Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Enough Cold- Put Up Fence Between U.S. & Canada

December 15, 2010 1 comment

Alberta in red- proposed fence in black

So, I was thinking. We’ve built thousands of miles of fences between us and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants who are not the problem they used to be because there are no more jobs in America. What we really need is a super-high fence between us and Canada to keep out the Arctic air masses.

You think I jest?

From the Modesto Bee newspaper just a few months ago:

The bad economy and stepped-up federal immigration audits have dramatically slowed the influx of illegal immigrants, experts say.

Demographers, government officials and business leaders say illegal immigrants not only are returning to their homelands in response to more intense government scrutiny, they’re also staying there.

And as word spreads that jobs are harder to come by in the United States because of the recession, others are deciding not to come in the first place, slowing an unprecedented flood of immigrants that’s lasted more than a decade.

Meanwhile…from Maine to Georgia, from Minnesota to Texas…we are all chilled to the bone, dressed in multiple layers as inhuman, frigid, arctic winds make a mockery of our sad attempts to keep warm. Water pipes are bursting, people are bitching, the bitter cold is killing strawberries in Florida and taking down gigantic stadiums in Minneapolis.

We are 20 degrees below normal and this comes on the heels of one of the worst winters in history last year. The real peril, my friends, is from the north.

So how big does this American/Canadian fence need to be? Here are some simple, undisputed facts about earth’s atmosphere, from a brief article entitled How High is the Atmosphere, by meteorologist, Jeff Haby:

5.5 kilometers- about half the atmosphere is below this height
9.0 kilometers- about 70% of the atmosphere is below this height
16.0 kilometers- about 90% of the atmosphere is below this height
36.0 kilometers- about 99% of the atmosphere is below this height
100.0 kilometers- atmosphere is so thin that it is virtually the vacuum of space
above 600 kilometers- atmosphere is so thin that it is considered outer space

It’s got to be higher than the jet stream, right? Jets actually use those tailwinds and they’re usually at 35,000 to 37,000 feet. For sure the American/Canadian fence needs to be higher than that which would be about 7 miles up.

Using my trusty kilometers-to-miles conversion chart, 16 kilometers translates to just short of ten miles…and as you can plainly see—90% of the atmosphere is below that height.

I don’t think we need to build the fence the entire length of the border with Canada. The frigid air is not coming from the extreme west. That’s where Vancouver is and that’s a fairly temperate zone with temperatures in the 50s most of the time. Not a lot of cold air comes down to us from the east either. That’s St. John’s and Halifax. If it stays this cold from now on we could get their icebergs, but not frigid air.

The culprit resides in the North Pole and generally comes down from the Canadian province of Alberta- hence the term Alberta Clipper. The way I see it, we should be ok if we start the fence at Idaho/Montana and continue east to Lake Superior. We don’t have to worry about the other Great Lakes because people in Michigan, Indiana, Upstate New York, etc., are already used to that Lake-effect snow stuff.

Needless to say, construction of a 10-mile high, 1000-mile long fence would create a shitload of jobs.

And it has to be retractable. If we don’t allow some cold Canadian air in, our summers will be more miserable than they already are.

The American/Canadian fence also has to be lowered for about a five-hour period around midnight, December 24th into the 25th. We wouldn’t want to have to scrape Rudolph off the giant structure. That would be both sad and difficult to explain to the children.

Al and Tipper Call It Quits

If the office water cooler conversation at your workplace was anything like the one at mine, here were the immediate reactions to Al and Tipper Gore’s break-up- in this order: Shock. Does Al have a new squeeze? Wait-maybe it was Tipper that kicked him to the curb?

For sure, there is unanimous consensus that “The Kiss” they performed at the 2000 Democratic National Convention was one of the weirdest, most awkward, and fake kisses of all time. I remember seeing them do that kiss thing at the time and thinking, “Wow, it looks like they haven’t kissed each other in years.”

Of course, the reason for the long, sloppy wet kiss was to point out to the world that he was the un-Clinton and that while Bubba may spend his days dodging flying plates from Hillary, Al and Tipper are the picture of bliss; at long last- a stable, loving relationship.

Which leads, of course to the immediate observation that- wow- Bill and Hillary are still together. They have actually outlasted Al and Tipper.

There will be much conjecture, of course, on why the climate change between Al and Tipper. I am sure the National Enquirer is out in force in Tennessee and California handing crisp $100 bills for any all information leading to any smarmy details that may explain the break-up.

