Congress. The opinions of a selected population regarding
report shows how ExxonMobil uses these the validity of global warming; (2) to begin
very same tactics to create doubt in the developing a message and strategy for shap-
publics mind over the scientific consensus ing public opinion on a national scale; and
regarding global warming. (3) to lay the groundwork for a unified front
ExxonMobil is by no means the only for the national electric industry on global
petrochemical player to dabble in manu- warming.
facturing doubt. In 1991 the Western Fuels The strategy included radio and print
Association teamed with the National Coal campaigns. The radio ads would directly
Association and the Edison Electric Insti- attack the proponents of global warm-
tute to create a campaign to combat the ing by relating irrefutable evidence to the
publics growing concern over global warm- contrary, delivered by a believable spokes-
ing. After considering such names as the person, while the print ads would attack
Information Council for the Environment, proponents through comparison of global
Informed Citizens for the Environment, warming to historical or mythical instances
44 The Manufacture of Dissent

of gloom and doom. Each ad will invite the Greening Earth Society also published a
listener/reader to call or write for further journal, edited by Patrick Michaels. In 1998
information, thus creating a data base. The the Greening Earth Society produced a sec-
test campaign reportedly revealed that au- ond documentary in which, according to
diences trusted technical sources most, the website of the Center for the Study of
activists and government officials next, Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, expert
and industry the least. ice concluded that scientists assert that CO2 is not a pollutant,
industry should find scientists to serve as but a nutrient to life on earth.
The campaign identified two target audi-
ences: Older, less educated males, who are Delivering the Message:
receptive to messages describing the moti- The Role of Media
vations and vested interests of people cur-
rently making pronouncements on global Steven Milloy may be the most obvious ex-
warmingfor example, the statement ample of a well-placed corporate spokesper-
that some members of the media scare the son spreading the gospel of climate change
public about global warming to increase denial. He got his start with Philip Mor-
their audience and their influence. . . .; and ris and was once the executive director of
younger, lower-income women, who are the denial advocacy group The Advance-
more receptive to factual information con- ment for Sound Science Coalition. Now he
cerning the evidence for global warming. is a commentator for Fox News and also
They are likely to be green consumers, be- runs the website, a pro-
lieve the earth is warming, and to think the industry website that includes articles
problem is serious. However, they are also denying or downplaying climate change.
likely to soften their support for federal On his website Milloy, a self-proclaimed
legislation after hearing new information. Junkman, defines junk science as faulty
Following the success of their test cam- scientific data and analysis used to advance
paign, Western Fuels released the docu- special and, often, hidden agendas. Milloy
mentary The Greening of Planet Earth: The is certainly not a trained journalist: he is
Effects of Carbon Dioxide on the Biosphere. As a hypocrite, guilty of the very tactics he
noted in chapter 3, the movie, produced by claims to expose, using faulty science to
the Greening Earth Society and reportedly advance his own hidden agenda.
funded by Western Fuels, suggests that in- The climate change denial industry need
creased carbon dioxide would significantly not rely on public relations firms and lobby
benefit plant growth, which is an over ists posing as journalists. The very nature
simplification. As of this writing, the video of the modern media plays a major role
is available on YouTube. The now defunct in promoting doubt over climate change.
The Manufacture of Dissent 45

When journalists, particularly television who deny that climate change is a threat
reporters, cover a story, they typically in- is the twenty-four-hour news cycle, which
terview people representing opposing sides provides a forum to climate denial spokes-
of an issue, in the climate change arena no persons (once again benefiting from the
less than in others. Thus despite the over- concept of balanced reporting). Con-
whelming scientific consensus that global servative talk radio has also boosted the
warming is a serious, imminent danger, fortunes of the deniers by repeating their
news stories in print or on television will messages to an audience eager to receive
inevitably feature someone with the mi- anti-government, anti-scientific, and anti-
nority view, either denying or minimiz- litist propaganda. And last but not least,
ing the risks of climate change. This keeps the Internet and in particular the blogo-
a handful of industry scientific spokes sphere provide endless opportunities to
persons busy. circulate articles or opinions long after
If you are cognizant, you will undoubt- they may have been debunked. Hoggan and
edly recognize the names and faces of these Littlemore describe as an echo chamber
climate change deniers, as they frequently the reverberating network of think tanks,
appear in the press. However, you neednt blogs, and ideologically sympathetic main-
take our word for it. Jules and Max Boykoff stream media outlets that distribute and
compared the coverage of global warming circulate contrarian information.
in the scientific press to the coverage of the Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young published an
same issue in prestige United States news- op-ed piece in USA Today in January 2010.
papers from 1998 to 2002. They found that They noted that there are many observ-
while there was vast agreement in the sci- able indicators of global warming besides
entific community that human actions are atmospheric temperature measurements
contributing to global warming, the major- and climate models (no mention was made
ity of newspaper articles gave roughly equal of the human connection). Within a couple
treatment to the view that humans were of days there were about seven hundred re-
contributing to global warming, and the plies from (we assume) nonscientists. What
other view that exclusively natural fluctua- emerged from the response was that there
tions could explain the earths temperature is an element of the American population
increase. The study concluded, balanced with an alarming distrust not only of their
reporting is actually problematic in practice own government but also of science and
when discussing the human contribution to scientists in general. What also emerged
global warming. Balanced reporting legit- is a glimpse of the efficacy of the echo
imizes marginalized views and contributes chamber and the success of the climate
to the success of the climate change deniers. change denial industry. In rough order of
Also contributing to the success of those frequency the responses were as follows:
46 The Manufacture of Dissent

Global warming is unrelated to global warming as a very serious problem

human activities. dropped from 44% to 35% between April
Global change is all part of natural
 2008 and SeptemberOctober 2009. Mean-
Earth cycles. while, a survey by Eurobarometer in 2009
Crooked, lying scientists are behind
 indicated that Europeans view climate
global change (a clear response to change as the second-most serious prob-
Climategate). lem the world faces, behind poverty, the
Crooked, lying politicians are lack of food and drinking water. Among
behind this. those who do research in any aspect of cli-
Global warming is real but . . . mate change there is essentially no contro-
There is no global warming. versy concerning whether global warming
is upon us or whether humans are at least
Frequently the comments were quite
partly the cause of the problem. There is
a wide range of scientific opinion among
The junk science you and your fellow researchers on the details of this global
falsifiers have foisted on our populace phenomenon. But let us not forget that the
contains not a shred of credibility. scientific debate is about details, not over
We all know its a huge scam worth whether global warming is real or whether
billions of dollars, and that you are it is related to human activities. Industry-
lying and concealing data, conspiring backed think tanks and Astroturf organi-
to shut out anyone who doesnt zations are simply taking advantage of the
conform to your communist, one- nature of scientific inquiry to manufacture
world-government rule and wealth doubt in the minds of the public and dis-
redistribution policies. suade policymakers from taking action
which might harm their interests. Scien-
How effective is the denial echo cham- tists who are global warming skeptics or
ber? A poll by the Pew Research Center in deniers have created the appearance of a
2009 revealed a sharp decline in the per- controversy where none exists.
centage of Americans who say there is solid Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zim-
evidence that global temperatures are ris- merman of the University of Illinois, Chi-
ing. In April 2008, 71% said there was solid cago, surveyed 3,146 earth scientists (from
evidence of rising global temperatures. Poll- a geoscience phone directory) and asked the
ing in SeptemberOctober 2009 showed following primary questions: (1) When com-
that just 57% of Americans felt that there pared with pre-1800s levels, do you think
was solid evidence of higher average tem- that mean global temperatures have gener-
peratures over the past few decades. Also, ally risen, fallen, or remained relatively con-
the proportion of Americans who viewed stant? (2) Do you think human activity is a
A global survey of the
many physical changes
that are occurring on
the Earths surface is
verification that they
are global in extent.
Changes that are truly
global include sea level
rise, mountain glacier
melting, and changes
in plant and animal dis-
tribution. It is difficult
to understand why
deniers question global
change, since these and
other changes are
easily measureable.
48 The Manufacture of Dissent

significant contributing factor in changing The Major Players (Myth Makers)

mean global temperatures? In response to
the first question 90% of the respondents Among global change researchers there are
answered yes, as did 82% to the second essentially no global warming deniers, as
question. The researchers found that in already noted, but much discourse contin-
general, the percentages rise as the level of ues about the minutiae. Global warming
active research and specialization in climate deniers, on the other hand, have a differ-
science increases, and that among those ent agenda: they seek a truth according
who cited climate science as their area of to their clients needs or according to their
expertise and who had published more than political beliefs. Those who seek to under-
50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on stand climate change as viewed by the sci-
the subject of climate change, the propor- entific research community should ignore
tion of positive responses rose to 96.2% for prominent spokespersons such as Patrick
the first question and 97.4% for the second. Michaels, Willie Soon, Nir Shaviv, Craig
Doran and Zimmerman concluded: The Idso, Richard Lindzen, Bjrn Lomborg,
debate on the authenticity of global warm- and S. Fred Singer. Organizations which
ing and the role played by human activity appear dedicated to promoting skepticism
is largely nonexistent among those who un- on global climate change and to confusing
derstand the nuances and scientific basis of the public and thus delaying action include
long-term climate processes. The challenge, the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute,
rather, appears to be how to effectively com- the American Enterprise Institute, the
municate this fact to policy makers and to Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the
a public that continues to mistakenly per- George C. Marshall Foundation. If you read
ceive a fundamental global change debate a statement about climate change with the
among scientists. name of any of the above-mentioned organ
Scientists are certainly not infallible. Just izations attached, you should do so with
like the rest of society they sometimes hop the understanding that you are most likely
aboard bandwagons and interpret results reading global warming denier propaganda.
according to prevailing popular views. But Not surprisingly, given the major role
the very nature of science and the scientific that fossil fuels play in the greenhouse
method encourages skepticism. The global effect, funding for climate change denier
warming denial lobby takes advantage of front groups and similarly minded think
this and promotes the views of an extreme tanks frequently flows from the fossil fu-
minority to make it appear that there is no els industry: the industries that stand to
scientific consensus on global warming and benefit if greenhouse gas emissions remain
the human role in climate change. unchecked and that have the most to lose
The Manufacture of Dissent 49

if governments are successful in promoting in 2008 from ExxonMobil, has supported

sustainable or alternative energy sources. more than thirty foreign think tanks that
espouse skepticism about the science of
climate change. United States industry is
t he c a r bon l obby
exporting its brand of politicized corporate
ExxonMobil, Western Fuel Industries, and climate science. This is bad news, because
the American Petroleum Institute are among global consensus and cooperation are es-
the leading sources of funding for conser- sential in making the changes needed to
vative think tanks that promote doubt over slow the release of greenhouse gases that
global warming science and oppose clean bring about climate change.
energy policy. A report in March 2010 revealed that
Between 1998 and 2005 ExxonMobil Koch Industries, one of the largest and
gave almost $16 million dollars to anti wealthiest private corporations in Amer-
global warming advocacy organizations. ica, is a leading contributor to global warm-
In 2008 the company publicly announced ing deniers and groups opposing clean
that it would stop funding antiglobal energy reform, even outspending Exxon-
warming organizations, but it still funds Mobil: between 2005 and 2008 ExxonMobil
select groups. According to its own web- spent $8.9 million, while foundations con-
site, ExxonMobil continues to channel tens trolled by Koch Industries doled out $24.9
of thousands of dollars to groups such as million to the climate denial lobby. Recipi-
the Heritage Foundation and the National ents of Koch money include the Heritage
Center for Policy Analysis, a group in Texas Foundation ($1,620,000), the Cato Institute
that according to its website believes the ($1,028,400), and the Atlas Economic Re-
causes of warming are unknown and the search Foundation ($113,800).
cost of actions to substantially reduce CO2 Conservative, pro-business groups and
emissions would be quite high and result fossil fuel industries are the main sources
in economic decline, accelerated environ- of funding for the parade of climate change
mental destruction, and do little or noth- deniers. The following is a sampling com-
ing to prevent global warming regardless of piled by the Union of Concerned Scientists
its cause. Further, industry-funded groups of funding sources for antiglobal warming
in the United States are spreading cash to advocacy organizations. Each organization
support climate change skeptics in other takes a different spin on climate change,
countries. One reporter, Josh Harkinson, but ultimately they all share the goal of de-
found that the Atlas Economic Research laying or defeating, by creating doubt, the
Foundation, a group based in the United major policy changes to combat climate
States which received around $100,000 change.
50 The Manufacture of Dissent

Myth Makers There is another type of skeptic, which

we might call the pessimistic believer. Peo-
Global Climate Coalition. Funding: forty-six ple in this category believe in the human
corporations and trade associations. Princi- connection and may even favor greenhouse
pal message: Global warming is real but it is gas reduction, but they also believe that
too costly to respond. action is futile or too expensive to pursue.
George Marshall Institute. Funding: Exxon Some of these skeptics may be viewed as
Mobil. Principal message: Variations in solar delayers rather than deniers. If they can
radiation cause warming. admit the legitimacy of the scientific con-
Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. sensus but cast doubt on whether action
Funding: Unknown private sources. Princi- can be effective, they can delay any action
pal message: There is no global warming and and further benefit their constituents
the ipcc is a hoax. the fossil fuel industry. They typically ar-
Science and Environmental Policy Project. gue that action to combat global change
Funding: Conservative foundations and the will be economically damaging, which is a
Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Principal mes- valid point, but one should recognize that
sage: Climate change is good. Action is not it would be particularly damaging to en-
warranted because of poor science. ergy giants such as ExxonMobil and Koch
Greening Earth Society. Funding: Western Industries.
Fuels Association (coal and utility com- Then there is the philosophical believer
panies). Principal message: CO2 is good for who doesnt deny global climate change but
Earth and coal is the best energy source. argues that we are worked up to an unjusti-
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and fiable pitch of panic, fueled by environmen-
Global Change. Funding: Probably Western tal ideologues. In an op-ed piece published
Fuels. Principal message: Increased CO2 will in the New York Times on 1 January 2010,
help plants. the New Zealand philosopher Dennis Dut-
ton compared climate hysteria to that sur-
The physicist Stefan Rahmstorf recog- rounding the Y2K computer problem at the
nizes three subspecies among the naysay- turn of the century: Apocalyptic projec-
ers: trend skeptics, attribution skeptics, tions are a diversion from real problems
and impact skeptics. Trend skeptics deny poverty, terrorism, broken financial sys-
any trend of global warming altogether. At- tems . . . this applies, in my view, to the
tribution skeptics agree that warming is oc- towering seas, storms, droughts, and mass
curring but argue that you cant attribute it extinctions of popular climate catastroph-
to human activities. Impact skeptics agree ism. Such entertaining visions owe less to
that warming is occurring but say that its scientific climatology than to eschatology
impact will be mostly positive. and that familiar sense that modernity and
The Manufacture of Dissent 51

its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer tens of millions of Bangladesh citizens, to
to a Biblical day of judgement. seek higher ground. Even the economies
There is a certain irony to Duttons lik- of wealthy countries like the United States
ening of what he perceives as global warm- will be challenged, as billions of dollars
ing hysteria to the notion that modernity is will have to be spent to protect coastal cit-
leading us to a Biblical day of judgement, ies. Weather patterns will be altered, caus-
given that a large share of climate change ing drought in some places. Major rivers in
naysayers are fundamental Christians of a Asia and elsewhere may disappear during
conservative bent. It is true that the news the dry season, as global warming causes
media will often inflate a problem out of the high mountain glaciers to continue to
proportion to gain an audience. However, melt.
Duttons view ignores the fact that much
of the concern about climate change is fu-
eled by hard-nosed sciencebased not The Petition Project
just on climate change models, which by
nature are to some degree speculative, but In a bulk mailing in 1998, the global warm-
also on vast amounts of field observations. ing denier Arthur Robinson, founder of the
We have moved from predictive science to Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine,
observational science. circulated what has come to be known as
Ideologues abound on both sides of the the Oregon Petition. Attached to the peti-
climate change debate, but one cannot tion was what appeared to be a publication
deny or fail to be concerned by tide-gauge of the National Academy of Sciences (nas),
records of rising seas, temperature data using the same typeface and format as the
showing warming oceans, observations nas official proceedings and with a cover
of glacier retreat the world over, and maps note signed by a former nas president,
showing the shrinking areal extent of per- Frederick Seitz, who is a physicist. This was
mafrost in northern latitudes. Also, the not a peer-reviewed publication but a piece
real problems of poverty, terrorism, and filled with misinformation, disguised as a
broken financial systems that Dutton men- legitimate publication in order to encour-
tions will all be exacerbated by the realities age scientists to sign the petition. The peti-
of climate change. tion read as follows:
We are already seeing climate change We urge the United States govern-
refugees (e.g., Pacific Islanders having to ment to reject the global warming agree-
abandon their homeland because of sea ment that was written in Kyoto, Japan,
level rise, and Alaska natives facing reloca- in December, 1997, and any other similar
tion because of erosion). In the next cen- proposals. The proposed limits on green-
tury rising seas will force many, including house gases would harm the environment,
52 The Manufacture of Dissent

hinder the advance of science and technol- stressed that signing a petition in opposi-
ogy, and damage the health and welfare of tion to a concept is a statement of belief, and,
mankind. There is no convincing scientific as the retired climatologist R. G. Quayle
evidence that human release of carbon di- pointed out in private correspondence,
oxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases does not equate to peer-reviewed scientific
is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, assertions. Robinson has admitted to a lack
cause catastrophic heating of the Earths of climate scientists on the petition. David
atmosphere and disruption of the Earths McCandless and Helen Lawson Williams
climate. Moreover, there is substantial examined the background of the signato-
scientific evidence that increases in atmo- ries and determined that 49% of those sign-
spheric carbon dioxide produce many ben- ing the petition are engineers. In contrast
eficial effects upon the natural plant and to the no consensus message of the Or-
animal environments of the Earth. egon Petition, Naomi Oreskes, in a review
The petition quickly picked up nineteen of the abstracts of 928 papers on global cli-
thousand signatures (the number was up mate changes, found not a single one that
to 31,486 by January 2010). The National did not explicitly or implicitly accept the
Academy responded, noting that the pe- human role. The Oregon Petition, floated as
tition does not reflect the conclusions of evidence that there is no scientific consen-
expert reports of the Academy. It must be sus regarding global warming, is nonsense.
The Future of Ice 5

