09 September, 2007


Two articles in the Guardian last week caught my attention and stayed with me. So this post has nothing to do with bicycles. It is about ice. It is also about global warming.

Let me say up front that global warming is not, or should not, be a political issue. There are virtually no reputable scientists in the world that deny its existence. To do so for political gain is the most shameful and immoral conduct imaginable. Yet there are still politicians who do exactly that. There may, however, be some reasonable dispute over its speed and effects.

The most recent article, Scientists fear ice caps melting faster than predicted describes the speed at which the Greenland Ice Cap is melting. A few quotes:

The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago.


Prof Correll, director of the global change programme at the Heinz Centre in Washington, said the estimates of sea level rise in the IPCC report were conservative and based on data two years old. The predicted rise this century was 20cm to 60cm, but it would be at the upper end of this range at least, he said, and some believed it could be two metres. This would be catastrophic for European coastlines.

He had flown over the Ilulissat glacier and "seen gigantic holes in it through which swirling masses of melt water were falling. I first looked at this glacier in the 1960s and there were no holes. These so-called moulins, 10 to 15 metres across, have opened up all over the place. There are hundreds of them."

He said ice-penetrating radar showed that this melt water was pouring through to the bottom of the glacier creating a lake 500 metres deep which was causing the glacier "to float on land. These melt-water rivers are lubricating the glacier, like applying oil to a surface and causing it to slide into the sea. It is causing a massive acceleration which could be catastrophic.

The second article, Loss of Arctic ice leaves experts stunned, discusses the melting of arctic Ice cap, all that stuff floating in the arctic ocean. Quotes:

The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer and levels of sea ice in the region now stand at record lows, scientists have announced.

Experts say they are "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as the UK disappearing in the last week alone.

So much ice has melted this summer that the Northwest passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the Northeast passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month.

If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

It is important to remember that the melting of floating ice does not raise sea level. However, it may well cause a far more serious disaster, the likely collapse of the Gulf Stream. This, in turn, would cause profound climate change for the US east coast and Europe.

"This summer we've got all this open water and added heat going into the ocean. That is going to make it much harder for the ice to grow back."

Changes in wind and ocean circulation patterns can help reduce sea ice extent, but Dr Serreze said the main culprit was man-made global warming.

"The rules are starting to change and what's changing the rules is the input of greenhouse gases."

This is too complicated a topic to fully discuss here, but I urge you do a bit of research on your own.

As for me, I'm going for a nice bike ride along a cool trout stream today. When I return I'll savor a little ice with a splash of pastis. Might as well enjoy it while we can.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Better red than dead :-)

Kevan said...


It's unfortunate that it has to be political, but it has to be, the issue is too big for the private sector to address alone. Maybe if we require all politicians to live on low-lying coastal areas maybe then we'll get some undivided attention.

Eventually, an administration will take hold of this situation and do what is necessary to address the drastic changes our society must face in order for there to be a future for humans here on earth.

While the forecast is dreadful, we should be looking at this event with some excitement and anticipation too. The changes we all will face will likely be drastic. Imagine our whole infrastructure will likely be dramatically changed as a result. Maybe too...the bicycle will finally get the respect it deserves. Back to my point, how our home's function, how we get to work, what we do as work, will all change. Not since the first wall outlet and automobile will we have seen such a drastic change to our daily lives. Everyone knows what the Internet did to our lives, it was incredible,I'm still in awe of it. Well, addressing carbon emissions and swelling populations, decreased land masses, will likely make an even bigger change to each of us.

The private sector can't do it alone, we'll be all over the place without some governance. Sure, the innovation will come from there, but policy and practice will impact all levels of society: local, federal and international. New standards of living will need to be determined. We better hope that our politicians are up to the task.

Now that's what I'm worried about!

neil b. said...


It isn't the floating ice that going to put Annapolis under. It's the rapidly escalating melting of the glaciers, particularly in the antarctic, that contain more than enough water to raise the level of the oceans.

I am not as optimistic as Kevin. From the latest projections I have read it may happen in our children's lifetimes and even if we change our lifestyles immediately the balance has already been tipped beyond recovery.

One of the weaknesses of Representative Democracy is that it doesn't deal with long range issues very well.

Your pinko friend, Neil

franklyn said...

Representative democracy works well for long term issues if the majority of people participating in democracy are enlightened human beings with foresight. Unfortunately, I don't think we have a majority of enlightened human beings! So I have to agree with Neil that representative democracy with the current participants can't deal with issues like climate changes that takes time to see changes very well. People tend to only care and worry about their most immediate needs, and not think about things even more than a week away.

