Archive for the ‘Himalayas’ Category
With my thanks to Climate Denial Crock of the Week, I present this Spot the Difference competition using photos of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska taken in 1938 (USGS), 1986 and 2011 (NASA).
As a Google search of images of the Columbia Glacier will reveal, it had been static for decades prior to the 1980s, since when it has retreated 12 miles. In the 2011 photo, the terminus of the glacier (or rather glaciers – since the West and Main branches no longer meet) can be found by looking for the point where the stripes in the glacier are replaced by the mish-mash of floating ice and underwater morraine (thin red line added by me – see Climate Denial Crock of the Week for a better look at the orginals). The extent of this particular retreat would be much clearer if the 2011 photo had been taken in July too. However, even so, the evidence is clear: After decades (if not centuries and/or millennia of stability), the glacier has retreated 12 miles in less than 30 years.
This pattern is repeated all over the world; and the only place where glaciers may not currently be retreating like this is the Himalayas; which are the highest mountains on Earth (albeit nearest the equator). However, as predicted, the polar regions of the planet are warming fastest; therefore the retreat is more noticeable at higher latitudes. Despite all this, glaciers in the Himalayas have retreated over the last 90 years, so any current hiatus in retreat there (i.e. probably caused by a combination of atmospheric pollution, oceanic circulation effects and low sun spot activity) is not good grounds for global complacency and/or optimism. Glaciers that have retreated 12 miles are not suddenly going to grow back in any timescale relevant to human lifetimes. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that wherever they are retreating, the rate of retreat is accelerating due to subglacial lubrication by meltwater, etc. (i.e. one of many insidious positive feedback mechanism we can do little or nothing to stop). This is the Anthropocene Era writ large on the canvas of our planet.
Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures from The World Glacier Monitoring Service.
If you are already a subscriber and tweeter, please consider following me on Twitter too; I am now going to feed all my comments to it (i.e. not just my posts). This may turn out to be a dangerous experiment; or it may turn out to be an important piece of self-regulation that will help me think hard before I write anything… It also seems crazy not to maximise its potential usefulness having created an account; something I said I would never do as nobody is interested in me – Barry Woods would be proud of me for saying this…
Important update: I appear to be wrong (it does happen): Unless or until someone tells me otherwise, it turns out you can’t do this (i.e. send comments automatically to Twitter), so I will just have to pretend it is happening in order to exercise some self-control…
So then, here goes: Until the next post, please enjoy these visual postcards from my Trek to Everest Base Camp in November 2008.This was a memorable moment: There I was, on the first full day trekking (after the first full night in the mountains), literally just aclimatising to being over 2700 metres above sea level (ASL) – and just about recovering from the trauma of flying into the crazy airport at Lukla – just about getting used to being surrounded by any number of majestic peaks and ridges over 5000 m ASL – when what should greet my eyes but this view of one of the prettiest peaks in the lower Dudhe Koshi valley; framed beautifully by the overhanging tree branches. Thamserku again, this time rising high above the wonderful multi-coloured roofs of the town, with its huge market (attracting traders from both Nepal and Tibet) nestled in a hanging valley on the left (north) side of the Bhote Koshi valley. If you look carefully, you may notice grease on the lense in the bottom left corner but, other than that, this was one of those moments that proves it is worth taking the time to find the right vantage point (rather than just snapping the first view you see).
Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, verses 3 to 9 read as follows:
What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Was this written because God knew, one day, we would have climate change “sceptics”?
May be not, but they sure is wearing me out!
The Earth is not as immutable as it may seem and, having treated it with contempt for 200 years or so, having ignored the evidence of ever-growing adverse impact, having failed to heed the warnings we’ve been given… the glaciers are now receding; the permafrost is now thawing; the sea ice is now melting; and sea levels, temperatures and acidity are all now rising at rates they have not since before modern civilisation emerged.
So, yes, there is something new under the Sun: anthropogenic climate disruption!
OK, so it may be 5 billion years from now but, even the Sun has a finite source of fuel: Nothing lasts forever and in turning hydrogen into helium, the Sun is like a pig defecating in its (very large) pig pen; eventually all the hydrogen will be turned into helium and it will balloon in size to become a red giant like Betelgeuse (in the Constellation of Orion)is now.
So we are in no immediate danger but, nonetheless, humanity desperately needs to acknowledge that all things come to an end and, since this includes fossil fuels, the time to invest in our future survival is now.
In my recent response to hearing about Canada’s incredibly short-sighted policy of seeking to become the world’s greatest energy super power (i.e. sell as much fossil fuel to anybody that will buy it), I found myself saying, “…when you get so desperate for fossil fuels that you start digging up something that needs five times more energy input (compared to conventional crude oil) to get the energy out of it, it surely must be time to invest in cheaper alternative forms of energy.” This really does beg the question, why are energy companies chasing ever-harder fossil fuels rather than investing in easier ways earning a living?
Last December, the brilliant satirist Charlie Brooker, who previously gave us such delights as ‘How to Report the News’ in his Newswipe series, produced a mini-series called Black Mirror (i.e. a television when not in use), which included an episode entitled 15 Million Merits, which featured a dystopic future society where no-one goes outside (because the environment has been completely trashed?) and everyone is kept fit by peddling gymnasium bicycles (that generate all the electricity needed to keep everyone alive) whilst being entertained by all manner of TV programmes (including ruthlessly exploitative and amoral talent contests). It was immensely funny but also slightly scary; because it could so easily be where we are headed…
We need to stop treating nature as an enormous warehouse whose goods can be used up without paying for them; and start living in a way that reflects the fact that our survival as a species is dependent upon nature not being degraded to the point that it ceases to function properly. If we do not, the Sun is not going to go out but, in not so many decades from now, it might get hot enough that we cannot go outside (much) to enjoy it.
UPDATE: As an addendum to this post, I would urge all climate change “agnostics” to read my response to John Kosowski’s questions posed in response to the above.
Also, yes, I did capture both of these images myself, and – yes – for the second time in a decade I flew in an aeroplane (six Hail Mary’s for that I guess).