The Worlds Great Ice Sheets rate. All indications are that they will con-
tinue to melt and that the melting rate will
The world has three great ice sheets: the continue to accelerate.
Greenland Ice Sheet in the northern hemi- Greenland is an island of 2.165 million
sphere and the East and West Antarctica ice square kilometers (836,000 square miles)
sheets in the southern hemisphere. Each with an ice cover of 1.753 million square
consists of a large central mass of ice ringed kilometers (677,000 square miles), con-
by a series of outward and seaward-f lowing sisting of 2.868 million cubic kilometers
outlet glaciers. Glaciers are large masses of (688,000 cubic miles) of ice up to three
ice, which are frozen year-round and flow kilometers (two miles) thick. The ice that
slowly and continuously down slope. The covers Greenland was probably first formed
ice is created by the compaction and recrys- about two million years ago at the start of
tallization of snow. the Pleistocene epoch. In this epoch the
Ice sheets are the eight-hundred-pound Earth entered a period of cool atmospheric
gorillas of global climate change, because temperature, perhaps 6 degrees Celsius (11
they will likely be the major drivers of sea degrees Fahrenheit) cooler on average than
level rise and changes in ocean currents, when the dinosaurs were kings of the ani-
which in turn will have a large impact on mal kingdom. It is possible that the Green-
global climates. No one really knows for land ice completely disappeared several
certain what the future holds for these ice times during interglacial times. Greenland
masses. For example, the amount of ice is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the
formed by future winter snowfall in the in- southeast, the Greenland Sea to the east,
terior of the ice sheets remains an educated the Arctic Ocean to the north, and Baffin
guess. Warming temperatures could lead to Bay to the west. The weight of the ice has
increased precipitation in the interiors. At depressed the central part of Greenland
present, however, the ice sheets are losing into a deep basin a thousand feet deep.
mass and melting at an ever-i ncreasing Thus if the ice were suddenly removed,
54 The Future of Ice

Greenland would be an island archipelago mostly by sublimation, a process by which

(until the land rebounded from the weight dry snow or ice changes to water vapor.
of the ice and recovered its elevation). Satellite observations are critical to mon-
Antarctica is 98% covered with ice, which itoring the progress of the worlds great ice
on average is about 1.6 kilometers (one sheets. Satellites make three types of mea-
mile) in thickness. The southern Indian, surements. The first is satellite altimetry,
Atlantic, and Pacific oceans, known col- which simply measures the elevation of
lectively as the Southern Ocean, surround the ice surface. Satellite gravity measure-
it. The Antarctic continent is divided into ments measure the mass of the ice cover.
West and East Antarctica, separated by the Changes in the mass are the all-important
Transantarctic Mountains. East Antarctica measure of loss or gain of ice. Satellite ra-
is about the size of the continental United dar interferometry measures the velocity of
States and West Antarctica about the size moving ice and can also pinpoint the loca-
of Texas. tion of grounding sites for individual outlet
The margins of the ice sheets are always glaciers. A grounding site is where the nose
melting as the marginal glaciers are pushed of a glacier is jammed up against an island
out to sea. It is clear now that the rate of ice or some sort of rise on the sea floor of the
loss at the outer edges of the ice sheets is continental shelf.
greater than the rate of annual addition of Based on all of these types of satellite
ice by snowfall, so these ice sheets are expe- observations, the latest measurement of
riencing a net loss of water volume. the rate of ice loss is 247 billion metric tons
The Greenland Ice Sheet has been melt- (273 billion short tons) of ice each year for
ing for decades, but toward the end of the Greenland and 120 billion metric tons (132
twentieth century the rate of melting in- billion short tons) for West Antarctica.
creased. Probably until 2000 the West Ant- Moreover, in 2009 a report from J. L. Chen
arctic Ice Sheet was essentially not losing and associates at the University of Texas
mass at all and perhaps was even growing indicated that for the first time, the Ant-
slightly (or so it was assumed by glaciolo- arctic ice sheet in the east experienced a net
gists). In the first decade of the twenty-first loss of ice, at a relatively small estimated
century this changed dramatically. Some annual rate of 52 billion metric tons (57 bil-
researchers believe that the melting rate of lion short tons). This ice loss is believed to
the Antarctic Ice Sheet will eventually ex- have begun in 2006. This first report of a
ceed Greenlands. significant ice loss from the East Antarc-
Atmospheric warming, at least at this tic Ice Sheet is very likely a harbinger of a
point, does not affect the interior of the sea level rise larger than that indicated by
ice sheets, which are always well below current estimates. The combined melting
freezing. Ice loss from ice sheet interiors is ice contributions from the three ice sheets
The Future of Ice 55

probably amount to between 30% and 40% warming of the atmosphere, but the melt-
of the total global sea level rise of around ing of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is more
3.2 mm (0.13 inches) per year. The rela- complex, and its future melt water contri-
tive importance of the contribution of ice bution to the sea is not necessarily directly
sheets to sea level rise is expected to rise related to global warming. The rate of melt-
significantly in this century. ing of all of the ice sheets is accelerating.
In 2010 a joint team of United States and The rate of flow from the Greenland Ice
Dutch researchers headed up by D. B. Dias Sheet is controlled first and foremost by the
concluded that previous measurements of slope of the land and friction at the base
ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland had of the ice mass. The release of water to the
overestimated the rate of ice loss, which sea occurs as individual glaciers calve into
was only half of current estimates. Accord- ocean waters and as the surface and base
ing to these authors, the rebound, or up- of the glacier melt. During the summer the
ward movement, of the land surface due to surface melt waters form shallow ponds
the loss of glacial ice weight was incorrectly and streams of water that plunge spectacu-
accounted for in previous measurements. larly through cylindrical moulins that lead
The authors admit that more field evidence through the glacier to its floor, lubricating
is needed to substantiate their results. the base of the glacier and speeding its sea-
If all the ice on Greenland melted tomor- ward flow.
row, sea levels would rise twenty feet or The complexity of the melting of Antarc-
so. Estimates of the sea level rise potential ticas ice sheets and the continents status
of melt water from the West Antarctic Ice as the coldest place on Earth make it diffi-
Sheet range from 3.7 to 5.2 meters (12 to cult to predict its contribution to the future
17 feet). If all three ice sheets melted com- of sea level rise. The same mechanisms at
pletely, sea level would rise by 67 meters work on the Greenland glaciers also work
(220 feet). Obviously, if this were to hap- here, but there are important additional
pen coastal cities around the world would factors. Many of the individual Antarctic
be destroyed. In any case these cities are glaciers that make up the margins of the
potentially in serious trouble, even with ice sheet are grounded on the continental
very much smaller sea level rises. shelf, sometimes butting up against is-
lands or other topographic irregularities.
As a glacier thins from melting or retreats
How the Ice Sheets Work from calving into the sea, it may become
detached from the shelf, causing a sudden
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are acceleration of the ice flow into the sea.
quite different. The Greenland Ice Sheet Other Antarctic glaciers are buttressed
melts more or less in proportion to the up against ice shelves along the seaward
greenl and
Since the beginning of
this century the melting
of the Greenland Ice
Sheet (which would raise
sea level by twenty feet
if the whole ice body
melted) has been ac
celerating. Helping this
process along are more
or less cylindrical vertical
shafts called moulins
that allow meltwater to
flow to the base of the
glacier, lubricating the
ices path to the sea.
The Future of Ice 57

margin of the continent. An ice shelf is a Sea. These drain approximately 20% of
floating sheet of ice two to four hundred West Antarctica and are the only two
meters thick; there are at least seventeen glaciers there that are not buttressed up
in Antarctica. The largest ones are the against an ice shelf. The surface on which
Filchner-Ronne ice shelf (430,000 km2, these are grounded is more or less a ridge,
or 166,000 square miles) and the Ross Ice which means they are likely to become un-
Shelf (487,000 km2, or 188,000 square grounded as they shrink into the deeper
miles, the size of France). Most large West water behind the ridge. Once they are un-
Antarctic outlet glaciers terminate against grounded the calving is likely to increase,
these ice shelves. When ice shelves break causing the glacier to retreat at a very high
up, the adjacent glaciers are released and rate. This is why in 1981 Terry Hughes of
their flow to the sea is accelerated. A re- the University of Maine called the Pine Is-
cent, relatively minor example of such an land Glacier the weak underbelly of the
event was the much-studied breakup of ice sheet.
the Larsen B ice shelf (3,250 km2, or 1,250 A third mode of Antarctic ice sheet dis-
square miles), on the Antarctic Peninsula in integration, observed by Doug Martinson
February 2001. of Columbia University, is caused by the
A publication in 1968 by the late John incursion of warm water onto the shelf of
Mercer, an Ohio State professor once de- West Antarctica, which apparently only be-
scribed as a bold and eccentric glaciolo- gan in the last ten years or so. The water
gist, may have been a very prophetic one, arrives through upwelling of deep water in
especially since global warming was little response to winds that have changed direc-
appreciated at that time. He argued that a tion because of global warming and possibly
major deglaciation of the West Antarctic also because of atmospheric changes caused
Ice Sheet could happen within fifty years by the ozone hole. Warm water by Antarc-
as the ice shelves began to break up, lead- tic standards would not likely attract swim-
ing to the retreat of grounding lines, which mers, since it is only a few degrees above
in turn would lead to the disintegration of freezing, but it is warm enough to increase
the ice sheets by calving into the seawater. melting at the margin of the ice sheet.
He said that the breakup of the ice shelf on
the Antarctic Peninsula would be the first
step, and this first step has certainly hap- The Disappearing Alpine Glaciers
pened, with the breakup of the Larsen and
Wilkins ice shelves. One of the most compelling and irrefutable
Two large outlet glaciers, the Pine Island lines of evidence of global warming is the
Glacier and the Thwaites Glacier, empty global retreat of alpine glaciers. These gla-
into Pine Island Bay along the Amundsen ciers, sometimes called mountain glaciers,
58 The Future of Ice

are perennial masses of ice that occupy the movement of glaciers ranges from nil to
valleys of high mountain ranges and slowly several meters a day. The Jakobshavn Is-
flow downhill toward lower elevations or brae outlet glacier in Greenland is currently
to the sea, where ice can no longer survive. whizzing along toward the sea at 14 km (8.7
Almost all the worlds alpine glaciers are miles) a year.
currently shrinking, with the exception of The islands of the Canadian Arctic have a
glaciers at high elevations. The survival of number of ice caps, all of which are shrink-
an alpine glacier, just like the survival of ing and thinning. Ice caps are miniature
the outlet glaciers of the ice sheets, depends ice sheets that form a central ice mass or
on a so-called mass balance. The balance is dome from which smaller glaciers flow. Ca-
the difference between the loss of ice in the nadian examples are the Bylot ice cap on
summer and gain of ice through snowfall in Bylot Island, the Barnes and Penny ice cap
the winter. By some estimates, if all alpine on Baffin Island, and the Devon ice cap on
glaciers melt and disappear, sea level will Devon Island. Other ice caps include the
rise perhaps one-half to two-thirds of a me- Vatnajkull of Iceland and the southern
ter (one and a half to two feet). Patagonia ice field in Argentina and Chile.
As alpine glaciers begin to melt, the first A few floating ice shelves are associated
thing that happens is thinning of the ice, with the Canadian alpine glaciers and ice
followed by the more obvious retreat of the caps. Although much smaller than their
end of the ice lobe. The fastest shrinking Antarctic counterparts, they have the same
by far occurs when the nose of the glacier impact on glacier movement. When they
calves in a body of water, although on land break up, the glaciers formerly buttressed
shrinking can be significant as well. The up against them immediately increase the
Khumba Glacier in the Himalayas has re- rate at which they move toward the sea.
treated more than 5 km (3.1 miles) since Most of the shelves, including the Ward
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay be- Hunt and Serson ice shelves on Ellesmere
gan their climb up the glacier on the way Island, are breaking up. The Markham ice
to Mount Everest in 1953. The Mendenhall shelf, also on Ellesmere Island and twenty
Glacier near Juneau, Alaska, has retreated square miles in area, broke away in its en-
the same amount since 1760. But when a tirety almost overnight in 2008. What
lake formed in front of the glacier and calv- makes this event particularly interesting
ing began, the ice retreated a full kilometer is that the ice shelf is known to be 4,500
(0.6 mile) since 2000. Another impact of years old, an indication that todays warm-
glacial retreat is illustrated by the dropping ing conditions in the Canadian Arctic may
sea level at Juneau caused by the removal be quite extraordinary. The Ward Hunt ice
of the weight of the Mendenhall Glacier, shelf is estimated to be 3,000 years old.
allowing the land to rebound. The rate of One of the most worrisome aspects of the
Glacial Canyon,
al ask a
Alpine (mountain) glaciers
could raise the sea level by
one to two feet if they all
melted. This glaciated
valley has a characteristic
U-shape in cross-section,
in contrast to the V-shaped
cross-section of valleys
formed by rivers.
al ask a
Almost all the glaciers
in Alaska are rapidly
retreating. The few
exceptions are some
small glaciers at high
elevations, such as
those on the upper
slopes of Mount
McKinley, 6,166 meters
(20,230 feet) tall.
If all Alaska glaciers
disappear, sea level
will rise between 1
and 2 inches (25 and
51 millimeters).
The Future of Ice 61

shrinkage and loss of alpine glaciers is its resources are within the zones disputed by
impact on local water supplies and hydro- India and Pakistan. At present, water is-
electric power. The most critical example sues are not paramount, but the potential
of this is the retreating ice on the Tibetan is there that melting glaciers will add a new
plateau, which is the largest perennial ice element to the boundary disputes. Many
mass outside Antarctica and Greenland glacial streams cross international bound-
and is sometimes called the third pole. aries, and often glaciers are responsible for
Melting ice from more than 45,000 glaciers recharging aquifers that may be interna-
in the greater Himalayas furnishes crucial tional in extent. The Mekong River has a
summer water to much of Asia. When the glacial source in China, and by the time it
monsoons dont operate, this water is criti- reaches the Mekong Delta, it has crossed
cal. Melting ice from the Tibetan plateau China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambo-
contributes to all the rivers between (and dia, and Vietnam. Talk about a potential
including) the Yellow River to the east conflict over water.
and the Indus to the west, including the Clearly the loss of alpine glaciers, which
Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, is accelerating, is a critical global issue, one
Mekong, and Yangtze rivers. that should be recognized and planned for
By some estimates the water supply for immediately. Bhutan, a landlocked country
close to a billion people in India and China squeezed between India and China at the
is threatened by the melting third pole, but eastern end of the Himalayas, was cited as
no regional cooperation or planning is ap- the happiest country in Asia by Business
parent between the two giants, which in- Week in 2006. It has a government genuinely
stead are locked in border disputes. concerned with preserving the environ-
In South America, La Paz (Bolivia), Ushua ment and the countrys culture. It should
ia (Argentina), Quito (Ecuador), and Lima not come as a surprise that Bhutan takes
(Peru) are among the cities that depend global change seriously and is making firm
heavily on glaciers for their water supply plans to move some small villages that are
and also for hydroelectric power. about to lose their water supply from soon-
Melting glaciers very often have an in- to-disappear Himalayan glaciers.
ternational flavor. The borders between Not all agree, however. Richard Lindzen,
Italy and Switzerland and between Ar- the aforementioned mit professor, believes
gentina and Chile are both partly on top that since about 1970, many of the worlds
of melting glaciers. The Siachen Glacier in glaciers have stopped retreating and some
the Karakoram Mountains extends across are now advancing again. This simply is
the boundary between Pakistan and India. not true.
This and other glaciers and their melt water
Bhutans Himalayas
The rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers furnish critical water supplies to most of the
rivers in Asia. More than a billion people depend upon this glacial water, especially
during periods of low rainfall in the region, but so far most regional planners seem
to ignore the issue. One exception is Bhutan, where plans are afoot to move small
villages because of a potential loss of water supply.
The Future of Ice 63

The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro the western world and made the Kiliman-
jaro National Park one of Africas prime
Mountain glaciers are disappearing all over tourist destinations.
the world; perhaps 95% of them are shrink- Claude Allgre, geochemist and former
ing, and those on Mount Kilimanjaro are French minister of education, penned an
no exception. Kilimanjaro is the highest op-ed piece in 2006 for the French weekly
mountain in Africa. At an elevation of 5,695 LExpress in which he argued that the snows
meters (19,340 feet), the mountain rises an of Kilimanjaro are disappearing because
imposing 4,572 meters (15,000 feet) above of natural factors and that the cause of
the plains that surround it. Like Mount global warming is unknown. Allgre also
Fuji and Mount St. Helens, Kilimanjaro wrote the book Limposture climatique (The
is a strato-volcano consisting of alternat- Climatic Deception, 2010) in which he
ing layers of lava and volcanic ash. Lo- downplayed the role of carbon dioxide in
cated in northern Tanzania, only 3 degrees global warming, arguing instead that cli-
of latitude south of the equator, it is one mate change had more to do with clouds
of the prime lines of evidence that global and solar activity. His work aroused such
change is not just a phenomenon of the controversy in France that the Academy of
polar regions. The mountains permanent Sciences, of which he is a member, held a
ice cover must have been a jarring sight to debate on climate change science, includ-
the earliest Europeans traveling through ing the fate of the ice on Kilimanjaro. The
the African tropics. Geologic evidence in- Academy of Sciences issued a report in Oc-
dicates that the ice cover has existed on the tober 2010 in which it concluded that in-
mountaintop without interruption since it creased warming between 1975 and 2003
first began to accumulate eleven thousand was mainly due to increased CO2. The re-
years ago. In recent decades the ice began to port stressed further that the increase in
shrink dramatically, and by the beginning CO2 and other greenhouse gases is unequiv-
of the twenty-fi rst century, between 80% ocally due to human activity.
and 90% of the mountains ice had melted The controversy over whether the loss
away. The remainder is projected to dis of ice on Kilimanjaro is related to global
appear within ten to forty years. The dis- warming illustrates a perception problem
appearance of the ice is widely believed to connected to global warming. It is much
be caused by global warming. easier to observe and document climate
The loss of the ice is a particular prob- changes on a continental scale than on a
lem for the tourist industry of Tanzania. local scale. No one can reasonably deny that
The Snows of Kilimanjaro, one of Ernest most mountain glaciers are shrinking and
Hemingways most famous short stories, that this reality is a strong and irrefutable
immortalized the mountain in the eyes of argument that the globe is warming. But
Kilimanjaro, africa
The snows of Kilimanjaro, made famous in Hemingways short
story, are disappearing. This small, rare tropical glacier atop the
mountain (5,695 meters, or 19,340 feet, tall) is rapidly becoming
a highly visible victim of global warming.
The Future of Ice 65

when it comes to an individual mountain The other side of the coin is that the
the case becomes less clear. warming is leading to permafrost melting,
Nature is never simple, and undoubtedly which in turn leads to beach erosion, the
other factors besides global warming are in- collapse of roads and buildings, the loss of
volved in the melting of the ice on Mount pipelines and sewage ponds, and the re-
Kilimanjaro. These could include decreased lease of large volumes of methane and CO2.
precipitation; increased soot content of the Many changes in flora and fauna are occur-
ice, causing more absorption of heat from ring. Some species are moving north and
the sun; and local deforestation, which may replacing indigenous species; for example,
have caused a reduction of moisture in the red foxes are displacing Arctic foxes. The
air. But the global loss of alpine ice and the encroachment of trees and shrubs onto the
persistence of the Kilimanjaro ice cover caribou tundra has reduced their food sup-
for thousands of years through a num- plies. The calving season of caribou in low
ber of previous climate shifts (including Arctic Greenland no longer corresponds to
droughts) argue strongly that global warm- the time of maximum food availability, so
ing is the villain of Kilimanjaro. fewer calves survive. Arctic plants start and
grow earlier in spring and are past their
energy-y ielding prime when calving cari-
Permafrost bou cows need them. There is also reduced
snow cover to provide insulation for hiber-
Arctic lands are warming at five times the nating species.
global average, and as in all things, there Permafrost is perennially frozen ground,
are advantages and disadvantages to such both soil and rock, which underlies 20% to
changes. The good thing about the warm- 25% of the Earths land surface. It is par-
ing of the far north is that it could lead to ticularly widespread in the Arctic. Perma-
better farming conditions, improved ship- frost does not always mean frozen water. It
ping in the Arctic Ocean when the North- ranges from rock with frozen water between
west Passage opens, and easier transpor- grains to soil with all pore spaces filled
tation to markets and consumers. On a with ice. Much permafrost was formed
subtler level, musk oxen and caribou graz- thousands of years ago and is still main-
ing, trampling, and defecating help to tained by current weather conditions. Per-
spread grasses, thereby attracting geese mafrost extends to depths as great as five
and adding to the productivity of lakes. thousand feet in the Lena and Yana River
Reindeer in Norway have benefited from basins in northern Siberia, but recently
less snow and longer growing seasons, formed permafrost may be only ten feet or
which have reduced mortality and in- so thick. Although generally restricted to
creased the birth rate. high latitudes, there is also an alpine form
66 The Future of Ice

