Vanishing Ice and Future Economics

In my novel, TWIST, set in the year 2075, the seas have risen as a result of global warming, inundating the coastal cities and driving the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River valley. The current exhibition at the Whatcom Museum, entitled Vanishing Ice, presents a sobering visual record of the process that has been taking us there for the past 250 years.

Seventy works of art – photos, videos and paintings by a range of international artists – depict alpine and polar environments, highlighting the massive recession of glaciers and ice fields, the fundamental changes caused by global warming.

This leads us into another dimension of dystopian economics, as a follow-up to my previous post, The Chapstick At The End Of The World: the increasing economic value of an ever-more-scarce ecology.

Vanishing Ice by Noble -- Click To Enlarge

In the utopian scenario, we foresee wealthy ecotourists paying big bucks to visit the last few penguins and polar bears in their native habitat. For example, here is a print from the museum show by Anne Noble, entitled Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica, and described as follows: “Anne Noble juxtaposes Antarctica’s seemingly inaccessible landscape with empty plastic chairs that perhaps represent the droves of tourists eager to experience the ice before climate change transforms the continent. A sense of loss pervades her work, as Antarctica becomes yet another commodity for the taking.”

Vanishing Ice by Braasch -- Click To Enlarge

But then there is the dystopian vision of this future, in which desperate tribes of humans armed with pointy sticks fight for control of the few remaining repositories of fresh water, since the glaciers and snowfields which fed them are long gone. Take a look at this pair of photos of the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, the more recent shot in 2005 by Gary Braasch, compared to Arthur Oliver Wheeler’s 1917 image. From the description in the museum exhibit:“ [they] confirm the scientific data that the Athabasca Glacier has lost half its volume and retreated almost a mile (1.5 km) since its discovery in 1898.

Hate to be Mr. Negative, but what do you think? Take a look at Vanishing Ice and decide for yourself.

Climate Change = Conflict

Ever read the paper, logged in to the guardian, or turned on the news and felt like the world was transforming into a more hellish and violent place every day? Well, scientists definitely noticed. New research looked at studies around the world spanning 100’s of years and found a strange and frightening correlation: Climate Change = Conflict! As the numbers on the thermometer mount so do murder, assault, domestic violence, and the number of wars and ethnic conflicts.

In Twist, this correlation rears its ugly head. The climate of 2075 is devastated, the ozone is all but depleted, and Wichita is a place of murder and mayhem. Is this our future? The global temperature is estimated to rise 3.6° F by 2050, which could lead to a 15% rise in crime and a 50% increase in group conflict. My response: Sanctified excrement, we are in for it now…

So here comes the big question: WHY? Why does humanity react to climate change with such violence? Well, no one knows…yet. Some ideas: Perhaps because climate affects economic conditions which also leads to higher crime? Maybe there is a psychological explanation: studies link higher aggression to higher temperatures—I guess I’m not the only person who gets testy when the sun blazes. Or, is this correlation insignificant? Remember, correlation does not prove causation. What do you think?

In my opinion, it makes perfect sense that humanity is affected by climate change. Lobsters are becoming cannibalistic due to global warming, many animals are threatened with extinction, and maybe humanity’s reaction is aggression and violence. It seems the world may have more to lose than just ecosystems and species. The good in humanity may also be at stake.Climate Change and humans

Ice to Lakes And Oceans To Steam

A vast expanse of sparkling snow and ice, a chill in the air that only polar bears can stand, and frozen water as far as the eye can see. This was the North Pole on April 30th. Global Warming

Clear water with only a hint of blue, the sun dancing off the surface of a lake, light reflecting back on all who approach. This is the North Pole now.

After reading that the North Pole has turned into a lake, it seemed like everything else I saw today was about some cataclysmic event. Next, I read this cheery article: Ice-free Arctic in two years. An Arctic expert, Prof Peter Wadhams, now projects that the Arctic will be melty slush and all the summer ice will disappear by 2015. While hard to believe, after seeing the picture of a melted north pole, this seemed plausible and holds a thread of terror for me.

Then, that thread turned into a whole damn sweater—the planet overheating, the oceans boiling, the atmosphere filling with steam, and the earth dying. This little scenario is what happened to our nearby neighbor Venus, and according to new research this maybe what’s in store for Earth. As the sun gets brighter and warmer our planet will enter a danger zone where runaway greenhouse effects take over. The Good news? This will not happen for at least 1.5 billion years, and it is unlikely that we mere mortals can cause this event without the help of a hotter sun.

