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Understanding Global Warming

I have a hard time getting the Republican’s take in the issue of global warming. I say this because my two main areas for any news about global warming are either (A) the liberal show The Daily Show, or (B) AM talk radio, which is invariably Republican (even though half of them say only “conservative”). It’s depressing to say that these are the only two — politically sided — areas that even bring up with topic. And all this time I thought worrying about worrying about the future of the planet we live on was something that shouldn’t have a political bent.
Oh, wait, I can’t believe I just said that. Of course something talking about the status of the planet — i.e. environmentalism — is going to have a political bent. Which I suppose is what makes me personally odd — I believe people should have the right to work hard and earn money and get ahead without government spending taking away half of your profits (that sound extremely Republican), but I also believe we have to very, very concerned about how we treat this planet, because the more we as humans do to this planet, the more we disturb it (which sounds like a screaming Democratic view). But I believe we should worry about the planet because it does affect our lives, and our getting ahead (that’s probably why I wouldn’t support wither party in an election), and since both parties seem to have opposing views on global warming, I don’t know how to trust anymore.
Listen to talk radio (I’m afraid I have over the years, only because I like to hear people stating opinions whether or not I agree with them, that’s the journalist in me), and you’ll hear people claim that there is no connection to what humans have done to the climate. Well, part of the reason there’s no proof of that may be that people couldn’t test the affect on the atmosphere before humans existed, and real testing of this nature have only arisen in recent years. Then hear republican pundits (like Sean Hannity, or other talking heads on the radio waves) bring up the fact that cows probably produce more gases that affect our environment than humans. Or more realistically and honestly, a volcanic eruption spews more toxic gases into the atmosphere than humans could do over years.
Hmm. That’s a good point.
Then tune into The Daily Show and hear Jon Stewart interview the past Vice President Bob Dole, talking not about politics (he says he’s out of politics now) but about global warming. What once started as a PowerPoint slide show presentation in speeches has become a move, An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming and it’s effect on our environment and the future climate.
I saw that this movie came out, and I thought of Fahrenheit 9/11, from Michael Moore, who wanted to post his slanted “documentary” (anyone who chooses to create a documentary will add their slanted view to what they choose to cover) as an actual movie to see if he could win more awards for it (it didn’t win). And then I thought of hearing how the Republican talking heads on talk radio ripped this fat producer a new you-know-what for all of the inconsistent slants he put on everything in his movie. Maybe this global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was just another obnoxious slant to...
To what? To get people to vote for Gore? Well, if he’s not running for any offices, that can’t be it.
Okay, I can’t really write about this topic if I don’t see the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Normally I wait for movies to come out on DVD if I’m too impatient to wait for it to appear on cable (like I did with Fahrenheit 9/11), but... If I’m going to talk about this, I should probably watch more than a Discovery Channel commentary on global warming.
Well, I’m making a point to watch An Inconvenient Truth now, so I can talk to you with more perspectives on global warming. So for now I have to only rely on crap like the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel (and newspapers and stuff), but even going on what I see around me alone, there’s still a ton to say.