I definitely think that transportation is the main culprit for climate change, but one of the less talked about factor is the food producing industry, which is the second leading producer of greenhouse gas. Cattle raising is especially harmful for the environment. Cows breath a very bad kind of greenhouse gas (methane), and by human demanding and consuming more beef than ever before, we are wiping out precious rain forest to create more pasture to make beef cheap in places like united states so people don't feel a thing when they order a one pound steak in restaurants or throw that away after just a few bite because it isn't done right.

I am a vegan, but I know to change people's idea about something like their diet might be even harder than changing their ideas about their method of transportation, but if people in the US can consume 10% less beef, that will do a lot to lower the demand for beef and that will in turn reduce greenhouse gas production.

I want people to ride bike to work (i do, even though i work 45 miles away from my house, and it requires me to take my bike up the transit and make 1-2 connections sometimes) but I also want people to realize that things that people do everyday, such as eating, also has a tremendous effect on the environment.

Anonymous said...

Cycling brings out the best in people. To be concerned about our environment, how our daily routines impact it, and what are the ramifications, is consistent with this belief.

The bike may ultimately be our best solution.

neil berg said...

You might be interested in The Omnivores Dilema by Michael Pollan.
It examines our food chain in detail. A good read for vegan or carnivore and everythnig in between. As a culture, we eat a lot of bad stuff.

Anonymous said...

Relax.....the sky is not falling. Climate change is a natural, cyclical phenomenon. Just hope that the increasing melting of the ice in the polar regions doesn't shut down the warm ocean currents and cause another ice age. If that happens, in about 5000 years we could be looking at real trouble!

Goon said...

Global Warming is bad. Very bad.

Also, pastis is waaaay underrated.

Chris, are you a Ricard or Pernod man?

Chris Kulczycki said...

Anonyme, Pardon my French, but bull merde. I would challenge you to find a single non-partisan climate research institute (that is, one not funded by a conservative political group) that would agree with your assessment. There is no question, none whatsoever, among legitimate scientists that the current climate shift is due to greenhouse gases. As for the Gulf Stream, please read one of many recent articles by well regarded oceanographers that explain the Gulf Stream's thermal "tipping point".

Anonymous said...

Global Warming, Al Qaeda, Drug Resistant TB, Poverty, Bottled Water, The Clintons and their Followers,Mitt Romney and his Cult, Recession, A Blind Eye to Genocide, Nuclear Proliferation, GW Bush, The Decline of Public Schools, Fat, Salt and Sugar, Big Tobacco, all these things are very scary...go for a bike ride.

Mark said...

Agreed that greenhouse gases are to blame for climate change and the impact of humanity's profligate burning of petroleum fuels will dramatically affect our way of life.

While each of us can ride our bikes, boycott burgers, and so on, that leaves huge masses of humanity that are NOT doing so, continuing in the same ways that brought this problem on.

Agreed also that political systems and markets are probably not going to solve this problem. I'm not sure what would. What "knob" would we now turn. The course of events that is bringing about global warming was set in motion (probably) over 50 years ago, which is NOTHING in the course of global climactic events. I don't think there's anything humankind is likely to do that will much affect global warming. Worse, there may be some tipping points where (say) methane trapped in tundra will melt, with huge, non linear impact on the situation.

And yet, present economic and political structures (petroleum and auto industries, primarily) continue to lobby for drilling in the ANWR, while paying lip service to being "green". Current issue of the Atlantic actually has a full page ad from Chevy showing a kid hugging a tree, followed by a bunch of fluff about how green the new Suburban is.

Much more at http://dieoff.com/synopsis.htm

kathryn said...

what each person does as an individual has a profound impact on global warming. i have chosen not to drive motorized vehicles for anything except the need to transport heavy loads. this happens about 3-4 times a year. that's it. everything else happens by bicycle and trailer even if it takes 2-3 trips.

what i do encourages others to do the same. the bike path community is growing because of me- one individual.

by living my life this way i have gained immeasurably in my quality of living. my life has slowed down to a human pace. i enjoy my travels around town and magically no longer have a need to "get away." it's hard to describe- you have to start in your own way, bit by bit making determined choices to get away from the car.

what you do effects my life and every life on this planet. it's as simple as that. live a life of love for your own sake.

C said...