Santa’s workshop may be screwed and the Arctic may disappear, but don’t worry, the oceans won’t boil quite yet.

Earth’s Crystal Ball

The Antarctic getting hot, ice sheets turning into slush, Colorado-sized ice slabs slipping into the ocean, and sea levels rising 65 feet. This dystopian picture is not just one from Twist, but is a reflection of the Earth’s past and her future.

“Who told us there was no such thing as global warming? Bye-bye L.A. Bye-bye New York, San Francisco, Miami—all the costal cities gone, and the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi valley right to our front door. If only I’d had a crystal ball.”

Adam Twist’s wish might just have come true: researchers seem to have a new crystal ball, Earth’s geological record. Lately, in environmental news, studies have been linking events from thousands of years past to our plausible future. A few weeks ago, I blogged about how evidence from weathering 93 million years ago shows the way our planet will recover from global warming in the future. Today, I read a new study that explores a time period, 5.3 million years ago, when the atmosphere had similar levels of CO2.  According to this study, the high temperatures and CO2 count 5 million years ago are what we expect the Earth to reach again by the year 3000. During that harsh period, almost no ice sheets survived. The ice sheets on Greenland and the West Antarctic were completely melted. They previously thought the East Antarctic was safe and cold; however, researchers discovered it was quickly liquefying too. This contributed to the rapid and high rise in sea levels. Scientists are predicting that if temperature increases remain constant and ice melts as it has in the past, the seas could rise 65 feet! To repeat Adam Twist,  “Bye-bye”.


Good News, That Is Basically Bad News


It seems the Earth is constantly full of surprises. She is tougher and more fragile than we all thought. Would you prefer the good or the bad news first?

It’s a Monday, so I’m going to start with the good news. A new study just found that the Earth can recover from high carbon dioxide emissions up to four times faster than we originally thought. Scientists got a sneak peak at Earth’s past coping mechanisms by looking at a time, 93 million years ago, when the CO2 emitted by volcanic eruptions was similar to the CO2 emitted by humans today. They found that chemical weathering speeds up, as temperatures on the planet rise. This allows the planet to cool down and CO2 in the atmosphere to decline, by storing some of the CO2 in rocks and the ocean. Thanks to this process, the planet can recover exceedingly faster than previously thought possible.

Sounds like incredible news right? WRONG! Apparently this process takes 300,000 years! That still sounds like a hell of a long time to me! Not only that, but this process only begins to work when carbon emissions cease. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. To add to the bad news, chemical weathering, while helping the atmosphere recover, can cause mass extinctions in the ocean! So, while I’m happy it won’t take over 1 million years for the Earth to recover, I would like to avoid making her wait 300,000 years. A scientist involved in the research said, “If we stopped all emissions today this recovery would still take hundreds of thousands of years. We have to start doing something soon to remove CO2 from the atmosphere if we don’t want to see a repeat of the kind of mass extinctions that global warming has triggered in the past.”

But as Adam Twist says, “We had been warned about ozone depletion, pollution, deforestation, and all that. But talking about it was one thing — trying to live with it was something else.”

Let’s Talk About Words

Rhetoric: “the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers that attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations.”

Being a writer, I am no stranger to rhetoric. I have spent years honing and applying rhetoric to my novels, plays, and even this blog. Rhetoric is a bewitching art that gives shape and meaning to language. However, I read an editorial today that made me think about rhetoric in a different way. If you own a TV or a radio, you are constantly hearing rhetoric. Whether it’s a politician begging for your vote or an ad convincing you that your dish soap is just not good enough, rhetoric is everywhere. When it comes to politics and policy making we, me included, tend to take in good rhetoric without thinking. Look at Obama’s speech that I blogged about. While I agree with his ideas, he uses a lot of rhetoric and not a lot of scientific facts. The article I read today focuses on this lack of hard evidence in public discourse. “To make the best policy decisions we need to start with all the evidence that we can gather. It must be presented openly and honestly, particularly recognizing any uncertainties.” This article makes a good point. I prefer the the fire and passion of rhetoric, but when is the last time you heard a politician admit uncertainties? It’s probably been awhile… I really don’t enjoy sitting down and reading a mundane and long scientific report on climate change; however, these often dull reports are the key to developing a position on issues like climate change. Whether you’re an adamant supporter of things like coal plants and GMO’s, or holding a protest sign against them, we should all take a minute to look at the boring hard evidence and leave the fiery rhetoric asidetemporarily of course.