of permafrost, which exists at high eleva- is built on permafrost. Buildings in the

tions in mountain ranges (e.g., the Andes) Arctic are commonly built on pilings or
at mid latitudes. Permafrost may be con- on a three-to six-foot (one-to two-meter)
tinuous, meaning that it is present every- layer of gravel. The Alaskan oil pipeline
where with minor exceptions, or discontinu- uses insulated pipes suspended above the
ous, scattered about in patches. As a rule it ground between closely spaced towers to
stops groundwater flow and inhibits plant protect the pipeline from the fluctuations
growth. of the frozen ground. Melting permafrost
On top of the permafrost is a thin active also causes landslides in mountain regions
layer a few feet thick, which thaws during and very extensive retreat of Arctic Ocean
the summer and allows the growth of a few shorelines.
species of plants. As permafrost melts and The most important global impact of
the active layer increases in thickness, plant shrinking permafrost is the release of meth-
diversity also increases. Plants flourishing ane and carbon dioxide (chapter 1). As per-
in the new conditions may include bushes mafrost melts, gas which was stored in bub-
that can shade the surface and slightly re- bles in the ice is released, and even more
duce the rate of melting. The more diverse gas is produced by the decay of long-frozen
flora will increase the uptake of CO2 from organic matter. In the Arctic, methane is
the atmosphere, but not at a rate that will also found as methane hydrates (frozen
counteract the newly released gases (as we methane), which are held in place by the
noted earlier, primarily methane) from de- weight of the overlying impermeable ice in
caying organic matter. Animal populations the permafrost zone. Although methane
are also affected by permafrost, because hydrates on land in the Arctic are much less
the hard ice restricts burrowing for dens. voluminous than the same deposits on the
So reduction of permafrost may result in sea floor, their release by melting perma-
significant changes in the ecosystem. frost could significantly add to the green-
Construction on permafrost requires house gases released from permafrost.
special care to avoid melting, which causes
the loss of strength and volume of the sur-
face layer. Where melting has occurred, Myths, Misinterpretations, and
buildings have tilted, stands of trees have Misunderstandings of the Deniers
become drunken forests, and roads and
railroad tracks have collapsed. Of particu- myth: Scientists in need of funding invent
lar concern in China is the recently con- reports of increased melting of permafrost.
structed Tibetan Plateau railroad, a proj- Maria Leibman of the Earth Criosphere
ect costing $4 billion and extending over Institute in Russia denies that greenhouse
1,118 kilometers (695 miles), half of which gases affect the climate, and in a common
The Future of Ice 67

ploy used by deniers, she suggests that the a significant part of the sea level rise. Float-
reports of increased thaw are from scien- ing sea ice in the Antarctic winter (which
tists in search of funding. Her views (show- has no bearing on sea level rise) is increas-
ing that climate change denial is an inter- ing in area, and this is often cited as an
national problem) would be laughable if indication of cooling. In winter the sea ice
the threat from the release of methane hy- surrounding the continent is about the size
drates from permafrost were not so great. of Europe. But recent temperature mea-
Of all the factors that could cause rapid, surements in the Southern Ocean indicate
cataclysmic climate change, one of the that the sea is actually warming at a rela-
most powerful could very well come from tively rapid rate (compared to mid-latitude
the release of methane deposits, causing oceans). According to a study by the British
what the British scientist E. G. Nesbit calls Antarctic Survey in 2009, the increased area
a thermal runaway. This process begins of ice may be due to the ozone hole above
with warming, which begets thawing in Antarctica, which cools the stratosphere.
permafrost, which releases methane, which The hole in turn has led to strengthened
begets more warming, causing even more surface winds and larger storms, creating
melting of permafrost and the release of cold winds that emanate from West Ant-
still more methanean accelerating, cata- arctica. As the ozone hole is slowly repaired
strophic sequence. (perhaps by 2100) because of the successful
global campaign to halt release of refriger-
m y th: The evidence suggests that the ant gases, the production of winter sea ice
Greenland Ice Sheet is actually growing on av- will be reduced and additional warming of
erage. This is the view of Richard Lindzen the Antarctic should occur.
of the Massachusetts Institute of Technol-
ogy. As a member of the National Academy myth: The West Antarctica Ice Sheet com-
of Sciences, Lindzen is arguably the most prises only a small portion of Antarctica
distinguished of the global change skep- and therefore is a minor contributor to sea
tics. The field evidence, however, suggests level rise (according to James M. Taylor of
that not only is the ice sheet melting but the Heartland Institute). Statements like
the melting zone along the edges of the ice Taylors are apparently made in the hope
sheet is expanding northward and toward that no one will check their veracity. The
the interior of the ice sheet. sea level rise potential in the West Antarc-
tic Ice Sheet is a hardly minor sixteen feet.
myth: Antarctica is gaining ice. Well, yes
and no. Land ice is decreasing in volume by myth: The rate of melting of the ice sheets is
around 163 billion metric tons (180 billion slow and only presents a problem to humans
short tons) a year, which is responsible for on a millennial scale. The observed rate of
68 The Future of Ice

melting of the ice sheets, including the first of the big problems facing scientists who
recognition (2009) of a net loss of ice from try to predict local climate change. Thus
the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, means that a even if Michaels is right and there was
sea level rise of one to one and a half me- a mid-t wentieth-c entury global cooling
ters (three to five feet) and possibly more trend, it would not be an indication that
will likely be achieved this century. A sixty- there was cooling in central Africa. Distin-
centimeter (two-foot) sea level rise will be guishing between global and local trends is
a disaster for the worlds developed sandy critical in evaluating global change impacts.
coastlines, as would a ninety-centimeter
(three-foot) rise for many coastal cities. myth: Most of the 625 glaciers under ob-
The most absurdly skeptical disregard of servation by the UNs World Glacier Moni-
the importance of the worlds ice sheets is toring Service are growing. According to an
that of Holly Fretwell of the Property and article by the botanist David Bellamy in the
Environment Research Center. In a chil- New Scientist (2005), 555 of 625 observed gla-
drens book, The Skys Not Falling, she states ciers have been growing since 1980. The ser-
that the melting of the worlds ice sheets vices response: the evidence is unequivo-
will not have much effect on global sea cal; most of the worlds glaciers are melting.
levels! Apparently Bellamys figures came from
S. Fred Singers website, but its hard to
myth: The glaciers of Kilimanjaro were re- comprehend how such a fundamental and
ceding when the planet was cooling in the now widely quoted error could have been
mid-t wentieth century, and therefore the made by a reputable scientist. Bellamy later
loss of ice is not due to warming (according to recanted the numbers, but the damage was
Patrick J. Michaels of the Cato Institute). done and the numbers are still quoted.
Global temperature trends are not neces-
sarily regional or local trends, which is one
Global Change in the Oceans 6

The Sea Level Rise the ice sheets re-form and advance toward
the south. However, the return of the gla-
The level of the sea changes for many rea- ciers in full bloom may well have been de-
sons and on many time scales. But melt- layed by warming of the atmosphere due to
ing land ice will be the major influence on greenhouse gases.
global sea level changes on the time scale After the last glacial maxima of eigh-
that should concern humans (chapter 5). teen to twenty thousand years ago, the sea
The behavior of the worlds ice sheets in level rose almost to its present level about
the next four or five decades will determine four to five thousand years ago. From then
whether sea level rise becomes the first on the sea generally rose very slowly to its
great global catastrophe of climate change, present location. In different parts of the
flooding the coastal cities and displacing globe the rate of change differed, because
millions of rural dwellers in countries like the Earth is not a perfect sphere and also
Vietnam and Bangladesh. because the land surface is moving up and
Eighteen thousand years ago, a mere blip down in some locations. In the Southern
on the geologic time scale, the sea was 120 Hemisphere sea level after the last glacia-
meters (400 feet) lower than it is today, tion actually rose two or three feet above
thanks to the huge amount of water tied the current level, and for the last two to
up in the massive glaciers and ice sheets three thousand years it has slowly dropped
grinding their way across the landscape in places like Brazil, South Africa, and
from polar regions mostly in the North- Australia. But with the sudden increase
ern Hemisphere. Over the last two million in greenhouse gases and warming of the
years the sea level has risen and fallen in a oceans, sea level is rising almost every-
major way at least seven times in rhythm where today, and the rate of rise is acceler-
with the advance and retreat of the gla- ating. Currently the level of the sea is ris-
ciers. Currently geologists believe that we ing at an overall rate of 3.2 to 3.5 mm (1.26
are in an interglacial stage, and we can ex- to 1.38 inches) per year, as determined by
pect the sea level to go down once more as both the last thirty years of tide gauges (a
Charleston Airborne
Flooded, south carolina
Shown here is the area that will be
inundated by a three-foot rise in sea level.
More than inundation is involved, however.
As sea level rises, tides and storm surges
will penetrate further inland, storm drain-
age systems will fail, and groundwater will
be polluted with salt water.
Spencer Gulf, austr alia
In the southern hemisphere after the end of the last ice age, sea level actu-
ally rose a meter or two above the present-day position and then gradually
fell to its current position. Spencer Gulf on the Australia shoreline exhibits
as many as six small barrier islands that were successively left behind, each
at a lower elevation, as the sea level dropped over the last few thousand
72 Global Change in the Oce ans

total record of 150 years) and satellites (go- the heat is in the atmosphere. Because of
ing back 18 years). This is more than 30 cen- the downward momentum of the warm wa-
timeters (1 foot) per century. ter through the oceans water column, ther-
Sea level rise is actually a combination mal expansion would continue for centuries
of the change in the volume of sea water even if global warming and surface ocean
(eustatic change) and the local up or down heating stopped tomorrow. The chemical
movement of the land (tectonic change). oceanographer Philip Froelich likens the
Eustatic change includes the increase in downward transfer of heat through the wa-
volume of the uppermost two thousand ter column to a flywheel: like the flywheel
feet of the ocean water column because of in an engine, it provides momentum. As
warming water, and also the rise due to the the cold deep water is heated, it expands.
introduction of new water from melting Simultaneously, the loss of this warm water
glaciers and ice sheets. Where the land is that sank into the deep has a cooling effect
sinking, the sea level rise is enhanced. For on the shallow waters and causes the water
instance, on parts of the Mississippi Delta there to contract. The expansion is greater
where the sediment is compacting and the than the contraction, so overall the ocean
land is sinking because of the extraction of expands and the sea level continues to rise.
oil and gas, the rise is as much as 1.2 meters The next-biggest contributor to sea level
(4 feet) per century. Along the Pacific Coast rise over the twentieth century was the
of Colombia, the land at the coast is rap- melting of mountain glaciers, followed by
idly sinking, because of the forces actively melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. In the
building up the Andes mountain range. The twenty-first century global change scien-
coast sinks as the mountains rise, pushing tists believe that the Antarctic ice sheets
the relative sea level rise rate up to as much will be the single biggest source of water
as three meters (ten feet) per century. On causing the sea to rise, followed by the
the other hand, in the high latitudes the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, ther-
land may be rebounding from the recently mal expansion, and the melting of moun-
removed weight of glacial ice. This is why tain glaciers.
the sea level is dropping in parts of Scandi- The short of it is that we should expect a
navia, Nova Scotia, and Alaska. minimum of a one-meter (three-foot) rise in
During the twentieth century the pri- sea level by the year 2100, even in the un-
mary cause of sea level rise was thermal likely event that we quickly reduce the
expansion of the ocean water: an increase amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The
in the volume of seawater as it warms up. momentum furnished by the flywheel of
Roughly 80% of the warming by green- sinking water will cause the system to roll
house gases is stored in the upper 760 me- on and on. Hal Wanless, a geologist at the
ters (2,500 feet) of the ocean. The rest of University of Miami, believes that the most
Global Change in the Oce ans 73

likely sea level rise will be 1.5 to 1.8 meters The process by which ocean waters are
(5 to 6 feet) in the next hundred years. His becoming more acidic is called ocean acidi-
number comes from an analysis of perma- fication, a term first used in the scientific
frost and sea ice changes, accelerating ice literature in 2003. The average ocean wa-
sheet melting, and increased thermal ex- ter pH, or acidity, is now 8.1, compared to a
pansion. A rise of two meters (seven feet) is pre-industrial pH of 8.2. On the steep loga-
not out of the question, and prudent plan- rithmic pH scale, that apparently small dif-
ners should assume the higher figure. ference represents a 30% increase in acidity.
Jelle Bijma of the Alfred Wegner Institute
says that under a business-as-usual (bau)
Ocean Acidification: scenario the surface waters of the oceans
One of the Evil Twins are likely to become 150% more acidic by
Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, two geochem- The delicate chemical balance which
ists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanogra- allows calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to be
phy, envisioned the possibility back in 1956 extracted from seawater and used by all
that the ocean would turn more acidic be- kinds of marine organisms to form shells
cause of excess CO2. But this remained an and skeletons has been disrupted. A por-
academic curiosity until the last decade. tion of the CO2 that dissolves in seawater
Since then their suggestion has become re- forms carbonic acid (H2CO3 ), which in large
ality in rapid fashion. In just the last five part controls the pH of the water. Carbonic
or six years this new greenhouse-related acid is forming at a higher rate now because
ocean phenomenon has come to the fore in more CO2 is being dissolved in seawater.
the eyes of mainstream science. According Seas around the Arctic and the Antarctic
to a seminal report by the Royal Society are expected to experience acidification at a
of London (2005), it has the potential for faster rate than other oceans, because cold
a more important impact on marine life water can take up more CO2.
than both global warming and overfish- CaCO3 is alkaline, or basic, the opposite
ing. Recently the state of the science on of acidic. Because acidification makes the
ocean acidification was summarized in a extraction of calcium carbonate from sea-
series of papers in the December 2009 is- water by marine organisms more difficult,
sue of Oceanography, and in 2010 the Euro- these animals will have a harder time mak-
pean Science Foundation presented a com- ing their shells, which will become thinner
prehensive policy briefing on the subject. and more fragile. Certain critically impor-
Ocean acidification is sometimes called one tant bacteria (such as the marine Rose-
of the evil twins of global ocean change, the bacter clade) that break down chemical com-
other twin being sea level rise. pounds in the water as part of the oceans
74 Global Change in the Oce ans

chemical cycle will be reduced in number the rising sea level. Not helping matters
and effectiveness by even a small increase is widespread human-c aused pollution,
in acidity, which will greatly disturb marine plus events like the grounding in 2010 of
ecosystems. The tiny organisms that make a Chinese freighter running at full speed
up plankton, some of the most important into the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and
elements of the food chain, will be particu- the oil spill in the same year in the Gulf of
larly affected. These include the coccolitho- Mexico, which totaled around five million
phorids (plants), foraminifera (single-celled barrels.
organisms), and pteropods (tiny snails also There are two methods by which marine
known as sea butterflies), all of which use organisms build carbonate skeletons. The
CaCO3 in their shells. first involves scallops, oysters, some snails,
The pteropods are especially suscep- and coral that exert little biological control
tible to acidification because their thin, over the precipitation of CaCO 3 in their
fragile shells are made up of the relatively skeletons. These creatures are dependent
unstable CaCO3 mineral aragonite. Ptero- upon the saturation or super-s aturation
pods are a base of the food chain, which in seawater of the mineral they use, which
extends from zooplankton to salmon to means that they will be particularly sus-
whales. In the Southern Ocean pteropods ceptible to any acidification and reduction
could disappear in this century, according of carbonate in seawater. Very often the
to some studies. A number of commercial juveniles of these organisms are particu-
species including cod and salmon rely on larly sensitive to acidification. The second
pteropods in northern waters. A study in method of building skeletons involves ani-
Alaskan waters estimates that a 10% de- mals having more biological control of cal-
crease in pteropod abundance would lead cification (as opposed to inorganic chemi-
to a 20% reduction in the weight of adult cal control in the first method); hence the
salmon that depend on plankton for food composition of seawater is less important
at one stage in their life cycle. to these organisms.
Coral reefs, which are also largely ara- Of course, acidification involves lots
gonite, will be damaged as acidification of uncertainties, and there will be unex-
results in less robust, more vulnerable pol- pected impacts. There is even some con-
yps. Disruption of the coral reef ecosystem, cern that acidification will proceed to the
where fully one-third of all marine species point where concrete structures in the sea
exist, will have a particularly large impact such as piers and seawalls will be weakened
on shallow water marine life over large ar- by the dissolution of cement. Aquarium
eas of the ocean. Complicating the survival studies have shown that the giant Pacific
of the worlds coral reefs is the simultane- Humboldt squid becomes sluggish and has
ous warming of ocean temperature and difficulty breathing in acidic waters. A lab-
Pteropod (Limacina Helicina)
Pteropods are tiny snails from open ocean waters that are critical parts of the food chain for a
number of marine organisms including whales, cod, and salmon. These organisms, because of their
mineralogy (aragonite) and very thin and sometimes transparent shells, are particularly susceptible
to being dissolved by increasingly acidic ocean water.
76 Global Change in the Oce ans

oratory investigation by Justin Ries and acidification. During the big jump in at-
associates at Woods Hole Oceanographic mospheric temperatures about 55 million
Institute observed shell growth in the years ago known as the Paleocene/Eocene
laboratory under conditions of varied CO2 thermal maximum (petm, discussed in
content. Most shells were thinner under chapter 1), a huge amount of carbon was
elevated CO2 conditions, but seven of eigh- released into the atmosphere, most likely
teen shelled organisms grew thicker shells. from methane hydrates (frozen meth-
The researchers noted that soft clams and ane) from the deep sea floor. The result-
oysters showed reduced calcification, but ing ocean acidification caused a huge mass
at least in the laboratory some hard clams extinction of deep-sea organisms (partic-
and lobsters and one species of coral didnt ularly foraminifera) as well as many land
seem to care one way or the other about species. According to James Zachos and as-
high CO2. sociates, the atmosphere and oceans took
A big ocean acidification warning came 100,000 years to recover from that change
in 2010. Larval shellfish in hatcheries along in climate. Its impact on shallow water or-
the Oregon coast began to die, apparently ganisms is, however, much less clear. Many
because they were unable to form shells. species of shallow-water calcareous marine
Burk Hales, an oceanographer at Oregon organisms survived the petm, possibly be-
State University, was able to demonstrate cause the weathering of rocks on land in a
that the problem was the excessive acidity high- CO2 atmosphere produced low-acidity
of waters pumped into the hatcheries from river water that flowed into the broad, shal-
the open ocean. Here was proof that ocean low seas of that time, counteracting the
acidification was at our doorstep and here acidification caused by high CO2 in the
to stay. atmosphere.
One of the main questions that must be The petm events of millions of years ago
answered is how carbonate-secreting or- (and others in the geologic past) played out
ganisms survived higher CO2 concentra- very slowly, and as a consequence it is diffi-
tions in the atmosphere in the time of the cult to draw helpful lessons for todays very
dinosaurs. In the geologic past, as in the rapidly moving acidification crisis. It may
present, CO2 existed in a natural equilib- be that the current rate of CO2 addition to
rium with a number of processes including ocean waters will be a rare event in geologic
the weathering of rocks, burial of organic history. There is a significant chance that
matter in sediment, volcanic activity, and this time acidification will affect the entire
absorption in the ocean. Changes in any ocean water column, not just deep water as
of those long-term parameters can affect in the petm event.
the CO2 concentration and hence ocean
Global Change in the Oce ans 77

