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January 17, 2007

Same Place, One Year Ago

Global-Warming

It seems The BAG’s Winter ‘07 coverage wouldn’t be complete without paying visual respects to the season that wasn’t.

If you’ve mostly been reading about the globe’s warmest December on record, or the fact New York City had its first December without snow since the 1890’s, the visual media is now catching up in a hurry.  As a logical way to tell the story, Stern offers a 15 page photo gallery juxtaposing scenes in specific places this January as compared to last.  The comparison, above, is from Munich.

As part of the flurry, The NYT also has a story this morning — with the image featured on the front page of today’s International Herald Tribune — about how newly emergent land masses in Greenland are overworking the cartographers.

Besides your weather report, and your take on whether it’s an El Niño anomaly, a greenhouse effect, or some combination of the two, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the dynamics of these (kinds of) images.

Just like it doesn’t feel right outside (as I move around Barcelona in a sweater), it is troubling to witness what wants to be a black-and-white photograph turning back into color, or observing jutting brown rocks appearing to angrily throw off their glacial blankets.

Still, given fear’s reputation as a motivator, paired with the emotional power of photography, one could argue this winter (or lack of one) represents a gift to global warming activists, and that the approaching “dead of winter,” from a pictorial viewpoint, stands to represent the sweet spot.

(image: Michaela Rehle/Reuters. January 2006/7.  stern.de)

  • tina

    I believe global warming is a reality, but we have to take a long view of it. One unusually warm December is an anomaly, not evidence of global warming. I lived in Munich for five years. Snowfall patterns are erratic and they often don’t have a white Christmas.
    We were also too warm in Michigan this December, but now we are back down to normal temparatures, meaning it will be below freezing for several weeks (-3 F last night!) Last winter we had an unusually long, hard, bitterly cold spring with snowfall until almost May. Does that mean global warming is not real (as some people who sat around in the local diner insisted)? No. But Munich’s green December does not “prove” global warming either.
    As for the glaciers, you also have to remember your high school physics, as the glaciers get smaller they will melt more rapidly anyway because they have less mass. That accounts for part of the vanishing glacier phenom. Even without global warming, we may well have lost the glaciers–we are at the end of a retreating ice age. You should have seen the glacial coverage 15,000 years ago!
    We don’t really, in absolute terms, know the whole truth about global warming. We can be reasonably sure that human activity has contributed to it. However, to change our lives so much that we would stop contributing to it–not use cars or most other gasoline burning machinery, replace all the lost forest cover, etc. etc.–we would need a major shift in our attitudes, a jump most people just are not going to make, they cannot see the benefits of that.
    As we discuss the way forward, however, these alarmist images from Stern are not helpful to the debate. Most people, even most Stern readers (I don’t like the rag, to be frank), know that global warming isn’t going to take you from six inches of snow to sprouting daffodils in December in one year’s time! Therefore, readers will just reject the image as overwrought (which it is), and the global warming naysayers will get another convert.
    We’ve had a strange December. The planet is getting warmer. Humans may be making it even warmer still, although it’s probably getting a bit warmer on its own. Will I be growing oranges on my farm in Michigan soon? I wish.
    The real dangers of global warming lie elsewhere–desertification, decimated water tables (our Great Lakes), high carbon monoxide levels, all the things we cannot see. On a local and global level we have to tackle these issues. That’s easy to say, but really–how do we do it?

  • tina

    In other words, Bag, I don’t think the images represent a gift to global warming activitists, rather, the opposite. People are going to blow this off and get back to business.

  • http://kscakes.blogspot.com/ Ksue

    I agree, tina. Especially since the entire state of TX — even way down here in Houston! — is currently gripped in an icy vice. Add that to the monumental snowfalls Colorado has seen this season, and it’s way too easy for the anti-global-warming crowd to pooh-pooh the environmentalists, once again.

  • http://kscakes.blogspot.com/ Ksue

    P.S. I was born and raised in Kalamazoo. Are you anywhere near that area?

