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Energy Bookshelf: Contemplating A “World Without Ice”

November 24th, 2009 · No Comments

We ever so casually talk of Arctic ice retreats, the potential for Greenland ice meltage, and the implications of Antarctic ice mass falling due to global warming. Centimeters or inches, those 2100 implications seem so remote and, well, insignificant to most.  Henry Pollack’s A World Without Ice provides a strong window on the essential nature of ice caps and glaciers for the global climate in which humanity evolved and human civilization developed. He lays out a disturbingly dire picture of the implications ahead of us as, incrementally, permanent ice masses melt away from the global landscape

Chapter 6, Human footprints, perhaps is my favorite section of the book, perhaps because “ClimateGate” and the denierosphere have me thinking (again) about the reasons that foster anti-science syndrome when it comes to the Theory of Global Warming. From the opening pages of that chapter:

IPCC scientists in their 2007 Assessment Report concluded that “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely (90% probability) due to the observed increased in anthopogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Nothing shocking or especially well written (actually confusing to too many), thus Pollack ends the paragraph with:

Ninety percent certainty is an extraordinary statement of confidence in the conclusion–were you to go to a casino and be offered the opportunity to win at any game nine times out of ten, you would surely play with great confidence and very likely leave with a bundle of cash.

James Inhofe and ilk are seeking to convince humanity that a 90+% chance should be bet against. However, in this case, we’re not betting our wallets but literally our and the rest of humanity’s futures. When getting people (and institutions) to place the bet, there are too many factors that enable the self-proclaimed skeptics to confuse the situation.

Thus, Pollack then moves on to an examination of reasons for skepticism (such as rampant anti-science syndrome suffering due to religious reasons; “deliberate disinformation and propaganda from the fossil fuel industry”). He then has a coherent several pages laying out why it is fundamentally against human nature to understand and embrace the issue of climate change:

  • Our own eyes: we live in our spaces, our own ‘environments’.  “We are not born with global vision or a sense of history.”
  • We tend to focus “on contemporary local concerns”.  Our evolution works against the long time frame as “humans did not need to know what the local climate would be like a century into the future” as “they were much more concerned with the necessities of the here and now, and had little time or inclination to ponder the abstract world.”
  • “Daily activities are separated from the subsequent effects those activities have on the climate.”  It is near impossible for people to connect “increasing the setting of one’s thermostat in one’s home … to the reality that these activities slowly but steadily increase the absorption of infrared radiation in the atmosphere and warm the planet.”
  • “People feel very insignificant and powerless compared to the forces of nature. … what people do not appreciate is that, collectively, the almost seven billion people on Earth today, with millions of big machines, are staggeringly powerful and becoming more so every year. It is the sum of activities of billions of individuals … that is indeed changing Earth’s climate.”  Pollack then quotes Robert F. Kennedy

Few will have the greatness to bend history itslef but each of us can work to change a small portion of events and in the total of all those acts will be written the history

Perhaps even more powerful, Pollack quotes Iain Couzin about army ants:

No matter how much you look at an individual army ant, you will never get a sense that when you put 1.5 million of them together, they form bridges and columns.

Thus, we the ‘army of human ants’, incapable of fundamental impact on the global system as individuals, are, collectively, changing the global climate system — and not for the better.

NOTE: For other discussions, see:

  • SFGate Interview with Pollock:
  • Are there any glaciers advancing? How do you explain that?

    There may be one or two, there maybe even three or four, but there are many hundreds that are shrinking. You cannot expect in a system as complicated as the Earth that everything is behaving in the same way. The overwhelming story that the glaciers are telling us is that the ice is retreating.

  • It’s Getting Hot In Here
  • The world including the sea level, climate, and landscape has been shaped by the power of ice for billions of years. And now, as we’ve pushed co2 concentrations well beyond historical ranges (at least the range of the last 800,000 years), ice is becoming harder to find. There’s even the potential that earth may become ice free in the near future. I never really thought much about ice and it’s importance in my life and the lives of others, and most of my interactions with ice involve ice cubes and freezer burn. And, although some people may never even interact directly with ice, “one quarter of Earth’s population will within another decade be affected significantly by lesser snowfall and glacial ice loss. That number translates to two billion people–and most of them live in Asia.”


    Green Geek

    Brilliantly written, A World Without Ice paints an alarming yet realistic picture of the next few decades unless immediate drastic action is taken to curtail emissions and reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Dr. Pollack presents clear and concise data about our planet’s temperature through geological history, and answers many of the climate skeptics who are often unscientific (yet still opinionated) and claim that rising levels of CO2 and a warmer Earth would be a good thing. The numbers simply don’t work; the loss of polar ice will have very harsh consequences for our planet as we know it, and we’re simply not prepared for what will be the greatest challenge our civilization has ever faced.

    Tags: Global Warming · climate change · energy bookshelf · environmental