Melting Sea Ice and the century. Based on recent rates of sea ice
Northwest Passage loss, Muyin Wang and James Overland
project a possible complete loss of summer
The Arctic Ocean is the smallest and shal- sea ice in the Arctic by 2030.
lowest of the Earths five major ocean ba- As the ice cover is reduced, the albedo
sins. Floating sea ice covers most of it. Typi- changes, and the ocean water warms all the
cally there are 15 million square kilometers faster. Albedo is the amount of solar radia-
(5.8 million square miles) of ice in the Arc- tion reflected by any surface, expressed as
tic Ocean in the winter, which shrinks to a percentage of the incoming radiation. Sea
7 million square kilometers (2.7 million ice reflects back 30% to 40% of the incom-
square miles) in the summer. Most of the ing radiation it receives from the sun, while
icebergs and ice floes that break off of the seawater reflects back only 2% to 10% of the
sea ice remain enclosed in the Arctic basin, radiation and absorbs the rest. Clouds may
but a few escape, as the captain of the Ti- reflect back as much as 90%. The increased
tanic learned. warming of the Arctic Ocean due to the al-
Since the beginning of satellite records in bedo change leads to increased warming on
1979, the Arctic sea ice cover, which follows adjacent lands, adding an additional threat
a normal seasonal pattern of melting and to permafrost.
refreezing, has been shrinking at a rate of One of the exciting ramifications of the
about 11% per decade. At the same time, the shrinking Arctic sea ice is the possible
average sea ice is getting younger. In 1988 opening of the Northwest Passage, a ship-
31% of sea ice was five years old or older. ping route along the northern tip of North
That number dropped to 10% in 2009. The America that would connect the Atlantic
sea ice cover is also thinning, by 40% over and Pacific oceans. Transits by submarine
the last few years. As measured by the aer- began with the voyage of the uss Nautilus,
ial extent of the ice in the month of Sep- which traveled under the ice to the North
tember (considered the time of the mini- Pole in 1958 as part of a complete transit
mum summer sea ice extent), the years of the Arctic Ocean. In 1959 the submarine
2007 and 2008 were record minimums uss Skate actually pushed through the ice
since 1997 (possibly because of particularly at the pole. This passage was long sought
sparse cloud covers). The size of the sum- by early explorers including Captain James
mer sea ice cover varies, and in 2009 the Cook from the Atlantic side and Captain Vi-
ice cover was more extensive than in 2007 tus Bering from the Pacific side. A few ships
and 2008. Still, current predictions indi- including an ocean liner and a submarine
cate that the Arctic ice cover will be entirely (the uss Seadragon) have traversed the pas-
gone well before the end of the twenty-first sage in recent years, and if Canadian sov-
78 Global Change in the Oce ans

ereignty claims can be settled, the passage ally increased in area by 10% since 1980, a
may become a summer reality in as little fact sometimes cited as an indication that
as a decade. Canada more or less views the the Earth is not warming but rather cool-
Northwest Passage as its own Panama Ca- ing. But the Southern Ocean is not cooling.
nal, though no other nation agrees with Field measurements show that the ocean
this contention. water is actually warming at a rapid rate.
Meanwhile, for the first time, thanks to Hence it is likely that the increase in the area
global warming, Canada has taken a strong of sea ice is related to changing ocean cur-
interest in the remote far north, building rents, which are related in turn to changing
small harbors and airstrips, and support- wind patterns. Winds blowing offshore push
ing mineral exploration, all in preparation floating ice away from the land. Thus as the
for the disappearance of the sea ice. A few Antarctic wind patterns change, the ice-free
years back the Canadian government even water patches relocate and penguin colonies
established a tiny Inuit settlement in the migrate accordingly to get their food (krill)
far north to help territorial claims. The new from the sea.
settlers barely survived the experiment be- Ozone depletion in the stratosphere has
cause of the lack of fish and game available very likely propagated downward and be-
for food at the ill-chosen site. gun playing a role in altering atmospheric
circulation and wind patterns. The winds
that the ozone hole generates also increase
Sea Ice and the Southern Ocean salt spray in the atmosphere, which in turn
creates bright clouds, partially shielding
At the other polar extreme, large areas of Antarctica from greenhouse gas warming.
sea ice are also found adjacent to Antarc- As the ozone hole closes and its effect on
tica. Because the Antarctic is a large conti- wind and ocean currents and cloud forma-
nent surrounded by vast, open ocean (un- tion ceases, an increase in the rate of Ant-
like the enclosed Arctic Ocean), icebergs arctic warming can be expected.
by the thousands drift far to the north In 2010 the columnist George Will cre-
every year. The sea ice extent during the ated a storm of protest when he asserted
Southern Hemisphere winter (September) that the extent of global sea ice at the time
is larger (17.9 million square kilometers, or equaled that of 1979, implying that claims
6.9 million square miles) than that of the of melting sea ice were false. Technically
Arctic, but the summer (February) ice cover he was right. However, he compared two
is much smaller (2.8 million square kilome- months of ice-cover data (combining both
ters, or 1.1 million square miles). Arctic and Antarctic sea ice) that were
Unlike its shrinking Arctic counterpart, thirty years apart, a process that ignored
Antarctic winter floating sea ice has actu- a much bigger picture of gradual sea ice
Northwest Passage
As a result of the gradual shrinking of the summer sea ice extent in the Arctic, the fabled
Northwest Passage may soon connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a great boon to
international shipping. The decreased area of white ice will be replaced by darker sea-
water which will reduce reflection of solar radiation, further speeding up the warming
of the Arctic.
80 Global Change in the Oce ans

reduction with a lot of annual variation. state of Alaska opposed the designation
In addition, by combining Arctic and Ant- because it would allegedly hinder future
arctic sea ice numbers, Will was able to ob- resource development. The state argued
scure the rapid decrease in area, age, and that the future of the sea ice was uncer-
thickness of the Arctic sea ice. This cherry tain, that the models predicting ice trends
picking of data, or focusing on particular were not accurate, and that the scientific
meaningless variations rather than the big literature on the bear was questionable.
picture, is a common tactic among climate Hunting groups opposed the designation as
skeptics. well. One of the arguments of opponents
was that the polar bears were believed to
have evolved from grizzly bears perhaps
Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice 100,000 years ago. So why couldnt they
and the Animals just revert to their old food sources? The
answer is that the change in ice is happen-
Loss of Arctic Ocean sea ice is causing prob- ing extremely fast in terms of the bears
lems for ivory gulls, the Pacific walrus, food supply, and whether they can adapt
hooded seals, the narwhal whale, and po- quickly enough is questionable.
lar bears, each for different reasons. The The polar bears are threatened because
bears spend most of their lives on the ice of their seasonal dependence on floating
and depend on it for capturing ringed seals ice. The narwhal is threatened because it
as the seals surface at breathing holes. Five has specialized feeding habits and a very
of nineteen polar bear subspecies are said narrow range of habitat. The narwhal is a
to be in decline. medium-sized tusked whale which weighs
The plight of the polar bear, now classi- between 900 and 1,600 kilograms (2,000
fied as threatened by the United States and 3,500 pounds) and is capable of diving
government, has been given particularly as deep as 1,370 meters (4,500 feet). In the
wide publicity. It is an iconic animal, warm winter the narwhal feeds on the life forms
and fuzzy (from a distance). Lots of teddy that spend the winter beneath the pack ice;
bears are polar bears, but alongside a bear, no pack ice would mean no food.
walruses or hooded seals are rather unat- The hooded seal spends much time away
tractive, and few of them are found on de- from the ice, but for its all-important birth-
partment store shelves in the toy section. ing it requires pack ice. The pups, aban-
The decision in 2008 to list the bears as doned by their mother a few days after
threatened, based as it was on global warm- birth, reside for several weeks on the ice be-
ing projections that Arctic sea ice would fore venturing into the water on their own.
soon disappear, was controversial. The Less well known is the plight of the Pa-
Global Change in the Oce ans 81

cific walrus, which still exists in large num- over the same time frame is the projection
bers. For the walrus the ice is important of hundreds of scientists. The geologist Lee
because it serves as a breeding place and Gerhard notes that we can expect a four-
a safe nursery for pups while adults dive inch rise in this century. Bjrn Lomborg
to obtain food from the sea floor. When expects a thirty-centimeter (one-foot) rise.
ice is absent the walrus may be forced to All four of these projections of sea level
crowd along a shoreline: in 2009 as many rise are extremely low relative to the ipcc
as four thousand were found crushed on projections, especially if one includes the
a Siberian beach. It was a disaster caused likely contribution from melting ice sheets.
when the closely packed animals suddenly In fact they are lower than the current sea
panicked and rushed toward the water. level rise rate of well over thirty centime-
Normally the walrus are widely spread out ters (one foot) per century, and there is not
on the ice pack, rather than on a narrow the slightest indication of a reversal of the
beach. sea level rise in coming decades. The prob-
The ivory gull is an Arctic species that lem is that the report issued by the ipcc
feeds on just about anything small that in 2007 projected a very low sea level rise,
moves. The birds food ranges from a vari- because it disregarded the contribution of
ety of plankton to small fish to squid. The the ice sheets (chapter 3). Although the re-
gull takes advantage of the rich assem- port noted the omission, stating that the
blage of food found on ice margins and in effect of the ice sheets should be excluded
ice cracks. because it couldnt be modeled, the deniers
All these and many other animals re- seem to have ignored this statement. Pat-
quire extensive sea ice for their survival. rick Michaels and Robert Balling in their
Will they be able to adjust to a new, ice-free book Climate of Extremes absurdly charac-
world? terize the ipccs recognition of its omission
of ice sheet melting as a small caveat. Small
indeed! Meltwaters from the ice sheets are
Myths, Misinterpretations, and expected to be the most important source
Misunderstandings of the Deniers of sea level rise in this century. The impli-
cation that many researchers agree with
myth: Climatologists expect sea level to the low projections is preposterous. At the
rise only slightly. The petroleum geologist farthest end of the spectrum is Nils Axel
H. Leighton Steward says that most clima- Mrner, a geologist at the University of
tologists predict a sea level rise of seven or Stockholm. He published a booklet refut-
eight inches by 2100. The coastal engineer ing sea level rise with the title Sea Level
Robert Dean states that thirteen inches Rise: The Greatest Lie Ever Told. Mrner
82 Global Change in the Oce ans

finds little evidence of global change and myth: Its not the disappearance of sea ice
claims that some of the sea level changes that threatens the polar bears. Non-climate
recorded by tide gauges are more likely re- factors are causing the decline in polar bear
lated to land movement, the local evapora- population. Dr. Willie Soon, a diehard de-
tion of seawater, and other factors. This ab- nier, was the co-a uthor of a non-p eer-
surd statement is widely quoted by deniers. reviewed paper titled Polar Bears of West-
ern Hudson Bay and Climate Change: Are
myth: The ipcc estimate of sea level rise Warming Spring Air Temperatures the
rate dropped between 2001 and 2007. The Ultimate Survival Control Factor? Soon
2001 report included an estimate of the noted in the acknowledgments that the pa-
contribution of the Greenland ice sheet. per was partially funded by grants from
In the 2007 report the importance of the the Charles G. Koch Charitable Founda-
ice sheet contribution was recognized, but tion, American Petroleum Institute, and
the projected sea level rise did not include ExxonMobil Corporation. Why would the
either the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheet petroleum industry fund a review of re-
contributions. Thus the two reports are ap- search on polar bears? The answer is two-
ples and oranges. fold. The companies have an interest in
downplaying global warming and, in the
myth: Ocean acidification is the next big case of polar bears, keeping a popular ani-
hoax. Alan Caruba, a freelance writer and mal off the endangered species list so that
public relations practitioner, has described the natural resources of the Arctic Sea re-
global warming as the Big Lie and ocean gion can continue to be exploited. It is im-
acidification as the next big hoax, and pre- portant to note that the paper by Soon and
dicts that carbon dioxide will be a boon in associates is a review of research; it does
water as it is on land. Carubas assertions not include original observations or data.
have no basis in science whatsoever, and in There is nothing inherently wrong in re-
the fashion of so many deniers he does not view papers; they can be valuable additions
refute the scientific data (discussed above to our understanding of some phenomena.
in this chapter) but simply skirts around But the deniers of global warming work ex-
them. The critical societal importance of clusively with the data of others, rarely pro-
ocean acidification has been recognized viding new observations.
only recently, as discussed above, so we In the article on the polar bear, Soon ar-
can expect larger and more organized de- gued that there was no evidence of warm-
nier guns to come to bear on this issue in ing climate in western Hudson Bay and at-
coming years. tributed the fall in polar bear population
to other factors, especially hunting. In a
Global Change in the Oce ans 83

response to this article, Ian Stirling (an too fast, subjecting them to progressively
expert on polar bears) and others rejected poorer conditions for several months each
this argument and stressed that long-term year, impairing reproduction and the sur-
trends in the population of polar bears in vival of young, sub-adult, and older (but
western Hudson Bay were consistent with not prime) adults. Stirling and associates
the thesis that climate warming in west- noted that when the population declined
ern Hudson Bay was the major factor the hunting quota for Inuit was no longer
causing the sea ice to break up at progres- sustainable and that overharvesting likely
sively earlier dates each year. This shift accelerated the population drop.
has prompted polar bears to come ashore
7 Disappearing Civilizations

The Problems with Coastal Living near ocean shorelines. In the last century
this proportion has increased measurably.
What do Boston, Hong Kong, Shanghai, In fact, there would appear to be a global
Lagos, Rotterdam, Alexandria (Egypt), Ho rush to the shore, and at the same time the
Chi Minh City, and Durban have in com- shore is rushing toward the human invad-
mon? They are all major coastal cities in ers. Today in the United States, for exam-
real danger of suffering major inundation ple, 53% of the population lives on the 19%
from rising sea levels, and increasing dam- of the land area near the coast.
age from storm surge waves elevated by the But there are flat coasts and steep coasts.
higher sea level. These cities are but eight The coastal zone of the western margin of
of thousands of low-lying communities, North and South America, for example, is
large and small, whose inundation by the higher and steeper than its counterpart on
sea may be the first catastrophe on a global the much flatter coastal zone on the eastern
scale caused by climate change. The hu- margin of the Americas. Thus the potential
man and economic costs of responding to for damage from sea level rise is greatest
the simultaneous flooding of all the worlds on the east coasts of these continents. But
low-lying coastal cities are almost unfath- all port facilities, critical components of the
omable. Whether the solution is retreat, global economy, will be affected, whether
moving back buildings, abandonment, or on a steep coast (Long Beach Naval Ship-
construction of levees, dikes, and seawalls, yard) or flat coast (the Port of Miami).
it will divert much national treasure. And Over the years a number of small East
the high priority that will inevitably be Coast communities have disappeared. Some
given to protection of the major cities will have been lost to the waves, such as Edings-
take much national treasure away from the ville, South Carolina, in 1893. Others have
response to sea level rise in smaller com- fallen into the sea, such as Broadwater,
munities and nations. Virginia, in 1941. Still others were aban-
A significant portion of the worlds hu- doned in the face of storm hazards: Dia-
man population has always lived next to or mond City, North Carolina, for example,
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 85

Boston II, massachusetts

Greater Boston, with a population of around 4.5 million, is one of dozens of major urban areas around the world lo-
cated at low elevations and highly vulnerable to the coming rise in sea level. Much of downtown Boston was created
by filling in salt marshes and the nearby bay.

was abandoned and its buildings moved to Cities

safer sites on the mainland after three close
calls with closely spaced hurricanes in the mi a mi: no high ground
late 1890s. Globally the most threatened city of all (ac-
Today lots of small nations and com- cording to the UNs Organization for Eco-
munities are in trouble. As beaches once nomic Cooperation and Development), at
locked in Arctic permafrost are released least in terms of the value of property that
by the melting ice, native seaside villages will be flooded by a three-foot sea level rise,
are threatened by shoreline erosion as well is Miami. With a population of a bit over
as sea level rise and increased storm ac- 5.2 million, Miami is the fourth-largest city
tivity. The atoll nations in the Pacific and in the United States, behind New York, Los
Indian oceans are already in the advanced Angeles, and Chicago. It also is the nations
planning stage of island and even nation lowest city. Overall the average elevation is
abandonment. 1.8 meters (6 feet), but large areas are be-
low 0.9 meters (3 feet) in elevation and the
Edingsville Beach,
south carolina
In pre Civil War South Carolina,
Edingsville was a high-end resor t
community with sixty houses, two
churches, and a tavern. The great Sea
Island Hurricane of 1893 destroyed
the houses, and subsequent erosion
and island migration reduced the is-
land to a narrow strip of sand less
than a hundred feet wide. The old vil-
lage, perhaps a harbinger, is now four
hundred meters (one-quar ter mile)
offshore. Still, bits of brick, pottery
and nails from the village often wash
ashore in storms.
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 87

highest points are on the order of 6 meters been recognized, and it is one in need of de-
(20 feet). tailed engineering evaluation. It is a prob-
So what can the city do to prepare for the lem which probably exists along all 5,600
rising sea? Miami Beach, the barrier island kilometers (3,500 miles) of the barrier is-
fronting the city, will need to have seawalls land coast of the United States in the Gulf
on all sides. The beach will be long gone, of Mexico, as well as along much of the At-
no longer maintainable regardless of how lantic Coast. The major ramification of this
much sand is pumped on it. The city proper is that holding the shoreline in place will
will also need walls or dikes on all sides, in- be hugely more expensive than most cur-
cluding on the border with the Everglades rent estimates of seawall costs. A massive
on the western margin of the city. wall, extending four and a half to six me-
But the geology underlying the city, as ters (fifteen to twenty feet) above the high
well as much of coastal southeast Florida, tide line, will cost on the order of $33,000
holds a surprise for the unwary engineer. to $82,000 per meter ($10,000 to $25,000
Miami sits atop the Miami Limestone, a per foot), and the cost of a dam would be
layer of sediment laid down during high sea much more.
levels over the last million years. This rock Miami has no high ground to which to
layer is up to fifteen meters (fifty feet) thick move. The choices are to hold the line at
and is highly porous and permeable, mean- great cost or to abandon the city at greater
ing that water flows readily through cavi- cost.
ties in the rock. According to the geologist
Hal Wanless, evidence of the ease of flow
shishm a r ef a nd
of water through the limestone is found in
t he wa r ming nort h
the tidal fluctuations of the ocean that can
be observed (on a very small scale) in ponds One of the most immediate human im-
within the city. pacts of the increased temperatures in the
The engineering ramification of this ease far north is the potential destruction of na-
of flow is that mere walls or levees will not tive seaside villages along all Arctic shore-
hold back the sea level rise. The level of the lines, including those in Siberia, Scandina-
sea will simply be the same on both sides of via, and northern Canada. In Alaska there
the wall. Thus instead of walls, which are are twelve such villages along or near the
normally designed to protect the city from shoreline, in dire need of moving to higher,
storms, dams will be needed, extending safer ground. Shishmaref, Alaska, is a typi-
underground to depths that will depend cal village with typical problems related to
on the thickness of the permeable rocks or the warming atmosphere. A small Inupiat
sand underlying the city. Eskimo subsistence village just south of
This is a problem that has only recently the Arctic Circle along the shores of the
88 Disappe aring Civiliz ations

Shishmarefs Shores, alask a

The subsistence village of Shishmaref, with a population of 550, is threatened with destruction, principally because of
longer ice-free periods of the adjacent ocean (allowing more storm waves to strike the shoreline) and the melting of
permafrost in the beach sand. In the Arctic, moving an entire village, even a small one, is a very costly proposition. In
this case relocation to the mainland is expected to cost $300,000 to $400,000 per villager.