Threats of Global Warming

If Adam Twist could hop off the pages of Twist and into 2013, I think he would appreciate this part of Obama’s speech on Tuesday: “The question is not whether we need to act, the question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.” No truer words could have been spoken. However, it occurs to me, is it already too late? While reading about the president’s speech I found another story that outlines some of things we could lose if global warming continues. There are the obvious things like loss of coral reefs, polar bears, land mass, and fish populations. However, we could also lose some of the little pleasures in life: food and drink. Wine, German beer, honey, peanut butter, chocolate, strawberries, and disturbingly, coffee. These are just some of the many products that global warming threatens. Whether you’re concerned with rising green house gases, melting glaciers, devastated ecosystems, or not being able to get your caffeine fix, we should all think about what a warmer planet will mean.

fire planet

Ice-Free Alaska

Ice, polar bears, salmon, parkas, and cold. These are just a few of the stereotypes that pop into my head when I think of Alaska. Now, try and imagine an ice-free Alaska, 100° weather, and melting sea ice. It’s a crazy thought, but we may all have to get used to the idea. A picture taken a few days ago shows a melting Arctic and a nearly ice free Alaska. The same day the picture was taken it was 96° in Talkeetna, Alaska, which usually has an average max temperature of 64.4°, for June. According to one article, “the state is likely to see the first climate change refugees in North America, due to rising sea levels swamping native villages on the Arctic Ocean.” In my novel Twist, the Gulf of Mexico has risen all the way up the Mississippi River Valley to Wichita, Kansas, and the sun blisters skin in seconds. According to this new report, it looks like the northern hemisphere may be in similar trouble soon.

Our Dystopian Present

When we think about global warming and climate change what often comes to mind are visions of smog covered cities, toxic polluted rivers, and giant gaping holes in the ozone. However, I think we all tend to forget the scariest consequences of global warming: people starving to death because of famine, extreme tornadoes and storms, villages flooding, and the livelihood of hundreds threatened. A report came out today, from the World Bank, laying out a grim future. It said that a rise in temperature by 2° Celsius, in the near future, may hold people in extreme poverty, cause massive food shortages, create droughts in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, increase flooding and extreme drought in South Asia, and bring severe storms to South East Asia. According to the report, the people who will suffer the most from these climate changes are those that are already struggling with poverty. Not only that, but those that will experience these hardships had little to do with causing climate change. It seems unjust that because of environmental damage caused by wealthy industrial nations, those in poorer developing nations are going to suffer. All of these predictions sound like a scene right out of Twist. I hope the words of my novel don’t come true, but according to the new report the year 2075 may not be that far off.


Looking at the pictures of the wildfire damage, I felt that I, like the very atmosphere of earth, was suffocating. The thought of how this will affect our planet, how long our world will suffer, the effects that we will never know and will never be able to stop…  all crushing the life out of me. But then, after looking at the fiery scene, I was brought up short. The distant fire glowing neon through the smoky darkness stole my heart back to a distant smoke-filled memory from a more innocent time, when smoke was a good thing, and we never even considered the damage to our own lungs, or to the lungs of the earth…
I was a traveling blues musician, working the back road clubs in Europe. Those were days when people went to clubs to remember, just for a night, that life was itself an occasion for celebration. There were no designated drivers, no “political correctness”, and no non-smoking zones — there was smoking, and lots of it. Cigar smoke mixed with the multitude of European cigarette varieties – French Gauloises, British Senior Service, and the rich nutty aroma of Balkan Sobranies.  Through it all filtered the perfume of whatever the folks were smoking backstage, creating a haze that hung stale during the day and was revived fresh every night. Looking at the crowd from onstage, all the faces were softened by the blur of the smoke, which added an aura of warmth and beauty. The buzz of conversation and laughter seemed to be amplified by the smoke, merging with the vibrations of my guitar until the thick air seemed alive. It felt like life, excitement and joy, and I inhaled it with all the intensity of a man being saved from drowning. You bet your ass, I inhaled.