Or- maybe after 40 years- it’s just time for a change and nothing nefarious is involved.

Or, better yet- and if you think about it- it’s totally feasible. I have to credit a work colleague for this theory: She recently confronted him. “No. I will not buy a Hybrid. I want a Ford Expedition, dammit.” Might this have been a matter of incompatible carbon footprints?

Climate Change: Now the South Pole

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

As I have said before and often, I am not convinced it’s man or industry that’s at fault. I have no clue what’s causing it and I am not certain an air-tight case can be made that global climate change is our doing. But more evidence is gathering that our climate is changing, and more specifically- that it is warming.

The well documented shrinking of the Arctic ice shelf is now being matched by developments in the Antarctic. Check out this press release just issued by the United States Geological Survey today.

In a nutshell, it says that climate change is causing ice shelves in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula to retreat. The possible effects are glacier retreat and a serious rise in sea levels, “threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide.”

This is directly from the USGS report:

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

The U.S. Geological Survey is not a political organization. Driven by the need to document the topographical characteristics of the largest addition of land mass in the nation’s history- the Louisiana Purchase of 1809- an act of Congress created the USGS on March 3rd, 1879. Their scientific disciplines include biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is about science in its purest form.

They will continue watching this situation because it a very big deal. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 91% of earth’s glacier ice. If it melts, purchasing beachfront property would not be advisable.  Or just buy 100 miles inland- it will become beachfront property.

Oh, that’s right. It snowed a lot this winter. Never mind.

Snow Mounds Still Marring Life in DC

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, I was wrong. We are not the new Chicago. It’s been TWO weeks since the first snow flakes ushered in our storm of the century and there are still huge mounds of snow at intersections, entire lanes of highways and major thoroughfares that remain blocked off and significant portions of hardened ice on sidewalks.

The people of the DC area may be a little heartier and grizzled than they were before, but our state and local governments have shown all the winter acumen of Dade County, Florida. I don’t want to hear Mayor Fenty bragging about how well the city handled the twin storms. You didn’t. You tried but you failed. Your only ally has been the sunshine and the few degrees above freezing God has chosen to give you for a few hours each day.

Commuting nightmares continue. Metro is still swarming with massive crowds; all the people who don’t want to waste hours of their lives sitting in their cars not moving. We don’t even want to go into trash pick-up and the latest bane of people’s existence- potholes big enough to stop speeding Toyotas in their tracks.

I don’t own a car anymore. Gave up the automotive habit when I moved to Manhattan, a city uniquely equipped to handle a walking-subway-cabbing lifestyle. DC is very different which is why I moved two blocks from work and one block from a Metro station and, coincidently, to an apartment complex where a Zip-car happens to be parked in the back everyday. My exposure to the area’s continuing snow headaches is primarily sidewalk-related. But I have co-workers still arriving late to work everyday and friends posting their commuting frustrations on Facebook on a regular basis.

Eventually, because we have seasons, someday this crap will all go away. But it is absolutely nuts that on February 19th, the good people of this region are still dealing with a snowfall that began at 10:45am on Friday, February the 5th. Mother Nature can dump tons of snow and then eventually melt it or wash it away- but she needs a little help.

Categories: Climate Change

Transitioning to Normal

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

As a public service, I have stopped searching for iconic winter images and am posting a photograph of someone surfing.  This is the first of the actions I am taking to ween myself off of my snow addiction.

♦ It’s ok to stop watching the Weather Channel now.  I caught myself turning to TWC Thursday even though there was no real reason to and discovered it was snowing in Dallas.  Interesting, but that has nothing to do with my life.  It will snow four inches today in Atlanta.  My son lives there, but it’s only four inches.  Goodbye Weather Channel.  Until next time.

♦ It’s ok to stop visiting  But I did discover they have a much better site than Weather Channel.  You don’t have to work as hard to find the stuff you really need to know.  They also have a wonderful collection of very knowledgeable weather nerds who have all the esoteric details that interest me when all weather-hell is breaking loose.

♦  It’s ok to stop talking to all your friends about the Great Blizzard of 2010.   It was really something.  The sun is out now and the stuff is finally beginning to melt.

♦ Based on what I heard this morning about the nightmarish commute people have had, it remains ok to bitch about the District of Columbia and its lack of snowplowing prowess.