Chuckchi Sea on Sarichef Island, an island accelerates. Adding to Shishmarefs woes

six and a half kilometers (four miles) long, is the rising level of the Arctic Ocean.
it has 550 inhabitants who live in small It has become clear that Shishmaref
government-issue buildings. must be abandoned. But Inupiat Eskimo so-
In bygone days Shishmaref and the other ciety is no longer as flexible or sustainable
villages became safely enclosed by a frozen as it once was. There are several options
ocean starting in September or October, so for the villages response to sea level rise
winter storms passed by harmlessly. Now and warming climate. The villagers could
the Arctic summer (the period of ice-free move to the Alaska mainland, to another
ocean waters) extends into November, so village, or to the big cities of Nome, Kot-
winter storms strike an island no longer zebue, and Anchorage. These villagers may
encased in ice. In addition, the warmer cli- be skilled in hunting and fishing, but they
mate and extended ice-free period have re- have few of the skills useful in the mod-
sulted in melting of the permafrost in the ern city. The current plan is to move the
beach sand. Frozen beach sand acts like a village to the nearby mainland at a cost
natural sea wall, but when the grains are of $300,000 to $400,000 per inhabitant.
no longer held in permafrost ice, erosion It is a huge cost amplified by the price of
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 89

providing water, sewer, heating, and elec- lagoon are usually one to two meters (three
tricity in the high north, but it could save to seven feet) above sea level.
one of North Americas few remaining sub- Paul Kench, a New Zealand geologist,
sistence societies. points out that atolls are dynamic but
change at a slower pace than barrier islands
(discussed below). Atolls widen as storm
Atolls debris piles up and they lengthen as sand
and gravel moves along beaches. Storms
Atolls are mid-ocean rings of coral rock that open new inlets between islands while of-
surround a lagoon. The origin of atolls was ten simultaneously closing other inlets.
famously first described by Charles Darwin The process responsible for driving peo-
on the voyage of the Beagle. The islands be- ple off the islands will most likely be the sa-
gan as a fringing reef completely ringing a linization of groundwater. Already in some
volcano, and as the volcano slowly moved communities in the Marshall Islands, crops
into deeper water (because of sea floor are being grown in fifty-gallon oil drums to
spreading), the reef grew upward and even- avoid salty soils. The Carteret Islands near
tually extended above the now submerged Papua New Guinea have already been aban-
mountaintop. These tiny islands became doned, and Tuvalu, a nation of five atolls
populated with Polynesians, the worlds with a population of just over twelve thou-
most impressive navigators, capable of tra- sand, has made arrangements to relocate to
versing in outrigger canoes across thou- New Zealand.
sands of miles of open ocean and finding Perhaps the most famous atoll nation is
new islands based on wave patterns. The the Maldives, a group of twenty-six atolls
islands became icons of song and romance and more than eleven hundred islets in the
and then of the battles of the Second World Indian Ocean with a total population in ex-
War. Now they have become the icons of cess of 300,000, making it by far the most
the coming sea level rise catastrophe. populated atoll nation. The people of the
At 475 square kilometers (184 square Maldives have recognized the hazard of sea
miles), the largest atoll is Christmas Is- level rise in a big way. In 2009 the members
land, part of the Kiribati atoll nation. Most of the Maldivian legislature donned scuba
atolls have just a few square miles of land gear and held a session under water at a
area and are very low in elevation. Usually depth of nine meters (thirty feet) to draw
the highest points are three to four and attention to the sea level rise. The nation is
a half meters (ten to fifteen feet) above currently contemplating the possibility of
sea level along the open ocean shoreline, purchasing land in Sri Lanka or India and
where storms pile up debris from the coral moving the entire nation to a new site.
reef offshore. The living areas next to the
Atafu Atoll , tokel au, south pacific
These tiny mid-ocean islands are the canaries in the mine of rising sea level.
Before the sea inundates living areas (typically one to two meters, or three to
seven feet, above present sea level) on the atolls, ground water contamination
by salinization will likely drive the inhabitants away. Already some inhabitants
are moving to higher ground.
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 91

Barrier Islands: islands and the Dutch and German Frisian

Moving Ribbons of Sand barrier islands, several villages coexist
with the national seashores, causing some
t he economic fac ts of life political discomfort. In 1972 the U.S. Park
Service made the startling announcement
Barrier islands make up about 12% of the that nature would be allowed to take its
worlds open ocean shorelines. They are a course on the seashores. It was a pioneer-
particularly vulnerable coastal landform, ing recognition of the ultimate futility of
along with all kinds of sand spits and bay- halting shoreline retreat in a time of rising
mouth bars, and since they are popular sea level. It was also a recognition of the
sites for tourist development, their future high environmental and economic cost of
in a world of warming and of rising sea the coastal engineering approach to hold-
level is of great concern. The greatest haz- ing shorelines in place.
ard facing these islands is an economic one. Barrier island migration, now recognized
As the worlds cities are increasingly threat- as a global phenomenon on coastal plain is-
ened by sea level rise, it is an economic and lands, occurs as the ocean side retreats and
political certainty that they will trump the fans of storm overwash sand widen the
more lightly developed barrier islands for back side of the islands. The ocean side re-
funding. It also seems a certainty that the treats as the back side advances into the la-
long-r ange fate of most of these islands goon, and the whole island moves landward
must be abandonment. One exception may and upward, out of the way of a rising sea.
be the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi, a city Development on barrier islands of course
of one million inhabitants, the largest city halts the migration process. Of particular
located almost entirely on a barrier island. concern are high-r ise buildings built adja-
cent to the eroding beach. In Florida there
are virtually hundreds of miles of such
t he ou t er b a nk s
high-rise-lined beaches, making impossible
of nort h c a rolina
a rational response to sea level rise, such as
The Outer Banks of North Carolina on the moving back.
East Coast of the United States is a chain On most coastal plain islands, including
of six barrier islands 210 kilometers (130 the Outer Banks, the Frisian Islands of the
miles) long that extends from the Virginia Netherlands and Germany, and some of
border to Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. the Algarve Islands of Portugal, where the
The chain incorporates both Cape Hatteras shoreline is not being held in place with en-
and Cape Lookout and the two national gineering structures, shoreline erosion is
seashores bearing their names. occurring on both sides of the islands. The
As on the Portuguese Algarve barrier thinning rate of the Outer Banks of North
south of ocracoke, north carolina
About 12% of all ocean shorelines are lined by barrier islands which, with the exception of the islands
along cold Arctic shorelines, are in great demand for development. A one-meter rise in sea level will halt
all development on these unconsolidated, low-elevation sand islands, unless they are ringed on all sides by
massive sea walls.
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 93

Carolina is on the order of ten to fifteen feet Today many deltas remain as population
per year. Clearly, thinning of these islands centers. The two most populous deltas are
cannot have been a long-term phenomenon, the Ganges-Brahmaputra (111 million in-
or the islands would not exist today. Thin- habitants) and the Mekong (47 million).
ning is the initial response of a barrier is- Deltas began to form when the rising
land to sea level rise, and it will continue sea after the last ice age reached close to
until the island is narrow enough to begin the present sea level six thousand years
true migration, which can only occur when ago. Over the last two thousand years the
the island is thin enough (90 to 180 meters, growth of deltas has accelerated, because
or 100 to 200 yards) for overwash to fre- of the vast supply of sediment eroding
quently cross the entire island in storms. from farmers plowed fields. More recently,
Typically islands in a full migration mode, however, the land on most deltas has been
such as those at Cape Romain (South Caro- sinking. Localized maximum rates of sea
lina), the Mississippi Delta, northern Yu- level rise on deltas range from four feet per
catan, western Madagascar, and western century in parts of the Mississippi Delta, to
Turkey, are less than one hundred meters 2.4 meters (8 feet) per century on the Ben-
wide. All these islands are responding in gal delta, to 3 meters (10 feet) per century
significant part to sea level rise. on some small deltas on the Pacific Coast
of Colombia, to as much as 10 meters (33
feet) per century on the river promontories
Deltas: of the Nile Delta. The sinking of land caus-
Where Rivers Meet the Sea ing such high rates of sea level rise is due
to the natural compaction of muds, often
Deltas are the bodies of sediment that exacerbated by oil and water extraction,
settle out when rivers flow into a standing and the construction of dams upstream,
body of water like a lake or ocean. Viewed which reduce sediment supply. The con-
from the air, the meandering and ever- struction of canals on deltas removes
splitting river distributaries and the in- sediment-trapping marshes and mangrove
tervening marshes and sandbars on deltas swamps that help to add land and elevation
form beautiful patterns such as those of on deltas. Sinking (and rising) may also be
the Yukon Delta in Alaska and the Selenga related to tectonic forces within the earth,
River Delta in Lake Baikal, Siberia. It is be- particularly near active mountain ranges.
cause of an abundance of water and fertile An example would be the river deltas on
land that many of the worlds great civiliza- the Pacific shores of Colombia and north-
tions originated on deltas, including those ern Ecuador, which sink simultaneously
on the Nile, Rhine, Indus, Pearl, Ganges- as the nearby Andes Mountain Range is
Brahmaputra, and Tigris-Euphrates rivers. pushed upward.
94 Disappe aring Civiliz ations

As sea level rises, the potential for dis- the Nile Delta as a kind of Bangladesh
placement of people is larger on deltas storyon top of all the population, water,
than any other place on Earth. Deltas are and pollution problems there is the rising
low in elevation and, as a consequence, are seaa perfect storm. Based on a World
susceptible to storms, tsunamis, and par- Bank study of eighty-four coastal areas,
ticularly to sea level rise. Cyclone Nargis, the rise in Vietnam will displace a third of
which killed at least 150,000 people on the the population in the Mekong Delta, where
Irawaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008, is half the countrys rice is grown. A full third
only the latest delta catastrophe. The rising of Ho Chi Minh City would be inundated
sea will also be particularly hard on agri- by a one-meter (three-foot) sea level rise.
culture in deltas. A study by X. Chen of the Vietnams Red River Delta in the north will
impacts on the Yangtze Delta predicts that also suffer population displacement and
rising seas will prolong the waterlogging loss of rice production.
of fields as groundwater levels are raised. Unfortunately in Vietnam the situation
During dry periods saltwater intrusion will just got more complicated. A major dam
occur on an ever-larger scale above ground- has just been constructed on the Mekong
water levels. River in China. As has happened on the
Fifteen million people live at elevations Mississippi, the Nile, and the Niger River
within a meter of sea level on the Ganges- Deltas, the loss of sediment, which will be
Brahmaputra Delta (the worlds largest trapped behind the dam, will cause shore-
delta), most of whom will become refugees line erosion and delta sinking. Adding sea
within the next fifty years. In wealthier so- level rise into the mix only intensifies these
cieties it is likely that billions of dollars will problems.
be spent to fight the rising sea on deltas.
Holland, which occupies the Rhine-Meuse
Delta, will most likely succeed through ex- Myths, Misinterpretations, and
tensive, massive, and costly engineering ef- Misunderstandings of the Deniers
forts. Globally, all delta communities (with
the possible exception of Holland) will be myth: Coastal engineering will save the day
abandoned within this century. New Or- and hold shorelines in place and prevent in-
leans is a goner. undation! In a coastal management news-
The three global delta hot spots as mea- letter in Florida in 2010, readers were as-
sured by the number of people that will be sured that engineers could solve the sea
forced to leave their homes by a one-meter level rise problem. Bjrn Lomborg in some
(three-foot) sea level rise are the Mekong, of his writing implies that the sea level rise
Ganges, and Nile deltas. Rick Tutwiler of problem is solvable, presumably by engi-
the American University in Cairo describes neering. Although engineering could save
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 95

Bangl adesh
Around fourteen million people will have to move to escape a one-meter rise in sea level here in the Ganges-
Brahmaputra Delta. These refugees will have to be resettled in what is already one of the worlds most densely
populated countries. National boundaries prevent the settling of refugees into more sparsely populated regions
nearby, a problem that can be expected to lead to local wars.
96 Disappe aring Civiliz ations

Mouths of the Mekong, vietnam

Inundation of the Mekong Delta as well as the Red River Delta to the north will displace a larger propor-
tion of the population in Vietnam than in any other country. New dams constructed on the river by China
complicate the situation there in the same fashion as did the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Less sediment and
fewer nutrients will be delivered to the coast, shoreline erosion will increase, the fishing industry will col-
lapse, and refugees will crowd into nearby cities, in this case Ho Chi Minh City, one-third of which would
also be inundated.
Disappe aring Civiliz ations 97

the day for a century or two, in practice make some portions of the world more hab-
it wont. The cost will be too high. Beach itable, the Arctic Ocean will become navi-
nourishment sand is not likely to stay on gable, etc., etc. Perhaps all these assertions
a developed beach which has had a one- are true, but the positive aspects of global
meter (three-foot) sea level rise. Seawalls, change cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Sea
extending to depths sufficient to prevent level is definitely rising and coastal cit-
saltwater intrusion, will be too costly ex- ies are threatened. Will the alleged posi-
cept near major cities. tive aspects of increased atmospheric CO2
and warmer temperatures offset the sea
myth: Overall global change is a good thing. level rise catastrophe facing coastal cities
For example, carbon dioxide might help and the acidification crisis facing marine
plant growth, atmospheric warming will organisms?
98 global change in the biosphere

8 Global Change in the Biosphere

Plants and Animals of often line the shores of estuaries, sounds,

the Nearshore Zone and lagoons or, as in the Great Barrier Reef,
in the sheltered waters behind coral reefs.
Two important groups of organisms live in Coral reefs are found on open ocean shore-
the zone between the high and low tides and lines and thrive in the open ocean wave
in the worlds shoal waters just offshore. environment, where their location is of-
These are the salt marshes and mangroves. ten marked by a telltale offshore white line
A third organic community, the coral reefs, of breaking waves. Coral reefs and man-
lives in shallow water below the low tide groves are found in warm waters, while salt
line. All have several things in common. marshes flourish from the temperate zone
They are all important and widespread all the way north into the Arctic.
habitats for large numbers of species of
marine organisms. All three are quite ca-
pable of moving landward or seaward as the Threatened by Acidification,
sea level rises and falls, and they have his- Warming, and People: The Future
torically migrated to the north or south as of Coral Reefs
nearshore waters cooled or warmed during
past climate changes. Unfortunately the Tropical coral reefs exist in a broad band
three communities have another thing in circling the globe, between latitudes 30 de-
common: their vulnerability to the activi- grees north and 30 degrees south. They are
ties of humans. All are threatened by global found in clear, well-l it, warm, shallow wa-
change and even more by the response of ter. Globally an astounding three million
humans to global change. Like so many bio- species of marine organisms live in, on, or
logical systems, left to their own responses very near the worlds coral reefs, perhaps
they would probably survive quite well. one-t hird of all such critters. The greatest
Generally mangrove forests and salt of all is the Great Barrier Reef of Austra-
marshes are found on shorelines that are lia, 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) long. In
protected from direct wave attack. They the absence of humans, coral reefs should
Laguna Madre, mexico
Within Laguna Madre, Mexico, are more than six hundred small islands, most of
which are surrounded by small marshes. As sea level rises, these islands, along
with the marshes, will disappear, but this presents no problem to local people
because the islands currently are uninhabited.
Great Barrier Reef II,
Coral reefs everywhere are under attack
by changing ocean conditions such as
warming and acidification. Greatly adding to
the problems of reefs are the impacts
of humans who pollute the oceans, mine
the reefs, and bury them in sand that can
wash over them from nearby artificial
global change in the biosphere 101

Sinking Colombian Shores

Mangroves are the warm-water equivalent of salt marshes. Along the Pacific Coast of Colombia they form a continu-
ous swamp-forest from the mainland to the oceanfront of barrier islands. Before the 1990s these barrier islands were
not recognized as such, because the dense forest concealed the lagoon behind the islands.

be able to successfully keep up with the ex- for juvenile corals. If temperatures rise too
pected sea level rise by migration into shal- quickly, the result can be bleaching caused
lower water or upward growth. by the loss of oxygen-producing zooxan-
Yet the likelihood of reef survival is thellae algae, and death for many corals
greatly reduced by the stress caused by hu- and their associated organisms. Humans
mans. The array of hazards, both man- drive ships that crash into reefs, dredge
made and natural, threatening coral reefs channels through them, drag anchors over
is seemingly endless. The increased carbon them, spill oil on them, cover them with
in the atmosphere is causing ocean acidifi- beach sand, mine them for building blocks,
cation, which is probably weakening coral pollute the waters, and collect coral heads
skeletons and making calcification difficult for mantelpieces. The loss of the offshore
102 global change in the biosphere

breakwaters that reefs form will lead to global warming have done. Mangrove
greatly increased rates of mainland shore- wood is used as lumber and firewood, and
line retreat. large areas of mangroves have been cleared
The loss of reefs will represent a loss of an to allow access to and a view of the sea.
important carbon sink, leading to increas- Mangroves are considered ugly and are
ing carbon concentration of the atmosphere. inevitably cut down and replaced by palm
The loss of the reef fauna and flora will be trees, as in south Florida during the 1920s.
a loss to the fishing economy of many local The biggest global threat of all is the clear-
communities and the economy of numer- ing of mangrove forests to make way for
ous tourist villages. Most important will be shrimp farms.
the loss of a huge number of reef-dependent Like salt marshes, mangroves perform
species of marine organisms. important functions as a source of nutri-
ents to local waters and as a shelter (within
the root system) for a variety of organisms.
Mangroves: Disappearing Forests At the top of the mangrove forest food
chain are jaguars in Colombia and tigers in
Mangroves occupy a band circling the globe Bangladesh. Mangroves have proved effec-
roughly between 25 degrees north and 25 tive in reducing damage from storms and
degrees south and are the warm-w ater tsunamis. Mangroves prevented wave at-
equivalent of salt marshes. There are at tacks on buildings in Homestead, Florida,
least thirty-f ive species in this group of from Hurricane Andrew in 1995, and the
plants that can tolerate salt water to vary- Rangong area of Thailand received rela-
ing degrees. They are referred to as man- tively little damage from the Asian tsu-
grove forests or mangrove swamps. Species nami in 2004 because mangrove forests
numbers are quite unevenly distributed. remained intact. As sea levels rise, man-
For example, there are only three species groves must move inland with the retreat-
of mangroves in Florida Bay and perhaps ing shoreline, and as climates warm they
nineteen species in Australia. Along shore- must move to the north above the equator
lines, individual species are typically ar- and to the south below the equator. Devel-
ranged in shore parallel bands, determined opment will usually prevent this. On the
by the species tolerance for tidal inunda- other hand, most mangroves have very ef-
tion, salinity, and waves. ficient methods of long-d istance seed dis-
Mangroves range in size from bushes to persal, which is certainly a strong factor
trees as high as a hundred feet, with tan- in favor of survival. But the endurance of
gled, almost impenetrable root systems. So continuous forests along the worlds tropi-
far humans have done much more dam- cal shorelines seems a faint hope, except
age to mangroves than sea level rise and for remote, undeveloped shorelines.
global change in the biosphere 103

The tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 238,000 people in 2004 proved the value of preserving mangrove forests
along shorelines. In the few places where these forests existed along affected shorelines, the tsunami wave was much
reduced in power and lives were saved.
104 global change in the biosphere

Salt Marsh: Nowhere to Move many square miles of salt marsh have been
eradicated to make way for urban develop-
Salt marshes, sometimes known as tidal ment, recreation (e.g., marinas), farming,
marshes, live on flat areas, covered with a aquaculture, salt making, and industry
continuous carpet of salt-tolerant vegeta- (especially in Taiwan). Boston, San Fran-
tion, next to shorelines between the high cisco, Tokyo, and Rotterdam have all ex-
and low tide lines. Salt marshes range in panded over salt marshes. And of course
width from a meter or two to several miles. storm water runoff and sewage create local
The size of the marsh may depend on the but widespread problems for the health of
tidal amplitude: the higher the amplitude, salt marshes.
the wider the marsh. In river deltas the Adding to the woes of the worlds salt
areal extent of the marsh depends on the marshes is the sea level rise. Marshes can
size of the deltaic platform built by the river. handle the rise with ease: they simply move
Salt marshes are characterized by ex- back. Unfortunately the land next to salt
traordinarily low plant diversity, because marshes is highly treasured by humans,
few plants can tolerate saltwater. They are and inevitably such land is protected
highly productive environments, creating from erosion, which means that the shore-
through decomposition nutrients that feed line is not allowed to retreat. Thus as the
a long chain of organisms. Low marshes, water level rises, the marsh narrows and
which are inundated by almost every tidal will eventually disappear. The impact of
cycle, generally have a single plant spe- the rising sea level is manifested along
cies, which on the shorelines of the east- many of the worlds estuarine shorelines
ern United States is the smooth cordgrass by the line of dead trees whose roots have
Spartina alterniflora. Plant diversity in- been flooded by either fresh or saltwater
creases slightly in high marshes that are as the water table moves up apace with the
inundated only occasionally by saltwater. sea.
Beyond the high marsh in long estuaries
or on very low-lying land are freshwater
marshes, some of them huge, like the Flor- Land Plants and Animals
ida Everglades.
Humans have created many problems for Anecdotes of changes in the life cycles of
salt marshes. U.S. East Coast salt marsh plants and animals, apparently related to
grass has become an invasive species in global change, are legion. Perhaps the most
Washington State and is taking over the famous of these changes is the displace-
mudflat environment, edging out local ment of the polar bear (chapter 4), which
plants and animals. Ditto for the European in some areas of the Arctic is losing the
salt marsh grass in New Zealand. Globally sea ice essential for its seal hunting. Polar
global change in the biosphere 105

Yukon Delta, al ask a

The Yukon Delta in Alaska consists of large areas of saltwater and freshwater marshes separating various river branches
(distributaries). Salt marshes have proved to be important habitats for a variety of marine organisms, especially at their
juvenile stages, which is why their preservation is important.
Flying the Evergl ades,
The Florida Everglades are the largest
and most widely recognized marsh and
mangrove system in America. Besides being
threatened by sea level rise, the Everglades
are under pressure from agricultural activities,
swamp draining, road construction, and the
threat of invasive species such as the
Burmese python.
global change in the biosphere 107

bears have a problem because of habitat trees have tended to stay put so far, but
destruction. Another response of gigantic short-l ived plants such as herbs and vari-
proportions is the saga of the spruce bark ous annuals have moved both north (in the
beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis), which has Northern Hemisphere) and to higher eleva-
killed spruce trees in a three-m illion-acre tions. Since all plants dont respond to cli-
zone of south central Alaska. The problem mate change in the same way and at the
is warmer winters, which have not allowed same rate, the ecosystem must change, af-
the normal winter die-off of beetles, and fecting all living organisms in the system.
warmer summers, which have promoted
faster reproduction of the beetles.

Plants Birds have faced a lot of hazards during the

last century, including loss of habitat, hunt-
One big problem is how to separate the ef- ing, the use of ddt, and the introduction
fects of the many hazards facing plants, of competing invasive species. Now global
such as invasive plants and herbicides, change must be added to the list of perils
from the impacts of global change. None of facing the worlds birds. The 2010 State of
these natural and human impacts occurs the Birds Report, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
in complete independence from the others. Service, and several environmental groups
The ramifications of the aforementioned have summarized the risks that global
massive spruce kill-off in Alaska provide change will create for birds. The sixty-seven
an example of the complexity of ecosys- species of oceanic birds (albatrosses, petrels)
tem changes related to global change. Or- are at greatest global risk, because they re-
ganisms that depend on spruce forests produce slowly and face problems from a ris-
as a habitat are of course affected. Some ing, warming ocean. Birds in coastal regions
grazing wildlife may benefit because of the (salt marsh sparrows, plovers), arctic and
formation of patches of grass as the forest alpine regions (White Tailed Ptarmigan,
becomes more open. The potential for for- Black Turnstone), and grasslands (grouse),
est fires is greatly increased by the wood as well as land birds from islands (Puerto
debris on the forest floor, and local lakes Rican Parrot), face an intermediate level of
and streams have larger volumes of water risk. Birds from arid lands (Gilded Flicker,
because the dead trees are no longer losing Costas Hummingbird), wetlands (various
water to the atmosphere by transpiration. waterfowl), and forests (warblers, flycatch-
Some plant species have been expanding ers) are least vulnerable to climate change.
their range in response to global warming. The problems for migratory birds (swifts,
In a very general way, long-lived bushes and nightjars) include the timing of food ap-
108 global change in the biosphere

pearance (e.g., insects) along their routes change. The forests of central Mexico
and at their destinations, and changes in where the butterfly winters are expected
environmental indicators that tell them to become wetter and possibly cooler in the
when to start and when to end migration. next fifty years. The eastern United States
and Canada may become warmer and drier
and move the optimum habitats further
Other Animals north, extending the required migration
The Sundarbans mangrove forest, the larg- One impact of warming can be measured
est in the world, will be largely wiped out by the body size of animals. For example,
by a two-foot sea level rise. Owned by both arctic foxes are becoming significantly
India and Bangladesh, this is the home of smaller, according to a study by Yoram Yom-
the only Bengal Tiger adapted for life in a Tov of Tel Aviv University. Smaller bodies
mangrove forest. It is boxed in by extensive allow mammals to endure warmer weather
development around its upland edges, mak- more successfully. Another impact related
ing inland migration of the forest apace to sea level rise is the distribution of fresh-
with the sea level rise unlikely. The tiger water fish at the heads of estuaries. In a
is of course an iconic animal like the polar number of locations reports from fisher-
bear, but the Sundarbans also has 50 reptile men indicate that the range of the fish is
species, 300 bird species, 45 types of mam- decreasing as intruding seawater pushes
mals, and 120 edible fish species. These too them upstream.
will disappear with the rising sea, and some It is a long and fascinating story with a
are found only in the Sundarbans. largely unpredictable ending. Some of the
As with birds and plants, the impact of wildlife species which seem to be strongly af-
global change on other animals including fected so far by global warming include cari-
mammals, amphibians, insects, and fish bou, polar bears, arctic foxes, gray wolves,
is a complex mixture of prey and preda- tree swallows, painted turtles, toads, and
tors, invasive species, food supplies, tim- salmon. Which organisms will ultimately
ing of food supplies, changing ecosystems, adjust to change and which will fall victim
changing habitats, rising temperatures, to it remains a question to be answered in
and changing rainfall patterns, all mixed the coming decades.
in with the impact of human activities.
The Monarch butterfly, known for its awe-
inspiring migration pattern from central
Mexico to the eastern United States and
Canada, is particularly vulnerable to global
global change in the biosphere 109

Myths, Misinterpretations, and m y t h : Plants and animals have been

Misunderstandings of the Deniers through this all before. During the last two
million years there have indeed been at
myth: Plants are not as sensitive to tem- least seven major swings in temperature, as
perature control as global change models as- indicated by the advances and retreats of
sume, as indicated by numerous examples of glaciers. The problem is that global change
out-of-place plant assemblages. These dis- is happening at a rate that is much more
junct plant assemblages of cold climate rapid than any known in the geologic re-
plants existing in warm climates are com- cord. Migration and adjustments to the
mon in the southern United States. One changing food supply patterns of plants
example is the fifty-one species of alpine and animals often require more time than
tundra plants high on San Francisco Moun- is available. The impact of global change on
tain, Arizona. Another is the occurrence of plants and animals does not happen in iso-
Arctic Alpine species found in deep gorges lation. The widespread human destruction
in the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Sco- of habitats through deforestation and ag-
tia. But rather than indicating a lack of riculture is of course greatly adding to the
sensitivity to temperature, these plant as- problem.
semblages are believed to be tiny, isolated
remnants of the ice age forests and grass-
lands that once covered the region.
110 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

Plan B
9 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the clean up pollutants to reduce green-

Philippines in 1991 was the second-largest house gas emissions, we may experience
eruption of the twentieth century. Volcan increased temperatures because we also
ologists successfully warned most of the eliminate aerosols. Such particles contrib-
people living near the mountain, but the ute to health problems, asthma and lung
massive eruption still managed to kill over cancer, but also may cool the atmosphere
seven hundred people, many from roofs col- by reflecting sunlight.
lapsing under the pileup of ash. Measure- In an essay published in the journal Cli-
ments reveal that the mountain spewed mate Change in 2006, Paul Crutzen, an at-
ash twenty-one miles high, spreading vast mospheric chemist who won the Nobel
amounts of aerosol and dust particles into Prize in chemistry in 1995, proposed in-
the stratosphere. Mount Pinatubo ejected jecting sulfates into the stratosphere with
an estimated seventeen million tons of balloons or artillery guns to combat po-
sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, a co- tentially drastic climate heating. Crutzen
lossal deposit of particles that reduced the argued that if sizeable reductions in green-
amount of sunlight reaching the earth by house gas emissions will not happen and
about 10% (by reflecting sunlight back into temperatures rise rapidly, then climatic en-
space) and resulted in an average cooling gineering . . . is the only option available to
of the Earths surface of nearly 0.6 degree rapidly reduce temperature rises and coun-
Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) in the year teract other climatic effects. Crutzen was
following the eruption. The particles from not the first to propose such a radical idea,
Mount Pinatubo remained in the strato- but the essay marked a shift in thinking by
sphere for three years. some in the scientific community, who be-
As previously discussed, aerosols re- lieved that the time had come to seriously
leased by anthropogenic activity can have study engineering schemes as a means of
a cooling effect. This cooling complicates quickly counteracting catastrophic cli-
efforts to combat global warming. If we mate change. The shift was brought about
Mount Pinatubo, philippines
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 injected much volcanic ash into the atmosphere and re-
sulted in a cooling of the Earths atmosphere for more than a year. This event has bolstered the
idea of injecting particulate matter or sulfate into the atmosphere to counteract the heating caused
by carbon dioxide emissions.
112 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

by a concern that we have waited too long gr eenhouse ga s r emedi at ion

and moved too slowly toward decreasing
Unlike scrubbers, which capture CO2 from
greenhouse emissions and may be on the
polluting smokestacks, proposed carbon
verge of cataclysmic increases in tempera-
dioxide removal technology is intended to
ture. Of particular concern is the runaway
capture and remove CO2 from the atmo-
feedback cycle: Arctic warming reduces
sphere itself, rather than from the source
surface ice, leading to less sunlight reflec-
of pollution. One idea is to build machines
tion, leading to increased water and surface
to capture carbon dioxide from the air and
temperatures, leading to increased release
then store it, either deep in the ocean or
of greenhouse gases including the particu-
underground. David Keith, a geophysicist
larly volatile methane gases from melting
at the University of Calgary, has built a
permafrost and the ocean floor (methane
device which successfully removes carbon
hydrates), leading to further reductions in
dioxide and was featured on an episode of
surface ice, and so on.
the Discovery Channels Planet Earth.
Faced with such dire climate possibili-
One of the major problems with using this
ties, science is shifting from thinking about
device is the cost. It requires energy to op-
geoengineering schemes to talking about
erate these machines, and the scale of op-
and possibly experimenting with them.
erations would need to be massive to have
a significant effect on climate. Optimally,
CO2 removal operations would be located
What Is Geoengineering?
above storage sites, to avoid the added
costs of transporting waste. An advantage
Geoengineering is the large-scale manip-
to these devices is that since they remove
ulation of the environment to counteract
carbon dioxide from the ambient air, they
anthropogenic climate change. Geoengi-
would not need to be placed near pollution
neering proposals commonly involve two
sources. The underlying strategy differs
approaches to counteract increased temper-
from the traditional concept of capture and
atures: greenhouse gas remediation and so-
sequestration, in that it promises to cap-
lar radiation management. Greenhouse gas
ture carbon released from mobile emission
remediation consists of building devices or
sources. In other words, while scrubbers
manipulating natural systems to lower the
can capture CO2 emissions from big pollut-
levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and reduce
ers, such as coal plant smokestacks, Keiths
the greenhouse effect. Solar radiation man-
machine would be able to pull carbon di-
agement seeks to offset greenhouse warm-
rectly from the air, potentially negating
ing by making the Earth more reflective to
the impact of transportation-related CO2
reduce the incidence and absorption of in-
emissions. Keith also proposes combining
coming solar radiation.
Geoengineering to the Rescue ? 113

CO2 captured from the air with hydrogen most likely to be employed, for several
to produce a carbon-neutral transportation reasons. First of all, its technological and
fuel, which would have an advantage over financial requirements are relatively low:
conventional biofuels because the produc- only ships and a supply of soluble iron ma-
tion of the fuel would not require the use terials are needed. It is also a particularly
of land which could otherwise be used to attractive option for polluters involved in
produce food. carbon emissions trading, which is one of
Theres something admittedly romantic the ways countries can meet their climate
about the notion of building machines to change mitigation duties under the Kyoto
pull CO2 out of the air. Its the stuff of sci- Protocol. Under the protocol, countries can
ence fiction, calling to mind the works of use greenhouse gas removal programs such
Jules Verne. The idea also has an advantage as reforestation or carbon sinks to meet
over many other geoengineering schemes their emission reduction requirements.
in that there are fewer unpredictable or un- Thus if ocean fertilization on a large scale
desirable side effects. For that reason alone becomes an option for countries looking to
it is worthy of significant investigation. meet emission reduction requirements, it
could be a highly profitable endeavor. At
present, carbon sinks from ocean fertiliza-
seeding t he oce a ns
tion are not a tradable emissions commod-
One of the most extensively studied ideas ity, but the possibility of huge profits has
is to artificially increase planktonic algal already attracted attention from private
blooms. The phytoplankton capture car- companies.
bon by photosynthesis, acting like a carbon Fertilization is not without its detractors.
sponge. When they die they carry some of In 2008 the United Nations Convention for
this carbon to the ocean floor. Scientists Biological Diversity agreed to what the Ger-
have discovered that planktonic blooms man environment minister Sigmar Gabriel
can be induced by introducing limiting nu- described as a de facto moratorium. Del-
trients, such as phosphate or nitrogen, but egates agreed to refer to the London Con-
it appears that one of the most effective vention for guidance on ocean fertilization.
ways to create an algal bloom is to fertil- In late 2008 the London Convention stated
ize with iron those regions in the sea which that ocean fertilization activities other
otherwise are abundant in phosphate and than legitimate scientific research should
nitrogen. This has been done successfully not be allowed. In January 2009 an Indo-
a number of times as part of scientific German scientific team sponsored by the
experiments. Alfred Wegener Institute and others con-
Fertilizing the ocean with iron appears ducted the lohafex experiment in the
to be one of the geoengineering schemes southwest Atlantic despite protests from
114 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

environmental groups. The teams research (for instance, nitrogen and phosphate are
vessel dumped six tons of dissolved iron in removed when iron is added), thus depriv-
a 300-square-k ilometer (115-square-m ile) ing downcurrent communities of these in-
patch of the ocean. Results were disap- gredients. The report warned that all ocean
pointing, reportedly because a lack of si- fertilization proposals involve intention-
licic acid resulted in soft-shelled plankton ally changing the marine ecosystem and
which were consumed by predators, rather stressed that the possible consequences
than dying off in large numbers and tak- are uncertain.
ing carbon with them as they sank to the
depths of the ocean floor.
o t her ways to go
In addition to fertilization using iron,
phosphate, and possibly nitrogen, another Other greenhouse gas remediation ideas
possible method to create phytoplankton include reforestation and sequestering
blooms is to increase ocean upwelling to carbon dioxide in the form of charcoal,
pull nutrients from deep water up to the otherw ise known as biochar. As previously
surface. Like Keiths CO2 removal machine, mentioned, changes in land use account
this method was featured on Discovery for large amounts of greenhouse gas emis-
Channels series Planet Earth, which showed sions. In particular, deforestation is a ma-
scientists crafting long plastic pumps op- jor cause of rising emissions. Forests are a
erated by wave action. The pumps proved form of carbon sink, and the preservation
insufficient to withstand the ocean envi- or planting of trees is particularly appeal-
ronment, but this idea does offer a poten- ing as a carbon market commodityyet
tial way to induce plankton blooms with- another way for countries and businesses
out resorting to dumping materials into the to meet their carbon reduction goals. Bio-
ocean. char is produced by taking the carbon diox-
A report on geoengineering from the ide removed from the atmosphere by plants
Royal Society in September 2009 concluded through photosynthesis and then captur-
that ocean fertilization, while potentially ing the carbon by burning the organic ma-
cheap, offers only a relatively small capac- terial in a low-oxygen environment to cre-
ity to sequester carbon, while noting as well ate charcoal, which is then buried. Instead
that verifying the carbon sequestration of burying the biochar one can burn it, pro-
benefit is difficult. The report also cited viding an alternative to fossil fuels. How-
numerous potential undesirable side ef- ever, burying biochar reportedly improves
fects, including nutrient robbing, in which soil quality. The Royal Society report ques-
essential ingredients besides the one be- tions the efficiency of growing crops for
ing added are removed by the intervention large-scale carbon sequestration and notes
Geoengineering to the Rescue ? 115

