Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is the sky falling?

"The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles."
John Adams in letter to Thomas Jefferson 1816

The question of whether there is a natural law would be considered heresy to some. There are those who see God as one who tosses aside such rules on what amounts to whims. Pat Robertson prays to reverse a hurricane's path and it does. Others think a hurricane hit New Orleans because of abortion or homosexuality. If someone reasons that way, can you have a real debate about global warming?

If you look at climate from a geologic or prehistoric view, and assume there are laws of nature, the given is: Change will come. Plants that lived somewhere our whole lifetime have no guarantee they will continue. It's humans who want to think we can alter or stop change. Actually, we can; but in small ways that impact local areas. We can cut down all the forest in a region that doesn't readily grow new, and voila create a desert. We know we can to some degree alter air or water quality.

When you start discussing global warming, those who don't want any change in regulations or the government even being involved, begin with-- hey don't worry, the earth will always be here. So true, but that's not why we worry. We worry that we won't, or that a lot less of us will be able to sustain life.

The question should be a non-political one (of course, it isn't). Scientifically, are we heading into global warming on an epic scale or just a cycle that will soon reverse?

To put it more simply-- Is this Henny-penny screaming the sky is falling? Or is it "The Grasshopper and the Ant"? Are some preaching panic when there is no reason or are we humans taking our pleasures and not preparing for what is to come?

If we are facing massive climate change, was what humans have done a factor in it? Or is it just what happens? Can we change the situation if we try? Well we won't know that as we aren't trying. But are we at least preparing?

Many scientists, who do believe in global warming say that the one for sure thing is that the oceans will rise. The question being debated is how much? Seacoast towns better be thinking about this-- not that most could do much about it. Big cities like New York could right now be figuring where to build dikes as they have in the Netherlands. Except in the United States, dike-making appears to be less than state of the art.

The fisheries are changing but is that over-fishing or warming? Off the coast of Oregon there are fewer fish as the 'dead zones' expand. Salmon and steelhead aren't coming back up the streams in the numbers they once did. The ocean water is warmer (I can personally testify to this given I can wade in it and not numb my feet).

The seasons have been warmer than usual where I live in the Pacific Northwest. When I was a girl the summers were like this last one, but the winters were much colder, and my father remembered the Columbia River freezing over solid enough to drive cars on it. That certainly hasn't happened in my lifetime. Does that prove anything? Seasonal swings have been part of life on earth all along, and our entire recorded history is a short one.

One thing to make clear-- "global warming" is about climactic change. There would be places that would be warmer, but others could have an ice age descend on them.

If there is an approaching climactic catastrophe, would our government or anybody else's tell ordinary citizens about it? Not likely given they try to hide anything they think might cause panic. Are they studying it? Maybe. Are there any relocation plans in place in case they are required? Silly question given the experience of Katrina where everybody knew something like it was definitely coming, and this one is just a 'maybe.'

Personally, and maybe surprisingly to some, I don't believe Bush did wrong to refuse to sign Kyoto. Not because such an idea was a bad one; but was that treaty intended to limit emissions around the world? It was aimed at the developed nations and didn't deal with places like India and China, who are pouring out pollution. If there had been serious United Nations concern about greenhouse gases being behind the global warming, the standards would have to be worldwide.

To add to it, if the United Nations was taking climate change and the health of the earth seriously, shouldn't there be some kind of concerted effort to help Brazil stop razing the Amazon which has been a major part of oxygen balance for the world. That would require the rest of the world cooperating by sending money to help Brazil find new industries enabling them to give up their own money-maker. That has not happened and the cutting down of the Amazon continues unabated.

So what can we do? Maybe nothing. I think we should demand our government seriously study and have plans in the works on how to protect our major coastal cities. Regardless of whether emissions are factors in global warming, limiting them definitely relates to healthier air quality.

I'd like to think governments around the world were considering how they would handle a need to shift populations. In our country, Bush and Republicans aren't going to do any of that. Bush goes back and forth whether he even thinks it's a problem. Part of his constituency is convinced Christ will come again first. Republicans generally fight any increase in air quality standards on industry based on its cost. Like cockpit doors were too expensive to make solid up until 9/11 showed what expensive was.

These pictures are from a month I spent in Massachusetts. They represent the two sides of this coin. The first one is of Rockport, the second the shoreline on Cape Ann.

Rockport represents the bigger picture. Fisheries receive some of the first alerts on ocean changes. They will also be the communities submerged if the seas rise.

In the picture of Cape Ann, that air you see is not fog but smog. Until that month, I had no idea that the East Coast suffered so much pollution in the summer, but the people there said it came up from inland states like Ohio. The air was heavy with it the entire time I was there. Although I will say that kind of sky made for some interesting photographs, I doubt it was particularly healthy to breathe.


Maya's Granny said...

Living in a coastal city in Alaska, with melting glaciers and shrinking polar ice cap, with beetles from the south invading forests of the north with no protection from them, we absolutely believe in global warming.

The first thing Reagan did when he became president was have the solar panels Carter had installed on the White House removed. Think of how different things could be if he had followed Carter's lead, how we could have led the world in alternate energy sources.