♥  It is not only appropriate, but perhaps, an absolute necessity to begin thinking about Valentine’s Day and what, precisely, you are going to do for your loved one Sunday.  Flower stores are delivering.  They have no choice.  This is how they make money.

♦  It may snow a little bit on Monday but it’s not expected to be a major winter event.  Remember, we may once have been snow-wimps, but we are now grizzled veterans of arctic climate conditions and we now laugh at a mere two inches and move on as if nothing had happened.  We are the new Chicago.

Signs of Life

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I finally ventured out of the apartment today. I saw people. I interacted with some of them- interesting species. Hit the Safeway supermarket at 5th and K. Not very many humans there, however. But the cashier was really, really nice. Positive attitude, all smiles and light banter. She packed my five-cent plastic bags strategically after asking me if I was walking or driving (DC now charges for plastic if you don’t come in with your own hip canvass bags).

Clearly, no one likes potato bread. That’s about all that’s left. This is a brand new supermarket in my neighborhood so they do that thing at the produce department where you hear fake thunder and automated sprinklers spritz the vegetables every 20 seconds. Wasn’t working. Not worth the effort for the few of us scavengers who were there this afternoon. Or not worth the water to spray week-old wilted lettuce.

By the way, does anyone know the name of my Safeway? Does it even have a name yet? Here in D.C., all the Safeway supermarkets have nicknames that suit their surrounding neighborhoods. The one in Georgetown is called “Social Safeway.” The one in my old Northeast neighborhood near RFK stadium where I last lived here in DC, is “Scary Safeway.” Today, I would have to call my new grocery store, “Sad Safeway.”

The 8-block round-trip walk to Sad Safeway was challenging but much easier than, say, climbing Mt. McKinley. The sidewalks are basically packed snow. There’s a lot of standing water at intersections now because of all the snow-dams that are being created by the plow-piles. Wow. Plow-piles. Not only is that not a word, but it’s non-word I never even imagined I’d be using two weeks ago.

There have been a few cars parked in front of my building since last week. Today, I saw the two competing approaches to dealing with snowed-in, blizzard-covered motorized vehicles. One guy obviously took ownership of the situation and was out there shoveling his little heart out, clearing his path of exit. Directly across the street is a car that has not been touched. It is submerged. Its owner, I imagine, is in denial. Or hoping that now that it’s nearly 40 degrees, Mother Nature will take care of it all.

Nanook is back in his cave now. Tomorrow- a real adventure: Bed, Bath and Beyond.

What’s Causing All This Snow?

February 10, 2010 1 comment

What I am seeing outside my window in Washington, D.C. right now is not normal. Something is just not right about two blizzards in one week. I don’t think it’s chance or random. I think we’re seeing the effects of global climate change.

Yes, I know, a lot of people see record snow amounts and scoff at global “warming” theories. But it’s not as simple as “oh it’s cold and snowy, therefore global warming does not exist.”

See the map up top? That’s a recent temperature change analysis of the planet that came out two days ago. Accu-weather writes about it here. We are in the swath of the blue that is cooler. The rest of the globe is warming. Check out Canada. Did you know they’re having to truck in snow to Vancouver for the Winter Games that start this week?

It is indisputable fact that the ice cover at the North Pole has been significantly reduced. There are satellite photos of it. See here. When the ice melts, where does that moisture go? Into the atmosphere. What feeds storms? Moisture. Global warming does not suddenly repeal the seasons. Winters are still winters. But with more moisture in the air, storms get fed, and I theorize, create things like the unprecedented ferocity and number of blizzards we’re seeing right now.

Forget the politics of all this. I don’t know if humans have caused this to happen. This could very well be cyclical. We’ve had dozens of ice ages and warming trends over millions and millions of years. This could be another one of them. I don’t even know if there’s anything we can do about it or, given the current state of the global economy, can even afford to.

But as the winds blow at 40 mph and snow drifts of three, four and five feet start building across the mid-Atlantic states; as I see white-out conditions below the Mason-Dixon line and meteorologists beside themselves watching something that’s never been seen in recorded history, it sure makes me wonder what’s really going on.

Notes on the Incoming Storm: Version 3.0

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo by Dallas Kilponen

There are days like this when the line between the paranoid and the well-prepared gets very, very blurry. Some observations after a winter that includes three blizzards. 