that the use of crops to produce renewable surfaces would be high, but white surfaces
biofuels could compete with land used for could easily be phased in over the next few
the production of food. Indeed, this is a decades by incorporating them into new
serious ethical concern relevant to other structures rather than repainting all exist-
forms of biofuels as well. ing structures. Also, businesses and homes
could realize savings in air-conditioning
costs if they opted for a cool roof when
Solar Radiation Management repairing or replacing their roofs.
Another possibility, which is even cheap-
The other major geoengineering scheme er and has the potential to cover a greater
is solar radiation management, or making area of the Earths surface, is to plant re-
the Earth reflect more of the suns rays back flective crops and grasses. Doing this would
into space. The principal measures aim to require caution and could be detrimental to
increase the Earths albedo by either bright- plant and animal diversity if employed on
ening the surface or by increasing reflective a large scale. Other ideas include covering
materials in the atmosphere. desert surfaces with a reflective surface,
which might be good for reflecting solar ra-
diation but certainly could not be good for
st e v en chu s br igh t ide a
desert ecology. Another novel idea is cur-
Steven Chu, United States secretary of en- rently being employed in the mountains of
ergy, has proposed painting roofs white and Peru, where the inventor Eduardo Gold is
creating white highways to reflect more of painting the top of a mountain peak white,
the suns radiation back to space. His com- using a mixture of lime, industrial egg
ments have sparked the cool roof indus- white, and water in an effort to cool the lo-
try, which promises not only to help com- cal environment and encourage the growth
bat global warming but also to cut down of glaciers, which like most glaciers world-
on energy use by keeping houses cooler in wide are now in retreat.
the summer. White roofs do not heat up as The potential for cataclysmic climate
much as traditional darker roofs, and nu- change has not escaped the attention of
merous companies have saved money by Bill Gates, who reportedly has provided
resurfacing their roofs in white material. $4.5 million to the researchers David Keith
Of course, for there to be any significant and Ken Caldera, two of the biggest names
cooling effect, resurfacing would have to be in climate research. The Vancouver Sun
done on a grand scale. But Chus proposal reports that $300,000 of Gatess money
at least represents a relatively simple way has gone to fund research on another po-
to combat warming. The cost of repainting tential solar radiation method of cooling
116 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

the atmosphere, by increasing cloud con- tures. But there could be serious negative
densation nuclei in ocean clouds, in ef- ecological side effects, including a possible
fect brightening the clouds and increasing decrease in the ozone layer, which was one
the solar radiation reflected back toward effect observed after the eruption of Mount
space. Gatess money is reportedly fund- Pinatubo. In addition, there could be dev-
ing the Silver Lining Project, to determine astating consequences for regional weather.
whether sea water may be sprayed from For instance, Luke Oman and his col-
oceangoing vessels into low-level clouds to leagues predict that the African and Asian
accomplish the whitening of marine clouds. monsoon seasons could be changed, poten-
Other proposals involve seeding the clouds tially disrupting the food supply for billions
from airplanes or unmanned drones. The of people. Kevin Trenberth reported that
Royal Society points out that this option the eruption of Mount Pinatubo disrupted
has the advantage that it could be quickly the hydrological cycle and resulted in de-
stopped should unforeseen problems arise creased precipitation.
and could be strategically employed for the With such potentially drastic environ-
targeted cooling of certain areas. mental impacts, why on earth would sci-
entists be considering distributing sulfate
aerosols into the stratosphere? In part, the
b ack to a erosol s
answer lies in an understanding among the
As mentioned at the start of this chapter, scientific community, and among climatol-
another solar radiation management idea ogists in particular, that there is a potential
is to pump aerosols into the stratosphere for cataclysmic climate change, and that the
to reflect sunlight back into space, a pro- political process may fail to make the policy
cess similar to what happens when a pow- changes necessary to stave it off. Pumping
erful volcano explodes and sends dust high aerosols into the stratosphere is a compara-
into the atmosphere. Unlike the brighten- tively cheap and potentially effective way
ing of marine clouds, this approach would to cool temperatures worldwide. But this
have effects on a global scale. Sulfate aero- plan, like all the solar radiation manage-
sols can be introduced as gases and would ment plans, would not decrease the grow-
oxidize into particulates. Scientists have ing ocean acidification problem, nor work to
proposed pumping these sulfates into the reduce carbon dioxide one iota. Thus, were
stratosphere with long hoses, high-flying we to employ the Mount Pinatubo solution
aircraft, or artillery. Like volcanic mate- as an emergency fix for climate chaos, we
rial, particulates injected into the strato- would have to continue to place particulates
sphere would ostensibly float around for a in the stratosphere. If we stopped, the effect
couple of years, resulting in cooler tempera- would be like that of raising a curtain on a
Geoengineering to the Rescue ? 117

sunny windowthe temperature increase Steffen went on to point out that several
would be quick and dramatic. carbon lobby organizations were touting
geoengineering as a viable solution to cli-
mate change. Among these were the Cato
Geoengineering Embraced by Institute, the Heartland Institute, and
the Fossil Fuels Industry the American Enterprise Institute, which
founded the Geoengineering Project to en-
Throughout this book we have identified dorse geoengineering fixes.
various stands taken by those who deny the
existence or dangers of climate change. As
noted previously, those who stand to ben- Some Final Thoughts on
efit from the continued uninhibited burn- Geoengineering
ing of fossil fuels may deny the existence of
global warming, a stand which is becoming At present geoengineering is in its infancy.
increasingly outlandish given the observ- Nothing has proceeded beyond the initial
able indicators of global climate change, research level, and nothing has been ap-
or they may deny that climate change will plied on a major scale. Geoengineering is
have disastrous results. Ultimately, the not ready to be applied on a major scale,
goal of the fossil fuels industry is to de- and quite frankly, thats probably a good
lay actions that could hasten a switch to thing, because the potential for adverse
cleaner fuels and result in restrictions on side effects is so high and so unpredictable.
carbon emissions, which would harm their While technology and engineering ad-
profits. In an essay in April 2009, Alex Stef- vances will be necessary if we are to move
fen, environmental journalist and founder beyond our reliance on fossil fuels and
of Worldchanging, argued that the carbon thus curb emissions, geoengineering can
lobby is embracing geoengineering as an only be viewed as an emergency, last-gasp
argument to delay climate action: The measure. Geoengineering is the stuff of sci-
new climate denialism is all about trying ence fiction. If the rosier predictions of its
to make the continued burning of fossils advocates are not borne out, it is easy to
fuels seem acceptable, even after the public envision a dystopian future with artificially
has come to understand the overwhelming darkened skies, acidic oceans, drought, and
scientific consensus that climate change starvation. Unfortunately, a similarly bleak
is real. Thats why denialists present geo- future is even more likely if we do not coop-
engineering as an alternative to emissions erate on a global level to reduce greenhouse
reductions, and couch their arguments in gas emissions. Geoengineering is more
tones of reluctant realism. a symptom of the severity of the climate
118 Geoengineering to the Rescue ?

Morris Isl and Lighthouse, south carolina

For more than sixty years this lighthouse in South Carolina has survived storms, rising sea level, and barrier
island migration. Constructed originally four hundred meters (one-quarter mile) behind the beach, it now
resides four hundred meters seaward of Morris Island. This landmark symbolizes a flexible, non-engineering
response to global change.
Geoengineering to the Rescue ? 119

crisis than a solution. That geoengineering gees, such as Pacific Islanders who have
has progressed from an obscure topic into fled their flooded homelands, or residents
one which is receiving increased research of New Orleans permanently displaced
funding and attention in the press should by Katrinas floodwaters. But in the near
scare all of us. And that climate change is future much larger numbers of environ-
so dire a challenge as to propel some in mental refugees from atolls, deltas, and
the scientific community to seriously con- coastal cities will be added to the list of the
sider geoengineering should scare us all the displaced. Included in this group will be
more. The anthropogenic climate change those who have run out of water or other
crisis that we face requires a political rather resources and who also will be seeking re-
than a geoengineering solution. lief by moving. The fourteen million peo-
ple living at elevations below three feet in
Bangladesh will be forced to move and find
A Final Word sustenance and shelter in a country that
is already one of the worlds most densely
Today 6.7 billion people populate our tiny populated. Right next door is Myanmar,
planet, and the number inches toward a less densely populated country with po-
an expected 10 billion by 2050. There are tential space for Bangladeshi refugees, but
1,000 people per square kilometer (2,590 the intervening national boundary may be
per square mile) in Bangladesh, 500 (1,295) impermeable.
in South Korea, 377 (976) in Japan, 360 (932) The potential for conflict is real, and the
in India, and 330 (855) in Vietnam. The den- likelihood is strong that local and regional
sity of populations places us on a collision wars will break out. American and nato
course with climate change. Quite simply, military planners are already contemplat-
we are in the way. We are in the way of ing responses to the global warming wars,
storms, sea level rise, shoreline erosion, for- but one would hope that diplomatic efforts
est fires, desertification, crop failures, loss could ward off the conflicts.
of glacial melt water for drinking and agri- The problems can only worsen as global
culture, and all the other expected impacts change advances on many fronts, simulta-
of global change. And because so many of neously with the advancing global popula-
us require fossil fuels for our chosen mode tion. Of course as long as governments of
of existence, we send ever-larger volumes the world pay only lip service to the prob-
of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. lem, we will move no closer to a solution.
Today there are many economic and po- The carbon industry continues to confound
litical refugees around the world, as well as the public with disinformation, delaying the
a smaller number of environmental refu- difficult decisions that must be made to
Were not really guilty. We didnt deliberately
set out to heat the world, the biologist James
Lovelock said in an interview in 2010. But we did,
and now the future paths of changes on Earth are
uncertain. Now our biggest problem is to convince
the deniers to recognize what weve done and
where we are heading. When recognition finally
occurs, perhaps all of us who occupy this globe
can begin to repair our habitat.
Geoengineering to the Rescue ? 121

significantly reduce greenhouse gas emis- catastrophic global climate change cannot
sions, and weakening any commitment to be avoided. The immediate challenge is for
massive investment in new and sustainable the planets nations and political leaders to
technologies. Those technologies can prom- find the courage to put the future of hu-
ise a quality life for the planets inhabitants manity ahead of their own short-term eco-
without drastically altering the climate. nomic interests. Only then will we be able
The increasingly serious attention being to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emis-
paid to geoengineering solutions indicates sions and move beyond the fossil fuel age
that we may be approaching a point where to a future of sustainable energy.
About the Art

M a ry Edna Fr aser is a master dyer flight began at two weeks of age with her
teaching the art of batik worldwide. Her Daddy flying to Grandmothers house. Fra-
work encompasses the far reaches of the ser has photographed most of the eastern
planet. She specializes in the aerial per- and western coastlines of the United States
spective, featuring large-scale art and ar- and many landscapes abroad, observing
chitectural commissions. For this book she both breathtakingly beautiful and disturb-
investigates the geography of the dynamic ing scenes.
forces of global change, illustrating what She employs a variety of sources to define
Orrin Pilkey thinks is most pertinent. a sense of place, including on-t he-g round
Batik is a dye-resist process in which watercolors and sketches, satellite imagery,
wax is applied to fabric, creating areas that maps, and photographs furnished by scien-
repel dye, while any unwaxed areas absorb tists of distant regions. Fast film and global
dye. This technique of textile design pre- interactive mapping have become available
dates recorded history. Combining modern during Frasers thirty-year career. A Nikon
chemical Proceon dyes, beeswax, paraffin, D90 digital camera has replaced her 35mm
and silk, Mary Ednas work has a dramati- film cameras in recent years. Often renting
cally increased scale and complexity that a plane on location, she hires an instruc-
is unique to the ancient medium. She ba- tor and sets up her own shots to the best
tiks on silk because it has innate tensile altitude and vantage point. Usually an aer-
strength as well as an atmospheric quality. ial research excursion will yield about five
Japanese woodblock prints, the impres- hundred photographs, but few are chosen
sionist artists, and contemporary painters as design candidates.
have been influential in her study of art. Mary Ednas methods are uniquely her
The concept of painting aerial landscapes own. She stretches the design drawn in
became Mary Ednas trademark, Islands pencil on silk horizontally between two
from the Sky, in 1980 when she and her sawhorses. Working like a painter, she ap-
brother were flying in the familys vin- plies up to four layers of wax and color to
tage 1946 Ercoupe. A lifelong exposure to create depth. The fabric must be waxed on
124 About the Art

both sides to ensure complete absorption. when both partners are pleased with both
The tools of the trade include soft-bristle aesthetics and clarity. With Pilkeys sci-
wax brushes and the tjanting, a spouted ence and Mary Ednas art, they engage the
copper bowl with a handle, which is used viewer intellectually and emotionally. For
to create very fine lines with hot liquid wax. more information on the process of batik
A typical batik, measuring twelve by four go to
feet, may require five pounds of wax. Be-
cause she takes care not to bend or fold the Earthscaping (p. 3)
waxed silk, the crackling of wax character- 47" 47" 2001
istic to most batiks is rarely seen in Mary In Earthscaping the areas representing ice on
Ednas refined technique. The process re- top of the planet and white areas were waxed
quires care and precision since there is no first, and a dye bath of the blues of the water
simple way to erase an unwanted drop of followed. When these areas were dry a sec-
wax or dye. ond wax resist was applied, and the silk was
The dyes come in powder form and must dyed in green-to-red hues for the land. The
be mixed in exact proportions of water, third layer of wax covered most of the land-
urea, Calgon, baking soda, and washing scape, and the mountains were then dyed.
soda. Any mistake in chemistry will cause A final waxing left a few small spaces for
the dyes to bleed, ruining the batik. Mary the darkest dye bath, to create depth in the
Edna tests colors on paper and spends sev- mountains and the deep indigo sky.
eral hours working out a color harmony,
often comparing dyes to natures palette. Slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii (p. 6)
Applying the liquid dyes with a brush al- 184" 36" 1994
lows for subtle color transitions. Ironing Landsat images reveal the diversity of
out the wax between sheets of newsprint Earths landforms and show how the science
sets the fiber-reactive dyes, making the of remote sensing can capture inaccessible
color permanent. scenes. Dark lava flows run down the slopes
The slowness of the labor-intensive pro- of Mauna Loa, and rich, deep red vegetation
cess encourages a contemplative approach. grows on the island. This batik of the worlds
The batiks convey perspectives that the hu- largest active volcano was awarded recogni-
man eye, maps, and cameras cannot fully tion by the U.S. Geological Surveys eros
reveal. Collaborating with Orrin Pilkey Data Center in 1998.
has broadened Frasers horizons, taking
her on adventures to threatened environ- Selenga Delta, Russia (p. 8)
ments. When selecting landscapes to batik, 46" 45" 2006
Pilkey and Fraser argue over which images Located in southeast Siberia, Lake Baikal
best depict the science. A design is chosen is on the unesco World Heritage List and
About the Art 125

is the oldest (25 million years) and deep- silk with ginkgo leaves in the pattern was
est (1,700 meters, or 5,580 feet) lake in the used to illustrate a small segment of Austra-
world. The Selenga River empties into one of lias longest river. Like the ginkgo, the river
the most biologically diverse lakes on Earth. is a living relic of our ancient world.
This is my first piece of art using Google
Earth as a reference. St. Louis, 1988 and 1993 (p. 23)
35.5" 21" 2007
Amazon River (p. 12) Marty and Cathy Wice saw my work at an ex-
103" 35" 1995 hibition in St. Louis. They had experienced
In 1995 I was the artist for the nasa Art Pro- the devastating flooding of the Mississippi
gram. Its curator, Bert Ulrich, allowed me ac- and Missouri rivers and commissioned this
cess to every photographic image taken from work as well as another. I flew over the site
space to date. This elegant slice is based on in a jet and spent time on the ground by the
two tributaries of the Amazon. It shows rivers edges. The two satellite images from
in yellow the environmental impact of de- 1988 and 1993 clearly illustrate the flood; the
clining forests. Delicate silk fabric evokes city is indicated in red.
the fragility of the Earth, the condition of
which nasa continually monitors through Hurricane Katrina (p. 24)
environmental studies that employ satellite 51" 54" 2007
technology. Hurricane Katrina was a category 4 storm
when it made landfall. As the levee system
Wilsons Promontory, Australia (p. 19) built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
27.25" 35.5" 2009 catastrophically failed, the destruction
The southernmost point of the Australian brought widespread criticism of government
mainland contains the largest coastal wil- reactions. The costliest natural disaster in
derness area in Victoria. This is one of four United States history at the time still echoes
hundred fires recorded on 7 February 2009 in human torment. This batik is based on a
(known as Black Saturday) which burned out noaa satellite image taken before Katrina
of control. The massive bushfire burned over struck the coast.
five weeks and destroyed close to 50% of the
National Park. Gulf Oil Spill (p. 26)
55" 35" 2010
Murray River, Australia (p. 21) During eleven flights conducted between 6
31" 27.75" 2009 and 25 May at the request of the National
A flight to photograph the Murray River in Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
2007 took me over barren land connected by nasas Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging
brightly colored irrigation ditches. A damask Spectrometer (aviris) extensively mapped
126 About the Art

the region affected by the bp oil rig disas- Global Perception (p. 47)
ter on 17 May 2010. Crude oil on the sur- 876 square feet, detail 1999
face appears orange to brown. The white on This is a segment of the largest batik sculp-
the batik represents boats and platforms, ture in the world to date, designed for a four-
which seem insignificant to the scale of the story trapezoid atrium. The depiction of the
damage. Earth in silk, measuring 21 by 9 feet, is an
adaptation of Buckminster Fullers Projec-
Pacific Full Moon (p. 30) tion Dymaxion Map (1930). The first flat
50" 44" 1999 map of the entire surface of the Earth, it re-
Two hundred miles above Earth, the crew veals our planet as one island in one ocean,
of the space shuttle Columbia photographed without any visually obvious distortion of
the full moon setting over the Pacific Ocean. the relative shapes and sizes of the land ar-
Decades of photography offer new avenues eas, and without splitting any continents.
for scientific study of our ever- changing
planet. One of the astronauts, Jay Apt, took Moulin, Greenland (p. 56)
the photograph on which this batik is based, 54" 36" 2010
using a modified Hasselblad medium-format The famous photograph inspiring this mas-
camera with a 100 mm lens and Kodak Ekta- sive moulin is credited to Roger J. Braith-
chrome 64 professional film. It was fascinat- waite at the University of Manchester. The
ing to talk with Jay on the phone about his almost vertical plunge shows millions of gal-
otherworldly experiences. lons of water cascading to bedrock. I elimi-
nated the human beings standing on the
Iceberg (p. 35) edge, which were tiny in this icy landscape.
77" 44.5" 2008
The iceberg batik is an artistic rendering Glacial Canyon, Alaska (p. 59)
from a digital composite photograph by 60" 36" 1993
Ralph A. Clevenger, who is on faculty at Glaciers still shape the Alaskan landscape,
Brooks Institute. The portion above water carving deep fjords as they push huge quan-
depicts an Antarctic iceberg weighing ap- tities of rock and earth seaward. My friend
proximately 300 million tons; the under- Dana Bell took the reference photograph for
water image was actually shot above water this batik of the Triumvirate Glacier north-
in Alaska and flipped upside down. The art west of Anchorage. Layers of dyes and the
accurately represents the amount of an ice- striped silk help to reveal the power of the
berg that is hidden below the surface. Only ancient ice that sculpted this canyon.
one-seventh to one-eighth of an iceberg can
be seen above water, thus the phrase the tip
of the iceberg.
About the Art 127

