Category Archives: Climate

Taking Action to Reduce Global Warming

Causes of Global Warming

Man-made global warming has been the product of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels with high carbon concentrations like coal, petroleum, and natural gas.  Human deforestation has also been a cause for global warming because plants absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise go into the atmosphere.  When carbon gases rise to the atmosphere, they create a blanket that traps heat and raises the temperate of the planet.

Consequences of Global Warming

Global warming is producing heat waves around the globe that are causing health problems in humans and the environment.  Heat waves are yielding thunderstorms, heavy rains, and floods that are destroying crops, and completely eradicating ecological systems.  Coral reefs in the oceans are dying because the warm water temperature is creating a bleaching effect.  Polar ice caps are melting in the artic and water levels are rising worldwide, making islands disappear.  If current trends continue, the arctic ice could be completely melted by the year 2040.

Help Stop Global Warming

The best thing you can do to help stop global warming is to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle.  Stay clear of materialism and consumerism and not only will you help stop global warming, but you will also improve your self-esteem.  The less you care about material possesions, the less you will consume, and the less products that manufactures have to produce.

Use your bike to go to work or take public transportation whenever you can.  Recycle and buy recycled products.  It takes a great amount of energy to manufacture new products when factories have to extract, refine and process the Earth’s natural resources.  Much less energy is required when factories work with recycled material.

Buy your groceries from local stores and farmer’s markets to reduce the transportation impact on the atmosphere.  Choose more vegetarian meals as it takes energy to feed and process livestock for meat.

Only buy energy efficient appliances for your home.  The lower consumption in electricity means the power plants do not have to generate as much, and thus do not have to burn as much fossil fuels.

Read about more global warming and the environment at www.gogreenacademy.com.

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The Role of Marshes in Ancient City Sustainability: Recent Findings & Modern Applications

Until current research brought the prevailing opinions of leading archaeologists into question, it was widely believed that ancient cities in Mesopotamia sprang up alongside rivers. The theory was that river proximity allowed ancient city inhabitants to irrigate the surrounding desert, thus making the land arable. It was thought that cities such as Ur, which is believed to have originated near the mouth of the Euphrates River sometime in the 25th century B.C., were able to sustain themselves because of their ability to irrigate the surrounding areas with river water.

New Ideas

Interestingly, Dr. Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina has been pursuing a different explanation for the connection between water and ancient cities. She posits that early urban areas in Iraq were sustainable because of their location in marshes, not beside rivers.

Marsh Arabs in a mashoofThis might seem like a technicality, but it’s an insightful observation that’s changing the way archaeologists perceive the origins of ancient urban areas. If Iraq’s ancient cities thrived in lowland marshes fed by rivers, their inhabitants used resources in different ways than they would have if they had relied on irrigation to provide them with a way to grow food from the land. Pournelle and her research team have reason to believe that Iraq’s ancient southern cities were successful because of their location in marshes that easily sustained rice crops.

Digging Deeper

Together with an archaeologist from Pennsylvania and a geologist from Missouri, the South Carolinian research assistant combined excavation records, archaeological site maps, and aerial and satellite images to recreate an accurate representation of the ancient environment in southern Iraq. Pournelle’s work differs from previous efforts to study the ancient urban characteristics of this area in several ways. First, her efforts are the most recent after a short burst of interest from 1900 to 1950. Additionally, her work includes a comprehensive study of flora and fauna where previous archaeologists focused mainly on objects and architecture. And with recent developments in technology, she’s been able to combine research strategies to reveal a more holistic view of the ancient cities that thrived in the marshes of southern Iraq.

According to Pournelle’s work, marsh resources, wildlife, and environmental conditions were vital to the process of sustaining cities. These same conditions are also integral to our understanding of these civilizations and how they were able to function. In an interview published in a physorg.com article, Pournelle confidently states that the key to these cities’ long-term survival, as compared with cities in other environments, was the wetlands. Marsh areas have their own distinct ecology, different from riverside environments, and those unique characteristics were vitally important to some of the oldest cities in the world.

Iraq and South Carolina

Connecting past and present, Pournelle points out some of the commonalities between ancient (and modern) Iraq and the current problems being faced in South Carolina. She thinks that the two  regions, which have  similar environmental characteristics, can inform us about important modern-day issues. Both Iraq and South Carolina are working to overcome problems with water resource management, pollution control, coastal and port development, and environmental management.

Pournelle plans to continue her research in Iraq, hoping to uncover ancient sustainability strategies that might have parallel applications in her own century and state.

Author

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes to succeed as a student taking a bachelors degree program remotely from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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Civilization, War and Climate Change

Over the years there has been growing debate over whether civilization and the environment are integrally linked. Many scientists believe this to be the case, as it appears that several major events in the history of civilization have had an impact on the environment, while major environmental changes have also altered the course of human history. For instance, the Mongolian conquest of the 13th and 14th centuries altered carbon emissions, whereas the Roman Empire flourished during a period of rich summers, and subsequently fell apart during a period of erratic seasons.