People who rush to stores to buy out toilet paper, milk, water and bread:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Silly & paranoid.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it- Brilliant people with great foresight.

Neighbors who bought snow blowers last December:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Desperate and sad.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it- Your Bestest Friend Ever.

People who regularly stock up on batteries, transistor radios, candles, and blankets:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Scary survivalists.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it and the power’s out for a week:  The only warm, well-informed people in the neighborhood.

People who bought their own snow plow and park it in the garage as the second car:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Certifiably insane.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it and no one’s cleared the street for five days: Neighbor of the Year.

People who live in rental apartments:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Lowlifes
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it and there’s six tons of snow on your driveway: Humble, smart minimalists who don’t have to shovel.

People who buy their own electrical generator:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Weirdos
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it and PEPCO is nowhere to be found: The only folks in the neighborhood with the lights on.

People who don’t drive or own cars:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Suspicious, quirky, non-conformists.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it, your car is buried in a snow drift and even if it was cleared you can’t leave the block to hit a main road: Sages ahead of their time.

People who stay indoors all the time and never see the light of day:

– When there’s four inches of snow coming- Psychotic loners.
– When there’s five feet of snow coming and it’s the end of the world as we know it- The residents of Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

A Train’s-Eye View of the Great Blizzard of 2010

February 8, 2010 1 comment

Having just returned by Amtrak from New York this afternoon, I got an interesting view of the snow-bomb that hit the mid-Atlantic region Friday and Saturday. This was such a strange storm because New York and northern New Jersey got zero accumulations and Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, of course, got annihilated.

So I got my seat on the right side of the train and watched for the line of demarcation. Keep in mind, this is two days removed from the storm. But you started seeing snow at approximately New Brunswick, New Jersey. Maybe 3 to 4 inches from what I could see. By the time we got to Trenton there were about six inches.

Then we hit Bucks County north of Philadelphia and you could see that, easily, a foot or more had fallen. I was looking for snow-covered roofs and buried cars and the Philly area was really not that bad in that regard.

I did notice a clever little billboard that I think Delta put up just north of Philadelphia that read, “You’d be there now if you were on the air shuttle.” Not this week. If you had tried to take the air shuttle to DC on Friday, you would have spent three days sleeping at the Marine terminal at La Guardia. Amtrak, on the other hand, reinstituted full Acela service today. Plus, Bill Cosby was on my train. Hey, hey, hey.

But past Wilmington, as we got into Maryland, you could see what this storm did- in all its glory. Elkton, Maryland looked like a scene from Barrow, Alaska. As we approached Baltimore, you could get more perspective as you saw the height of the snow against the streets that had been plowed. More and more completely snow-submerged vehicles came into view. The heavy snow on rooftops was becoming increasingly evident.

There are a lot of woods between Baltimore and Washington and the scenes were breathtaking. Trees were dotted with piles of snow teetering on the branches making them look like forests dotted with thousands and thousands of 50-pound cotton balls. Creeks were swollen with snow that had begun to melt in Monday’s sunshine.

Amtrak train #2153, packed to the gills with passengers, finally pulled slowly into Union station. At the last moment back at Penn Station in New York, Amtrak decided to honor all Acela tickets and let on additional passengers- it was literally, standing-room only. We all poured off and I watched the taxi line grow. I know better than to take a DC cab when the city is in a snow emergency. They’ll stick you for a $50 fare for a $10 ride and take great pride in it.

So I trudged on to the Metro, still running only subterreanean trains. The tracks that usually head toward Glenmont were the only side of the rails in use and the direction was reversed, heading only downtown and onto the new end of the Red line- Medical Center. The subway train sat at the Union Station platform for about 25 minutes before heading slowly-very slowly toward Judiciary Square. When we hit my stop, Chinatown/Galley Place, there must have been a thousand people waiting to board. It looked like something out of Tokyo where they use poles to push passengers into the trains. Folks looked distinctly disoriented. Like everything had turned alien and totally different, which it had.

The two-block walk back to the apartment with luggage was better than I expected. All but a small portion of the sidewalks had been cleaned except for the intersection of 6th and H streets where I stood knee-deep waiting for the light to change.

The power had obviously gone off in my building, but thanks to a surge protector, my desk top came back to life. And now we await tomorrow’s, hopefully, final bout of winter weather. It will be nothing compared to the weekend. Just the same and excuse the bad grammar- but I ain’t going nowhere!