I don't doubt that humans are accelerating global warming. At the same time I seem to recall from my geology class that for the majority of it's existence the Earth has not had two polar ice caps. If the northern ice melts naturally it's not necessarily a bad thing (except for us humans) What is bad is if we humans are accelerating that melting in an unnatural way which it seems pretty clear is the case.

I do think it's somewhat arrogant of us humans to think we can destroy the environment. I think this is total bull. We may render it uninhabitable for human life but give it a few million years (a blink of the eye in geological time) and it will recover quite nicely without us. We humans are just one teeny tiny species who have existed for a very, very tiny amount of time in the history of this great rock of ours.

neil b. said...

You're correct about your time frame, etc. Of course most of the time when there were no ice caps most of the life on earth had one cell. I guess I'm not prepared to let it slip quite that far if I can help it.

Mark said...

Without doubt, every little bit helps. From commuters in Copenhagen to the joy of picking up groceries and riding home in the light of the setting sun here on Bainbridge Island, getting out of the car just feels like the right thing to do. Plus my actions get other people to start thinking differently about the car and the role it plays in our lives.

On another topic, the article Chris cites in the Independent mentioned that 932 permits had been issued for importing of Polar Bear pelts, exploiting a little known loophole in the import laws w/ Canada.

How sad. Check it out


neil berg said...

Let's not let this thread unravel. If we just think relly hard about it for a couple of more days I believe we can solve the problem. How about if we all ride bicycles most of the time and only drive our hybrids or Citroens (which are really just cleverly camoflaged hydrocarbon pumps)when we have to drive downtown to get our Starbucks. Sorry, scarey horrendous issues affecting my unborn grandchildren tends to bring out the worst in me.

Mark said...

Well, since we're all agreed that representative democracy and market forces are not going to come up with solutions to address the climate crisis, maybe all we are left with is individual action.

Outside my office window, a diesel delivery van has been idling for about 20 min. Later this afternoon, a squad of little men wielding gas powered leaf blower, weed wackers, and other implements of mass pollution will begin to manicure our lawn.

K Matthias said...

Cheers Chris for this post. I'll pour some Ricard and toast the bike culture. :)

Interestingly, wild swings in climate are more common in the known history of the world than they have been during the time humans have inhabited this planet. We know all of this because of ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland, and geologic core samples from all over the world. But in all of that data there is no evidence of a change that has happened as _fast_ as this one. What's next I wonder.

Anonymous said...

If its not political, why are those with whom you disagree labeled "conservative"? As a scientist, I base my arguments for or against on the evidence presented. When the motivations are questioned rather than the results, you have hurt your argument. By the way, since I substantially agree with you on this, I find that your political arguments are hurting, rather than helping any chance to effect change. Just a thought.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Anonyme Scientist, The existence of global warming is not at all in dispute among those who have studied the issue. The counter argument is like denying that the earth is round, some may argue it, but the well informed do not take them seriously.

The question you address is better framed as "why some would dispute what the world of science has accepted?". Why indeed? The evidence shows that it is often a political appeal to the ignorant and a grab for quick profit at the expense of the common good.

39Cross said...

This looks bad. I wonder how many times humans have acted in their self-interest (never on the scale this requires, I daresay) when the evidence is not directly in their faces. Reading about melting glaciers and disappearing ice sheets sounds scary, but it is still somewhat of an abstraction, easy to put out of mind for many, when there are other more pressing day to day issues directly needing their attention.

But because we like a little opt ism, here's some encouraging news out of NYC for commuting cyclists: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/nyregion/04bicycle.html?ex=1346644800&en=867787578e1ca3a5&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

39Cross said...

Oops, that URL is pretty ugly, it got chopped, this should work:


Michael S said...

After a depressing post like this, I think you owe us some pretty pictures of bicycles...

Anonymous said...

It's time to raise the Black Flag, take back the streets. When bicycles and pedestrians move faster than cars, more people will take the train or ride or walk.

Wasn't it Ghandi who said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world"?

Live as an example. Give up your car and suggest others do the same. Fight the "Death before inconvenience" culture we have built. Try taking your bicycle through the Drive-thru at the bank, Starbucks, etc. Check out the reaction of the car drivers behind you.

Politicians won't solve these problems before calamity hits. You only need look at Social Security, Hurricane Katrina, AIDS, Meth-Amphetamine Addiction, regulation of cigarettes & alcohol, bridge collapses, and terrorism.