Checking for Changes in the Rain Forests

Okay, okay, I’ve been watching Discovery Channel and the Science channel for news on this, and there was a show that talked about global warming — and evidence of effects on human’s lives can be seen by looking at the history in rain forest trees. They showed a great deal of footage in the Amazon rain forest, and one researcher there talked at great length about seeing, by looking at the details in tree rings (don’t cut down too many rain forest trees to look at too many tree ring samples, though — let’s try to preserve the rain forest here) that you could see that effects of human activity in different times in history has caused such climactic changes that it has even altered the way these rain forest trees grew.
Now, that might not sound like a big deal to you, but as I have mentioned in poetry before, with the variety of species of trees and plant life in the rain forest, and with the fact that in looking for cures to diseases it’s a lot easier to find elements to cures in nature instead of trying to manufacture something, it is a lot easier to find cures in a rain forest tree instead of trying to invent it on our own. And a tree that grows in the rain forest may be the only one of its kind — or one like it may be sparse, or two miles away from it (instead of next to it).
I have to interject something here. I learned that orange juice from concentrate (that stuff that’s cheaper and states bad), now always has a percentage of the oranges used in it from oranges grown on previous rain forest land. This means that people made a conscious decision to cut down rain forest land to plant orange groves, probably in a country like Brazil.
So if you want to make a difference on a local level, stop using orange juice from concentrate — and that includes getting mixed drinks with orange juice in bars that use concentrate orange juice, or drinking orange juice on an airplane when the only orange juice they offer is from concentrate.
And think of it this way: rain forests are one natural source to eliminate (or at least reduce) CO2 from the air — and as we destroy rain forest land, and as climate changes from global warming bring on a cycle of the reduction in rain forest land, we’re losing one natural avenue this planet has for counteracting global warming.
But getting back to the rain forest and global warming point, researchers have found evidence that the way we have treated the earth has affected the rain forest badly. There was even footage in this Discovery Channel documentary that some parts of some rain forests are even starting to die off because of climate changes. People can argue about the wasted human land by allowing rain forests to exist, but for the benefits they can give — from potential disease cures to the ability to help to regulate the climate of the entire planet by its existence — the rain forest does have value to this planet, and to its health.

Global Warming Up North: Alaska

I’ve looked at a newspaper for a week straight now, and I’ve seen more than one article about global warming. The most recent AP article I read talked of a conference of mayors in Alaska getting together to do something about the affect of global warming on their own state. Dan Joling from AP even reported that an iceberg from the Portage Glacier, a major Alaska tourist attraction (other than the Aurora Borealis) has retreated so far that it can’t even be seen from a multi-million dollar tourist center built in 1986.
“We’re noticing the ground’s not freezing like it used to,” said Nome Mayor Denise Michaels. And Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich said, “We need to take concrete steps now to make our communities more resilient to climate change, and we have a responsibility to put in place cost-saving efficient strategies to reduce our emissions.” They’re in the process of installing a methane gas recovery system at an Anchorage landfill, and are hoping these changes can help save their area.

Global Warming Up North: Siberia & Melting Permafrost

You know, after seeing a number of television shows on global warming, I decided to check out the newspapers and see if I could see anything new, and what do you know — in one week’s time I come across article after article about different facets of issues with global warming. I read an AP article about how scientists see a new global warming threat by finding out the melting permafrost (soil that has been froze for thousands of years) releases methane into the atmosphere. Seth Borenstein (an AP Science Writer) even called this problem of once-frozen permafrost “self-perpetuating climate time bomb.”
If we think we’re causing enough damage to the atmosphere, consider what researchers found out: as “the Earth warms, greenhouse gases once stuck in the long-frozen soil are bubbling into the atmosphere,” according to a recent study. What this means is that methane which is trapped in a special kind of permafrost end up bubbling up and out into the atmosphere because of melting permafrost from existing global warming conditions — and it’s being released at five times it’s original measured journal rates.
Now, what makes this permafrost so potentially dangerous is that thousands of years ago, from a past rapid onset ice age, there were many carbon-rich plants were trapped. As this permafrost is thawed, that carbon is released as methane if underwater in lakes (like it is in much of Siberia), and if it is dry when it is released, it is released as carbon dioxide. So they’re noting the beginning of this cycle (which many scientists in the field are dreading the beginning of, mind you), where the melting of permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which further creates the “greenhouse effect,” by heating up the Earth more, releasing more permafrost, making our atmosphere even more unforgiving to live in. Now, people have noticed the abundant release of methane from this study so not here that methane is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the more prevalent carbon dioxide. “The higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost we melt, the more tendency it is to become a more vicious cycle,” said Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “That’s the thing that is scary about this whole thing. There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tends to shut it off.”
Now, this has been seen mostly in Siberia, but it also happens elsewhere on the planet. And if we wonder if humans are such a bad influence, well, we may have hastened this cycle, which will cause greater problems. Seth even noted that “Another study earlier this summer in the journal Science found that the amount of carbon trapped in this type of permafrost — called yedoma — is much more prevalent than originally thought and may be 100 times the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels.” And “Most of this yedoma is in north and eastern Siberia, areas that until recently had not been studied at length by scientists.”
Ad although this permafrost exists in Alaska and Canada, it exists in great amounts in Siberia, where any melting permafrost is likely to be released as the more dangerous methane to our atmosphere.