Paul said...

I saw a television show that mentioned the dead zone off the Oregon coast. It indicated there is a lack of sufficient oxygen in the water killing the fish et al. Interesting.

Dick said...

I recently watched the Al Gore documentary on this issue and it is alarming. I think it is a combination of natural and man related things but it indicates that we do need some planning for the future. And that future may not be all that far away.

Parts of Puget Sound and the Hood Canal have experienced this dead zone, with the lack of oxygen in the water killing marine life. They are looking into it locally but I don't know if anything can be done about it, especially in areas of the Pacific that is so large.

These are serious questions that really do need to have some time and probably money spent on them. It really isn't all that long ago that we were in an ice age and it appears like some kind of a climate change has begun that may be speeded up by man's activities.

Rhea said...

Apropos of nothing, really, but the photo of the Rockport shack caught my eye. I live in Boston and have seen that shack a million times. It was washed out by a big storm a number of years and it was rebuilt to look exactly the same because so many folks come to Rockport to paint pictures of that shack. Hence, the shack's nickname "Motif #1." Just a small tale...

Ingineer66 said...

That is a nice story Rhea, I love the internet because people all over the world can easily share thoughts.
Rain very good post. We do mostly agree on this issue. It needs to be studied and planning for how to deal with it needs to be put in place. I personally believe we are in a natural cycle and even if we can do something about it, should we? Odds are that if man tried to tamper with the climate we would screw it up worse than what would have happened naturally. You are correct Kyoto was only to punish the "rich" countries and did nothing to the real gross polluters. The US has the best anti-pollution measures in the world and everyone else should be looking to us for inspiration not blaming us.
As for the dead spot off Oregon, it sounds scary. I am sure many people will get their doctorate thesis studying what is going on there.

And Granny do you know why Reagan had the panels removed? Maybe they didnt work right, many did not back then. Maybe they were just a democrat feel good thing. I dont know, Jimmy Carter was a mechanical engineer and probably had it all worked out. I will research it and report back. There are plenty of ifs in this world, best not to try to relive the past, but be positive about the future. I mean what if we had cars that got 40 miles per gallon in 1950 or had the mandatory recycling that we have now in 1960 or had heart defibrilators in 1920? Too many things that could have been.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

I still haven't watched Al Gore's movie, but I will soon, although I've long been a believer. I'm looking down into the city of L.A. as I type which is shrouded in fog/smog today, although it has gotten much better than it was. Down in the oilfields in Wilmington, I can see a jumping flame of overburn and the black clouds spewing into the sky. But, I know we need the oil and people needs jobs. What a paradox.

One of our grads who is a big environmentalist has a website you might be interested in, Rain. http://www.johntettemer.com He just donated some interesting looking environmental books to our alumni collection, and John is a very spiritual man.

Parapluie said...

My fishing hubby came home skunked from boating the Yaquina near Newport, Oregon. No Salmon for dinner tonight. The California sea lions, however, are as fat as can be. There were twenty sports fishing boats launched across from the Hatfield Marine Center. The word was fishing was slow maybe somebody caught a fish. My opinion is that the dead zone did not cause the poor salmon return. It is more complex and I hope studies will come up with answers.
Why are Califodrnia birds and sea life living on the Oregon coast? Is it just the temperature of the water warming or is their pollution in California? Something needed to be done last year or before. I don't know if we can reverse the changes or even slow them. But we need to try.

Ingineer66 said...

OK I looked it up the Carter solar panels were removed during Reagans presidency, there are two rumors as to why they were removed. One is that atty. general Ed Meese said it wasnt appropriate for a world superpower to have solar panels on the white house the other is that the roof was leaking and they were never put back after the roof was repaired. I know of a state government building here in town that had the same thing happen about 15 years ago. No sinister republican plot just a system that was not that efficient and a leaky roof. Here is the college where the panels were located until they were auctioned off in 2004 as being too antiquated even for them to use: http://www.unity.edu/sustainability/carter.htm

In 2002 under George W. Bush solar panels were installed back on the Whitehouse and other adjacent buildings.

Parapluie, I am curious why Cali sea life is invading Oregon. I would think there is less pollution here than most everywhere else unless it is coming from Mexico, we have incredibly stringent regulations here. We have also stopped or dramatically reduced many kinds of fishing here. I wonder if because of all the restrictions on different kinds of fishing and harvesting sea creatures that maybe the sea lions have become over populated and or increasing their grazing territory to other states where there is less competition. I know that is happening with the mountain lions here. It is illegal to hunt them at all but now there are so many that there are very few deer left for the hunters, many of whom return without having even seen a legal buck. Also the cats are coming down into the valley and into town more and more and they are no longer afraid of humans.

Rain said...

That was interesting on Motif #1 Rhea. I didn't know why it had that name. I was there in '91 and thought how gorgeous the houses were along the shore but wondered why they were safe. That same winter, they had a horrible storm and a lot of them were badly damaged.