  • Antonio

    To One and All:
    Whatever else you may think of the pictures (unfortunately, I don’t read German and don’t know the methodology for choosing the sites), pictures once seen have a power of their own. Therefore, these pictures represent one more tool for my education of my daughter, a 17-year-old. I’ve already shared them with her.
    I urge you to share them with others, young people in particular.

  • http://www.lettuce.org Eric

    Two things…
    First of all, this phrase: “it is troubling to witness what wants to be a black-and-white photograph turning back into color” is the most impressive and beautiful discription I’ve read today. What a goosebumpily way to describe this phenomenon.
    Secondly, global warming produces not just “warmer” weather, but more _extreme_ weather. Thus the iciness of Texas fits well into the Greenhouse fears. But the deniers out there have muddied the issue nicely.
    I don’t think there are many — if any — serious, peer-reviewed climatologists who don’t see humans as the cause of global warming. The current mix of pollution and deforestation is plenty to mess things up. External influence is usually the cause of climactic changes; it’s just, this time, we simulated an asteroid impact through SUV use.
    I really think this truth will set in soon; Bush has been so ridiculous with his opposition and his administration’s denials of scientific fact that his unpopularity is spreading to his opinions too.
    My daydream on this is that Al Gore or someone of equal stature runs for president on a global responsibility platform. Maybe not to win — but to get the debate focused on real conservation, alternative fuel, technological innovation, global water distribution and agricultural challenges. I think someone running with a cause (any cause, frankly) will stand out enough to maintain interest and force other candidates to take real stances. (Remember the flat tax fad of 1996?)
    But this picture and that comment will stick with me for a while. Thanks…

  • me

    The power in these pictures is they show human adaptability, to which the non-believers of global warming sympathize.
    I believe in global warming, but through the scientific reports, not carefully selected images like this.
    I was in Germany in 1995-1996. We had one week of snow, during Christmas. If you did the same series “Same place 11 years ago” it would be similar.
    Global warming adds energy, not pure temperature, to the system. Meaning more variation, more extremes, less predictability.

  • penelope

    my first thought about the scenes: i thought the pictures were intended to illustrate the contrast between (before) the lovely park and after the intrusion of housing development.

  • Kris T

    Weather is a phenominal thing. Living in the mountains of New Mexico, as I do, we have had our share of extreme ups and downs over the last decade. Record-setting snows one winter with the next winter having record-breaking drought, back to record-setting snows the following year, to extreme forest fires and lack of moisture again. I am sorry that I didn’t have the idea to do a photo essay such as that presented. The images are powerful, if for no other reason than to see how things can differ from one year to the next.
    Climate change is certainly not something we can measure by a year to year comparison. A 10 year to 10 year comparison, a 50 year to 50 year, 100 to 100 maybe, but our record keeping simply does not go back far enough for us to see the whole picture. And, as Tina said, we are at the end of the last ice age.
    So, where do we go from here? We can start by doing our own part, riding our bicycle or walking to work, if possible. Making the switch to renewable sources of energy when we can (check with your utility provider, we have the option to be up to 100% wind-powered here where I am), recycle and buy recycled. These are just a start. I think Tina is right, though, people just can’t see how their actions are affecting the climate, nor will people be willing to change their attitudes and reliance on all things convenient.

