Category Archives: Ecology

Fragile Interconnected Complex Systems

Yves Smith has a post about how Sandy continues to disrupt NYC and how fragile complex systems are.  Now this wouldn’t be a surprise to folks reading The Oil Drum, but should be a wake up call to everyone else as the planet warms because of our own stupidity and greed. As we build systems that are efficient, redundency goes out the window, which will be a serious problem as our planet’s climate gets increasingly chaotic.

The hospital situation is particularly telling as she cited from one commenter:

“The Manhattan hospital system is near collapse. Sounds like an exaggeration? It’s not. How do I know all this? I was hit by a cab on Monday afternoon, and taken to an Eastside hospital, and medical staff told me this.

My visit to the ER was beyond chaos (not normal ER chaos). I and several other trauma patients never received TRIAGE. They had no ICE. They were so short-staffed only cardiac patients received triage. One TBI patient had to wait over 4 HOURS to have a head CAT scan. These are bottom-line protocols that should never be violated, even in an emergency. The entire hospitals network was on the blink; everything had to be done manually (the servers in the flooded basement).”

More on Sandy’s effects on hospitals.

About that North Pole ice cap

It has been in the news of late that the North Pole ice cap has shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded. The previous minimum was in 2007.

Climate change denialists maintain that it is just normal variation and if you look at maps of the North Pole from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the size of ice cap was similarly small. Indeed, the extent of the ice cap did hit a minimum in 1938 based on those maps.

Thankfully the Artic Sea Ice Blog went over those maps and the latest satellite images and pointed out that the extent of the ice cap now is still much smaller than it was in the old maps.  But the comments were even better since one of the commentators pointed to this map that overlays the satellite data on the 1938 map:

One needs to be careful when comparing the current maps, which are more accurate in both space and time, with the older maps which the reflect the more limited ability people had to observe the North Pole ice cap.

Even still, it makes the point quite vividly, doesn't it?

I don’t believe in the death penalty, but …

after reading about BP & its compatriots desire to increase profits by cutting corners and the resulting human, animal and ecological devastation in the Gulf of Mexico, I'll make an exception for BP and the other corporations that created this mess.


Just another damn quote from a tree hugger! [Good, we need more!]

Mark Boyle over at Just for the love of it posted a useful piece on why he attempts to live a life of zero waste and simplicity.  Here is one quote:

"Because we are so disconnected from the embodied energy, embodied
suffering and embodied destruction that goes into the things we buy,
the natural ecology of the planet we share is being eroded by the
minute, factory farms and horrific slaughterhouses have become insanely
'normal', and we kill millions of people in the middle east just so
that us greedy bastards can have the luxurious, built-in-obsolescence
gadgetry that oil cheap oil affords us. I am sorry if that sounds
harsh, but the truth shouldn't be avoided for fear of offence. One of
the problems in the media and the publishing world is that everyone is
so cautious that they'll upset the reader and lose some sales, and so
the truth is rarely laid bare. We're adults though, so lets all grow
up, it's really our ego's that are making this planet inhabitable for
many species."

Rich countries working on secret climate treaty that favors them

The US, UK and other rich countries are discussing a secret draft climate treaty for the UN Copenhagen climate talks.  Excluded from the discussion are developing countries, who were rightly upset.  The Guardian reported that the draft treaty would:

  • hand effective control of
    climate change finance to the World Bank;
  • would abandon the Kyoto protocol –
    the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions;
  • would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent
    on them taking a range of actions [forcing more privatizations so as to enrich they buyers?];
  • not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per
    person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

The last point is quite key since rich countries have produced the vast majority of CO2 emissions since 1900, as this graph at the World Resources Institute demonstrates:

A climate treaty that does not recognize that rich counties got us into this mess and need pay more to get us to climate stability, will not be accepted by developing countries.

Also, Naked Capitalism has a piece on the effectiveness of Cap and Trade solutions in reducing CO2 emissions.  It isn’t favorable.

An anthropogenic cause for the Little Ice Age?

A bit out of date, but not many have posted on it, so I will mention Steven Stoll's article The Cold We Caused in the November 2009 Harpers Magazine.  Stoll's article makes the case that the Little Ice Age was caused by the world-wide death of millions of people due to the Black Death.  It is worth reading, but isn't available on-line except behind Harper's pay wall.  However, The Disaffected Lib has excerpts of it.

The key point of the article is to demonstrate that humans have long affected our world's climate and continue to do so with all of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere and oceans.  Those who continue to deny that basic fact do so at our collective peril as was pointed out by Peter Watts in his blog post, Because We All Know, The Green Party Runs The World, on the CRU Email break in:

"I went running through Toronto the other day on a 17°C November
afternoon. Canada’s west coast is currently underwater. Sea level
continues its 3mm/yr creep up the coasts of the world, the western
Siberian permafrost turns to slush. Swathes of California and Australia
are pretty much permanent firestorm zones these days. The glaciers
retreat, the Arctic ice cap shrinks, a myriad migratory species still
show up at their northern destinations weeks before they’re supposed
to. The pine beetle furthers its westward invasion, leaving dead
forests in its wake— the winters, you see, are no longer cold enough to
hit that lethal reset button that once kept their numbers in check."

The break in at CRU

The Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK was hacked and more than a thousand of its member's email messages were posted on-line.  The global warming deniers are jumping on the emails as proof that global warming is fraudulent.  Wired Magazine's Threat Level blog has an informative write-up on it.

RealClimate, a blog on climate science by climate scientists (some of whom had emails that were released), made some interesting points including:

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails.
There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George
Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid
of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of
the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our
socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put
this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and
the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith
that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve
joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of
the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging
in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the
misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining
when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they
have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense.
None of this should be shocking.

It’s obvious that the noise-generating components of the blogosphere
will generate a lot of noise about this. but it’s important to remember
that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times.
Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED
isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around
him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the
best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive
about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording
of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.