Your weekly climate science reading recommendations. This week the FM site provides good news for those worried about the melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels.
(1) “Defying Predictions, Sea Level Rise Begins to Slow“, Michael Asher, DailyTech, 15 December 2009
(2) “Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979“, Michael Asher, DailyTech, 1 January 2009 — See the following article (#3) for more about this.
(3) This was confirmed by a note in The Cryosphere Today, published by the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois (here), although they disagree about the longer-term climatic impact of ice changes at two poles.
(4) This question is on the edge of what we know about climate dynamics. For a detailed discussion of one theory (south polar ice more important) see “Polar Sea Ice Changes are Having a Net Cooling Effect on the Climate“, Steven Goddard, Watts Up with That, 10 January 2009. A clear explanation of one of the many complexities that make cartoon-like explanations of Earth’s climate so absurd.
The following is not an article about climate science, but about the laypeople who have built a religion upon aspects of it — an 21st century American version of cargo cults.
(5) “‘The end’ as a weapon“, Tom Krattenmaker, op-ed in USA Today, 15 December 2008 — “Some environmentalists have their own fixation with the apocalypse – just not the biblical one. This involves the wrath of nature and the ecological end times. But fear is an ineffective tool for any cause.” An excerpt appears below.
(5) ““‘The end’ as a weapon“, Tom Krattenmaker, op-ed in USA Today, 15 December 2008 — Excerpt:
Some environmentalists have their own fixation with the apocalypse – just not the biblical one. This involves the wrath of nature and the ecological end times. But fear is an ineffective tool for any cause.
… Turn your attention to a strain of thought ascendant in secular, environmentalist America and you might be surprised to find a similar apocalypse fixation, minus the Book of Revelation and anti-Christ parts. Call it the secular theology of environmental collapse – the fearful conviction that the hopelessly corrupt world as we know it has entered its death throes, with massive destruction stalking ever nearer.
Given the huge challenges facing this country and the constant barrage of “be afraid!” messages from politics and pulpits, it’s understandable that many of us have a close relationship with dread.
Yet we should remain wary of doomsday fantasizing, in either its religious or secular form. For history shows that such thinking, whether it revolves around the wrath of God or the rage of nature, has a way of embarrassing the doomsayers – and, more important, hampering much needed progress along the way….
Waiting for the rapture has its secular analog in a phenomenon you might term “dystopian dread”: a growing sense of imminent ecological collapse – the ecopocalypse, if you will. Particularly ascendant here in the lush green and relatively unchurched Pacific Northwest, the narrative offers a form of secular theology that resembles aspects of the Left Behind scenarios. Instead of God, nature unleashes its wrath on “sinful” humanity; instead of the savior’s second coming, ecotheology awaits a green utopia in which electric cars, locally grown organic food and post-consumer-culture sustainability rise in the ashes of disaster.
Proctor and a research team are exploring the phenomenon through interviews with members of utopian communities in Oregon and surveys of the general population. The preliminary polling results point in an intriguing direction. Secular Americans who regard nature as inherently sacred (a cohort that could include 20% of the population or more) identify strongly with concepts of an environmentalist utopia. And those who yearn for green perfection often struggle with expectations of its dark-side twin: “dystopian” doom.
“You find that people working for a utopian future have tremendous fear about things turning out differently,” Proctor explains. “Utopias are often framed against a dystopian nightmare,” he adds, producing a kind of all-or-nothing fixation on perfection and its perfect opposite.
Reality, in truth, is usually grayer and messier. Wind turbines, for instance, can certainly mar pristine views and wildlife habitat, and concerns of precisely that sort have been raised against wind-power farms in the Mojave Desert and elsewhere. Is the regrettable blemish a worthwhile price to pay to advance green energy?
As the dilemma suggests, maybe we should spend less time and angst on utopias and doomsdays and focus on the less dramatic question: Short of perfect, how do we make things simply better?
This is similar to views expressed in We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008.
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