The biggest thing I have noticed regarding beach change here in Oregon is less seabirds and shells when I am out walking. It's not so much that I would see it as damaging the salmon runs-- although if they have to go farther out for their food while in the sea, that could thin their numbers; but it's what it does to the other things that normally lived in that zone. It just seems to me when I am walking down there that I find very few shells (4 little ones this last trip) in comparison to what I remember from years gone by. Also definitely less sea birds as they are dependent on that zone for their food or they also have to fly farther for what they need and are probably tempted to move on.

Rain said...

And ingineer, is everything the fault of environmentalists in your mind? It sure seems that way.

Pine said...

This is about change. Blaming others for our (human)short-sighted actions and "natural" variation is also 'natural', just not honest!
The Pacific dead zone and others like in the Gulf of Mexice are a consequence of water and air temperature stagnation. Because the areas are so large, small average temperature differences create a large force. When the energy / fluid density becomes balanced, there is no circulation. With no circulation, there is no life supporting oxygen available. Temperature differences cause winds to blow from one region to another and water to ciculate in your kettle on the stove..watch it.
As an example of how large the forces and how dramtic it can be; many years ago (~30) I was standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon South Rim on an evening when the air was very still. Within 5 seconds after the sunset there was a loud sound of wind approaching and suddenly up from deep within the canyon the "trapped hot air" began to rise carrying with it birds, twigs, dust and wonderful smells. It died down after a few minutes and then it became very cold all around us. What happened? Energy rebalance. The forces trapping the air in the canyon were very small locally, but very strong over a large area. The air switched places. Water patterns in the oceans work the same way. Air and water are both fluids, the 'engineering rules'(equations) are the same.
Some of the things, we think of as natural patterns in the Pacific Ocean are actually affected by the temperature effects in the China Sea and tropical pacific caused by wind blowing the dust and coal smoke of China (making our goods) out to sea.
If you think that is far fetched. There are good images on NASA showing the shipping lanes in the oceans. You follow the ships from space by noting the cloud and suflur dioxode particles from their smoke stacks. Around these Seed clouds you can see the change in circulation patterns. Cover a large area and you move a lot of air and with it the water. We have a large effect from unintended actions
WAKE UP. Sea lions move for food, so do I. Bugs move north because the winters do not kill them off anymore. They were always moving, just not surviving. Things are a'change'n.

[Sorry for the long post..from 40 years in various levels of engineering and science experience..and still working !!]

Pine said...

SO. What does this mean?
If the temperature patterns in the Pacific Ocean keep changing as they are doing now, will the strength of the clockwise swirl that brings cool water and air from the Alaskan coast down the Pacific coastline be reduced? If that happens then, San Francisco looks like San Diego and the inland temperance of the pacific on flow is reduced. That COULD mean that the interior of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana get more extreme weather. While the coastal region heats up and gets drier. Forest fire time!

OR if the effect is very strong, then there is NO-wind and there is NO life after a few years. Or it all turns very violent and resets the balance ala: "Day after Tomorrow"
[we would only wish it was over in week. That was the time lapse version]

Granted, "Rapture" could come and "save us", OR there could be a massive volcano some place that fills the atmosphere with so much ash that the sun blotted out, OR we could have WW3 nuclear winter OR..
None of that helps us as a people/ species exist.

For the things we can control we have to be moderate in what we do and watch the consequences, speak / act in truth and damn the political power masters.
Blaming environmentalist for all problems with mountain lions is non-sense at best. Try blaming weak mindness in the people and weak willed leaders. That goes for most of what seems locked at a "stupid" extreme.

Ingineer66 said...

No Rain and Pine I do not blame environmentalists for everything that is wrong in the world. They are just an easy target because of some of the silly things that they sometimes do. And I know that the mountain lion situation is more complex than just no hunting allowed but I didnt want to give a Masters thesis on the subject. The mountain lion hunting issue was voted in by people living in San Francisco and LA that know nothing about living in the rural parts of the State. And I only have 20 years of various levels of engineering and science background.

Sandy said...

I have no "letters" following my name, no doctorate in anything. I do know change when I see/feel/hear it. We have sea life in our area that has never been here before and if it has it's never "shown" itself. And the weather is unlike anything we have had in many, many years, record breaking temperatures and lack of rain fall made it great for lovers of warmer weather terrible for the forests/animals and fish. We are just now seeing some of the salmon reach their areas for spawning which is unbelievably late. The reasons why for all of this? That is the question, is the sky falling? It gives me cause for concern especially if this is a change that is caused by man and one that is not going to stop unless certain things are done. Have to admit, it's still scary even it is good old mother nature but not quite as!

Rain said...

I have no expertise in science either but think it's great to have some who do posting their opinions-- differing or agreeing. It's obvious from what I read that there is much debate even within the sciences regarding this.

As for the cougar, that's not about environmentalists. It was about people who sympathize with the wild things at least here in Oregon. Yes, city folks voted in a ban on hunting cougar with dogs or using bait for them or bear, but that's nothing to do with environmentalists and should be discussed as a separate issue. Here it was done by ballot measure from a petition. Not anything I was thrilled about living out in the country and having livestock but so be it. Maybe someday it'll be rethought.