Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rising Heat, Rising Seas

State of climate science notes (Richard Alley); feature on rising seas - Francesca Rheannon of "Writer's Voice" interviews Brian Fagan, author of "The Attacking Ocean." Plus Alison Martin from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy on endangered farm animals. Radio Ecoshock 130717


Alex is going on vacation. You can download our "best of Radio Ecoshock" summer replays from our web site, on this page.

Hi there, welcome to another vacation show of Radio Ecoshock. After a few words about a video lecture update on the latest climate science by Richard Alley, you'll hear the awful truth about rising seas around the world. Francesca Rheannon, host of "Writer's Voice" interviews scientist Brian Fagan, author of "The Attacking Ocean". We'll wrap up with my own interview of Alison Martin from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Yep, we'll talk about the Tennessee Fainting Goat and the need to keep up the biodiversity of your food chain.

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Dr. Richard Alley

Dr. Richard Alley is one of America's best known and most cited climate scientists. Actually he was trained as a geologist, and teaches at Pennsylvania State University. Alley chaired a U.S. government panel on abrupt climate change, has testified to Congress and written for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specializing in melting ice at the poles.

Alley has given an update called "The State of the Climate System 2013" at a special conference of the American Geophysical Union held in Colorado at the beginning of June. It was called the Chapman Conference. I recommend you spend about 45 minutes of your valuable time watching the video of Alley's presentation. Find the link for this important video talk below - or just search for "State of the Climate System" and "Chapman".

I'll just squeeze in a couple of fast observations.

First, Alley does a simple job of explaining the complex relationship between heat in the atmosphere and heating of the ocean. Although our emissions have been increasing exponentially, most of the extra heat held in by the greenhouse gases have gone into the ocean. That is because during the last decade a period of cooler ocean water in the Pacific, called La Nina, has dominated. A cooler ocean surface will soak up more heat from the air. Expect different results when we get more of the hotter ocean in El Nino.

Check out Alley's charts on the heat tolerance of our major food crops, like corn, wheat and rice. We are already above the optimum growing conditions the major crops that feed the world. Actual production figures show that countries hit with just a few very hot days, at critical periods, suffered a loss in food production. That isn't a prediction, that's an observation now. The obvious conclusion: as the earth warms, and hot spells increase, world food production may drop - even as the number of mouths we need to feed increase dramatically.

It's even possible that by the year 2100, according to other research, that parts of the planet may become too hot for unprotected humans and other large mammals to survive. It's also been shown that human productivity, that important economic indicator, drops as the weather becomes hotter. So we'll have less energy to deal with problems of the future.

Alley's speech shines when he enters his field of expertise, the melting polar ice. For once there is a little bit of good news. Those pundits and a few scientists who suggested Greenland's ice cap may quickly slide into the sea are mistaken, Alley says. Yes giant new lakes of melt water are forming in Greenland in Summer. Yes they can rather suddenly drain down to the depths of the glaciers. But the land under the glaciers is not a nice even slope toward the sea. There are mountains and ridges down there which he claims precludes a sudden slide-off of ice, which would jack up sea levels around the world. Dr. Alley suggests it will take at least hundreds, if not more than a thousand, years to melt the Greenland ice cap, almost no matter how hot the climate gets.

The same is not true of the ice sheets of Antarctica. Many of these have spread from the land-based ice-cap out over the sea. There are several unstable areas around the Antarctic peninsula which contain enough ice to add several meters or more to sea levels. The good news is they are melting slowly so far. But that could change, and scientists are monitoring them closely, with real concern.

Richard Alley seems almost optimistic about the next 30 years of so. He wonders if we haven't already seen the worst impacts of climate change for the first half of this century. After that, almost all climate science indicates a rapid deterioration with lots of heating after 2050. If we believe Richard Alley, our children and grandchildren will experience frightening changes, while we continue to coast along in our fossil-powered society.

With all due respect to Richard Alley, I'm not sure I do believe that. Pretty well every prediction that was supposed to happen by 2050, according to bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are already surfacing now, way ahead of predictions. We seem to be on a worst-case scenario pathway. Various agencies in Europe, including the International Energy Agency, agree. Perhaps we can't account on a relatively easy ride, if you count extreme drought, fires, floods, and hurricanes as "easy" - for this generation. If the Arctic sea ice melts for example, I'd say all bets are off.

Richard Alley advises governments and the military. So he's less likely to bet on the apocalyptic side. And yet... if you listen closely to this speech at the American Geophysical Union, he describes "The Great Dying" 251 million years ago, and many quite frightening possibilities for the next generations of humanity. Don't miss it. Search for "State of the Climate System" and "Chapman" or find the link below.

June 7, 2013 Richard Alley, AGU Chapman Conference, Colorado

RISING SEAS: BRIAN FAGAN "The Attacking Ocean"

Let's dig deeper into the creeping destabilizer which at least one U.S. military authority thinks is the greatest threat of climate change. Rising seas will remove parts of the world, from Florida to Bangladesh, from the map. Most of the world's major cities, from Shanghai to New York will be flooded, bit by bit, storm by storm.

Francesca Rheannon interviewed Brian Fagan,. the author of a new book "The Attacking Ocean". She's agreed to this rebroadcast of her Writer's Voice program, first broadcast on Pacifica on June 26th, 2013.

My thanks to Francesca for this excellent interview. We all need to know about rising seas.


As this interview was broadcast, new science was released by the Potsdam Institute in Germany. It shows that for every degree rise in global average temperature, the sea level will rise more than two meters, or more than about six and a half feet. Just one degree more would take storm surges over large parts of Florida, New York City, Shanghai and most of the world's coastal cities. Some Pacific Ocean countries would cease to exist.

That sea level rise won't happen as fast as the warming. It might take one or two hundred years for the necessary amount of ice to melt. We don't know for sure. What we do know is the amount of sea level rise if we let the world warm even one degree. Now some mis-informed people, often with industry connections, say we can adapt to two or even three degress of global temperature rise. Not with the civilization we know now.

Here is a link to that new sea level science from the Potsdam Institute, and here a good layman's article from Climate News Network explaining the importance of this science to all of us.


Now let's look at another aspect of the environmental scene you may not have considered. When the Irish potato famine struck in the 1800's, millions died. That is partly because the population depended on a single breed of potato, which caught a disease. It turns our we are putting ourselves in the same situation with farm animals. A single breed of milk cow is dominating the supply, for example, and those Holstein's are not reproducing well.

We need to protect our biodiversity of farm animals, exactly as we struggle to preverve the diversity of plant types, from apples to original corn varieties. Plus some of these breeds are engaging and useful animals developed over centuries. They too have a right to live on this Earth.

Alison Martin, ALBC

I caught up with Alison Martin at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup Washington on June 1st, 2012. We talks about efforts in the United States to keep endangered domesticated animals alive. Alison is with the American Live Breeds Conservancy, the ALBC.

Don't miss Alison's description of the Tennessee Fainting Goat (who don't climb fences) and the Choctaw pig.


That's it for Radio Ecoshock this week. If you can, please support the production of this program. Get the details at our web site at

For the next few weeks, I'll be doing some deeper research, while listening to the voice of my favorite river in the mountains. I've selected some of the most downloaded programs from the past season, to play for the next few weeks as the "best of Radio Ecoshock". Find those listed here at our web site, and load up your mp3 player or computer with lots of key summer listening you may have missed.

New programs will return at the start of September. I'm sure there will be lots to talk about - and I hope you'll be part of the program.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you so much for listening.

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