Thursday, October 6, 2011

Series of Significance: “Wanted - Ice shelves and Ozone”

[The following posts recently appeared separately. They are assembled here in one place for your convenience at no extra charge. gah]

Climate Change Concerns: PT 1 “Ice shelves disappear under our noses”

[“Features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.” D. Mueller, researcher at Carleton University, as reported in London Free Press, Sept. 28]

I recently read the first two sentences of a very small news blurb.

“Canada’s coastline is changing because ice shelves are breaking up faster than expected, experts say. Almost 50 per cent of the ice shelves have been lost in the past six years...” Sept. 28, London Free Press.

Several thoughts sprang to mind.

First. I thought of my own recent column, i.e., ‘Commuters and consumers face more frustration’ (Sept. 22, The Londoner), in which I warned that frustration related to traffic congestion and high fuel costs are nothing compared to the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.

Next I thought, somebody is reading my stuff. Something I mentioned was directly related to the news blurb.

I wrote, “Still, as we pull items off shelves in local Wal-Marts, Dollar Stores and Canadian Tire stores etc., it's important to know we contribute our fair share to coal-fired production in China, thick pollution in highly-industrialized regions, the increase in toxic pollution in the Canadian north, the erosion of shorelines in Inuit villages and the melting of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic.” (Please click here to link to full column.)

Then more thoughts quickly sprang to mind.


Climate Change Concerns: PT 2 “R.I.P. He entertained himself to death”

[“Canada’s coastline is changing because ice shelves are breaking up faster than expected, experts say. Almost 50 per cent of the ice shelves have been lost in the past six years...” Sept. 28, London Free Press.]

Third thought. The small blurb about Canada’s coastline and loss of ice shelves appeared at the bottom of an inside page in my local paper.

That means approximately 97.8% of readers will skip right over it on their way to the much larger and colourful entertainment section. I think something fairly disturbing is said about people’s priorities whenever a newspaper’s sum total interest in environmental news is contained in a few lines at the bottom of one page and is dwarfed by a review of the latest slasher flick.

Fourth. I understand that many forms of entertainment are more accessible and appealing to the masses than colourless news about ongoing changes to our natural surroundings.

For example, movies are downtown. Ice shelves are in the Arctic and Antarctic... well, for the time being anyway. Entertainment is exciting and can help many fill a few hours each day or week with a bit of zest. An ice shelf falls into the sea... where’s the fun zone in that?

Entertainment, as a topic, provides an easy way to connect socially with others.

E.g., “Hey, Josie. What did you think of Brad Pitt in Moneyball? Isn’t he - oouueeee - delicious?”

Environmental updates generally do not.

Ask your next date the following questions and you’ll immediately see what I mean.

“Billy, what do you think about the loss of ice shelves and villages in the Arctic?”

“Ice? We have ice and villages... where?” Billy will likely say. “Hey, when you say ‘ice’ I think tequila! Let’s order another drink.”

Most people will never warm up to environmental news. Modern society offers so many entertaining diversions and we don’t catch the connection between our behaviour and environmental degradation.

But some people do.


Climate Change Concerns: PT 3 “What’s that big hole over our heads?”

Some people do read and act upon environmental news. Some people have made the connection between mankind’s personal habits and the natural world around us.

Now, I’m not advocating we all stop viewing Corrie Street on TV in order to read books about our responsibilities related to climate change. However, once the hour-long program is over, keeping up on environmental news would be a very good use of our time.

Though we likely know quite a bit about the degrading effect of BP’s oil disaster upon the Gulf Of Mexico because news was transmitted in many forms almost daily for several weeks not all that long ago, I don’t recommend we wait ‘til there’s an oil disaster in the North before we learn about a part of our country that is slowly (some scientists would say ‘rapidly’) disappearing.

Some worrying information concerning the effects of our behaviour in the far north - other than in Greenland; its loss of ice depth has been well-recorded for many years - has been receiving growing attention in a few arms of the media lately.

Already I’ve mentioned a few sentences from a recent news clipping:

“Canada’s coastline is changing because ice shelves are breaking up faster than expected, experts say. Almost 50 per cent of the ice shelves have been lost in the past six years... Features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.” D. Mueller, researcher at Carleton University, as reported in London Free Press, Sept. 28]

Prior to that news I read about the loss of Arctic shoreline in ‘You Are Here’ by T. M. Kostigen. When the author bunked at Shishmaref Village Emergency Station a few years ago, he saw the destruction of the Arctic shoreline - and parts of the village - first hand. (The entire village will have to be moved at great expense in the near future. Because of the loss of shoreline around the globe, the Inuit will not be alone in having to move to a new, less-troublesome location, but they will be among the first).

