Friday, September 10, 2004

Baked Alaska - Global Warming in Alaska

Baked Alaska (September 10, 2004;; Rebecca Clarren) In an article just like the opening scene to Arrival/Arrival 2 we learn of scientists observations that the weather in Alaska is warming, that the cause is carbon emissions in warmer climates, and the whole global warming story. This scientist, Syndonia "Donie" Bret-Harte, has been studying plants in the Alaska Tundra regions for over 10 years. She is witnessing that, because the "growing season" has lengthened the confused plants are budding twice in each growing season. Once a plant buds twice in a growing season, it will not bud the next year.

"It's a bad strategy for them because they'll lose their seeds to the frost," says Bret-Harte, looking worried behind large gold-rimmed glasses. Flowers only make one set of buds each year so if they spend next year's buds now, they'll be out of luck next spring. If the warming trend continues, the flowers may go extinct.

As in any ecosystem, what makes the ecosystem work is the interdependance of all creatures that live in that ecosystem. If one goes extinct, what of the creatures that eat the one that just went extinct? They would then become endangered, possibly go extinct, and eventually the whole thing will crumble.

Over the past century, Bret-Harte explains, due to the increase in oil and gas consumption, carbon dioxide and methane emissions have skyrocketed. Such gases hover above the earth, preventing hot air from escaping into the atmosphere. In just the past three decades, these gases have warmed the Arctic by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the mid-1950s, Alaska's glaciers have lost about 3,300 cubic kilometers of melted ice and snow -- enough to submerge the entire state of Texas in 15 feet of water. Due in part to this influx of fresh water combined with warmer temperature, computer models predict that the Arctic Ocean's sea ice could completely disappear within 70 years.

While it's unlikely the four horsemen of the apocalypse are saddled up and ready to ride, global warming will likely have an enormous and dire impact on human populations in the Arctic and beyond. Already, native communities that dot Alaskan shorelines are seeing villages crumble. Waves, unhindered by large ice chunks, now swell and break against the shore with a ferocity never seen before. Banks are eroding and high water has consumed so many homes and buildings that two villages have been forced to move inland.

The article mentions The Boiling Point, a book with a similar theme. That the global warming issue is real, and will cause disastrous consequences. Especially infuriating is that the current Administration (G.W. Bush) is "misrepresenting the science on climate change in order to justify a path of inaction".