The Sacred Path

Journeys through the mist

Category: Climate Change

Climate change and risk management

My friend and fellow blogger, Juan, posted this video from wonderingman42 on his blog and I couldn’t help posting it here as if follows along with my thinking on the subject, that there will never be complete certainty or agreement on whether or not our actions are responsible, mostly responsible, partly responsible, maybe a little responsible, probably not responsible, or not responsible. Instead of arguing to what degree we are responsible, take a different approach and look at it from the standpoint of risk management.

…and not a drop to drink

I hadn’t planned on doing another environmental post so soon after Blog Action Day, but a few environmental links hit my email inbox, and those led me to others and before I knew it, I was sitting in front of my computer hearing the tickety-tick of the keys.

In Global warming, deforestation and bark beetles, I talked about how decreased precipitation and warmer temperatures over the past couple decades were wreaking havoc on the forests in the Rocky Mountains, allowing bark beetle to gain the upper hand and kill pine trees at an alarming rate. Fewer living trees means the earth’s natural ability to cleanse the air is compromised, and as the trees die, they shift from consuming CO2 to producing it as they decay.

Reduced precipitation has another effect; there is less water available for personal, commercial, industrial and agricultural use, and it’s not just in the Rocky Mountain region. Many areas of this country – and the world – are facing this problem, some due to reduced precipitation and warmer temperatures, some due to population growth, and some a combination of the two.

  • Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada range this last summer had fallen to the lowest level in 20 years. In the second half of this century even optimistic computer models show 30-70% of the Sierra snowpack will disappear.
  • The flow of the Colorado river which relies mainly on snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains was dramatically lower this past summer. At Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona, one of the main points where the flow of the Colorado river is measured, flow was at the lowest point since measurements began 85 years ago.
  • Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado River and supplies nearly all of the water needs for Las Vegas, is half-empty and statistical models say it will never be full again.
  • Lake Powell, which borders Arizona and Utah and feeds Lake Mead, is also half-empty and it would take 20 years of average flow to fill it.
  • In 1995 it was reported that less than 10% of US electrical power came from hydroelectric plants, but reduced river flows will decrease power output at hydroelectric plants and increase our reliance on coal and natural gas-fired power plants, which in turn will release more CO2 into the atmosphere. And until there is some real solution for nuclear waste, I won’t even entertain nuclear plants as a possible solution. Burying the waste in drums below ground for future generations to deal with is the height of stupidity.
  • On October 23, 2007, it was estimated that Georgia’s Lake Lanier, which provides water for five million people, will not last more than 79 days at the current rate of consumption, and to bring it back to a normal level would require four months worth of rain.
  • The US used more than 148 trillion gallons of water in 2000 (the latest year such figures are available from the USGS), and that number includes all water use. That is almost 500,000 gallons per person. That’s enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools (Olympic-sized pool: 164 ft x 82 ft x 6.5 ft deep).
  • Over the past 100 years, much of Florida’s natural freshwater storage areas (swamplands, etc.) have succumbed to urban sprawl so they are now facing water shortages as well. In addition, each year Florida dumps hundreds of billions of gallons of treated wastewater into the Atlantic – water that could otherwise be used for irrigation.
  • In Australia, they are experiencing their worst drought in 1000 years, and there is a good chance that they are going to have to stop irrigation of crops in some areas of the country.
  • This country’s big rush to ethanol, vaunted as a knight in shining armor, is anything but in more ways than one. As an example strictly from a water requirement standpoint, in Oklahoma it takes 2900 gallons of irrigated water to produce just one bushel of corn, and it takes four times that amount to turn it into ethanol. Where is all this water to grow the corn and produce the ethanol going to come from? The “breadbasket” of the US is running on water vapor as it is.

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Global warming, deforestation and bark beetles

I decided that I would participate in Blog Action Day. Participants have been asked to blog about the environment today, October 15, 2007. Part of the reason I decided to take part was my recent journey that I shared with you in my post titled Consequences, and since I have a strong connection to nature and the nature spirits it seemed only, well… natural.

Note: You can click on any of the images below to enlarge them.

If you type “global warming” (with the quote marks) into the Google search box, it will return about 66 million hits. This will of course bring you the full gamut from pros to cons, from rants to raves, and all sorts of experts (and morons) on both sides claiming their truth is the only real truth, and their scientific god is the only true god. This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive debate of the pros and cons, but simply some personal thoughts and observations for your contemplation. Neither side knows the full truth (if it can ever be known by man), but until both sides come together and drop the egos, they haven’t a prayer. Right now all aspects of society – at least here in the US – are so polarized that we are virtually going nowhere. You’re either with us or against us goes the mantra of the day. Hopefully it does not become our epitaph.

I don’t think any rational person could seriously believe that human activity is not at least partly responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or that those gases trap heat on the earth and prevent it from being radiated back out into space. The chart at left was created by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and is from and shows world CO2 emissions starting in 1990 and projected out to 2030. We cannot keep this rate of increase up and survive.

Areas of the deep oceans are approaching temperatures that could produce massive releases of methane – another more potent greenhouse gas – from the seabed and from methane ice on the sea floor. Since relatively little of the seabed has been explored, we really have little idea how extensive and potentially devastating this problem could be.

This summer’s unprecedented high temperatures in the arctic uncovered and thawed vast areas of permafrost which in turn released more CO2 into the atmosphere as the previously frozen plant matter decayed. This is going to continue.Live vegetation takes in CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it to food, and in the process releases life-sustaining oxygen back into the air. Day by day deforestation is reducing the amount of vegetation on the earth and thus reducing nature’s ability to cleanse the air. Right now there is more CO2 – natural and manmade – being pumped into the air than the earth systems can convert. This is the environmental equivalent to deficit spending (a concept the US should be quite familiar with).

14 November 2005, Rome – Each year about 13 million hectares [32,123,699 acres or 50,193 sq miles, roughly equivalent to the area of Louisiana] of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation, but the rate of net forest loss is slowing down, thanks to new planting and natural expansion of existing forests, FAO announced today.

The annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 was 7.3 million hectares/year [18,038,692 acres or 28,185 sq miles, a little less than the area of South Carolina] — an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama — down from an estimated 8.9 million ha/yr between 1990 and 2000. This is equivalent to a net loss of 0.18 percent of the world’s forests annually. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

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