[“The northern lights, prettier than the northern hole”: photo link]

Most recently, news about a growing hole in the Arctic’s ozone layer has been reported.

The following appears on an online news site:

NASA Discovers Northern Arctic Ozone Loss by Kevin Lee, PCWorld

Scientists have discovered an unprecedented depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer in the Northern Arctic region. A NASA-led study released on October 2 in the journal Nature reports that a loss of ozone similar to the one found in the Antarctic has begun to develop due to a prolonged period of low temperatures.

The Ozone layer is the stratosphere, extending from about 10 to 20 miles (15 to 35 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth. Ozone is a molecule made up of three-oxygen-atoms that absorb 97 to 99-percent of the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.

The next sentence in the same article reveals mankind’s fingerprints have been found in space.

The Ozone layer suffers some amount of damage every winter, as the cold temperatures cause ozone-destroying forms chlorine to be converted from human-produced chemicals.

"The difference from previous winters is that temperatures were low enough to produce ozone-destroying forms of chlorine for a much longer time,” said lead author of the study Gloria Manney, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press release. "This implies that if winter Arctic stratospheric temperatures drop just slightly in the future, for example as a result of climate change, then severe Arctic ozone loss may occur more frequently."

A large hole. Our fingerprints. 10 to 20 miles over our heads.

What next?


Climate Change Concerns: PT 4 “We put a hole in our bucket, Dear Liza”

[“On some occasions, Arctic haze covers an area two to four times the size of the United States.” T.M. Kostigen]

Long before news hit the fan about a hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic, scientists were studying the problem of warm air in the far north.

“Twenty-five years ago, a project began to determine the source of Arctic haze, which is a thick, brown layer of fog that can be seen at high altitudes in the region, most visibly in the springtime,” writes T.M. Kostigen, author of ‘You Are Here.’

I’m sure if I saw the haze, it would remind me of the thick, yellowish-brown fog that blows across Lake Erie and the corn and soy fields SW of London, Ontario when coal-burning energy and industrial plants are in operation on the south side of the lake.

Kostigen continues, “At first, it was thought to come from local air pollution or dust from the Gobi Desert. After ten years, the data collected from the project showed Arctic haze contains high concentrations of human-made gases and aerosols. This pollution flows up to six thousand miles eastward into the Arctic basin, where it stagnates just north of the polar front.”

Unfortunately, the haze traps sunlight, which leads to warmer air and ocean temperatures. As well, the “human-made gases and aerosols” affects the ozone layer high above the polar region.

Recently, Professor Jonathan Shanklin of The British Antarctic Study said the loss itself of ozone and the greenhouse effect is causing the upper atmosphere to become colder, which is a condition that facilitates ozone destruction.

"The atmosphere is changing, and one of the key changes is that the ozone layer is getting colder. And when it gets colder, particularly during the winter, we can get clouds actually forming in the ozone layer, and these clouds are the key factor. Chemistry can take place on them that activates the chlorine and makes it very much easier for it to destroy the ozone. It's getting colder because of the greenhouse gases that are being liberated by all the emissions we have at the surface.” (link to full article)

Why worry about the hole in the ozone?

At another site under the Arctic Ozone umbrella I read something that addresses ‘why worry’ and ‘for how long.’

Record stratospheric ozone loss in the arctic in spring of 2011

Geneva, 5 April 2011 — Depletion of the ozone layer- the shield that protects life on Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet rays - has reached an unprecedented level over the Arctic this spring because of the continuing presence of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and a very cold winter in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere.

The record loss is despite an international agreement which has been very successful in cutting production and consumption of ozone destroying chemicals. Because of the long atmospheric lifetimes of these compounds it will take several decades before their concentrations are back down to pre-1980 levels, the target agreed in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

...Without the Montreal Protocol, this year’s ozone destruction would most likely have been worse. The slow recovery of the ozone layer is due to the fact that ozone-depleting substances stay in the atmosphere for several decades. In the polar regions the drop in ozone depleting gases is 10% of what is required to return to the 1980 benchmark level. (link to full article)

Twenty-five years ago the Arctic haze acted as a warning concerning individual, corporate and government behaviour.

Today, harmful holes in the ozone - with our fingerprints attached - act as an even greater warning.

It will be interesting to see if another protocol is enacted and subsequently ignored, if another treaty is signed and hidden at the bottom of a desk drawer.

I predict that, based on past human history, only the most severe environmental and economic crisis will nudge the majority away from its many distractions and in the right direction, toward a small, more sustainable lifestyle.

I wonder if the next crisis is just around the corner?


Please click here to read more re Climate Change Concerns.


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