It will take the loss of luxury properties in Malibu or Palm Beach or oil riggs in the gulf to get things changed by government. Meanwhile the media is picking up on the economic benefits created under different scenarios (new trade routes, expanded real estate development to make up for lost housing).


Anonymous said...

Question...If the local weather bureau- with all of its "scientific" models and gadgetry- can't get the 24-48 hour weather forecast right, much less a forecast for a hurricane season (the last two have been WAY off), how are any of us supposed to take seriously their predictions of the cataclysmic events that are supposed to result from global warming 25-100 years down the road?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one old enough to remember 30 years ago when "Scientist" were predicting we would run out of oil by this time, and that we were heading for another ice age?

Am I also the only one that read about the Scientist that notes the ice capes on Mars are melting at the same rate as ours?

Of course we should tread lightly on our fine planet, but don't forget many many people make a living from "global warming".

Goon said...

"Question...If the local weather bureau- with all of its "scientific" models and gadgetry- can't get the 24-48 hour weather forecast right [snip] how are any of us supposed to take seriously their predictions of the cataclysmic events...?"

Because weather is not climate, ya doof.

Anonymous said...

...and the definition of climate is how weather acts in a particular area over time...SO the definition of one is inexorably tied to the other...and the question remains unanswered....

Goon said...


Climate is an energy balance over time.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Climate versus weather: We can predict the average hight of waves at the beach today, but we can't say how big the next set will be. (If we could, the surfers would know exactly when to paddle out instead of sitting on their boards all afternoon.)

M. King Hubbert, the inventor of peak oil theory, did not say we would be out now, nor did most respected researchers. Please look it up! What happened was the North Sea Field, but there is very good reason to believe that that is the last mega field on Earth. Of course there are many tiny untapped reserves, but even a large one, like in the Arctic Reserve will only contains an 11 month supply of oil at current US usage. The giant "elephant" fields, as in the Middle East, contained thousands of times as much oil as the Arctic field, and every square mile of the planet has already been scoured for those.

David from DC [SIC] said...

All of this is why I keep a bike called the "Armaggedon Bike," 'cause when it comes, that's what I'll be riding.

Did anyone else find it amusing that in the Washington Post a week ago, DC's evaculation plan identifies several bike paths as official routes for bike/ped traffic during an emergency?

Anonymous said...

I agree that global warming is happening and almost certainly influenced by human activity on earth, but I don't know that it's helpful to discount "conservative" scientists. You've politicized the issue right there.

My hair start to stand on end when claims to "truth" in complex scientific matters are bandied about. I'm not a scientist and I don't pretend to know the technical arguments involved, much less be able to assess them, but I do think it's better to think in terms of hypotheses and data, rather than say a phenomenon is as obvious as the world is round.
I do know my way around a well-reasoned argument, though, and I think you do yours a disservice by making such statements.

Mr. Fly said...

I am fairly surprised that no one had taken a broader view of this whole global warming picture. In my mind, global warming is entirely entwined with the dwindling global fossil fuel stocks that many had postulated, and this link may have more severe consequences than many are willing to discuss. I’ll elaborate.

Based on current understanding, the driving force behind global warming is the production of excess amounts of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The carbon from fossil fuel essentially came from the atmosphere of primordial earth as the photosynthetic plants basically captured atmospheric carbon dioxide, and fixed the carbon with water to produce oxygen and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates either got eaten by the prehistoric animals or stayed with the plants. Either way, when the animal or plant died and got converted to fossil fuel, the carbon was trapped. Essentially, fossil fuel is a storage mechanism for carbon.

According to our most current understanding of primordial earth, the atmosphere at that time had a much higher level of carbon dioxide. If we start burning all this stored carbon, our atmosphere will trend towards the atmosphere of primordial earth because the carbon is converted from one form to another and is not simply lost. Another way to look at it is that the atmospheric carbon dioxide level (as compared to primordial levels) is an indicator of how much fossil fuel we have left. Accordingly, our current situation is consistent with dwindling global fossil fuel stocks.

That is pretty bad news. Fossil fuels offer humanity a very cheap and convenient energy source. Without fossil fuels, we will probably end up like the Amish. There is nothing wrong with the Amish, and they do make great looking and functional bicycle baskets (!), but I would postulate that most of the population of industrialized countries would have a hard time giving up our conveniences. Regardless, the fact is that we will probably achieve much less without the help of fossil fuels.

So now, we have a situation that requires a lot of work to mitigate, and we are stuck with no cheap and convenient energy to help us with that goal. Quick! Someone invent cold fusion!