Global Warming Down South

Okay, you know I like to travel. Other than every one of the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico (I also like warm places, evidently), I’ve also taken pictures in 15 European countries, Russia and China. One of the places I’ve wanted to travel to for a long time (but haven’t because of the cost) is to take a boat trip to Antarctica. I mean tell me, who can say they’ve taken a trip to the southernmost continent on the planet? Now, I know I like warm places, but as a photographer I think it would be stunning to be able to photograph such majestic icebergs in one of the most remote places on the planet.
Well, I’ve been saying I want to go, see if there’s any chance I could photograph indigenous animals there, freeze my butt off to see a landscape of ice and snow. But now I think I have more reason to want to go to Antarctica — I saw on the science channel information about estimates that by around the year 2065, there will be no loose ice in the summers in Antarctica. What that means is the every summer in Antarctica, there is, at the water’s edges, there are chunks of ice floating around in the water. Scientist’s estimates say that in less than 50 year’s time, there won’t even by ice floating around in the summers at Antarctica. That translates to higher water levels around the globe, because what used to be floating ice will be dissolved into water.
I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal. But the thing is, animals that were used to the conditions in Antarctica before are having a harder time surviving there because of the gradual changing climate. And this also means that water motion on the planet will chance, because of a melting rate at our southern ice caps. And addition of enough water along the Earth will also have a detrimental effect on existing oceanfront land. I’ve heard estimates something like if the ocean levels rise only a few inches, or maybe a foot, we would be bound to lose tens to hundreds of feet at all of our shorelines.
So much for oceanfront property.
So if we think these changes in Antarctica don’t affect us up north here, think again. Los Angeles, Florida, Hell, any costal region is affected. Things that we think are distant and remote problems can quickly come to haunt us.

Changing Temperatures & the Oceans You know, I’ve been talking about the effects of global warming near the poles, but temperature changes effect all parts of the planet — and climate changes effect all animal life existing on Earth. We as humans have learned to adjust over the 30 years where there have been climate changes, but not all animals can just “pick up and move” to a place that suits their desired temperature needs. Animals that can’t move with the climate will have to either (very quickly) genetically alter their make-up as they reproduce (talk about putting Darwin to the test here...), or else animals and species will just die off. I can say that polar bears at the poles won’t be able to adjust to changing temperatures, and they won’t be able to move. And you can see evidence of the effects of these temperature changes even under water.
Yes, you’d think that fish can swim to somewhere else, but the environment of the water conditions won’t move with them, and, well, things like coral can’t move. Take this example: The Great Barrier Reef, off of Australia, has been revered for its beauty, but scientists are seeing now in the Reef that the coral that used to have vivid colors (partly because of algae) are now appearing only as a bleached white. The algae that normally grows with the coral isn’t growing in the new conditions in the area, and the affect of light and temperate have a direct on the existing coral there as well. In other words, adaptability can only go so far. some things can’t grow with the changing conditions, causing a lot of death to assorted parts of the planet.