  • http://monoceros.furmont.net/ Ernest Tomlinson

    Every now and again I’ll come across sarcastic comments about global warming, saying things like, “I welcome global warming, then maybe we won’t get so much snow up here.” The first shows a cold, grey wasteland; the human figure in the centre of the picture, easy to overlook, has his head bent down and is obviously trying to walk as quickly as possible to where he is going, out of the weather. The second shows a warm, sunny park in autumn, ducks on the pond, and another figure in the centre out for a pleasant stroll. See? Global warming is good for us!
    As tina says, the real story of global warming is elsewhere, in things we can’t see and which have no hold on most persons’ minds. And she is right in that it’s the sort of overwrought comparison that convinces the disbelievers that it’s all Chicken Little nonsense once the next heavy snow falls. I’m reminded also of how, after the extreme 2005 hurricane season, blogs like DailyKos were brimming with strident declarations that this was all because of global warming. As spring 2006 turned into summer there were a few diaries warning us that the 2006 hurricane season was going to be the worst yet. It wasn’t. A yearly difference either way doesn’t prove or disprove the existence of an overall trend, but the widespread clamour that an unusually warm winter or an unusually strong hurricane season is the proof that the disaster’s upon us is superficial, often sanctimonious–those 2005 DailyKos declarations of doom usually had an obligatory passage about how the pitiful Republicans were blind to the message of the hurricanes–and just the thing to harden the hearts of those convinced that it’s all just delusion and hysteria.

  • tina

    Ksue–I live currently in a wee hamlet just south of the Bridge known as the Icebox of the Nation, as it (Pellston) usually at any given time posts the lowest temps in the continental U.S., due to a unique geographic accident (It’s a desertlike sand bowl in the Maple River valley which holds no heat whatsoever). The old folks talk about how we’ve never had “winters like we used to have”, but the metereological data suggests that after a warm decade in the 1990’s, we’re back to the statistical averages for now.
    The real problems are not in absolute temps, which vary a lot and you need 100s of years to establish broad trends…one decade it’s warmer, one decade it’s not….but rather in other factors, for us it’s the water table. We just had to put down a 90 foot well, more than three times as deep as our last one. Our area is getting drier, water is not being replaced. Because people have shifted away from agriculture and don’t have 150 head of cattle to find moisture for, as long as their damn lawns are green they don’t see that. We have die off of amphibian species and certain kinds of trees (cedars, which need to live in swamps). People don’t really care. They are just happy when there is no snow because they can drive better without it–it’s very discouraging.
    Forget the temps–it’s water, water, water–people are going to be fighting wars over it before I die, I swear. That’s why we need to do something sooner instead of later. Whether or not the greenhouse effect has been proved “beyond the shadow of a doubt” to have been caused by humans, we can’t wait for that absolute certainity (and why should we? It isn’t a criminal trial), we need to take action yesterday.
    The little lake in the foreground is probably the “see” in the Englischer Garten. And if you look closely you will see that the apartment building is not new…it was there in the previous photo as well.

  • http://fuming-mucker.livejournal.com Darryl Pearce

    global warming produces not just “warmer” weather, but more _extreme_ weather. Yes, indeed.
    Further, global warming also addresses average temperature: a rise of a degree along the equator isn’t noticed but a rise of several degrees causes a cascading series of events in the polar regions.
    But…, we must consider: when the avalanche has started it is too late for the pebbles to vote.

  • http://2000ah.blogspot.com/ Edward

    It seems at this point everyone agrees that global warming is happening, the argument now is over what is causing it.

  • PTate in FR

    As a Minnesotan, these two pictures did nothing for me. Except the top one is in black and white, suggesting olden days. But a snowfall such as that shown in the top picture can occur in an hour and melt away in the next hour. So, interesting, but not compelling.
    On the other hand the pictures from Greenland, showing the newly revealed islands…that is an image that will stay with me.
    tina: “Forget the temps–it’s water, water, water–people are going to be fighting wars over it before I die, I swear.
    This is an important, important point. The terrifying thing about global warming is that it is so obviously a function of the size of the human population. And the environmental catastrophe facing humanity isn’t JUST global warming, it is resource depletion–forests being cut down, oil being used up, oceans being stripped of fish, and yes, the lack of clean water.
    I have seen estimates that the size of the population that the earth can sustain is around 2 billion people–roughly what the world’s population was in 1928. Getting international agreement on reducing the size of the human population voluntarily seems impossible to achieve, and unless everyone does it, it won’t work. Populations that do (eg, the Chinese) will have more resources per capita and those that don’t will kill for those resources. Populations can be limited voluntariy or populations can be limited by genocide, famine, disease, floods and war.

