Changes We’ll See/Technology as Part of the Solution

Comments that go beyond praise and nays Robert has added a comment to the first post, asking, in part, where we in the US have begun seeing changes due to climate change, where we will see change, and what portion of the solutions are technological.

We don’t always see what’s obvious.

One Friend (Quaker) in an interest group complained that the birds disappeared from the San Fernando Valley during her childhood, and no one in her parents’ generation noticed. In the last 50 years, the number of large fish declined by 90%, and the size of large fish declined, yet even many older fisherman did not notice or are only partially aware. Today, many fishermen describe fishing as “sustainable” which is intended to maintain today’s level. I put myself firmly in the category of people who have no clue how many birds lived in and passed through Berkeley a generation ago.

The temperature in Alaska increased about 3 F last century, most of it in 1977. Alaskans are already seeing large changes, as is expected of climates nearer the poles. Summer precipitation has decreased, but snowfall is up 60%, which has led to tree canopy breakage, which (along with higher temperatures) has led to the success of wood-boring insects which has lead to widespread death of trees: most spruce trees are dead in 3 million acres of a federal reserve. This has ecological and social consequences. Wildfires have increased. Mosquitoes have spread to Barrow. Melting of the permafrost has produced sagging roads, tilting signs, and houses out of plumb. The effect on infrastructure is costly, and will only grow over the next 100 years, as pipes, roads, and buildings must be replaced or moved. The number of days annually with gale force winds is double that of 5 decades ago. As permafrost and sea ice melt, towns are no longer shielded from the sea; villages face bills of hundreds of millions each, either to build sea walls or move the entire village. Many of these villages have no tax base, some are thousands of years old.

Arizona legislators express interest in climate change because Arizona’s decreased precipitation and increased wildfires fit climate model predictions. Water systems in the West are fed by snow pack lasting late into the winter, with peak runoff in March. The size of the snow pack has decreased, and the peak runoff is shifting earlier. For those who think food comes from the store, farmers and trees and such prefer some overlap between water supply and times of much sunshine.

In Virginia rising seas and erosion have almost destroyed Poplar’s Island; 13 islands have disappeared in Chesapeake Bay.

Glaciers are disappearing rapidly from Glacier Park, as elsewhere, and may be totally gone by 2030.

The evidence is there if we pay attention. Peoples of the Arctic regions and vulnerable island nations have seen changes and publicized them.

What changes can we expect to see in the future?

Contemplate where you live today, what kind of climate you have. It has average and extreme temperatures for each season, a length for each season, precipitation that comes in bursts or regularly through the year. How do the local flora and fauna depend on this combination of factors? How do farmers depend on it? The water district and utilities?

OK, you skipped over that paragraph, here’s another chance to consider the climate where we live.

Now ponder the climate some more. Add in how trees increase the amount of rain, how some local ecosystems are better at absorbing water during storms and helping prevent runoff, and the effect of habitat destruction on the destructiveness of storms in so many parts of the world. How our local flora and bacteria clean the air and water, so we don’t have to pay. Yes, bacteria are at risk from climate change, you thought they have an exemption? How important insects are to the plants. Which of the local fauna carry disease, and which diseases might immigrate along with foreign fauna to my area if the climate becomes a little warmer and dryer/more humid. (Will take suggestions on how to communicate these ideas better)

A temperature change of a few degrees may not sound like much, but the difference between the peak of the ice ages and now is only 5 – 9 C (about 9 – 16 F). It may be that the temperature increase by 2100 due to the addition of greenhouse gases and deforestation exceeds that change. This will have unpredictable changes – the continents were in somewhat different locations the last time the atmosphere had carbon concentrations of 400 ppm or more.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes Working Group 2 examines Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Look at the summaries for policymakers (SPM) or technical summaries (TS). Choose one of their topics: hydrology and water resources; agriculture and food security; terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems; coastal zones and marine ecosystems; human health; human settlements, energy, and industry; insurance and other financial services. It will read differently to you if you read it at the source. Well, not the source, but the scientific consensus of all that was known in 2001 — the scientific community agreed with every sentence in the multi-thousand page reports.

What changes in technology will help, and what ?

Obviously, changing to energy sources that produce less carbon will help: nuclear power, hydroelectric power (a tad more), photovoltaics and other means of using solar power, wind power, and so on. I am not including biomass (plants) on this list because I suspect that all biomass will be needed for biofuels, to replace oil-based fuels such as gasoline and jet fuels, and because there are limits to how many acres we want to plant in order to save the local habitats from climate change. Carbon sequestration (injecting carbon back into the Earth for hopefully permanent storage, at least on the time frames that interest us) will allow us to continue using fossil fuels longer. Hybrid cars and possibly fuel cells (in the future) will reduce the use of oil; fuel cells may also come to be stored energy used in buildings. The National Commission on Energy Policy is the place to go for more information. Each of these technologies has a cost: solar power is expensive and requires substantial resources. Wind power also changes the climate. Fuel cells require energy to produce the hydrogen: they are a means of storing energy, not an energy source. Crucial on the technology to-do list is efficiency, decreasing the amount of energy needed by our vehicles, refrigerators, and light bulbs. Not only must appliances and cars become more efficient, we need to switch. Almost always, this will reduce our cost: we get back the extra costs in electricity or gasoline savings, and then some.

Reports by groups such as the National Commission on Energy Policy are meant to direct our national government; too often our presidents and legislators have other priorities. The public often does as well; we see more protests against nuclear power and wind power than against fossil fuel power. Yet many tens of coal power plants have been proposed.

In scientific analyses of how we can get to low carbon emissions, a sizeable percentage of the solution is described as “surprise”, either new technologies or proposed technologies working better than expected. Perhaps these surprise solutions exist, perhaps we need to change our behavior in case they don’t exist, or if the technology changes don’t work as well as we hoped, or if we don’t want huge amounts of land devoted to crops to power our transportation, and windmills in scenic areas.

We can’t take shortcuts. We will need to consider as individuals the changes to our lives, and the lives of others, before we begin to pressure ourselves, our legislators, family members, and neighbors. We need to educate ourselves, to ponder the science and human behavior. We need to work individually and in groups to see that we change, that society changes. Because the choices we make affect the choices others will be allowed to make, today and in the future.

One Response to “Changes We’ll See/Technology as Part of the Solution”

  1. michael says:

    Yeah Karen. Well written. Comprehensive. Left with an important challenge.