The Science of Carbon Sequestration

I just saw an interview about this with a guy form MIT on CNN today. You see, carbon monoxide is one of the worst gases that contributes to o-zone, destruction, and with all of the energy we speed though in our lives (you know, heating our homes, fueling our Hummers, even flying airplanes or using cruise boats, that kind of nonsense), we have to find a way to reduce the carbon monoxide we emit — of find a good way to hide it from our air. People have figured out that (like they do with nuclear radioactive material here in the States) if you’re willing to make the financial investment, you can remove the carbon (which will end up joining up with other elements and destroying the o-zone) from energy production, and, well, you can contain it and shove it at the bottom of the ocean (you know, like shoving radioactive waste deep underground). Apparently I think Sweden is doing this to some extent, and it’s working to help the carbon monoxide emissions.
Good plan, if you want to fork over the money to make this system work.
But then I have to think for a moment: is this really the smartest move? I mean, I can’t help but think that by shoving our radioactive waste deep underground, or shoving our carbon monoxide deep in tanks under the ocean, we’re not learning to correct the errors that are destroying our earth, but we’re allowing ourselves to continue doing whatever we want to do, and trying to shove our problems out of the way so we don’t have to worry about what we do right now. All I can think is that we will have to one day deal with the waste we are producing and trying to sweep under the carpet. I don’t care whether that “carpet” is deep under dirt or at the bottom of the ocean, but I promise you, it will come back to haunt us. And maybe we won’t be alive when that happens, but is everyone okay with leaving horrendous problems such as this for our descendants to deal with? And I mean, we can’t change what company execs do, and we can’t alter the legislation of our government, but we can do our own personal part to make the world a better place. I’ve sworn up and down that the next car I purchase will be a hybrid, and I’m for motorcycle or scooter use (using less gas and causing less harm to the o-zone), or even bicycle use when you can get away with it. Using newer light bulbs that save energy (yes, the size of your electric bill donates to companies increasing carbon monoxide into the air), or adjusting your thermostat to use less energy can make a difference. And Hell, although I can’t say I support not purchasing print copies of cc&d, using less paper can save on trees being cut down. Like the song by The The says, “If you can’t change the world, then change yourself.” If we can’t do anything about what big brother is doing, we can make a change for ourselves, and other can see your changes, and maybe adopt those helpful ideas for themselves. This country is not one large mass, but a group of individuals — and as individuals we can make a difference.

I Can’t Solve This Problem Myself...

People feel lackadaisical about, say, voting for a party you’re confident will not win, you wonder, ‘why should I even bother voting anyway?’ So people don’t see the efforts of just their own activities making a difference. I bring that up, because if you ask the average person, they’ll say they’re concerned about global warming, but they probably also own a gas-guzzling SUV. The average home contributes to CO2 emissions with the heat and air conditioning they use, with their televisions always on or lights in on the house when people aren’t even in the room, or... Well, I don’t know what else, but I’m sure there are more things that every person could do that would make a difference in the amount of CO2 emissions added to this sky-rocketing problem. It’s hard enough that countries like China are going at 120% to mass-market themselves and use more energy (thanks to all their coal emissions), and it’s even harder that the United States won’t support the Kyoto Protocol they helped to create to help the world conserve energy. But does that mean all hope is lost? I hope not, because some of the things I do because i’m cheap are probably things that would help us from further contributing to global warming.
What does that mean? I means that when looking to buy a car, I refuse to get a car with less than 30mpg on the highway. 34 is better. Why? Because I don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for gas. The next car I plan to purchase will be a hybrid, you know, to save more at the pump. But it’s not just saving me money out of my wallet whenever I have to fill up my gas tank, it is also meaning that I am contributing less C)2 to the atmosphere. What else? I yell at my husband when he leaves a room and the light is still on. We have windows in the house during the day, so I don’t bother turning lights on unless it’s too dark.
Hell, I’ve even got candles, which looks more romantic than light bulbs... And I thought that meant I’m using less energy, but candles produce heat (another thing we use energy for). But when I mentioned that to my brainiac husband, he said no, candles and natural flame actually emit more bad stuff than an electrical current into the atmosphere — from the wick or candle wax burning to the amount of energy the open flame releases into the atmosphere. So great, I thought I was doing something good for the environment, but I was just being cheap and not paying for electricity on that one. So maybe it’s just that no matter what we humans do we’ll contribute to the problem of global warming. But the thing is, maybe with the choices we make about what we do in our day to day lives, maybe we can keep the problem from getting that much worse.
All of this doesn’t mean I’m Miss-Energy-Conservationist or anything, I leave my computer on in sleep mode (which although it’s not using as much energy then as when it is when it’s running, it’s still using energy), and I just recently heard that computers and televisions — even when not on at all — still use energy (maybe about 40%). If I was a freak, I cold unplug my televisions and computer when they’re not on.
Hmm. I don’t know about the computers (honestly, I use them all the time), but maybe I’ll go around the house now and unplug the TVs I never watch. Maybe it’s a little more work, but I don’t need to be contributing to the problem — and I don’t need to be paying more for energy that I have to...




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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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