  • ummabdulla

    I can’t add much about the photos…
    This winter had been colder than usual in Kuwait; it’s been close to freezing some nights. Last year, we never turned on the heater; this year, it’s been on every night. But things do change from year to year.
    Can anyone point me to a website that shows what kinds of climate changes are predicted for various parts of the world? I’m just curious to know whether our summers are supposed to get even hotter, or maybe cooler?

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    I think you all need to watch “An Inconvenient Truth”.
    And get back to me after the next big crop failure in California – or maybe when all the corn dies this year from drought.
    Honestly, what does it take to wake people up?

  • mugatea

    See the duck?
    That’s what I notice changing. Birds have been showing up earlier in spring and leaving later for the winters. Watch the birds, they know what’s up.
    We used to have one to two weeks a year that the temps would stay below 0.
    Now, some winters have none to a couple of days that bitter cold.
    Peach trees, once ornamental in these parts, are now producing fruit.

  • tina

    Mugatea, in the Traverse City area (northern MI) we have grapevines and wineries also, something that was unthinkable when I was a kid, also we have species of insects and birds and mammals that are usually not observed in the area except for further south.
    Two factors besides climate change to consider–improvements in the grapes (new hardy varieties) and their husbandry/management have increased their range of cultivation, and, the new animal species were brought in by people unintentionally. New insects, for example, have been introduced by people coming from the south who bring their own firewood with them. Not all can survive the harsh winters but some species end up making it. Birds that are usually seasonal migrants end up staying all winter not because of global warming but because people feed them.
    We have to bring in the whole range of variables to get a clear picture.
    Like I said before, being aware of these caveats should not prevent us from taking action either!

  • mugatea

    tina, we’re on the same latitude, I’m just the other side of Lake Champlain. There’s a winery a bike ride from me. In the area between here and the grapes a flock of bluebirds winters here. A dozen bluebirds jumping around a tree during a snowstorm is beautiful, but the first time I saw them I thought my eyes were loco. Aren’t bluebirds fly catchers?
    Traverse City? Isn’t there a bar in the woods there called Brownswood? Or Beeswood … many years ago, too many long island ice teas. I digress …

  • http://rhythmicinterchange.blogspot.com sravana

    Speaking of birds, I note a recent article (I can’t remember where I read it), suggesting that the birds follow the sun, whereas the insects follow the temperature. Thus in California, songbirds are arriving 10-12 days too late for the “blooms” of insects that they depend on to feed their young. Therefore, you have fewer birds… and more BUGS.
    Perhaps if they continue to extend their range northwards we won’t lose the songbirds. I read at RealClimate.org (I think) that robins are showing up in areas so far north that the Inuit don’t have a name for them. scary.

  • http://spiritspeaks.blogspot.com sravana

    Speaking of birds, I note a recent article (I can’t remember where I read it), suggesting that the birds follow the sun, whereas the insects follow the temperature. Thus in California, songbirds are arriving 10-12 days too late for the “blooms” of insects that they depend on to feed their young. Therefore, you have fewer birds… and more BUGS.
    Perhaps if they continue to extend their range northwards we won’t lose the songbirds. I read at RealClimate.org (I think) that robins are showing up in areas so far north that the Inuit don’t have a name for them. scary.

  • http://solarray.blogspot.com gmoke

    “An Inconvenient Truth” does a similar thing with images of glaciers. It is quite impressive.
    It is my understanding that the Younger Dryas period was the result of rapid climate change that happened in about three years.