Illustration of a Mongol WarriorRecently, scientists have uncovered evidence that suggests the Mongolian conquest of large portions of Asia, the Middle East and Europe may have had an impact on carbon dioxide emissions. When the Mongolians invaded these areas, they often destroyed entire crops, severely affecting the regions’ agriculture. As a result, many farms were abandoned, allowing the forests to take over the land. Thus, during 13th and 14th centuries, these forests were able to grow markedly and absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The study claims that the total decrease in carbon dioxide during this period would be enough to cancel out one year of modern carbon emissions from gasoline. Yet it is important to remember that the Mongolian period of conquest extended across almost two centuries, which means that the actual yearly reductions were relatively insignificant in comparison with our current level of emissions. Nonetheless, the study does show that major events in human society are capable of having an impact in on the environment.

Another study, published in the Feb. 4 issue of Science magazine, also demonstrates the relationship between civilization and the climate. According to the authors of the study, the height of the Roman Empire occurred during a period when the growing season was consistently experiencing optimal conditions. Such conditions provided great economic wealth and the means to uphold the structure of the empire. Thus, the citizens of lands conquered by the empire were much less likely to show dissent.

Conversely, the collapse of the Roman Empire occurred during a period of erratic environmental conditions (perhaps partly due to agricultural overproduction within the empire) that yielded poor or mediocre crops. Without a steady food-supply, the empire faced dissent among its citizens. As the power structure was threatened within, the empire became susceptible to invasion from without and collapsed. In this way, environmental factors defined two of the largest events in Western history: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

Jared Diamond expounds upon this idea in his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

According to Diamond, geographical determinism has defined the prosperity of American society. For instance, the vast natural resources of the country spurred our economy tremendously in the early days of the industrial revolution and our physical isolation from the rest of Western society has allowed us to remain prosperous after two world wars. Clearly, much of what makes America dominant is the physical geography that defines it as a nation.

Although the world’s booms and busts have been influenced by environmental factors, ultimately it seems that civilization has had a much larger impact on the environment. In the last 300 years, human population has increased by a factor of 10. Two worldwide wars have been fought and industrial growth has continued to increase in developed and under-developed countries at an unprecedented level. While many of these developments have been beneficial to civilization, the impact on the environment has not been so positive.

One of the negative effects brought about by civilization is the trend of global warming. Since 1750, human beings have steadily increased their production of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases. These gases are emitted into the atmosphere as by-products of fossil fuel burning, agriculture (in fertilizers and from increased numbers of livestock) and other industrial products, such as refrigerants and aerosols. The greater concentration of these gases in the atmosphere increases the atmosphere’s ability to retain heat radiated from the sun or earth’s surface. Thus, we are experiencing global warming: an increase in the average global temperature. This increase amounts to about 0.74 degrees Celsius. While a difference of less than one degree may seem inconsequential, the average global temperature has only shown an increase of six degrees Celsius since the ice age, which means environmentalists and scientists both have every reason to be concerned about the state of our ecosystem.

By drawing from scientific studies and historical examples, we can clearly see civilization is integrally linked to the environment. Like Genghis Khan, we haven’t undertaken our endeavors with the purpose of changing the environment. Nonetheless, the implementation of large-scale activities such as automobile use, airplane travel, and even war, have significantly impacted the environment and may have very serious consequences for civilization. However, unlike Genghis Khan, we have the scientific knowledge to evaluate and limit the negative consequences of our actions. Hopefully, we will be able to learn from history in time to make a difference.

Author

Ashley Warner is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She currently resides in Washington state.


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Effects of climate change on polar bears

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are in the news again because of dire predictions for the coming decades on their population numbers. The effects of climate change have been predicted to impact the polar regions first and most dramatically according to most models, and indeed, it is at the poles where we are recording some of the most dramatic examples of climate change. Polar bears, being the largest of the living bear species, are charismatic and popular, and because of the likely impact that climate change will have on them they have become a poster species for the climate issue.

polar bear

Polar bear, Ursus maritimus.

In a recent interview bear expert Andrew Derocher predicted that one population of polar bears (western Hudson Bay) could see its numbers drop too low to be viable within three decades (Yale Environment 360 2010). We have explored polar bears and their populations in other posts. Here I want to examine why changes in sea ice and warmer periods are such a concern for polar bears.

Polar bears evolved relatively recently, diverging from an ancestral brown bear population about 150,000 years ago (Lindqvist et al. 2010). There is a unique population of brown bears that live on Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof (ABC) islands of southeastern Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago. This population, called the ABC bears, is the closest brown bear relatives of the polar bears—early members of this population split off to live full time on the sea ice, evolving into the modern polar bear species. Thus, polar bears are an example of rapid mammalian evolution, undergoing morphologic changes such as elongated snouts, overall size changes, furry padded feet, and color changes, as well as social and metabolic changes to adapt to the rhythms of the arctic seasons.