Categories: Climate Change, Culture Tags: , ,

Climategate & Politics- A View From the Radical Middle

December 8, 2009 4 comments

I am so sad about this; how everything is politicized these days- by all sides. It seems we can no longer have an honest scientific debate about much of anything and especially something as important as climate change. This Climategate business is disturbing on a number of levels.

Climategate: The Two Sides

“Climategate” is about pro global-warming-theory scientists allegedly manipulating data to corroborate their conclusions. Somebody hacked into the Hadley Climactic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia and found about a couple of thousand e-mails and files that indicate there may have been cherry-picking of temperature information to create a graph that shows a runaway warming trend in the late 20th century. The e-mails also show discussion among researchers that indicate the data is not there right now to support global warming theories. One of the e-mails between scientists contains stuff like this: “Where the heck is global warming?… The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” To get the full blown argument from the political right on this Climategate business, here is a good overview from Robert Tracinski. He calls this possibly the greatest scandal of all time.

From the political left, there are arguments that the hacking of these e-mails is part of a well-funded effort on the part of vested interests who want to maintain the profitable oil- and coal-based energy status quo. The pro global-warming-theory faction says the contents of these e-mails have themselves been cherry-picked and find it highly suspicious that though the hack of the British research center occurred over a month ago, it all conveniently came to light right on the eve of the global climate summit in Copenhagen that started this week. There is even an allegation that there have been attempts to hack into other climate research centers around the world in a coordinated effort to discredit the global warming movement. To read about this argument, Richard Graves writes about it at He calls this possibly the greatest scandal of all time.

Forget the Graphs and Charts

I approach this from the radical middle. This is not about global WARMING. It is about global climate CHANGE. Long-term temperature trends are not knowable on a month to month or year to year basis. You could have decades-long aberrations that counter the long haul trends. The effects of human-made carbon emissions are complicated and not as simplistic as higher temperatures. Who knows how the ecosystem will play out? Maybe it gets warmer in some places and cooler in others. But I do know this- and it has nothing to do with charts and graphs. The polar ice cap is melting. The environment is changing. Cameras and satellites are documenting it.

From This is the polar ice cap- above 1979, below in 2003.

From the Associated Press last September:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado announced Thursday that Arctic sea ice for 2009 shrunk to its third lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979. The record low was set in 2007 and ice last year melted to the second lowest level on record.


Here are Walrus gathering by the thousands on the arctic shoreline.

According to the Associated Press on 9/17/09:

Walrus cannot swim indefinitely and historically have used sea ice as a platform for diving in the Bering and Chukchi seas for clams and other food on the ocean floor.
In recent years, however, sea ice has receded far beyond the outer continental shelf, forcing walruses to choose between riding the ice over waters too deep to reach clams or onto shore.


From an article from the Sunday Times of London four years ago, when it first started becoming evident what was happening to the Arctic ice shelf:

SCIENTISTS have for the first time found evidence that polar bears are drowning because climate change is melting the Arctic ice shelf.
The researchers were startled to find bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. They are being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed are melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart. Although polar bears are strong swimmers, they are adapted for swimming close to the shore. Their sea journeys leave them them vulnerable to exhaustion, hypothermia or being swamped by waves.

Human or Nature? Does it Matter?

But what is causing this? Is it human? Is it just part of a cycle of earth changes that has been going on regularly over the millennia? The earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. Along the way there have been hundreds of ice ages and warming trends, even before humans walked the earth- much less built factories and power plants. But we humans are a force on the planet now. The massive destruction of the earth’s rain forests is an established fact. Because of human caused pollution, there are days when people in the largest cities in Mexico and China and India have to stay indoors. Massive amounts of brown smog can be visible in satellite photos.

I would argue that taking measures to reduce the impact on the planet of both industry and development are necessary even if we are also undergoing cyclical changes that have nothing to do with human beings. Reducing carbon emissions results in cleaner air to breath. Putting a limit on deforestation maintains the ecological equilibrium. Setting aside arguments about climate change, there are good political and national security reasons to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

I sincerely hope there are not sinister actions afoot funded by vested energy interests. And I sincerely hope there is no cooking of the numbers to prove a theory about what is causing climate change on our planet. Can’t we just accept that changes are happening and that we humans can play a positive role in making our air breathable, our water drinkable, our land habitable….whether climate change is caused by us or not?