Mount McKinley, Alaska (p. 60) map which shows a projected rise in sea
69" 46" 1993 level of 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) by the year 2100.
The highest mountain on the North Ameri- This batik illustrates a mid-range projec-
can continent, Mount McKinley, is in Alas- tion, flooding the present day shoreline of
kas Denali Mountain Range. The batik is my home city.
based on an aerial photo by William Wilson
and was my first challenge in depicting ice Spencer Gulf, Australia (p. 71)
on silk. It is interesting that a landscape so 26" 37" 2009
far away from my habitat will influence my Located on the southeastern coast of Aus-
childrens future. tralia, Spencer Gulf is a bay the size of the
Chesapeake Bay, bordered by the Indian
Bhutans Himalayas (p. 62) Ocean. My task for this piece of art was to
37.5" 54" 2008 make the barrier islands visible, drawing at-
In July 2008 I was invited to demonstrate tention to the past in the modern landscape.
batik on the National Mall in Washington The tjanting tool was employed liberally to
for nasa at the Smithsonian Folklife Festi- make bold, white lines, leaving the mark of
val. The tiny Asian nation of Bhutan was also the human hand in the final artwork.
featured. I penciled onto silk a satellite image
taken on 20 November 2001 that was used to Pteropod (Limacina helicina) (p. 75)
study glaciers. Bhutanese in their indigenous 18" 14" 2010
dress loved seeing their home becoming art. Dr. Russ Hopcroft at the Institute of Marine
Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks,
Kilimanjaro, Africa (p. 64) provided the reference photograph for this
34" 44.5" 2008 work, taken in the Arctic. This gorgeous, mi-
As the tallest freestanding mountain rise in nuscule creature has two paddle-like wings
the world, Kilimanjaro has seen its recent ice used to row through the water, hence the
cap volume drop by more than 80%. In this common name sea-butterflies.
silken aerial view, clouds shroud the iconic
mountain. This batik stands out in its peace- Northwest Passage (p. 79)
ful nature. 38.5" 54" 2008
In the summer of 2007 nasas Aqua satellite
Charleston Airborne Flooded, imagery indicated that sea ice was retreating
South Carolina (p. 70) to a sufficient extent to change the character
97" 35" 2010 of the Northwest Passage. Amid the Cana-
Matt Pendleton, a spatial analyst with the dian Arctic Archipelago, the waterways con-
IM Systems Group working for noaa Coastal necting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans emu-
Services Center in Charleston, prepared a late an Old World map in this batik.
128 About the Art

Boston II, Massachusetts (p. 85) on nasas Earth Observatory page. The atoll,
43" 98.5" 2007 in the southern Pacific Ocean, is a territory
Using my artistic license, I have removed the of New Zealand. The typical ring shape of
visual noise of human development of Bos- the atoll is the result of coral reefs building
tons islands seen in the foreground, bring- up around a volcanic island. Over geologic
ing the harbor back to its natural state. Each time the central volcano subsided, leaving
city has an individualized dynamic skyline the fringing reefs and central submerged
as well as shoreline. lagoon corals. Orrin Pilkey and I looked for
hours before we agreed on an atoll for me
Edingsville Beach, South Carolina (p. 86) to use, one where a rising sea level makes
79.5" 35" 2009 future habitability uncertain.
Flying in the familys vintage 1946 Ercoupe
with my brother Burke is an invigorating South of Ocracoke, North Carolina (p. 92)
way to take aerial photographs. In 1983 my 36" 36" 2001
Nikon 35 mm film camera caught this image. My father flew me on an all-day adventure
Orrin Pilkey recognized the beach as the to the Outer Banks from Fayetteville, North
former Edingsville location and requested Carolina, in our family plane. With the cock-
the art. I would consider this scene my aerial pit open in thirty-five-knot winds, I photo-
backyard. graphed specific barrier islands requested by
Orrin Pilkey. On the horizon, mainland had
Shishmaref s Shores, Alaska (p. 88) disappeared because the islands are so far
34" 98" 1996 out to sea.
This piece is taken from a high-elevation
black-and-white photograph, which I rotated Bangladesh (p. 95)
180 degrees, as if flying toward the main- 46" 43" 2010
land. The barrier islands became totemic On 26 March 2009 Earth Snapshot, a daily
canoes sailing through dark waters. The wax view of the planet on the web, featured the
was cracked to age the piece and the dark Ganges and Jamuna rivers flowing into the
final dyes are the color of a bruise, evoking Bay of Bengal. The wide rivers visible to
the Inuit populations pain of possibly losing the north, below the Himalayas, are loaded
their ancestral home. with sediment, which creates the multiple
winding paths on the silk. This new color
Atafu Atoll, Tokelau, South Pacific (p. 90) palette depicts flesh tones, vegetation, and
22" 22" 2010 water in an intricate design.
The satellite picture of the Atafu Atoll, taken
on 2 March 2009, was the image of the day
About the Art 129

Mouths of the Mekong, Vietnam (p. 96) 1995 to study the Colombian barrier islands,
52" 47" 1998 he came to my studio with the original maps
Matt Stutz found a military map at the Li- of the newly discovered islands. It was as-
brary of Congress that became the basis of tonishing to me to hold these papers in my
this batik. The bloody color of the South hands, knowing that even today new knowl-
China Sea contrasts with the edges of the edge is coming to light about our planet, and
tropical forests and resembles a sorrowful, that I would pioneer the illustration of the
skeleton-faced Buddha. Land mines from islands.
the Vietnam War still threaten those who
remain in this countryside. Tsunami (p. 103)
38" 35" 2005
Laguna Madre, Mexico (p. 99) According to the U.S. Geological Survey,
33" 35.75" 2009 the earthquake that triggered the great tsu-
For this artwork Orrin Pilkey supplied the nami of 2004 released energy equivalent to
aerial photograph. I enjoyed the quiet, se- 23,000 atomic bombs as powerful as the one
rene feeling that the site evoked. Like most dropped on Hiroshima. I used the noaa ani-
batiks, this one took a month to complete. mation of the tsunami in Indonesia (Suma-
The batik process is detailed and intensive, tra) on 26 December 2004 as a reference. The
yet the meditative quality of the medium light blue in the ocean shows the path of the
makes for a calming experience. destruction.

Great Barrier Reef II, Australia (p. 100) Yukon Delta, Alaska (p. ii, 105)
104" 45" 2008 44" 44" 2006
My first snorkeling adventure, in 2007 on In southwest Alaska the waters of the Yukon
the Great Barrier Reef, was my initiation and Kuskokwim rivers flow through a vast
into underwater photography. This batik is a treeless plain, or tundra. Waterfowl, shore-
synthesis of that experience, which was like birds, and fish inhabit this remote refuge,
flying under water, with colors and shapes as do nearly 25,000 Yupik Eskimo, who rely
constantly in motion. This aquatic excursion on hunting and fishing for food. The delta
makes me want to explore this realm in dif- resembles an upside- down flower in full
ferent parts of the world. bloom.

Sinking Colombian Shores (p. 101) Flying the Everglades, Florida (p. 106)
34" 63" 1998 96" 36" 1993
When Orrin Pilkey was working on a grant My brother and I rented a plane in the Keys
from the National Geographic Society in and began a photographic journey of the Ev-
130 About the Art

erglades in blue skies. The aerial landscape Earthrise (p. 120)

here is ethereal and unique. My eyes were 143" 36" 2003
busy viewing through the lens of the cam- Earth rising as seen from the moon, taken
era. When I looked out I saw a brooding gray by Apollo 11 in 1969, is a thought-provoking
sky, and a tiny blue passage in the clouds image. Seeing our moons surface in the fore-
allowed us to escape the bad weather that ground, with our planet beyond, brings to
had blown in rapidly. We landed in the wind mind the fragility of our home.
safely, like a crab, sideways.
Unlike the ostrich with its head in
Mount Pinatubo, Philippines (p. 111) the sand, humankind can face the challenges
31" 36" 2001 of climate change. Scientific fact must in-
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo produced spire ingenuity and prod our government
beautiful sunsets and sunrises all around to initiate more effective legislation to im-
the globe for years. The cooling effect of the prove the future of the stressed planet we
volcanic ash in the atmosphere has been call home.
used as evidence to support the plausibil-
ity of geoengineering. My friend Jeff Kopish
commissioned this piece after working for
the Peace Corps in this location.

Morris Island Lighthouse,

South Carolina (p. 118)
44" 36" 2001
I enjoy every part of making art, from the
leap in my heart when I see an amazing shot
through the camera lens to the final batik.
My intent is to convey the essence of place.
Once surrounded by land, the Morris Island
Lighthouse guided ships into Charleston

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Abu Dhabi, 91 Bengal tiger, 108

Acidification, of ocean, 7273, 78, 82, 9798, 101, Bhutan, xi, 61
118 Bijma, Jelle, 73
Coral reefs affected by, 74 Biochar, 114
Lab studies of, 76 Biofuels, 11315
Pteropods affected by, 74 Birds, 1078
Aerosols, 2, 1011, 31, 37, 110, 117 Boykoff, Jules, 45
Injection of, 116 Boykoff, Max, 45
Sulfates and, 116 Broadwater, Virginia, 84
Albedo, 11, 77 Broecker, Wallace, 32
Algarve Islands, 91
Allgre, Claude, 63 Caldera, Ken, 115
Alpine (mountain) glaciers, 51, 57, 63, 72 Cao, Long, 3940
Hydroelectric power loss and, 61 Carbon dioxide, 45, 1013, 1718, 3031, 4252,
Khumba Glacier, 58 6366, 73, 76, 97, 114, 119
Mendenhall Glacier, 58 Plant growth and, 3840
Sea level contribution of, 58 Removal technology and, 11213
Water supply loss and, 61 Temperature change and, 14
American Petroleum Institute, 49 Carbon isotopes, 5
Antarctic Peninsula, 16, 57 Carbonic acid, 73
Artists statements, 12330 Carteret Islands, 89
Astroturf groups, 42 Caruba, Alan, 82
Atolls, 89 Chen, J. L., 54
Chen, X., 94
Bandwagon effect, 3738 Chu, Steven, 115
Bangladesh, 94, 119 Climategate, 3234, 46
Barrier islands, 17, 87, 89, 92 Clouds, 10, 31, 7778
Abu Dhabi, 91 Coastal cities, 84
Algarve Islands, 91 Coastal engineering, 91, 94, 97
Frisian Islands, 91 Cool roofs, 115
Outer Banks, N.C., 91, 93 Cooling, global, 27
Barrier island migration, 91, 93 Consensus
Barton, Joe, 13 Public, 46
Bellamy, David, 68 Scientific, 46, 48
140 index

Coral reefs, 98, 102 Global change, xixiii, 7, 1213, 17, 2223, 29, 32,
Acidification role of, 74, 101 3350, 6167, 72, 96108, 118
Bleaching of, 101 Global climate change, xii, 1617, 2834, 4854,
Crutzen, Paul, 110 112, 117, 121
Curray, J.A., 25 Global warming, xii, 216, 2552, 6365, 72,
7882, 102, 1078, 110, 115, 117, 119
Darwin, Charles, 89 Gore, Al, 28
Deforestation, 11, 18 Goyder Line, 20
Deltas, 9394 Greenhouse effect, 19, 1415, 28, 31, 39, 4152,
Deniers, xii, 5, 13, 27, 3236, 40, 42, 47, 67, 8182 112, 117
Media and, 4446 Human connection to, xi, 2, 7
Objectives of, 50 Politicizing of, xi
Organizations for, 4850 Public acceptance of, 46
Spokespersons for, 48 Greenhouse gases, xii, 115, 25, 4851, 63,
Tactics of, 43 6669, 7273, 11021
Desertification, 18, 19 Emissions of, 29, 30
Diamond City, N.C., 85 Global warming potential of, 4, 5
Dias, D. B., 5 Lifespan of, 4, 5
Dinosaurs, 12, 53, 76 Sources of, 910
Doran, Peter T., 46, 48 Greening Earth Society, 44, 50
Dutton, Dennis, 5051 Greenland Ice Sheet, 4, 29, 5260, 66, 72, 82
Outlet glaciers, 53
East Antarctic Ice Sheet, 32, 54, 68
Edingsville, S.C., 84 Hale, Burk, 76
Environmental refugees, xi, 119 Hansen, James, 5, 36
ExxonMobil, 43, 4950, 82 Hockey stick, 28
Hogan, James, 42
Feedback, 4, 31, 112 Hooded seals, 80
Fertilization, iron, 11314 Hughes, Terry, 57
Fiala, Nathan, 10
Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, 57 Ice caps, 58
Floods, 22 Ice loss
Forest fires, 10, 17, 119 Hooded seals and, 80
Spruce pine kill-off impact, 107 Ivory gull and, 81
French Academy of Science, 63 Pacific walrus and, 81
Freons, 9 Polar bears and, 80, 8283, 104
Fretwell, Holly, 68 Ice Sheets, xixii, 1, 5, 15, 3637, 41, 5361,
Friel, Howard, 40 6772, 81
Frisian Islands, 91 Sea level rise contribution of, 55
Ice Shelves, Antarctic, 31, 58
Gates, Bill, 11516 Filchner-Ronne, 57
Geoengineering, 11019 Larsen B, 57
Support from industry for, 117 Ross, 53, 57
Geological Society of America, 33 Idso, Sherwood, 38
Glaciergate, 34 Information Council for the Environment, 43
index 141

Infrared radiation, 2 Monarch butterfly, 108

Inhofe, James, 42 Mrner, Nils Axel, 8182
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Moulins, 55
(ipcc), xi, 29, 3334, 37, 4041, 50, 81 Mount Kilimanjaro, 63, 65
Sea level rise estimated by, 36, 82 Mount Pinatubo, 110, 116, 118
Ivory gull, 81 Murray-Darling River Basin, 20

Jones, Phil, 33 National Academy of Sciences, 13, 52

Natural Environment Research Council, 27
Keith, David, 11215 Nitrous oxide, 9
Kench, Paul, 89 Northwest Passage, 7778
Khumba Glacier, 58
Koch Industries, 4950, 82 Ocean fertilization, 11314
Kolbert, Elizabeth, 36 Oman, Luke, 116
Krill, 78 Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, 51
Kyoto Protocol, 51, 113 Oreskes, Naomi, 37, 43, 52
Oregon Petition, 51
Land use changes, 11, 31 Outer Banks, N.C., 91, 93
Larsen B Ice Shelf, 57 Owensby, C., 39
Lindzen, Richard, 48, 61, 67 Ozone depletion, 78
Little Ice Age, 27
lohafex experiment, 11314 Pacific walrus, 81
Lomborg, Bjrn, 4041, 48, 81, 93 Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 9, 76
Lovelock, James, 29, 37 Palin, Sarah, 34
Peer review, 33
Maldives, 89 Permafrost melting, xii, 7, 89, 12, 15, 36, 6667,
Mangroves, 98 73, 8587
Protective function of, 102 Construction problems caused by, 65
Sundarbans, 108 Methane release and, 65, 112
Mann, Michael, 28, 34 Permian-Triassic Extinction, 9
Manufactured doubt, 32, 43, 46. See also Deniers Philip Morris, 42, 44
Martinson, Doug, 57 Pielke, Roger, Jr., 29
Mathematical models, 37 Pine Island Glacier, 57
Quantitative vs. qualitative, 36 Planktonic blooms, 11314
Mauna Loa, 5 Plants, 107, 109
McKibben, Bill, 5 Polar bears, 80, 8283, 104
Medieval Warm Period, 27 Population density, 119
Mekong Delta, 61, 94
Mendenhall Glacier, 58 Rahmstorf, Stefan, 50
Methane, 5, 7, 9, 65, 112 Reflective crops, 115
Methane hydrates (methane ice), 7, 9, 76, 112 Reforestation, 114
Miami, 85, 87 Remediation, of greenhouse gas, 11215
Miami Limestone, 87 Revelle, Roger, 73
Michaels, Patrick, 3233, 44, 48, 68, 81 Revkin, Andy, 25
Milloy, Steven, 4445 Ries, Justin, 76
142 index

Rohling, Eelco, 32 Thermal expansion, 72

Rosebacter clade bacteria, 73 Thwaites Glacier, 57
Ross Ice Shelf, 53, 57 Trenberth, K. E., 118
Royal Society of London, 27, 73, 114, 116 Tuvalu, 89

Salinization, 89 Unger, Nadine, 11

Salt marsh, 98, 102, 104, 107 Union of Concerned Scientists, 43, 4950
Satellite ice measurements, 54 United Nations Environmental Program (unep),
Sea ice 7, 29
Antarctic, 78 Usoskin, Ilya, 28
Arctic, 77, 112
Sea level rise, xixii, 12, 5, 1517, 27, 29, 31, 37, Wanless, Hal, 87
4041, 5155, 58, 6768, 73, 81106, 109 Wars, 94, 97, 119
Causes of, 72 Water, 19
Delta, 93 Water vapor, 3, 4, 14
Eustatic change and, 72 Waxman-Markey bill, 5
History of, 69 Weather, 13
ipcc estimate of, 36, 82 West Antarctic Ice Sheet, 16, 31, 5253, 67
Marsh and mangrove impact of, 102, 104 Grounding of, 54
People displaced by, 94, 97 Ice Shelf buttress, 5457
Tectonic change and, 72 Pine Island Glacier, 57
Seawalls, 74, 84, 87, 97 Thwaites Glacier, 57
Seitz, Frederick, 51 Western Fuels Association, 38, 4344, 50
Shakhova, Natalia, 7 Will, George, 78, 80
Shaw, M. Rebecca, 39
Shishmaref, Alaska, 8789 Zachos, James, 76
Shoreline erosion, 88
Zavala, Jorge, 39
Silver lining project, 116
Singer, S. Fred, 68
Skeptics. See Deniers
Solar activity, 27, 31
Solar radiation management, 112, 11516
Soon, Willie, 82
Speth, James Gustave, 41
Stafford, Ned, 39
Steffen, Alex, 117
Steward, H. Leighton, 38, 81
Storms, 1, 2325, 31
Mangroves and, 102
Suess, Hans, 73
Orrin H. Pilkey

is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus

of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the Nicholas
School of the Environment at Duke

Keith C. Pilkey

is an attorney with a longstanding interest

in the role of corporate influence in science
and policy.

Mary Edna Fraser

is a batik artist who highlights

environmental concerns and climate change
in her art; she employs ancient fabric-dyeing
techniques, photography, and conservation
science in her work.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pilkey, Orrin H., 1934
Global climate change : a primer / Orrin H. Pilkey
and Keith C. Pilkey; with batik art by Mary Edna Fraser.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978 0-8223-5095-8 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 978 0-8223-5109-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Climatic changes. 2. Global temperature changes.
3. Global warming. I. Pilkey, Keith C., 1965
II. Fraser, Mary Edna. III. Title.
qd903.p555 2011