  • truthseeker

    1. Where is Ralph Nader and the green party on this matter. I have heard nothing from them except silence. One would think this would be a perfect opportunity for them to push forward (there’s that word again) their green agenda.
    2. I saw a history channel series a few years ago, the first episode of which was at the northernmost point of the British Isles and an abandoned settlement. The point the narrator made was that this village was abandoned very quickly and the speculation is that a sudden weather change made it too cold for them to stay on the coast. No one knows what happened to them.
    3. In the 1970’s, I remember hearing often that the difference between the Ice Age and today (then) was between one and two degrees F. After looking at some of the charts at the linked weatherunderground.com, one can see that there are currently changes of more than one degree. Are they merely fluctuations? Maybe, maybe not.
    4. I’ve been keeping temp. records for over 20 years in the same spot. The cycle of weather in my state is 11 years. Pretty regularly, that has been so during my lifetime. Every 11 years we have snow somewhere in the city/county area that barely sticks long enough to be photographed. Every 11 years we have some sort of heavy rain. The weather this year is NOT part of that cycle. In fact, three years ago we had a summer of more than two months straight of over 95-plus deg. F. temps and almost all of that was over 100. Then we had record-breaking rain. This year, instead of the infrequent 30 deg overnight followed by a 68 deg day, we’ve had a series of temps in the 20’s and highs barely out of the 40’s. Again, NOT part of our pattern. Every night brings more pipes bursting. That has never happened in my memory.
    tina has a point, but so do the global warming people. We have to strike a position that takes in all probabilities. Could it be cyclical? Of course, our history tells us that it is quite likely that momma nature is exercising her whims. Could it be caused by humans? Of course, we know the science of methane gas emissions, PCB’s, CO2, gas guzzling hummers, etc. What we should be doing is not arguing about the cause, but taking precautions for the future. Some EU countries are fortifying their levees, we are not; NOLA is a good example of where we should be planning for the future, one of our most important ports.
    Perhaps there should be more of this, the photo ops of the warming. Not necessarily this exact year-to-year comparison, but the destruction of the glacier in Greenland that is a first for recorded history in this area. Or the disappearance of the island in the SE Asia, an island with thousands of inhabitants. We should be seeing more of THAT kind of coverage in the media instead of the cozy year-to-year comparisons.

  • http://monoceros.furmont.net/ Ernest Tomlinson

    It’s the shift in the carbon dioxide-carbonic acid-bicarbonate-carbonate equilibrium in the ocean that worries me most.
    CO2(aq) + H2O(l) < => H2CO3(aq) < => H+(aq) + HCO3-(aq)
    It is a general rule of chemical equilibria that an excess of a reactant on one side of the equilibrium drives the reaction toward the other side of that equilibrium. In this case, an increased partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere increases the concentration of dissolved CO2(aq). This increases the concentration of carbonic acid H2CO3, thus increasing the pH of the ocean by increased dissociation into H+ and bicarbonate HCO3-. Increased pH tends to dissolve soluble carbonates, most importantly calcium carbonate, which many marine organisms use to build solid, support structures: molluscs, corals, foraminiferous plankton. Essentially the increase in dissolved carbon dioxide concentration tends to dissolve calcium carbonate as well, and so many organisms in the sea can’t flourish.
    This is all basic, high school chemistry. It shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Whatever the cause, carbon dioxide levels are rising, so the effects described above can’t help but occur. It makes sense, then, that if you care at all about preventing massive disturbance of oceanic life then you take steps to reduce atmospheric CO2. One source of that atmospheric CO2 is, well, us. So, even if you stick to the argument that, yes, maybe CO2 is rising but we’re not the chief cause, you can’t argue with the plain truth that reducing one source of carbon dioxide is going to reduce the overall load.
    It seems to me that there are only two logical conclusions for climate change sceptics.
    1. Yes, it’s happening. No, it’s not our fault. But we should try to change the course of events anyway to the small degree available to us.
    2. Yes, it’s happening. Maybe it’s our fault; I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me whether some sea creatures die.
    Choice 1 is misguided but respectable. Choice 2 is contemptible but at least it would be honest and logical. Why not embrace it, if you’re convinced it’s all some liberal plot. Admit you don’t care! At least we’ll know where you stand: it’s happening and you don’t give a shit. Fine. What I don’t understand is the stubborn denial that anything is happening at all. What’s up with that?