It is their complex adaptations to living on the rugged ice that makes them most susceptible to changes in that habitat. They use the ice as a platform for hunting seals, as a habitat for finding mates and mating, and for traveling long distances. As the ice breaks up earlier in the spring, and re-freezes later in the winter, several weeks of prime hunting time are taken away from the polar bears. Today, they are able to spend almost three weeks less on the ice hunting than they were able to several decades ago. This is critical because after the ice breaks up for the year, the bears must fast until the next season, and longer times of open water means long fasting periods.

This can be critical for a female bear that must gestate her young, birth them, and begin to nurse them to a size large enough that they can accompany her onto the ice for hunting the next season. So, she is expending a great deal of energy in contributing to the growth of her young while fasting. If she did not build enough fat reserves the year before to withstand this metabolic marathon, she and her offspring will not survive into the following year. A few additional weeks of having to fast can be the difference between life and death.

The intimate connection that polar bears have evolved with their arctic habitat means that they are finely tuned to changes in that world. And with the effects of climate change appearing in the arctic regions first, they are in fact akin to the “canary in the coal mine,” a harbinger of things to come.

References:

Lindqvist, C., S. C. Schuster, Y. Sun, S. L. Talbot, J. Qi, A. Ratan, L. P. Tomsho, L. Kasson, E. Zeyl, J. Aars, W. Miller, Ó. Ingólfsson, L. Bachmann, and Ø. Wiig. 2010. Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yale Environment 360. 2010. For Hudson Bay polar bears, the end is already in sight. http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2293.

Additional related posts:
Polar Bear Populations
Public Opinion and a Geologic Perspective on the Effects of Global Warming
IPCC

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Polar Bear populations

In an earlier post about the effects of climate change I made the point that there is a lack of intellectual honesty in the political climate change debate and a comment on that article provides a perfect example.

The commenter quoted an opinion piece by Gerald Warner. Mr. Warner cites population estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group that summarizes 19 sub-populations of bears. The summary of the population status is that 8 are declining, 3 are stable, 1 is increasing, and the other 7 are unknown. They currently estimate a world population of approximately 25,000 individuals. (See the footnote)

The most flagrant claim made by Mr. Warner is “the actual statistics” that since 1970 polar bear population has quintupled from 5,000 to an estimated 25,000 individuals.

A quick search revealed an article by Terence Jeffrey that gives at least partial references for “the actual statistics.” In his article, Jeffrey relates a history of scientific polar bear population estimates over the last five decades. An honest reading of his article shows that less was known early on and with increased efforts made to study polar bear numbers, we have better estimates now. Who would have guessed?

Quoting from Jeffrey, in 1965 world population of polar bears was estimated to be “5,000 to 8,000 animals,” “over 10,000” or “17,000 to 19,000 animals.” So, the apparent basis of “the actual statistics” of Mr. Warner comes from the extreme lowest estimate of bear populations in the 1960s to the estimate of the modern populations to get a quintupling. I am not sure in which universe this counts as “actual statistics.”

All of this clearly demonstrates one of the main points I made in the earlier story—the dishonest manipulation of scientific information for the express purpose of confounding the public is all too common in the political debate of climate. I am afraid it is only going to get worse, and my stated hope for intellectual honesty in politics is looking less likely all the time.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/index.html

Jeffrey, T. 2008. The great polar bear population puzzle. http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=26627

Warner, G. 2010. Climategate: two more bricks fall out of the wall of deceit—rainforests and polar bears. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/geraldwarner/100030204/climategate-two-more-bricks-fall-out-of-the-ipcc-wall-of-deceit-rainforests-and-polar-bears/

Footnote: I wanted to examine the trends in the known population numbers a bit more as given by the IUCN, so here are some observations. Of the 19 sub-populations, they currently estimate the population of 14 and declare a status for 12 of them. By taking an average of the high and low population estimate for each of the given areas, the sum is 18,461.5 bears. This is the sum of the averages for all the estimated areas. There are 5 areas with un-estimated populations, so there are more bears in the world. Plus, the average may not be the best estimate for each area and is no doubt low for some areas and high for others. So, a total global estimate of 25,000 is reasonable enough.

If we sum the estimated populations by status (declining, increasing, stable, and unknown) we see that 52% of the known population is classed as declining; 2% are classed as increasing; 19% are classed as stable; and 28% have an unknown status.

So, over half the known population of polar bears are in declining populations. More than a quarter are unknown as to their population status. Almost 20% appear at this time to be stable in population numbers, and 2% seem to be increasing. I fail to see how anyone could construe these data to say that “polar bears appear to thrive on warming” (quote from Warner).

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