Monday, June 27, 2016

Final reflection on Greenland ... by gimleteye

Greenland stays in one's mind like the after-pattern of a bright image when one's eyes are closed.

It is a difficult place to get to, from the east coast of the United States with few connections from Iceland or Denmark often interrupted by bad weather. Because of harsh weather conditions, even in the summer, the tourism infrastructure is lagging, but the remoteness is more than made up by the awe-inspiring and majestic beauty of the place.

The ice cap of Greenland is melting fast. Computer models of sea level rise are ...
not keeping up with feedback loops for which there is no historical record: extreme heat, drought, flood, fires and the additions to the atmosphere not just of carbon dioxide from the burning of oil and coal and gas, but the release of methane from safe-keeping in the permafrost and warming oceans.

A visit to Iceland forces one to match these discordant facts -- a storyline on which civilization hangs in the balance -- with the awe-inspiring beauty of the place. It is unsettling. I didn't expect surprises. This was, after all, my second visit to Greenland since 2013. But I was surprised when I stepped off the helicopter onto the melting ice cap and sunk to my calves in slush. I felt a sense of fear I hadn't experienced by a landscape: dread.

In preparation for my visit, I corresponded with one of the world's leading scientists on glaciers and climate change, Jason Box. Box, featured in Rolling Stone last year, recently tweeted: "CO2 in air: Last time CO2 was at 400ppm, oceans were 15m-20m higher, temps 2–3°C warmer."

We are on a climate change path that is irreversible within our lifetimes and perhaps for many generations ahead.

The only question is whether we have the political willpower -- not just in the United States -- to embrace mitigation strategies and costs well in advance of when we may be too poor, as industrialized nations, to do anything about a rapidly changing climate. What do I mean, by "too poor"?

Our national tax base depends on a vast, multi-trillion dollar infrastructure that supports the stable asset value of personal property and of businesses, both large and small. Climate change is already sending shock waves, although we are now resilient enough to absorb them.

I'm thinking of beach erosion on the east coast, that so far has only put a few communities in harm's way. I'm thinking of extreme weather events that are piling up but have yet to affect the wealthy or insurance rates or forced evacuation of cities. I'm thinking of mass migrations out of sub Saharan Africa and parts of the Mideast, where temperatures are so high and drought so ferocious that whole populations are on the move.

The migration crisis was at the heart of last week's vote by Britain to leave the EU, but it is not yet linked by economists to climate change. The military knows the difference. In this context, I'm thinking of last week's vote by the GOP-led Congress to prohibit the US military from spending funds on climate change contingency planning.

Amidst all this depressing news, how is it possible to retain a sense of optimism about the future? I have a final photo to share, along that line of explanation. The grand vistas of Greenland, of icebergs framed against fjords and dramatic landscapes, are well-known, but the majesty of the place reveals through the miniature flora that manages to survive and to thrive in a country whose arctic climate is so harsh, it does not contain a single tree.

The miniature landscape of the arctic tundra is awe-inspiring, itself. It is a metaphor for the power of acts of kindness, compassion, and beauty in a harsh world. Take heart that courage can also be a small and beautiful flame, and that hope can find nourishment and thrive on the slimmest edge of reason.

What we are fighting for is very, very valuable. We haven't found another climate like the one that sustains us in the entire explored universe. Every voter and taxpayer who fights against polluters and toxics in the air and in our water is fighting for the greatest cause in the history of the world: that the smallest wonders can become greatest ones; held equally, irrespective of race, religion or of creed; so that we -- with all our imperfections -- do not possess the mirror reflecting beauty, respect and honor but that we take our lessons from creation and that its prosperity, bounty and irrepressible growth reflect our best natures. That is hope.


Geniusofdespair said...

OMG such a great column.

Roberto said...

Your respected scientist wrote: "Last time CO2 was at 400ppm, oceans were 15m-20m higher, temps 2–3°C warmer."

So when did that occur and how did the climate get that way? Was the ocean rise at that time caused by mankind (e.g., caveman cars and caveman coal plants) or was it naturally occurring?

Also, who was doing the CO2 measurements back then in parts per million? Was it a Neanderthal or a Cromagnon scientist?

Anonymous said...

thanks -- that last picture really moves me.

Anonymous said...

Response to Roberto:

CO2 has been taken up by plants and cyanobacteria and locked into the earth as coal, oil, and gas. Previously it was higher. Volcanos have occasionally flooded the atmosphere with CO2 as well.

Bubbles of ancient atmosphere are locked in deep ice in Greenland & Antarctica, where they can be (and are) cored and measured by modern scientists with modern instrumentation.

Now apologize to Mr. Farago for behaving like a ninnyboobus.