  • ummabdulla

    “Not necessarily this exact year-to-year comparison, but the destruction of the glacier in Greenland that is a first for recorded history in this area. Or the disappearance of the island in the SE Asia, an island with thousands of inhabitants. We should be seeing more of THAT kind of coverage in the media instead of the cozy year-to-year comparisons.”
    I agree. I saw a program on the BBC, I think, where they showed the impact of warmer temperatures on some Inuit communities, and it’s that kind of thing that hit home with me.
    I still haven’t watched “An Inconvenient Truth”. I need to do that…

  • tina

    ALL I am trying to suggest is that we must not give in to lazy sensationalism and shout wolf on global warming, which is what I feel the Stern pictures are trying to do, and which is what is happening when people think grapes are growing in Michigan as a result of global warming, which they are not.
    We must not give in to this because it gives the naysayers easy ammunition to “debunk” the “liberal myth” of global warming. To me, this issue is too important to let these reprehensible f***wads get away with misrepresenting the dangers! There’s so much we can discuss that does make sense…
    Ernest, I mentioned carbon emissions earlier, that’s a good example of an airtight case…we cut down trees, we drive cars…what’s to argue about? And even if there WAS some other reason for atmospheric changes (cow flatulence, anyone? But humans breed cows, so we’re responsible for that, too…never mind), we should still do all in our power not to add to the problem, it would help immediately even on a localized level. Los Angelas is an almost intolerable environment, and its indisputable that this is almost entirely due to auto exhaust.
    I’m sorry to say that I don’t think anything is going to be done until Ma Nature takes matters into her own hands and offs billion or so of us through starvation and natural disasters. Wherever there are high concentrations of very poor people (Lagos, Mexico City, Karachi) there could be pandemics as well. As usual the poor will bear the brunt. It’s a pity.

  • tina

    In Michigan due to a lack of predators, the whitetail population every once in a while outstrips the carrying capacity of the environment and then the starving deer wander into town and get hit trying to cross highways, there’s a lot of movement as they try to find food. They starve in great numbers, then the decimated environment recovers to some extent, and then the growth stunted survivors of the die off start the cycle over again.
    Like humans who are too stupid to do anything except wait for the clouds to open up and the savior to appear, at this point I think the deer start praying for the DNA to install a management program.
    Wolves are smarter, they will limit procreation in lean years. Only the alpha pair will mate. In years of plenty subordinate pairs may also reproduce, but the young wolves have to colonize a new territory. I’m not arguing this as a model for humans, but really, zero population growth still means everybody gets two kids, which in this day and age ought to be plenty (even in the third world virtually all children survive, not the case in the past). We also need to seriously rethink our deification of pregnancy and parenthood (esp. mommyhood) and start making childlessness a much more socially laudable choice.
    Womb transplants for elderly women who want to physically bear children, in an environmentally degraded world full of needy youngsters, is an obscenity. Sorry. end of rant.

  • tina

    sorry, that shouls have read “DNR”, Department of Natural Resources

  • Cactus

    Perhaps I can strike a balance here. I’m not a scientist, although I’ve had a couple of years of chemistry and loved it. (All that heating up and mixing, I guess.) But I think to reach the great unwashed masses, as they used to say, we need to use both tactics and use them constantly. I have to admit that the photos in DerStern DID get my attention, as I’m sure it would get the attention of many lay people. But I also ‘get’ the seriousness of Ernest Tomlinson’s CO2 equations. Maybe the answer is, to get people in general started down the path to recovery, is to hit both avenues. Pictures like these combined with the Polar bears, the appearing and disappearing islands is what we all can identify with. Then when the scientific articles come around explaining what is happening, perhaps more people will start to pay attention. Providing, of course, that the science is solid and well thought out, not the ‘chicken little’ screaming we see too often on TV. All I’m saying is that there probably isn’t one cause of global warming and we shouldn’t expect to solve it with just one approach.
    Then again, there is that super-volcano under Yellowstone…….

  • ummabdulla

    Michael, did you see the photos in the International Herald Tribune of different spots along the Great Wall of China? There were old photos (like 1920s), and then someone went back and took pictures of the same places today. Nothing to do with climate change really, but they reminded me of these.

  • ummabdulla
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